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Marco Polo Edit

Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant traveler and citizen of the Venice Republic whose travels are recorded in Livres des merveilles du monde (Book of the Marvels of the World, also known as The Travels of Marco Polo, c. 1300), a book that described to Europeans the wealth and great size of China, its capital Peking, and other Asian cities and countries.

He learned the mercantile trade from his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, who traveled through Asia and met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa; Marco was imprisoned and dictated his stories to a cellmate. He was released in 1299, became a wealthy merchant, married, and had three children. He died in 1324 and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Venice.

Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China (see Europeans in Medieval China), but he was the first to leave a detailed chronicle of his experience. This book inspired Christopher Columbus and many other travelers. There is a substantial literature based on Polo's writings; he also influenced European cartography, leading to the introduction of the Fra Mauro map.

Life Edit

Family origin Edit

Marco Polo was born in 1254 in Venice Republic. His exact date and place of birth are archivally unknown. Some historians mentioned that he was born on September 15 but that date is not endorsed by mainstream scholarship. Marco Polo's birthplace is generally considered Venice, but also varies between Constantinople, and the island of Korčula. There is dispute as to whether the Polo family is of Venetian origin, as Venetian historical sources considered them to be of Dalmatian origin.

The first recorded Polo is Venetian Domenico Polo who was mentioned in 971 regarding the prohibition of trade with the Arabs. Later other Polos were also mentioned in the service of the realm. Whether they were related with the family of Marco Polo is uncertain, but this could indicate that his ancestors traveled between Venice and Dalmatia.

Some of the first indications of where his family originated and were resident come from Venetian documents and manuscripts. In the 1280 testament of Marco Polo's homonymous uncle it is said that the uncle previously lived in Constantinople, and that his son Nicollo and daughter Marota at the time of testament lived in family house in Soldaia (in Crimea). Some scholars argued that this account could go along with the note from Il Milione that his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo, in 1250 stayed in Constantinople with merchandise from Venice.

The non-Venetian i.e. Dalmatian origin of his family was considered by the Venetians themselves since the 14th century; in the Chronicon Iustiniani (1385) his family was mentioned among immigrants in Venice, in the Cronaca di Venezia (1446) along his family coat of arms it states "antigamente vene de Dalmatia" (in ancient times came from Dalmatia), and the same again was recorded by Marino Sanuto the Younger in Le Vite dei Dogi (1552). Sanuto also mentioned a captain from Korčula, Antonio di Polo. Marco Barbaro in his Genealogie Patrizie (1566) mentioned a document from 1033 by which time the family arrived from Šibenik, but the year was probably symbolically chosen by Barbaro himself as in that is the year that Dalmatian cities were conquered by Venetian Doge Pietro II Orseolo. Arthur C. Moule cited two early 17th century Venetian manuscripts "questi ueneno de dalmatia", "Polo questi uene de Dalmatia".

Scholars etymologically argued that his family name derives from Latin Paulus, the name of a certain bird species, or like Albert t'Serstevens considered - from Eastern origin. By the scholars is related to the three bird specifies who in Old Croatian dialect from Poljica were called pol, while in the Old Venetian dialect pola/pole; for the shorebird wader, and the jackdaw or chough, with all fitting the representation of the bird(s) in family coat of arms (compared to Italian pollo, rooster). However, the habitat of the shorebird is non-existent on Korčula, and should be related to Venice laguna or wetland areas of Dalmatia like that of Šibenik. The surname Polo seems related with other widespread Dalmatian surnames. The lack of evidence makes the Korčula theory (probably under Ramusio influence) as a specific birthplace strongly disputed,[9] and even some Croatian scholars consider it justly invented.

Early life and Asian travel Edit

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

His father, Niccolò Polo, a merchant, traded with the Near East, becoming wealthy and achieving great prestige. Niccolò and his brother Maffeo set off on a trading voyage before Marco's birth. 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. 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. 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 Eastern Roman Empire. Captured Venetian citizens were blinded, 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, excepting that he probably spent part of his childhood in Venice. Meanwhile, Marco Polo's mother died, and an aunt and uncle raised him. He received a good education, learning mercantile subjects including foreign currency, appraising, and the handling of cargo ships; he learned little or no Latin. His father later married Floradise Polo (née Trevisan).

In 1269, Niccolò and Maffeo returned to their families in Venice, meeting young Marco for the first time. In 1271, during the rule of DogeLorenzo 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. They returned to Venice in 1295, 24 years later, with many riches and treasures. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km).

Genoese captivity and later life Edit

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. Polo armed a galley equipped with a trebuchet 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 and not during the battle of Curzola (September 1298), off the Dalmatian coast. The latter claim is due to a later tradition (16th Century) recorded by Giovanni Battista Ramusio.

He spent several months of his imprisonment dictating a detailed account of his travels to a fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa, 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. 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.

Polo was finally released from captivity in August 1299, 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). For such a venture, Polo family probably invested profits from trading, and even many gemstones they brought from the East. 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. Somewhere before 1300, his father Niccolò died. In 1300, he married Donata Badoèr, the daughter of Vitale Badoèr, a merchant. They had three daughters, Fantina (married Marco Bragadin), Bellela (married Bertuccio Querini), and Moreta.

In 1305 he is mentioned in a Venetian document among local sea captains regarding the payment of taxes. 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 (by mother side grandson of Trogir count Stjepko Šubić) and Marco Querini, among whose rebels were Jacobello and Francesco Polo from another family branch, is unclear. 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.

Errors Edit

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. He also said that city wall of Khanbaliq had 12 gates when it had only 11. 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.

Legacy Edit

Other lesser-known European explorers had already traveled to China, such as Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, but Polo's book meant that his journey was the first to be widely known. Christopher Columbus was inspired enough by Polo's description of the Far East to want to visit those lands for himself; a copy of the book was among his belongings, with handwritten annotations. Bento de Góis, inspired by Polo's writings of a Christian kingdom in the east, traveled 4,000 miles (6,400 km) in three years across Central Asia. He never found the kingdom but ended his travels at the Great Wall of China in 1605, proving that Cathay was what Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) called "China"

Cartography Edit

Marco Polo's travels may have had some influence on the development of European cartography, ultimately leading to the European voyages of exploration a century later. The 1453 Fra Mauro map was said by Giovanni Battista Ramusio (disputed by historian/cartographer Piero Falchetta, in whose work the quote appears) to have been partially based on the one brought from Cathay by Marco Polo:

That fine illuminated world map on parchment, which can still be seen in a large cabinet alongside the choir of their monastery (the Camaldolese monastery of San Michele di Murano) was by one of the brothers of the monastery, who took great delight in the study of cosmography, diligently drawn and copied from a most beautiful and very old nautical map and a world map that had been brought from Cathay by the most honourable Messer Marco Polo and his father.

— Giovanni Battista Ramusio

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