Mongol Group B2

Marco Polo and western asia

To what extent do Marco Polo’s accounts validate his presence in Western Asia?



In 1271, Marco Polo, along with the two elder Polos, left Europe after their brief return for their second journey to Yuan China. Having supposedly reached China in 1275, they would have traveled through Western Asia in the time between and gathered valuable information. The three Polos left China in 1292, and arrived in Venice in 1295, once again passing through Western Asia. In 1298, Rustichello of Pisa composed The Description of the World based on Macro Polo’s dictation in prison. However, the original version had been lost and the closest to it was finished twelve years later. Such obstructions of information have led many to question the authenticity of the information provided in The Description of the World.

The authenticity of The Description of the World is crucial for Islamic and Mongolian studies in the thirteenth century since it is one of the few sources in this period about Asia that was written by a European author and was therefore largely responsible for shaping the European’s view of the East. As a result, many research papers discuss the authenticity of the book. It seems that most scholars focus on the question of whether Marco Polo went to China, and pay less attention to evidence that is able to prove his presence in Western Asia. His presence in Western Asia, however, is utterly important to the studies of his descriptions of other Eastern regions, as it is deemed necessary for his presence in China, considering that Western Asia was considered the most commonly used passage between Europe and China. If we are not able to prove Polo’s presence in Western Asia, we would have to subsequently question the authenticity of his descriptions of China. Therefore, our group’s research is centered around the question: To what extent do Marco Polo’s accounts validate his presence in Western Asia? Our research would mainly revolve around Marco Polo’s descriptions of Lesser and Greater Armenia, the Old Man of the Mountains and his Assassins, the city of Baghdad, the province of Persia, and the Great Slope.


Based on the “the Description of the World” written by Rustichello of Pisa, Armenia is divided into two parts the Greater Armenia and the Lesser Armenia (Polo 20-22), which was also named as the Grant Armenia and the Petite Armenia. My web research is founded based on two factors, starting with the accuracy of the geographical and cultural aspect of Armenia; the second factor is the fame of the story Marco Polo illustrated in that contemporary time. In this research, I will present various sources to validate Macro Polo’s existence in Armenia based on the geographical description of Armenia and the cultural illustration of Armenia in “the Description of the world”. Based on the consistency and the validity of Macro Polo’s narration with other sources, I will deduce the accuracy of Macro Polo’s existence in Western Asia.

The Old Man of the Mountain, whose name is Ala’al Din, built a magnificent garden in Alamut to counterfeit paradise described by Muhammad. He brought those assassins to this “paradise” for a while, and let them believe he was the prophet. In this way, these assassins were very obedient and willing to die in the missions since he told them they could return to paradise if they were so. Nevertheless, in 1262, Hulegu destroyed him and his assassins and conquered Alamut after discovering his sins. In my research, I will determine the role of this story in proving Macro Polo’s presence in Western Asia by examining two requirements. The first one is the correctness of the story, and the second one is that few or no people in Venice or Europe knew this story before the publication of the Description of the World.


Of all the Western Asian cities described by Marco Polo, Baghdad seems to be the one deemed most controversial by scholars. The descriptions of Baghdad were rather brief considering its important status in the 13th century, and it seems that even many of the cities of less importance received more attention. Furthermore, the descriptions provided by Marco Polo were often problematic. Through comparison with relevant primary and secondary sources, I examined Marco Polo’s geographical descriptions of Baghdad, account of the death of the last Caliph, and route across Persia. With such examinations, it seems fairly evident that Marco Polo has not travelled to Baghdad. However, his absence in Baghdad instead validates his presence in Armenia and Europe.

Marco Polo’s accounts on the Great Province of Persia consisted of a basic explanation of the Persia-Mongols relationship and an overview of the Great City of Persia in terms of geography, husbandry, agriculture, trade and crafts. Through the examination and comparison of Marco Polo’s accounts with a variety of historical primary and secondary Persian(Iranian) sources, I have discovered that there is a high consistency between Marco Polo’s account and other sources. Despite the fact that his description of “the cruel Saracens” in Persia was subjective and unclear thus should be neglected, I have drawn a conclusion that Marco Polo’s Description of the World has validated his presence in the Great Province of Persia.


The Great Slope in Marco Polo’s accounts refers to Hormuz, also known as Ormuz. The Kingdom of Ormus (also known as Hormoz) is located in the eastern side the Persian Gulf was established by an Omani prince in the 11th century and received its name from the fortified port city, which served as its capital. It was one of the most important ports in the Middle East when it controlled seaway trading routes through the Persian Gulf to China, India, and East Africa. Polo’s description consists of accounts of Ormuz’s geographic features and his travelling experiences. In my research, secondary sources consist of many other travellers who travelled to Ormuz and many of its features matches. Therefore, I concluded that Marco polo did indeed travel to Ormuz.




Our group concludes that Marco Polo’s accounts validated his presence in Western Asia. However, his absence in Baghdad suggests that his route in Western Asia did not include the Tigris region, and that it is mainly limited to Armenia and Persia. Such a claim is further supplemented by high consistency between Marco Polo’s account and other primary and secondary sources on the topics of Armenia, Persia, and Hormuz. Moreover, we have shown that most details of the stories in of Polo’s chapter on Western Asia, such as the Old Man of the Mountain and his assassins, are correct. While some stories were well-spread in Europe at the time when Macro Polo started his travels, meaning that we cannot necessarily use these stories alone to prove Macro Polo’s presence in Western Asia, they can nevertheless be used as pieces of auxiliary evidence due to their high accuracy.




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