Travels Of Marco Polo
Book: Prologue
Author: Polo, Marco

Prologue 

Great princes, emperors and kings, dukes and marquises, counts, knights,
and burgesses! and people of all degrees who desire to get knowledge of the
various races of mankind and of the diversities of the sundry regions of the
World, take this book and cause it to be read to you. For you shall find
therein all kinds of wonderful things, and the divers histories of the great
Armenia, and of Persia, and of the Land of the Tartar, and of India, and of
many another country of which our book does speak particularly and in regular
succession, according to the description of Messer Marco Polo, a wise and
noble citizen of Venice, as he saw them with his own eyes. Some things indeed
there be therein which he beheld not; but these he heard from men of credit
and veracity. And we shall set down things seen as seen, and things heard as
heard only, so that no jot of falsehood may mar the truth of our book, and
that all who shall read it or hear it may put full faith in the truth of all
its contents.

For let me tell you that since our Lord God did mold with His hands our
first Father Adam, even until this day, never has there been Christian, or
Pagan, or Tartar, or Indian, or any man of any nation, who in his own person
has had so much knowledge and experience of the divers parts of the World and
its Wonders as hath had this Messer Marco! And for that reason he bethought
himself that it would be a very great pity did he not cause to be put in
writing all the great marvels that he had seen, or on sure information heard
of, so that other people who had not these advantages might, by his Book, get
such knowledge. And I may tell you that in acquiring this knowledge he spent
in those various parts of the World good twenty-six years. Now, being
thereafter an inmate of the Prison at Genoa, he caused Messer Rusticiano of
Pisa, who was in the said Prison likewise, to reduce the whole to writing; and
this befell in the year 1298 from the birth of Jesus.

Chapter I

How The Two Brothers Polo Set Forth From Constantinople To Traverse The World

It came to pass in the year of Christ 1260, when Baldwin was reigning at
Constantinople, that Messer Nicolas Polo, the father of my lord Mark, and
Messer Maffeo Polo, the brother of Messer Nicolas, were at the said city of
Constantinople, whither they had gone from Venice with their merchants' wares.
Now these two brothers, men singularly noble, wise, and provident, took
counsel together to cross the Greater Sea on a venture of trade; so they laid
in a store of jewels and set forth from Constantinople, crossing the Sea to
Soldaia.

Chapter II

How The Two Brothers Went On Beyond Soldaia

Having stayed a while at Soldaia, they considered the matter, and thought
it well to extend their journey further. So they set forth from Soldaia and
traveled till they came to the court of a certain Tartar prince, Barka Khan by
name, whose residences were at Sarai and at Bolgara and who was esteemed one
of the most liberal and courteous princes that ever was among the Tartars.
This Barka was delighted at the arrival of the two brothers, and treated them
with great honor; so they presented to him the whole of the jewels that they
had brought with them. The prince was highly pleased with these, and accepted
the offering most graciously, causing the brothers to receive at least twice
its value.

After they had spent a twelvemonth at the court of this prince there
broke out a great war between Barka and Hulagu, the lord of the Tartars of the
Levant, and great hosts were mustered on either side.

But in the end Barka, the lord of the Tartars of the Ponent, was
defeated, though on both sides there was great slaughter. And by reason of
this war no one could travel without peril of being taken; thus it was at
least on the road by which the brothers had come, though there was no obstacle
to their traveling forward. So the brothers, finding they could not retrace
their steps, determined to go forward. Quitting Bolgara, therefore, they
proceeded to a city called Ukek, which was at the extremity of the kingdom of
the lord of the Ponent; and thence departing again, and passing the great
River Tigris, they traveled across a desert which extended for seventeen days'
journey, and wherein they found neither town nor village, falling in only with
the tents of Tartars occupied with their cattle at pasture.

