Studying the past can change our perspective and explain why things happened the way they did.

Redditor sad-talking_head wanted to know “What are some historical lies that people generally believe?” and hundreds of people rolled up their sleeves, revealing the truth behind the biggest fibs that are widely accepted to this day.

Some of the responses we selected will remind you to look at things with a pinch of salt. So upvote your favorite ones and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below!




#1

#2

To learn more about common historical misconceptions, we reached out to Otto English, who recently published a book called Fake History: Ten Great Lies and How They Shaped the World. Otto English is the pen name of London-based author Andrew Scott. According to him, our textbooks are filled with little falsehoods.

“While academic history books tend (for the most part) nowadays to be very well researched, a lot of the ‘general histories’ that kids used to get brought up on (across the world) were littered with lies, bigger lies, and big fat whoppers,” he told Bored Panda. “Some of those untruths are now so deeply embedded in the collective consciousness of nations that they have gained a general currency and are almost impossible to shift.”

English explained that many people do believe “that when Columbus sailed to America in 1492, his sailors and indeed most Europeans thought the world was flat,” which is completely untrue. “The Greek polymath Eratosthenes had worked out that the world was a globe as far back as 200 BCE! Nobody was in fear of falling off the edge of a flat planet in the 15th century.”

#3

Ok so, we have known for YEARS that Greco-Roman statues and buildings were painted rather than them being just plain white marble, but we actively ignored it.

So when people found old Greco-Roman statues they did notice staining from paint on some statues but ignored it because white marble was so beautiful and by the renaissance was pretty much a symbol or Rome and thus, civilisation. Early art historians basically said “they were meant to be white because white bare marble was more beautiful” DESPITE EVIDENCE OF PAINT. When statues were found from Ancient Greece and Rome the remaining paint was washed off and even the Parthenon had obvious evidence of paint on it up until the 18th century. Even historical texts from the time talk about painted buildings and the discovery of Pompeii showed a Roman empire that was much more colourful than people wanted to admit.

So fast forward to the late 20th century when, after admitting amongst themselves that statues were likely painted announced to the world in a big way that yeah, the statues were painted. A Museum made a replica of Augustus of Prima Porta which they painted to the best evidence they had and the public hated it, with one art critic comparing it to a drag queen. Even when faced with the truth, people didn’t merely reject it, they went against it. It got so bad that White nationalists sent death threats to art historians for stating that Greco-Roman statues were pained bright colours because it went against their image of ancient European civilisation.

So yeah. Palaeontologists might get flack for feathered Dinosaurs but at least they don’t get death threats from White nationalists.

#4

So why did so many think otherwise? The journalist revealed that the explanation behind this could be “a very dodgy biography of Columbus written by US author Washington Irving in the early 19th century. He was forging a sort of national myth of early America with Columbus at its center and that’s one very big reason why in the past, fake history was made.”

“People are drawn to ‘good stories’ that shine a good light on them, and these fairy tales of our past are a sort of glue that binds nations together,” English said. The more important and relevant the event is, the more likely it is that people will use it for their benefit. “Unfortunately, a lot of those stories have been weaponized over time which makes them very dangerous indeed.”

While it’s impossible to tell exactly how much of our history is bent, one thing the author found while writing his book was that “a whole lot of stuff we take for granted is just plain wrong.”

#5

That the Tiananmen Square massacre never happened. I studied in China and my teachers there gave me this watered-down, oversimplified story of what they were told as youngsters. You can’t even find that section on Wikipedia when in China. Censorship is real.

#6

“NASA spent millions on developing a pen for space. The Russians used a pencil.” [suggesting NASA isn’t very intelligent]

They were perfectly correct to make a pen for space. A pencil would have released loads of tiny graphite particles during use, which would float around and interfere with electronics.

#7

That nobody would fund Christopher Columbus’ voyage because they thought the world was flat. In 1492 people had known that the Earth was round for quite some time, and we actually had a very accurate estimate of how big it was. In fact there’s some evidence that the reluctance to fund Columbus’ voyage was because that most assumed you couldn’t get to India by going west because, given the estimate of the Earth’s size, there was probably a landmass in the way.

