I have a question on History Stack Exchange which noone has been able to answer yet. Someone has suggested I try this SE site, so here goes.

There is a theory put forward by Benedetto, in his 1928 edition of 'Il Milione', the Italian title of one of the versions of Marco Polo's book about his voyage to China and back. According to the author, the association of 'Il Milione' both as title of the book, and with Marco Polo himself is that it originated in 'the Venetian Sestiere of Emilione'. (as quoted in works by Markus and Munkler).

I haven't been able to verify Benedetto's account directly, to see whether he meant a Venetian sestiere, or a region near Venice (eg Emilia-Romagna / Reggio Emilia / Castelfranco Emilia) nor have I been able to find any mention of a Venetian Sestiere called 'Emilione'.

So - my questions are:

1) Is there any record of such a district existing in Venice? I can find no reference to it on contemporary or historic maps I've looked at to date. Nor have I found a reference to a Church of Santa Emilia there, for example.

2) Is there any evidence to connect the Polo family with any of the 'Emilia' regions?

Grazie per il vostro aiuto!

  • 4
    There are six sestieri in Venice, none with a name slightly reminding “Emilione”: Cannaregio, San Polo, Santa Croce, San Marco, Castello, Dorsoduro. The names are really ancient.
    – egreg
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 8:03
  • 2
    According to this source the institution of the six Sestieri dates back to 1171; speaking of a Sestiere Emilione is surely incorrect. It might be a toponym, anyway and the Polo houses are really in Corte seconda del Milion.
    – egreg
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 11:36
  • @egreg I'm very grateful. Great link. Thanks. I presume 'San Polo' is a Venetian dialect version of 'Paolo' (St Paul), and is distinct from the birds which are associated with the coat of arms of the Polo family ... or do you think there might be another potential myth to be dubunked here? Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 11:47
  • Yes, San Polo is Venetian for San Paolo. Also the church dedicated to Santi Giovanni e Paolo is San Zanipolo, for example. I'd not be surprised if the family name came from the parish they lived in (sestieri are divided into parochie, that is, parishes).
    – egreg
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 11:52
  • 1
    Could you add a direct quotation of Benedetto? The quotations of Markus and Munkler seem to be a direct translation from one another (or from some earlier source). I'm really concerned about a Venetian historian who writes about a Sestiere Emilione: it's simply impossible.
    – egreg
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


Just my two cents before somebody gives a proper answer.

The common theory about the name is that in the book many descriptions about foreign and exotic reigns are pretty exaggerated. The horses in the royal stables were more than a thousands, the armies were enormous, etc.

From that the "milione" name in the title is usually explained as a very big, hyperbolic number.

As you pointed out, there is little to no reference about the Emilione Polo surname theory in ancient texts, as it is stated in this random page http://www.direzimontecchio2.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5&Itemid=17&limitstart=1 which you surely found already.

At least this is the commonly known version, I'll be happy to delete this answer when an historian answers more properly.

  • The exaggeration theory is one of several more or less substantiated ones covered in my extended question on the History SE site which I didn't go into here to avoid it being marked as a duplicate. I agree it seems the most plausible, yet Benedetto alleges it's related specifically to a sesteiere, which has been repeated by other authors. Your link accepts the Polo Emilione link which is documented in primary sources, but doesn't give a reason. How likely is Benedetto's theory? Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 22:02
  • I'm afraid I'm not an historian, while Benedetto is/was, though I'd like to see the sources he used to prove his assertions. BTW I found other pages that try to indicate that the Milion name was given to the Polo after the book , and not viceversa. venicewiki.org/wiki/Corte_Seconda_del_Milion seems like the theories are many, and that none is prevalent. Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 22:21

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