Marco Polo [1254-1324]

Marco Polo was a merchant from Venice and an adventurer who traveled from Europe to Asia from 1271 to 1295. He traveled through Asia along the Silk road in the 13th century. The story of his travels is recorded in ‘II Milione’ (The Million) also called ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’. 

This article aims to share the facts related to Marco Polo’s life for candidates preparing for the IAS Exam

Facts on Marco Polo are relevant for Civil Services aspirants under the Indian History part of the UPSC Prelims exam.  

Given below are the links that give information on the account of various foreign travelers who visited India – 

Al Masudi [AD 896 – AD 956] Captain William Hawkins [1516 – 1613]
Fa-Hien [337 CE – 422 CE] Hiuen Tsang [602 CE – 664 CE]
Abdur Razzak [1413 – 1482] Alberuni [973 CE – 1048 CE]
Ibn Battuta [1304-1369] Sir Thomas Roe’s visit to India

Candidates can know more about other Foreign Envoys who visited India on the linked page. 

Aspirants should begin their preparation by solving UPSC Previous Year Question Papers now!!

To complement your preparation for the upcoming exam, check the following links:

Marco Polo – Early Life

  1. Marco Polo was born on September 15, 1254, in Venice, Italy to Niccolo. His Mother died when he was young so Polo was raised by the extended family.
  2. Father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo were successful jewel merchants and travelled extensively, setting up trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak, Crimea, and the western part of the Mongolian Empire. They even visited China, then called Cathay, during their Journey.
  3. His father and uncle met the Mongol leader, Kublai Khan (grandson of the great conqueror Genghis Khan), at his court in Beijing. 
  4. Kublai Khan expressed interest in Christianity, hence requested Polo brothers to return to Rome and come back to Beijing with holy water and 100 learned priests.
  5. When Marco Polo was 15, his father and uncle returned home. Though the pope did not grant their request as asked by Kublai Khan, the Polo brothers decided to return to Asia and this time, they took 17-year-old Marco with them.
  6. In 1271,they sailed south from Venice across the Mediterranean to the Holy Land, swung through Armenia, Persia, Afghanistan and the Pamir Mountains and cut across the Gobi Desert to Beijing.
  7. Around 1275, they met Kublai Khan at the summer palace, Xanadu. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in the leader’s Court. 
  8. Marco immersed himself in Chinese culture and became a master of four languages, impressed by which Kublai Khan appointed Marco at the position of special envoy. He was sent to far-flung areas of Asia, including Burma, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. 
  9. Over the years, Marco was promoted to the position of governor of a great Chinese city, that of a tax inspector in Yanzhou, and was given an official seat on the Khan’s Privy Council.
  10. After staying in China for 17 years they decided to return to Venice in 1292. On the way 
  11. they escorted the Princess of Mangol to Persia.  

Given below are few really important links that will help UPSC aspirants to prepare comprehensively for the upcoming examinations –

Political History of Cheras, Cholas & Pandyas Important Dynasties and kingdoms of Ancient India  Deccan Kingdoms – Chalukyas, Hoysalas, Kakatiyas
Early Medieval Southern India Chola Temples Of Tamil Nadu Temple Architecture in India
NCERT Notes: The Vijayanagara Empire (1336-1646) Harshavardhana – The Empire of Harsha Ancient History Sangam Age
Chalukya Dynasty – Rulers, Extent of Chalukya Empire Sangam Period – Political History of Sangam Age The Bahamani Kingdom
Chronological Order of Ancient to Modern History of India Gupta Empire – Facts about Gupta Period Mauryan Empire (322 BCE -185 BCE)
Pallava Dynasty – Political Background, Extent, Rulers Pala Empire | Dynasty 750 AD – 1162 AD Kushan Empire – Facts about Kushans & Kanishka’s

Marco Polo’s Visit to India – UPSC Prelims Facts

  1. During the two-year return journey by sea across the Indian Ocean, while returning home from China, Marco Polo arrived on the Coromandel Coast of India in AD 1292. 
  2. He entered the kingdom of the Tamil Pandyas near Tanjore. He visited Southern India during the reign of Rudramma Devi of the Kakatiya Dynasty.. 
  3. Rudramadevi, reigned around 1261–1295 CE and is one of the few queens in Indian History. Polo stopped in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala. 
  4. During his visit to India, he has accounted that – 
    • The climate is so hot that men and women wore only loincloths.
    • The sole local grain produced was rice. 
    • People used to sit on the earth and used only their right hands to eat and drink while the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. 
    • It was safe to travel at night with the valuables.
    • People did not eat beef but the consumption of alcohol and drinks prevailed. Everyone has their own drinking vessel and will not drink from another’s vessel, neither do they put the vessel on their lips to drink but hold it up and directly pour the drink into the mouth. 
    • They were addicted to chewing a leaf called tambur, these leaves are prepared with camphor and other aromatic spices, and also mixed with quicklime. They had a custom of taking food over a large dried leaf. 
    • They sleep on the ground stark naked, without a scrap of clothing on them or under them.
    • People were skilled in distinguishing good omens from bad and paid attention to augury. They worshiped Ox and daubed their houses with cow-dung.
    • The temple monasteries have both male and female deities and dark skin was highly esteemed among them. 
    • He also visited the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle, a place of pilgrimage for both the Christians and Muslims of the region, in a little town near modern Chennai.
    • After the eastern Coromandel Coast, Marco sails up the western Malabar Coast.
    • He described that the flora and fauna were different and excelled both in size and beauty from what it was in Italy.
    • Animals like lions, leopards, lynxes, peacocks, scarlet and blue parrots were in great numbers. Some monkeys in the region have the different appearance that one might take them as men.
    • He also noted about pepper and indigo plantations, incense, a drink made of date wine. 

Additional Notes on Marco Polo

  1. After completing his two years journey from 1292 A.D. to 1294 A.D. Marco Polo reached Constantinople and finally Venice in 1295. After being gone for 24 years, people did not recognize them and the Polos struggled to speak Italian.
  2. At this time, Venice was at war with the Republic of Genoa. He assumed command of a Venetian ship in a war against Genoa. 
  3. In 1298, Polo was captured and sentenced to a Genoese prison, where he met a fellow prisoner and writer named Rustichello from Pisa. 
  4. It was this cellmate who persuaded Polo to write about his 24 years in Asia. The language employed in the book was Franco-Italian fashion during the 13th and 14th centuries.
  5. The book titled ‘Description of the World’ better known as ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’. 
  6. After his release from prison in 1299, Polo returned to Venice, where he married Donata Badoer and raised three daughters.
  7. Polo died at his home in Venice on January 8, 1324 and was buried in the Church of San Lorenzo, in northern Italy. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Marco Polo


What was the significance of Marco Polo’s journey?

Though he was not the first European to reach China, Marco Polo was the first to explore some parts of Asia and to leave a detailed chronicle of his experience. This account of the Orient provided the Europeans with a clear picture of the East’s geography and ethnic customs and was the first Western record of porcelain, coal, gunpowder, paper money, and some Asian plants and exotic animals

What ws the impact of Marco Polos journey?

Marco Polo’s travels may have had some influence on the development of European cartography, ultimately leading to the European voyages of exploration a century later.

Aspirants can visit the UPSC Syllabus page to familiarise themselves with the topics generally asked in the exam. For further assistance visit the following links –

UPSC FAQ UPSC Monthly Current Affairs Magazine IAS Salary
UPSC Age Limit UPSC Syllabus UPSC Books
Indian Society Questions for UPSC Mains GS 1 Medieval India History Notes For UPSC Civil Service Exam Current Affairs Question


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