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India is the location referenced most frequently throughout the text of Marco Polo’s travels. In many cases, it is the actually the Indian ocean that is being talked about rather than the country itself likely because the ocean was most popular for traversing the coast of European countries into Asian countries. India is often mentioned in relation to merchant or religious expeditions when Polo talks about followers of Muhammad, (spelled Mohammet in the text) sending missionaries to spread Islam to anywhere they could reach, such as countries like India. Marco Polo explains the abundance of trade coming from India, as many ships arrive bringing, “spicery and precious stones, pearls, cloths of silk and gold, elephants’ teeth, and many other wares, which they sell to the merchants of Hormos” (Polo Chapter XI). The text also indicates that India was popular trading destination for the sale of horses between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Mining this text, it becomes easier to recognize the influence that Marco Polo would have on later European explorers such as Christopher Columbus who set out in search for alternate routes to India and the other Asian countries. As a merchant, Marco Polo knew much of where traded goods came from around the world and his writings give further insight into economic, topographical, and geographic elements relevant to studying history the modern day.
Persia is the second most frequently named location in this text and has 3 entire chapters dedicated to its history and the makeup of its eight kingdoms in Polo’s present era. As Marco Polo understands it, Persia is known historically as a great country but in his time he believes it has been ruined from the influence of the invading Mongolian Tartars. In chapters 13 and 14 he mentions the city of Saba, also spelled Saveh, which still exists today under the same spelling where he asked locals about the burial site that housed three ancient kings and the church that worships fire (NationalGeographic.com). He is told by nobles of the city’s Castle that these three magi buried in the monument are in fact those mentioned in the New Testament account of Christ’s birth. Marco Polo explains that from what he learned, the three magi set out from Saveh, bringing three gifts for the prophesied child to determine whether he was a God, an earthly king, or a physician. The child took all the gifts and gave them a stone, and at first they did not understand what the stone symbolized until it they threw it into a well causing fire to come down from heaven. They realized that the stone was a symbol for faith, firm and strong like a rock, and so they took the fire with them back to the city of Saba bringing it into their church. Marco Polo’s coauthor insists that this is the history of the people which was presented to him and that keeping the fire lit has been a consistent element of their worshiping practices into their present age.
In chapter 15, Marco Polo also names the eight kingdoms of Persia, Casvin, Curdistan, Lor, Suolstan, Istanit, Serazy, Soncara, Tunocain. He goes on to explain that in Persia, a popular commodity for trade are horses, as they are some of the finest assets in the world. The horses breed in Persia are very large and fast and because of this they are quite expensive. Dealers take the horses to the cities of Kisi and Curmosa, which are on the coast of the Indian Ocean and from there, merchants take them to India for sale. As Marco Polo understands it, the people of Persia are very cruel and violent and there is never a day without some form of murder happening, especially under the Government of the Tartars. He says that merchants are in particular victims of mischief while traversing the country and because of this they must be well armed to fight off robbers. In regards to religion, he calls the people Saracens, or followers of Mahommet. The cities are full of trade and artisans making crafts of gold and silk, they also have plenty of cotton. For food they have an abundance of wheat, barley, millet, panick, and wine with many fruits although they cannot drink wine because it is part of their religious law.
Marco Polo mentions Baudas as another great city, once a religious capital, home to the Calif or head of Saracens, today in our modern era, Baudas is recognized as the city of Baghdad, Iraq (Marozzi). In chapter 6, Marco Polo describes the city, talking about its great river (the Tigris) that flows through the city and down as far as the Indian Ocean. Baudas is another popular city for merchants as it is a frequent stop on the way to port cities such as Kisi, where merchant ships import and export over the ocean. Baudas is known for the many goods woven of silk, and in particular for the brocade, a heavier fabric with intricate patterns made of gold depicting figures of beasts and birds. Marco Polo talks of how the city was taken over in the year 1255 by the Tartars of the Levant and their leader Alaü, the brother of the Great Kaan. When the Tartar king Alaü swarmed the tower of the Calif, he found a the great treasure that the Calif had accumulated, the largest amount of treasure in one spot that was ever known. He imprisoned the Calif in his tower with his incredible fortune and forced him to starve as punishment for his overwhelming greed.
