Post-classical history

John of Piano Carpini (d. 1252)

A Franciscan missionary and one of the first European explorers, who reached the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century and described his journey in his Historia Mongalo- rum quos nos Tartaros appelamus.

Born in a place called Piano del Carpine (mod. Piano della Magione, Italy) near Perugia, John joined the Franciscan Order as the one of the first disciples of St. Francis of Assisi. After the general chapter of the order in 1221, John was sent to Germany, where he was active in founding new Franciscan monasteries in the Rhineland and Saxony. Soon he became the head (Lat. custos) of the newly established Franciscan province of Saxony (1222) and later minister of the province of Teutonia (1228). In 1230 he visited Spain for a short time, but in 1232 he was again in Germany. There are few documents about his life between 1239 and 1245.

John was nominated as an envoy to the Mongols by Pope Innocent IV and left Lyons in April 1245. At Breslau in Silesia (mod. Wroclaw, Poland) he was joined by a Franciscan friar from Poland called Benedict, who was to act as his interpreter. After a journey of over 100 days in difficult and dangerous conditions, they reached the court of the Mongol great khan near Qaraqorum in July 1245. They witnessed the election and enthronement of the new khan Kuyuk by the great kurultai (diet of tribal representatives). They were presented to him, and in November 1246 they began their return journey in heavy winter weather. In June 1247 they reached Kiev (mod. Kyiv, Ukraine), the capital of Russia, and finally returned to Lyons in November 1247, where they met the pope. John wrote a description of this journey, known as Historia Mongalorum, in two versions: a shorter one, probably written during the journey, and a longer one, made after his return to Rome.

In February or March 1248 the Pope sent John on a diplomatic mission once again, this time to King Louis IX of France, after which he was named as archbishop of Baru (Antivari) in Dalmatia (1248). However, as a consequence of disputes with his cathedral chapter, he was obliged to resign from his office. He died on 1 August 1252, most probably in Perugia.

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