Marco Polo Is One Of The Most Well-known Heroic Travelers And Traders Essay

aroundthe world. In my paper I will discuss with you Marco Polo’s life, 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 explorer and
merchant whose account of his travels in Asia was the primary source for 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 to China, they were accompanied by 17-year-old Marco and two priests.

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Early Life
Despite his enduring fame, very little was known about the personal life of Marco
Polo. It is known that he was born into a leading Venetian family of merchants. He also
lived during a propitious time in world history, when the height of Venice’s influence as a
city-state coincided with the greatest extent of Mongol conquest of Asia(Li Man Kin 9).

Ruled by Kublai Khan, the Mongol Empire stretched all the way from China to Russia and
the Levant. The Mongol hordes also threatened other parts of Europe, particularly Poland
and Hungary, inspiring fear everywhere by their bloodthirsty advances. Yet the ruthless
methods brought a measure of stability to the lands they controlled, opening up trade
routes such as the famous Silk Road. Eventually ,the Mongols discovered that it was
more profitable to collect tribute from people than 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 ties in the Levant and around
the Black Sea: for example, they owned property in Constantinople, and Marco’s uncle,
for whom he was named, had a home in Sudak in the Crimea(Rugoff 8). From Sudak,
around 1260, another uncle, Maffeo, and Marco’s father, Niccol?, made a trading visit
into Mongol territory, the land of the Golden Horde(Russia), ruled by Berke Khan. While
they were there, a war broke out between Berke and the Cowan of Levant , blocking their
return home. Thus Niccol? and Maffeo traveled deeper into mongol territory, moving
southeast to Bukhara, which was ruled by a third Cowan. While waiting there, they met
an emissary traveling farther eastward who invited them to accompany him to the court of
the great Cowan, Kublai, in Cathay(modern China). In Cathay, Kublai Khan gave the
Polos a friendly reception, appointed them his emissaries to the pope, and ensured their
safe travel back to Europe(Steffof 10). They were to return to Cathay with one hundred
learned men who could instruct the Mongols in the Christian religion and the liberal arts.

In 1269, Niccol? and Maffeo Polo arrived back in Venice, where Niccol? found
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 or younger when his father left home:thus;
Marco was reared primarily by his mother and the extended Polo family-and the streets of
Venice. After his mother’s death, Marco had probably begun to think of himself as
something of a orphan(Rugoff 6). Then his father and uncle suddenly reappeared, as if
from the dead, after nine years of traveling in far-off, romantic lands. These experiences
were the formative influences on young Marco, and one can see their effects mirrored in
his character: a combination of sensitivity and toughness, independence and loyalty,
motivated by an eagerness for adventure, a love of stories, and a desire to please or
impress(Li Man Kin 10).

Life’s Work
In 1268, Pope Clement IV died, and a two- or three-year delay while another pope
was being elected gave young Marco time to mature and to absorb the tales of his father
and uncle. Marco was seventeen years old when he, his father and uncle finally set out for
the court of Kublai Khan(Stefoff 13). They were accompanied not by one hundred wise
men but by two Dominican friars, and the two good friars turned back at the first sign of
adversity, another local war in the Levant. Aside from the pope’s messages, the only
spiritual gift Europe was able to furnish the great Kublai Khan was oil from the lamp
burning at Jesus Christ’s supposed tomb in Jerusalem. Yet, in a sense, young Marco, the
only new person in the Polos’ party, was himself a fitting representative of the spirit of
European civilization on the eve of the Renaissance, and the lack of one hundred learned
Europeans guaranteed that he would catch the eye of the Cowan, who was curious about
“Latins” (Hull 29).

On the way to the khan’s court, Marco had the opportunity to complete his
education. The journey took three and a half years by horseback through some of the
world’s most rugged terrain, including snowy mountain ranges, such as the Pamirs, and
parching deserts, such as the Gobi. Marco and his party encountered such hazards as wild
beasts and brigands; they also met with beautiful women, in whom young Marco took a
special interest. The group traveled numerous countries and cultures, noting food, dress,
and religion unique to each(Li Man Kin 17). In particular, under the khans’s protection
the Polos were able to observe a large portion of the Islamic world at close range, as few
if any European Christians had. By the time they reached the khan’s court in Khanbalik,
Marco had become a hardened traveler. He had also received a unique education and had
been initiated into manhood.

Kublai Khan greeted the Polos warmly and invited them to stay on in his court.

