The Polo Family Travels I
Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2008
In 1260 the Polo family, part of the commercial aristocracy of the Venetian city-state, began a remarkable series of trading expeditions. Over the next three decades they would travel tens of thousands of miles.
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Lead: In 1260 the Polo family, part of the commercial aristocracy of the Venetian city-state, began a remarkable series of trading expeditions. Over the next three decades they would travel tens of thousands of miles.
Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.
Content: Nicolo Polo and his uncle Maffeo were merchants. Through their connections at Mediterranean and Black Sea ports, they and their Venetian competitors traded wool, silver and merchandise for porcelain, spices, and silk. The goods came from China along the 4,000-mile Silk Road, the main trading route between China and Europe. In 1262, while the Polos were venturing further east along the Volga River, warfare broke out behind them and prevented them from returning west, so they continued their trade eastward into central Asia.
When the opportunity came to join a diplomatic mission to the court of Mongol Emperor Kublai Kahn, who ruled China in present day Beijing, they seized it. Kahn was courteous and friendly toward the visitors and very curious about the western world. He was particularly interested in the Roman Catholic Church and sent the Polos back to Europe as his personal ambassadors. Kahn sent messages of peace and asked the Pope to send one hundred scholars to teach his people about Christianity and western science. He specifically asked for a gift, oil from the lamp burning at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Bearing the orders of the Kahn on a gold tablet and with safe passage, the Polos were able to negotiate the treacherous journey through Mongol territory with protection and ample supplies.
After a three-year return trip, the men arrived in Europe only to find Pope Clement IV had died, Nicolo's wife was deceased, and his son Marco was now a strapping boy of fifteen. Immediate return to China was impossible because the family had to await a papal election. Next Time: The third Polo.
Research assistance by Geralyn Gravatt. The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.