Marco Polo Timeline

Marco Polo Timeline

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  • 1254 - 1324

    Life of the Venetian explorer Marco Polo.

  • 1260 - 1294

    Reign of Kublai Khan, ruler of the Mongol Empire.

  • 1271 - 1275

    Marco Polo travels across Asia to China.

  • c. 1275 - 1292

  • 1292 - 1295

    Marco Polo travels by land and sea from China to Venice.

  • c. 1296

    Marco Polo is captured and imprisoned by the Genoese. While in prison he writes his Travels, an account of his time in Mongol China.

Marco Polo

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Marco Polo, (born c. 1254, Venice [Italy]—died January 8, 1324, Venice), Venetian merchant and adventurer who traveled from Europe to Asia in 1271–95, remaining in China for 17 of those years, and whose Il milione (“The Million”), known in English as the Travels of Marco Polo, is a classic of travel literature.

What was Marco Polo’s family like?

The Polos were likely shrewd, alert, and courageous they traded with the Middle East and acquired considerable wealth and prestige. Marco Polo’s father, Niccolò, and uncle, Maffeo, continued this legacy. Traveling east as far as Mongol emperor Kublai Khan’s summer residence, Shangdu, they established friendly relations with him before returning to Europe as his ambassadors.

What did Marco Polo do?

Marco Polo was 17 or 18 when he began his journey from Venice to the farthest reaches of the Mongol empire. Living among the emperor’s dominions, with his father and uncle, as an advisor and emissary for 16 or 17 years, he returned to Venice by way of Hormuz (aboard ship) and Constantinople (overland).

Why was Marco Polo so influential?

Marco Polo’s account in Il milione opened new vistas to the European mind, and, as Western horizons expanded, Polo’s legacy grew as well. The wealth of new geographic information recorded by Polo was widely used in the late 15th and the 16th centuries, during the age of the great European voyages of discovery and conquest.

What were Marco Polo’s other accomplishments in Asia?

Kublai Khan sent Marco Polo on fact-finding missions to distant parts of the empire, including visits to Yunnan (and possibly Myanmar [Burma]) and through southeastern China to “Quinsay” (now Hangzhou). He escorted a Mongol princess, with his father and uncle, by sea to Hormuz, and by land to Khorasan, during his return voyage to Venice.


Birthplace and family origin

Marco Polo was born in 1254 in Venice, capital of the Venetian Republic. [10] [11] [12] His father, Niccolò Polo, had his household in Venice and left Marco's pregnant mother in order to travel to Asia with his brother Maffeo Polo. Their return to Italy in order to "go to Venice and visit their household" is described in The Travels of Marco Polo as follows: ". they departed from Acre and went to Negropont, and from Negropont they continued their voyage to Venice. On their arrival there, Messer Nicolas found that his wife was dead and that she had left behind her a son of fifteen years of age, whose name was Marco". [13]

His first known ancestor was a great uncle, Marco Polo (the older) from Venice, who lent some money and commanded a ship in Costantinople. Andrea, Marco's grandfather, lived in Venice in "contrada San Felice", he had three sons: Marco "the older", Maffeo and Niccolò (Marco's father). [14] [15] Some old Venetian historical sources considered Polo's ancestors to be of far Dalmatian origin. [16] [17] [18]

Nickname Milione

Marco Polo is most often mentioned in the archives of the Republic of Venice as Marco Paulo de confinio Sancti Iohannis Grisostomi, [19] which means Marco Polo of the contrada of St John Chrysostom Church.

However, he was also nicknamed Milione during his lifetime (which in Italian literally means 'Million'). In fact, the Italian title of his book was Il libro di Marco Polo detto il Milione, which means "The Book of Marco Polo, nicknamed 'Milione ' ". According to the 15th-century humanist Giovanni Battista Ramusio, his fellow citizens awarded him this nickname when he came back to Venice because he kept on saying that Kublai Khan's wealth was counted in millions. More precisely, he was nicknamed Messer Marco Milioni (Mr Marco Millions). [20]

However, since also his father Niccolò was nicknamed Milione, [21] 19th-century philologist Luigi Foscolo Benedetto was persuaded that Milione was a shortened version of Emilione, and that this nickname was used to distinguish Niccolò's and Marco's branch from other Polo families. [22] [23]

Early life and Asian travel

In 1168, his great-uncle, Marco Polo, borrowed money and commanded a ship in Constantinople. [24] [25] His grandfather, Andrea Polo of the parish of San Felice, had three sons, Maffeo, yet another Marco, and the traveller's father Niccolò. [24] This genealogy, described by Ramusio, is not universally accepted as there is no additional evidence to support it. [26] [27]

His father, Niccolò Polo, a merchant, traded with the Near East, becoming wealthy and achieving great prestige. [28] [29] Niccolò and his brother Maffeo set off on a trading voyage before Marco's birth. [30] [29] In 1260, Niccolò and Maffeo, while residing in Constantinople, then the capital of the Latin Empire, foresaw a political change they liquidated their assets into jewels and moved away. [28] According to The Travels of Marco Polo, they passed through much of Asia, and met with Kublai Khan, a Mongol ruler and founder of the Yuan dynasty. [31] Their decision to leave Constantinople proved timely. In 1261 Michael VIII Palaiologos, the ruler of the Empire of Nicaea, took Constantinople, promptly burned the Venetian quarter and re-established the Byzantine Empire. Captured Venetian citizens were blinded, [32] while many of those who managed to escape perished aboard overloaded refugee ships fleeing to other Venetian colonies in the Aegean Sea.

Almost nothing is known about the childhood of Marco Polo until he was fifteen years old, except that he probably spent part of his childhood in Venice. [33] [34] [25] Meanwhile, Marco Polo's mother died, and an aunt and uncle raised him. [29] He received a good education, learning mercantile subjects including foreign currency, appraising, and the handling of cargo ships [29] he learned little or no Latin. [28] His father later married Floradise Polo (née Trevisan). [27]

In 1269, Niccolò and Maffeo returned to their families in Venice, meeting young Marco for the first time. [33] In 1271, during the rule of Doge Lorenzo Tiepolo, Marco Polo (at seventeen years of age), his father, and his uncle set off for Asia on the series of adventures that Marco later documented in his book. [35]

They sailed to Acre and later rode on their camels to the Persian port Hormuz. During the first stages of the journey, they stayed for a few months in Acre and were able to speak with Archdeacon Tedaldo Visconti of Piacenza. The Polo family, on that occasion, had expressed their regret at the long lack of a pope, because on their previous trip to China they had received a letter from Kublai Khan to the Pope, and had thus had to leave for China disappointed. During the trip, however, they received news that after 33 months of vacation, finally, the Conclave had elected the new Pope and that he was exactly the archdeacon of Acre. The three of them hurried to return to the Holy Land, where the new Pope entrusted them with letters for the "Great Khan", inviting him to send his emissaries to Rome. To give more weight to this mission he sent with the Polos, as his legates, two Dominican fathers, Guglielmo of Tripoli and Nicola of Piacenza. [36]

They continued overland until they arrived at Kublai Khan's place in Shangdu, China (then known as Cathay). By this time, Marco was 21 years old. [37] Impressed by Marco's intelligence and humility, Khan appointed him to serve as his foreign emissary to India and Burma. He was sent on many diplomatic missions throughout his empire and in Southeast Asia, (such as in present-day Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam), [5] [6] but also entertained the Khan with stories and observations about the lands he saw. As part of this appointment, Marco travelled extensively inside China, living in the emperor's lands for 17 years. [7]

Kublai initially refused several times to let the Polos return to Europe, as he appreciated their company and they became useful to him. [38] However, around 1291, he finally granted permission, entrusting the Polos with his last duty: accompany the Mongol princess Kököchin, who was to become the consort of Arghun Khan, in Persia (see Narrative section). [37] [39] After leaving the princess, the Polos travelled overland to Constantinople. They later decided to return to their home. [37]

They returned to Venice in 1295, after 24 years, with many riches and treasures. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km). [29]

Genoese captivity and later life

Marco Polo returned to Venice in 1295 with his fortune converted into gemstones. At this time, Venice was at war with the Republic of Genoa. [40] Polo armed a galley equipped with a trebuchet [41] to join the war. He was probably caught by Genoans in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta [42] (and not during the battle of Curzola (September 1298), off the Dalmatian coast, [43] a claim which is due to a later tradition (16th century) recorded by Giovanni Battista Ramusio [44] [45] ).

