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Polo, Marco

Marco Polo

Born: c. 1254
Venice
Died: January 8, 1324
Venice

Venetian explorer and writer

The traveler and writer Marco Polo left Venice for Cathay (now China) in 1271, spent seventeen years in Kublai Khan's (12151294) empire, and returned to Venice in 1295. His account of his experiences is one of the most important travel documents ever written.

Family business

Born into a noble family of Venetian merchants, Marco Polo began his long experience with Cathay through the adventures of his father, Niccolo, and his uncle, Maffeo Polo, partners in a trading operation at a time when Venice was the world leader in foreign commerce. The Polos had left Venice to travel all the way to Peking, China, and back when Marco was only six years old. During their nine-year absence, Marco was raised by his mother and other members of his extended family. He became a tough, loyal, observant young man, eager to please and interested in adventure.

Marco Polo's father and uncle were well received in China by the Mongol prince Kublai Khan in 1266. The Polos impressed Kublai Khan with their intelligence and their knowledge of the world. For these reasons he kept them around for several years. In 1269 he sent them to Rome as his messengers with a request that the pope send one hundred Europeans to share their knowledge with him. Although the pope did not grant the request, the Polo brothers, in search of further profit and adventure, set out to return to China in 1271. Since his mother had died recently, Marco Polo was taken along on the trip, marking his debut, or first appearance, as a world traveler at age seventeen. The return to China, over land and sea, desert and mountain, took slightly more than three years.

Despite their failure to bring back the one hundred Europeans from Rome, Kublai Khan welcomed the Polos back and again took them into his service. He became increasingly impressed with Marco Polo, who, like his father and uncle, demonstrated not only his ability to travel but also his knowledge of the Mongol language and his remarkable powers of observation.

Years in China

With the approval of Kublai Khan, the Polos began widespread trading ventures within his empire. While on these business trips around the empire, Marco Polo demonstrated his quick mind and his ability to relate what he saw in clear, understandable terms. His reports, which formed the basis of his famous account of his travels, contained information on local customs, business conditions, and events. It was in these reports that he displayed his talent as an objective and accurate observer. Kublai Khan read and used these reports to keep informed of developments within his empire.

All three of the European visitors were kept on as messengers and advisers. The younger Polo was used on several extended missions that sent him traveling over much of China and even beyond. By his own account he came near the edge of Tibet and northern Burma. This relationship between the Polos and Kublai Khan lasted more than sixteen years, during which Marco served as Kublai Khan's personal representative in the city of Yangchow, China.

Leaving the khan

Although the Polos enjoyed the profits of their enterprise, they longed to return to Venice to enjoy their wealth. They were prevented from returning for a time because Kublai Khan was unwilling to release them from his service. Their chance to return to Europe came in 1292, when they were sent on a mission to Persia and then to Rome. The assignment represented Kublai Khan's way of releasing them from their obligations to him. In Persia they were to arrange a marriage between one of Kublai Khan's regional rulers and a Mongol princess. They were forced to remain in Persia for nearly a year when the man who was supposed to be married died and a new groom had to be found. From the Persian court, the Venetians continued their journey home, arriving in 1295 after an absence of nearly twenty-five years.

Marco Polo did not return to Asia again. He entered the service of Venice in its war against the rival city-state of Genoa. In 1298 Marco served as a gentleman-commander of a ship in the Venetian navy. In September 1298 he was captured and imprisoned in Genoa. He was famous for his adventures, and as a result he was treated with unusual courtesy for a prisoner and released within a year. Little is known of Marco Polo's life after his return to Venice. He apparently returned to private life and business until his death in 1324.

Record of his travels

While imprisoned in Genoa, Marco Polo related the story of his travels to a fellow prisoner named Rusticiano, a man from Pisa, Italy, who wrote in the romantic style of thirteenth-century literature. A combination of Marco Polo's gift of observation and the writing style of Rusticiano emerged in the final version of Marco Polo's travels. The book included Polo's personal remembrances as well as stories related to him by others.