Marco Polo also mentions Baudas in the next four chapters briefly while telling another religious story of a previous Calif that wanted to be rid of the Christians in the kingdom either by killing them off or converting them to Saracens. The Calif heard of the parable of the mustard seed, rounded up all the Christians and gave them the task of moving a mountain because their faith was supposed to be strong enough to do so, as proclaimed in the Biblical text. He gave them ten days to either convert, or move the mountain and so the people sought the help of the most virtuous man, a one eyed cobbler who was the most devout Christian they knew of. When the cobbler and all the christians prayed to God in front of the Calif, the mountain moved before their very eyes and the Christians were spared. It was thought to be that after witnessing this miracle, the Calif was immediately baptized and privately converted to Christianity when a cross was found on his dead body. This section was particularly interesting because of the religious undertones that Marco Polo assigns to the history of Persia. Religion was obviously very important to people during this time in history and much of what people knew about other regions of the world was referenced in religious texts, not to mention, the crusades which made huge impacts on the sociopolitical systems of countries in Europe and the Middle East.
The fourth most mentioned location in Marco Polo’s travels is Kerman which we believe today to be known as the city of Kerman within the Kerman Province of Iran (Eduljee). Kerman, as Marco Polo states, was formerly a kingdom under a hereditary prince but was replaced by Tartar administrators after the country was conquered. Marco Polo describes the resources that make the city of Kerman a popular trading post, mountains that provide turquoise stones, veins of steel, and ondanique (possibly a steel alloy). He notes, the people themselves are very skilled in crafting war resources, they make saddles, bridles, spurs, swords, bows, quivers, and arms of every kind styled into the cultural fashion of the lands. Marco Polo credits the women for their skill in needlework and embroidery of silk, weaving patterns of scenery and animals into relics treasured by nobility such as cushions, pillows, and quilts. The mountains are also an important resource for falconeering, as Marco Polo says that the best falcons in the world come from Kerman.
The fifth and final location named most frequently throughout this text is Badashan, another small Persian Province, today known as the Badakhshan Province in north east Afghanistan (HeritageHistory.com). Marco Polo explains that this is another region inhabited by Muslims, and the royalty of the land are descendants of King Alexander the Great and the daughter of Darius I, King of the Persian Empire. Within this kingdom, there exists very valuable gems known as Balas Rubies that are mined by the king’s workers from the mountain called Shyghinan. The rubies are incredibly valuable and belong only to the king, who sends them to other kings as tribute or as a friendly present, therefore the king controls the value of the Balas Rubies by strictly allowing the amount that are taken from the mine. Marco Polo explains that there is another mountain within the country that produces azure, which he describes as the finest in the world. Other mountains are abundant in silver veins making the country very wealthy and free from invasion, but because of this mountainous terrain, the weather is very harsh and dangerous without the proper equipment. Polo was also informed that the country was once home to a famous breed of horse which descended from Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalus but the lineage became extinct when the relative of a king killed them off to prevent the king from having them. The mountains are also famous for their Saker and Lanner falcons, used for hunting. As for food resources, they have an abundance of wheat, barley, and oil from sesame and walnuts. He also mentions that much of the clothing worn by people is made of animal hide and the women of this area are well known for their thick cotton underwear that makes them look larger in the hips as an attractive form of fashion.
Originally, this text had many notes from authors and translators which clouded much of the actual text itself but once we went through and removed the footnotes, it was much easier to uncover the locations and information given presented by Marco Polo himself. Mining this text’s locations was quite enlightening, especially because I got the opportunity to learn more about economics, geography, history, and religion from the era of Marco Polo’s travels. All of the locations in the text were important primarily because of their significance as popular trading destinations that Polo either visited or learned about during his journey. This was no surprise that the majority of these places were either cities with popular trading posts that Marco Polo traveled through or countries that were well known for the goods they produced and sold elsewhere. My findings differed from the mapping portion of this project mainly because my initial data came from the Stanford University Named Entity Recognizer produced by our instructor Brandon Locke but once the data was cleaned and put into the Voyant program, I was able to search for the specific locations and narrow down the top five locations based on their raw frequency within the text.
It was also very interesting to learn that much of Marco Polo’s knowledge of these areas relied on religious stories and how the cultural customs were important to understanding more about the different countries and their peoples. Today we can recognize that in the ancient eras of recorded information, religion one of the most “credible” source for historical evidence; therefore, the stories that Polo presents have the potential to be entirely unreliable when observed by modern historians. What appears to be true is the fact that Marco Polo lived during a revolutionary era, towards the end of religious crusades and mongol invasion when various cultures from around the known world were constantly intermingling, particularly in the realms of religion, politics, and economics. The text itself does not give any more or less indicators as to whether Marco Polo himself was a genuine historical figure but the nearly all of the locations mentioned in the text are evidently contextual historical places existing during the 13th century. This text can be recognized as influential because of its ability to present these ancient places as important destinations of trade and culture and because of this, Marco Polo’s longevity rests in the wonder of exploring new frontiers. Had it not been for the account of Polo’s travels, later European exploration voyages such as Vespucci, Magellan and Columbus might have never been possible without knowledge already contained within this text.