Chapter III

How The Two Brothers, After Crossing A Desert, Came To The City Of Bokhara,
And Fell In With Certain Envoys There

After they had passed the desert, they arrived at a very great and noble
city called Bokhara, the territory of which belonged to a king whose name was
Borrak, and is also called Bokhara. The city is the best in all Persia. And
when they had got thither, they found they could neither proceed further
forward nor yet turn back again; wherefore they abode in that city of Bokhara
for three years. And whilst they were sojourning in that city, there came
from Hulagu, lord of the Levant, envoys on their way to the court of the Great
Khan, the lord of all the Tartars in the world. And when the envoys beheld
the two brothers they were amazed, for they had never before seen Latins in
that part of the world. And they said to the brothers: "Gentlemen, if ye will
take our counsel, ye will find great honor and profit shall come thereof." So
they replied that they would be right glad to learn how. "In truth," said the
envoys, "the Great Khan hath never seen any Latin, and he hath a great desire
so to do. Wherefore, if you will keep us company to his court, you may depend
upon it that he will be right glad to see you, and will treat you with great
honor and liberality; while in our company you shall travel with perfect
security, and need fear to be molested by nobody."

Chapter IV

How The Two Brothers Took The Envoys' Counsel, And Went To The Court Of The
Great Khan

So when the two brothers had made their arrangements, they set out on
their travels, in company with the envoys, and journeyed for a whole year,
going northward and northeastward, before they reached the court of that
prince. And on their journey they saw many marvels of divers and sundry
kinds, but of these we shall say nothing at present, because Messer Mark, who
has likewise seen them all, will give you a full account of them in the book
which follows.

Chapter V

How The Two Brothers Arrived At The Court Of The Great Khan

When the two brothers got to the Great Khan, he received them with great
honor and hospitality, and showed much pleasure at their visit, asking them a
great number of questions. First, he asked about the emperors, how they
maintained their dignity, and administered justice in their dominions; and how
they went forth to battle, and so forth. And then he asked the like questions
about the kings and princes and other potentates.

Chapter VI

How The Great Khan Asked All About The Manners Of The Christians, And
Particularly About The Pope Of Rome

And then he inquired about the Pope and the Church, and about all that is
done at Rome, and all the customs of the Latins. And the two brothers told
him the truth in all its particulars, with order and good sense, like sensible
men as they were; and this they were able to do as they knew the Tartar
language well.

Chapter VII

How The Great Khan Sent The Two Brothers As His Envoys To The Pope.

When that prince, whose name was Kublai Khan, lord of the Tartars all
over the earth, and of all the kingdoms and provinces and territories of that
vast quarter of the world, had heard all that the brothers had to tell him
about the ways of the Latins, he was greatly pleased, and he took it into his
head that he would send them on an embassy to the Pope. So he urgently
desired them to undertake this mission along with one of his barons; and they
replied that they would gladly execute all his commands as those of their
sovereign lord. Then the prince sent to summon to his presence one of his
barons whose name was Cogatal, and desired him to get ready, for it was
proposed to send him to the Pope along with the two brothers. The baron
replied that he would execute the lord's commands to the best of his ability.

After this the prince caused letters from himself to the Pope to be
indited in the Tartar tongue, and committed them to the two brothers and to
that baron of his own, and charged them with what he wished them to say to the
Pope. Now the contents of the letters were to this purport: He begged that
the Pope would send as many as a hundred persons of our Christian faith;
intelligent men, acquainted with the seven arts, well qualified to enter into
controversy, and able clearly to prove by force of argument to idolaters and
other kinds of folk, that the law of Christ was best, and that all other
religions were false and naught; and that if they would prove this, he and all
under him would become Christians and the Church's liegemen. Finally he
charged his envoys to bring back to him some oil of the lamp which burns on
the sepulchre of our Lord at Jerusalem.

Chapter VIII

How The Great Khan Gave Them A Tablet Of Gold Bearing His Orders In Their
Behalf

When the prince had charged them with all his commission, he caused to be
given them a tablet of gold, on which was inscribed that the three ambassadors
should be supplied with everything needful in all the countries through which
they should pass - with horses, with escorts, and, in short, with whatever
they should require. And when they had made all needful preparations, the
three ambassadors took their leave of the emperor and set out.