In his book, which was translated into many languages, Polo left a wealth of information. The information contained in his maps has proved remarkably accurate when tested by modern methods. His observations about customs and local characteristics have also been proven true by research.

For More Information

Collis, Maurice. Marco Polo. London: Faber and Faber, 1950.

Larner, John. Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

Latham, Ronald. The Travels of Marco Polo. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1958.

Stefoff, Rebecca. Marco Polo and the Medieval Explorers. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1992.

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Marco Polo

Marco Polo

The Venetian traveler and writer Marco Polo (ca. 1254-ca. 1324) left Venice for Cathay, or China, in 1271, spent 17 years in Kublai Khan's realm, and returned to Venice in 1295. His account of his travels is one of the most important travel documents ever written.

The scion of a noble family of Venetian merchants, Marco Polo began his long experience with Cathay through the adventures of his father, Niccolo, and his uncle, Maffeo Polo, partners in a trading operation at a time when Venice was the world leader in foreign commerce. Marco's trip to China was preceded by the prolonged odyssey of his father and uncle all the way to Peking and back. In China they were well received by the recently established Mongol prince Kublai Khan in 1266. The Polos impressed Kublai Khan with their intelligence and their familiarity with the world. For these reasons he retained their services for several years. In 1269 he sent them to Rome as his envoys with a request that the Pope send 100 Europeans to share their knowledge with him.

The Polos' mission received little attention in Rome, but in 1271 the Polo brothers, in search of further profit and adventure, set out to return to China. It was this second trip that provided the occasion for the 17-year-old Marco Polo to make his debut as a world traveler. The return to China, over land and sea, desert and mountain, took slightly more than 3 years.

Despite the failure of their mission to Rome, the Khan welcomed the Venetians back and again took them into his service. He became increasingly impressed with the youngest Polo, who, like his father and uncle, demonstrated not only his ability in travel but also his facility for the Mongol language and for using his remarkable powers of observation.

Under the benevolence of Kublai Khan, the Polos initiated widespread trading ventures within his domain. While on these business trips around the empire Marco Polo first demonstrated his perceptiveness and his ability to relate what he saw in clear, understandable terms. His reports, which formed the basis of his famous account of his travels, contained information on local customs, business conditions, and events. It was in these reports that he displayed his talent as a detached and accurate observer. Kublai Khan read and used these reports to keep abreast of developments within his empire.

All three of the European visitors were maintained as envoys and advisers. Marco was used on several extended missions that sent him traveling over much of China and even beyond. By his own account he skirted the edge of Tibet and northern Burma. This business-diplomatic relationship between the Polos and Kublai Khan lasted more than 16 years, during which Marco served as the Khan's personal representative in the city of Yangchow.

Although the Polos enjoyed the profits of their enterprise, they began to long to return to Venice to enjoy them. They were detained primarily because of the unwillingness of Kublai Khan to release them from his service. Their chance to return to Europe came in 1292, when they were sent on a diplomatic mission, first to Persia and then to Rome. The assignment represented the Khan's way of releasing them from their obligations to him. In Persia they were to arrange a dynastic marriage between one of the Khan's regional rulers and a Mongol princess. They were detained in Persia for nearly a year when the prince died and a new marriage had to be arranged. From the Persian court, the Venetians continued their journey home, arriving in 1295, after an absence of nearly a quarter century.

Marco Polo did not return to Asia again. He entered the service of Venice in its war against the rival city-state of Genoa. In 1298 Marco served as a gentleman-commander of a galley in the Venetian navy. In September 1298 he was captured and imprisoned in Genoa. His fame as an adventurer had preceded him, and he was treated with courtesy and leniency. He was released within a year. Little is known of Marco Polo's life after his return to Venice. He apparently returned to private life and business until his death about 1324.

