Marco Polo


Marco Polo is one of the most well-known heroic travelers and traders around the 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.

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