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Perceptions of a Venetian: Holding Marco Polo Accountable

Info: 2393 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in History

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There are many famous travelers known for their adventures and heroism, but there is only one who is a Venetian looking to amass fortune. This paper examines the standpoint of Marco Polo, within his firsthand observation of The Great Khan, throughout the paper the reader will examine The Great Khans trials and tribulations within his empire as well as his great achievements. Additionally, this paper will also explore Marco Polo’s observations from different sources such as Kubilai Khans influence on his political, economic and militaristic system. The reader will also embark on gaining insight on Marco Polo’s admiration to The Great Khans reign over the Mongol empire. Furthermore, I will use one primary source; The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo and two secondary sources to act as a facilitator, both secondary sources will act as a catalyst to enhance and spark specifics. ‘Marco Polo was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues’ by Hans Vogel and ‘Kublai Khan in the Eyes of Marco Polo’ by Dr. Na Ching. In my paper the central question to be discoursed is how did

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Marco Polo interpret what he experienced with The Great Khan, what formed Marco Polo’s standpoint, and how did The Great Khan contribute to his thriving empire. I will contend that Marco Polo’s findings regarding The Great Khan are touched by his independent experience. I intend to argue that Marco Polo’s piece shows a detachment towards The Great Khan, although he does show great admiration, nonetheless Marco Polo does point out shortcomings in The Great Khans reign. Particularly, the segments of The Great Khans sovereignty that Marco Polo respected were normal qualities of Kubilai Khans empire in China, such as the amount of people The Great Khan had power over and the vast terrestrial ownership, and infinite resources; Contrarily when Marco Polo criticizes it he gravitates mostly to features of Mongol dictatorship.  Marco Polo’s bond with The Great Khan is incredibly intimate that it seems as if Marco Polo is worshipping him.[1] Chapter 3 of ‘The Travels of Marco polo’ reaches to understand the essential notion of the Mongol economic system, which assesses an understanding of the monetary significance of paper money. As we can see Marco Polo frequently highlights the practice of paper currency, indicating that this is now a regulated system of currency that has assured the strength of the Mongol empire’s finances and delivered a core institution for monetary expansion. Thoroughly analyzing Marco Polo’s choice of words we begin to see the admiration Marco Polo had for The Great Khan.

Portrayals of a great leader?

In Chapter 3 Marco Polo explains in esteem Kublai Khan has an infinite amount of paper money to buy out all the treasure in the world.2

This excerpt shows Marco Polo’s admiration due to using the sentence “He could buy all the treasure in the world.”3 Which the sentence in itself is a far stretch considering The Great Khan did not rule over Africa or the far west continents of The Americas. In Marco Polo’s

standpoint, this economic system is not only functioning well, but has performed a crucial role in the Mongol empire’s financial development and growth of fortune. Kublai Khan is

proficient to acquire riches from countless territories of his kingdom through the practice of paper money. ‘With this currency he orders all payments to be made throughout, every province and kingdom and region of his empire. And no one dares refuse it on pain of losing his life.’[4] Paper money is considered a legal currency, that is accepted by most if not all treasuries of Kublai Khans empire. Paper money is used in domestic trades as well in transcontinental trade, but most importantly, if paper money is not used in trade one would face death. Marco Polo has keen admiration for Kublai Khan, but also can detach his esteem to point out Kublai Khans unattractive motifs such as the promotion of death.[5] Undoubtedly, Marco Polo has shown to criticize The Great Khans approach to handling issues within his kingdom without only showing the positives of Kublai Khan.

The Great Khan as any other leader is faced with a rebellious attack from his nephew Kaidu, who is a bitter enemy to The Great Khan. Kaidu, receiving orders from his uncle Nayan proposed military advancement from two opposite sides to overthrow The Great Khan of his lordship.[6]

Marco Polo in this excerpt points out a critical situation where Kublai Khan is confronted directly through political and military intervention from his uncle Nayan and nephew Kaidu.  After Kublai Khan defeated his enemies, lead by Kaidu, he noticed his uncle as a prisoner to which he then commanded he should be put to death.[7] Again, we can see Marco

Polo’s perspective throughout his travels with The Great Khan. Marco Polo’s viewpoints were clearly shaped by his intimate experiences with Kublai Khan himself. We also see Marco Polo praising Kublai Khan’s reign with some criticisms to go with it, thusly Marco Polo has given an impersonal report of the Mongol empire. After Kublai Khan’s victory against his nephew Kaidu and his uncle Nayan, Marco Polo characterizes The Great Khans honour and holiness after various races of Idolaters, Jews and Saracens made a laugh out of the cross which Nayan had accepted on his banner. [8]

It is evident after Kublai Khans compelling speech to the Christian soldiers he was a man of power, Marco Polo goes into detail on how the Christians now called Kublai Khan lord himself after seamlessly uses their own doctrine against them.   “Hence the fate that has befallen him was a vindication of the right. And the cross of your God did well in not helping against the right.” The Christians answered: “Most mighty lord, what you say is quite true.”[9] Marco Polo displays huge admiration towards Kublai Khans sincerity to Christianity, in fact Mongol law from the time of Chinggis Khan remained very open towards the Christians.

It is evident throughout Chapter three Marco Polo is astonished by Kublai Khans power over his measureless regions and subjects, but one of them in particular was Kublai Khans award system.[10]

This constant reward system for his officers was an approach to hold hegemony.

