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Unraveling Marco Polo’s Linguistic Odyssey: Exploring the Languages Spoken by the Legendary Traveler

What languages did Marco Polo speak?

Marco Polo, an Italian explorer and merchant, is widely known for his extensive travels in Asia during the 13th century. His travels took him through several regions, exposing him to different cultures and languages. While Marco Polo’s primary language was Italian, he also became fluent in several other languages during his expeditions. In this article, we will explore the languages that Marco Polo spoke, shedding light on his linguistic abilities and their impact on his travels.

1. Italian

Born in Italy, Marco Polo grew up speaking the Italian language. This linguistic foundation provided him with a strong basis for communication during his expeditions. Italian would have been his primary means of communication with fellow Italians, including his travel companions and those he encountered during his travels.

In addition, Marco Polo’s knowledge of Italian played a crucial role in documenting his experiences. He dictated his travelogues in his native tongue, which were later transcribed into a book known as “Il Milione” or “The Travels of Marco Polo”. This literary work became immensely popular, spreading knowledge of the Eastern world and inspiring future explorers.

2. Persian

During his travels, Marco Polo spent a considerable amount of time in the Persian Empire, which included modern-day Iran and the surrounding regions. It was during his stay in Persia that he learned the Persian language, also known as Farsi. Persian was widely spoken and served as a lingua franca in many parts of the empire.

Marco Polo’s mastery of Persian allowed him to communicate effectively with the locals, gain insight into the culture, and make valuable connections. He used his language skills to conduct trade negotiations, gather information about new territories, and navigate unfamiliar areas. Marco Polo’s fluency in Persian contributed greatly to his overall success as an explorer and merchant.

3. Mongolian

Marco Polo’s travels also took him to the heart of the Mongol Empire, where he had the opportunity to interact with the Mongolian people, including the ruling elite. The Mongolian language played an important role in his communication with the Mongols, and Marco Polo made an effort to learn it.
The Mongolian language, with its complex grammar and phonetics, was a challenge for Marco Polo. However, his perseverance and immersion in Mongolian culture allowed him to gradually master the language. This linguistic ability facilitated his interactions with Mongolian officials such as Kublai Khan, the emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. It also allowed him to navigate the vast territories under Mongol rule, opening doors to new experiences and opportunities.

4. Arabic

As Marco Polo ventured further into the Middle East and North Africa, he encountered Arabic-speaking populations. As a prominent language of trade, scholarship, and religion in the region, Arabic became essential for effective communication and cultural integration.

Marco Polo recognized the importance of Arabic and devoted time to learning it. His knowledge of Arabic allowed him to converse with local merchants, scholars, and religious figures, thus expanding his understanding of the lands he visited. It also made it easier for him to navigate the markets and facilitate business transactions, allowing him to flourish in his mercantile endeavors.

5. Chinese

One of the most important languages Marco Polo learned was Chinese. During his extended stay in China as an envoy and official at the court of Kublai Khan, he immersed himself in the Chinese culture and language.

Learning Chinese opened up a world of opportunities for Marco Polo. It allowed him to communicate directly with Chinese officials, gain insight into local customs, and forge strong relationships within the imperial court. Marco Polo’s fluency in Chinese gave him unprecedented access to the inner workings of the Mongol Empire, allowing him to gain knowledge and experience that would shape his later accounts.

In sum, Marco Polo’s language skills were instrumental in his travels and interactions with the diverse cultures he encountered. His knowledge of Italian, Persian, Mongolian, Arabic, and Chinese opened doors to new opportunities, facilitated trade negotiations, and allowed him to document his experiences in The Travels of Marco Polo. The languages he spoke not only enabled his personal success, but also contributed to the exchange of knowledge between East and West, leaving a lasting impact on the world of exploration and travel.


What languages did Marco Polo speak?

Marco Polo spoke multiple languages, including Italian, medieval French, and Persian.

How did Marco Polo learn these languages?

Marco Polo learned Italian as his native language since he was born into a Venetian family. During his travels, he picked up medieval French, which was commonly used among the European elite. He also learned Persian due to his interactions with the people of the Persian Empire.

Why did Marco Polo learn different languages?

Marco Polo learned different languages to facilitate communication and understanding during his extensive travels. Being able to speak the languages of the regions he visited allowed him to interact with locals, gather information, and conduct trade effectively.

Did Marco Polo document his travels in multiple languages?

Marco Polo primarily documented his travels in medieval French. His famous work, “Il Milione” or “The Travels of Marco Polo,” was written in French during his imprisonment in Genoa. However, there are also versions of his accounts in Italian and other languages.

Which language had the most significant influence on Marco Polo’s travels?

Persian had a significant influence on Marco Polo’s travels. During his journey to the East, he spent considerable time in the Persian Empire and had close interactions with Persian culture, language, and people. His exposure to Persian greatly shaped his understanding of the region and influenced his descriptions in “The Travels of Marco Polo.”