When they had traveled I know not how many days, the Tartar baron fell
sick, so that he could not ride, and being very ill, and unable to proceed
further, he halted at a certain city. So the two brothers judged it best that
they should leave him behind and proceed to carry out their commission; and,
as he was well content that they should do so, they continued their journey.
And I can assure you, that whithersoever they went they were honorably
provided with whatever they stood in need of, or chose to command. And this
was owing to that tablet of authority from the lord which they carried with
them.

So they traveled on and on until they arrived at Ayas in Armenia, a
journey which occupied them, I assure you, for three years. It took them so
long because they could not always proceed, being stopped sometimes by snow,
or by heavy rains falling, or by great torrents which they found in an
impassable state.

Chapter IX

How The Two Brothers Came To The City Of Acre

They departed from Ayas and came to Acre, arriving there in the month of
April, in the year of Christ 1269, and then they learned that the Pope was
dead. And when they found that the Pope was dead (his name was Pope Clement
IV), they went to a certain wise churchman who was legate for the whole
kingdom of Egypt, and a man of great authority, by name Theobald of Piacenza,
and told him of the mission on which they were come. When the legate heard
their story, he was greatly surprised, and deemed the thing to be of great
honor and advantage for the whole of Christendom. So his answer to the two
ambassador brothers was this: "Gentlemen, ye see that the Pope is dead;
wherefore ye must needs have patience until a new Pope be made, and then shall
ye be able to execute your charge." Seeing well enough that what the legate
said was just, they observed: "But while the Pope is a-making, we may as well
go to Venice and visit our households." So they departed from Acre and went to
Negropont, and from Negropont they continued their voyage to Venice. On their
arrival there, Messer Nicolas found that his wife was dead, and that she had
left behind her a son of fifteen years of age, whose name was Marco; and 'tis
of him that this book tells. The two brothers abode at Venice a couple of
years, tarrying until a Pope should be made.

Chapter X

How The Two Brothers Again Departed From Venice, On Their Way Back To The
Great Khan, And Took With Them Mark, The Son Of Messer Nicolas

When the two brothers had tarried as long as I have told you, and saw
that never a Pope was made, they said that their return to the great Khan must
be put off no longer. So they set out from Venice, taking Mark along with
them, and went straight back to Acre, where they found the legate of whom we
have spoken. They had a good deal of discourse with him concerning the
matter, and asked his permission to go to Jerusalem to get some oil from the
lamp on the sepulchre, to carry with them to the great Khan, as he had
enjoined. The legate giving them leave, they went from Acre to Jerusalem and
got some of the oil, and then returned to Acre, and went to the legate and
said to him: "As we see no sign of a Pope's being made, we desire to return to
the great Khan; for we have already tarried long, and there has been more than
enough delay." To which the legate replied: "Since 'tis your wish to go back,
I am well content." Wherefore he caused letters to be written for delivery to
the great Khan, bearing testimony that the two brothers had come in all good
faith to accomplish his charge, but that as there was no Pope they had been
unable to do so.

Chapter XI

How The Two Brothers Set Out From Acre, And Mark Along With Them

When the two brothers had received the legate's letters, they set forth
from Acre to return to the grand Khan, and got as far as Ayas. But shortly
after their arrival there they had news that the legate aforesaid was chosen
Pope, taking the name of Pope Gregory of Piacenza; news which the two brothers
were very glad indeed to hear. And presently there reached them at Ayas a
message from the legate, now the Pope, desiring them, on the part of the
Apostolic See, not to proceed further on their journey, but to return to him
incontinently. And what shall I tell you? The king of Armenia caused a
galley to be got ready for the two ambassador brothers, and despatched them to
the Pope at Acre.

