Unknown Historical Figures – Rabban Bar Sauma

Rabban Bar Sauma was a Nestorian monk of the Church of the East faith but later became a diplomat for the same organization. He was born in 1220 in Khanbaligh near Beijing, China. It is debated about his specific origins about whether or not he is from the Turkic Uyghur or from the Ongud (Wanggu in Chinese), which was a tribe of Turkic origin associated with the Mongol castle during the Yuan Dynasty. He was of Nestorian faith from the Church of the East and the religion was locally known as Jingjiao. Bar Sauma became an ascetic monk when he turned 20 and then became a religious teacher for a number of decades. 

Around the middle years of his life, Rabban Bar Sauma and Rabban Marcos, one of his young students, set off on a journey from China to the religious center known as Jerusalem.But there were complications on the way to their destination when they neared southern Syria. Warnings of danger forced them to turn to Mongol-controlled Persia, or the Ilkhanate, where they were welcomed with open arms. The Partriach of the Church of the East, Mar Denha I, requested that the two travelling monks visit the court of the Ilkhanate ruler Abaqa to retrieve confirmation papers for Denha’s ordination as Patriarch in 1266. During this respite in their journey, Rabban Marcos became a Nestorian bishop. The Patriarch attempted to send the pair back to China as messengers but it was impossible due to extreme military conflict and they remained in Baghdad. After the Patriarch Mar Denha’s death, Rabban Marcos was chosen to replace him as the Patriarch in 1281. His name was changed to Mar Yaballaha III but that did not stop Rabban Bar Sauma and his student from going to see Abaqa that year. Unfortunately, as they traversed the distance to Maragha to confirm Marcos’ position, the Ilkhanate ruler died. He was succeeded by his son, Arghun Khan, who wanted to form a strategic Franco-Mongul alliance with Christian Europeans. The common enemy that Arghun and the Christian Europeans had were the Muslim Mamluks and he was trying to get the alliance so they could eliminate them. Patriarch Mar Yaballaha, a few years after they met Arghun, suggested that Rabban Bar Sauma be the embassy to the Pope and European monks. He went with no delays or complaints for his faith. 


In 1287, the now elderly Bar Sauma, while bearing gifts and letters for the Byzantine emperor, the Pope, and the European Kings, set out for Europe. He traveled with a large number of assistants and a calculated 30 riding animals. They went through Armenia to the Byzantine Empire of Trebizond on the Black Sea. Bar Sauma received audience with Andronicus II Palaeologus in Constantinople where he witnessed the great Hagia Sophia, the Greek orthodox patriarchal basilica, and was thoroughly impressed with its utter magnificence. He then went by boat to Italy and eventually reached Rome to meet with Pope Honorius IV but the Pope had unfortunately passed away. After continuing his journey, he went to Paris, France where he spent one month with King Philip the Fair. The King responded positively to the Mongol embassy and gave him numerous presents and even sent one of his nobleman ( Gobert de Helleville) to accompany the embassy. In Gascony (southern France–belonged to Britain at the time), Bar Sauma met with King Edward I of England who seemed overall happy with the embassy. Unfortunately, King Edward could not join a military alliance with the Mongols due to conflicts in Britain with the Welsh and the Scots. On his return home in 1288, Bar Sauma stopped in Rome to see the new Pope, Nicholas IV, and Nicholas gave him a precious tiara to give to Mar Yaballaha when he reached Baghdad. 

Rabban Bar Sauma lived out the rest of his life in Baghdad after he returned from the embassy trip to Europe. He wrote a specific account of his travels during his final years which wasn’t translated to English until 1928 and it was called The Monks of Kublai Khan. Rabban Bar Sauma passed away in 1294 after spending his life traveling and teaching. 


Unknown Historical Figures – Elisha Kane

Elisha Kent Kane was born February 20th, 1820 to a US district judge father and a Victorian-era mother. He became an American explorer and medical officer in the US Navy after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1842. He served in the US Marine Corps in the Mexican-American War and fought several battles. In 1848, after capturing the Mexican General Antonio Gaona and his wounded son, he befriended them and saved their lives at Napoluca.

