History is the study of the past, but as we all know, not everyone remembers stories the same way. Accounts aren’t always documented accurately, and over time, tales can be exaggerated or changed through word of mouth and desires to make them sound more exciting or palatable. Governments can tweak history to place their own nations on the “right side” of it, and readers are prone to believing everything that’s written in a history book.
Unfortunately, however, you can’t always trust the fun facts and stories you’ve been taught about the past. Sometimes, historical fallacies spread even more rapidly than the truth. One curious Reddit user started a conversation earlier this week about untrue parts of history that are widely considered to be facts, and many readers chimed in to dispel these rumors that you might have been taught as well.
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Be sure to upvote the responses that you would have appreciated hearing in history class, and let us know in the comments if you’d like to correct any other false historical claims. Then, if you’re interested in reading a Bored Panda article featuring fallacies that are widely believed, look no further than right here!
The Irish famine wasn’t just a natural disaster – there was plenty of food in Ireland, it was just exported to Britain
Image credits: ProCamo
That when Europeans first arrived on the East Coast of what is now the US, the land was very sparsely populated and so there was a lot of free land to settle. (At least that’s what I’ve been taught in school.)
In reality it turns out the coast was densely populated with Native settlements, to the point where Europeans couldn’t even disembark because the Natives wouldn’t allow them – they would keep them at the bay just to trade and then force them to turn back. It wasn’t until European diseases spread through the continent that 95% of the indigenous population died, and that’s when the first colonies began in the US, so that’s why we now have the misconception of there always having been lots of open land.
In general there are tons of misconceptions about Native Americans and colonial history. I recommend the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann which clears up a lot of these misconceptions (it’s where I got the above information from as well.)
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Einstein never failed math, the rumor started from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and Einstein actually responded to them saying “I never failed in mathematics. Before I was 15 I had mastered differential and integral calculus.” He wasn’t very good at the non-science related classes though and did fail French.
Image credits: Think-Huckleberry965
The Lady who sued McDonalds didn’t do so frivolously. She received third degree burns from how hot that coffee was, and needed a skin graft. It was quickly found that that location was keeping the coffee well above the temperature you can legally serve a hot drink in a cup at. The fact that most people think this suit was over the temperature of the coffee, and not the debilitating burns that woman recieved, is one of the PR worlds greatest triumphs. You are not immune to propaganda.
Image credits: P41nB0i
That historically people, especially the ‘peasant class’ of medieval Europe, stank. This is born of two factoids: firstly that people very rarely if ever had baths, and secondly that people rarely if ever washed their clothes. Both are kind of true but misleading and with massive caveats.
First, bathing. Think of the amount of work involved in preparing a bath in the days before hot running water. You go to the well, get a bucket of water, lug it back across the village to your house, put it in a pan over the fire to heat it up. That’s one bucket. You’d have to do that half a dozen times at least. Even if you’ve got servants to do all the actual work, it would take a lot of servants a lot of time to get you a bath ready. But that doesn’t mean people didn’t wash! Most people washed daily – using a basin of water and a cloth, basically a sponge bath. Soap made of animal fat and ash has been around for thousands of years and is pretty effective at lifting dirt off the skin. As any one of us who’s had to sponge bathe for a while (e.g. After a surgery) will know, it may not be ideal, but it gets the job done. Films generally portray “peasant” with smudges of dirt all over the face but that’s just lazy costuming.
And now the clothes. True, the outer layers – the layers that we see – were very rarely washed becausd most people only owned one set and they could be very difficult to wash effectively, but you have to remember people, even peasants, wore a *lot* of layers, so that the layer we see was really the equivalent of a coat, and was never really against the wearer’s skin gathering sweat. How often do you wash your outer coat? For people in roles where external dirt was very likely to get onto the clothes, aprons and other easily removable garments were used. The layers worn right against the skin – a full dress-like smock for women and a long shirt for men (long enough to tuck around the genitals and butt and also do the job of underpants) – *were* changed and washed as often as possible, because they were the layers that got the body sweat etc on them. They were made more simply and usually of cheap, hardy fabrics specifically designed for easy laundering.
Tl;dr medieval peasant were not filthy and stinking. They washed their clothes and bodies as best they could.
Image credits: MerylSquirrel
A women’s place has always been in the home.
For thousands of years women did basically whatever her husband did whether that be farming, baking, brewing alcohol, sewing clothes, or selling things in the market, sometimes the man would take the stuff to the market while the woman stayed on the farm to tend to the animals or crops and vise versa. The only professions women did not take part in were, law, politics, and military work, and even this was only kind of true as women influenced their husbands politics, and were expected to help during sieges (which happened a lot.)
