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Netflix's Marco Polo Historical Accuracy

Marco Polo explores sex and violence in the 13th Century, but is the Netflix show true to the historical adventures of the pioneer?

By Futurism StaffPublished 10 years ago 6 min read

Marco Polo is a political drama soaked in blood and sex, but does Netflix's historic epic capture the historical truths of the famed explorer? The answer is vague. Marco Polo did travel to Mongolia, but whether he engaged in politics and combat is ambiguous. Polo wrote his works omitting any personal interactions, choosing to record accounts of the varying cultures and locations. However, lack of information did not stop the streaming service from delivering a show to rival shows on HBO and Starz, with engaging scenery and stunningly choreographed martial arts. Whether or not Marco Polo dabbled in political shenanigans is left to the imagination. Regardless, Bob Weinstein and Netflix have created an engaging series. For the sake of human curiosity, as most adventures begin, it is worth exploring the historical figure of Marco Polo.

What historians know about Marco Polo is mainly derived from his autobiographical book The Travels. His adventure did take him across the Taklamakan desert and into the Mongol kingdom where he met the famed Kublai Khan, and earned his legacy as the most famous Westerner to travel the Silk Road. Polo explored Asia for 24 years, exceeding his predecessors and becoming a legend for his writing, influence, and determination. Polo would become an adviser to the great Kublai Khan, but not through enslavement as depicted in Netflix's show.

via New York Post

The historical Kublai Khan was a hospitable and curious leader, interested in cultures and religions from around the world. In the show, the Khan is upset with the "Latins," referring to them in a derogatory fashion, that the travelers failed to bring priests to the Mongol empire, and banishes them for their ineptitude. The historical Kublai Khan was eager to meet Christian priests so that they may explain the theology of the Bible and he could compare the numerous religions in his kingdom to determine the best philosophy.

Polo's reports depict Kublai Khan as a leader who ruled through wisdom and treated all people equally regardless of their religion or the nation they hailed from. He would not have looked down on the "Latins," but would have dissected their ideologies and behaviors. The historical Khan seems to have been a curious philosopher king who ruled through wisdom and war.

Polo was treated more like an ambassador and was received as a highly respected member of the court. Even if the Mongols only treated Polo with respect out of curiosity, he was never considered beneath them or of a lower class. As a gifted linguist, a master of four languages, Polo was sent on numerous missions to China, Burma, and India. Polo considered his place in the Mongol empire his "home" and is noted as describing the city as the most magnificent place in the world. Far from disgust or fear, Polo was enamored the culture in which he was absorbed.

Polo's reports depict Kublai Khan as a leader who ruled through wisdom and treated all people equally regardless of their religion or the nation they hailed from.

While the martial arts presented in the show is overwhelmingly impressive and well choreographed, the historical Marco Polo likely never engaged in any type of training. Neither would Polo have engaged in any type of combat. Even if he was taken as a slave by Kublai Khan it is unlikely that the Mongolian warlord would have placed his pet at the front lines of battle. Polo would viewed the Khan's soldiers training and perhaps engage in battle from afar, but he would not have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the warriors.

The problem with the historical Marco Polo is that it is difficult to determine what is true and what is embellished based on his writings. The explorer wrote his book while imprisoned and sharing a cell with Romanticist Rustichello of Pisa, who motivated Polo to write. It is inevitable that some aspects of Polo's adventure were embellished for the sake of entertainment, and because science has proven that memories are not perfect catalogs of events it is impossible to know which Polo miracles are true and which are fabrications.

Marco Polo is a fantastic work, which while it may exaggerate the facts provides motivation for viewers to seek and learn about history and decide what is and is not true on their own. A show that can entertain while bestowing an education on an audience is a monumental success and follows in the worthy footsteps of other programs such as Black Sails and Spartacus.

Knowledge is power even when watching TV. One of the key success stories around the rise of historic fiction in television and film has been the passion by which fans pursue the facts. Marco Polo's many accomplishments have been well documented and form a great point of reference for the epic series.

Marco Polo’s Biggest Accomplishments:

Like any other historical figure, Marco Polo had his own achievements that he made while on voyage from Europe to Asia. Writers, scholars and academicians have dedicated their time focusing on the life of Marco Polo and his achievements. A journey through the achievement of Marco Polo would definitely shade light to who he was and what he was capable of doing.

Journey Through the Silk Road

via Education Beyond Borders

The journey through the Silk Road with his further was one of his great achievements. Marco Polo and his father are the first two people that have been recorded to have travelled the whole of Silk Road. It is the writing of Marco Polo’s inmate, Rusticello, on the ‘Travels of Marco Polo’ of twenty years experience of travel that immediate of Europe caught attention because of the fact that this was the first masterpiece about the public transportation route from Europe to Asian Continent by an European in a systematic and credible way.The most powerful country on the Great Silk Road by the 13 century was the Mongolian empire, which spread across Northern China, Eastern and Western Turkistan, Iran, Mesopotamia and Eastern Europe. It is in the Mongolian empire that Marco Polo spent most of his life.

First European to Serve under the Khan Regime

via Netflix

Marco Polo became the first European to serve as an official under Khans regime in the Mongolian empire. Kublai Khan had an immediate bond towards young Marco Polo. He liked him. Due to his admiration of young Marco Polo Kublai Khan made him his personal envoy. Marco Polo had with him a stamped metal packet from Khan himself that served as his official credentials from the powerful leader. As an envoy Marco Polo made several journeys under the direction of Kublai Khan. One such journey was Yunnan in Southwestern China and as far as Tagaung in Myanmmar (Burma); on another occasion he visited Southeastern China (Peters, 2016). It is believed that Marco Polo had administrative power such as of inspection of the custom duties and revenues collected in salt and other commodities in the city of Yanzhou and according to some versions , he governed the city of Yangzhou for three years sometime between 1282 and 1287. He was further appointed as an official of the Privy Council in the year 1277.

Marco Polo became the diplomat for the Mongolian Empire. Kublai Khan admired his approach to life and the way he made observations of things that surrounded him. Following his appointment as the personal envoy of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo had to travel from one place to another, mainly on diplomatic assignments. Kublai Khan sent him on fact-finding missions to distant parts of the empire such as the far-flung areas of Asia never before explored by Europeans. Marco Polo visited places like India, Burma and Tibet. Marco Polo had to report to Kublai Khan on his findings and give his personal opinion on what should be done. Kublai Khan had strong belief in Marco Polo that he would inquire from Marco Polo as to whether they should proceed to war and conquer discovered regions.

World Enlightenment

via Wikipedia

The voyage from Europe to Asia opened the eyes to European nations and Explorers of the existence of geographical connection from Europe to Asia. This opened contact between the European and the Asian world. The Travels of Marco Polo enlarged Europeans’ knowledge about geography and opened their mind and vision and motivated people to travel to the East to witness for themselves the knowledge accumulated by Marco Polo. Many sailors or tourists at the time, such as Columbus from Italy, Vasco Da Gama, Bento de Goes, Johnson, Martin Frobisher from Portugal, sailed eastward in search of China after reading his book on the Travels of Marco Polo.

The voyage of Marco Polo enlightened the world of the existence of diversity of culture and people who lived in the notion that they were the only existing people in the world. The journey breached the fallacy Churches preached about religion, such as the doctrine of “Round Sky and Square Earth”.

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