Historicity of the Travel's of Marco Polo

Jun 2018
136
New Hampshire
#1
Often times historians write controversial statements simply because they need to publish a certain amount of material annually. Especially those who are seeking a tenured position. No serious historian could honestly believe that Marco Polo's account was fictional, much less that the man himself never existed. Now, certain elements in his narrative could be overly dramatized or even included in order to provide the readers with the much expected marvels. But such was a common feature of ancient and medieval travelogues, and should not cast doubt on the overall historicity of the narrative itself. The original manuscript dictated by Marco Polo during his imprisonment in Genoa in 1298, and written by the novelist Rustichello unfortunately is no longer extant. However, a number of early manuscripts survive including one referred to as Paris manuscript (F), still survive. Manuscript F was written in the same Italianate French which was characteristic of Rustichello's writing style as revealed in many of his other writings. This manuscript was very likely based upon the handwritten original, the same version which was related to Rustichello by Marco Polo himself.

Nor is there any reason to doubt the essential accuracy of most of the events and descriptions contained within the narrative, as Polo was a very keen observer, and much of the information he recorded can be independently verified in contemporary Chinese sources. This includes Polo's remarkable description of Kinsai, which preserved one of the most vivid and accurate pictures of a medieval city still extant. His descriptions of the various nations and races of men he encountered along with their customs including Persians, Turks, Tartars, Chinese, Tibetans, and Indians was also of the utmost accuracy. Keep in mind that information of this sort was not readily available to most western Europeans during the Middle Ages, and thus it is highly unlikely that these descriptions would have been so accurately recorded unless Polo observed them first hand.

As to the historicity of Marco Polo himself, his will dated January 9 1323/4, leaves no doubt.

So my question is, in light of the abundance of evidence which leaves no doubt as to the essential historicity of Marco Polo and his travels, why do some scholars still express skepticism as to whether or not Polo traveled to the far east, or if the man even existed? Is the answer as simple as historians needing to be published, or is there something more which leaves room for doubt?

I am aware that Marco Polo's name is unattested in contemporary Chinese records. Still, this should not be surprising, as he likely would have been given a Chinese surname or title when on official business for Kublai Khan.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,621
Sydney
#2
If it wasn't him , he must have listened to some pretty well informed witness , his uncle perhaps
but , I'll go with the simplest explanation , he went there , stay a while and told his stories
 
May 2009
1,256
#4
I believe he went to China, but I think he exaggerated his role there and probably nicked a lot of stories he heard from other people. The claim that he was a governor of Yangzhou is not supported by any records. Even if he had adopted a Chinese name he was still obviously a foreigner and his foreignness would've been noted, just like it was noted in the cases of all the Muslims, Turks and Mongols that were serving in the government at that time. It wouldve been impossible for him to blend in to the point of becoming invisible-- unless he was just another merchant that had no role whatsoever in the government and might've never even met Khubilai Khan at all.
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,621
Sydney
#7
The mongols were pretty enlightened about using foreigners in their service
obviously not being Chinese made them serve even better ,
correct me by all means but I believe Marco Polo was send as a supervisory tax agent in Yangzhou
which does make some sense
all Empire usually had a inspectorate system run by trusted men to check on provincial administration
 
May 2009
1,256
#8
In the end even scholars have to shrug their shoulders and say "who knows?" There are no slam-dunk arguments for or against. Maybe Marco Polo actually saw the places he saw, or maybe he embellished his own journey with lots of stories he heard from others along the way. Either way his descriptions were accurate, so he can't be called a fraud. He still contributed enormously to the west's knowledge of east Asia at that time.
 
Jul 2014
1,445
world
#9
In the end even scholars have to shrug their shoulders and say "who knows?" There are no slam-dunk arguments for or against. Maybe Marco Polo actually saw the places he saw, or maybe he embellished his own journey with lots of stories he heard from others along the way. Either way his descriptions were accurate, so he can't be called a fraud. He still contributed enormously to the west's knowledge of east Asia at that time.
His tales have some very big bloopers. For eg .. Dogs the size of donkeys, people wearing only animal furs, A nation of thieves and bandits.
 

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