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Times Your History Teacher Lied to You in School

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1. The Romans Stole All of Their Gods From the Greeks

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It is true that there were a few aspects of Roman mythology that were … borrowed … from Greek mythology. However, many aspects of Roman mythology predate any influence from the Greeks. In many cases, the Etruscan culture heavily inspired the Roman deities. There also were several original Roman deities, including Janus, Lares, and Orcus.

 

2. Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned

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This is one of history’s biggest myths. According to the legend, Rome’s Emperor played a fiddle while a great fire ravaged the city. While it is a true that Nero might have been an ineffective leader during times of crisis, this entire story is false. First, the fiddle was not be invented until the Dark Ages. Second — and this is big — Nero wasn’t even in Rome when it burned. He was in the city of Antium at the time, which is located several miles away.

 

3. Viking Helmets Had Horns

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Those Viking-replica headpieces with horns are not historically accurate — at all. The Vikings did not have helmets with horns in them. It was a myth that perpetuated centuries after the Vikings existed. The idea behind the myth was to make the Vikings appear to be more vicious.

 

4. Rats Caused the Black Death

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It turns out the rats were not to blame for the Black Death, no matter what this etching from the time period suggests. Recent studies have exonerated rats as the main culprit behind this pandemic. Rats were rare in Northern European rural areas during this time.

Researchers are still trying to determine the real cause of the Great Plague, and while there are numerous theories, there is no conclusive reason. But one thing is for sure — it wasn’t the rats.

 

5. Martin Luther Nailed His 95 Theses to a Church Door

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One of the most famous moments of the Protestant Reformation is a lie. The common notion is that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door, but this is not historically accurate.

Luther never said he did this, and there is no evidence to suggest it happened. It is simply a myth. In reality, he sent his 95 Theses to an archbishop in a letter.

 

6. King Henry VIII Had Eight Wives

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Yes, King Henry VIII married a lot of women — but he didn’t marry eight. In reality, he married six women. And, contrary to popular belief, he didn’t kill all of them. He divorced two of them, beheaded two others, another one died due to birth complications, and the final one survived him.

 

7. Pocahontas Fell in Love With John Smith

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Sorry to all you fans of the 1995 Disney movie, but this romance is completely fake.

First, there was a major age difference between them. John Smith was 27 and Pocahontas was about 12 — so a romance would be kinda creepy. Some historians assert that they were friends, but that’s about it.

 

8. The Declaration of Independence Was Signed on July 4, 1776

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It turns out that we’ve been celebrating Independence Day on the wrong date. While it is true that delegates of the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 — they didn’t sign it on that date. Most of them signed it several weeks later on Aug. 2. Happy 2nd of August? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

 

9. George Washington Had Wooden Teeth

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This wooden teeth story about America’s first president is completely false. While it is true that Washington suffered from major dental problems that resulted in the loss of his real teeth, he never sported wooden replacements. In all likelihood, Washington used teeth made out of ivory, gold, and even some teeth from animals and other humans. Wooden teeth just would’ve been too painful.

 

10. Napoleon Was Short

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A long-standing myth about Napoleon Bonaparte would have us believe that the French Emperor was short. In reality, Bonaparte was nearly 5 feet 7 inches tall, which was an average height for his time.

Why the mixup? His autopsy listed him as 5 feet 2 inches tall and the myth began. Years later, Napoleon was depicted as short in paintings and other works of art. We might want to consider renaming the whole “Napoleon complex.”

 

 

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11. The Underground Railroad Had Tunnels

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The Underground Railroad helped thousands of slaves escape into free states and Canada during the 19th century, but there are many misconceptions about the escape routes. Specifically, there is a myth that abolitionists helped slaves escape through a network of tunnels and secret rooms. That is wrong.

In reality, most slaves ran out of towns in the middle of night when it was dark outside.

 

12. The Stainless Banner Was the Confederate Flag

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Whenever you see people fly the “Confederate” flag (shown on the left) as they proclaim their love for the Confederacy, you might want to tell them they have the wrong flag

The original — Confederate Flag is actually the one of the right. It is called the “Stars and Bars” flag, and it was adopted in 1861. There also were numerous designs of the flag during the Civil War.

The flag on the left, which today is colloquially referred to as the Confederate flag was actually the Second Confederate Navy Jack and the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia.

 

13. George Washington Carver Invented Peanut Butter

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Botanist George Washington Carver invented many products — but not peanut butter. You can trace the creation of peanut butter back to the Aztecs in the 15th century. Also, a Canadian pharmacist nabbed the patent for peanut butter 12 years before Carver began his research.

That said, Carver was an instrumental inventor and a symbol of excellence for African Americans.

 

14. Soldiers Lived in World War I Trenches for Years

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Life in the trenches during World War I became unbearable for soldiers. The conditions were horrible and far from pleasant. There is a myth that soldiers spent years living in those trenches during the war, which lasted from 1914 to 1918. Nope.

In reality, the troops spent up to 10 days at a time in the trenches — and they spent only a handful of days on the front lines. So no, soldiers didn’t spend as much time in those trenches as your history teacher told you.

