Author: cosbye (Page 1 of 2)

Marco Polo: Medieval Map


There are many obvious differences between the two maps. One visually striking difference is how much closer the points appear to be in the Medieval Map. I had a difficult time finding a portolan map that could incorporate Marco Polo’s expansive route from the Middle East to Asia. As is noticeable, the points appear to be shorter distances and are more scrunched together. In routing Marco Polo’s points of travel, I often found myself having to redo the placement of Marco Polo’s locations. I finally realized that the Medieval Map was far smaller in comparison to my modern map so my points were going to have to be much closer together than I expected. The hardest points to map were the Middle Eastern locations. The portolan map is missing some Middle Eastern countries making the Middle East much smaller. I was able to find where to place these points but I had to move the points closer together. Additionally, China appears to be much smaller in comparison to India. One reason this is so is that the portolan map’ was originally made for traveling traders, so its sole purpose was to provide detailed routes along the coastlines of these countries. Because of this, the mapping of the inside of these countries was not as much of a priority as the coastline of the Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Upon looking at this map, Marco Polo would have likely used the portolan map as a way to navigate by sea and understand where he was in reference to the traveling ports. The visual descriptions of the land within the Middle East and Asia were not correct representations, so this kind of map would not have aided in his journeys by land. Ultimately, in The Travels of Marco Polo, Marco Polo expressed his knowledge about the traveling ports and his physical location to these ports showing further evidence of how he would have used the portolan map.

The Travels of Marco Polo: Hormuz

In Marco Polo’s travels through the Middle East, he speaks of the city, Hormuz. He says that after riding for two days he reaches Hormuz which lies on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Marco Polo first speaks of the great harbor where merchants bring items, such as silk, pearls, valuable stones, spices, elephant tusks, an abundance of gold, and other valuables from India. Marco Polo emphasizes the land’s successful trade and says it is a center for commerce. He says they have a king named Ruemedan Ahmad and have cities and towns that serve under this territory.

Marco Polo then discusses the climate of Hormuz. He says they have sweltering heat temperatures. He then speaks of their good wine. This information would have glamorized Marco Polo’s journey since wine is considered an expensive good. He then discusses the differences in food and says the natives do not eat “our sort of food.” He says they eat salt fish, dates, onions in contrast to the wheat bread and meat of Marco Polo’s people. Marco Polo highlights the culture difference between the natives and the people from Western Europe through the variation in food.

Marco Polo also notices the poor quality of the ships at Hormuz. He goes into the technical specifics regarding the poor material that is used to build the ships. He says this would make it risky to sail in these ships. He assumes that many of the ships would sink due to the stormy climate of the Indian Ocean. Marco Polo evidently believes this information was important to share with either traveling merchants or anyone in Western Europe planning on going on an expedition. Additionally, Marco Polo, who is already largely interested in trade would find this information valuable to note.

Marco Polo describes the people of Hormuz. He immediately states that they are black and worship Mahomet. He addresses their race and the fact that they worship someone different from Christian beliefs. It can be interpreted that Marco Polo was derogatively describing the people of Hormuz. He then begins to discuss how the climate impacts the people. The people are unable to live in the cities in the summer since they would die from the dangerous heat. He discusses the extreme measures people take to protect themselves from the sun and dangerous heat winds. Marco Polo shares a story of how the king of Kerman ordered his men to surprise attack the people of Hormuz; however, when they got close to the city, thousands of men perished from the winds. This story could have been an exaggeration given the multitude of men that perished. Additionally, it would have been enticing for his intended audience to read about the difference in climate and the dangers of Marco Polo’s travels.

Marco Polo then goes on to discuss the difference in their mourning rituals. He immediately states his opinion and how bizarre it is that these people mourn their dead daily for four years after their death.

From this passage, it is obvious Marco Polo takes an interest in a location’s trade and goods. He makes a point to say the goods that are bought and traded. Additionally, he speaks of the excellent harbor in Hormuz that allows for this location to be a center for trade and alludes to the territory’s high status. Along with this, he discusses their poorly built ships that would impact their ability to travel from their land. Marco Polo also makes a note to discuss the differences in climate and foods they eat. He over exaggerates the hot temperatures most likely to make a note of how different the physical land is from Western Europe. His story of a thousand men that perished would most likely have been incorporated to create a thrill for his audience and to glorify his journey. Lastly, Marco Polo addresses the people of Hormuz. He identifies the people as black and as Mahomet worshipers. As seen in his previous passages, Marco Polo does not think highly of dark-skinned individuals especially those who do not worship the same god as him showing this was a racist remark. He also discusses the mourning rituals and how strange he finds them. The natives spend much of their time mourning their dead which most likely differs from Western European mourning customs. It can be interpreted that Marco Polo thinks of trade as a marker for a territory’s success, but he shows a personal investment in cultural differences.

The Travels of Marco Polo: Quilon

When Marco Polo journeys through India, he speaks of the kingdom, Quilon. The kingdom is located 500 miles south-west in relation to Maabar.

