Marco Polo


Marco Polo was born in 1254 in Venice. In 1271, Marco’s father Niccolo Polo and his uncle left on a trading trip, taking Marco with them. They traveled to the court of Kublai Khan, then the Mongol emperor of China. They had met him on a previous trip, and now they brought him documents from the pope and holy oil from Jerusalem. Upon arrival in 1275, Niccolo offered Marco in service to the emperor.

Kublai Khan needed non-Mongol administrators in areas of China that resisted having Mongol authorities. Marco took on various sorts of diplomatic and administrative roles for the emperor.

The Polos spent more than 16 years in China. Then they requested permission from Kublai Khan to return home to Venice, but he did not want them to leave. Finally, he agreed for them to escort a Mongolian princess who was to be wed to a Persian khan. The Polos headed back west.


The Polos returned to Venice in 1295. Stories say they returned wearing Mongolian clothing and hardly able to remember their native language. They produced a small fortune in gems sewn into the hems of their Mongolian garments, so they were warmly welcomed home.

When Venice went to war with its rival city-state, Genoa, wealthy Marco Polo financed his own war galley. He was captured during a naval battle and imprisoned in Genoa.

Polo entertained everyone with his tales of traveling to China. One of Marco’s cellmates, Rusticello from Pisa, had experience writing romantic novels. He wrote down Marco’s tales.

In 1299 Polo was released and returned to Venice. He died there in 1324.

Marco Polo’s Book

The Travels of Marco Polo generated widespread interest. The book became Europe’s primary source of information about China until the 19th century. About 120 hand-printed manuscripts survive, and every one of them is different.

Who wrote The Travels of Marco Polo— Polo or Rusticello? Sometimes the text is in the first-person voice, sometimes in the third-person. How much of the text is based on Polo’s firsthand experience and how much did the author(s) insert secondhand accounts by others? It is probably a mix. The descriptions were so foreign to Europeans that the readers often assumed that everything was made up. Historians have however confirmed the facts in Polo’s account of the Mongol dynasty.

Polo reported Mongolian customs, such as the use of paper for money and the burning of coal for heat. When Christopher Columbus set sail hoping to find a sea route to China, he carried with him a heavily annotated copy of The Travels of Marco Polo.

Source: Marco Polo
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