After examining the journeys of Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo, how are they representative of an age of growing interaction between different parts of the world?

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caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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It should be noted that there is not a direct, causal link between the travels of Battuta and Polo, and the Age of Exploration, which began about 150 years later, although the reasons and methods by which these two men achieved their travels are indicative of those which spurred the Age of Exploration.

Humans naturally interact, often via trade or war. It is also natural to increase that rate of interaction; look at the efforts required by isolationist policies to maintain isolation, and the inevitability of people, goods and ideas slipping through the cracks in both directions. It is effectively more difficult to STOP people from interacting, despite whatever outdated notions we may have of limited global awareness centuries ago. The real impediment to human interaction is not cultural acceptance, but technology. Improvements in technology make travel and interaction easier; ships that could navigate the open ocean were one critical technological contribution to increased global interaction. Battuta and Polo's travels were not necessarily harnessings of new technologies, in the way that Columbus's was, but rather a spectrum of the motivations that might drive one to do so; we can see, in them, foreshadowing of the personalities that would dominate the Age of Exploration.

One key difference between these men is their religion, and the way it influenced their travels. Polo was a Christian, and Battuta a Muslim. Battuta's travels began with a religious journey to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, and from there his travels continued. Polo's journey was not motivated significantly by any Christian ethic, although this was considered when he wrote about his travels later. Neither man seemed intent on proselytizing, although Battuta does specifically say that he felt compelled by God to undertake his journeys. Religion, particularly Catholicism, would be an important facet of the Age of Exploration.

Another significant difference is economics. Battuta was not a merchant, and supported himself largely via his family fortune, gifts, and patronage from influential figures around the world. Polo, and his family, were merchants, and made their travels largely out of economic interests; they returned to Europe with a significant amount of money, which fueled the idea of riches being found in the East by those who dared to look and survived.

While both men experienced culture shock, they both encountered familiar people and customs throughout their travels. This not only supports the idea of interaction, by showing that no culture was truly isolated from any other, but may also foreshadow the "civilizing" intentions of the Age of Exploration; what we might now consider to be mere cultural differences were, at that time, cause for surprise, indignation, and a motivation to educate what were perceived as barbaric behaviors.

Ultimately, the travels of these two men indicated that;

  • a variety of motivations would spur a variety of people to explore and interact
  • money was a significant factor, but personal curiosity or religion were also important
  • the explorers almost always saw their own culture as the superior one
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