Marco PoloMarco Polo is one of the most well-known heroic travelers and tradersaround the world. In my paper I will discuss with you Marco Poloslife, his travels, and his visit to China to see the great Khan.
Marco Polo was born in c.1254 in Venice. He was a Venetian explorerand merchant whose account of his travels in Asia was the primary sourcefor the European image of the Far East until the late 19th century.
Marco’s father, Niccol, and his uncle Maffeo had traveled to China(1260-69) as merchants. When they left (1271) Venice to return toChina, they were accompanied by 17-year-old Marco and two priests.
Early LifeDespite his enduring fame, very little was known about the personallife of Marco Polo. It is known that he was born into a leadingVenetian family of merchants. He also lived during a propitious time inworld history, when the height of Venices influence as a city-statecoincided with the greatest extent of Mongol conquest of Asia(Li Man Kin9). Ruled by Kublai Khan, the Mongol Empire stretched all the way fromChina to Russia and the Levant. The Mongol hordes also threatened otherparts of Europe, particularly Poland and Hungary, inspiring feareverywhere by their bloodthirsty advances. Yet the ruthless methodsbrought a measure of stability to the lands they controlled, opening uptrade routes such as the famous Silk Road. Eventually ,the Mongolsdiscovered that it was more profitable to collect tribute from peoplethan to kill them outright, and this policy too stimulated trade(Hull 23).
Into this favorable atmosphere a number of European traders ventured,including the family of Marco Polo. The Polos had long-established tiesin the Levant and around the Black Sea: for example, they owned propertyin Constantinople, and Marcos uncle, for whom he was named, had a homein Sudak in the Crimea(Rugoff 8). From Sudak, around 1260, anotheruncle, Maffeo, and Marcos father, Niccol, made a trading visit intoMongol territory, the land of the Golden Horde(Russia), ruled by BerkeKhan. While they were there, a war broke out between Berke and theCowan of Levant , blocking their return home. Thus Niccol and Maffeotraveled deeper into mongol territory, moving southeast to Bukhara,which was ruled by a third Cowan. While waiting there, they met anemissary traveling farther eastward who invited them to accompany him tothe court of the great Cowan, Kublai, in Cathay(modern China). InCathay, Kublai Khan gave the Polos a friendly reception, appointed themhis emissaries to the pope, and ensured their safe travel back toEurope(Steffof 10). They were to return to Cathay with one hundredlearned men who could instruct the Mongols in the Christian religion andthe liberal arts.
In 1269, Niccol and Maffeo Polo arrived back in Venice, where Niccolfound out his wife had died while he was gone(Rugoff 5). Their son,Marco, who was only about fifteen years old, had been only six oryounger when his father left home:thus; Marco was reared primarily byhis mother and the extended Polo family-and the streets of Venice. After his mothers death, Marco had probably begun to think of himselfas something of a orphan(Rugoff 6). Then his father and uncle suddenlyreappeared, as if from the dead, after nine years of traveling infar-off, romantic lands. These experiences were the formativeinfluences on young Marco, and one can see their effects mirrored in hischaracter: a combination of sensitivity and toughness, independence andloyalty, motivated by an eagerness for adventure, a love of stories, anda desire to please or impress(Li Man Kin 10).
Lifes Work In 1268, Pope Clement IV died, and a two- or three-year delay whileanother pope was being elected gave young Marco time to mature and toabsorb the tales of his father and uncle. Marco was seventeen years oldwhen he, his father and uncle finally set out for the court of KublaiKhan(Stefoff 13). They were accompanied not by one hundred wise men butby two Dominican friars, and the two good friars turned back at thefirst sign of adversity, another local war in the Levant. Aside fromthe popes messages, the only spiritual gift Europe was able to furnishthe great Kublai Khan was oil from the lamp burning at Jesus Christssupposed tomb in Jerusalem. Yet, in a sense, young Marco, the only newperson in the Polos party, was himself a fitting representative of thespirit of European civilization on the eve of the Renaissance, and thelack of one hundred learned Europeans guaranteed that he would catch theeye of the Cowan, who was curious about Latins”(Hull 29).
On the way to the khans court, Marco had the opportunity to completehis education. The journey took three and a half years by horsebackthrough some of the worlds most rugged terrain, including snowymountain ranges, such as the Pamirs, and parching deserts, such as theGobi. Marco and his party encountered such hazards as wild beasts andbrigands; they also met with beautiful women, in whom young Marco took aspecial interest. The group traveled numerous countries and cultures,noting food, dress, and religion unique to each(Li Man Kin 17). Inparticular, under the khanss protection the Polos were able to observea large portion of the Islamic world at close range, as few if anyEuropean Christians had. By the time they reached the khans court inKhanbalik, Marco had become a hardened traveler. He had also received aunique education and had been initiated into manhood.
