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Fact vs. Fiction in the Netflix series "Marco Polo"

Posted on January 29 2021

Fact vs. Fiction in the Netflix series "Marco Polo"


Did Marco Polo cross seas, deserts, and travel the Silk Road?

Yes. The geographic descriptions within Marco Polo’s book, “The Travels of Marco Polo”, can be followed by explorers even today. While the show represents Mongolia and China well, the actual film locations were in Kazakhstan and Malaysia.

Did Marco Polo become a prisoner of the great Kublai Khan?

Yes. Marco Polo was a prisoner in the sense that he was not permitted by the Khan to leave and was required to remain in the Khan’s service. He stayed for 17 years and returned only after the Khan died.

Did Marco Polo witness Kublai Khan slay his brother, Ariq of Karakorum, in a one-on-one fight to the death in front of their opposing armies?

No. Historians say Kublai armies defeated Ariq’s armies. But Kublai never killed Ariq, only Ariq’s supporters to prevent future rebellion.

Did Marco Polo speak multiple languages?

Yes. Polo wrote that he knew “four other languages”. Historians believe Polo knew Italian, Mongolian, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish — so Polo would have experienced more challenges when communicating with the Chinese than what is suggested in the show.

Did Marco Polo learn martial arts from a blind monk known as “Hundred Eyes”?

No. This is a dramatization to create fighting scenes. In history, “Hundred Eyes” was a Mongol military leader, not a monk and not blind. No relationship between the real historical person and Marco Polo has been found.

Did Marco Polo have romantic relationships with the courtesan Mei Lin, or anyone, while in service to the Khan?

Unknown. No romances are written about in Marco’s Polo book. He was a private person in this regard. Relations on the show are fictional but help complete Marco Polo’s character.

Was Marco Polo an envoy for the Khan?

Yes. Polo provides details in his book about the Khan bestowing greater responsibilities upon him over time, including roles as a special envoy to make trips on behalf of the Khan, three years as governor of the city of Yangchow, and as a council official.

While most of the show is fictional, the presentation of how the places and people looked evokes the feeling of the era when the Mongols ruled and when Marco Polo journeyed there. If you’re looking to escape on an adventure in a time long ago, then travel with Marco Polo. All great trips begin with a map!


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