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View Medieval Travel Lies

As the western Roman empire declined during the fourth and fifth centuries AD, Europe lost contact with the rest of the world. Classical knowledge of the outside world receded, and what emerged in its place was a peculiar mixture of fact and fiction. European scholars inhabited the lands to their east with unicorns, cyclops, and other fantastic creatures. One persistent rumor spoke of the barbarian tribes of Gog and Magog whom Alexander the Great had supposedly imprisoned behind giant brass gates somewhere in the East. It was said that the escape of Gog and Magog would signal the imminent end of the world.

With the gradual revival of commerce during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Europeans once more began to venture beyond their borders and returned to tell of what they had seen. But these travellers, upon their return from faraway lands, seldom gave what we would consider to be factual accounts. Instead, they related bizarre stories that confirmed the existence of the imaginary kingdoms and creatures that Europeans had so long dreamed about and feared. We can only assume that these travel lies were another manifestation of the medieval preference for allegorical truths over literal ones.

Examples of Medieval Travel Lies

The Letter of Prester John
He was a Christian King rumored to have an empire in the East. The crusaders kept waiting for him to ride in with his cavalry and save the day, but for some reason he never showed up.

Marco Polo
Did Marco Polo really travel to China, as he claimed? If he did, then why did he fail to notice the Great Wall of China?

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
He’s known as the greatest liar of all time. The narrative of his travels certainly stretches credibility.

The Lost Island of Hi-Brazil
For centuries the island of Hi-Brazil existed only in legends. Then someone claimed to have actually found the place.