Chapter XII

How The Two Brothers Presented Themselves Before The New Pope

And when they had been thus honorably conducted to Acre they proceeded to
the presence of the Pope, and paid their respects to him with humble
reverence. He received them with great honor and satisfaction, and gave them
his blessing. He then appointed two friars of the order of preachers to
accompany them to the great Khan, and to do whatever might be required of
them. These were unquestionably as learned churchmen as were to be found in
the province at that day - one being called Friar Nicolas of Vicenza, and the
other Friar William of Tripoli. He delivered to them also proper credentials,
and letters in reply to the great Khan's messages and gave them authority to
ordain priests and bishops, and to bestow every kind of absolution, as if
given by himself in proper person; sending by them also many fine vessels of
crystal as presents to the great Khan. So when they had got all that was
needful, they took leave of the Pope, receiving his benediction; and the four
set out together from Acre, and went to Ayas, accompanied always by Messer
Nicolas' son Marco.

Now, about the time that they reached Ayas, Bundakdar, the Sultan of
Babylon, invaded Armenia with a great host of Saracens, and ravaged the
country, so that our envoys ran a great peril of being taken or slain. And
when the preaching friars saw this they were greatly frightened, and said that
go they never would. So they made over to Messer Nicolas and Messer Maffeo
all their credentials and documents, and took their leave, departing in
company with the master of the temple.

Chapter XIII

How Messer Nicolo And Messer Maffeo Polo, Accompanied By Mark, Traveled To The
Court Of The Great Khan

So the two brothers, and Mark along with them, proceeded on their way,
and journeying on, summer and winter, came at length to the great Khan, who
was then at a certain rich and great city, called Kaiminfu. As to what they
met with on the road, whether in going or coming, we shall give no particulars
at present, because we are going to tell you all those details in regular
order in the after part of this book. Their journey back to the Khan occupied
a good three years and a half, owing to the bad weather and severe cold that
they encountered. And let me tell you in good sooth that when the great Khan
heard that Messers Nicolo and Maffeo Polo were on their way back, he sent
people a journey of full forty days to meet them; and on this journey, as on
their former one, they were honorably entertained upon the road, and supplied
with all that they required.

Chapter XIV

How Messer Nicolo And Messer Maffeo Polo And Marco Presented Themselves Before
The Great Khan

And what shall I tell you? When the two brothers and Mark had arrived at
that great city, they went to the imperial palace, and there they found the
sovereign attended by a great company of barons. So they bent the knee before
him, and paid their respects to him, with all possible reverence prostrating
themselves on the ground. Then the lord bade them stand up, and treated them
with great honor, showing great pleasure at their coming, and asked many
questions as to their welfare, and how they had sped. They replied that they
had in verity sped well, seeing that they found the Khan well and safe. Then
they presented the credentials and letters which they had received from the
Pope, which pleased him right well; and after that they produced the oil from
the sepulchre, and at that also he was very glad, for he set great store
thereby. And next, spying Mark, who was then a young gallant, he asked who
was that in their company? "Sir," said his father, Messer Nicolo, "'tis my
son and your liegeman." "Welcome is he too," said the emperor. And why should
I make a long story? There was great rejoicing at the court because of their
arrival; and they met with attention and honor from everybody.

So there they abode at the court with the other barons.

Chapter XV

How The Emperor Sent Mark On An Embassy Of His

Now it came to pass that Marco, the son of Messer Nicolo, sped wondrously
in learning the customs of the Tartars, as well as their language, their
manner of writing, and their practice of war; in fact he came in brief space
to know several languages, and four sundry written characters. And he was
discreet and prudent in every way, insomuch that the emperor held him in great
esteem. And so when he discerned Mark to have so much sense, and to conduct
himself so well and beseemingly, he sent him on an embassy of his, to a
country which was a good six months' journey distant. The young gallant
executed his commission well and with discretion. Now he had taken note on
several occasions that when the prince's ambassadors returned from different
parts of the world, they were able to tell him about nothing except the
business on which they had gone, and that the prince in consequence held them
for no better than fools and dolts, and would say: "I had far liever hearken
about the strange things, and the manners of the different countries you have
seen, than merely be told of the business you went upon"; - for he took great
delight in hearing of the affairs of strange countries. Mark therefore, as he
went and returned, took great pains to learn about all kinds of different
matters in the countries which he visited, in order to be able to tell about
them to the great Khan.

