In several weeks, we will be discussing Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, and then you will be writing an essay based on the books. Although that essay question has yet to be finalized, at the most basic of levels, it will ask you to compare and contrast: a) the two men, Polo and Battuta; b) the nature of their travels from one end of Eurasia to the other; and, c) how they saw the people and places they encountered. When reviewing the readings, keep those general matters in mind and avoid getting swamped by every small detail.
To help you focus on the broad issues, I prepared this reading guide which discusses each book in turn and then raises some common questions.
Marco Polo—The Travels of Marco Polo:
Marco Polo (1254-1324) came from the northern Italian city-state of Venice, a city growing increasingly prosperous in the thirteenth century thanks to its trade with the east. Indeed, Polo was born into a family of merchants. His father and uncle had traveled to the court of Kublai Khan, the Mongol conqueror of China (note: in the book, the Mongols are sometimes referred to as the Tartars). Sent back to Europe on a mission for the emperor, the Polos returned to China in the early 1270s, accompanied by a seventeen year old Marco. For the next seventeen years, the Polos lived in Kubai Khan’s lands and served the emperor, thus counting among the many foreigners employed by the Khan in administrative and judicial posts. In 1291, the Polos headed back west, arriving home in Venice four years later. Within three years of his return, Marco was captured during a war between Venice and its rival city-state of Genoa, only being released in 1299. Though he never left home again, Polo became a major financier of trading ventures.
While in prison in 1298, Marco Polo shared his cell with a professional writer. Out of this chance encounter came the book you are now finishing. Reflecting perhaps his mercantile background,...
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