In the thirteenth century, the Mongols created a vast, transcontinental empire that intensified commercial and cultural contact throughout Eurasia. As with other forms of booty generated by conquest, the Mongolian elite systematically identified, and shared out, the cultural resources oftheir more sedentary subjects. Thus, the Mongols military-political dominance ofthe continent was accompanied by—even accomplished through—cultural dependence. As a product ofthis complex, interactive world of contending cultural currents, Marco Polo viewed the East, and China in particular, through multiple cultural filters—European, Muslim, and Mongolian.

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