History isn’t always correct. Sometimes, the things we all know are actually not true. Here are some historical facts we learned in school that, according to the Internet, might not be facts at all.
History’s Greatest Authors
Homer wrote the Greek epics The Odyssey and the Illiad, while Sun Tzu authored The Art of War.
But is that true?
Reddit users claim there’s no historical record of either author outside these books, and most were compiled centuries after they supposedly lived. The works are likely compilations from various authors accredited to a single source.
The Lost Library at Alexandria
We were taught that the fire at the Library in Alexandria destroyed hordes of human knowledge and history. The fire wiped out sacred texts key to our continued growth.
That’s not entirely true. Although the fire was a devastating loss, many of the texts were copied and sent to other regions, meaning we didn’t lose as much as our teachers made it seem.
Prima nocta refers to a practice where the ruling party would claim first rights to a bride on her wedding night, hoping to impregnate her with their child rather than her husband’s.
The feature film Braveheart thrust the idea into our collective brains, making thousands of people believe this practice regularly took place. However, there’s no solid evidence that prima nocta was used as anything other than propaganda.
Caesar’s Last Words
The infamous “Et tu, Brute” was written by Shakespeare. No one really knows Caesar’s true last words.
Short men are said to have a Napoleon complex, after the French ruler known for his short stature. Common knowledge states that Napoleon’s obsession with conquering France (and even the world!) stemmed from his insecurity over his height.
However, Napoleon was of average height for his time. He’s only a little short by today’s standards.
The Fall of Rome
Rome fell in 476 AD…or did it? There wasn’t just one fateful day that ended an empire. It slowly decayed for decades.
The final sack by the Turks in the 1400s is simply something modern historians can look back to and pinpoint.
Let Them Eat Cake
Marie Antoinette’s famous last words were likely never uttered by the unfortunate queen. The French writer Rousseau penned these words in the 1780s when she was just a child, but the unfortunate attribution became a rallying cry against the royal family, leading to her ultimate demise.
The common perception of a Viking helm bearing long, terrifying horns probably isn’t accurate. Vikings likely wore more utilitarian and practical helmets, but these artistic displays look great in film.
Salem Witch Trials
Most witch trials were seldom about witchcraft, and Salem is no exception. Witch burning typically had a political and patriarchal agenda. Men, threatened by wealthy, powerful, and intelligent women, accused them of witchcraft to get them out of the way and to keep other women in line.
We often believe that great artists throughout history had some extraordinary genius inaccessible to others. While it’s true they had something most people don’t, that thing wasn’t talent but privilege.
Most famous artists had the time and money to pursue their crafts. They came from wealthy artisan families who supported the arts. They had free time to develop their skills without worrying about how to feed themselves.
It makes you wonder how many artistic geniuses, past and present, society missed because they had to work menial jobs to survive.
History Abounds with Nuance
Have you ever heard the saying that there are three sides to every story, his side, her side, and the truth?
The same is true for everything in history. Nobody knows with any certainty exactly how things went down. We must trust the written records of those who lived it. Unfortunately, many “writers of history” have hidden agendas, unconscious biases, or limited perspectives, but stories from the opposition get lost in the sands of time.
That’s the fun thing about history, though. There are always new viewpoints to consider and new things to learn about our favorite historical figures.
What new fun fact about history will you learn today?
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Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.