Kublai Khan greeted the Polos warmly and invited them to stay on in hiscourt. Here, if Marcos account is to be believed, the Polos becamegreat favorites of the khan, and Kublai eventually made Marco one of his most trusted emissaries(Great Livesfrom History 16765). On these points Marco has been accused of grossexaggeration, and the actual status of the Polos at the court of thekhan is much disputed. If at first it appears unlikely that Kublaiwould make young Marco an emissary, upon examination this seems quitereasonable. For political reasons, the khan was in the habit ofappointing foreigners to administer conquered lands, particularly China,where the tenacity of the Chinese bureaucracy was legendary. The khancould also observe for himself that young Marco was a good candidate. Finally, Marco reported back so successfully from his fistmission-informing the khan not only on business details but also oncolorful customs and other interesting trivia-that his furtherappointment was confirmed. The journeys specifically mentioned inMarcos book, involving travel across China and a sea voyage to India,suggests that the khan did indeed trust him with some of the mostdifficult missions(Rugoff 25).
The Polos stayed on for seventeen years, another indication of howvalued they were in the khans court. Marco, his father, and his unclenot only survived-itself an achievement amid the political hazards ofthe time-but also prospered(Great Lives from History 1678). Apparently,the elder Polos carried on their trading while Marco was performing hismissions; yet seventeen years is a long time to trade without returninghome to family and friends. According to Macro, because the khan heldthem in such high regard, he would not let them return home, but as thekhan aged the Polos began to fear what would happen after his death(Hull18). Finally an opportunity to leave presented itself when trustedemissaries were needed to accompany a Mongol princess on a weddingvoyage by sea to Persia, where she was promised to the local khan. ThePolos sailed from Cathay with a fleet of fourteen ships and a weddingparty of six hundred people, not counting the sailors. Only a few members of the wedding entouragesurvived the journey of almost two years, but luckily the survivors included thePolos and the princess. Fortunately, too, the Polos duly delivered theprincess not to the old khan of Persia, who had meanwhile died, but tohis son(Li Man Kin 21).
>From Persia, the Polos made their way back to Venice. They were robbedas soon as they got into Christian territory, but they still managed toreach home in 1295, with plenty of rich goods. According to GiovanniBattista Ramusio, one of the early editors of Marcos book, the Polosstrode into Venice looking like rugged Mongols(Stefoff 17). Havingthought them dead, their relatives at first did not recognize them, thenwere astounded, and then were disgusted by their shabby appearance. Yet, according to Ramusio, the scorn changed to delight when thereturned travelers invited everyone to a homecoming banquet, rippedapart their old clothes, and let all the hidden jewels clatter to thetable(Great Lives from History 1676).
The rest of the world might have learned little about the Polostravels if fate had not intervened in Marcos life. In his earlyforties, Marco was not yet ready to settle down. Perhaps he wasrestless for further adventure, or perhaps he felt obliged to fulfillhis civic duties to his native city-state. In any event, he becameinvolved in naval warfare between Venetians and their trading rivals,the Genoese, and was captured. In 1298, the great traveler across Asiaand emissary of the khan found himself rotting in a prison in Genoa-anexperience that could have ended tragically but instead took a luckyturn. In prison Marco met a man named Rustichello from Persia, who wasa writer of romances(Stefoff 21). To pass the time, Marco dictated hisobservations about Asia to Rustichello, who, in writing them down,probably employed the Italianized Old French that was the language ofmedieval romances.
Their book was soon circulating, since Marco remained in prison only ayear or so, very likely gaining his freedom when the Venetians andGenoese made peace in 1299(Rugoff 32).
After his prison experience, Marco was content to lead a quiet life inVenice with the rest of his family and bask in his almost instantliterary fame. He married Donata Badoer, a member of the Venetianaristocracy. eventually grew up to marry nobles. Thus Marco seems tohave spent the last part of his life moving in Venetian aristocraticcircles. After living what was then a long life, Marco died in 1324, only seventy years of age. In his will he left mostof his modest wealth to his three daughters, a legacy that includedgoods which he had brought back from Asia. His will also set free aTartar slave, who had remained with him since his return from the courtof the great khan(Li Man Kin 25).
Works CitedGreat Lives from History. Ancient and Medieval Series. Pasadena,California: Salem Press, 1988. 2: 1675-1680.
Hull, Mary. The Travels of Marco Polo. California: Lucent Books Inc.,1995.
Li Man Kin. Marco Polo in China. Hong Kong: Kingsway InternationalPublications, 1981.
Rugoff, Milton. Marco Polo’s Adventures In China. New York: AmericanHeritage Publishing Co., 1964.
Stefoff, Rebecca. Marco Polo and the Medieval Explorers. Chelsea HousePublishers, 1992.