"The State of The World" Number 44
Complete Index Of All Issues
Marco Polo - Explorer, Merchant, Ambassador of Free Enterprise
Marco Polo (1254-1324) was born in the world-famous city of Venice, which at the time was an independent, sovereign state - the Republic of Venice (see also The Origin Of Politics and Republics).
Although small in territory, its location in a northern harbor of the Adriatic Sea, with open access to the vast Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the healthy world view of its people, made it a leading maritime trading center for over 1,000 years, from the 7th century to the 18th century AD.
The people of Venice believed in political freedom for themselves, and for the many political refugees that they welcomed during the violent European chaos during the last stages of the collapse of the Roman Empire, as well as from the endless Papal-inspired wars of the "Crusades" (see also The Birth Of The Dollar).
The people of the Republic of Venice were moreover strong believers in free enterprise and world trade. They viewed the rest of the world as an opportunity for mutual wealth (which made peace in everyone's best interests; see also What Really Happens In A Trade War?), not as a threat. They traveled the known world as ambassadors of free enterprise - and the world of nations welcomed the opportunity to do business with them.
That was the world attitude of Marco Polo. His psychological horizons were long and high. It made him who he became - one of the most-famous explorers, merchants and proponents of free enterprise of all time.
Not all of the trade was by ship. Some was overland. The free enterprise knew no bounds, or way to get there.
In 1271 Marco Polo set off from Venice and journeyed along an inland branch the Silk Road, an already-ancient web of sea and land trade routes between Europe and China. After a 4 year journey, he arrived at the Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan's palace.
Kublai Khan was so impressed with the young man's intelligence and love of freedom that he made him a state advisor to the Emperor with a passport to travel throughout the vast territory of China. Marco Polo gladly, and profitably, remained in the position for nearly 18 years before he returned to Venice.
His stay in China had made him a very wealthy man; for the long journey home, Marco Polo converted his goods and property into high-value gemstones - easily carried and concealed.
Marco Polo's return to Europe was a return to war - with Venice one of the participants. Being a patriotic man, he built and commanded his own small warship. As it turned out, Marco Polo was a much better businessman than a warrior - he was a builder, not a wrecker. He and his ship were captured, after which he remained a prisoner of war for many months.
Although he was released, the conditions of his incarceration took a severe toll on his health. While Marco Polo continued to finance trade voyages during the few years of his declining health, Marco Polo himself never went far from Venice again. He died in 1324 at the age of 69.