Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Who was Marco Polo?

Life after Marco Polo's Great Voyage
This illustration shows Marco Polo and his fellow explorers along the Silk Road to China.
This illustration shows Marco Polo and his fellow explorers along the Silk Road to China.

Life was anything but ordinary for Marco following his return home to Venice in 1295. Very little is known about Marco's personal life, although he is believed to have married a woman named Donata and had three daughters: Fantina, Bellela and Moreta. Marco didn't put pen to paper about his travels until he wound up in prison for his role in a battle against the city of Genoa. Unfortunately for Marco, Genoa handily defeated Venice and he was sentenced to a year for his military activities [source: History Channel].

He made good use of that time, however, by dictating the story of his journey to and from China to a fellow inmate by the name of Rustichello, a known writer. First published in French, Marco's book has been warped into more than 150 different versions, thanks to the inaccurate translations and editing done by the monks and printers who reproduced it. To top it off, some scholars believe that Rustichello embellished portions of Marco's original dictation to make it more interesting, so some people doubt the truthfulness of the tales [source: National Geographic]. Critics claim that Marco would have included references to the Great Wall of China, chopsticks and the Chinese practice of foot binding, had he really made it that far across the country [source: Fordham University]. Loyalists, however, assert that the really big parts of the Great Wall hadn't yet been built by the time he visited. In addition, he detailed the usage of paper money, which no other European before him had described.

­Whether or not you believe that his journey took place the way he described it, Marco's literary work has had a massive influence throughout history. Not only was he the inspiration for the popular pool game "Marco Polo" (see Games Kids Play for official rules), but also his descriptions resulted in Europe's first maps of Asia. What's more, his travels inspired many other explorers to hit the road. In fact, Christopher Columbus was in search of Marco's described location of the Orient when he stumbled upon America in 1492 [source: History Channel].

More to Explore