People Name 52 Common Historical Misconceptions That Drive Them Up The Wall Every Time They Hear Them


A smart man once said, "What is history but a fable agreed upon?" The idea is that history reflects the ideals and beliefs of the one who's teaching it and not necessarily what happened. Repeat a lie a thousand times and someone might actually start believing it.


Last week, Redditor u/throwaway000689 decided to find out which of these myths are the most popular and asked other platform users: "History buffs, what is a commonly held misconception that drives you up the wall every time you hear it?" People immediately started submitting their answers and provided valuable insights into our collective ignorance.



#1

Only around 40% of colonists supported the American Revolution. Another 40% was indifferent, and about 20% sided with the British. Most Americans think that it was the vast majority who wanted Independence.

Image credits: placeholderNull


#2

People didn't die at 30-40. The high infant mortality rate skews the average. If you could survive into your teen years you had a pretty good chance of living into your senior years. Obviously there are a lot of factors to consider(eg class, gender, occupation, where you lived, etc.)

Image credits: crazynekosama


#3

That Napoleon was short. Dude was 5"6'. Making him downright average for the European standard at the time. A brief investigation shows this was a rumor that his enemies spread in order to deminish his reputation and how serious his subjects took him. Funny error, but still an error

Image credits: Cathy-the-Grand


#4

The myth about the Vomitorium


The story goes that Roman nobility would go there to eat so much till they puked and would then continue eating.


It was just the name for the Colosseum entrance.

Image credits: Th3_Accountant


#5

That if you were a Peasant you could marry who ever you wanted for love and if you were a noble, royal or the like you could only marry for power During the Medieval period.


Higher class people could and did (though it wasn't common) marry for love and most of the time Peasant marriages were arranged for the same reason as noble ones were, to link two families together, you very rarely got to marry who you liked it was usually who your parents liked.


Also Prima nocta has, as far as I know was never actually being recorded as a thing.

Image credits: Nugo520


#6

Knights weren't exactly chivalrous. It was a concept designed to make them appear magnanimous, and to justify their brutality among the common folk of their enemies when they weren't at war.


Knights could even pay their respective kings to chicken out of fighting in a war if they were summoned to do so, which many did to keep on pillaging hovels full of bumpkins because it was easy sport.


In short, a lot of Knights were rich, murderous bullies with too much free time on their hands.

Image credits: Imfinejusthomeless


#7

Marie Antoinette's famous "let them eat cake" or "let them eat brioche". She literally never said it. She was 9 at the time and it was entirely made up.

Image credits: oamnoj


#8

That AD means after death.

Image credits: Evincer1968


#9

That Rosa Parks was just some nice old lady who wouldn't give up a bus seat.


She was a political activist who meticulously planned that specific instance of civil protest.

Image credits: Bignasty197


#10

That people from the past were just less intelligent than modern people. Fact is, humans from even 15,000 years ago were just as intelligent as modern humans (intelligence being the ability to learn and apply knowledge). They just had different things to worry about and had not discovered everything that we know today.


The whole of modern civilization is built on discovers made thousands or tens of thousands of years ago. Our ancestors, starting with nothing but stone tools and basic survival skills, created agriculture, writing, mathematics, standardized language, the wheel, metallurgy, ship building, architecture, trade routes spanning all of afro-eurasia, currency, banking, cross breeding of animals and plants to create better strains, the list goes on.


If I plucked a human baby from thousands of years ago, properly immunized it to modern diseases, and raised it as any other child today, you would be unable to tell the difference between them or any other child.


Fact is the only difference between us and our ancient ancestors is the discoveries, philosophies, technology and effort performed, created and understood by the hundreds of generations between us.


Our ancient ancestors were simply smart in different ways because we only really learn what we have to. Ancient Polynesians literally memorized the night sky for navigating the innumerable islands of the Indo-Pacific and Oceania, Norse people's built ships capable of sailing from Europe to America using only hand tools, wood, linen, nails and rope. Ancient east Asian cultures built massive temples out of wood using only precisely crafted wood joints and no nails. Rome built, well, Rome, with hand tools and hand calculated math. Same can be said of the wonders of Egypt, India and mesopotamia.


