The History of Marco Polo for Kids

Have you ever swam in a pool and played a game with your friends called “Marco Polo”? One person shuts their eyes while the others swim away. The person who is “it” calls out “Marco” and in response, everyone else in the game yells out “Polo!”. The person who is “it” keeps their eyes shut and tries to find you.

It is a very fun game, but did you know that the name “Marco Polo” is the name of a real person? The game is based on a real explorer who traveled the world in the medieval times?

Marco Polo was born in 1254 in Venice, Italy (at the time, it was called Constantinople). His father, Niccolo Polo, was a merchant and traded with the Near East, becoming very wealthy before Marco was born. A merchant is someone who sells things to others.

Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo, were jewel merchants and they set off on a sea trading expedition just before Marco was born. While they were away, there was political trouble back in Italy and they realized that they might lose their wealth. They decided to sell all of their assets, or valuable things, and move away. Marco was left behind with family as his father and uncle traveled through Asia, including to Mongolia. Marco’s mother had died when he was young, so was moved to live with his aunt and a different uncle. They raised him and taught him about the family business and about money.

When Marco’s dad and uncle were in Mongolia, where they met with Kublai Khan, the king of the Mongols and the Yuan dynasty. Kublai Khan’s Empire was the largest that the world had ever seen at the time. It was a sophisticated culture with great wealth. It was something that the Polo brothers knew no one back home would believe them about.

While they were staying with Kublai Khan, the Polo brothers taught him about their religion, Christianity. Kublai Khan was interested in what they said and he asked for the Polo brothers to visit again and for them to bring back 100 priests and some holy water.

When Marco was fifteen, his father and uncle returned from their expedition and to their families in Italy. They had left when Marco was very young so Marco did not know his father when he returned. However, Marco and his dad got to know each other when he was back in Venice and Marco learned a lot from his father. 

Two years later, when Marco was seventeen, the Polo brothers set off for Asia again. This time they brought Marco with them. They tried to recruit 100 priests to come with them, however only two joined them. And eventually they decided to turn back after a short time because the journey was so hard. 

The Polos traveled across land to get from Europe to Mongolia. It was a long and hard journey, but Marco loved it! He was excited by the adventure and loved seeing new places and learning about new cultures. Culture means the customs and norms of a particular group of people.

The Polos made it to Asia after a very long journey that took four years! By the time they reached China and Kublai Khan, they had travelled nearly 15,000 miles. Kublai Khan was on vacation at his summer place, called Xanadu, when they arrived. Marco could not believe the amazing marble buildings and gardens. 

The Polos were only planning to stay in Asia for a few years, but they ended up staying for more than twenty years. Kublai Khan accepted the Polos into his Empire which allowed them to learn a lot about Chinese culture, which most Europeans knew nothing about at the time. Marco even learned the language when he was there. 

Kublai Khan liked Marco and gave him jobs working for him. He promoted Marco into the role of governor of a Chinese city and at one point, he was the tax inspector. Marco gained a great deal of knowledge about the Mongol empire and brought many ideas from the empire back to Italy with him. One idea that he brought back from China was the idea of paper money. 

After 17 years living with Kublai Khai, the Polos returned to Venice. Kublai Khan did not want them to go because he liked the men and wanted them to stay and work for him. Kublai Kahn eventually said they could go, but asked them to escort his daughter, a princess to Persia, where she was going to marry a Persian prince. 

The Polos returned to Europe by boat. The trip was very dangerous though and only 18 people out of several hundred that started the trip survived. This included Marco and his dad and uncle. 

They arrived in Europe in 1295 with many riches and treasures. Marco was 41 years old. However, when they arrived, officials seized most of their family’s wealth. Their country was at war with Genoa and the Genoese officials took their money and Marco was put into prison. 

Marco was no doubt scared while he was in prison, but he made friends with his cellmate. His cell mate was a writer named Rustichello. Marco told many stories about his adventures to Rustichello, who was amazed by his tales. No other European person had travelled so extensively in Asia and returned to tell stories about it. Rusticello wrote down the stories because he found them so interesting. Later, these stories were turned into a book.

Marco was released from prison in 1299 when he was 45. He returned to his home city of Venice where he joined the family business and worked as a merchant. He became quite wealthy and got married and had three daughters. He ran the family business for 25 years.

Marco died at his home in Venice in 1324. He was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Venice. During Marco’s lifetime, many people did not believe that the stories in his book were real. They didn’t believe that the amazing things that Marco had seen and told them about could possibly be true. However many years later, researchers and explorers confirmed much of what Marco had claimed to be true. 

Marco’s story inspired many other people to become explorers and set out to see the world. This includes Christopher Columbus, who sailed out two hundred years later across the Atlantic in the hopes of finding a new route to Asia. When he traveled across the Atlantic, he had a copy of Marco Polo’s book on him.

Although Marco Polo’s was not the first European person to travel to China, he was the first person to have his stories about those travels recorded. The book was printed into French, Italian and Latin and became the most popular book in Europe. Marco Polo also influenced European mapmakers, which led to the most accurate map of the world to be made at the time, the Fra Mauro map. 

Despite its popularity, many people did not believe the stories were real. The book eventually started being called: Il Milione (or “The Million Lies”). However, Marco Polo stood by his stories and always told others that they were true. 

Marco Polo was a very brave person, traveling to parts of the world that he knew nothing about. He overcame great dangers to reach his destination and he maintained a sense of wonder and awe about the world around him. From Marco, we can learn the importance of keeping an open mind. Marco went into new cultures and instead of trying to force others to become like him, he remained open to learning new things about different people.

We can also learn the importance of perseverance and bravery. Perseverance means to do something despite the fact that it is difficult. Marco continued to press on and see the world despite the many obstacles that he had to overcome. Because of his bravery, the European world learned about a whole new place and culture. They helped create maps and inspire others to travel the world and explore.

In what way would you like to explore? Are there places and cultures you would like to visit and learn about. Traveling and meeting new people is a great way to expand your mind and your world view. Maybe one day you too will get a chance to visit other places and learn about other people. However, hopefully your trip will not be as difficult or as long as Marcos!