Marco Polo

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Related to Marco Polo: Kublai Khan
Marco Polo
Birthplacepresumably in Venice, Venetian Republic
Merchant, explorer
Known for The Travels of Marco Polo

Polo, Marco

(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 KhanKublai Khan
, 1215–94, Mongol emperor, founder of the Yüan dynasty of China. From 1251 to 1259 he led military campaigns in S China. He succeeded (1260) his brother Mongke (Mangu) as khan of the empire that their grandfather Jenghiz Khan had founded.
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'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).

Marco Polo:

see Polo, MarcoPolo, Marco
, 1254?–1324?, Venetian traveler in China. His father, Niccolò Polo, and his uncle, Maffeo Polo, had made (1253–60) a trading expedition to Constantinople.
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Marco Polo


Born circa 1254 in Venice; died there Jan. 8, 1324. Italian traveler and writer.

Together with his father and uncle, who were Venetian merchants, Marco Polo sailed to southeastern Asia Minor between about 1271 and 1275. From there he traveled by land to Northern China across the Armenian Highland, Mesopotamia, the Iranian Plateau, the Pamirs, and the Kashgar Mountains. Remaining in China in the service of Kublai Khan until 1292, Marco visited various regions of the country. He returned by sea from Southern China via Iran to Venice in 1295. Some sources state that Marco Polo fought in the war with Genoa. Around 1297 he was taken prisoner by the Genoese.

Marco’s colorful accounts of his travels were recorded by Rusticello, another prisoner, in the Venetian dialect, the language of Italian 13th-century prose fiction. The accounts constituted The Book of Marco Polo (1298), a valuable source on the geography, ethnography, and history of Armenia, Georgia, Iran, China, Mongolia, India, Indonesia, and other countries. It also contained popular beliefs, legends, and fairy tales. Translated into other European languages, the book influenced navigators, cartographers, and writers of the 14th to 16th centuries, including Columbus and L. Ariosto.


Kniga Marko Polo. Translated from the Old French text, with an introductory article by I. P. Magidovich. Moscow, 1955. (Contains bibliography.)


Hart, H. Venetsianets Marko Polo. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from English.)
The Book of Sir Marco Polo, the Venetian, 3rd ed., vols. 1–2. London, 1921.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Polo, Marco

13th-century Venetian merchant; brought Oriental wonders to Europe. [Eur. Hist.: Bishop, 222–224]

Polo, Marco

(1254–1324) Venetian traveler in China. [Ital. Hist.: NCE, 1695]

Polo, Marco

(1254–1324) Venetian traveler in central Asia and China. [World Hist.: WB, 15: 572–573; Ital. Lit.: Travels of Marco Polo]
See: Journey
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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