Author: emilye (Page 1 of 2)

Medieval Map Assignment : The Travels of Marco Polo

Comparison between the medieval map, the Tabula Rogeriana, and the modern map, Google Maps, reveals the stark differences between the two maps that highlight the inaccuracies in the Tabula Rogeriana. The Tabula Rogeriana misinterprets much of the sizes of many bodies of water in and around the Eurasian continent. For example, on the Tabula Rogeriana, what I assuming to be the representation of the Black Sea is drawn to connect to a larger body of water that is connected to the ocean by a strait of water that goes through Northern Europe. On the Google Maps, there is no strait of water that goes through the top of the continent, though there is an ocean above the entire continent. The Black Sea does not connect to the ocean above Europe, thus revealing that travelers during this time period had yet to travel to the Northern areas of Eastern Europe and Asia and assumed the region to be just water. In addition to the areas travelers mainly had yet to venture to, most of the Mongol region in this medieval map is depicted as large bodies of water, revealing another region that most travelers had not yet reached or been able to explore and did not know of his existence. Given the Mongol region seems to be mainly untouched by other travelers, Polo presumably thought he had traveled into most of Asia because the borders of the Mongol Empire align with the Tabula Rogeriana’s drawn ending of the continent. However, though the sizes are inaccurate, the general locations of the bodies of water in the Middle East are fairly accurate. Though farther West and East the bodies of water tend to represent regions that have yet to be traveled to by Western travelers, such as Marco Polo. 

Another difference worthy of note between the two maps is the drawing of the Eurasian continent. The shape of the mainland and those islands scattered within the other bodies of water within the continent on the medieval map do not match that of the modern map. The Tabula Rogeriana’s western region beyond the particular route of Marco Polo in this map excludes all of Africa and its drawing of Europe does not match the modern map’s Europe. Europe on the modern map is drawn in the shape of a dragon head with smaller regions underneath and long stretches that reach the area of this particular travel of Polo’s. The medieval map’s western region, immediately west of Polo’s depicted route, shows the shape of Spain’s country, which matches that of the modern map. Essentially, using the modern map as a template, the medieval map depicts Spain as the entire shape of the European continent which then feeds immediately into the Middle East, the location of Polo’s route. The end of Polo’s route exemplifies where medieval travelers knew to be the edges of Asia, which upon reviewing the modern map, was the center of the Middle East. Further, it seems medieval travelers assumed the Middle East was significantly closer to Europe than it was. The regions that are assumably Europe and the Middle East are drawn to be very close to each other with not much region in between, also suggesting they did also did not know the actual size of Europe as all of the modern map’s Northern Europe is not pictured on the medieval map.

The Travels of Marco Polo: Kaindu

Upon Marco Polo’s travel to the province and city of Kaindu, he first noted their environmental surroundings. There is a lake nearby the city that produces an abundance of pearls. The Great Khan won’t let anyone take them because if too many are taken they would become too cheap and lose their value. He may take some for his own use, but if anyone else takes them they suffer the pain of death. There is also a mountain that has stones of turquoise, that the Khan will also not let anyone take unless with his bidding. There are also plenty of beasts that roam around the city’s area for hunting. Lions, lynxes, bears, stags, roebucks, and birds roam around the city for hunting, as well as a lot of good fish. Usually, hunters go after these animals for the acquisition and sale of their musk. The city is also a great source of cloves and ginger. Polo also notes that the people of this city do not have grape wine, but instead make their wine of wheat, rice, and spices, which in his opinion tastes just as good. 

Further in his account of Kaindu, he writes about the city’s monetary practices. Their money is contained in gold bars. They value their money by its weight and weigh it out by saggi. Aside from their gold bars, the people of Kaindu do not have coined money bearing the Khan’s stamp. However, they boil salt into molds to form blocks where the Great Khan’s stamp is set and the blocks are then used for small change. When their traders travel to other places, they bring about forty blocks and receive a saggio of gold for their blocks in exchange because this city is more isolated and cut off from the rest of other civilized villages. Evidently, the natives cannot dispose of their gold for purchases, so they sell it cheap because you can find gold in the rivers and lakes nearby. 

Polo also mentions the intertwining of these people’s sexual and hospitality practices. In this city, men do not think it is bad for a stranger to exchange in sexual relations with whomever woman is in a particular man’s home. Instead, they see a stranger’s sexual interest in their woman as a compliment and a blessing on the woman for the gods. As a form of hospitality, if a man sees a stranger looking to lodge in his home, he tells his wife to let the man have his will with her and leaves his home immediately and doesn’t return until the stranger leaves. Though the Khan has forbidden this hospitality/sexual practice, the people continue to engage in it because “they’re all addicted to it and there is no one to accuse another” (175). 

