Marco Polo’s Name is Synonymous with Courage, Innovation and Great Adventure
His name has been used for everything from a children’s seeking game to a high-powered search engine used by students and teachers.
There’s no doubt that Marco Polo was a courageous and brave explorer, but history should not overlook his abilities and power as a networker. Marco Polo’s networking skills prepared us for modern globalization. Practices and products he brought back from China were integrated into the European lifestyle even within Marco’s lifetime.
How Marco Polo Benefited From Networking
Marco Polo was born September 15, 1254 into a family of merchants turned explorers. Both his father and uncle had traveled to China before his birth.
Raised in Venice, Marco saw little of his traveling father until he was fifteen. In 1271, when Marco was 17, he was allowed to accompany his father on the Silk road to what was then called Cathay, modern-day China.
Marco Polo would spend the next 24 years of his life traveling and gaining exposure to new cultures. Upon arriving in China, Marco Polo was brought before Kublai Kahn, the ruling emperor. Kahn was quite taken with Marco and invited the travelers to stay. Due in large part to his linguistic abilities, young Marco quickly became a favorite in the court.
Soon, Kahn appointed Marco to a high position in his administration, where he served for some twenty plus years. Not only did he serve in China, but he was also sent on many missions to Bermuda, Persia, and India. Although he traveled widely while an ambassador for Kahn, Marco spent much of his time in current day Beijing in the Emperor’s magnificent palace. Marco had a keen eye and remembered the minute details of his travels and his life in China.
Marco’s descriptions of Kahn’s lavish court would later inspire the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write his famous poem about Kublai Khan’s “stately pleasure-dome” in Xanadu (or Shang-du).
As Kahn grew older and the end of his life drew near, Marco Polo, his father, and his uncle grew fearful that the next dynasty would not treat them as well. Kahn agreed to let them leave the court, but he asked one last favor. Marco was to escort the Mongol princess Kokachin to Persia to marry the Persian prince, Arghun.
After a long trip, the Polo’s finally returned to Europe empowered with new knowledge. Marco shared his discoveries with his comtempories, nobles, and even Pope Innocent V.
Among the items and new ideas Marco Polo brought from the East were: paper money, coal, the Imperial post, ice cream, eye glasses, and a complex yet more efficient communication system.
Marco spent three years at home until the city of Genoa raged war on Venice. Marco commanded a galley against Genoa. He was unfortunately captured and spent a year in a Genoses prison. While in prison, he met Romance writer Rustichello of Pisa.
At Rustichello’s urging, Marco dictated the story of his travels in great detail. Once both men were released, Rustichello released the book to the public. It became a wild success, which is quite an achievement given that printing was virtually unknown in Europe.
The book became one of the most popular books in medieval Europe, and the impact of his book on the contemporary Europe was tremendous. The book was titled Il Milione (The Million); however, it was dubbed “The Million Lies,” because people were unwilling to except that a man could make such a journey.
In the summer of 1299, after peace was achieved with Genoa, Marco was released, and he returned home to Venice. He married Donata Badoer and had three daughters with her: Fantina, Bellela and Moreta. All of them later married into noble families.
His ability to network lies within his ability to influence people and tell his story. Marco Polo may have been a great linguist, but, above that, he was a great communicator. He was about to make foreign-even alien-things accessible for different cultures. A great explorer could discover paper money, but a great networker can put that information into the right hands to see discoveries implemented.
After returning home to Venice Marco never left again. In 1324 at the age of 70, Marco Polo left his famous epitaph for the world: “I have only told the half of what I saw!” He died shortly after.
Marco’s most famous connection was Kublai Kahn, but who else was in his network?
Here are some of the influential people who were most likely in Marco’s primary circle at various times in his life:
Edward I – King of England
Chagatai Khan – Ruler of Central Asia
Pope Gregory X – Catholic Pope
Thomas Wykes – English chronicler
Marguerite of France – Second Queen consort of King Edward I of England