Then there is Göbekli Tepe, an amazing structure of precisely placed monoliths, engraved walls and cobblestone paths built nearly 12,000 years ago. Which is nearly 6000 years prior to our earliest records of advanced civilizations.


We stand on the backs of thousands of years of knowledge painstakingly collected and handed down for millennia to us who have taken it and created wonders our ancestors would attribute to gods.


Yet we ignore the gargantuan effort that our long dead kin have contributed to our success and even view them with distain. Calling them savages, ignorant and fools. Truly we are the ungrateful child looking down on the gracious teacher that our ancestors were.


We are the summation of all of humanity, just another step in a long history of advancement, not a separate holy being above it or separate from it.

Image credits: Ralife55


#11

“Medieval peasant food was bland”


People seem to think peasants only ate bread and potatoes with no seasoning. In reality, while salt was indeed a luxury they often couldn’t afford, they had access to plenty of herbs to flavor their food. They also had access to things like fish and other meats, so they weren’t just eating bread, though it was an important staple of their diet.


If you’re interested in how a bunch of civilizations ate throughout history, check out Tasting History on YouTube. It’s a great source of historical information and entertainment.

Image credits: Balrog229


#12

"Even Einstein was bad at math"


No, his grades were disclosed multiple times and showed very high marks in math.

Image credits: Zero_Talents


#13

Cowboys were not cool white guys with endless independence!!! Cowboys were in fact largely black, Mexican, and Native American men who were in need of money and were seen on the low end of social hierarchy. Originally they used whips and dogs to control their herd. Eventually the lazo became the lasso, chaparajos became chaps, and the sombrero turned into the ten gallon cowboy hat we know today. Herding cattle was hard work and was beneath “respectable white folk”. Cowboys worked in groups of 12 or so to herd thousands of cattle over hundreds of miles, and they too had a leader called the trail boss. Cowboys were in fact not rugged icons of independence, but took orders like everyone else and made wages lower than skilled factory pay. Cowboys could also come as young as 12 years old.

Image credits: honeeyghost


#14

That witches could only be women. There were plenty of male ‘witches’ over hundreds of years. In fact there are lot of misconceptions about witchcraft in general

Image credits: mickeyajp5


#15

Louis-Michel le Peletier cast the single vote that sentenced Louis XVI


Actually the vote was a pretty clear majority in favor of execution

Image credits: Poorly-Drawn-Beagle


#16

That corsets were uncomfortable and prevented free movement and breathing, so were a way of physically subjugating women.


Firstly, this is often asserted by people who don't know the difference between bodies, stays and corsets, proving that they're waaaaay out of their lane.


It's pretty obvious even just from contemporary art that women were perfectly capable of getting through physical labour including farm work in that kind of supportive garment whether stiffened with interfacing/stitching or "boning" (not necessarily made of bone). And if you've ever worn one, you'll know how great they are for supporting your back and core.


They're much more comfortable than bras, in my opinion.


Oh and they didn't leave red marks all over your skin because unlike a bra you'd never have worn one against your skin (too difficult to wash) but over a shift/chemise/combination garment of some kind. Try putting your bra OVER a tank top or similar, and note (1) no loss of support, (2) much kinder to the skin, and (3) bra needs much less frequent washing.

Image credits: Loose_Acanthaceae20


#17

That the further back in time you go the more sexually suppressed everything was or the more racist everyone was or the more misogynistic everyone was - basically any perception that the entirety of history can be charted as a steady progression. All of these things fluctuate. Women in Medieval Europe had more rights than women in 18th century Europe, our concept of racial superiority based on skin color would have come off as insane in many other eras, and I want to tear my hair out every time I hear someone claiming that it would have been scandalous to show an ankle in 19th century Europe. Hell, even in living memory none of these claims are accurate. The 70's were more sexually liberal than the 80's, and you would have to be dumber than a bag of sh*t to not see how much we're backsliding on human rights right now, especially women's rights - and yet people still overwhelmingly cling to the delusion that we're constantly marching ever and ever forward on all of these issues, each day more progressive than the last. It's just not true.

