Marco Polo

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, Niccolò, 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, Niccolò, 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 Niccolò
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, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo
arrived back in Venice, where Niccolò 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,