Book of Ser Marco Polo


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Paper Money of the Great Khan


The khan issues his money after this fashion. He makes them take of the bark of the mulberry tree, the leaves of which are the food of the silkworms. What they take is a certain fine white bast or skin, which lies between the wood of the tree and the thick outer bark, and this they make into something resembling sheets of paper, but black. When these sheets have been prepared, they are cut up into pieces of different sizes, having different values. . . . There is also a kind worth one bezant of gold,1 and others of three bezants, and so up to ten. All these pieces of paper are issued with as much solemnity and authority as if they were of pure gold or silver; and on every piece a number of officials have to write their names and put their seals. And when all is duly prepared, the chief officer deputed by the khan smears the seal intrusted to him with vermilion, and impresses it on the paper, so that the form of the seal remains printed upon it in red. The money is then authentic, and anyone forging it would be punished with death. The khan causes every year to be made such a vast quantity of this money, which costs him nothing, that it must equal in amount all the treasure in the world.

With these pieces of paper, he makes all payments on his own account; and he requires them to pass current universally over all his kingdoms, provinces, and territories. And nobody, however important he may think himself, dares refuse them on pain of death. And, indeed, everybody takes them readily, for wheresoever a person may go throughout the Great Khan’s dominions he shall find these pieces of paper current, and shall be able to transact all sales and purchases of goods by means of them, just as well as if they were coins of pure gold. And all the while they are so light that ten bezants’ worth does not weigh one golden bezant. . . .

When any of those pieces of paper are spoilt — not that they are so very flimsy — the owner carries them to the mint, and, by paying three per cent of the value he gets new pieces in exchange. And if anyone has need of gold or silver or gems or pearls, in order to make plate, or girdles, or the like, he goes to the mint and buys as much as he requires, paying in this paper money.

1 , bk. ii, ch. 24.

1 The gold coin, known as a bezant (from Byzantium or Constantinople, where it was struck), circulated throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. There was also a silver bezant.


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Chicago: "Paper Money of the Great Khan," Book of Ser Marco Polo in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 474–475. Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: . "Paper Money of the Great Khan." Book of Ser Marco Polo, Vol. ii, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 474–475. Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: , 'Paper Money of the Great Khan' in Book of Ser Marco Polo. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.474–475. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from