He spent several months of his imprisonment dictating a detailed account of his travels to a fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa, [29] who incorporated tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China. The book soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form, and became known as The Travels of Marco Polo (Italian title: Il Milione, lit. "The Million", deriving from Polo's nickname "Milione". Original title in Franco-Italian : Livres des Merveilles du Monde). It depicts the Polos' journeys throughout Asia, giving Europeans their first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. [46]

Polo was finally released from captivity in August 1299, [29] and returned home to Venice, where his father and uncle in the meantime had purchased a large palazzo in the zone named contrada San Giovanni Crisostomo (Corte del Milion). [47] For such a venture, the Polo family probably invested profits from trading, and even many gemstones they brought from the East. [47] The company continued its activities and Marco soon became a wealthy merchant. Marco and his uncle Maffeo financed other expeditions, but likely never left Venetian provinces, nor returned to the Silk Road and Asia. [48] Sometime before 1300, his father Niccolò died. [48] In 1300, he married Donata Badoèr, the daughter of Vitale Badoèr, a merchant. [49] They had three daughters, Fantina (married Marco Bragadin), Bellela (married Bertuccio Querini), and Moreta. [50] [51]

Pietro d'Abano philosopher, doctor and astrologer based in Padua, reports having spoken with Marco Polo about what he had observed in the vault of the sky during his travels. Marco told him that during his return trip to the South China Sea, he had spotted what he describes in a drawing as a star "shaped like a sack" (in Latin: ut sacco) with a big tail (magna habens caudam), most likely a comet. Astronomers agree that there were no comets sighted in Europe at the end of 1200, but there are records about a comet sighted in China and Indonesia in 1293. [52] Interestingly, this circumstance does not appear in Polo's book of Travels. Peter D'Abano kept the drawing in his volume "Conciliator Differentiarum, quæ inter Philosophos et Medicos Versantur". Marco Polo gave Pietro other astronomical observations he made in the Southern Hemisphere, and also a description of the Sumatran rhinoceros, which are collected in the Conciliator. [52]

In 1305 he is mentioned in a Venetian document among local sea captains regarding the payment of taxes. [27] His relation with a certain Marco Polo, who in 1300 was mentioned with riots against the aristocratic government, and escaped the death penalty, as well as riots from 1310 led by Bajamonte Tiepolo and Marco Querini, among whose rebels were Jacobello and Francesco Polo from another family branch, is unclear. [27] Polo is clearly mentioned again after 1305 in Maffeo's testament from 1309–1310, in a 1319 document according to which he became owner of some estates of his deceased father, and in 1321, when he bought part of the family property of his wife Donata. [27]


In 1323, Polo was confined to bed, due to illness. [53] On January 8, 1324, despite physicians' efforts to treat him, Polo was on his deathbed. [54] To write and certify the will, his family requested Giovanni Giustiniani, a priest of San Procolo. His wife, Donata, and his three daughters were appointed by him as co-executrices. [54] The church was entitled by law to a portion of his estate he approved of this and ordered that a further sum be paid to the convent of San Lorenzo, the place where he wished to be buried. [54] He also set free Peter, a Tartar servant, who may have accompanied him from Asia, [55] and to whom Polo bequeathed 100 lire of Venetian denari. [56]

He divided up the rest of his assets, including several properties, among individuals, religious institutions, and every guild and fraternity to which he belonged. [54] He also wrote off multiple debts including 300 lire that his sister-in-law owed him, and others for the convent of San Giovanni, San Paolo of the Order of Preachers, and a cleric named Friar Benvenuto. [54] He ordered 220 soldi be paid to Giovanni Giustiniani for his work as a notary and his prayers. [57]

The will was not signed by Polo, but was validated by the then-relevant "signum manus" rule, by which the testator only had to touch the document to make it legally valid. [56] [58] Due to the Venetian law stating that the day ends at sunset, the exact date of Marco Polo's death cannot be determined, but according to some scholars it was between the sunsets of January 8 and 9, 1324. [59] Biblioteca Marciana, which holds the original copy of his testament, dates the testament on January 9, 1323, and gives the date of his death at some time in June 1324. [58]

An authoritative version of Marco Polo's book does not and cannot exist, for the early manuscripts differ significantly, and the reconstruction of the original text is a matter of textual criticism. A total of about 150 copies in various languages are known to exist. Before the availability of printing press, errors were frequently made during copying and translating, so there are many differences between the various copies. [60] [61]

Polo related his memoirs orally to Rustichello da Pisa while both were prisoners of the Genova Republic. Rustichello wrote Devisement du Monde in Franco-Venetian. [62] The idea probably was to create a handbook for merchants, essentially a text on weights, measures and distances. [63]

The oldest surviving manuscript is in Old French heavily flavoured with Italian [64] According to the Italian scholar Luigi Foscolo Benedetto, this "F" text is the basic original text, which he corrected by comparing it with the somewhat more detailed Italian of Giovanni Battista Ramusio, together with a Latin manuscript in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. Other early important sources are R (Ramusio's Italian translation first printed in 1559), and Z (a fifteenth-century Latin manuscript kept at Toledo, Spain). Another Old French Polo manuscript, dating to around 1350, is held by the National Library of Sweden. [65]

One of the early manuscripts Iter Marci Pauli Veneti was a translation into Latin made by the Dominican brother Francesco Pipino in 1302, just a few years after Marco's return to Venice. Since Latin was then the most widespread and authoritative language of culture, it is suggested that Rustichello's text was translated into Latin for a precise will of the Dominican Order, and this helped to promote the book on a European scale. [19]

The first English translation is the Elizabethan version by John Frampton published in 1579, The most noble and famous travels of Marco Polo, based on Santaella's Castilian translation of 1503 (the first version in that language). [66]

The published editions of Polo's book rely on single manuscripts, blend multiple versions together, or add notes to clarify, for example in the English translation by Henry Yule. The 1938 English translation by A. C. Moule and Paul Pelliot is based on a Latin manuscript found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50% longer than other versions. [67] The popular translation published by Penguin Books in 1958 by R. E. Latham works several texts together to make a readable whole. [68]


