Marco Polo's Will Only Boosts His Travel Lore

Mention of Tatar indentured servant suggests he did reach China
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2018 8:03 AM CDT
A 1374 depiction of Marco Polo’s caravan traveling across Asia.   (Wikimedia)

(Newser) – In 1298, Marco Polo wrote a manuscript, now dubbed The Travels of Marco Polo, describing his adventures along the Silk Road to China, his meeting with Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, and the innovations he came across, like eyeglasses. In the centuries since, some historians have doubted whether the Venetian actually traveled as far as he claimed, based in part on his failure to mention chopsticks, per History.com. But nearly 700 years after his death, Polo is setting the record straight himself. A three-year study of Polo's sheepskin will, written in Latin by a priest-notary in 1324, offers more evidence of Polo's adventures across Asia, reports Reuters. For instance, the will secured the freedom of Polo's indentured servant, a man Polo named Peter, who was from the Tatar clan of Mongols.

Researchers say this—and an inventory of possessions mentioning musk from the far east—suggests Polo did in fact reach China, which is now the accepted narrative. Christopher Columbus apparently believed it, having carefully perused his own copy of The Travels of Marco Polo, which Pointe-à-Callière Museum refers to as "the most famous travel guide ever written." The study also helped correct errors in Polo's will blamed on the notary's poor handwriting (a word believed to refer to fabric actually meant a residence) and highlighted the explorer's possible belief in gender equality: Though possessions were usually left to male relatives at the time, Polo gave almost everything to his wife and three daughters. (A Mongol palace described by Polo may have been found.)

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