Researchers at the University of Warwick’s Warwick Venice Centre will restore a significant historical document that has been lost for more than 70 years, revealing a new perspective on global exchange in the decade after Marco Polo’s death.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 during the decade following his death. 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.” 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. Dr. Mola continued: “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.

“The operation will be conducted in the Venetian State Archives.” Measuring 93x68 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. Dr Mola said: “We already have a full transcription of the document, which has been only partially analysed.

“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, Italy and the world. In 2024, the year marking the 700th anniversary of the death of Marco Polo, the University of Warwick is proud to partner with 36 global institutions to launch the Marco Polo International

The Programme brings together researchers, students and local communities, in collaboration with many of our University partners around the globe, to push forward the boundaries of scholarship, discovery and engagement not just about Marco Polo, but also in relation to a number of explorers, goods and ideas, which have criss-crossed different parts of the world through time. The Programme as a result champions the power, importance and impact of cultural interaction, engagement and discovery- both in the past and in the present – and underlines Warwick’s ongoing commitment to creating connections across cultures and across the globe.

The University of Warwick also hosts a new home in the heart of historic Venice, which will benefit thousands of students, researchers and partners from all over the world. Overlooking the Grand Canal, the space within the Palazzo Giustinian Lolin building is used as an all-year round centre for seminars, summer schools and degree modules.