Marco Polo was born between September 15 and 16, 1254 in Venice. His father Niccolò was a merchant who traded with the Near East, becoming rich and achieving great prestige. He learned the mercantile trade from his father and uncle Maffeo, who travelled through Asia, and met Kublai Khan. In 1260, the brothers and Venetian merchants Niccolo and Matteo Polo travelled east from Europe.
In 1265, they arrived at Kaifeng, the capital of Kublai Khan’s (also known as the Great Khan) Mongol Empire. 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.
Marco Polo travelled in great deal in China. He was amazed with China’s enormous power, great wealth, and complex social structure. China under the Yuan (The Mongol Empire) dynasty was a huge empire whose internal economy dwarfed that of Europe.
He reported that Iron manufacture was around 125,000 tons a year (a level not reached in Europe before the 18th century) and salt production was on a prodigious scale: 30,000 tons a year in one province alone.
A canal-based transportation system linked China’s huge cities and markets in a vast internal communication network in which paper money and credit facilities were highly developed.
Khan liked the youthful Marco and conscripted him into service for the Empire. Marco served in several high-level government positions, including as ambassador and as the governor of the city of Yangzhou.
While the Great Khan enjoyed having the Polo’s as his subjects and diplomats, Khan eventually consented to allow them to leave the Empire, as long as they would escort a princess who was scheduled to wed a Persian king.
The three Polo’s returned to Venice and Marco joined the army to fight against the city-state of Genoa. He was captured in 1298 and imprisoned in Genoa, while in prison for two years; he dictated an account of his travels to a fellow prisoner named Rustichello.
Shortly thereafter, The Travels of Marco Polo was published in French. The influence of Marco Polo on geographic exploration was enormous and he was also a major influence on Christopher Columbus. Columbus owned a copy of Travels and made annotations in the margins.
When Polo was on his deathbed in 1324, visitors urged him to admit the book was fiction, to which he famously proclaimed, “I have not told half of what I saw.” Though no authoritative version of Polo’s book exists, researchers and historians in the subsequent centuries have verified much of what he reported.
It is generally accepted that he reported faithfully what he could, though some accounts probably came from others that he met along the way. The book became a huge success and undoubtedly inspired future explorers such Christopher Columbus as mentioned before. Marco Polo has not being forgotten, his legacy has definitely lived on.