Marco Polo Travels and Will, 1324
Marco Polo (1254-1324 AD) was a merchant from Venice who, at age 17, traveled with his father and uncle on the Silk Road to Asia and met Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. Polo served as an envoy, special messenger and tax collector. He returned to Venice in 1295, after 24 years, with a fortune in gemstones, sewn into the lining of his coat.
Three years later he was captured and imprisoned during a war with rival city-state Genoa. While in prison, he dictated the stories of his travels to a cellmate, writer Rustichello of Pisa, which formed the book, “The Travels of Marco Polo“, describing the cities, cultures, politics, wealth and technology of the Far East. The book described the use of paper money, coal, eyeglasses, and a postal system using relays of foot runners and horse riders.
He was released from prison in 1299, and returned home to Venice. He married and had three daughters. In 1323, he became ill and was confined to bed. Physician’s treatments were not successful. On January 9, 1324, Polo was on his deathbed. Polo’s family summoned Giovanni Giustiniani, who was a priest and notary from San Procolo, to write and certify his last will.
Marco Polo Will
His will divided his assets among his wife and daughters, the church, the monastery of San Lorenzo, where he wished to be buried, and various guilds and fraternities where he was a member.
Polo ordered 220 soldi to be paid to Giovanni Giustiniani for his work as a notary in preparing the will, and for his prayers. The will was not signed by Marco Polo, but was validated by the “signum manus” rule of that time.
The testator only had to touch the document to make it lawful. The notary reported that Marco Polo was weakened by disease of the body, but for the grace of God, was sane. The last will and testament of Marco Polo is one of the valuable documents in the collection of the national library in Venice.
Christopher Columbus carried a copy of Marco Polo’s book on his journey to the New World.
Marco Polo in North America
Note: Some stories and documents claim that Marco Polo reached North America 200 years before Columbus, by traveling to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Marco Polo’s daughters claimed his letters described encounters with far away people who lived on a peninsula of seals, wore sealskin, lived on fish, carried lances and lived in houses under the earth. Ancient Chinese maps showed the land of North America, known as Fusang or Fu Sang. On his deathbed, Marco Polo said, “I did not tell half of what I saw.”