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Marco Polo

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

(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

of Europe.

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