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The idea that a women’s place is taking care of the house and not working is a 19th century idea that came about after the industrial revolution.
The idea that Vikings (Early Medieval Norsemen) were dirty barbarians with shaggy hair and wild beards, who wore leathers and furs.
In reality, Vikings were notorious for being very clean by medieval standards (bathing every day and washing their hair). They wore shoulder length, very well combed hair, which they sometimes lightly bleached with potash to accentuate the blond. They wore short, very neat beards and carefully trimmed stache. Later on in the Viking Age, some wore undercut/crewcut kind of a trim, but with longer bangs.
Instead of leathers, which they almost NEVER wore, they had woolen clothes in bright colours; with blues and pinks being particularily popular. They almost never wore actual fur, they sold it all, and instead wore “fake fur” made of pulled wool (basically fur rug trims).
Instead of crusty savages, they were fabulous, clean and neatly fashionable, to the point that the Church chronicles of England note tht this excessive dandiness was dangerous in itself, because it helped them lead Christian women astray.
(Still of course, they were quite often murderers, slavers, thieves and raiders. Just FABULOUS ones.)
Jesus being white
Image credits: Thomytricky
Ninjas dressed in all black to stay stealthy in the night or something like that. Ninjas dressed like normal people to blend in, the all black look stemmed from Japanese theatre to make it more obvious to the audience who the ninjas were.
If they wore all black it’d be quite obvious and they’d stick out like a sore thumb
EDIT: most of you pointed out it also came from stagehands, that makes a lot of sense too
Image credits: Darth_Fatass
So many people completely misunderstond pre-industrial lifespans. The average age of death was 30 not because our bodies wore out faster, but because of how averages are calculated. A lot of people died as children. A much larger chunk of the population died in wars. If you got in an accident, healingb without modern medicine was difficult.
But for people who reached adulthood, and then avoided violence, injury, and plague, living to be 60 or 70 was pretty normal.
Image credits: GenghisCoen
General public not being aware that classical Greece and Rome had colored paints all over those statues, much less colored dyes in their clothes.
Edit: point being, we tend to believe that there was a *lot* of white in the Classical period, which isn’t actually the case.
Image credits: Fortyplusfour
There is a joke saying that Austria’s greatest success is making everyone believe that Mozart was Austrian and Hitler was German.
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Pretty much most of the common public image of the “stone age”.
Paleolithic peoples didn’t primarily live in caves. They were used for habitation sometimes, but tents or even relatively permanent huts were probably far more common. “Art caves” like those found in France and Spain often show no signs of habitation at all.
They weren’t stupid, brutish “ape people”. Anatomically modern humans emerged at least ~~70-100k~~ 200k years ago (thanks to several comments who pointed out my mistake) and there’s nothing to suggest they would have been intellectually inferior to us. Even Neanderthals probably were relatively close to us and it’s questionable if you’d even realize it wasn’t a Homo sapiens if you met one. H. sapeins *definitely* and Neanderthals probably wore ornaments of various kinds. *Even* H. erectus likely was broadly human in appearance and behaviour. You have to go back in time a *long* way before you’d consider early hominids more animal than human.
Generally, even imagining “*the* Stone Age” as some sort of coherent period of human history is misleading. It’s a periodisation based on materials used. Even though there is sometimes a remarkable cultural uniformity over long periods of time and large distances in Stone Age Europe, even single “cultures” span many thousands of years. World views and even life styles must have changed many times even during periods we now consider “uniform”.
In fact, even the name “Stone Age” is misleading. A lot of tools were made from flint or similar material, if available, but that’s just the material that preserves the best. Wood, bone, clay, plant fibres, furs, etc. were also used, they just usually didn’t survive long enough for us to find. It’s likely that South East Asian pre-metallic cultures even used bamboo in a similar way flint and bone was used in Europe.
“Under God” was not in the original version of the [Pledge of Allegiance.](https://www.ushistory.org/documents/pledge.htm). The Pledge was written in 1892. It wasn’t until 1954 that President Eisenhower added “under God” in response to fear of communism during WW2. Also – when first implemented, during the pledge people raised their right arm forward so the hand was level with their eyes (directed at the flag) however this was changed during WW2 because it resembled the Nazi salute. The procedure was changed to place the right hand over the heart.
Image credits: blueSnowfkake
Marie Antoinette saying “let them eat cake”
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The image of Roman gladiators fighting to the death. While there were many exhibition fights in the arenas where the goal was death, these were not gladiator contests. Prisoners, and the condemned, were thrown out to fight to the death, but not real gladiators.Training a gladiator was an expensive, and lengthy, investment and having them die constantly would be bad for business.
