Marcopolo’s high impression of Myanmar Tatmadaw of Bagan Period
- By Maha Saddhamma
Jotika Dhaja, Sithu
Dr Khin Maung Nyunt
The writer wishes to hail and honour Myanmar Tatmadaw Day by a series of articles on high impressions of foreign visitors to Myanmar in the successive periods of Myanmar history. The present article is on Marcopolo’s high impression of Myanmar Tatmadaw of Bagan Period.
Marcopolo was an Italian adventer-traveller hailed from Venice. With his father and uncle he travelled from Venice to China by sea and land. He was only a young lad. When they reached the Country of Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan of Mongolian dynasty at Beijing they were well received by His Imperial Majesty. Because of their bravery, fighting skill and loyalty, the Chinese Emperor gave them warm welcome and positions. Young Marcopolo was adopted by the Emperor who sent him on many important missions. In 1277 when he waged war on Bagan in the reign of King Narathihapate [1255- 87 A.D] Marcopolo accompanied Tartar equestrian armies and Maha Yanan Buddhist monks. At that battle which took place at Ngasaung Gyan near Bhamo, young Marcopolo eyewitnessed Myanmar Tatmadaw and undaunted morale and spirit. After the demise of his fostered Emperor Kublai Khan, he and his father and uncle returned home with many rich awards bestowed upon them by the Great Khan.
Young Marcopolo was imprisoned as a result of his involvement in local wars between the then city states. In the prison at Genoa, he dictated the account of his life and adventures while serving the Great Khan to an inmate in the prison. Later that account was translated into many languages. “The adventures of Marcopolo” became a literary and historical masterpiece of world renown. The present articles is the summary of Marcopolo’s high estime of Myanmar Tatmadaw of Bagan Period.
“The Battle of Ngasaung Gyan”
It happened that in the year 1277 the Great Khan sent an army into the countries of Vochang [Yun-Chang] and Karazan, for their protection and defense against any attack that foreigners might attempt to make. When the King of Mien who was powerful in the number of his subjects, in extent of territory, and in wealth, heard that an army of Tartars had arrived at Vochang, he took the decision of advancing immediately to attack it in order that by its destruction the Great Khan should be prevented from “again attempting to station a force upon the borders of his dominions”. “For this purpose, he assembled a very large army, including a multitude of elephants [ an animal in which country abounds], upon whose backs were placed battlements or castles of wood, capable of containing twelve or sixteen [men] in each. With these and a numerous army of horse and foot, he took the road to Vochang, where the grand Khan’s army lay and encamping at no distance from it, intended to give his troops a few days of rest”.
“As soon as the approach of the King of Mien, with so great a force was known to Nestardin who commanded the troops of grand Khan, although a brave and able officer he felt much alarmed, not having under his orders more than twelve thousand men [veterans indeed and valiant soldiers] where as the enemy had sixty thousands, besides the elephants armed as has been described. He did not however betray any sign of apprehension, but descending into the plain of Vochang, took a positions in which his flank was covered by thick wood of large trees. Wither, in case of a furious charge by the elephants, his troops could retire. From there, in security, they could annoy the enemy with their arrows”.
“Upon the King of Mien’s learning that the Tartars had descended into the plain he immediately put his army in motions took up his ground at the distance of about a mile from the enemy and made a disposition of his force, placing the elephants in the front, and the cavalry, and infantry in their rear, but leaving between them a considerable intervals. “Then giving orders for sounding a prodigy us” he advanced boldly with “his army towards that of the Tartars which remained firm, making no movement but suffering them to approach to the entrenchments. They then rushed out with great spirt and utmost eagerness to engage the enemy but it was soon found that the Tartars’ houres, unused to the sight of such huge animals, with their castles, were terrified and wheeling about, endeavored to fly nor could their riders restrain them, whilst the King of Mien, with the whole of his forces was every moment gaining ground.
“As soon as the prudent commander perceived this unexpected disorder, he instantly ordered his men to dismount and their horses to be taken into the woods where they were fastened to the trees. When dismounted, the men without loss of time, advanced on following the line of elephants and commenced a discharge of arrows whilst, on the other side, those who were stationed in the castles on the elephants and the rest of the King’s army shot valleys in return great activity. But their arrows did not have the same effect as those of the Tartars whose bows were drawn by stronger arms”. “So continuous were the discharges of the latter all their weapons being directed against the elephants, that these were no longer governable but without, guidance or control, ran about in all directions, until at length, they rushed into a part of the wood not occupied by the Tartars”.
From the closeness of the branches of large trees they broke with loud crasher, the battlements of castles that were upon their backs causing the destruction of those who sat upon them. Upon seeing the rout of the elephants the Tartars acquired fresh courage and with perfect order and regularity, they mounted their horses, and joined their severed divisions. When bloody and dreadful combat was renewed”. “On the part of the King of Mien’s troops, there was no want of courage and he himself was amongst the ranks of his troops asking them to stand firm and not to be alarmed by the accident that had befallen the elephants but the Tartars by their great skill in archery were too powerful and did then much more injury from their not being provided with such arm our as was worn by the Tartars. The arrows, having been expounded on both sides, the men grasped their swords and maces and violently encountered one another. So great was the charges of arms and such shootings and shrieks that the noise seemed to reach the sky”.
“The King of Mien, acting as became a valiant chief was present wherever the greatest danger appeared, encouraging his soldiers and be cheesing them to maintain their ground with courage”. “The losses in this battle which lasted from the morning till noon, were severely felt on both sides, but the Tartars were the flying victorious. In his eye witness account of the battle of Nga Saung Gyan, Marcopolo highly estimated the strength and the spirit of Myanmar Tatmadaw of Bagan and undaunted courage of the King of Mien against the in vacating hordes of greand Khan’s equestrian Tartar archers”.
Marcopolo remarked that Myanmar elephants, horses and foot soldiers were armoured, they would have withstood the arrows of the Tartars and would have reaped the victory at Nga Saung Gyan.