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0047 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 47 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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20. ALTAI   31

«Sanang Setsen» here refers to any Altai. We must rather suppose that, in this passage, « Sanang Setsen » has in view the «Altan mountain » (« Altan-alin »; alin is the Manchu word for « mountain ») of D'ANVILLE's Map of Chinese Turkistan, 3rd sheet, at the north-western angle of the great bend of the Yellow river, also called Altan tebsi (cf. MOSTAERT, Textes oraux ordos, LXIX, and Popov, Men-gu-yu-mu-czi, 153). On the other hand, in another passage, the same Mongol chronicler

(SCHMIDT, 109) says that Chinghiz-khan was buried between the northern side of the « Altai-ban » and the southern side of the «Käntäi-lean ». Here, with a rather hazy geographical conception on the part of «Sanang Setsen », we rejoin Polo's text inasmuch as the Altai is really named in connection with Chinghiz-khan's burial.

This is not the oldest Mongol notion of the name of Altai. In the Secret History of 1240, the name of Altai occurs several times (§§ 144, 158, 161, 177, 194, 196, 198, 205) and is always applied to what we now call Southern Altai, which is in Western Mongolia. Such is also the use of the name in Rasidu-'d-Din when he gives the Altai mountains as one of the limits of the Naiman territory (cf. Oh, I, 425; Ber, I, 2, 108; Ii, 112; HI, 3, 127; Rasidu-'d-Din uses Altai alone,

or SI,JI s)j Buzurg Altai, or SWI   Yäkä Altai, both meaning « Great Altai» in Persian and in
Mongolian). The same Altai is meant when YS, I, 5 b, says that Tayang-khan came from the fyi A An-t'ai and camped at the Khanggai mountains, or when it sums up the history of the campaign led by the future Emperor Wu-tsung in 1300-1301 against Qaidu (YS, 22, 1 a; see «Caidu »), in the course of which, Wu-tsung having reached the An-t'ai (Altai) mountains, the Naiman submitted to him (parallel texts in YS, 119, 10 a, and 132, 3 a, use the Chinese name Chin-shan of the Altai). From all these texts, we see that Polo's use of Altai for mountains in North-Eastern Mongolia must have been of popular, not official, origin, although «Sanang Setsen» gives us the proof that this undue extension of the name was still current several centuries later.

It would be interesting to study again the much debated problem of the possible relation of Altai (Altai) to Turk. altin, altun, Mong. altan, all meaning « gold », and to investigate the different values of the corresponding Chinese name of Chin-shan, « Gold Mountains » (the phonetic relation of Altai to altan might be of the same order as that of Alasai to Aiagan [see « Calacian »] ; Chinese texts have sometimes Altan for Altai; cf. Popov, Men-gu yu-mu-czi, 442, 464, and the index, p. 25, for the double name of a lake Altan-nôr or Altai-nôr). But that would greatly overstep the limits of the present note (cf. VLADIMIRCOV, in Doklady Ross. Ak. Nauk, 1929, B, 170). I wish only to call attention to three points. 1st : Kàgyari, who does not mention any Altai, gives «Aitungan» as the name of a mountain in the land of the Uigurs (BROCKELMANN, 240). 2nd : When the Ming shih, in its biographies, says of a number of people that they were originally « Tatar [= Mongols] of the Chin-shan », it is clear that this Chin-shan does not refer to our Altai, but to mountains in Eastern or South-Eastern Mongolia. 3rd : While Chin-shan is of early occurrence in Chinese texts (cf. provisionally CHAVANNES, Doc. sur les Tou-kiue, 338) and although we find an Altun-yis in the Orkhon « runic » inscriptions, there is no mention of the Altai nor of any « Gold Mountain» in the ]1udad al-'Alam. But BARTHOLD is mistaken when he says (EI, s. v. «Altai ») that the name of Altai seems to appear first «at the time of the domination of the Kalmuks»; he has apparently forgotten all the mentions of it in the 13th and 14th cents.