Marco Polo is one of the most famous explorers we know today. At the age of 17, he left Venice, his birth city, and traveled the Silk Road to China. There, he met the Great Ruler Kublai Khan. Marco spent years traveling through China and the East. He wrote his stories into a book, one that popularized China and paved the way for new explorers. What are the biggest accomplishments by Marco Polo?
Born in 1254 in Venice, Italy, Marco spent his childhood in Venice. His family worked in the merchandise business. His father and uncle traveled to Asia to trade valuable materials, including silk and jewels.
Today, we will talk about the most important Marco Polo accomplishments.
Inspiring Trip to China
Marco Polo and his relatives did not reach China for the first time. Other Europeans have traveled to China before them. But his travels provided inspiration for many others to follow. Marco wrote about the landscape, the people of the Middle East, and details about the Mongol Empire.
Thanks to these books, Europeans had a glimpse of the civilizations to the East. Many people continue to debate his tales to this day.
The Travels of Marco Polo
Speaking of that book, there are many names for it. When he and his relatives returned to Venice, a war broke between Venice and Genoa. He spent time in prison. While there, he told his story to a fellow prisoner, Rustichello da Pisa. He wrote down his detailed accounts of the travels by Polo to the east. He called the book Il Millione, Italian for “The Million”.
In 1299, Marco got released from prison and returned to his life as a merchant in Venice. Nowadays, we recognize the book as The Travels of Marco Polo.
The book got translated into many European languages during Marco’s lifetime. But the original manuscripts got lost. There are about 150 copies in the world today.
Some modern readers question the reliability of the book. They even go to say that the title Il Milione, stands for “The Million Lies”.
World Traveler and Pioneer
Among the many accomplishments by Marco Polo, he pioneered trade routes in Asia. Famous as a world traveler, he helped pave the way for the Silk Road we know today.
He left behind a detailed chronicle of his experience. Thanks to Marco Polo, many travelers continued to search for ways to reach China and continue trade.
His writings influenced European cartography, leading to the Fra Maura map.
Silk Road Journey
Let’s talk more about the Silk Road journey. Marco went on this journey with his father in 1271. During his time on the silk road, he traded and collected jewels, silk, and ivory. He also spread China’s creativity in the use of coal, money, and compasses.
On his return to Europe, Marco brought back information and goods about China. It helped Europeans find out more about the eastern country.
In a way, Marco built a bridge between the East and the West.
One reason why many modern readers dismiss his book and journals is the mention of mythical creatures. Marco claimed to find and see a unicorn, and many other mythical creatures.
Because there was no photographic technology at the time, his personal accounts got converted into drawings.
He also claimed to see a roc, a mythological bird of massive proportions. He described it as large enough to scoop up an Asian elephant and its talons. Polo described it as similar in appearance to an eagle, but much bigger.
Marco Polo did not invent anything. But his book inspired many inventions in the years to follow. Europeans created many of the first maps of Asia thanks to the information in Polo’s book. He also introduced the idea of paper money to Europe.
In his journals, he also spoke about salt. At the time, salt served as a currency and an expensive one.
Bridging the Gap Between China and Europe
Marco Polo affected European, but also Chinese political history. He participated in diplomatic and military actions and increased awareness and trade between the East and the West.
Marco encouraged Eastern rulers to explore Western culture. He encountered Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. He put Polo to work as a tax collector and then in many other emissary positions.
Prior to Marco Polo’s writings, China and Europe rarely interacted. These two cultures knew very little of each other. But after his writings, Europeans started actively pursuing trade routes with China and India.
Reaching Other Parts of Asia
Marco Polo reached Beijing where he met Kublai Khan at the summer palace, Xanadu. Khan invited Polo to stay and take part in his court. Marco quickly learned the Chinese language, customs, and everything in between.
The emperor recognized his talents and allowed Marco to travel to the far reaches of Asia. Polo reached places like India, Burma, and Tibet. Over the years, he got promoted to governor of a great Chinese city and had an official seat on the Khan’s Privy Council.
Commander of a Ship
Three years after returning to Venice, Marco Polo assumed control of a ship during the war against Genoa. He got captured, but that paved the way to serve time in prison and met fellow prisoner, Rustichello Da Pisa.
Enriching European cuisine
Before Marco Polo’s journey in China and the east, European cuisine had little knowledge of spices like pepper, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and many others. Polo brought back some of these spices upon his return to Venice.
But he also paved the way for the trade route between Europe and Asia. Thanks to Marco Polo, we now have seasonings such as cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, and many others. He imported these items of commerce in the early days of trade.