Marco Polo left on his famous adventure to the court of Kublai Khan in 1271, alongside his father, Niccolò, and his uncle, Maffeo. The odyssey of this trio of Polo men spanned over two decades, as Marco and his older kinsmen would not return to Venice until 1295, after twenty-four years had passed. As is evident from his traveling companions, Marco Polo—despite his fame and name recognition—was not the only Polo family merchant to see Kublai Khan. So why did he become so much more famous than Niccolò and Maffeo? It is largely due to his fortuitous capture by the Genoese navy.
The next phase of Marco Polo’s adventure would take place in 1298, when he was apprehended by Genoese sailors and forcibly brought back to Genoa. He did not spend much time in captivity, as he was released safe and sound back to Venice by 1299, but in that short imprisonment in Genoa, Marco had the good luck to meet a fellow captive named Rustichello of Pisa. This prisoner from Pisa, so it happened, was a writer who specialized in the genres of romance and chivalric tales. This happenstance union of prisoners ultimately led to the creation of Marco Polo’s book, known by several different titles, such as Description of the World, Il Milione (possibly based on Marco’s nickname), or simply The Travels.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (The Return of Prince Charles From Spain, by Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom (1562 1563–1640), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Travels by Marco Polo and translated by Nigel Cliff. New York: Penguin Classics, 2015.