Marco Polo introduces this province saying the people are mainly idolaters with the exception of a few Jews and Christians. He says the people have their own language and answer to a king who is subordinate to no one. From previous passages, it is clear that Marco Polo uses the term “idolaters” derogatively to show that their religion opposes Christian ideals. He makes a point to include that Jews and Christians are among the people to show there were other religious groups aside from idolaters.

Next, Marco Polo speaks of the province’s produce. He says they harvest large amounts of pepper and Quilon brazil. He says that pepper is specifically grown in the months of May through July. Marco Polo also mentions the growth of indigo how it is specifically produced. He additionally he mentions the hot climate and expresses the extensiveness of it saying if one were to put in an egg in one of the rivers, the egg would boil. He then mentions how this territory thrives in trade because of the exchange of goods from the following countries: Arabia, Manzi, and the Levant. The countries are able to trade by sea. Marco Polo almost always mentions trade given that he is a professional trader.

In Marco Polo’s description of these goods, he expresses how these crops are produced in detail. It is evident that he is trying to show Western Europeans how different their crops, as well as their methods, are in producing these goods. He mentions the months in which pepper is grown and goes into the specifics of how Indigo is produced. Indigo was a rare commodity in Western Europe so it would have been fascinating to Western audiences in learning how it was made. In addition, he exaggerates the hot temperatures which can be assumed that the rivers did not reach boiling temperatures. This was most likely used to once again captivate his targeted European audience.

Marco Polo also focuses on the variety of beasts. He mentions black lions, parrots that differ in color and size, peacocks, and hens. He then emphasizes how unique these animals are from the ones he has seen in Western Europe and even from “those of all the rest in the world.” He emphasizes on their grandness and difference from everywhere else which can be assumed that he was trying to relate enchanting information back to Western Europe. In addition, he also expresses the difference in their fruit that is due to the land’s hot climate. He speaks of their wine and how it has uses sugar causing the people to be intoxicated faster in comparison to grape wine. This comparison to grape wine is telling that he views the wine Europeans drink to be better since it does not make people as intoxicated which was seen as improper and undesirable. He then makes a point to speak of Quilon’s good physicians who keep their people in good health which is important for audiences to know if they do wish to travel given that sickness and rise in death tolls were prevalent.

Lastly, Marco Polo discusses the appearance of the people of Quilon in how they dark-skinned and dress almost naked with a piece of loincloth. Similar to other travel passages, Marco Polo makes a point to describe their unique dress; however, he does not express this with as much disdain in his previous passages which shows maturity in sharing information about other people’s’ cultures. On the contrary, he expresses disapproval for the how the people face no religious repercussions for engaging in sexual actions. His dislike is clear since he expects there to be some sort of punishment for this kind of action most likely having to do with his Christian views. He also says that is customary for men to marry his father’s widow, cousin, or his brother’s wife. He says that this was a commonly seen throughout the Indies. He seems to be saying this as if it were something new and only occurred within in the Indies, but from other travel narratives, this practice seems to be universal. It is inconclusive as to why he would find this to be unique.

In this passage, it is clear that Marco Polo chose to focus more on the animals and goods in Quilon. It can be interpreted that he is drawn to these specific aspects since they dramatize the vast difference in climate and vegetation. Since Marco Polo aims to captivate Western Europeans, it would make sense that he would want to focus on the things that would make this specific territory standout and be as memorable as possible.


The Travels of Marco Polo: Andaman

On Marco Polo’s voyage to India, he passes through many islands. One of the islands he comes across is Andaman. There is no description of his journey or how his journey led him to this island.

One of the first things Marco Polo says about the island is its greatness in size. He then discusses the defining aspects of the island. He says, “the people have no king. They are idolaters and live like wild beasts” (Marco Polo, 258). Marco Polo goes into more detail about the native people of Andaman and their physical characteristics. He says that the men of the island are worth describing and speaks of their animalistic features. He describes the men saying, “all the men of this island have heads like dogs, and teeth and eyes like dogs; for I assure you that the whole aspect of their face is that of big mastiffs” (258). He then defines them as a cruel race that feasts on outsiders to their land.

Marco Polo sets up the culture of the island as a place that is vastly different in comparison to his Western culture or what he considers to be civilized. He begins saying that the people do not have a ruler suggesting the island has a lack of authority and structure. He also says they are idolaters which Marco Polo uses negatively to suggest they have anti-Christian beliefs. Marco Polo moves onto describe the native people of Andaman. He compares the people to dogs, specifically to mastiffs in not only their facial features but further says they act like ferocious dogs in how they devour the people who do not belong to their land. Marco Polo’s racist views are evident in this passage. He already looks down on their culture for their lack of order and differing beliefs. Marco Polo expresses his opposition even further using fearsome descriptions of the Andaman natives. His descriptions of the people in Andaman suggest the cruelty of the entire race. It seems Marco Polo is using race as a signifier of personal attributes. Even further, it seems Marco Polo is alluding to the fact that the people who look and act in this dog-like manner must have something to do with their lack of authority and in their (what he believes) sinful views.