#18

During Paul Revere's Midnight Ride he did not shout "the British are coming!" The mission depended on secrecy so shouting loudly the "British are coming" kinda defeats the whole purpose.


According to several sources (e.g., eyewitness accounts) his warning was likely "the Regulars are coming out" or some variation of that and probably not loud enough to wake up a village (as I've seen in some media renditions).

Image credits: Animalion


#19

The belief that Anastasia did not die with the rest of her family

Image credits: Aware_Masterpiece_23


#20

I have had way too many of my university students tell me that Lincoln owned slaves.

Image credits: FeelFreeToIgnoreThis


#21

That Neanderthals were monosyllabic brutes. There's no evidence of that whatsoever. Their brains were bigger than ours and casts of the inside of their skulls show that they had all the same structures our brains had. Their tool making was comparable to any Homo sapiens' took making (at least before the Great Leap Forward) and they lived in communities just like we did.


We also regularly mated with them and had kids, which I really don't think we would if they were little more than quasi-gorillas.

Image credits: PhillipLlerenas


#22

That the Boston Tea Party was some patriotic protest against taxes. That is totally wrong.


Rather, it was a protest by the local tea smugglers that there was no more tea duty -- it destroyed their smuggling business.

Image credits: sneeeki


#23

Classics buff. It's Pandora's jar, not Pandora's box.

Image credits: bandanasarebest


#24

The fact that Shah Jahan cut off hands of his workers after they completed Taj Mahal.


There's literally no evidence except for tell tales.


Many monuments were built after Taj Mahal under reign of Shah Jahan. Just think, who would work for you knowing that they're going to lose their hands if they did a good job.

Image credits: veniato


#25

That Jewish people and other victims of the Holocaust went willingly to their death and no one fought back. While it’s true that a lot of victims did not believe the genocide was occurring and they were simply being relocated (Nazis/Hitler were very persuasive and no one could imagine a genocide), plenty fought back. There were resistance groups all over the place as well as people fighting from their homes when they were being taken for deportation. Guns were used, makeshift bombs, stolen bombs, etc. Not everyone was going to go to the concentration camps/death camps/detention centres without a fight.


Been studying the Holocaust since 2008.

#26

Oh, so many.


Native Americans were just as capable of ecological destruction as any other humans. My favorite example of this was from my archeology professor who does excavations of Native American sites in Baja. In excavating a midden (trash heap) he found at the bottom were bones from the local land mammals, that got smaller and smaller as the locals over-hunted. Then was a level of fish and sea mammals -- again, starting with bone from large fish and mammals and getting smaller and smaller until they practically disappeared from over hunting and over fishing. Then on the top were the shellfish -- and again, the same pattern. Until apparently there was nothing left at this site to eat, and the Natives moved on.


Native peoples used every bit of the animal when they had to, when said animals were tough to kill. North America didn't have horses between last ice age and Columbus. In fact, the favorite method for killing bison was to chase a herd off a cliff. And we know where this was done because the Natives left a whole lotta bones in the kill zone. Which we obviously couldn't find if they really used every part of the animal.


Native Americans understood property rights. Various systems between tribes, from quasi-socialist bands of multiple families where all produce was held in common (but very explicitly belonged to the band and would be defended against outsiders), to land assigned to different families for use and periodically reapportioned, to land that was held by families and inheritable. My theory is that this myth was first started by colonists to justify stealing the land and then perpetuated as Rousseauian "look at how much better the primitives are!" nonsense.

#27

It’s petty, but I hate it when people say that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12/14/16. This may have been true in the 1950s, but clothes sizes have changed A LOT since then. Reports of Marilyn’s measurements by her costumers noted that she was 5 ft. 5.5 inches tall; 35 inch bust; 22 inch waist; and 35 inch hips and 118 pounds. Of course her weight fluctuated, but it is simply dishonest to think that in modern times, she would have been considered “plus size.”


In today’s sizing, depending on where she’d shop at, she would be a size 00-4.

Image credits: dbsx77


#28

That Vikings were an ethnicity.

Image credits: OblongConsistency


#29

That white people were the only ones that traded in slavery. Forgetting about north and east africa where natives sold others mostly to the middle east. White women brought high prices and were often shipped great distances. Women in russia were also traded to the middle east.