 In this piece Marco Polo interpreted Kublai Khan’s reward system as a political tactic, Marco Polo clearly illustrates in the end of his sentence the word hegemony, (Hegemony is a political, economic or military predominance or control of one state over others.) which signifies Marco

Polo’s understanding of how Kublai Khan attained so much power over Eurasia. However, Marco Polo is a merchant traveller and as a merchant the Mongol economic system is  favourable for all merchants who carry out business.[11] As one can accept, paper money is specifically convenient for Marco Polo as he does not need to transport enormous quantities of silver and gold to commence a trade. Marco Polo’s standpoint is clearly induced by Kublai Khans monetary system.[12]  Paper money is used for domestic and foreign trade.[13]

Regardless of Marco Polo’s admiration of The Great Khan, Marco Polo has undoubtedly pointed out unruliness. The Mongol empires cultural and political atmosphere has shaped Marco Polo’s insight of Ahmad, a man who has surpassed authority and influence over the Great Khan.[14] An instance of of Kublai Khans negative aspect of his reign is Marco Polo’s criticism of a deceitful person named Ahmad, who abused his authority, persecuted and slaughtered innocent individuals under the command of Kublai Khan. Marco Polo condemns The Great Khan for permitting immeasurable authority to Ahmad. Whenever Ahmad craved to cause death of

someone who he hated, whether rightly or irrationally, he would go to the emperor and suggest death to someone who may or may not have offended The Great Khan.[15] Noticeably, Marco Polo has pointed a deficiency in Kublai Khans reign, therefore readers can be sure Marco Polo can detach himself from admiring The Great Khan, to provide objective recollection during his passage in the Mongol empire. Yet still Marco Polo has not condemned The Great Khan on

actions he has done physically or purposely, it’s a form of criticism involving governance on social, political and economic structures. Again, Marco Polo makes it apparent in this paper displaying another form of bigotry with The Great Khan by highlighting separate conversations relating to Ahmad leading him to be governor for 22 years.[16] For instance, when Ahmad asks The Great Khan for a favour such as to hire someone to a vacant office position, The Great Khan merely has any descriptive discourse with Ahmad only to suggest whatever he pleases to do with them.[17]

Consequently, later on Marco Polo demonstrates The Great Khans rage over Ahmad’s abuse of power as he states Kublai Khan has ordered “Ahmad’s body to be taken from the grave and flung in the street to be torn to pieces by dogs.”[18] Accordingly, Marco Polo has detached himself emotionally to further prove his accounts are unaltered and insinuate The Great Khan did not possess miracles of wisdom.[19]

This paper has clearly given Marco Polo’s accounts of The Great Khans state and his people. It gives us insight on the Mongol empire’s economy and trade, plus its natural reserves such as silver and gold. As we know Marco Polo shows us The Great Khan is capable to obtain monetary value through using the practice of money, which allowed his Mongol empire to flourish. On the contrary, this analysis exhibits another side of Kublai Khans flourishing estate, citizens who reject to use paper money as a form of currency were put to death. Again, we see admiration from Marco Polo who admired The Great Khan economic system, which amounted to enormous

wealth to his kingdom. This analysis also points out adverse features that links the economic system with death. Subsequently, putting forward a neutral standpoint from Marco Polo.

This analysis of Marco Polo’s standpoint argues that Marco Polo’s views were equitable and formed from his personal experiences alongside The Great Khan. It is clear Marco Polo admired Kublai Khan, but similarly condemns him on certain acts. Consequently, Marco Polo has given unadulterated reports of Kublai Khans reign over the Mongol Empire. Thus, Marco Polo’s reports of The Great Khans state, people, business, including natural resources, are not corrupted. Marco Polo may admire the Great Khan’s empire, as he does depict The Mongol Empire a very established civilization, but on the other hand criticised Kublai Khans features that present tragic incidents such as Ahmad’s death.

It is important here at the end of this paper to highlight who Marco Polo is, as a Venetian merchant there are endless opportunities for Marco Polo to embark on, especially during the reign of The Mongol Empire. It is evident on chapter 3 Marco Polo illustrates the Mongol Empires prosperity in social and political environments especially through commerce. Thusly, it is clear Marco Polo prospered greatly through economic means, suggesting me to finally ask myself ‘why would a Venetian merchant voyage from Venice to China criticize The Great Khan?’ simple, he reported the truth, Marco Polo’s critical accounts of The Great Khan are valid considering he would be put to death compared to any other person who critics Kublai Khans supremacy.


  • Chang Na, Kublai Khan in the Eyes of Marco Polo. (Nanjing: Cambridge University Press), 2017.
  • Polo Marco, The Travels of Marco Polo. (New York, US: The Penguin Group), 1958.
  • Vogel, Hans Ulrich. Marco Polo was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

[1] Na Chang, Kublai Khan in the Eyes of Marco Polo. (Nanjing: Cambridge University Press), 2017, 504.

2 Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo. (New York, US: The Penguin Group), 1958, 2 vast land owndership 111111he Mongol empires’was not only working  the far west continents of tHE  vast land owndership 111111126.

[4]3 Marco Polo, 126.

4 Marco Polo, The Travel of Marco Polo, 126.

[5] Hans Vogel, New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues, 93.

[6] Polo, 96.

[7] Marco Polo,99.

[8]8 Marco Polo, The Travel of Marco Polo, 99.

[9] Polo,99.

[10] Ibid, 103.

[11] Na Chang, Kublai Khan in the Eyes of Marco Polo, 507.

[12] Marco Polo, The Travel of Marco Polo, 126.

[13] Na Chang, Kublai Khan in the Eyes of Marco Polo, 508.

[14] Marco Polo,111.

[15] Marco Polo, The Travel of Marco Polo, 111.

[16] Marco Polo, 112.

[17] Ibid, 112.

[18] Ibid, 114.

[19] Na Chang, Kublai Khan in the Eyes of Marco Polo, 513.


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