Restoration of Rare Medieval Document Detailing Asian Travels

A significant medieval document, forgotten for over 70 years, will be restored by researchers at the University of Warwick’s Warwick Venice Centre. It reveals a new perspective on global exchange in the decade after Marco Polo’s death.  

This parchment provides a vital testimony on the Venetian merchants who continued the journey of Marco Polo in Asia in the first half of the 14th century. Stored at the Venetian State Archives, the document details the travels, investments and commercial enterprises of six Venetian nobles who, after returning from China, embarked on another journey to the Sultanate of Delhi in 1338.


Dr Luca Mola, from the University of Warwick Venice Centre, said “They brought with them two remarkable mechanical gifts – a clock and a fountain – which they presented to Sultan lbn Tugluq. In return, the Sultan gifted them 200,000 local silver coins, which the Venetians used to purchase pearls and other Asian luxury goods.”

Parchment to be restored. Credit: University of Warwick

The document is a court case in which some of the merchants that went to Dehli and the relatives of one of them who died in Asia provide a full account of the preparation for the enterprise and the travel and deals across Asia and in Delhi. It is filed among the Procurators of St. Mark papers, the highest state office after the Doge.


“A professional restorer will first slowly stretch the parchment putting it in tension, then will mend its lacerations, and finally clean and stabilize the parchment,” Mola says. “The operation will be conducted in the Venetian State Archives.”

Measuring 93×68 cm, this parchment has been largely overlooked by scholars of Venetian history and is in a very poor state of conservation. The University of Warwick, in collaboration with its global partners, is committed to the document’s restoration and preservation, ensuring its significance is recognised and studied for future generations.

“We already have a full transcription of the document, which has been only partially analysed,” Mola adds. “We have discovered, for instance, that one of the merchants – the one who died on the way to Delhi and whose inheritance originated the court case after the return of the others – was a close relative of Marco; all others were Polo’s neighbours, and we are now investigating their activities in Venice and in Asia before and after the trip to China and Delhi.”

Having been forgotten for 70 years and kept folded in a file with other documents without any protection, the parchment has suffered (consider also that it’s almost 700 years old). The restoration will bring it back to a good and fully readable state, preserving a fundamental testimony for future generations of scholars and for the collective memory of Venice and the world.


To learn more about the Warwick Venice Centre and Marco Polo International Programme, click here.

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