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 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