What Did Marco Polo Do?


Marco Polo was a Venetian explorer and merchant who traveled extensively in Asia and recorded his experiences in a book. He was brought to China as a teenager by his father and uncle in 1269, and he was pressed into service in the court of Kublai Khan. He returned 24 years later and was imprisoned in Genoa, where he dictated his adventures to a cellmate.

At the time of his journey, most Europeans had very little idea of what Central and East Asia were like, which is one reason his tale proved so popular. Collected as "Book of the Marvels of the World" and later as "The Travels of Marco Polo," the story captivated Europe during the age of exploration. Christopher Columbus kept a copy of the book during his journeys and made notes in the margins, comparing his experiences to those in the text.

It is unknown how much of Marco Polo's account of his journey is truthful, and how much was made up or exaggerated in the telling. The book contains descriptions of people and events that were certainly fabricated, such as races of humans with long tails and cannibalistic tendencies. He also neglects to mention important facets of Chinese culture such as the Great Wall and chopsticks, leading some scholars to suggest that he may not have traveled to China at all.