Marco Polo was one of the most famous explorers of all time; he chronicled his travels to China and other parts of Asia in a book many still read today.
What about his wife, Donata Badoer? Who was she, and what role did she play in Marco Polo’s life?
Let’s explore the life of Donata Badoer and learn more about her fascinating story.
Marco Polo’s Notoriety
Marco Polo was born in Venice, Italy, in 1254.
From a young age, he showed an interest in exploring the world beyond his hometown.
When he was 17 years old, he traveled with his father and uncle to China.
This trip would eventually become the basis for his famous co-authored book, The Travels of Marco Polo, also known as “Descriptions of the World.”
Marco was born into a prosperous merchant family in Venice, and his father and uncle were both experienced traders.
The three men traveled by land and sea, reaching China in 1271 or 1272.
They spent the next 24 years exploring the country, traveling what became later known as the Silk Road, and learning about China’s customs and culture.
Marco was especially fascinated by the Chinese emperor, Kublai Khan, and he even served as a diplomat for the Khan in various court affairs.
Finally, in 1295, the Polos decided to return to Venice.
However, their journey home was frightening, and Marco was captured and imprisoned. He was eventually released and returned to Venice in 1295.
A year later, his employer Kublai, died, sending the Mongol empire into disarray.
During his imprisonment, Marco dictated his stories of China and the Far East to a fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa, who wrote them down.
The book was published in 1298 or 1299 and quickly became a bestseller.
Marco Polo’s tales of adventure and exploration captivated the imaginations of people all over Europe, and his book remains one of the most popular travelogues of all time.
Using notes he compiled during travels, Marco recounted his journey through the Mongol empire, describing Kublai Khan and his kingdom.
In addition, he explained the palaces, paper money, coal, the postal service, eyeglasses, and other innovations Europe had yet to see.
After the Genoese-Venetian peace treaty of 1299, Marco Polo returned home and likely never left again.
The following year, he married his wife, Donata Badoer.
Donata Badoer: Marco Polo’s Wife
Not much is known about Donata Badoer, Marco Polo’s wife. She was born in Venice around 1280, making her 20 years younger than Marco.
The two married in 1300 and had three daughters: Fantina, Bellela, and Moreta.
Donata Badoer belonged to the Badoer family, a prominent and wealthy merchant family in Venice.
At the time of her marriage, she was an heiress to a large fortune. Because of her aristocratic lineage, her family name appears in various documents and records throughout Venice, which would be no surprise since families like hers were involved in politics, business, and other affairs of the city-state.
At that time, men were the leaders and held power in business and family life, but Donata’s family wealth gave her a certain level of power and influence.
While Donata was 20 and Marco was 46, it was a common practice for young brides to marry older successful men.
Unfortunately, women only had a few options for freedom of choice. Women in the Middle Ages had no say in who they married and were subjected to arranged marriages by their male family members.
If women wanted more freedom, they could choose a religious path and obtain some semblance of independence.
Typically, women in Donata’s position were expected to marry men of the same status and wealth. Still, Marco Polo may not have been of the same pedigree as the Badoer family.
He came from a respectable merchant family, but they were not as wealthy as Donata’s. Marco had also been away from Venice for over two decades and was not as well-connected as other potential suitors.
In some ways, their marriage benefited Marco Polo more, but both sides came from Venetian merchant families. As a tradition of marriage back then, and even now, the bride’s family paid a dowry to the groom, contributing to the new household.
Marco and Donata’s Married Life
Venetian weddings were elaborate affairs, and Marco and Donata’s wedding was no different.
The wedding would have had all the formalities of an upper-class Venetian wedding, which included a lavish banquet, music, and dancing. The festivities could have lasted for days; during this celebration, Marco would have anointed his wife’s head and escorted her to his home for the first time to celebrate with all his relatives.
Usually, a marriage like this would also include a presentation and blessing of the wedding ring. Marco and Donata had three daughters together: Fantina, Bellela, and Moreta; little is known about their lives.
Once married, Marco and Donata lived quieter lives. They continued their family’s legacy as successful Venetian merchants. Donata’s responsibilities would have been to run the household, and Marco would handle the business affairs.
Furthermore, Donata would have been responsible for purchasing, storing, and replenishing supplies. Marco would entertain guests, supervise the servants, and nurse the sick.
If the Polo household were like every other, Donata would teach household skills and purity to her daughters.
Due to her status, she likely had access to a wet nurse rather than breastfeeding the children herself. Rich women also had servants to handle other things like this as necessary.
Her Final Years
The Polo family had long, successful careers as merchants in Venice. Marco and Donata continued their work until he died in 1324. Afterward, she took over the family business and was given the authority to execute his will.
According to his will, he left her a yearly stipend; a woman in her position could remarry if she wanted or live her life much the same way when she was married.
Rather than going back to her family, Donata lived her life in the Polo home with her three daughters.
Donata would live another ten years after her husband and died sometime in 1333 or 1336; Marco and Donata lived longer lives than many people during the medieval period. Donata was later buried in the cemetery of the church of San Lorenzo along with Marco.
We Don’t Know Much About Donata, But Such Was The Way
There’s not much known about Donata Badoer Polo, but what we know paints a picture of a typical Venetian noblewoman of her time.
Donata had a comfortable life, with all the advantages and privileges of being part of the upper class.
She was able to marry Marco Polo, even though he wasn’t as wealthy or well-connected as her family. And after his death, she lived a prosperous life in Venice with her daughters.
While we may not know much about her, Donata’s story is representative of the lives of many other Venetian women of her pedigree.