China is known for its long history. Its civilization preceded any of those of other countries. Since it first opened up to foreign traders and travelers, many notable names have passed through China and marveled at its civilization. Some say, that a lot of what the world is today is as a result of what China was all those years back. The country is believed to have influenced many of the development that has occurred in the world, from the government to infrastructure and even literature.
Among the great names that once passed through China is Marco Polo. Marco is mostly famous for his book which we know as the Travels of Marco Polo. In this book, Polo gives a detailed description of everything he discovered about China. He narrates about the different traditions, government systems, religion, money systems, and even the kind of games that were played then. His book gives a lot of insight into what China was like in the early period.
But you must be wondering who is Marco Polo? This post is an overview that attempts to answer this question. We will look at who he was, what he did, why he traveled and explored China, and what he discovered and brought back from there.
Who Was Marco Polo?
Most of us famously know Marco Polo as a famed adventurer who traveled from Europe to Asia, explored China, and wrote about it in his book The Travels of Marco. But what do we know about his life or his childhood?
Marco was born in 1254, in Venice, Italy. By the time of his birth, his father Nicolo and uncle, Maffeo Polo, who were successful jewel merchants were in Asia. Marco’s mother, Nicole Polo, died not too long after he was born, so he was raised by an extended family member. There isn’t much that is known about his childhood, like whether he had siblings or cousins. What is known, however, is that he spent most of his childhood in Venice, receiving a good education on foreign currency and handling cargo ships.
It wasn’t until 1269 when Nicolo and Maffeo returned home that the father and son met. This time when the Polo brothers were returning to Asia in 1271, Marco, a teenager at the time, accompanied them. Their travels led them to King Kublai Khan’s empire in Shangdu, which was around the time Marco had turned 21 years. Khan became impressed with Marco’s humility and intelligence as well as how he would entertain him with the stories he saw. As a result, Marco became a foreign emissary for Khan and traveled to explore India and Burma on his behalf.
After more than 20 years spent exploring China and other Asian countries, Marco finally returned to Venice in 1295 with a lot of fortune in the form of gemstones. By his arrival, Venice was at war with the Republic of Genoa. In an unfortunate turn of events, he became one of the Genoan prisoners. While imprisoned, he wrote a detailed account of everything he saw and learned throughout his travels.
The book was originally titled in Italian as “The Book of Marco Polo, nicknamed ‘Milione'”. Milione was a nickname given to him due to how he would constantly boast about his Khan’s wealth that could only be counted in millions. Other’s however, say that the name Milione is short for Emilione which differentiated, Marco and his father’s branch of the family from the rest of the polos. The manuscript spread far and wide across Europe and later came to be known as what we now know as The Travels of Marco Polo.
In 1299, when Marco was finally released and returned to his family. There he settled, got married to Donata Badoer, and had three daughters Fantina, Moretta, and Bellela. For the next 25 years after that, Marco is said to have continued with the family’s business until he eventually died.
What Did Marco Polo Do?
Initially, Marco Polo was an explorer and jewel merchant from Venice, traveling and working with his father and uncle. When they finally reached Khan’s empire, the ruler accepted them and gave them access to his empire and important positions in his court.
Khan as mentioned before was especially impressed with Marco’s intellect, who had by them come to learn four languages and had become fully immersed in the Chinese culture. As such Khan employed him as a special foreign emissary and sent him off to explore the far lands of Asia on his behalf, this included India, Tibet, and Burma.
After some years, Polo was promoted to being governor of one of the Chinese cities. From there he was again promoted to being an official of the Privy Council. At some point, he is also said to have been a tax inspector in Yanzhou city. Marco in the end wore many hats in his lifetime including being an explorer, merchant, and Chinese government official.
When Did Marco Polo Go to China?
Marco Polo began his voyage in China in 1271, as a teenager in the company of his father and his uncle. Through their journey, they were forced to sometimes go through harsh and challenging territories. Their travel took them from Armenia to Persia, to Afghanistan, to Pamirs. From there they went through Kashgar and Taklamakan desert to get to Suchow city. They stayed there for a year before proceeding in their journey.
They finally reached Shangdu, where the Kublai Khan’s summer palace was. From there they all moved to Beijing where Khan’s winter palace was. They stayed in China in the company of Khan for 17 years and accumulated a lot of fortune. During their stay there, Marco explored the different regions in China while serving Khan. In his book, he describes his explorations of places like the silk road, Shangdou, Beijing, Xi’an, the Silk Road, and Yangzhou. Other places in China he explored were Quanzhou and Hangzhou.
While they stayed with Khan, the Polos became very useful to him. Although they weren’t planning on staying in Asia for a long time, they ended up staying for over 20 years. That’s because Khan would not let them leave. Eventually, however, he did give in and the Polos made their way back home to Venice in 1295.
Why Did Marco Polo Explore China?
Initially, Marco’s exploration of China was inspired by the stories that his father and uncle told him and the family when they returned. During his travel, he became intrigued by Asia and especially China, in terms of its culture and civilization.
They also had the Pope’s letters to Khan that they had to deliver along with two priests who never made it through the journey and turned back home. Another reason why he explored China, was the fact that even as an explorer he was still a merchant. He continued to trade along his journey, together with the father and uncle. They managed to acquire a lot of riches and fortune as well, during their stay.
What Did Marco Polo Discover in China?
Marco Polo is considered to be the first European to travel and explore so far into the East. He has traveled for over 20 years, going farther than any explorer before him. Based on his extensive travels through China, Marco Polo experienced and discovered many things. He later described all these experiences in his book in detail, giving us a picture of what China was like in the 13th century.
In his exploration, he discovered Chinese technologies and inventions like paper and coal. He also discovered Chinese cuisines that weren’t known outside of the country, such as noodles. On top of that Marco learned about the Chinese government, its different philosophies, and its school of thought. Additionally, he immersed himself in the Chinese culture and learned about their traditions, and beliefs, for example, the use of kites and certain celebrations they held.
What Did Marco Polo Bring Back from China?
When Marco Polo finally returned to Europe, he is said to have brought a lot back with him. He is credited for introducing the then Western world to Chinese technology and civilization that was more advanced at the time. It is believed that his accounts influenced most of the changes and developments that later occurred in China.
Among the things he is said to have brought back from China was paper money, which revolutionized the use of paper money in Europe and later across the world. He is also said to have brought back technologies like using coal and eyeglasses, which later became common in Europe. Some say that he also brought back noodles although many only know of his description of them in his account about China. Kites were, however, another fascinating thing he certainly did bring back from China.
When Did Marco Polo Die?
After his long journey and adventure around China and across Asia, Marco Polo finally returned home after 24 years. He married, raised a family of three daughters, and continued with his family’s business for another 25 years. He finally died in January 1324, in Venice Italy. In his last days, many of his fans came from far and wide to see him. They wanted to know the truth about his accounts, whether they were true or fiction. Even in his death bed, Marco insisted that they were all true and that he hadn’t even written half of what he saw.
Marco Polo received more recognition after his death than in his lifetime. His legacy still precedes him till today. Some doubt his truth and believe that his accounts were based on stories he heard from Persians which was the furthest he traveled to the East. Archeologists, academics, researchers, and explorers after him, have, however, been able to verify accurately, all the claims he made about his travels. His story inspired many other explorers including Christopher Columbus, and others even today.