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13 January, 2012
Famous Men of The Middle Ages|
by Haaren, John H. (LL.D.) and Poland, A. B. (Ph.D.)
|Lived from 1254-1324
Some years before St. Louis led his last Crusade there was born in
Venice a boy named Marco Polo. His father was a wealthy merchant
who often went on trading journeys to distant lands.
In 1271, when Marco was seventeen years old, he accompanied his
father and uncle on a journey through the Holy Land, Persia and
Tartary, and at length to the Empire of China--then called Cathay
(Ca-thay'). It took the travelers three years to reach Cathay.
The emperor of Cathay was a monarch named Kublai Khan (koo' bli-kän'),
who lived in Peking.
Marco's father and uncle had been in Cathay once before and had
entertained Kublai Khan by telling him about the manners and customs
So when the two Venetian merchants again appeared in Peking, Kublai
Khan was glad to see them. He was also greatly pleased with the
young Marco, whom he invited to the palace.
Important positions at the Chinese court were given to Marco's
father and uncle, and so they and Marco lived in the country for
some years. Marco studied the Chinese language, and it was not
very long before he could speak it.
When he was about twenty-one Kublai Khan sent him on very important
business to a distant part of China. He did the work well and from
that time was often employed as an envoy of the Chinese monarch. His
travels were sometimes in lands never before visited by Europeans
and he had many strange adventures among the almost unknown tribes
of Asia. Step by step he was promoted. For several years he was
governor of a great Chinese city.
Finally he and his father and uncle desired to return to Venice.
They had all served Kublai Khan faithfully and he had appreciated
it and given them rich rewards; but he did not wish to let them
While the matter was being talked over an embassy arrived in Peking
from the king of Persia. This monarch desired to marry the daughter
of Kublai Khan, the Princess Cocachin, and he had sent to ask her
father for her hand. Consent was given, and Kublai Khan fitted
out a fleet of fourteen ships to carry the wedding party to Persia.
The Princess Cocachin was a great friend of Marco Polo, and urged
her father to allow him to go with the party. Finally Kublai Khan
gave his consent. Marco's father and uncle were also allowed to
go, and the three Venetians left China.
The fleet with the wedding party on board sailed southward on the
China Sea. It was a long and perilous voyage. Stops were made at
Borneo, Sumatra, Ceylon and other places, until the ships entered
the Persian Gulf and the princess was safely landed. After
they reached the capital of Persia the party, including the three
Venetians, was entertained by the Persians for weeks in a magnificent
manner and costly presents were given to all.
At last the Venetians left their friends, went to the Black Sea
and took ship for Venice.
They had been away so long and were so much changed in appearance
that none of their relations and old friends knew them when they
arrived in Venice. As they were dressed in Tatar costume and
sometimes spoke the Chinese language to one another, they found it
hard to convince people that they were members of the Polo family.
At length, on order to show that they were the men that they declared
themselves to be, they gave a dinner to all their relations and
old friends. When the guests arrived they were greeted by the
travelers, arrayed in gorgeous Chinese robes of crimson satin.
After the first course they appeared in crimson damask; after the
second, they changed their costumes to crimson velvet; while at
the end of the dinner they appeared in the usual garb of wealthy
"Now, my friends," said Marco, "I will show you something that will
please you." He then brought into the room the rough Tatar coats
which he and his father and uncle had worn when they reached
Venice. Cutting open the seams, he took from inside the lining
packets filled with rubies, emeralds and diamonds. It was the
finest collection of jewels ever seen in Venice.
The guests were now persuaded that their hosts were indeed what
they claimed to be.
Eight hundred years before Marco Polo's birth, some of the people
of North Italy had fled before the Attila to the muddy islands of
the Adriatic and founded Venice upon them. Since then the little
settlement had become the most wealthy and powerful city of Europe.
Venice was the queen of the Adriatic and her merchants were princes.
They had vessels to bring the costly wares of the East to their
wharves; they had warships to protect their rich cargoes from the
pirates of the Mediterranean; they carried on wars. At the time
when Marco Polo returned from Cathay they were at war with Genoa
The two cities were fighting for the trade of the world. In a
great naval battle the Venetians were completely defeated. Marco
Polo was in the battle and with many of his countrymen was captured
by the enemy. For a year he was confined in a Genoese prison. One
of his fellow-prisoners was a skillful penman and Marco dictated
to him an account of his experiences in China, Japan, and other
Eastern countries. This account was carefully written out. Copies
of the manuscript exist to this day. One of these is in a library
in Paris. It was carried into France in the year 1307. Another
copy is preserved in the city of Berne. It is said that the book
was translated into many languages, so that people in all parts
of Europe learned about Marco's adventures. About a hundred and
seventy-five years after the book was written, the famous Genoese,
Christopher Columbus, planned his voyage across the Atlantic. It
is believed that he had read Marco's description of Java, Sumatra
and other East India Islands, which he thought he had reached when
he discovered Haiti (Hai'-ti) and Cuba. So Marco Polo may have
suggested to Columbus the voyage which led to the discovery of