That nobody would fund Christopher Columbus’ voyage because they thought the world was flat. In 1492 people had known that the Earth was round for quite some time, and we actually had a very accurate estimate of how big it was. In fact there’s some evidence that the reluctance to fund Columbus’ voyage was because that most assumed you couldn’t get to India by going west because, given the estimate of the Earth’s size, there was probably a landmass in the way.

#8

#9

That Cleopatra was some sort of otherworldly beauty who mesmerized every man she met. Ancient historians were more impressed/scandalized by her intelligence and ability to manipulate as easily as she breathed, and it wasn’t until centuries later than she began to develop this reputation as a sexy seductress. Cleopatra’s ancestors were big fans of incest (the sixteen roles of her great-great-grandparents were filled by just six individuals), and members of the Ptolemaic dynasty had a reputation for being…odd-looking. Cleopatra, reportedly, was above-average-looking compared to others in her family, but according to historians like Plutarch, the general consensus was that “her beauty… was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her.”

#10

Another generally accepted idea in the UK is “that ‘we’ got through the war because British people had a special ‘Blitz spirit’. Politicians propagate this wartime propaganda as if it’s an actual thing—and millions of people believe it.” After all, repeat a lie a thousand times and people will think that it’s true. The author explained that “exceptionalism” is the belief that your people and nation are better than everyone else’s, and, unfortunately, it is “very far from unique to the UK.”

Plenty of people believe in false facts and bogus theories without understanding they are incorrect. Otto English mentioned that if you “get the past wrong, you get your present wrong too”, so it is essential to find the truth behind such historical lies.

#11

#12

That corsets were uncomfortable for women and they moved organs and made women faint. Women wore corsets for hundreds of years, they were the precursor to the bra. They were for support, they were not solidly boned, they were actually quite flexible. All women wore them, high ladies of society, working women, old women, young women. They can actually be quite comfortable. The myths that most people know stem from very high ladies of fashion. Corsetry and tight lacing are two different things. Most women did not have 18in waists. Just like today, the women that were placed in ads are skinny and unattainable. People were not shaped differently.

#13

I still hear that a lot of people believe the pyramids were built by slaves. They were not, they were paid workers. They even had benefits like bonuses and health care and the more skilled workers were allowed days off. (In ancient Egypt they had four categories that all careers fell into which are: manual work, administration, priesthood, military service.)

“Many Britons see themselves as the heroes of the saga of history and thus disregard our terrible and critical role in slavery and Empire building,” he noted. “How nations see themselves in the present is inexorably linked to their collective view of their history.”

The author continued by telling us that history is the mountain stream that feeds modern politics: “Nationalism is a growing problem across the world—from Russia to the USA, from China to Britain. A lot of the thinking in those countries is propped up on fake history and an exaggerated sense of their past achievements.”

#14

That humanity happily left the struggles of hunting and gathering to gratefully pick up sedentary agriculture.

Historical evidence suggests early states had to constantly round up farmers who decided that agriculture sucked and fled to be seminomadic or nomadic pastoralists and hunters. Thus early war’s focus on taking slaves, which usually were resettled closer to state centers and integrated culturally. Agriculture was forced on most of humanity, not picked up as an improvement.

Plenty of evidence also suggests that agriculture was much less energy efficient and ensured poor nutrition. Nomadic barbarians were often larger and healthier than antiquity farmers. Some anthropologists even think sedentary agriculture was a last ditch survival tool taken up during a climatological cataclysm and not seen as some technological progression by early humans.

#15

That the Nazi medical experiments/Japanese Unit 731 discovered anything of worth for modern medicine.

The medical experiments conducted during the Holocaust weren’t out to test or prove any hypothesis other than “Germans are better”. Almost every experiment involved killing prisoners in some convoluted way such as freezing in a tub of ice water, shocked with electricity until they died, or some other form of execution. The time it took for the prisoner, an emaciated, physically weak person to die and simply stated that it took a healthy, fit, normal German man longer to freeze to death and thus Germans were physically superior. In the end, it was just plain old murder wearing a scientist’s labcoat.

#16

The Romans only briefly held Britain, they had occupied it longer than the USA has been a country.

