Marco Polo, the merchant, traveler, and author of the famous Il Milione, which contributed significantly to knowledge of a part of the world almost entirely unknown to Europeans up to his time, was probably born in Venice in 1254, if we can rely on his information that he was fifteen years old when his father returned in 1269 from his first trip to Asia. Marco's family, merchants for many generations and probably originating in Dalmatia (perhaps in Sebenico), had moved to Venice in the early years of the eleventh century, even though the name Polo appears for the first time only in the following century, in some state documents. It is also believed that in the second half of the twelfth century the Polos had so expanded their merchant activities as to own commercial subsidiaries in Constantinople and the Crimea.
Archival research has revealed that Marco's grandfather, Andrea, had three sons, Marco, Nicolò, and Matteo. The senior Marco had expanded the Polos' maritime business to ports on the Black Sea. To promote the business, Nicolò and Matteo undertook a nine-year journey in 1261 from the Crimea to Sarai and Bolgar on the lower and middle course of the Volga River; then, tacking on the Caspian Sea, to Bokhara, the most “distinguished and grand” city of Persia, where they were obliged to stay for three years. Continuing on, along unidentifiable itineraries, they reached China and were welcomed at the court of the great Kublai Khan, where they were entrusted with diplomatic missions to the pope in Rome.
Having returned to Venice in 1269, they left again for China in 1271 with the young Marco, going along the “silk route” through the most important commercial centers. Traveling across Turkmenia, Lesser and Greater Armenia, the kingdom of Baghdad, the Persian kingdom, the Pamir, and the Mongolian steppes, the three travelers reached Cambaluc, the summer residence of the great