During his captivity in Genoa, Marco Polo dictated the story of his travels. The man he told his story to was a fellow prisoner named Rusticiano, a Pisan who wrote in the romantic style of 13th-century literature. A combination of Marco Polo's gift of observation and the literary style of Rusticiano emerged in the final version of Marco Polo's travels. The book included Marco Polo's personal recollections as well as stories related to him by others.

In his book, which was translated into most languages, Marco left a wealth of information. His cartographical information has proved remarkably accurate when tested by modern methods. His observations about customs and local characteristics have also been verified by subsequent research.

Further Reading

Ronald Catham translated The Travels of Marco Polo (1958). The standard biography is Henry Hersch Hart, Venetian Adventurer: Being an Account of the Life and Times and of the Book of Messer Marco Polo (1942), updated and reissued as Marco Polo: Venetian Adventurer (1967). Other works on Polo include Maurice Collis, Marco Polo (1960), and Hildegard Blunck, Marco Polo: The Great Adventurer (1966). □

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Polo, Marco

Marco Polo (mär´kō pō´lō), 1254?–1324?, Venetian traveler in China. His father, Niccolò Polo, and his uncle, Maffeo Polo, had made (1253–60) a trading expedition to Constantinople. A war blocked their return, and they journeyed eastward to reach Kublai Khan's eastern capital at Kaifeng in 1266. They returned to Venice in 1269, and in 1271 they left with young Marco for Kublai's court. The party reached Cambuluc (modern Beijing) in 1275. Marco Polo became a favorite of the khan, who employed him as an adviser and a tax assessor, sending him on business to central and N China, SE Asia, and India. For three years he apparently governed a Chinese city (Yangzhou). In 1292 the travelers, acting as escort for a Mongol princess who was to wed the khan of Persia, left Kublai's realm; they were back in Venice by 1295. Marco Polo soon joined Venetian forces fighting Genoa and was taken prisoner (1298) following Venice's loss in the Battle of Curzola. During his two-year captivity, aided by notes and reports written while he was in the East and by his fellow-prisoner and coauthor Rustichello of Pisa, he dictated an account of his travels.

The prologue of the work tells of Polo's life. The remainder of the book describes places he had visited and heard of and recounts the customs of the inhabitants. Polo made reference to much of Asia, including the Arab world, Persia, Japan, Sumatra, and the Andaman Islands, and to E Africa as far south as Zanzibar. He told of paper currency, asbestos, coal, and other phenomena virtually unknown in Europe. Polo was wonderstruck at Asian splendors and was sometimes credulous of exaggerated accounts, but scholars agree that his accurate reports of the events he witnessed and people he met are of great value. During the Renaissance it was the chief—almost the sole—Western source of information on the East, and until the late 19th cent. there was no other European material on many parts of central Asia. Of the annotated translations of his book the most useful is that by Sir Henry Yule (3d ed. 1903).

See studies by M. S. Collis (1960), H. H. Hart (1967), C. A. Burland (1970), J. Larner (1999), and L. Bergreen (2007).

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Polo, Marco

Polo, Marco (c.1254–1324) Venetian traveller. In 1271, he accompanied his father and uncle on a trading mission along the Silk Road, arrving at the court of Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor of China, in c.1275. According to his account, Marco became the confidant of the Emperor, travelling around s China and perhaps even visiting Burma. Captured by the Genoese navy in 1298, Marco recounted his tales to a fellow prisoner, a writer of romances named Rustichello. It was first published in English as The Description of the World. Although highly embellished, many of his descriptions and directions furnished European explorers with vital information.

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Polo, Marco

Polo, Marco (c.1254–c.1324), Italian traveller. With his father and uncle he travelled to China and the court of Kublai Khan via central Asia (1271–75). He eventually returned home (1292–5) via Sumatra, India, and Persia. His book recounting his travels spurred the European quest for Eastern riches.

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Marco Polo

Marco Polo: see Polo, Marco.

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Marco Polo

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