The Great Armenia and Lesser Armenia

In order to determine the existence of Marco Polo in the state of Armenia, this research project will focus on validating the geographical locations and the humanity features of the major cities and provinces of Armenia under Marco Polo’s narration. 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)[1], which was also named as the Grant Armenia and the Petite Armenia. Armenia played an important role in “the Description of the World”, as it was the first paragraph of the entire Chapter 1 “West Asia and the Approach to the Court of the Great Khan”,[2] Hence validating Macro Polo’s relationship with the state of Armenia is vital, as we can analyze and predict the existence of Marco Polo in Asia is real or doubtful. 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. Besides, I am referencing the work “the Description of the World” by Rustichello; “Did Marco Polo go to China” by Frances Wood; “Armenia in Chinese Sources” by Ralph Kauz and Liu Yingsheng; “Marco Polo in Manuscript: The Travels of the Devisement du monde” by Mark CurseSource; “Marco Polo and His Travels” by Peter Jackson; and “Noah’s Ark Landed in the Ural Mountains: Ethnic and Ecological Apocalypse in Tatarstan” by AGNÈS KEFELI to improve the validity of my research.



Geographical Features and Cities of Armenia

In the beginning of Marco Polo’s illustration of Armenia, he stated with “Here Lesser Armenia is described” (Polo 20)[3], which resonate with the opening up of some touristic journals. Marco Polo stated that the Lesser Armenia was subjected by the Tartars. This statement can be validated by others sources, which indicates that Macro Polo might be telling the story, but at least the story he was narrating was correct not made up of his own imagination, according to “Armenia kingdom of Cilicia became tributary and vassal to the Mongol Empire in the 1230s” [4]. Later, Macro Polo introduced the city famous for trading in Lesser Armenia, Laias. In Marco Polo’s description, the city was well known for its geographical location for the merchants as the starting point of the journey to the Eastern world. Besides, John Block Friedman, Kristen Mossler Figg’s research present Laias as Lajazzo with other names including “Layas, Ajas, Ayas”[5], as the principal seaport of Lesser Armenia. For example, John and Kristen illustrated Laias as “Mediterranean outlet for the products of Persia and Armenia and for westbound trade”.

Furthermore, Marco Polo presented similar detailed descriptions of the major cities of Greater Armenia, including Erzincan (Arçinga) and Erzurum[6]. Marco Polo depicted this city of Erzincan as the best production bouqueran (buckram) in the world. However, no historical documentation records the speciality of buckram produced by Greater Armenia and no authentic list of tribute to the Mongol Empire includes the buckram produced by Erzincan. Afterwards, Macro Polo introduced the province of Erzurum which is known for its pasturage, according to “Ala Dagh, northeast of Lake Van, was one of the summer camps frequented by the Il Khans of Persia”[7]. The geographical and climatic conditions of the region was flat and mositured, but the temperature remained low in the fall with an average temperature of 12 °C [8] which coherent with “DW” stating the Tartars wouldn’t stay in the winter. Hence, on the one hand, Macro Polo did exaggerated in the illustration of how Erzincan’s buckram was the finest in the world which he might have acted as if he was a merchant boasting about the commodity is his natural instinct. On the other hand, the existence of both Erzincan and Erzurum demonstrated the geographical and climatic conditions Marco Polo described is consistent with other sources.

The consistency in the geographical description of Lesser and Greater Armenia demonstrated Marco Polo was familiar with the travel route and the climatic conditions. Therefore, comparison of “DW” with other sources showed that Marco Polo’s description is mostly accurate and consistent with the contemporary sources which validated his existence in Armenia.


According to the map 2, we can see that the Great Armenia is tied closely to Georgia in the North, Tabriz in the West, Mosul in the South and Lesser Armenia in the West, which is consistent with the description Marco Polo mentioned “Now we have told you about the northern border of Armenia (Georgia)”[9] and “Borders between south and east (Mosul)”[10]. In addition, the cities Marco Polo narrated such as Laias is located beside the mediterranean sea and the Erzurum province is shown on the map as a large area of flat land, which further validated Macro Polo’s description, but also lead to the possibility of he was describing the cities based on the map and his knowledge as a Merchant traveled from Venice to Western Asia.