#17

So if you start to feel worried and wonder whether you need to rethink your education, remember that you have a powerful fact-checking device right there in your pocket. “At your fingertips, you have more ability to check and check again than any of your ancestors,” English said.

He added that if you fall for misinformation and lies in 2022, you can only blame yourself. Don’t get played “like a pawn in the global chess game” and “use that device to fight back and make sure that what you are being told is true. There are reliable histories and fabulous fact-checking websites like Snopes out there all just one click away—so there’s no excuse to get conned.”

#18

That the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD and then it was the dark ages.

In reality, a peasant living through 476 probably wouldn’t have realized they were living through the end of one age and the start of another. The beginnings of feudalism had already started back during Diocletian’s reign, barbarians warbands and barbarian roman troops had been a fact of life for generations. The barbarian king who deposed Augustulus still considered himself a rightful representative of the Empire, etc. In some ways, the fall of Rome was sudden and traumatic (the population of Rome itself absolutely cratered in the 400’s, after all), but it was really more of a gradual, centuries long transition than a fall.

#19

That Napoleon was short, he was of average height by those times. French just used the different scale of measurement.

#20

Almost anything involving the Library of Alexandria.

No, the Library of Alexandria was not the sole repository of knowledge in the ancient world. There were many other great libraries such as the one in Pergamum as well as many, many other collections.

No, we did not lose countless important works that could only be found there. The Library worked on copying works, and any important writings could easily be found in other libraries around the world.

No, we wouldn’t be living in a utopia if it didn’t burn because it was the centre of learning. The Library was in serious decline for almost a century before it burned. When Ptolemy VIII banned all foreign scholars from Alexandria, they moved to other libraries, and as Ptolemaic rule became less stable and the position of head librarian became a political position the prestige of the Library faded.

No, Julius Caesar did not burn it down on purpose. While he was besieged in Alexandria his troops set fire to some ships on the docks and the fire accidentally spread. However, it is unsure of how much of the Library was truly destroyed, as we know the Mouseion survived, and at any rate we know much was rebuilt later, with Mark Antony supposedly gifting some 200,000 scrolls to the Library, and Claudius built an additional to it during his reign.

No, the Christian Crusaders did not burn down the Library because they hated knowledge. First of all they didn’t even attack Alexandria during the major Crusades (they would during a later minor one) besides they would be almost a 1000 years too late, as the last recorded evidence of the Library dates back to the middle of the 3rd Century, and any vestiges of the Library, which would have been a minor shell of its hight as Roman and Greek scholarship had long moved to other centres. At any rate what remained would have been destroyed during either Aurilian’s attack of the city in 272 CE or Diocletian’s in 297 CE.

“People believe in historical facts that are not true when those facts support their worldview,” history teacher Rebecca Brenner Graham, Ph.D. told Bored Panda. “For example, if they want to ignore America’s legacy of racism, they might insist that the Civil War was not about slavery, though the Articles of Secession leave no room for doubt that the Confederacy aimed primarily to protect slavery.”

According to her, the truth behind historical facts matters because history has real power. “For example, too many Americans today insist that enslaving an entire Black population was only a sideshow in early American history, though in reality, it was foundational,” she explained. Failing to observe “the horrors and traumas of American slavery causes too many people to overlook the legacies of slavery, like mass incarceration and police brutality today.”

#21

That knights in plate mail were big, slow, clunky bruisers. In reality plate armor is actually easier to move around in than what we think of in video games as medium armor like chainmail. Why? Because its fitted to the wearer and held on with a complex collection of straps and belts. This distributes the weight evenly across the body. In comparison to chain mail (or samurai o-yoroi which often comes up when this is mentioned), this is far more comfortable as the others put weight straight on the arms and shoulders.

In a similar vein, padded or cloth armor is often portrayed in games as the lowest form of protection but a properly made gamberson of such is actually surprisingly good protection. The layers of tough textile, often stitched so the weave is going in different directions each layer, actually can really stagger a slashing blow.

#22

#23

If you have any doubts, Graham advised you to stick to the primary sources. “Archival documents, letters, political cartoons, speeches, and many more sources serve as evidence. As secondary sources interpret the past based on primary sources, they should cite them.” As readers, we need to check how the author supports their points.