#30

Nothing drives me up the wall when it comes to History. I love to inform people and get them asking questions. History has been taught in such a dry manner and now that we have internet, we are able to take pages worth of text and condense it into entertaining information instead of a single paragraph in a book that covers whole decades.


My "favorite" common misconception is that the Nazi Army was the most advanced, fully mechanized fighting force in the world. The truth is a handful of people were put in charge of portraying that image and they were so good at their job that this image still holds up today.


The Axis was never, ever going to win. The Allies just had their heads in the sand and didn't stop Hitler when they could, and they had many chances. If WW2 looked like the end report of a Chess game, it would look a little like this:


Allies - 9,500 Mistakes 500 Blunders, 1,000 Missed Wins.


Axis - 5,000 Mistakes, 200 Blunders, 5 Missed Wins.

Image credits: Ramen_Beef_Baby


#31

Germany invaded Russia on June 22, not “in the winter” as people say.

Image credits: Thirty_Helens_Agree


#32

I've mentioned this before but the Earth was mathematically proven to be spherical by the Ancient Greeks in the 3rd Century BC. Literate people, at very least, wouldn't have believed the Earth to be flat in the Medieval era.


Furthermore, the Dark Ages weren't the Dark Ages because the Church allegedly suppressed science that they disagreed with. Many important discoveries were sponsored by the Church, and scientists/clergy were not mutually exclusive.

#33

People are usually dead wrong about when the Roman Empire fell. Because of political, religious, and cultural reasons - we often think of the Roman Empire falling in the end of the 4th century. Except, it didn't. That was when the Rome fell, but by that time Constantinople had become the capital of the empire and that political lineage lasted until 1453.


There are a lot 'but they spoke Greek', and 'they weren't...whatever', normally by people who just can't let go of what they were taught in high school. Yes, the ERE became Greek in language and culture, and yes they were much more Asian than the western empire. None of that changes the fact that the political line of the empire was unbroken through the middle ages.

Image credits: Leucippus1


#34

Sweden is a neutral country. Since we declared neutrality we fought in the Finnish civil war, the winter war, technically ww2, over 5 different un campaigns including the Congo crisis and now the wars in the Middle East.

#35

Deep breath.


I've been studying the Titanic disaster for over three decades. Titanic comes up on reddit a lot, which I love because how cool that my nerdy hobby interests so many people, but the amount of misconceptions is large. This is no ones fault, nor is it ignorance, Titanic had the (un)lucky fortune to become a symbol very quickly, so very often what we think of as history is really folklore. That being said, here are the ones I see often.


There is enough evidence, good evidence, where we can say that William Murdoch most likely did shoot himself. The scene James Cameron shot is a direct recreation of witness testimony- multiple witnesses actually. There is a huge amount of first hand and second hand evidence that this happened. Why it's thought to be a myth and why James Cameron had to apologize is actually another interesting part of the story but for the main question- in all my research, I've yet to see a fact based reason why we should think Will Murdoch was not a victim of suicide.


2)On the same note- yes Charles Lightoller lowered early boats without filling them- as he should have. It wasn't incompetence or ignorance, there were many reasons why this was the best course of action and it was practiced throughout the night. To add- Titanic's crew weren't incompetent or unprepared, they were, quite literally, the best of the best.


3)There were lifeboat drills. Multiple. Every night at 6pm.


4)The 4th funnel wasn't fake- it just served a slightly different purpose than the first three.


5) Titanic. was. not. speeding.


6) Boats were not filled by class.


7)Third Class was not locked below- but some of them thought they were. This is actually pretty interesting in that every view of this situation is the correct one. To refer to Cameron again- his portrayal of this is correct- depending on who you ask. It was miscommunication, not classism.


9) Coal fire damage- not a thing and the "evidence" is just ... wrong.


10) The switch theory not only makes no sense, it is literally impossible.


11) Titanic wasn't a cruise ship. She was an ocean liner :)

Image credits: YourlocalTitanicguy


#36

WW1 trench combat was nothing like how most people think about it. The common misconception is that people stared at each other with machine guns until some idiot general forced his soldiers to run into machine gun fire and they all got brutally mowed down while the enemy cracked open a beer.


