Marco Polo is considered by most to be the most important link between Europe and
China in the 13th century. His accounts of the Eastern world had an immense impact on
Western thinking and life in Europe.
Marco Polo was born in 1254 to a noble family in Venice, which was at that time an
independent city-state in northern Italy. Marco had a typical education of a young man of his
time1. At age 15, he had already studied many of the classical authors and understood the Bible
and theology of the Church. He also had a good knowledge of French and Italian language.
From his later history we find out about his interest in natural resources, the ways of the people,
and many strange and interesting plants and animals. Because he came from a family of traders,
everything he learned he related to the possibility of commerce2.
By the time Marco was 15, his father and uncle, who were both merchants, had already
traveled all the way to Eastern Asia.
The two men had made contact with many peoples,
including the Persians, and the Tartars and Mongols. They knew of all the popular trading
routes through Asia and they even had established a trading post of their own3. Throughout the
land they were known as men who were 'signally noble, wise and provident4.' Since this first
voyage was a success, they planned to embark on a second expedition, on which they decided
to along young Marco.
On the elders' initial journey, Kublai Khan, the great ruler of China, gave the men
special letters that were delivered to the Roman Pontiff. On this journey the Pope gave the
adventurers letters in response to the Great Khan's messages5. With these letters the men set
out on their voyage to...