Ideas for Use in the Classroom

Marco Polo was an Italian explorer who traveled with his family across Asia. The family left home in 1271 C.E. and arrived at Xanadu, the summer palace of the Chinese emperor, Kublai Khan, in 1275. Marco’s father Nicolo was a merchant from Venice, Italy, and he had established a profitable trading relationship with China. To make trading with China easier, the Polos embarked on their journey from Venice to establish a home in what is now Uzbekistan. They traveled by sea to the Persian Gulf, and then they took a caravan route across the Gobi Desert. Their journey took them through cities that were centers of trade in the ancient world. Because silk was a highly coveted trade good, the route the Polos took to China became known as the Silk Road. As the map shows, however, the term “Silk Road” is not limited to the one route the Polos followed, but rather, it is a network of routes that were established during the Han Dynasty, centuries before the Polos traveled, when China opened up trade with other countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and East Africa.

The map shows the Silk Roads during the Han Dynasty. Use the map’s legend to discuss the goods traded and mercantilism in the ancient world. To explain the significance of the Silk Roads, show how they promoted cultural development. Explain that after the Polos arrived in China, Marco spent many years exploring Asia, and he wrote a report to Kublai Khan on the riches of the area. Read excerpts from The Travels of Marco Polo. Then show pictures of the major cities that lie along the Silk Roads today. As an extension activity, have students research the culture of one these cities. Then have them write an essay or create a presentation on the significance of the Silk Roads, using the city they selected as an example.