The book opens with a preface describing his father and uncle travelling to Bolghar where Prince Berke Khan lived. A year later, they went to Ukek [69] and continued to Bukhara. There, an envoy from the Levant invited them to meet Kublai Khan, who had never met Europeans. [70] In 1266, they reached the seat of Kublai Khan at Dadu, present-day Beijing, China. Kublai received the brothers with hospitality and asked them many questions regarding the European legal and political system. [71] He also inquired about the Pope and Church in Rome. [72] After the brothers answered the questions he tasked them with delivering a letter to the Pope, requesting 100 Christians acquainted with the Seven Arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy). Kublai Khan requested also that an envoy bring him back oil of the lamp in Jerusalem. [73] The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268 and the election of his successor delayed the Polos in fulfilling Kublai's request. They followed the suggestion of Theobald Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt, and returned to Venice in 1269 or 1270 to await the nomination of the new Pope, which allowed Marco to see his father for the first time, at the age of fifteen or sixteen. [74]

In 1271, Niccolò, Maffeo and Marco Polo embarked on their voyage to fulfil Kublai's request. They sailed to Acre, and then rode on camels to the Persian port of Hormuz. The Polos wanted to sail straight into China, but the ships there were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road, until reaching Kublai's summer palace in Shangdu, near present-day Zhangjiakou. In one instance during their trip, the Polos joined a caravan of travelling merchants whom they crossed paths with. Unfortunately, the party was soon attacked by bandits, who used the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The Polos managed to fight and escape through a nearby town, but many members of the caravan were killed or enslaved. [75] Three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos were welcomed by Kublai into his palace. [29] The exact date of their arrival is unknown, but scholars estimate it to be between 1271 and 1275. [nb 1] On reaching the Yuan court, the Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to their patron. [28]

Marco knew four languages, and the family had accumulated a great deal of knowledge and experience that was useful to Kublai. It is possible that he became a government official [29] he wrote about many imperial visits to China's southern and eastern provinces, the far south and Burma. [76] They were highly respected and sought after in the Mongolian court, and so Kublai Khan decided to decline the Polos' requests to leave China. They became worried about returning home safely, believing that if Kublai died, his enemies might turn against them because of their close involvement with the ruler. In 1292, Kublai's great-nephew, then ruler of Persia, sent representatives to China in search of a potential wife, and they asked the Polos to accompany them, so they were permitted to return to Persia with the wedding party—which left that same year from Zaitun in southern China on a fleet of 14 junks. The party sailed to the port of Singapore, [77] travelled north to Sumatra, [78] and around the southern tip of India, [79] eventually crossing the Arabian Sea to Hormuz. The two-year voyage was a perilous one—of the six hundred people (not including the crew) in the convoy only eighteen had survived (including all three Polos). [80] The Polos left the wedding party after reaching Hormuz and travelled overland to the port of Trebizond on the Black Sea, the present-day Trabzon. [29]

Role of Rustichello

The British scholar Ronald Latham has pointed out that The Book of Marvels was, in fact, a collaboration written in 1298–1299 between Polo and a professional writer of romances, Rustichello of Pisa. [81] It is believed that Polo related his memoirs orally to Rustichello da Pisa while both were prisoners of the Genova Republic. Rustichello wrote Devisement du Monde in Franco-Venetian language, which was the language of culture widespread in northern Italy between the subalpine belt and the lower Po between the 13th and 15th centuries. [62] [82]

Latham also argued that Rustichello may have glamorised Polo's accounts, and added fantastic and romantic elements that made the book a bestseller. [81] The Italian scholar Luigi Foscolo Benedetto had previously demonstrated that the book was written in the same "leisurely, conversational style" that characterised Rustichello's other works, and that some passages in the book were taken verbatim or with minimal modifications from other writings by Rustichello. For example, the opening introduction in The Book of Marvels to "emperors and kings, dukes and marquises" was lifted straight out of an Arthurian romance Rustichello had written several years earlier, and the account of the second meeting between Polo and Kublai Khan at the latter's court is almost the same as that of the arrival of Tristan at the court of King Arthur at Camelot in that same book. [83] Latham believed that many elements of the book, such as legends of the Middle East and mentions of exotic marvels, may have been the work of Rustichello who was giving what medieval European readers expected to find in a travel book. [84]

Role of the Dominican Order

Apparently, from the very beginning, Marco's story aroused contrasting reactions, as it was received by some with a certain disbelief. The Dominican father Francesco Pipino was the author of a translation into Latin, Iter Marci Pauli Veneti in 1302, just a few years after Marco's return to Venice. Francesco Pipino solemnly affirmed the truthfulness of the book and defined Marco as a "prudent, honoured and faithful man". [85] In his writings, the Dominican brother Jacopo d'Acqui explains why his contemporaries were sceptical about the content of the book. He also relates that before dying, Marco Polo insisted that "he had told only a half of the things he had seen". [85]

According to some recent research of the Italian scholar Antonio Montefusco, the very close relationship that Marco Polo cultivated with members of the Dominican Order in Venice suggests that local fathers collaborated with him for a Latin version of the book, which means that Rustichello's text was translated into Latin for a precise will of the Order. [19]

Since Dominican fathers had among their missions that of evangelizing foreign peoples (cf. the role of Dominican missionaries in China [86] and in the Indies [87] ), it is reasonable to think that they considered Marco's book as a trustworthy piece of information for missions in the East. The diplomatic communications between Pope Innocent IV and Pope Gregory X with the Mongols [88] were probably another reason for this endorsement. At the time, there was open discussion of a possible Christian-Mongul alliance with an anti-Islamic function. [89] In fact, a Mongol delegate was solemny baptised at the Second Council of Lyon. At the council, Pope Gregory X promulgated a new Crusade to start in 1278 in liaison with the Mongols. [90]

Authenticity and veracity

Since its publication, some have viewed the book with skepticism. [91] Some in the Middle Ages regarded the book simply as a romance or fable, due largely to the sharp difference of its descriptions of a sophisticated civilisation in China to other early accounts by Giovanni da Pian del Carpine and William of Rubruck, who portrayed the Mongols as 'barbarians' who appeared to belong to 'some other world'. [91] Doubts have also been raised in later centuries about Marco Polo's narrative of his travels in China, for example for his failure to mention the Great Wall of China, and in particular the difficulties in identifying many of the place names he used [92] (the great majority, however, have since been identified). [93] Many have questioned whether he had visited the places he mentioned in his itinerary, whether he had appropriated the accounts of his father and uncle or other travelers, and some doubted whether he even reached China, or that if he did, perhaps never went beyond Khanbaliq (Beijing). [92] [94]

It has, however, been pointed out that Polo's accounts of China are more accurate and detailed than other travellers' accounts of the periods. Polo had at times refuted the 'marvellous' fables and legends given in other European accounts, and despite some exaggerations and errors, Polo's accounts have relatively few of the descriptions of irrational marvels. In many cases where present (mostly given in the first part before he reached China, such as mentions of Christian miracles), he made a clear distinction that they are what he had heard rather than what he had seen. It is also largely free of the gross errors found in other accounts such as those given by the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta who had confused the Yellow River with the Grand Canal and other waterways, and believed that porcelain was made from coal. [95]

Modern studies have further shown that details given in Marco Polo's book, such as the currencies used, salt productions and revenues, are accurate and unique. Such detailed descriptions are not found in other non-Chinese sources, and their accuracy is supported by archaeological evidence as well as Chinese records compiled after Polo had left China. His accounts are therefore unlikely to have been obtained second hand. [96] Other accounts have also been verified for example, when visiting Zhenjiang in Jiangsu, China, Marco Polo noted that a large number of Christian churches had been built there. His claim is confirmed by a Chinese text of the 14th century explaining how a Sogdian named Mar-Sargis from Samarkand founded six Nestorian Christian churches there in addition to one in Hangzhou during the second half of the 13th century. [97] His story of the princess Kököchin sent from China to Persia to marry the Īl-khān is also confirmed by independent sources in both Persia and China. [98]

