If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

READ: An Age of Adventure

An Age of Adventure

A drawing of Marco Polo © Bettmann/CORBIS
By Cynthia Stokes Brown
Do you think that long-distance travel is a modern invention? Do you suppose that everyone stayed home until airlines started scheduling flights around the world?
Do you think that long-distance travel is a modern invention? Do you suppose that everyone stayed home until airlines started scheduling flights around the world?
If so, think again. By the early 1300s, Afro-Eurasia (Northern Africa, Europe, and Asia) had become a world zone in motion. People were traveling everywhere, usually in groups — by foot, donkey, horse, camel, and boat. Merchants moved goods; kings, sultans, and popes moved armies. Diplomats and envoys carried messages; missionaries sought souls. Pilgrims and scholars searched for enlightenment. People looked for work, and whole groups of people migrated for varying reasons. Captains, caravan leaders, travel guides, and transport experts provided the ways and means to keep the multitudes moving.
This long-distance travel became easier in the late 1200s and early 1300s largely for three reasons. First, nomads of Central Asia (the Mongols and their Turkish-speaking allies) conquered Russia, China, and most of the Middle East, creating the largest territorial empire the world had ever seen. Their rulers imposed order and security to the trade routes along the Silk Roads. Second, the stability of Islamic rule across North Africa, the Middle East, Persia, and Southeast Asia provided a common civilization for travelers. Third, improvements in sailing technologies increased sea travel in the Indian Ocean.
Considering the great numbers of travelers moving across Afro-Eurasia, very few individuals left written accounts of their journeys. We’re left to believe that those who did record their travels must also represent the unknown adventurers who left no accounts.
Fortunately, two prodigious travelers, Marco Polo, of Venice, Italy, and Abu Ibn Battuta, of Tangier, Morocco, did leave engaging records of their journeys. They each told their stories from memory, and perhaps some written notes, to others who copied it down. Enough copies were made that some have survived through the centuries. A third traveler featured here, Zheng He, from Yunnan, China, is remembered because he served powerful Chinese emperors. He left brief accounts of his voyages carved in granite, and two officers and a translator who sailed with him left longer memoirs.
These three adventurers all traveled within a 162-year time period. Marco Polo started his journey in 1271; Ibn Battuta started his in 1325, just after Polo died. Zheng He made his seven voyages starting in 1403, 37 years after Ibn Battuta died.
The extent of these three journeys defies our imagination, even today in the age of jet travel around the world. Marco Polo spent 24 years away from home, traveling most of the time. Ibn Battuta spent 29 years away, visiting the lands of more than 40 modern countries, and covering 73,000 miles (117,000 kilometers). Zheng He was away about 14 years spaced over three decades, making his way around the Indian Ocean and along the eastern coast of Africa.

Adventurer Comparison Chart

Download the Adventurer Comparison Chart and use it  to help compare the three adventurers. Name some of the places they visited and some of the reasons they traveled.
Adventurer comparison chart. Click here for a larger version. Download PDF.

For Further Discussion

Can you think of two examples of how collective learning led to an increase in exploration during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries?  Share your answers in the Questions Area below and comment on a post with an example that you didn’t think of.

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user Monique Dean
    In some ways I feel as if they were all curious of what was out there to discover. The desire for profit and opportunities in global trade and the excitement of finding anything new, traveling the seas and Afro-Eurasia and to be able to write about it as they go along is outstanding and definitely intriguing to say the least. You have to think about it, they lead the way for adventure and for discovering new places and experiencing something no one else did in those times. Would we be where we are now and know the things we know now about the 15th and 16th centuries if it weren't for these men exploring that region?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Chom Arnold
    1)Technological sharing. As individual innovations in transport (like ship building) came about, they were spread more quickly over a vast area, resulting in an overall increase trend in physical quality of transport.

    2)Geographic sharing. Inevitably, as more individuals spread out, knowledge was passed just like other commodities. Groups could compare geographies from their original localities, informing one another of land masses and topographical qualities not otherwise obtainable without first-hand exploration.
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user bennettj27
    h'lo there um how com they disided to not fill in the last two parts of the chart
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user alton west
    I would like to think that one of the first ways that collective learning had an impact on increased exploration in the 15th and 16th century would be that collective learning within the regions allowed for a sharing of technologies and innovations which allowed for the various minds to build on already existing concepts with their new found perspectives. take for example the evolution of modes of transportation various regions had their own take on sea transportation and once collective learning was introduced more innovative models of boats were invented and travel was made easier and longer distances were able to be reached. The second way would come as a result of the first because with better modes of travel available to the people they were able to travel farther and expand trade routes and expand the network of collective learning. The more ground they covered geographically the more access they had to new resources and technologies unbeknownst to them before. with an increase in knowledge became a need to expand their networks further in order to accommodate the greater connections formed. collective learning therefore provided a greater understanding and brought together different cultures and perspectives which ultimately allowed for missing components to be together by the masses.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user ilovelivingthislife
    The two examples of how collective learning led to an increase in exploration are,

    First thing being the years traveled to gain some of the experiences and knowledge, Giving others ideas like the submarine for example it started on one side of the world next thing you know theres several diferent makes elsewhere, or just the fact that there were 3 different people from different countries wanting to know more about the world so they dedicated there lives to exploration.

    Secondly where the boats, the roman started with the oresman to aid with the movement and the vikings as well as the natives and they only had a sails for back up. As knowledge grew so did boat size some into ships to carry people cargo etc. The modern day ships grew to use steam to carry larger and heavier, longer and further loads.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Dalton White
    How did collective learning spread good leaders,and people willing to listen
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user bennettj27
    i wonder how old was Zheng He when he died?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user alton west
    I would like to think that one of the first ways that collective learning had an impact on increased exploration in the 15th and 16th century would be that collective learning within the regions allowed for a sharing of technologies and innovations which allowed for the various minds to build on already existing concepts with their new found perspectives. take for example the evolution of modes of transportation various regions had their own take on sea transportation and once collective learning was introduced more innovative models of boats were invented and travel was made easier and longer distances were able to be reached. The second way would come as a result of the first because with better modes of travel available to the people they were able to travel farther and expand trade routes and expand the network of collective learning. The more ground they covered geographically the more access they had to new resources and technologies unbeknownst to them before. with an increase in knowledge became a need to expand their networks further in order to accommodate the greater connections formed. collective learning therefore provided a greater understanding and brought together different cultures and perspectives which ultimately allowed for missing components to be together by the masses.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user gabriella lopez
    AN AGE OF ADVENTURE

    As travelers visited new lands, they discovered innovative ideas being used by the people of those lands and spread news of this innovation with neighboring lands as well as their own. As these innovations were used to build bigger better ships, the appeal of being a traveler and discovering things became greater. The use of better ships and roads created a way to sell goods to distance lands, as well.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • mr pink red style avatar for user berryelaine60
    can you think of two example of how collective led to an increase in exploring.
    during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries? were did they Travelers.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user