Marco Polo was an important merchant, traveler, and explorer of the late 13th and early 14th centuries. He introduced many new items to people in Europe and in Asia. His travels were documented in a biography named The Travels of Marco Polo.
He is the most widely known merchant from medieval times. His journeys would later inspire explorers like Christopher Columbus, Henry the Navigator, and numerous European cartographers.
Marco Polo was born in Venice, Italy in 1254 C.E. His father Niccolo Polo was a wealthy merchant in Venice which was the trading capital of the Mediterranean Sea. Marco’s mother was Nicole Anna Defuseh.
His mother died when he was an infant. Marco was born while his father was away on a trading voyage. He was raised by an aunt and uncle.
Growing up he lived in Venice. He was well educated in various subjects from theology to philosophy to history.
He also learned the family business of trading goods. He understood currencies, cargo ships, appraising, and selling goods.
In 1260 C.E. his father and uncle Maffeo went on a voyage looking for goods. Their travels took them to China known as Cathay at the time. The two men traveled along the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a trading route connected by numerous cities along the way.
Usually merchants did not travel the entire length of the Silk Road. Merchants would stop at specific cities for specific trading goods. The voyage took the two men nine years to complete.
They returned with plenty of interesting merchandise like spices, silk, jewels, and pottery. While the two men were in China they met Kublai Khan the Mongol Emperor who controlled the region at this time.
When Marco was 17 years old he set out with his father and uncle to China. They traveled along the Silk Road trading and buying goods along the way. Their travel would take them 15,000 miles through Persia, India, and China. They also passed through the Gobi Desert on their way. The three men reached China after three years of traveling the Silk Road.
Marco Polo’s father and uncle had already formed a nice friendship with Kublai Khan from the earlier voyage. Kublai Khan was happy to meet Marco when he arrived in what is now present-day Beijing. The two quickly struck up a good friendship. Marco was also in awe of the city and Kublai Khan.
Marco Polo was impressed with numerous items in China. He viewed iron manufacturing, salt mines, silk garments, and intricate porcelain.
His impressions of the cities were no different. He was amazed at the infrastructure projects taking place such as the Grand Canal and other canals that were used to connect outlying cities.
Marco Polo learned to speak Chinese in a short period of time. In 1277 C.E. Kublai Khan appointed Marco as part of his Privy Council. Three years later Marco was appointed to be the tax inspector in Yanzhou.
Marco also worked as a spy and messenger for Kublai Khan throughout China and the region. He even traveled to what is present-day Vietnam and Myanmar while learning about different foods, culture, and people along the way.
After 24 years on the road traveling, Marco Polo returned to Venice. On his return trip he brought the Monogolian Princess Kokachin to Persia. Their journey home was filled with danger and only 117 of the 700 travelers survived.
When Marco Polo arrived in Venice in 1295 C.E. the city was at war with Genoa. Marco joined the Venetian forces to fight against Genoa’s soldiers. He would be captured at the Battle of Curzola and imprisoned.
While in jail he told his stories of travel to co-inmate Rustichello of Pisa who wrote down every detail of Marco’s voyages. Marco would leave jail after one year in 1299 C.E.
In 1300 C.E. Marco Polo’s adventures were published in a book called The Travels of Marco Polo also known as Il Milione.
The book had four parts detailing Marco’s journey in the Far East. The book would be published in Italian, Latin, and French.
Marco Polo also got married in 1300 C.E. to his wife Donata Badoer and they had three daughters together. He died in 1324 C.E. His body was laid to rest at the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice.
Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan
Ll Milione better known as The Travels of Marco Polo