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Detailed map of the region from the Caspian to Cathay, illustrating the earliest two Catholic Embassies to the courts of the Mongol Rulers.

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine was one of the first Europeans to enter the Court of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. His account of his expedition is one the first early overland travel accounts to Asia. Dispatched by Pope Innocent VI in 1245 to the Court of the Khan, Carpine left Lyon in April 1245, accompanied by Stephen of Bohemia. Travelling by way of Kiev, the party crossed the Nepere to the Don and Volga Rivers (Carpene is the first to identify the modern names for these rivers). At the camp of Batu on the Volga, Carpene met with the famous conqueror of eastern Europe and his senior princes. In April 1246, Carpene was allowed to proceed eastward to the court the Great Khan, where they were fairly receieved, although the Khan refused to convert to Christianity and sent them back with a letter urging the pope to swear allegiance to the Great Khan.

Nicolas Ascelin (also known as Ascelin of Cremone and Ascelin of Lobardia) was a Dominican Friar who was the leader of the 2nd of 4 embassies to the Mongl courts sent by Pope Innocent VI in March 1245, prior to the First Council of Lyon. Ascelin travelled as far as the court of the Mongol ruler Baiju in Armenia, where his letters were translated into Persian and then Mongol. During the stay, Acelin and his group apparently offended the Mongols with their lack of respect for the Mongol Court and efforts to convert the Mongols to Christianity. Ascelin was not allowed to travel further east and he returned having failed to make it to the court of the Great Khan. The account of Ascelin's embassy survived through the written account of Simone of St. Quentin, who was part of the expedition and recorded his observations in his Historia Tartarorum. Simone's work does not survive, but is described in 19 chapters of the work of Simone's contemporary, Vincent of Beauvais.

Pieter van der Aa Biography

Pieter van der Aa (1659-1733) was a Dutch mapmaker and publisher who printed pirated editions of foreign bestsellers and illustrated books, but is best known for his voluminous output of maps and atlases. Van der Aa was born to a German stonecutter from Holstein. Interestingly, all three van der Aa sons came to be involved in the printing business. Hildebrand was a copper engraver and Boudewyn was a printer.