History is like a grand tapestry woven with stories and events passed down through generations. Yet, as time goes by, some of the threads in this tapestry begin to fray and unravel. It turns out that not everything we think we know about the past is as accurate as it seems.
These are stories that have been ingrained in our collective consciousness, shaping the way we view the past and the people who lived it. As we peel back the layers of these myths, you may be surprised to discover just how much inaccuracies and embellishments have colored our understanding of history.
1. Columbus Discovered America
Despite what most people were taught in school, Christopher Columbus did not actually discover America in 1492. Native Americans had been living on the continent for thousands of years before Columbus arrived. In fact, there is evidence that Viking explorer Leif Erikson reached North America around 1000 AD, nearly 500 years before Columbus. However, Columbus’s voyages played a significant role in opening up the Americas to exploration and colonization by Europeans.
Columbus’s journey was not the first encounter between Europe and the Americas, but it did mark the beginning of a new era of exploration and exchange between the two continents.
2. George Washington Had Wooden Teeth
The myth that America’s first president, George Washington, had a set of wooden teeth is widespread. In reality, Washington did have dental problems, but his false teeth were not made of wood. They were crafted from various materials, including human teeth, animal teeth, and various metals. Washington suffered from dental issues throughout his life, and his dental troubles have become an enduring part of his historical legacy.
3. Napoleon Bonaparte Was Extremely Short
It is commonly believed that Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military genius and emperor, was extremely short. However, this is a historical misconception. Napoleon was actually of average height, standing at around 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 meters). The myth of his short stature likely arose from his nickname, “The Little Corporal,” which was more a term of endearment than an accurate reflection of his height.
4. The Great Wall of China Is Visible From Space
The idea that the Great Wall of China is visible from space is a popular misconception that has been perpetuated for years. While the Great Wall is undoubtedly an impressive feat of engineering and stretches for thousands of miles, it is not visible to the naked eye from space. Astronauts and cosmonauts who have traveled in low Earth orbit have stated that it is difficult to see the wall from that vantage point without the aid of magnification.
5. Marie Antoinette Said, “Let Them Eat Cake”
The famous quote attributed to Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake,” has been associated with the callousness of the French monarchy towards the suffering of the French people. However, no historical evidence suggests that Marie Antoinette ever uttered these words. The phrase can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography, written when Marie Antoinette was just a child.
Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France during the late 18th century, was indeed a controversial figure, but this particular quote is a fictional representation of her character and actions during a tumultuous period in French history.
6. The Earth Was Flat in Ancient Times
One of the enduring myths about the past is that people in ancient times believed the Earth was flat. Contrary to popular belief, ancient civilizations such as the Greeks had a good understanding of the Earth’s spherical shape as early as the 6th century BC. Philosophers like Pythagoras and Aristotle provided evidence for a round Earth, and Eratosthenes even calculated its approximate circumference with remarkable accuracy.
This misconception about ancient beliefs regarding the Earth’s shape obscures the sophistication of early scientific thought.
7. Vikings Wore Horned Helmets
The image of Vikings donning horned helmets has been popularized in literature, art, and film, but it is far from the truth. There is no historical evidence to suggest that Vikings actually wore horned helmets in battle or daily life. In reality, Viking helmets were practical and designed for combat, with a simple conical shape that provided protection.
The misconception likely arose from misinterpretations of ancient artifacts and artistic depictions, perpetuating a false stereotype of Viking warriors.
8. Napoleon Bonaparte Poisoned With Arsenic
Rumors have circulated for centuries that Napoleon Bonaparte was poisoned with arsenic during his exile on the island of Saint Helena. However, modern scientific analyses of Napoleon’s hair and remains have failed to provide conclusive evidence of arsenic poisoning.
While his health did deteriorate during his time in exile, it is more likely that he succumbed to a combination of factors, including stomach cancer.
9. The Salem Witch Trials Burned Hundreds of Witches
The Salem witch trials in 1692 Massachusetts are often depicted as mass witch hunts that led to the execution of hundreds of accused witches. In reality, approximately 20 people were executed as a result of the trials, and several others died in jail. While the trials were a dark chapter in American history, the scale of the witch hunt has been exaggerated over time.
The Salem witch trials remain a cautionary tale of mass hysteria and injustice in colonial America.
10. Cleopatra Was Egyptian
Despite her association with Egypt, Cleopatra was not of Egyptian descent. She was born in Alexandria, Egypt, but her lineage is traced back to a Greek Macedonian family that ruled over Egypt after the conquest of Alexander the Great. Cleopatra was of Greek heritage, and she was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
This misconception highlights the complex history of Egypt and the influence of Greek and Roman cultures during Cleopatra’s reign.
11. Ben Franklin Discovered Electricity With a Kite
It’s a widely circulated story: Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity by flying a kite with a key attached during a thunderstorm. However, this is a historical myth. While Franklin did conduct experiments on electricity, there is no credible evidence to support the kite experiment story. Franklin’s work in electricity was based on careful observation and experimentation with electrical devices, but he never risked flying a kite in a lightning storm.
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