Here, if Marco’s account is to be believed, the Polos became great favorites of the khan,
and Kublai eventually made Marco one of his most trusted emissaries(Great Lives from
History 16765). On these points Marco has been accused of gross exaggeration, and the
actual status of the Polos at the court of the khan is much disputed. If at first it appears
unlikely that Kublai would make young Marco an emissary, upon examination this seems
quite reasonable. For political reasons, the khan was in the habit of appointing foreigners
to administer conquered lands, particularly China, where the tenacity of the Chinese
bureaucracy was legendary. The khan could also observe for himself that young Marco
was a good candidate. Finally, Marco reported back so successfully from his fist
mission-informing the khan not only on business details but also on colorful customs and
other interesting trivia-that his further appointment was confirmed. The journeys
specifically mentioned in Marco’s book, involving travel across China and a sea voyage to
India, suggests that the khan did indeed trust him with some of the most difficult
missions(Rugoff 25).

The Polos stayed on for seventeen years, another indication of how valued they
were in the khan’s court. Marco, his father, and his uncle not only survived-itself an
achievement amid the political hazards of the time-but also prospered(Great Lives from
History 1678). Apparently, the elder Polos carried on their trading while Marco was
performing his missions; yet seventeen years is a long time to trade without returning
home to family and friends. According to Macro, because the khan held them in such high
regard, he would not let them return home, but as the khan aged the Polos began to fear
what would happen after his death(Hull 18). Finally an opportunity to leave presented
itself when trusted emissaries were needed to accompany a Mongol princess on a wedding
voyage by sea to Persia, where she was promised to the local khan. The Polos sailed from
Cathay with a fleet of fourteen ships and a wedding party of six hundred people, not
counting the sailors. Only a few members of the wedding entourage survived the journey
of almost two years, but luckily the survivors included the Polos and the princess.

Fortunately, too, the Polos duly delivered the princess not to the old khan of Persia, who
had meanwhile died, but to his son (Li Man Kin 21).

From Persia, the Polos made their way back to Venice. They were robbed as soon
as they got into Christian territory, but they still managed to reach home in 1295, with
plenty of rich goods. According to Giovanni Battista Ramusio, one of the early editors of
Marco’s book, the Polos strode into Venice looking like rugged Mongols(Stefoff 17).

Having thought them dead, their relatives at first did not recognize them, then were
astounded, and then were disgusted by their shabby appearance. Yet, according to
Ramusio, the scorn changed to delight when the returned travelers invited everyone to a
homecoming banquet, ripped apart their old clothes, and let all the hidden jewels clatter to
the table(Great Lives from History 1676).

The rest of the world might have learned little about the Polos’ travels if fate had
not intervened in Marco’s life. In his early forties, Marco was not yet ready to settle
down. Perhaps he was restless for further adventure, or perhaps he felt obliged to fulfill
his civic duties to his native city-state. In any event, he became involved in naval warfare
between Venetians and their trading rivals, the Genoese, and was captured. In 1298, the
great traveler across Asia, and emissary of the khan found himself rotting in a prison in
Genoa-an experience that could have ended tragically but instead took a lucky turn. In
prison Marco met a man named Rustichello from Persia, who was a writer of
romances(Stefoff 21). To pass the time, Marco dictated his observations about Asia to
Rustichello, who, in writing them down, probably employed the Italianized Old French
that was the language of medieval romances.

Their book was soon circulating, since Marco remained in prison only a year or so,
very likely gaining his freedom when the Venetians and Genoese made peace in
1299(Rugoff 32). After his prison experience, Marco was content to lead a quiet life in
Venice with the rest of his family and bask in his almost instant literary fame. He married
Donata Badoer, a member of the Venetian aristocracy. eventually grew up to marry
nobles. Thus Marco seems to have spent the last part of his life moving in Venetian
aristocratic circles. After living what was then a long life, Marco died in 1324, only
seventy years of age. In his will he left most of his modest wealth to his three daughters, a
legacy that included goods which he had brought back from Asia. His will also set free a
Tartar slave, who had remained with him since his return from the court of the great
khan(Li Man Kin 25).

Works Cited
Great 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.,

Li Man Kin. Marco Polo in China. Hong Kong: Kingsway International
Publications, 1981.

Rugoff, Milton. Marco Polo’s Adventures In China. New York: American
Heritage Publishing Co., 1964.

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

Bibliography :
Works Cited
Great 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.,

Li Man Kin. Marco Polo in China. Hong Kong: Kingsway International
Publications, 1981.

Rugoff, Milton. Marco Polo’s Adventures In China. New York: American
Heritage Publishing Co., 1964.

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


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