Map 2: The Distribution of Armenia and Greater Armenia


Armenia in Eastern and European’s consciousness

Macro Polo’s geographical description of the state of Armenia is accurate in comparison to other sources, however we still need to validate the popularity of Armenia in the consciousness of European’s mind. Without validation, it is possible that Marco Polo with the identity of a Venetian merchant heard the information of Armenia from other merchants. According to Frances Wood, “these descriptions of luxury goods, their sources and processes were presumably the inspiration for Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities”[11], she also illustrated the beginning of Chapter 1 with Marco Polo’s “let me begin with Armenia” only presented 3 sources related to Marco Polo and the formatting of the style of the beginning paragraph resembled the style of travel journal[12]. Furthermore, in the first chapter Marco Polo didn’t follow the logical pattern of introducing from the Lesser Armenia to the Great Armenia which Marco Polo stated in the first paragraph, but narrated the travel of Armenia with insertion of the surrounding regions, including Turcomania, Georgia and Mosul. Besides, the location of Turcomania remained unsure, as the province is not shown on the Map, (Map 2). Hence, Marco Polo might be restating the travel note of Armenia by other merchants.

Apart from the inconsistent narrating format, Marco Polo also has stated the myths of Noah’s ark when introducing Greater Armenia. Noah’s ark was the spiritual symbol of Greater Armenia and the irredentism of Armenia. However, Marco Polo didn’t explain the inseparable relationship between Noah’s ark and Armenia, he only narrated one sentence “Noah’s ark is in Greater Armenia, on a big mountain”[13]. The short illustration of Noah’s ark is similar to the illustration presented in the Bible, “ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.”[14] Furthermore, Noah’s ark was a prevalent story in that period, AGNÈS KEFELI mentioned in his research that the Russian schoolbook around the 13th century has stated Noah’s ark landed on the mountain of Armenia[15]. Hence, it is deductible Noah’s ark was a well known story in both Europe and the Eastern world, as the Bible has documented the story and Russian sources also validate the existence of Noah’s ark in Armenia. Without Marco Polo’s detailed description of Noah’s ark, it is inferred that Marco Polo has heard the story from others rather than learning the story from Greater Armenia’s citizens. Thus, followed by the second criteria of validation, Marco Polo is illustrating stories that are famous, so it deduced the credibility of Marco Polo’s existence in Greater Armenia.


Noah’s Ark

“Noah’s Ark on the Mount Ararat” by Simone de Myle, 1570

Mount Ararat

Little Ararat (left) and Greater Ararat (right); View from Yerevan, Armenia


Nonetheless, Marco Polo’s existence in Armenia was stated and validated by Peter Jackson’s research, according to “It is d’Acqui who tells us that after his return Polo was captured in a sea battle with the Genoese in 1296 off Ayas in Lesser Armenia”[16]. The witnessner of Marco Polo and the specific timeframe of Marco Polo being captured in Lesser Armenia increased his credibility in illustrating the Greater and Lesser Armenia. In addition, in the era of 1296-1302 there is a war occurring, according to “Byzantine–Venetian War (1296–1302)”[17], which is consistent with the time Marco Polo was captured. Therefore, indeed there is lack of illustration when Marco Polo talked about the myths and insufficient evidence to validate the provinces and cultural specialities of Armenia, but the witness evidence can prove Marco Polo was once in the state of Armenia. Furthermore, it is not plausible that using lack of evidence to hypothesis the possibility of Marco Polo compiled stories of his journal.



To summarize, Armenia under Marco Polo’s illustration in both Lesser Armenia and Greater Armenia is consistent with other sources. Indeed, there were exaggerating sentences in his illustration, but the general content of Marco Polo’s illustration is accurate and coherent. Despite the fact that Marco Polo introduced the geographical pattern of Lesser and Greater Armenia in an illogical attempt, the geographical locations of his description are accurate. The credibility of Marco Polo’s travel in the Lesser and Greater Armenia can be further investigated as Marco Polo didn’t provide a specific travel plan and travel time. However, Armenia was the first country on the journey to the Eastern World, if Marco Polo didn’t visit Armenia, it is likely he didn’t go to China and the rest of the Eastern country.

Thus, to a large extent the consistency in comparison with other documents and the accuracy in “the Description of the World” validated Marco Polo’s existence in Armenia.



[1] The Description of the World, 20-22

[2] The Description of the World, 20

[3] The Description of the World

[4] Wikipedia, “Mongol Armenia”, 1st paragraph

[5] Routledge Revivals: Trade, Travel and Exploration in the Middle Ages (2000), p326

[6] The Description of the World, 22

[7] The Description of the World, 22

[8] Wikipedia, Erzurum

[9] The Description of the World, 23

[10] The Description of the World, 23-24

[11] Did Marco Polo go to China, p36

[12] Did Marco Polo go to China, p32

[13] The Description of the World, 22

[14] Genesis 8:4


[15] Noah’s Ark Landed in the Ural Mountains: Ethnic and Ecological Apocalypse in Tatarstan, p600


[17] Wikipedia, Byzantine–Venetian War (1296–1302)





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