“At the same time, listen to people from marginalized communities about their family histories. Oral traditions can help to fill holes in the source base,” she concluded.

#24

#25

The myth that Titanic was in any way badly designed, badly built, or badly operated – by the standards of the time. In fact there are so many crazy inaccuracies surrounding Titanic that it’s hard to list them all here… But I’ll give it a go!

She was an incredibly seaworthy ship – probably moreso than any passenger ship around today. The iceberg damage stretched almost a third of the way down her side, and she still stayed afloat for more than two hours!

In that time, all but two of her lifeboats were launched – there wasn’t time to launch any more. She could have had a hundred more lifeboats on board, but that wouldn’t have helped without vastly more crew to operate them.

Titanic’s passengers genuinely did believe that she was practically unsinkable. When the time came to begin loading the lifeboats, many thought they would be safer staying on Titanic. There wasn’t time for the crew to wait around convincing more people to get in, so when a lifeboat was ready, if there was no-one else waiting to get in, it had to go. This is why so many of Titanic’s lifeboats left only half-full – it’s not just because the crew were worried about over-filling them.

Titanic wasn’t travelling too fast for the conditions – by the standards of practice around at the time. Further precautions were put into practice after the incident, but no-one on board can be blamed for doing what anyone on any ship would have done the same.

Titanic was by no means a fast ship, nor was she ever intended to be. The White Star Line (Titanic’s owners) were in competition with one other big shipping line, Cunard. Cunard’s liners (Mauretania, Lusitania and later Aquatania) were the fastest in the business. To combat this, instead of fighting for speed, White Star decided to try to make their liners the most luxurious in the world. Olympic and Titanic were famed for their splendour and comfort – passengers said that it was easy to forget that you were at sea, as there were very few vibrations from the engines, and the ships remained stable even in fairly rough seas. By comparison, Cunard’s liners were very fast, but their quadruple-screw configuration made vibration more apparent. It’s a myth that Titanic was ever trying to make record-breaking speed across the Atlantic.

She wasn’t built using sub-standard materials. This rumour goes around a lot these days because of an article that was written some time ago; what the article is supposed to mean is that there is much better quality steel available today. This was not the case in 1909. Additionally, Titanic’s builders were paid on a fee plus materials basis – they were given a set fee to construct the ship, plus the cost of all materials used. There was no incentive to use anything but the best steel they could get their hands on. The shipyard had an excellent reputation and would not risk tainting it by using bad steel, which could easily be noticed on inspection anyway.

Titanic and her two sister ships Olympic and Britannic were also surprisingly manoeuvrable for their size – much moreso than was expected. Some will tell you that Titanic’s rudder was too small, but this simply isn’t true. In fact, Olympic’s wartime captain marvelled at her manoeuvrability, and was even able to throw her into a sudden turn, ramming (and sinking) a German U-boat. Olympic was the first of only two merchant vessels throughout the First World War recorded to have sunk an enemy vessel.

While it’s true that the lookouts’ binoculars were misplaced (or rather, locked away in a cabinet that no-one on board had the key to open), this made no difference to Titanic’s fate. The images of sea captains and pirates scanning the horizon through telescopes, while common in films, has virtually no stead in reality. Binoculars and telescopes narrow your field of vision down to a fine point, making it harder to spot anything. Lookouts on real ships will use their eyes alone to search for objects of interest, and once they’ve been spotted, will u

#26

People believe, that the ex soviet union nations liked the soviet union and wanted to be annexed. the soviets treated the ex soviet countries badly. deportings every day. freedom of speech doesnt exist. you couldnt even show your countrys original flag.

#27

Hitler didn’t become a monster because he was kicked out of art school.

He was a neckbeard bouncing around Vienna filling his head with all sorts of bulls**t “philosophy” and well on his way to becoming a monster when someone suggested that he look into an art and architecture program at some school. He made a half-a**ed application which was denied and he continued to sell little paintings to get by while he read all his crazy books. He trumped up the kicked out of art school story in Mein Kampf.

#28

#29

That Anne Boleyn had six fingers. She would have never been a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, or even a mistress to Henry if she did, as it would be considered an imperfection. Most of it was made up after she was executed.

#30