The Gerege – The First Universal Token known in the World as a Foreign Passport

The Gerege

A Flemish missionary and a traveler Guillaume de Rubrouck had visited the Mongol Empire between 1253-1255 as an ambassador of the King Louis IX of France and had been welcomed by Munkh (Mongke) Khan in the palace of Kharkhorum (Kara Korum).

Upon returning in his detailed report to Louis IX, which was later published under the title of The Journey to the Eastern Parts, he wrote: “Munkh Khan gives his ambassadors a palm-sized golden token with a carved order. Everyone has to obey the person as an ambassador, who possesses such token”.

Also Marco Polo, an Italian merchant and a western traveler of the Middle Ages as famous as Rubrouck, had travelled through Asia along the Silk Road between 1271 and 1295, where spent 17 years in the service of Khubilai (Kublai) Khan, the Mongol ruler and the founder of the Yuan dynasty.

He also mentioned about this special tokens in his Book of the Marvels of the World travel, that the token allowed its owner to enjoy a set of certain privileges and authority. According to the book, the highest privileged tokens are issued to travelers with great merits and special purposes.

The second-highest tokens are given to the military commanders. And the below rank goes to governors of the provinces. Finally, the most ordinary tokens are issued to travelers with orders from the Khan’s court, as well as to merchants and to foreign ambassadors.

In order to enable Marco Polo to be assisted on his travels through the Mongol empire, Khubilai Khan presented him with a foot long and three inches wide golden tablet, which is called the Gerege. It was inscribed with the words: “By the power of eternal heaven, this is an order of the Great Khan. Whoever does not show respect to the bearer will be guilty of an offence.”

With the help of the Gerege, Marco Polo seamlessly overcame a long journey through the vast Mongol Empire and returned home to Venice in April 1290 safely.

The remaining works of the Armenian medieval historian Grigor Aknertsi state that the ambassador of the Armenian kingdom Smbat Sparapet was favorably received by Guyug Khan in Kharkhorum in 1260 and surprisingly quickly returned home with the help of the golden Gerege granted to him.

According to Chinese sources from 1220s, the Gereges were used in the Mongolian state in the early period during the life of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan. Ambassador Zhao Hong from the South Song kingdom, who was the author of the memoirs of Meng-da Bei-Lu, wrote that among the Mongols, noble officials of the first rank wore a gold plaque with a tiger head on their belts. It was written there: “The decree of Chinggis Khan granted by heaven. I must do business at my discretion!”

Another Chinese source explained the incident that the Chinggis Khan returned the South Song official Liu Zhong-lu to his home by giving him a gold plaque with a tiger heat. The inscription on the plaque was: “The decree of Chinggis Khan granted by heaven. Let conduct business at the discretion, as if we would travel personally”.

Later, Gereges were found in various forms with inscriptions with vertical Mongolian script, and the official script of Phags-ba of the Khubilai Khan empire, some in Chinese, Persian and Arabic scripts across a large territory of the former Mongolian empire from Ukraine and Russia to Persia and China.

One of them is the oblong-oval silver gerege of Abdullah Khan who ruled the Golden Horde between 1361 to 1370. It was found in 1845 near the village of Nikopol in the Yekaterinoslav province of Russia. A passage in Mongolian vertical letter was written on this gerege: “By the power of eternal heaven. The patronage of great power. If anyone does not respect the decree of Abdullah Khan, he will suffer material damage and die.” Now this gerege is stored in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

There is no doubt that the Gerege was a special VIP passport, which allowed both domestic and foreign travelers to receive horses, lodging, food and guides in all possessions of the vast Mongol Empire, as they required.
Before the Mongol Empire, anywhere in the world, even in the Roman Empire, there were no special tokens that guaranteed diplomatic immunity and travel supports.

But also, some historians claim that the Mongols inherited the Gerege system from their ancestors of the Hunnu (Huns) and Khitan. In ancient Chinese manuscripts, there were scanty references to special plaques used by the Hunnu and Khitan.

In any case, the use of the system of the Gerege was of a great importance an an innovation during the Pax Mongolica world.

Pax Mongolica

The Pax Mongolica (Latin for “Mongol Peace”) is a historiographical term modelled after the original phrase Pax Romana which describes the stabilization effects of the conquests of the Mongol Empire, which led the sustainable peace in the social, cultural and economic life of the inhabitants of the vast Eurasian territory during the 13th to 14th centuries.

The term is used to describe the unified administration that helped to create the easiness of communication and commerce and the relatively peaceful period in Eurasia that followed the Mongols’ vast conquests.

In order to attract foreign merchants and talents in any fields, the Great Khans of Mongol Empire entitled them Gereges exempting from taxes and allowing them to use ortoo (yam or relay stations). This policy has yielded outstanding results at that time.

It is first time in the history of mankind that there have been such intense exchanges and relationships between different civilizations.

The Gerege promoted foreign trade relations because it guaranteed a safe passage to the merchants when issued. As a result of this guarantee, cultural exchanges between civilizations has increased no matter the distances were. Before the Gerege was used, there was no assurance that merchants could be protected when traveling in long distances.

After the Gerege was popularized among the whole Mongol Empire, more people were likely to trade with partners in long distance because they knew that they were protected. This change allowed a huge amount of cultural exchanges between distant civilizations.

Under the Mongols ruling, the Silk Road, a series of interconnected trade routes from East to West was operated in a free circumstances that facilitated a fertile exchange of ideas and goods from China, Persia to the West and vice versa.

The Gerege had tremendous positive impacts on cultural exchange between multiple civilizations throughout the ancient world and an increase in cultural exchange led to the commerce of new goods, new technology, and new ideas to spread worldwide.

Since the rate of cultural exchange was very high, the level of prosperity increased, as well as the amount of complexity. New inventions and new beliefs were becoming an additional part of multiple cultures. Then it affected lifestyles of civilians by changing the way of their daily lives.

Just to mention, China became acquainted with the astronomy of Muslims, the mathematics of India, and Europeans through Arabs learned about Chinese gunpowder, paper and compass during the Mongol Empire.

Gerege 2

US historian Thomas T. Allsen noted that many personnel exchanges occurred during the Mongol period. According to him, there were significant developments in the economy (especially trade and public finance), military, medicine, agriculture, cuisine, astronomy, printing, geography, and historiography not only limited to Eurasia, but even included North African region.

After the collapse of the Mongol Empire, many small states appeared and locked themselves apart and began to quarrel. The Silk Road seamlessly connecting the east to the west during Pax Mongolica became too dangerous for merchants. A universal token – The gerege was no longer needed and was forgotten for centuries.

Thus, it ended the only era of globalization of the Middle Ages when there was a flow of free exchange of goods, services, ideas, innovations between different civilizations.

That is the brief history of the Gerege – the universal token introduced to the world by the great Mongols in the Middle Ages and now known as a passport.

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