Image credits: Sorripto
Paul Revere did not run around Massachusetts shouting “The British are coming” because if he did everyone would look at him like he’d lost his mind. ALMOST EVERYONE IN THE COLONIES WAS BRITISH!
He actually said, “The Regulars are coming”
Image credits: Kind-Detective1774
A stegosaurus fighting a t rex. They lived millions of years apart . Stegosaurus 144 lived million years ago T rex 65 million years ago.
Insane difference. Still almost most every dinosaur related media places them together.
Image credits: NLSecondguess
Ned Kellys last words being Such is Life. That was made up by the reporter. So many Aussies have it tattooed or have big stickers on their 4x4s . But I guess Oh Well doesn’t have the same ring to it
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That everything in Australia is trying to kill you.
Everything here CAN kill you, but most likely won’t because killing you is an awful lot of effort and aussies are generally just too laid back to put in that much effort.
That George Washington had wooden teeth. He had false teeth, yes. But they were made of ivory. He never had wooden teeth.
Corsets were not typically tight laced. They were only tight laced by the highly fashionable women, and usually only for particular events or portraits. Corsets were designed to be comfortable. Women wore a cotton layer underneath the corset, so it didn’t rub against the skin. The corset was more like a bra, bit instead of using the shoulders to support it used the whole torso. Some people claim they are much more comfortable than modern bras. The intense proportions of the past were achieved with Corsets AND padding. Tight lacing was uncommon, but layers of petticoats or hoops or bum rolls or whatever else at the time was very common to give women the trendy body shape at the time.
Not sure if quite at the level you’re asking for, but it seems to be common knowledge that people didn’t fight back against Germans in WW2 and it’s because they didn’t have guns or were cowards.
They fought back a lot. The largest was likely https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Uprising. It just turns out that normal people fighting against a military tend to do poorly.
Image credits: hammertime84
Lemmings just run off a cliff to their deaths every year… Thanks for that one, Disney!
Image credits: Ok-Detective-1721
That people used swords and axes all the time.
Spears. Its spears, most of human history has been spears. Vikings used spears, samurai and knights used spears.
Hell, bayonets exist because people felt you always need a spear, even with a rifle in your hand.
William Blake said, “When the stars threw down their spears, / and watered heaven with their tears…”
Which is stupid. No one throws down their spear. Spears are great for poking people to death.
Image credits: Training-Fact-3887
Most anything to do with pilgrims, in america atleast
“Romans indulged in food so much they had a special place to go and vomit so they could eat more”
Maybe that has been dispelled by now but many still believe it.
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That ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy was initially titled “War, what is it good for”.
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That the Indians and the Pilgrims sat down at a big table at Thanksgiving and shared a big happy meal
Carrots are good for eye health, but won’t improve your eyesight. Nevertheless, people have been telling me all my life I should eat carrots to see better. The reason people think that is during WW2 the Royal Air Force had this new Radar system and they didn’t want the Germans to know about it, so they spread the rumor that the reason their pilots could find their planes so fast was that they ate carrots.
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The Boston Tea party didn’t have some grand celebration, a lot of the colonists were confused and it’s recorded as one of Boston’s most quiet nights
Image credits: _britishpeople76
That the library of Alexandria being burned down set humanity back hundreds or even thousands of years. At the time that it was finally destroyed in 48BC, most of its collection had already been copied and distributed to other libraries and universities or the important scrolls were relocated. It was no longer an important meeting place for great scholars either and it’s not entirely clear how much of it was even destroyed during the fire, as many believe that it was even partially rebuilt afterwards. It ultimately just fell out of relevance throughout the years and didn’t really take any of the information stored within with it.
Columbus was the first one who discovered America
How Spartans suited up for battle and fought against Xerxes. Contrary to what the movie 300 showed:
– They wore heavy bronze armor. Not battle thongs and boots
– Shields had a red Lambda painted on them
– Only high-level officers had red plumes on them. S**t’s expensive guys…not everyone can have them
– At Thermopylae, the movie shows only 300 Spartans. There were actually about 1000-1200 allies that helped and rotated in and out of battle.
– The battle was to stall the Persian advance to build up forces at Salamis
– They rarely ever broke formation, like never. They maintained the phalanx discipline. In the movie you see them breaking formation a lot, especially in that slow-mo scene where Leonidas kills like 10 in a row
– They were not ripped dudes. More disciplined and athletic, but not every single one was jacked.
– bronze armor, not brass armor
A lot of people think the whole ” women and children first” was a standard belief in the past but, as even I’ve learned recently, that happening during the Titanic and Birkenhead were anomalies. It’s not maritime law or common practice.