The reality is much, much more complex. Artillery did an excellent job of suppressing machine guns and clearing barbed wire, forcing defending troops to hunker in deep shelters while the attacking infantry were free to advance. As a result, the attackers generally had a pretty substantial advantage in the war, and casualty ratios support this- across the war, attackers almost always had equal or lower casualties than defenders.


What forced the stalemate was not that it was impossible to attack, but rather that it was impossible to defend against counterattacks.


Once you've taken the enemy's first line of trenches(and they have much more than one line), because of your own artillery, it is now almost impossible to reinforce and consolidate your hard-earned territory. Your own artillery has blown apart the terrain between the trenches enough that it's very, very difficult to get supplies or men across, and it generally doesn't have the range to suppress enemy counterattacks further back(because if it did, then it'd be open to counterbattery fire, which would result in you losing all your artillery).


Ad a result, you now have to defend against a counterattack that does have artillery and the attacker's advantage, and you don't have any defender's advantage because you haven't

#37

That carrots magically make your eyesight better. I still hear people say this to this day. Carrots are good for you, but not any better for your eyes than any other vegetable.


In World War 2 when the Nazis were bombing Great Britain, they couldn't figure out how the Brits were able to shoot their planes down at night. British propaganda stated that their gunners and pilots ate a lot of carrots to improve their eyesight.


In actuality they were covering up the fact that they'd invented RADAR and didn't want the Jerrys to know about it.

#38

There is no record of Queen Victoria ever saying "We are not amused".


And Roman gladiator fights usually weren't just pointless, bloody, fights to the death for scumbag convicts. The gladiators themselves were very highly trained celebrities who were very well looked after. It was entertainment done for show, much like WWE or similar today.

Image credits: _spookyvision_


#39

French revolution storming of the Bastille freeing hundreds of political prisoners.


When in actual fact there were only 7 prisoners. (4 cheques forgers, a lunatic, a sexual deviant and a man who tried to assassinate King Louis XV 30 years ago).

#40

Oh God, where to begin... That the Europeans in the Middle Ages didn't bathe, that the US was founded as a Christian nation (Treaty of Tripoli, anyone?), the pyramids were built by slaves, that ye olde life expectancy was abysmally short (only of you're one of those darn infants bringing the average down...).

#41

The United States spent the majority of its time and resources in WWII fighting the Nazi’s to free the Jews.


The majority of US fighting was in the Pacific theatre against Japan, because they bombed the sh*t out of us. We weren’t even going to join the war at first, only assist Britain.

#42

That bushido is some ancient, archaic code of honor held by samurai that made them totally infallible and above the “dishonorable” acts that shinobi would commit.

#43

That WV was part of the Confederacy.


Spoilers: It wasn't. It was part of the North.

#44

"Italy switched side in ww2" NO IT DIDN'T the country was divided by a civil war one side loyal to the axis and the other to the allies

#45

WW1 happened because the driver took the wrong turn. It did happened, but it was a trigger that turns political heat into actual war, not a cause.

#46

There is no evidence that Franklin ever said that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. But it is a cool quote so I will continue to use it.

#47

That the Library of Alexandria was callously destroyed in a big, dramatic event in which all of the ancient world’s knowledge was lost forever.


Like most things, the Library of Alexandria had its rise, its peak, and its ultimate decline, with highs and lows in between. It also certainly was not the only prestigious library in the world at the time, not to mention personal collections kept by the wealthy. To act as if all of the world’s knowledge was recorded one time only and then stockpiled in one place is ludicrous.

#48

That people's surnames were changed at Ellis Island.


They were not

#49

People love to portray Napoleon with a French accent. Napoleon actually had an Italian accent.

#50

No, the Egyptians did not worship cats. They had a couple gods who resembled cats, but every one of their gods was associated with and often took the form of some sort of animal. They didn't worship the animals, themselves.

#51

The burning of the Library of Alexandria set humanity back several centuries.


Most of the Library's texts had already been copied and/or moved to other libraries by the time it was burned.

#52

Jim Jones didn't give the faithful coolaid to drink. It was flavoraid.