Chapter XVI

How Mark Returned From The Mission Whereon He Had Been Sent

When Mark returned from his ambassage he presented himself before the
emperor, and after making his report of the business with which he was
charged, and its successful accomplishment, he went on to give an account in a
pleasant and intelligent manner of all the novelties and strange things that
he had seen and heard; insomuch that the emperor and all such as heard his
story were surprised, and said: "If this young man live, he will assuredly
come to be a person of great worth and ability." And so from that time forward
he was always entitled Messer Marco Polo, and thus we shall style him
henceforth in this book of ours, as is but right.

Thereafter Messer Marco abode in the Khan's employment some seventeen
years, continually going and coming, hither and thither, on the missions that
were entrusted to him by the lord and sometimes, with the permission and
authority of the great Khan, on his own private affairs. And, as he knew all
the sovereign's ways, like a sensible man he always took much pains to gather
knowledge of anything that would be likely to interest him, and then on his
return to court he would relate everything in regular order, and thus the
emperor came to hold him in great love and favor. And for this reason also he
would employ him the oftener on the most weighty and most distant of his
missions. These Messer Marco ever carried out with discretion and success,
God be thanked. So the emperor became ever more partial to him, and treated
him with the greater distinction, and kept him so close to his person that
some of the barons waxed very envious thereat. And thus it came about that
Messer Marco Polo had knowledge of, or had actually visited, a greater number
of the different countries of the world than any other man; the more that he
was always giving his mind to get knowledge, and to spy out and inquire into
everything in order to have matter to relate to the lord.

Chapter XVII

How Messer Nicolo, Messer Maffeo, And Messer Marco Asked Leave Of The Great
Khan To Go Their Way

When the two brothers and Mark had abode with the lord all that time that
you have been told, having meanwhile acquired great wealth in jewels and gold,
they began among themselves to have thoughts about returning to their own
country; and indeed it was time. For, to say nothing of the length and
infinite perils of the way, when they considered the Khan's great age, they
doubted whether, in the event of his death before their departure, they would
ever be able to get home. They applied to him several times for leave to go,
presenting their request with great respect, but he had such a partiality for
them, and liked so much to have them about him, that nothing on earth would
persuade him to let them go.

Now it came to pass in those days that the queen Bulughan, wife of
Arghun, lord of the Levant, departed this life. And in her will she had
desired that no lady should take her place, or succeed her as Arghun's wife,
except one of her own family which existed in Cathay. Arghun therefore
dispatched three of his barons, by name respectively Uladai, Apushka, and
Koja, as ambassadors to the great Khan, attended by a very gallant company, in
order to bring back as his bride a lady of the family of queen Bulughan, his
late wife.

When these three barons had reached the court of the great Khan, they
delivered their message, explaining wherefore they were come. The Khan
received them with all honor and hospitality, and then sent for a lady whose
name was Kukachin, who was of the family of the deceased queen Bulughan. She
was a maiden of seventeen, a very beautiful and charming person, and on her
arrival at court she was presented to the three barons as the lady chosen in
compliance with their demand. They declared that the lady pleased them well.

Meanwhile Messer Marco chanced to return from India, whither he had gone
as the lord's ambassador, and made his report of all the different things that
he had seen in his travels, and of the sundry seas over which he had voyaged.
And the three barons, having seen that Messer Nicolo, Messer Maffeo, and
Messer Marco were not only Latins, but men of marvelous good sense withal,
took thought among themselves to get the three to travel with them, their
intention being to return to their country by sea, on account of the great
fatigue of that long land journey for a lady. And the ambassadors were the
more desirous to have their company, as being aware that those three had great
knowledge and experience of the Indian Sea and the countries by which they
would have to pass, and especially Messer Marco. So they went to the great
Khan, and begged as a favor that he would send the three Latins with them, as
it was their desire to return home by sea.

