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An image of the book "The Travels of Marco Polo.
The Travels of Marco Polo. Marco Polo. Published in 1350. The World Digital Library.

Who drew the Map with Ship?

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Featured below is a map known as the “Map with Ship.” The map was donated to the Library of Congress in 1943 by a retired merchant and author named Marcian F. Rossi.  Marcian Rossi was born in Italy in 1870. He moved to the United States during the 1880s. The Rossi family inherited a collection of historical materials, including the “Map with Ship.” The map had been passed down through generations. According to Rossi family documents, their ancestor Admiral Rujerius Sanserverinus was a friend of Marco Polo. The Rossi family believed Marco Polo (1254-1324) may have drawn the map and entrusted it to Admiral Sanserverinus.

A vellum chart of the Far East.
Map of the Far East and adjacent Pacific. Marco Polo. 129-?. Geography and Map Division.

The “Map with Ship” was drawn in pen and ink on vellum, a parchment made from animal skin. On the right-hand side is a map of the Far East with an ornamental frame. The place names are in Arabic. Chinese characters were also written on the map. Benjamin Olshin, the author of The Mysteries of Marco Polo Maps wrote “there seems to be no way to translate these characters into a proper sentence or phrase.”

On the left-hand side is the drawing of a ship framed with decorative leaves. According to the cartographic historian Leo Bagrow the leaf design is characteristic of the 13th or 14th centuries.The text below the ship was written in Venetian Italian. The following is a translation of the text:

Marco Polo.

I. India and the adjacent islands, according to what the Saracens say.

II. Cattigara of Tartary, island of Zipangu and adjacent islands.

III. Peninsula of the Sea Lions.

IV. Islands connected with the Peninsula of the Deer situated 2 to 4 hours of difference from the walled provinces of Tartary.

Below is an enlarged image of the ship.

An enlargement of the drawing of the ship on the left side of the map.
Detail from Map of the Far East and adjacent Pacific. Marco Polo. 129-? Geography and Map Division.

In 1933 Marcian Rossi wrote a letter to the Library of Congress. Mr. Rossi wrote that he wanted to know if the map was authentic; he also stated that he was interested in donating it.  Mr. Rossi donated the map to the Library in 1943 after corresponding for several years with the Chief of the Division of Maps, Lawrence Martin.

Tests have been performed on the map to determine its authenticity. During the 1940s photographs were taken using ultraviolet light to enhance the text. In 2008 radiocarbon measurements were performed to determine the date the map was drawn. The tests indicate that the animal from which the parchment was produced lived between 1463 AD and 1526 AD or 1556 AD and 1633 AD.

In my opinion, an original manuscript map may have been drawn during the 13th or 14th centuries, possibly by Marco Polo or someone who knew him.  The radiocarbon testing shows that the map held in the Geography and Map Division was drawn long after Marco Polo’s death. The map may have been duplicated from the original during the 16th or 17th centuries.  We will never know who drew the “Map with Ship.”

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Comments

  1. I have read Mr.Olshin’s comments on the Map, primarily based on an early version of Yule. I will send to you, if you give me an email address, a copy of my letter to him written to him in 2018 based on his initial article in Terra Incognito, saying that much of what he believes is not believable, because other more complete versions of the text of Yule and other books do not support his arguments!, I am a student of Marco Polo and retraced his route with my family and published the report on my book in Retracing Marco Polo, published in 2025. The Library of Congress has a copy that was sent to them with the copyright and is still in its index when last I checked. Thanks, Jack Spain
    Spain Jr

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