Explaining omissions

Sceptics have long wondered whether Marco Polo wrote his book based on hearsay, with some pointing to omissions about noteworthy practices and structures of China as well as the lack of details on some places in his book. While Polo describes paper money and the burning of coal, he fails to mention the Great Wall of China, tea, Chinese characters, chopsticks, or footbinding. [99] His failure to note the presence of the Great Wall of China was first raised in the middle of the seventeenth century, and in the middle of the eighteenth century, it was suggested that he might have never reached China. [92] Later scholars such as John W. Haeger argued that Marco Polo might not have visited Southern China due to the lack of details in his description of southern Chinese cities compared to northern ones, while Herbert Franke also raised the possibility that Marco Polo might not have been to China at all, and wondered if he might have based his accounts on Persian sources due to his use of Persian expressions. [94] [100] This is taken further by Dr. Frances Wood who claimed in her 1995 book Did Marco Polo Go to China? that at best Polo never went farther east than Persia (modern Iran), and that there is nothing in The Book of Marvels about China that could not be obtained via reading Persian books. [101] Wood maintains that it is more probable that Polo only went to Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey) and some of the Italian merchant colonies around the Black Sea, picking hearsay from those travellers who had been farther east. [101]

Supporters of Polo's basic accuracy countered on the points raised by sceptics such as footbinding and the Great Wall of China. Historian Stephen G. Haw argued that the Great Walls were built to keep out northern invaders, whereas the ruling dynasty during Marco Polo's visit were those very northern invaders. They note that the Great Wall familiar to us today is a Ming structure built some two centuries after Marco Polo's travels and that the Mongol rulers whom Polo served controlled territories both north and south of today's wall, and would have no reasons to maintain any fortifications that may have remained there from the earlier dynasties. [102] Other Europeans who travelled to Khanbaliq during the Yuan dynasty, such as Giovanni de' Marignolli and Odoric of Pordenone, said nothing about the wall either. The Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta, who asked about the wall when he visited China during the Yuan dynasty, could find no one who had either seen it or knew of anyone who had seen it, suggesting that while ruins of the wall constructed in the earlier periods might have existed, they were not significant or noteworthy at that time. [102]

Haw also argued that footbinding was not common even among Chinese during Polo's time and almost unknown among the Mongols. While the Italian missionary Odoric of Pordenone who visited Yuan China mentioned footbinding (it is however unclear whether he was merely relaying something he had heard as his description is inaccurate), [103] no other foreign visitors to Yuan China mentioned the practice, perhaps an indication that the footbinding was not widespread or was not practised in an extreme form at that time. [104] Marco Polo himself noted (in the Toledo manuscript) the dainty walk of Chinese women who took very short steps. [102] It has also been noted by other scholars that many of the things not mentioned by Marco Polo such as tea and chopsticks were not mentioned by other travellers as well. [39] Haw also pointed out that despite the few omissions, Marco Polo's account is more extensive, more accurate and more detailed than those of other foreign travellers to China in this period. [105] Marco Polo even observed Chinese nautical inventions such as the watertight compartments of bulkhead partitions in Chinese ships, knowledge of which he was keen to share with his fellow Venetians. [106]

In addition to Haw, a number of other scholars have argued in favour of the established view that Polo was in China in response to Wood's book. [107] Wood's book has been criticized by figures including Igor de Rachewiltz (translator and annotator of The Secret History of the Mongols) and Morris Rossabi (author of Kublai Khan: his life and times). [108] The historian David Morgan points out basic errors made in Wood's book such as confusing the Liao dynasty with the Jin dynasty, and he found no compelling evidence in the book that would convince him that Marco Polo did not go to China. [109] Haw also argues in his book Marco Polo's China that Marco's account is much more correct and accurate than has often been supposed and that it is extremely unlikely that he could have obtained all the information in his book from second-hand sources. [110] Haw also criticizes Wood's approach to finding mention of Marco Polo in Chinese texts by contending that contemporaneous Europeans had little regard for using surnames and that a direct Chinese transliteration of the name "Marco" ignores the possibility of him taking on a Chinese or even Mongol name with no bearing or similarity with his Latin name. [111]

Also in reply to Wood, Jørgen Jensen recalled the meeting of Marco Polo and Pietro d'Abano in the late 13th century. During this meeting, Marco gave to Pietro details of the astronomical observations he had made on his journey. These observations are only compatible with Marco's stay in China, Sumatra and the South China Sea [112] and are recorded in Pietro's book Conciliator Differentiarum, but not in Marco's Book of Travels.

Reviewing Haw's book, Peter Jackson (author of The Mongols and the West) has said that Haw "must surely now have settled the controversy surrounding the historicity of Polo's visit to China". [113] Igor de Rachewiltz's review, which refutes Wood's points, concludes with a strongly-worded condemnation: "I regret to say that F. W.'s book falls short of the standard of scholarship that one would expect in a work of this kind. Her book can only be described as deceptive, both in relation to the author and to the public at large. Questions are posted that, in the majority of cases, have already been answered satisfactorily . her attempt is unprofessional she is poorly equipped in the basic tools of the trade, i.e., adequate linguistic competence and research methodology . and her major arguments cannot withstand close scrutiny. Her conclusion fails to consider all the evidence supporting Marco Polo's credibility." [114]

Allegations of exaggeration

Some scholars believe that Marco Polo exaggerated his importance in China. The British historian David Morgan thought that Polo had likely exaggerated and lied about his status in China, [115] while Ronald Latham believed that such exaggerations were embellishments by his ghostwriter Rustichello da Pisa. [84]

Et meser Marc Pol meisme, celui de cui trate ceste livre, seingneurie ceste cité por trois anz.

And the same Marco Polo, of whom this book relates, ruled this city for three years.

This sentence in The Book of Marvels was interpreted as Marco Polo was "the governor" of the city of "Yangiu" Yangzhou for three years, and later of Hangzhou. This claim has raised some controversy. According to David Morgan no Chinese source mentions him as either a friend of the Emperor or as the governor of Yangzhou – indeed no Chinese source mentions Marco Polo at all. [115] In fact, in the 1960s the German historian Herbert Franke noted that all occurrences of Po-lo or Bolod in Yuan texts were names of people of Mongol or Turkic extraction. [100]

However, in the 2010s the Chinese scholar Peng Hai identified Marco Polo with a certain "Boluo", a courtier of the emperor, who is mentioned in the Yuanshi ("History of Yuan") since he was arrested in 1274 by an imperial dignitary named Saman. The accusation was that Boluo had walked on the same side of the road as a female courtesan, in contravention of the order for men and women to walk on opposite sides of the road inside the city. [116] According to the "Yuanshi" records, Boluo was released at the request of the emperor himself, and was then transferred to the region of Ningxia, in the northeast of present-day China, in the spring of 1275. The date could correspond to the first mission of which Marco Polo speaks. [117]

If this identification is correct, there is a record about Marco Polo in Chinese sources. These conjectures seem to be supported by the fact that in addition to the imperial dignitary Saman (the one who had arrested the official named "Boluo"), the documents mention his brother, Xiangwei. According to sources, Saman died shortly after the incident, while Xiangwei was transferred to Yangzhou in 1282–1283. Marco Polo reports that he was moved to Hangzhou the following year, in 1284. It has been supposed that these displacements are due to the intention to avoid further conflicts between the two. [118]