The lord, having that great regard that I have mentioned for those three
Latins, was very loath to do so and his countenance showed great
dissatisfaction. But at last he did give them permission to depart, enjoining
them to accompany the three barons and the lady.

Chapter XVIII

How The Two Brothers And Messer Marco Took Leave Of The Great Khan, And
Returned To Their Own Country

And when the prince saw that the two brothers and Messer Marco were ready
to set forth, he called them all three to his presence, and gave them two
golden tablets of authority, which should secure them liberty of passage
through all his dominions, and by means of which, whithersoever they should
go, all necessaries would be provided for them, and for all their company, and
whatever they might choose to order. He charged them also with messages to
the king of France, the king of England, the king of Spain, and the other
kings of Christendom. He then caused thirteen ships to be equipped, each of
which had four masts, and often spread twelve sails. And I could easily give
you all particulars about these, but as it would be so long as affair I will
not enter upon this now, but hereafter, when time and place are suitable.
Among the said ships were at least four or five that carried crews of two
hundred and fifty or two hundred and sixty men.

And when the ships had been equipped, the three barons and the lady, and
the two brothers and Messer Marco, took leave of the great Khan, and went on
board their ships with a great company of people, and with all necessaries
provided for two years by the emperor. They put forth to sea, and after
sailing for some three months they arrived at a certain island towards the
south, which is called Java, and in which there are many wonderful things
which we shall tell you all about by and by. Quitting this island they
continued to navigate the sea of India for eighteen months more before they
arrived whither they were bound, meeting on their way also with many marvels,
of which we shall tell hereafter.

And when they got thither they found that Arghun was dead, so the lady
was delivered to Ghazan, his son.

But I should have told you that it is a fact that, when they embarked,
they were in number some six hundred persons, without counting the mariners;
but nearly all died by the way, so that only eight survived.

The sovereignty when they arrived was held by Kaikhatu, so they commended
the lady to him, and executed all their commission. And when the two brothers
and Messer Marco had executed their charge in full, and done all that the
great Khan had enjoined on them in regard to the lady, they took their leave
and set out upon their journey. And before their departure, Kaikhatu gave
them four golden tablets of authority, two of which bore gerfalcons, one bore
lions, while the fourth was plain, and having on them inscriptions which
directed that the three ambassadors should receive honor and service all
through the land as if rendered to the prince in person, and that horses and
all provisions, and everything necessary, should be supplied to them. And so
they found in fact; for throughout the country they received ample and
excellent supplies of everything needful; and many a time indeed, as I may
tell you, they were furnished with two hundred horsemen, more or less, to
escort them on their way in safety. And this was all the more needful because
Kaikhatu was not the legitimate lord, and therefore the people had less
scruple to do mischief than if they had had a lawful prince.

Another thing too must be mentioned, which does credit to those three
ambassadors, and shows for what great personages they were held. The great
Khan regarded them with such trust and affection, that he had confided to
their charge the queen Kukachin, as well as the daughter of the king of Manzi,
to conduct to Arghun the lord of all the Levant. And those two great ladies
who were thus entrusted to them they watched over and guarded as if they had
been daughters of their own, until they had transferred them to the hands of
their lord; while the ladies, young and fair as they were, looked on each of
those three as a father, and obeyed them accordingly. Indeed, both Ghazan,
who is now the reigning prince, and the queen Kukachin his wife, have such a
regard for the envoys that there is nothing they would not do for them. And
when the three ambassadors took leave of that lady to return to their own
country, she wept for sorrow at the parting.

What more shall I say? Having left Kaikhatu they traveled day by day
till they came to Trebizond, and thence to Constantinople, from Constantinople
to Negropont, and from Negropont to Venice. And this was in the year 1295 of
Christ's incarnation.

And now that I have rehearsed all the prologue as you have heard, we
shall begin the book of the description of the divers things that Messer Marco
met with in his travels.

 

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