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Most European explorers took little note of the Viking discovery. They were looking toward Asia, not toward the west


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Marco Polo
Most European explorers took little note of the Viking discovery. They were looking toward Asia, not toward the west.

The trees of North America were valuable to the Vikings who lived on Greenland. Most Europeans, however, were not interested in trees. They desired gold, silk, perfumes, spices and jewels. These things came from Asia.

Travel to Asia was very difficult. To get there, it was necessary to cross burning hot deserts and climb steep mountains. Robbers and bandits were a constant danger.



One traveler to Asia was Marco Polo. He was about 17 years old in 1271 when he left his home in Venice, Italy. He left with his father, Nicolo, and his uncle, Maffeo, who were Italian merchants (store owners). The journey to China took three and a half or four years. There were many dangers. Bandits attacked their caravan and they had to cross steep mountains and bleak deserts.




They finally reached the summer court of the ruler of China, called the Great Kahn. This ruler had a lot of wealth and power. The travelers were greeted warmly by Kahn, who liked young Marco Polo. The emperor sent Marco on many missions, which took him to different parts of China and Southeast Asia. Nicolo and Maffeo spent their time in or near the court. But, like Marco, they grew rich because of their friendship with the Great Kahn.


Marco Polo saw more of Asia than any other European until about 600 years later. On his travels, he listed the towns and cities he visited. He noted their size, their products and the importance of trade. He was interested in local customs and wrote about them in his diaries.



Marco Polo told stories about incredible things. He reported that on one New Year’s Day celebration, the Great Khan’s subjects gave him 100,000 white horses. Marco Polo claimed that 5,000 elephants were in this New Year’s parade. Each elephant wore beautiful trappings worked with gold and silk.



In 1292, Marco and his father began the journey back to Europe with jewels in their pockets. They reached Italy in 1295. The jewels and the beautiful silk robes, which the travelers had brought back from China, amazed people.



Three years later, Marco Polo was captured in a battle between Venice and Genoa. In prison, he told a fellow prisoner of his adventures. The prisoner wrote them down and Marco sent to Venice for his notes and diaries. Finally, Marco’s story was published as The Book of Marco Polo. This remained the best account of Asia for several hundred years.


Though Polo's book exaggerates places and cultures (and some scholars believe he never went as far east as China but only described places other travelers had been to), his book was widely published, translated into many languages, and thousands of copies were printed.


Polo's book includes fanciful accounts of men with tails and cannibals seem to be around every corner. At the time, many people thought Marco Polo was making up the stories. Polo brought the ideas of paper currency and coal to Europe. He also included second-hand reports of areas that he had not visited, such as Japan and Madagascar. A typical passage from Travels reads:


Concerning the Island of Nicobar
When you leave the island of Java and the kingdom of

Lambri, you sail north about one hundred and fifty miles,

and then you come to two islands, one of which is called

Nicobar. On this island they have no king or chief, but


live like beasts. They go all naked, both men and women,

and do not use the slightest covering of any kind. They

are idolaters. They decorate their houses with long pieces

of silk, which they hang from rods as an ornament,

regarding it as we would pearls, gems, silver, or gold.

The woods are filled with valuable plants and trees,

including cloves, Brazil, and coconuts.
There is nothing else worth relating so we will go on to

the island of Andaman...

The influence of Marco Polo on geographic exploration was enormous. Years later, his stories excited Europeans who began to wonder what the rest of the world was like. His book was also a major influence on Christopher Columbus. Columbus owned a copy of Travels of Marco Polo and made notes in the margins.



As Polo neared death in 1324, he was asked to recant what he had written and simply said that he had not even told half of what he had witnessed. Despite the fact that many claim his book to be unreliable, it was a sort of regional geography of Asia for centuries. Even today, his book is considered among the great records of geographic exploration."





Marco Polo


Answer each question in complete sentences.




  1. What difficulties did Marco Polo face on his way to Asia? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2. Who did Marco Polo visit in China?

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  1. Why did Marco Polo see more of China than his father?

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  1. What were some of the things Marco Polo claimed to have seen?

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  1. How did Marco Polo influence the history of America?

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