Marco Polo

Marco Polo (mär´kō pō´lō), 1254?–1324?, Venetian traveler in China. His father, Niccolò Polo, and his uncle, Maffeo Polo, had made (1253–60) a trading expedition to Constantinople. A war blocked their return, and they journeyed eastward to reach Kublai Khan's eastern capital at Kaifeng in 1266. They returned to Venice in 1269, and in 1271 they left with young Marco for Kublai's court. The party reached Cambuluc (modern Beijing) in 1275. Marco Polo became a favorite of the khan, who employed him as an adviser and a tax assessor, sending him on business to central and N China, SE Asia, and India. For three years he apparently governed a Chinese city (Yangzhou). In 1292 the travelers, acting as escort for a Mongol princess who was to wed the khan of Persia, left Kublai's realm; they were back in Venice by 1295. Marco Polo soon joined Venetian forces fighting Genoa and was taken prisoner (1298) following Venice's loss in the Battle of Curzola. During his two-year captivity, aided by notes and reports written while he was in the East and by his fellow-prisoner and coauthor Rustichello of Pisa, he dictated an account of his travels.

The prologue of the work tells of Polo's life. The remainder of the book describes places he had visited and heard of and recounts the customs of the inhabitants. Polo made reference to much of Asia, including the Arab world, Persia, Japan, Sumatra, and the Andaman Islands, and to E Africa as far south as Zanzibar. He told of paper currency, asbestos, coal, and other phenomena virtually unknown in Europe. Polo was wonderstruck at Asian splendors and was sometimes credulous of exaggerated accounts, but scholars agree that his accurate reports of the events he witnessed and people he met are of great value. During the Renaissance it was the chief—almost the sole—Western source of information on the East, and until the late 19th cent. there was no other European material on many parts of central Asia. Of the annotated translations of his book the most useful is that by Sir Henry Yule (3d ed. 1903).

See studies by M. S. Collis (1960), H. H. Hart (1967), C. A. Burland (1970), J. Larner (1999), and L. Bergreen (2007).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Marco Polo: Selected full-text books and articles

Did Marco Polo Go to China? By Frances Wood Westview Press, 1996
Explorers' Maps: Chapters in the Cartographic Record of Geographical Discovery By R. A. Skelton Frederick A. Praeger, 1958
Librarian's tip: Chap. I "Marco Polo and the Mapmakers"
China and the West, a Sketch of Their Intercourse: A Sketch of Their Intercourse By W. E. Soothill Oxford university Press, H. Milford, 1925
Librarian's tip: Chap. V "Marco Polo, the Early European Missionaries, and the Fall of the Mongols"
The Mongol Empire: Its Rise and Legacy By Michael Prawdin; Eden Paul; Cedar Paul Macmillan, 1940
Librarian's tip: Chap. XX "Marco Polo's Millions"
Imagining the World: Mythical Belief versus Reality in Global Encounters By O. R. Dathorne Bergin & Garvey, 1994
Librarian's tip: "Marco Polo: Paradise in the East" begins on p. 106
The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia By René Grousset; Naomi Walford Rutgers University Press, 1970
Librarian's tip: "Marco Polo's Journey" begins on p. 304
The Rise and Splendour of the Chinese Empire By René Grousset Geoffrey Bles, 1952
Librarian's tip: Chap. XXVII "Marco Polo"
Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250-1625 By Joan-Pau Rubiés Cambridge University Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Marco Polo's India and the Latin Christian Tradition"
The Rise of the Medieval World, 500-1300: A Biographical Dictionary By Jana K. Schulman Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: "Polo, Marco (c. 1254-1324)" begins on p. 350
A Short History of China By Edward Thomas Williams Harper and Brothers, 1928
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Marco Polo begins on p. 172
Conquest by Man By Paul Herrmann; Michael Bullock Harper and Brothers, 1954
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Marco Polo begins on p. 380
The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus By Washington Irving Belford, Clarke & Co.
Librarian's tip: "Marco Polo" begins on p. 693 and "The Work of Marco Polo" begins on p. 698
Marco Polo and the Great Khan's World By Stern, Fred The World and I, Vol. 26, No. 1, January 2011
Late, Great Geographers Geographical, Vol. 72, No. 11, November 2000
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