The sinologist Paul Pelliot thought that Polo might have served as an officer of the government salt monopoly in Yangzhou, which was a position of some significance that could explain the exaggeration. [115]

It may seem unlikely that a European could hold a position of power in the Mongolian empire. However, some records prove he was not the first nor the only one. In his book, Marco mentions an official named "Mar Sarchis" who probably was a Nestorian Christian bishop, and he says he founded two Christian churches in the region of "Caigiu". This official is actually mentioned in the local gazette Zhishun Zhenjian zhi under the name "Ma Xuelijisi" and the qualification of "General of Third Class". Always in the gazette, it is said Ma Xuelijsi was an assistant supervisor in the province of Zhenjiang for three years, and that during this time he founded two Christian churches. [119] [120] [118] In fact, it is a well-documented fact that Kublai Khan trusted foreigners more than Chinese subjects in internal affairs. [121] [118]

Stephen G. Haw challenges this idea that Polo exaggerated his own importance, writing that, "contrary to what has often been said . Marco does not claim any very exalted position for himself in the Yuan empire." [122] He points out that Polo never claimed to hold high rank, such as a darughachi, who led a tumen – a unit that was normally 10,000 strong. In fact, Polo does not even imply that he had led 1,000 personnel. Haw points out that Polo himself appears to state only that he had been an emissary of the khan, in a position with some esteem. According to Haw, this is a reasonable claim if Polo was, for example, a keshig – a member of the imperial guard by the same name, which included as many as 14,000 individuals at the time. [122]

Haw explains how the earliest manuscripts of Polo's accounts provide contradicting information about his role in Yangzhou, with some stating he was just a simple resident, others stating he was a governor, and Ramusio's manuscript claiming he was simply holding that office as a temporary substitute for someone else, yet all the manuscripts concur that he worked as an esteemed emissary for the khan. [123] Haw also objected to the approach to finding mention of Marco Polo in Chinese texts, contending that contemporaneous Europeans had little regard for using surnames, and a direct Chinese transcription of the name "Marco" ignores the possibility of him taking on a Chinese or even Mongol name that had no bearing or similarity with his Latin name. [122]

Another controversial claim is at chapter 145 when the Book of Marvels states that the three Polos provided the Mongols with technical advice on building mangonels during the Siege of Xiangyang,

Adonc distrent les .II. freres et lor filz meser Marc. "Grant Sire, nos avon avech nos en nostre mesnie homes qe firont tielz mangan qe giteront si grant pieres qe celes de la cité ne poront sofrir mes se renderont maintenant."

Then the two brothers and their son Marc said: "Great Lord, in our entourage we have men who will build such mangonels which launch such great stones, that the inhabitants of the city will not endure it and will immediately surrender."

Since the siege was over in 1273, before Marco Polo had arrived in China for the first time, the claim cannot be true [115] [124] The Mongol army that besieged Xiangyang did have foreign military engineers, but they were mentioned in Chinese sources as being from Baghdad and had Arabic names. [100] In this respect, Igor de Rachewiltz recalls that the claim that the three Polo were present at the siege of Xiang-yang is not present in all manuscripts, but Niccolò and Matteo could have made this suggestion. Therefore, this claim seems a subsequent addition to give more credibility to the story. [125] [126]


A number of errors in Marco Polo's account have been noted: for example, he described the bridge later known as Marco Polo Bridge as having twenty-four arches instead of eleven or thirteen. [39] He also said that city wall of Khanbaliq had twelve gates when it had only eleven. [127] Archaeologists have also pointed out that Polo may have mixed up the details from the two attempted invasions of Japan by Kublai Khan in 1274 and 1281. Polo wrote of five-masted ships, when archaeological excavations found that the ships, in fact, had only three masts. [128]


Wood accused Marco Polo of taking other people's accounts in his book, retelling other stories as his own, or basing his accounts on Persian guidebooks or other lost sources. For example, Sinologist Francis Woodman Cleaves noted that Polo's account of the voyage of the princess Kököchin from China to Persia to marry the Īl-khān in 1293 has been confirmed by a passage in the 15th-century Chinese work Yongle Encyclopedia and by the Persian historian Rashid-al-Din Hamadani in his work Jami' al-tawarikh. However, neither of these accounts mentions Polo or indeed any European as part of the bridal party, [98] and Wood used the lack of mention of Polo in these works as an example of Polo's "retelling of a well-known tale". Morgan, in Polo's defence, noted that even the princess herself was not mentioned in the Chinese source and that it would have been surprising if Polo had been mentioned by Rashid-al-Din. [109] Historian Igor de Rachewiltz strongly criticised Wood's arguments in his review of her book. [129] Rachewiltz argued that Marco Polo's account, in fact, allows the Persian and Chinese sources to be reconciled – by relaying the information that two of the three envoys sent (mentioned in the Chinese source and whose names accord with those given by Polo) had died during the voyage, it explains why only the third who survived, Coja/Khoja, was mentioned by Rashìd al-Dìn. Polo had therefore completed the story by providing information not found in either source. He also noted that the only Persian source that mentions the princess was not completed until 1310–11, therefore Marco Polo could not have learned the information from any Persian book. According to de Rachewiltz, the concordance of Polo's detailed account of the princess with other independent sources that gave only incomplete information is proof of the veracity of Polo's story and his presence in China. [129]


Morgan writes that since much of what The Book of Marvels has to say about China is "demonstrably correct", any claim that Polo did not go to China "creates far more problems than it solves", therefore the "balance of probabilities" strongly suggests that Polo really did go to China, even if he exaggerated somewhat his importance in China. [130] Haw dismisses the various anachronistic criticisms of Polo's accounts that started in the 17th century, and highlights Polo's accuracy in great part of his accounts, for example on features of the landscape such as the Grand Canal of China. [131] "If Marco was a liar," Haw writes, "then he must have been an implausibly meticulous one." [132]

In 2012, the University of Tübingen Sinologist and historian Hans Ulrich Vogel released a detailed analysis of Polo's description of currencies, salt production and revenues, and argued that the evidence supports his presence in China because he included details which he could not have otherwise known. [96] [133] Vogel noted that no other Western, Arab, or Persian sources have given such accurate and unique details about the currencies of China, for example, the shape and size of the paper, the use of seals, the various denominations of paper money as well as variations in currency usage in different regions of China, such as the use of cowry shells in Yunnan, details supported by archaeological evidence and Chinese sources compiled long after the Polos had left China. [134] His accounts of salt production and revenues from the salt monopoly are also accurate, and accord with Chinese documents of the Yuan era. [135] Economic historian Mark Elvin, in his preface to Vogel's 2013 monograph, concludes that Vogel "demonstrates by specific example after specific example the ultimately overwhelming probability of the broad authenticity" of Polo's account. Many problems were caused by the oral transmission of the original text and the proliferation of significantly different hand-copied manuscripts. For instance, did Polo exert "political authority" (seignora) in Yangzhou or merely "sojourn" (sejourna) there. Elvin concludes that "those who doubted, although mistaken, were not always being casual or foolish", but "the case as a whole had now been closed": the book is, "in essence, authentic, and, when used with care, in broad terms to be trusted as a serious though obviously not always final, witness." [136]

Christian History Timeline: Christianity in India

52 According to tradition, the Apostle Thomas arrives in India and establishes seven congregations.

c. 189 Pantaenus, a missionary from Alexandria, arrives in India.

c. 200 The Syriac Chronicle of Edessa describes a “church of the Christians” in India.

