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Safe Conduct Pass (Paiza) with Inscription in Phakpa Script

late 13th century

Safe Conduct Pass (Paiza) with Inscription in Phakpa Script, late thirteenth century, China. Purchase, Bequest of Dorothy Graham Bennett, 1993, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the photo you can see a type of passport called a paiza, which Mongol authorities issued to nobles, officials, and foreign merchants. Because they were nomads, the Mongols knew that they could not produce everything they needed. As a result, they welcomed foreigners and supported trade. Before the Mongols took over, merchants rarely used the Silk Road land route, because there were many bandits who made it much more dangerous than the sea routes. The Mongols hunted down any bandits who attacked travelers carrying paizi (plural of paiza) and enforced peace. The peace and safety of the Mongol Empire is called the Pax Mongolica — the Mongolian Peace, in Latin. The Mongols also let merchants use the shelter and supplies at their postal stations. The Silk Road became an important trade route again. Marco Polo had his own golden paiza given to him by Kublai Khan himself!

When Kublai Khan was the Great Khan, the Mongol khanates had reached their furthest extent. All through the khanates, trade, travel, and interconnection increased. The paiza was one of the tools used by the Mongols to insure the safety of travelers. Paizi (pl.), which were first invented in China before the Mongol era, were used by the Great Khans as a sort of passport to allow the holder free passage and access to supplies at the postal stations throughout the Mongol khanates. These metal plaques that were to be hung around the neck or attached to a piece of clothing were given to nobles, officials, merchants, skilled artisans, and other important people. The Mongols encouraged trade and provided merchants with many benefits and protections. They were exempted from many taxes, supported at the relay stations with supplies and shelter, and protected from bandits. As a result, trade along the transcontinental Silk Road flourished for the first time in many centuries.

Inscription: Mongk'a dengri/yin khuchundur/khaanu jarlikh k'en/ese bushireesu/aldatukhayi.

Translation: By the strength of Eternal Heaven, an edict of the Emperor (Khan). He who has no respect shall be guilty.