Almost everything about the medieval times. Our image of it is highly influenced by Hollywood.
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That the Spanish Armada was destroyed. They did lose 44 ships…. out of 137…..
And the British also didn’t beat them off with a small force. Their navy was actually significantly larger with 197 ships since they were joined by the Dutch Republic.
A decisive defeat? Yes. A small English force overcoming and obliterating the might of the entire Spanish and Portuguese navy? No.
Image credits: saudadeusurper
Vikings wore horned helmets. They didn’t, sorry.
Image credits: Elvish_Winner
For most “historical” things: “that’s just how people were then!”
Columbus was *known* and criticized for being excessively cruel.
There have been slavery abolitionists in every era.
Martin Luther never nailed his 95 theses to a church door. They were distributed in a series of letters.
Image credits: Shto_Delat
Ghandi wasn’t as good as he was made out to be.
That the ‘Founding Fathers’ is a meaningful, coherent group of timeless sages rather than a collection of politicians who acted for political reasons and disagreed with one another.
Some people who are technically founding fathers are obscure nobodies. Who the Hell cares about Button Gwinett?
There was great diversity of thought at the constitutional convention. James Madison considered the equal apportionment of the United States Senate to be a defeat. James Wilson has been relegated to obscurity, but was among the most learned and respected members of the convention who in exasperation asked, “Can we forget for whom we are forming a Government? Is it for man, or for the imaginary beings called States?.”
A great deal of popular conception of the ‘founding’ and those who did it is rooted in misconception or outright falsehoods.
One from America would be that the famous Johnny Appleseed, out of the goodness of his heart, walked across much of the USA (and even a bit into Canada) planting apple orchards to provide the locals with healthy apples.
In reality, he was an eccentric who had financial means and was a shrewd businessman. Yes, he did, in fact, walk around barefoot with a cooking pot on his head — that much is true.
Johnny Appleseed (known as John Chapman to his mother) was planting orchards in areas he believed people would soon move as westward expansion grew across the Midwestern US.
But the apples he planted were c**p; they were used to make cider and only to make cider. They were sour and not edible. People eventually moved to those lands, as he predicted, and he paid them to look after his orchards and harvest the apples he sold to breweries.
Image credits: Fresh-Hedgehog1895
That the past was some idyllic wholesome time. Any nostalgia really. I grew up in the 80s and loved it. I have happy memories of my youth. And like many would love to go back to those days. But I also am very cognizant of how memory is vastly unreliable and inaccurate. And that we romanticize and cleanse our nostalgic recollections. And in many many cases, fabricate memories that never even occurred.
The Trojan Horse wasn’t real. Historians are all pretty much unanimous on this.
Not fake, but the Boston Massacre was not “evil redcoats shooting peaceful American protesters”. That protest was anything but peaceful. It was basically a riot. They were throwing rocks and other objects at the redcoats, trying to goad them into something. The soldiers probably had orders not to shoot, but they were outnumbered and scared, so finally they fired.
They were arrested and tried. John Adams (the future 2nd president) defended them in court. And won!
Paul Revere did NOT ride from Boston to Lexington. He got as far as Cambridge. Israel Bissell, however, DID ride all the way to Lexington.
I haven’t seen this on here yet but….
No one in the town of Salem was actually “burnt at the stake” during the witch trials. Most of them were hung (muhahah) with one being crushed under rocks.
But with most of the kids in school now reading “the crucible”, I think this’ll start being more well known.
Image credits: Blood-Letting-Goose
Whatever the f**k is on the History Channel nowadays.
That Einstein said “ The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
Bill Clinton did in fact have sex with that woman.
The drought that preceded the 1930s Dustbowl was entirely to blame.
Actually, it was the fault of the farmers (struggling with the Great Depression) who were trying to increase their crop yields by replanting mature crops into the deeper soil, then planting younger crops on top. The soil turned to dust because there the crops sucked out all of the soil’s nutrients faster than it could be replenished, even with fertilizers.
Had there been normal rainfall, the soil would have lasted a one year, maybe two. The drought just made the Dustbowl happen sooner, but it was going to happen anyway because of poor farming practices.
This is a little niche, but it’s been a long held belief in the gaming community that one of Nintendo’s business ventures before getting into the video game market was “Love Hotels”, hourly hotels who’s main purpose is to knock boots in. This has been repeated as fact alongside their other historical ventures like playing cards, taxis, instant food, and toys.
But last year a Nintendo enthusiast did a dive into their historical financial records and found no definitive proof that they ever ran or were associated with love hotels in any way.
“Luke, I am your father” when really it’s “No. I am your father.”