345 During the Great Persecution in Persia, Thomas a Kana leads 400 Christian refugees to the Malabar coast.

883 Anglo-Saxons bishops sent by King Alfred visit the tomb of St. Thomas (Mylapore).

c. 1293 Marco Polo stays on the Coromandel Coast, describes the tomb of St. Thomas as a place of pilgrimage, and visits Christians and Jews in Quilon.

1502 Thomas Christian leaders ask Vasco da Gama for an alliance against Muslim predators.

The Dawn of Missions

1542 Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier and two Tamil assistants teach the Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments to Paravars (fisherfolk on Coromandel Coast), baptizing 10,000 in a single month.

1606 Roberto de Nobili begins a 50-year career in the Jesuit Madurai Mission, adopting Brahman culture and becoming a renowned scholar and poet.

1622 Congregatio de Propaganda Fide is created to send missionaries into areas of India outside of Portuguese Padroado authority.

1653 At Koonen Cross, some Thomas Christians declare independence from Roman Catholic authority.

1706 German Pietists Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plütschau reach Tranquebar and establish a printing press and charity school.

1710 Jesuit missionary Constanzo Giuseppe Beschi begins a spectacular career as the greatest Tamil scholar of the age.

1733 Aaron becomes the first Tamil evangelical pastor in Thanjavur.

1750 C. F. Schwartz begins career as a renowned evangelical missionary-statesman-scholar, diplomat, and mentor to leaders of later mass conversion movements in Tirunelveli.

1773 Indian Empire (Raj) established.

1792 William Carey’s Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of Heathens evokes waves of evangelical missionary voluntarism.

1799 Serampore Mission established by William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and David Ward.

1813 American Congregationalists (A.B.C.F.M.) found the Maratha Mission. Other missions soon follow.

1833 Charter Renewal Act allows for full entry of missionaries into India.

1833 American Presbyterians begin work in Punjab and build a strong educational system.

1838 Jesuit order, restored by Gregory XVI, returns to its Madurai Mission after an absence of 64 years.

1841 Welsh Presbyterian missionaries in the Khasi Hills build educational infrastructures local Christians later lead conversion movements until over 95% percent of all Khasis become Christians.

1844 First Synod of Pondicherry launches Catholic reforms.

1848 Nehemiah (Nilakantha) Goreh is ordained as an Anglican priest.

1855 Abolition of slavery in Travancore (Kerala) opens the way for mass conversions among untouchables, lower castes, and former slave castes.

The Age of Empire

1857 The Great Mutiny begins, followed the next year by the replacement of the East India Company by the British crown.

1866 Maulvi Imad id-din, ordained scholar-missionary, wins renown for apologetic writings reconciling Christian faith and Muslim culture.

1876 Naga Christians establish a “village of refuge” where American missionaries translate Scripture, set up schools, and lay the foundation for movements by which over 95% of Nagas eventually become Christians.

1886 Pandita Ramabai makes a triumphant tour of the United States.

1886 Catholic hierarchy of India established.

1888 Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association founded, with missionaries reaching out to low-caste peoples, forming ashram-like settlements.

1888–89 Salvadorians, led by German missionaries, arrive in Khasi Hills and gain first converts.

1891 Brahmabandhav Upadhyay is baptized as an Anglican later joins the Catholic church.

1894 H. A. Krishna Pillai, renowned Christian poet, publishes a classical Tamil version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

1894 National Papal Seminary established at Kandy (moves to Pune in 1950s) to promote indigenization of the Indian Catholic hierarchy.

1895 Narayan Vaman Tilak (1862–1919), celebrated Brahman poet, makes a quest of reconciling Hindu heritage with devotion to Christ.

1899 Two Mizos become Christians, five years after missionary arrival. (Today Mizo Christians make up 86% of the population of Mizoram.)

1904 Sundar Singh has a vision of Christ and becomes a wandering Christian sadhu.

1905 “Holy Spirit Revival” and speaking in tongues among devout school girls at Pandita Ramabai’s Mukti Mission attracts world-wide attention.

1905–06 Revival in the Khasi Hills, with 8,000 converts, spreads to surrounding areas.

1910 First World Missionary Conference meets in Edinburgh.

1912 V. S. Azariah becomes first Indian Anglican bishop his efforts in Dornakal inspire the conversion of over 200,000 Malas and Madigas and provoke conflict with Gandhi.

1923 Bishop Tibertius Roche becomes first Indian head of a Latin Rite diocese (in Tamil Nadu).

1927 Amy Carmichael founds Dohnavur Fellowship for rescuing child temple prostitutes becomes friend of Gandhi.

Toward the Contemporary Era

1947 Independence of India, accompanied by the Partition of the Indian Empire into India and Pakistan, followed the next year by the forming of independent Burma and Ceylon.

1947 Church of South India is formed, combining formerly Anglican, Congregationalist, Reformed, and Methodist denominations soon followed by Church of North India (CNI).

1948 Mohandas K. Gandhi is assassinated.

1951 Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) forms the Catholic Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

1960s Freedom of Religion Acts bolster Hindu efforts to stop Christian conversion

1961 Third World Council of Churches, held in New Delhi, leads to the formation of the World Council of Churches as a permanent body with headquarters in Geneva.

1977 Indian Supreme Court defines evangelist’s work as a threat to the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all citizens of India.

2002 Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Ordinance passed.

By Compiled by Robert Eric Frykenberg

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #87 in 2005]


Marco Polo lived at an auspicious time in history. The Dark Ages that had followed the collapse of the Roman Empire were ending. Governments were becoming more stable and trade was increasing. Under Genghis Khan, the Mongols had conquered China and most of the rest of eastern Asia. They had also subjugated Russia and threatened Europe as well. The grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan (1215-1294) became the Great Khan in 1257 and ruled the immense Mongol Empire. Although the Mongols made no great effort to change the culture of the nations they conquered, they did not trust the natives' participation in government and looked to foreigners, especially Europeans, for help in administering their empire.

For many years, Europe and central Asia had been engaged in trading. The Chinese Empire had been a strong power with a well developed culture since the time of the Roman Empire, and there was active trade between the two empires along a 4,000-mile (6,400-km) caravan route, known as the Silk Road. Although trade declined when the Roman Empire degenerated, trade was revived by the Mongols during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Few traders traveled the entire route from Europe to China merchandise changed hands a number of times before reaching its destination. A few Europeans, however, had preceded the Polos in making the trip to the court of the Great Khan in China. For instance, Pope Innocent IV sent friars there to attempt to convert the Mongols to Christianity. Among these were Giovanni da Pian del Carpini in 1245 and Willem van Ruysbroeck in 1253.

Although challenged by other nations, Venice controlled the Mediterranean and dominated European trade with the Middle East and with much of the rest of Asia. Marco Polo's family included wealthy merchants and traders—prominent members of Venetian society. His father, Niccolò, and his uncle, Maffeo, traded extensively in the Middle East. They left on a trading mission in 1253, leaving behind Niccolò's pregnant wife who gave birth to Marco in his absence. The brothers traded with the ruler of the western territories of the Mongol Empire and in 1260 left Constantinople on a trip through Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to Shang-tu (also known as Xanadu), the summer residence of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Kublai Khan. They arrived in 1265 and remained in Kublai Khan's court until 1269 when they were sent back to Europe as emissaries to Pope Innocent IV, requesting one hundred men to instruct and convert the Mongols and asking for oil from the lamp in the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

When Niccolò and Maffeo returned to Venice, Marco, now fifteen years old, met his father for the first time. His mother had died while he was very young, and he had been reared by an uncle and aunt.