 

15. Hitler Won by One Vote

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It sure sounds poetic that Adolf Hitler received his political power thanks to a single vote, but that’s a myth. The truth is that Hitler received his political support by a much wider margin. Hitler won control of the Nazi Party during the early 1920s with more than enough votes — 553 to 1. That’s practically unanimous support from the Nazi Party. While every vote does count, in the case of Hitler, the opposite of the myth was true.

 

16. The Emancipation Proclamation Freed All Slaves

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Sorry folks, not to disparage the late Abraham Lincoln, but he wasn’t quite the Great Emancipator history books would have you believe. First, his sole interest was in saving the Union, not the morality of slavery.

In reality, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to areas still under Confederate control. It was actually the 13th Amendment, ratified in December 1865, that finally ended slavery — well, legally.

 

17. Chinese Women Bound Their Feet to Attract Men

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While your history teacher may have taught you that Chinese foot-binding was an elite practice meant to attract a mate, that’s not entirely true. New research reveals that the practice was widespread throughout all classes, beginning at a very young age. Reasons included making young girls’ feet immobile so that they would stay close to home and work, as well as trying to achieve a rather impossible — and definitely painful — standard of beauty.

 

18. An Iceberg Was Responsible for Sinking the RMS Titanic

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Leo, Kate, and your history teacher might have lied to you. While it was originally thought that the RMS Titanic, which sank in 1912, was done in by an iceberg, new analysis has revealed that that might not the case. Well, not the full case.

Recently uncovered photos show that there was a fire, slowly raging — and undetected — for three weeks in the hull. Despite the efforts of a dozen men trying to extinguish the blaze, it continued to burn for the. Some argue that once the ship hit the iceberg, the damage from the fire contributed to the ship’s structural failure and sinking.

 

19. Alexander Graham Bell Invented the Telephone

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Despite what we were all taught in history class, Alexander Bell wasn’t the first person to invent the telephone. He was, however, the first one to patent it.

So, who does the credit go to? An Italian immigrant named Antonio Meucci is the rightful inventor. In 2002, after a long battle from historians and Italian-Americans, Congress finally gave credit where credit was due. Too bad Meucci didn’t live an extra 100-plus years to bask in it.

 

20. Charles Lindbergh Piloted the First Transatlantic Flight

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Charles Lindbergh, also known as “Lucky Lindy,” was not the first pilot to fly nonstop across the Atlantic ocean. (Not to take too much away from Lindbergh, though, he did fly 34 hours from New York to Paris — alone!) Shockingly, he wasn’t even the second, third, or 50th! Lindbergh was the 85th (!!!) man to make the trip.

The real credit for being numero uno actually goes to two British pilots — John Alcock and Arthur Brown. The duo made the journey in the plane shown above in 1919, flying from Newfoundland to Ireland before crash-landing.

 

 

 

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21. Catherine the Great Didn't Get Crushed by a Horse

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Catherine the Great made many enemies during her 34-year reign as Empress of Russia in the late 1700s, which perhaps explains the litany of lurid rumors that emerged after her 1796 death.

In truth, Catherine suffered a massive stroke while dressing one morning. However, stories soon circulated – likely from French aristocracy – that she’d actually been crushed to death by a horse while trying to… mate with the animal. Other’s claimed that she cracked a toilet bowl thanks to her “massive girth” and had fallen and hit her head on the porcelain.

 

22. George Washington Chopped Down a Cherry Tree

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Sorry to ruin your memories of first grade pageants and art projects, but the story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and saying “I cannot tell a lie, I did cut it with my hatchet” is, in and of itself, a lie.

The story was invented by Washington biographer and itinerant minister Mason Locke Weems, who wanted a way to illustrate the great virtues and morals he believed Washington possessed.

 

23. Magellan Didn't Circumnavigate the Globe

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Ferdinand Magellan did indeed set off from Spain with a crew of over 200 men with the objective of “sailing around the world” in 1519, and the voyage did indeed succeed, however Magellan was not among the returning crew members.

Magellan was actually killed in The Philippines about halfway through the journey. In fact, only 18 of the 200+ made it back to Spain alive.

 

24. No One Was Burned at the Stake During the Salem Witch Trials

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The Salem Witch Trials are one of the darkest moments in Colonial-Era American history. The event saw 20 people executed for supposed occult acts they committed, though very little evidence was shown to prove their guilt.

However, despite what centuries of popular myths and school lessons have taught, none of the 20 were burned at the stake. 19 of them were hung, while the 20th was “pressed” to death inside a large vice.

 

25. Manhattan Wasn't Purchased for $24 Worth of Beads

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We’ve all heard the story that settlers purchased the island of Manhattan – the heart of modern New York City – from Native Americans for “$24 worth of beads.” However, there are a litany of problems with this interpretation.

For starters, it’s not known what exactly the settlers bartered for the island, but it equalled out to about 60 guilders, which is equivalent to between $1,000 and $2,000 today. Still a small amount to be sure, but not nearly as infinitesimal has has been presented as fact through the years.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Native Americans didn’t believe that land, air, and waterways could be “owned” as property, so therefore they didn’t actually “sell” the land to the settlers, but rather simply allowed them to “rent” the space for their fee.

 

 

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