Marco Polo also focuses on the island’s goods and location. He says the island has an “abundance of spices of every kind” (158). Additionally, he says Andaman has food such as milk, rice, and “every sort of flesh.” Marco Polo emphasizes their fruits such as, apples and coconuts, and says they have others that are different from the ones in his home country. He then describes the difficulties ships have reached the island. He says the island is situated in a treacherous sea that does not allow ships to anchor or sail from the island. Marco Polo explains this is so because the sea is so strong it is able to eat away at the shore and drag trees from their roots into the gulf. Ships then get stuck in the gulf in the mass of trees and are unable to get out.

It is typical of Marco Polo to express interest in goods and resources due to his position as a trader. His emphasis on the different fruits on the island shows the reader that he intends on relaying to Westerns about the differences in land and culture. The passage about the unbelievable strong seas seems intentionally included in order to attract readers and make his journey sound thrilling. There is also a contradiction in the last section since it does not explain how Marco Polo was able to reach and depart from this said treacherous sea. This could either be read as a false assertion or that Marco Polo never traveled to the island.



The Travels of Marco Polo: Chang-chau

Marco Polo describes the three-day journey of heading eastwards from Chin-kiang-fu to Chang-chau. He says a traveler would cross many cities containing people who “are all idolaters, subject to the Great Khan, and using paper money” (Polo, 211).

Marco Polo gives a general overview of Chang-chau. Marco Polo says the people of this city “are idolaters, subject to the Great Khan, using paper money” (211). He then discusses that they are known for trade and commerce. He notes that they have an abundance of silk and produce cloths made of gold and other silk fabrics. Marco Polo also says they have abundant animals such as birds and beasts most likely referring to large animals. He then says they have lush soil providing life to sustain the city.

It is evident Marco Polo feels strongly about the attributes he uses to describe these cities. This seems to be his way of suggesting that these cities are vastly foreign in comparison to the Christian and governmental views of Western Europeans. For instance, the word “idolaters” refer to a religious group that worships idols which counters Christian beliefs. This is Marco Polo’s way of saying not only are these people, not Christian, they go against Christian beliefs. Similarly, “burning their dead” also greatly contrasts Christian beliefs that believe burning of the body will not only cut themselves off from any chance of resurrection. Paper money shows the currency used which is practical for travelers to know and further speaks to the difference between these cultures. Lastly, in saying people are subject to the Khan, it is important to note since it is necessary to have an idea of the laws and who one is subject to depending on one’s location. It additionally provides a window for the Western Europeans to have an idea of the influence and expansion of the Great Khan’s empire.

Marco Polo’s discussion of trade is a common thread among his many descriptions of cities. As a traveling merchant, it makes sense as to why he would view this area to be crucial in determining a city’s success. It also speaks to the not only foreign goods but the luxurious items he came across in his travels. Marco Polo emphasizes that “gold” was incorporated into the fabric which would have further emphasized the value of this material. This would be appealing to Western Europeans who would have viewed these as foreign and valuable items. Marco Polo’s mention of birds, beasts, and soil was used to further the success of the vegetation and livelihood of the city.

Marco Polo then shares a story about the city and describes it as a devilish action that resulted in rightful punishment by the people of Chang-chau. Following the fall of Manzi to the Great Khan, Bayan, a commander of Great Khan’s army, sent his men to take down Chang-chau. Marco Polo identifies the men sent as Alans and Christians. When the Alans were outside Chang-chou, they stumbled across wine. As a result, they drank too much causing the men to lose their sense of right and wrong. The citizens of the city witnessed their captors’ drunken behavior and considered these men as good as dead. Without waiting to act, the city men killed all of the captors that night. When word reached Bayan who was the leading commander of the captors, he was furious and sent many troops to conquer the city by force. The city, as a result, was destroyed and Bayan’s men killed the entirety of the city.

Marco Polo begins his story opening with his strong opposition to the drunken actions of the Alans that they justly deserved. Marco Polo then uses religion to identify the groups that were a part of Bayan’s men. Marco Polo was emphasizing that Christians were among the Great Khan’s men to shut down Western European fears of the Great Khan. This could also infer Marco Polo’s harbored racist feelings towards non-Christian groups. Marco Polo puts the blame solely on the Alans as if to separate and blame this race for its uncivilized behavior. Marco Polo seems to agree with the actions of the Chang-chau since he condemns the drunken behavior even going as far to say it as to label it as “wicked.” His strong opposition also presents a warning to Western Europeans for the evil caused by drinking to excess. Yet, Marco Polo also supports Bayan’s decision to eliminate everyone in the city. Ultimately, Marco Polo sides with the Great Khan and shaped their victory as deserved in order to further express the power of their empire.


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