Most of his naval life was spent searching for the missing Sir John Franklin in the Arctic. Sir John Franklin and the majority of his crew all went missing after becoming trapped in ice when on their way home to England. They were sent to explore the Northwest Passage in 1845 and ended up trapped in the ice near King William Island. It was many years until scientists found out that Franklin died in 1847 on that island.

But Kane was a member of two Arctic expeditions that searched for the famed and lost expedition. The first expedition was the Grinnell Arctic Expedition that went to find Sir John Franklin in 1850-1851 after Lady Franklin’s numerous pleas to find her husband. She charged the Admiral of the time to give a 20,000 pound reward to whomever found, and brought, her husband back to her. Many expeditions went out and the cost of these many searches were more sunken ships and lost men. But the Grinnell Arctic Expedition found Sir John Franklin’s first winter camp in late-1850 but did not succeed in finding any of the crew or Franklin. Determined to succeed, Kane took a Second Grinnell Expedition which sailed from New York on May 31, 1853. Suffering from scurvy and near death for some of the trip, he pushed onward and charted the coasts of Smith Sound and Kane Basin. He penetrated farther north than any other explorer of the time and searched through Cape Constitution. While there, he discovered the ice-free Kennedy Channel that numerous other famous explorers would use to get to the North Pole in later years. Kane later abandoned the icebound brig Advance for an 83-day march to Upernavik to evade the frozen north and its wrath. The wayward crew and Kane lost only one man on the exploration after a sailing ship picked them up.

Upon his return to New York in late 1855, he wrote a two-volume description of his journey that he called “Arctic Explorations”. He published them a year after his arrival home and then sailed for England to fulfill a promise to Lady Franklin. He promised that he would relay his report on his expedition directly to her and after he did so, he left for Havana, Cuba in late 1856. Kane went to Cuba in a vain attempt to recover from his harrowing journey but he instead died on February 16th, 1857, just days before he turned 37. His body was taken on a funeral train from New Orleans to Philadelphia. It is astounding that Kane is so unknown because the procession was met at nearly every platform by a memorial delegation and is said to be the second largest funeral in US history – second only to Abraham Lincoln.

Unknown Historical Figures – Cleisthenes

Cleisthenes was an ancient Athenian in 6th and 5th century B.C. from the family Alcmaeonidae, a noble family. The Family Alcmaeonidae is known for its usurping, exiling and reinstatements. Alcmaeonidae Family has been exiled several times before and has always been allowed to return in crisis times in Athens. They were mostly a family close to the kingship and interfered often in the king’s business and affairs. Cleisthenes is no exception to this family trend found as of late in historical findings. He overthrew the tyrannical King Hippias in 508 B.C. with the reluctant help of the Spartans due to an oracle’s falsified prophecy that was engineered by Cleisthenes himself. He wished to have the throne himself but wanted to rule with gentility, much unlike the rulers as of late in Athens. He is known to many as the “father of Athenian Democracy” and helped to decrease the power of the nobility in Athens. Ironic, isn’t it? But he wanted a type of democracy because the monarchy of the Athens of that day was obsolete due to many rulers turning to tyranny when they assume power. Spartan King Cleomenes exiled Cleisthenes from Athens due to Cleisthenes supposedly having the “Alcmaeonid curse” that said the Alcmaeonidae Family was ineligible to rule. The Spartan King then handed the throne to Isagoras, Cleisthenes’ rival in the fight for the kingship in Athens. With a kingship set on falsehoods, exiles, and abuse of citizens, Isagoras’ fall was inevitable and the citizens brought Cleisthenes back from his unwarranted exile. Upon his return, Cleisthenes split the four traditional tribes (based on family relations) into ten residence-based tribes. He set up a type of legislative bodies where the people were elected by lottery, or by chance of vote. He thus eliminated the need for a government based on kinship and heredity in Athens and the people agreed to this change in government after Isagoras’ tyrannical rule. Cleisthenes created the Boule which is a council of citizens and gave it 500 members, or 50 from each of the ten newly-formed tribes. He called these reforms for Athens isonomia ( iso=equal, nomos=law) instead of demokratia, which would translate to democracy today. Cleisthenes provided ostracism for Athens which was a law that said a vote of more than 6,000 citizens would exile a citizen they feel is a threat to society for ten years. Cleisthenes life was productive and remains little-known by many people worldwide. Without him, democracy may not have its form today because he provided many changes and laid the foundations for democracy’s future forms.