The extensive mention of the city of Kaindu’s monetary methods is typical for the travel writer that he is. Polo is the descendant of successful merchants and is a respected one himself, so it would be reasonable to anticipate his comments on the monetary practices of the cities he passes through. He finds particular interest in the city of Kaindu’s money as it is a rather isolated city that both makes its own coinage and exchanges its blocks for gold in order to make purchases in other cities. Polo most likely recorded these monetary practices to inform other travelers that they may need to make money exchanges in order to engage in trade in this city. 

In Polo’s description of the sexual hospitality practice of this city, he concludes his description noting that the Great Khan had prohibited this practice. Yet, the people of this city had continued to engage in offering women as a form of hospitality for traveling strangers and no one could be prosecuted for these actions because no one would accuse each other. Polo takes interest in the people’s banding together against the prohibition of the Great Khan, seemingly given the respect he is granted by a number of powerful royalty due to his family’s high-ranking merchant status. As a result, Polo may find the resistance against the Great Khan’s prohibition to be an indication of the bad morals of the people of Kaindu. 

The Travels of Marco Polo: Tibet

In Marco Polo’s account of Tibet, he mentions many of their benefits merchant-wise but also focuses on a negative description of some of their customs. He begins his account by noting that the country is completely devastated, having been ravaged by the Mongu Khan. Much of the country is desolate, a 20 days journey with practically no food or shelter. The outskirts of the country are so infested with beasts that travelers must drive them off by using the loud cracking sounds of canes to protect themselves and their own animals (171). However, once travelers reach the region of the country with plentiful towns and villages, Polo notes the inhabitants have a great supply of gold dust and cinnamon. As well, the natives here do not have coinage nor do they use the Khan’s paper money. Instead, their form of currency is salt. They have their own language and are idolaters. He also notes that the natives live by “the chase”, the people here mainly herd animals and eat farm their own produce as a means of survival (173). They also have mastiffs as big as donkeys and other good hunting dogs to get food for their community (174). Polo also claims the people of Tibet are the “greatest rogues and robbers in the world” and are, therefore, “out-and-out bad” (173).

One of the customs Polo deems worthy of noting is their marriage customs. Polo describes how the men in this country deem women utterly unworthy if they are virgins, so much so that none would ever wed a woman who is a virgin. They also believe that women who have not been with many men must have displeased the gods in some way; otherwise many men would desire to lay with her. When travelers arrive in their villages, women come rushing with their daughters begging the men to lay with them and have their will with them. Then, once the traveler decides to leave the town, he gives the girl he laid with a token so she can prove she has had a lover and then be regarded highly in her village by having the most tokens. Another custom Polo records are the Tibetans’ “diabolic arts”. He describes the country as being known for its “skillful enchanters and astrologers” so powerful that they can bring on rainstorms as they please (174). However, the “diabolic arts” they behold are “better not to relate in this book” because men “might marvel over-much” (174). Polo claims the people are so evil in their witchery it should not be talked about in too much detail for fear of tempting others who may read his account of them. 

In Marco Polo’s account of Tibet, he presents a feeling of superiority toward this group of people. His description of their way of obtaining supplies for their people is written in a negative light. The people of Tibet, according to Polo, grow their own food, capture their food, or steal their food or other supplies. Though Polo regards these people as “out-and-out bad”. Polo notes earlier in the section on Tibet that the country had just recently been devastated by invasion, yet he insults them for their desperate ways to manage survival. The people have resorted to farming and robbery to get by, as they are typical and easier ways to manage survival in a time of poverty. Polo is ignorant of the poverty that has struck the country and imposes his own perception of superiority onto the people. 

Additionally, Polo regards the belief practices of this country to be “diabolic”, which suggests another example of Polo’s self-righteousness in his own religion (174). He describes their practices with the term “idolatry”, which he uses mainly to talk about religions that he encounters that he is unfamiliar with and, usually, results in detailing his distaste for their religious practices. Most worthy of note in Polo’s account of the religious practices of the people of Tibet is his concluding note that the customs of their religion are “better not to relate in this book” because men “might marvel over-much” (174). Marco relays significant detail about other factors of these people’s customs and his criticisms, yet in the account of the “enchanters and astrologers,” he chooses to claim that speaking of their practices could potentially sway his readers to evil intentions (174). Polo thus asserts his perceived religious superiority over the Tibetan people.

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