At the beginning of Chapter Five, Mandeville explains that pilgrims to Jerusalem can pass through Babylon and obtain permission from the Sultan to visit Mt. Sinai before continuing their pilgrimage (19). He relates Babylon to several biblical stories and religious figures from different points in time, explaining the city’s relationship to the Virgin Mary, St. Barbara, Joseph (Exodus, not Mary’s husband), Nebuchadnezzar and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (I found it surprising that he did not mention Daniel, who was taken to Babylon with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and is arguably an even more notable figure than his three companions). By mentioning all of these figures in the first full paragraph about Babylon, Mandeville emphasizes the city’s religious heritage.

Mandeville then proceeds to describe the history of the area and how it came under Muslim rule, followed by an extended genealogy of the sultans up to his present day. This section emphasizes violence in the election process (20), perhaps as an attempt to ‘other’ a culture different than his own and paint them in a negative light; the majority of the sultans are described as having been murdered, poisoned, driven into exile, or imprisoned, so that someone else could take the throne. This violence stops with the most recent Sultan, who reigned for a long time, and governed with such great wisdom” [21]. Following this genealogy, Mandeville describes some of the Sultan’s customs, giving details about the army, the Sultan’s wives, and how foreigners should behave at court (22).

Mandeville then clarifies that he is not talking about the “Great Babylon where the confusion of tongues was made, when the Tower of Babel existed,” but about a different Babylon which is “forty days travel” away (22-23). He explains that the Great Babylon is under the rule of the Great Khan, whom Mandeville describes as “incomparably greater and stronger than the Sultan” (23). This description complements Marco Polo’s account of Kubilai Khan and the Mongol Empire, and I found that reading these two texts simultaneously provided me with a useful context in this moment!

It seems to me that Mandeville’s purpose in writing about Babylon in the way he does is to provide other travelers with a guide to what they might find there, or to help people plan out their routes and know what to expect. He repeats several times that pilgrims should travel through Babylon to Mt. Sinai and then on to Jerusalem; the religious significance of the area is extremely important to him and he gives it notable space. He is also concerned with the history of the area, which I find interesting. Generally, I would assume people do not need to know the ruling class’ family tree to travel through an area, but Mandeville spends a large amount of time explaining the history of the city and how the current Sultan came to power. The effect I see from this is to ‘other’ the Muslim rulers by focusing on the violence in the process of electing a new Sultan, which works hand-in-hand with his emphasis on Christian stories and tradition to lift Christianity above other religions. Mandeville’s text is extremely centered on Christian pilgrims (especially in the Prologue, where he explicitly states his purpose) and while the Prologue is clearly anti-Semitic, this section seems to illustrate his prejudice against Islam as well.


(pp. 19-35)