Pope Clement IV had died, and the Polos waited for a new pope to be elected so that they could deliver Kublai Khan's requests. After two years, the cardinals could still not agree on a pope, and the Polos decided to return to China. Seventeen-year-old Marco accompanied them when they left in 1271. They traveled first to Acre in Palestine where they learned that their friend Teobaldo had been elected pope as Gregory X. The new pope provided them with two monks (instead of the one hundred requested), oil from the lamp in the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and papal communications to the Khan. Soon after they set out from Acre, the two monks, afraid of the dangers ahead, turned back, leaving the Polos to proceed alone.

Their journey took them through Turkey, Iran (Persia), Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Marco became ill in the desert but recovered in the cool regions of Afghanistan. They visited Kashmir and crossed the mountains into China. Following the Silk Road, they crossed the Gobi Desert and arrived at the Mongol summer capital, Shang-tu, in 1275.

Marco was introduced to Kublai Khan and the Mongol court and was impressed with its splendor. The Polos remained in the Mongol court in Shang-tu and in Beijing, serving as advisors to the Khan, for seventeen years. Marco was good at languages, and he immediately became a favorite of Kublai Khan who sent him as his emissary to various parts of the Mongol Empire. Marco was, therefore, able to explore and observe the country and people of much of China and of parts of India. He was the first European to visit Burma, and he traveled to Ceylon on a mission from Kublai Khan to buy Buddha's tooth and begging bowl. He kept notes on all he observed so that he could make detailed reports to the Khan on the conditions in the various parts of his realm.

After a number of years, the Polos wished to return to their native Venice. Kublai Khan was getting old, and they were concerned that they would not be safe among the Mongols after his death. Kublai Khan valued their service and, for a number of years, would not let them leave. He finally granted them permission to return to Europe in 1292, provided they accompany the Mongol princess Kokachin to Persia where she would marry Arghun, the Mongol Khan of Persia. They set out with six hundred escorts and fourteen ships. Marco was able to add a great deal to his store of knowledge of Asia on their voyage, which took them to Vietnam, the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Ceylon, and the shore of Africa before landing at Hormuz on the Persian Gulf. Only eighteen of the six hundred escorts survived the long hazardous trip. From Hormuz, the Polos accompanied Kokachin on to Khorasan, where she married the son of the recently deceased Mongol ruler who had requested her as a wife. The Polos then traveled on to Tabriz and Constantinople, across Armenia, and finally returned to Venice in 1295. Marco, who had been seventeen when he left home, was now forty-one years old. The Polos had changed so much since leaving home that they were not recognized initially by their family and friends. They had been robbed on the trip back from China, losing much of the wealth they had accumulated in the service of the Mongol Empire, but they managed to bring back ivory, jade, jewels, porcelain, and silk as proof of their tales of China and the Far East.

The Polos settled back into influential positions in the Venetian trade community. Soon after his return, Marco served as the gentleman-commander of a warship in a trade war with Genoa and in 1296 was taken prisoner at the battle of Curzola. While imprisoned in Genoa, he met a prisoner from Pisa named Rustichello (also known as Rusticiano), an author of some renown. Marco told the story of his Asian travels to Rustichello. When he was freed, Marco returned to Venice, married and had three daughters. The dictated memories of his travels were published in 1298 as Divisament dou Monde (Description of the world), and they gained him immediate notoriety. Unfortunately, many readers regarded the book as fiction, a chivalric fable similar to the King Arthur legend. Its truth was not realized until after Marco Polo's death.

Quanzhou was the departure point for Marco Polo's escorting of the Mongol princess bride Kököchin who was to marry Persian Ilkhanate. It is rich in culture and ancient architecture .

Some of the places to visit include Kaiyuan Temple. You will find the Quanzhou Bay Exhibition Hall of Ancient Ships at Kaiyuan Temple, a ship used by fisherman during the Song Dynasty (960–1279), and which was unearthed 40 years ago.

Other ancient places include the Quanzhou Maritime Museum, Qingjing Mosque, Heavenly Empress Palace and Luoyang Bridge, in addition to Mt. Qingyuan Scenic Area and Water Rock Temple scenic spots.

Grade 6 - Term 2: Explorers from Europe find southern Africa

When Mapungubwe was abandoned, it was to the benefit of Great Zimbabwe. The cultural, political and economic power in the area shifted to Great Zimbabwe and this area took control of the Indian Ocean trade routes in Southern Africa. All traders that went through Great Zimbabwe had to pay the rulers and the people of that region. This made the region very wealthy. Great Zimbabwe’s settlement grew to approximately 18 000 people. The town was surrounded by an outer wall. Much like Mapungubwe, the commoners lived outside the main walls, while the royal family lived on the hill. The king lived in a magnificent palace on the top of the hill. The buildings of great Zimbabwe show that the people who built them were highly skilled in stonework and construction. The main wall is 20meters high and within these walls are several passageways and enclosures. One of the enclosures is a royal enclosure called the Great Enclosure. It is the largest structure in sub-Saharan Africa. About 900 000 stone blocks were used to build the outer wall of the enclosure.

A European explorer in Asia at the same time that Mapungubwe was at its height

When Mapungubwe was at its height it was the largest and most important centre of trade in the southern Africa. In other parts of the world at the same time there were explorers and adventurers who were going to set up important trade routes and centres.

European explorer Marco Polo and his travels

At the same time that Mapungubwe was at its height, Marco Polo was a European explorer. Polo was born in Venice in Italy in 1254 and he died in 1324. He spent 24 years of his life travelling. Marco Polo wanted to make important contacts with people in the East so that he could trade for spices. He was also seeking adventure. He travelled from Italy through Baghdad and the Gobi Desert to China. This route became known as the Silk Road. He returned via India, showing how India could be reached from China by sea. On his many travels Marco Polo was often a guest of the great and very wealthy ruler of China called Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan gave Polo a golden tablet that was a foot long. This was a ‘VIP’ (Very Important Person) passport which would ensure that Polo be given horses, food, guides, places to sleep and ensure his safety on his way back to Europe. The journey home took Marco Polo 3 years. He was not the first European to travel to China, but because he wrote a book about his adventures his travels became widely known.

Marco Polo’s influence on European traders and explorers

The writings about Marco Polo’s travels, and maps drawn from them, inspired hundreds of other European traders and explorers. The century after Marco Polo’s travels became known as the Age of Discovery. One of the most important of these explorers who were inspired by Marco Polo was Christopher Columbus. It is believed that Columbus read Marco Polo’s book about his travels. As a result of this, Columbus firmly believed that the world was round and that the East could be reached by the sea by sailing westwards. He convinced the queen of Spain, Queen Isabella to sponsor his trip. In 1492, he and his crew of 96 sailors reached an island that is part of what is today known as the Caribbean. He had reached what would become known as the New World. The world would never be the same again.

Reasons for European exploration

The southern African society was at the height of its power at the same time as the Renaissance was taking place. Europeans knew very little about Africa at this stage in European history but were always very curious about Africa. There were a number of reasons that made them want to explore and helped them to do this. These attempts to explore the world are known as the ‘voyages of exploration’.

