Historical Myths Everyone Believes That Are Not True

Photo Credit: MidJourney

In the realm of history, the line between fact and fiction often blurs, giving rise to numerous misconceptions that are widely accepted as truth. Among these, there exist many historical myths everyone believes, which have been passed down through generations, often gaining more credibility with each retelling. These myths range from the seemingly trivial to those that have significantly shaped our understanding of the past. They serve as a testament to the power of storytelling and its ability to influence our perception of historical events.

1. The Great Wall of China and Space

The Great Wall of China and Inner Mongolia are featured in this image. The wall isn’t visible from the moon, and is difficult or impossible to see from Earth orbit without the high-powered lenses used for this photo. (Photo Credit: Leroy Chiao / NASA)

The claim that The Great Wall of China is visible from space has been perpetuated through textbooks, media, and even statements by reputable figures. However, astronauts and space agencies have clarified that this is not the case.

The Great Wall, despite its impressive length and historical significance, blends into the natural landscape when viewed from the orbit. Its visibility is further diminished by atmospheric conditions and the fact that it is made of materials similar in color to its surroundings.

2. Napoleon’s Height Misconception

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries. (Photo Credit: Jacques-Louis David / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Napoleon was reported to be 5 feet 2 inches tall according to French units of measure, but this translates to about 5 feet 7 inches in British Imperial units, which is the system most English-speaking countries use today.

This misunderstanding, combined with British propaganda aimed at diminishing his stature both literally and figuratively, has contributed to the enduring myth of his shortness. In reality, Napoleon’s height was quite ordinary among his contemporaries, debunking the notion that his physical stature was anything out of the ordinary.

3. The Salem Witch Trials and Burning at the Stake

Witchcraft at Salem Village. The central figure in this 1876 illustration of the courtroom is usually identified as Mary Walcott. (Photo Credit: William A. Crafts / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The myth of burning at the stake is deeply ingrained in our collective memory, perhaps because it’s a common method of execution for accused witches in European history. Yet, in the context of Salem, it’s crucial to set the record straight.

Only one of the accused, Giles Corey, met a fate different from hanging—he was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to enter a plea. This correction serves as a reminder of the importance of scrutinizing the stories handed down through generations, ensuring our historical understanding is based on facts rather than sensationalized myths.

4. Vikings and Horned Helmets

Depiction of Vikings sailing a longship from c. 1100. (Photo Credit: Abbey of Saint-Aubin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The portrayal of Vikings wearing horned helmets has been so vividly etched into our collective imagination through various media and literature that it’s almost impossible to picture these Norse explorers without their iconic headgear.

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However, the truth navigates far from this commonly accepted image. Historical evidence, including artifacts and accounts from the Viking Age, suggests that these fierce warriors did not wear horned helmets in battle or daily life.

5. Columbus Discovering America

Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus. (Photo Credit: Sebastiano del Piombo / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

When discussing the discovery of the Americas, a common narrative that surfaces is the idea that Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in the New World. This tale has been taught in schools and has permeated popular culture, leading many to accept it as fact.

However, historical evidence suggests that Norse explorers, led by Leif Erikson, reached North America around the year 1000, nearly five centuries before Columbus’s voyage in 1492.

6. Marie Antoinette’s “Let Them Eat Cake”

Marie Antoinette, 1775. (Photo Credit: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The tale of Marie Antoinette‘s infamous phrase, “Let them eat cake,” stands out as a particularly stubborn piece of folklore. This anecdote has been used time and again to illustrate the supposed callousness and detachment of the French aristocracy on the eve of the French Revolution. However, historians have found no evidence that the French queen ever uttered these words.

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In fact, the first account of this phrase appears in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Confessions,” written when Marie Antoinette was just a child and long before the financial crisis that precipitated the revolution. This suggests that the attribution is, at best, anachronistic and, at worst, a complete fabrication.

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