Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Princess Qutulun wrestles a suitor
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This miniature from a manuscript of the Livre des merveilles du monde, or The Travels of Marco Polo, depicts the Mongol princess Qutulun (c. 1260-1306) wrestling a suitor for her hand in marriage. Qutulun was the daughter of Qaidu (1230-1301), Khan of the Chagatai Khanate, a nephew and rival of Kublai Khan (1215-1294). Polo recounted the story of Qutulun in his travel narrative (Chapter 49) and described how she used her great strength to set a challenge for any man who may have wished to marry her. According to Polo, Qutulun received a written promise from her father that she could marry at her own discretion. When Qaidu pressured Qutulun to marry, she swore that she would only marry a man who could best her in a wrestling match. In Polo’s words, Qutulun was “so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess.” Not only did Qutulun wrestle her suitors, but she also demanded a hundred horses from any contestant who failed.

    The artist of the miniature chose to represent Qutulun wrestling as a court spectacle. Quaidu along with his wife and courtiers look on as the princess grapples with her suitor in the courtyard of the palace. Even her suitor’s horses, serving as a wager in the contest, intently watch the wrestling match. Though Qutulun’s story takes place in China, Qutulun and her spectators are dressed in western European clothing. Only Qutulun’s headwrap and her father’s pointed cap designate them as Eastern royalty. For the sake of practicality, Qutulun has hitched up part of her gown around her waist for greater mobility. Polo’s description of Qutulun presents the princess as an exotic marvel, yet the artist’s rendition of her great challenge re-envisions her using the visual vocabulary for royalty in the medieval west. The Persian historian Rashid al-Din also recounted the story of Qutulun’s marriage contest, yet focused more on her military prowess. Qutulun accompanied her father on many of his military campaigns and was a noted warrior in her own right. No man ever did defeat her in wrestling, but Qutulun eventually married an unknown man possibly to quell rumors that she and her father were engaged in a relationship. After Qaidu’s death, Qutulun opposed his successor Chapar and was eventually executed for her resistance. Michal Biran has recently suggested that Qaidu himself cultivated these stories about his daughter in order to emphasize ideal Mongol qualities, such as horsemanship, physical strength, and excellence in battle.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): China Fighting Marco Polo, Venetian Merchant Marriage Mongols Princesses Qaidu, Khan of the Chagatai Khanate Qutulun, princess of the Chagatai Khanate
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15
  • Date: c. 1410-12
  • Related Work: View of the entire manuscript: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52000858n
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Fr. 2810, f. 95v
  • Original Location: France, N. Paris
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (Parchment); Paint
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 42/29/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Biran, Michal. Qaidu and the Rise of the Independent Mongol State in Central Asia. Routledge, 2013. pp. 2, 61, 70-76; Brack, Yoni. "A Mongol Princess Making hajj: The Biography of El Qutlugh Daughter of Abagha Ilkhan (r. 1265-82)," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 21:3 (2011), pp. 331-59; Polo, Marco. The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian. trans. W. Marsden and T. Wright, ed. Peter Harris. Alfred A. Knopff, 2008. pp. 356-57; Rossabi, Morris. Kublai Khan: His Life and Times. University of California Press, 1988. pp. 105-106;