The European Renaissance During the 15th and 16th centuries (1600-1700)

The European Renaissance was at a turning point in a conservative time. People did not look further than their own towns or villages, and they didn’t like new ideas about things. The Renaissance was a time when people were encouraged to look outwards for new and better ideas as well as new places to trade. It involved the development and advancement of literature, art, politics, religion and science. A growing interest in the world and curiosity was an important part of the Renaissance and one of the key reasons for European exploration. The Renaissance resulted in a number of inventions. Some of these inventions changed the world forever. Two of the most important inventions were the printing press and the telescope. The printing press allowed people to print pamphlets, news sheets and books, in large numbers. Because written language was more freely available, more people learnt how to read and write and because of this, people’s knowledge of the world increased.

The Renaissance produced a number of great scientists and mathematicians. The two we will learn more about are Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo Galilei.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous Renaissance figures in history. He was born in Italy and was best remembered as the painter of many great works of art like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Leonardo is also famous for his amazing variety of other talents:

  • He was a sculptor
  • He was involved in architecture (design of buildings)
  • He was involved in geology, engineering and the military arts. Due to the fact that Leonardo had so many skills in different areas, he was considered to be a genius. In his spare time, he did drawings of parachutes and flying machines that looked like inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. He also made detailed drawings of the human body which are still highly regarded today. If you would like to learn more about Leonardo Da Vinci then follow this hyperlink:

Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)

Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 and was an Italian scientist and mathematician. Galileo worked on a number of different experiments. These included experiments on the speed at which different objects fall, mechanics and work around pendulums. Galileo is also famous for building a powerful telescope. With this telescope, he made many discoveries in the field of astronomy. He discovered mountains and valleys on the surface of the moon, sunspots and the four largest moons of the planet Jupiter. This work on astronomy is what made him famous and he was appointed court mathematician in the city of Florence. Galileo made the church very angry in 1614 by saying that the sun was at the centre of the solar system. This was revolutionary at the time as most people, especially the churchmen, believed that the earth was in this central position. He was forbidden by the church in 1616 from teaching or telling anyone about his theories. For more information about Galileo, visit the following site:

New ideas and knowledge Stories of Leonardo and Galileo are examples of how people’s view of the world was changing. They showed the great possibilities that existed for discovery. One of the most important reasons for European exploration was the new ideas and knowledge of the time. It could be said that the most important of these was the new approach of the Renaissance. This was the desire to find out more about the world and the people who lived in it. This also led to many discoveries in literature, art and science and it was a reason for the voyages of exploration. Many other ideas also came from outside of Europe namely the Arab Muslim world. An example of this is the Astrolabe, which was a device that helped people to navigate on land. This was used by Arab traders and astrologers for many years. It was later adapted by the Portuguese to be used on the seas. The most famous of European traders who travelled to the East and shared their knowledge of what they saw was Marco Polo. Marco was a merchant who travelled to the East and China. Stories of his travels became best sellers as they inspired others because of these stories were of great wealth and opportunity in the East. He also came back with many ideas. The improvement in maps also led to more exploration. This is because more people were travelling and the Arabian maps were being used by Europeans. These new maps made it easier and safer for people to sail off the coast of Africa.

A number of inventions were very important reasons for European exploration. These inventions included the following:

The Chinese invented gunpowder. In the 13th Century knowledge of gunpowder spread to Europe. By the time of the voyages of discovery in the 15th Century, Europeans had developed canons and firearms using gunpowder, which they put on ships. They then used these weapons to attack and conquer the people that they met on their voyages.

The Magnetic Compass

The Europeans used the magnetic compass to help them find their way on their voyages of exploration. The magnetic compass was first invented by the Chinese. The compass and the astrolabe helped sailors to figure out where they were and where they were going so that they could stay on the right course. They did not have to stay in sight of land to know where they were going. This meant that they could use the winds that blew far from land to go where they needed to go.

The Caravel

Until the 1400s (13th century) the Europeans did not have ships that were able to travel across oceans. To solve this problem, they started to build Caravels. This ship had two masts and two triangular sails. The Europeans copied the idea of the way the sails worked from the Arab traders ships called the dhows. The sails made it possible for the sailors to make better use of wind to get their ship to move.

Religion played an important part in the growth of exploration

Religion was important to the Europeans, especially Christianity. They felt they needed to reform and convert every individual they came into contact with into Christianity. During this time, Christianity became the first religion to spread around the world. European explorers had direction and navigation. They were very religious and relied on their faith to get them through their rough voyages. They spread their beliefs and religion. By the 1500s, Europeans were travelling by sea to almost every part of the world. Missionaries followed the European traders, colonists and conquerors.

Bibliography: Angier K Carr D Cockburn J Wallace J. Our World, Our Society Grade 6

Return by Sea

By the time Kublai Khan reached the age of 75 in 1291, the Polos probably had just about given up hope that he would ever allow them to return home to Europe. He also seemed determined to live forever. Marco, his father, and his uncle finally got permission to leave the Great Khan's court that year, so that they could serve as escorts of a 17-year-old Mongol princess who was being sent to Persia as a bride.

The Polos took the sea route back, first boarding a ship to Sumatra, now in Indonesia, where they were marooned by changing monsoons for 5 months. Once the winds shifted, they went on to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and then to India, where Marco was fascinated by Hindu cow-worship and mystical yogis, along with Jainism and its prohibition on harming even a single insect.

From there, they voyaged on to the Arabian Peninsula, arriving back at Hormuz, where they delivered the princess to her waiting bridegroom. It took two years for them to make the trip from China back to Venice thus, Marco Polo likely was just about to turn 40 when he returned to his home city.

APA citation. Bréhier, L. (1911). Marco Polo. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Bréhier, Louis. "Marco Polo." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

From Marco Polo to Mark Zuckerberg: The Evolution of the Entrepreneur (Infographic)

No one knows for sure who the world&rsquos first entrepreneur was. It&rsquos too bad because it would make a great story.

To find him or her, you&rsquod have to go as far back as before the written word, before recorded history. Alas, the mystery pioneer shall remain unknown. But we do know that, while entrepreneurs have little choice but to evolve with the times to stay relevant, many of the key traits that make them the enterprising outliers they are have remained the same throughout the ages.

Ingenuity, passion, fearlessness, drive, commitment, grit. The best entrepreneurs of our time and the times before share these gainful characteristics. Adaptability is perhaps the most crucial entrepreneurial trait of them all, enabling nimble entrepreneurs to keep up with ever-changing customer needs, market shifts and advances in technology.

Today we&rsquore so busy being starstruck by self-made Silicon Valley tech tycoons like Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, to reflect much on the most prolific and successful entrepreneurs of the past and the enduring wisdom we can glean from them.

Some of the earliest entrepreneurs were merchant adventurers, like Marco Polo, for example. The nomadic Italian capitalist embarked on legendary merchant trading expeditions throughout Asia in the 13th century that were financed by venture capitalists. The wealthy trader&rsquos storied 24-year journey across the globe not only sharpened his business acumen, it also provided him with an unprecedented and profitable understanding of world trade.

The 18th century gave rise to Eli Whitney, a prolific American inventor-entrepreneur who created the cotton gin, fueling the birth of the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century, came the indelible mark of the nearly forgotten former indentured servant and social entrepreneur Martha Matilda Harper, the mother of modern franchising. Harper&rsquos beauty shop empire spanned 500 franchises across the globe, forever changing the face of business.

For more fun history on the evolution of the entrepreneur, check out the infographic from Homestead Technologies below. We introduce it with only one caveat: there&rsquos not one female entrepreneur in the mix.

Watch the video: Polo - Prologue part4 (July 2022).


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