The Travels of Marco Polo/Preface/Chapter 1

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

It came to pass in the year of Christ 1260, when Baldwin was reigning at Constantinople,[1] 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 Brethren, 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.[2]



  1. Baldwin II (de Courtenay), the last Latin Emperor of Constantinople, reigned from 1237 to 1261, when he was expelled by Michael Palaeologus. The date in the text is, as we see, that of the Brothers' voyage across the Black Sea. It stands 1250 in all the chief texts. But the figure is certainly wrong. We shall see that, when the Brothers return to Venice in 1269, they find Mark, who, according to Ramusio's version, was born after their departure, a lad of fifteen. Hence, if we rely on Ramusio, they must have left Venice about 1253-54. And we shall see also that they reached the Volga in 1261. Hence their start from Constantinople may well have occurred in 1260, and this I have adopted as the most probable correction. Where they spent the interval between 1254 (if they really left Venice so early) and 1260, nowhere appears. But as their brother, Mark the Elder, in his Will styles himself "whilom of Constantinople", their headquarters were probably there.
  2. In the Middle Ages the Euxine was frequently called Mare Magnum or Majus. Thus Chaucer:--

                                     "In the GRETE SEE,
        At many a noble Armee hadde he be."

    The term Black Sea (Mare Maurum v. Nigrum) was, however, in use, and Abulfeda says it was general in his day. That name has been alleged to appear as early as the 10th century, in the form [Greek: Skoteinae], "The Dark Sea"; but an examination of the passage cited, from Constantine Porphyrogenitus, shows that it refers rather to the Baltic, whilst that author elsewhere calls the Euxine simply Pontus. (Reinaud's Abulf. I. 38, Const. Porph. De Adm. Imp. c. 31, c. 42.)

    Sodaya, Soldaia, or Soldachia, called by Orientals Súdak, stands on the S.E. coast of the Crimea, west of Kaffa. It had belonged to the Greek Empire, and had a considerable Greek population. After the Frank conquest of 1204 it apparently fell to Trebizond. It was taken by the Mongols in 1223 for the first time, and a second time in 1239, and during that century was the great port of intercourse with what is now Russia. At an uncertain date, but about the middle of the century, the Venetians established a factory there, which in 1287 became the seat of a consul. In 1323 we find Pope John XXII. complaining to Uzbek Khan of Sarai that the Christians had been ejected from Soldaia and their churches turned into mosques. Ibn Batuta, who alludes to this strife, counts Sudak as one of the four great ports of the World. The Genoese got Soldaia in 1365 and built strong defences, still to be seen. Kaffa, with a good anchorage, in the 14th century, and later on Tana, took the place of Soldaia as chief emporium in South Russia. Some of the Arab Geographers call the Sea of Azov the Sea of Sudak.

    The Elder Marco Polo in his Will (1280) bequeaths to the Franciscan Friars of the place a house of his in Soldachia, reserving life occupation to his own son and daughter, then residing in it. Probably this establishment already existed when the two Brothers went thither. (Elie de Laprimaudare, passim; Gold. Horde, 87; Mosheim, App. 148; Ibn Bat. I. 28, II. 414; Cathay, 231-33; Heyd, II. passim.)