20 Historical Facts You Believe to Be True but Are Actually Myths

History is full of mysteries. As we uncover some of them, we may find inconsistencies, pointing to so-called truths that are myths or false beliefs. If one of your long-held beliefs turns out to be false, don’t fret. Shining a light on these inaccuracies can deepen your understanding of the past and inspire you to leave a better mark for future generations!

The Earth Was Flat in Ancient Times

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Kids are being taught that people from ancient times, like ancient Greece, believed that the Earth was flat—a plane or disc surrounded by water. However, this is not the case. In around 500 B.C., people already theorized that the Earth was a sphere—long before Christopher Columbus’s journey! The American Physical Society notes, “It was around 500 B.C. that Pythagoras first proposed a spherical Earth, mainly on aesthetic grounds rather than on any physical evidence.”

Christopher Columbus Sailed to Prove That the Earth Was Round

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Since the idea that the Earth was a sphere had already been widely popular for centuries, it’s only a myth that Christopher Columbus tried to prove that the Earth was round. Instead, when he set sail in 1492, he was trying to prove that sailing west was the quickest way to the treasured spice ports in India.

Christopher Columbus Discovered America

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“Discovered” is not the word one should use in relation to Columbus and America since Native Americans were already settled in the land before he arrived. Leif Erikson, a Norse or Viking explorer, is actually believed to be the first European to step foot on the continent, and this happened around 500 years before Christopher Columbus! Instead, Christopher Columbus helped open the continent to trade and colonization.

Napoleon Bonaparte Was Very Short

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Napoleon Bonapart is infamous for being extremely short; he’s even the inspiration behind the iconic phrase, “Napoleon complex,” which describes an overcompensating short person. Though it’s believed he stood at 5 feet and 2 inches, he was not as short as he seemed. This is because people have mistaken the French unit of measure to be the same as an English foot. Properly converted, Napoleon Bonapart would have stood approximately 5 feet and 7 inches!

Abraham Lincoln Wanted to End Slavery

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Abraham Lincoln has been glorified for years as the person who ended slavery in the United States. However, in truth, ending slavery was not his goal; instead, he wanted to keep a United America. An excerpt of one of his writings, as published in the Library of Congress, goes, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

Cleopatra Was Egyptian

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Cleopatra is one of the most famous rulers of Egypt, but she wasn’t an Egyptian. In truth, she came from a long line of Greek-speaking kings. She’s a descendant of Alexander the Great’s general, Ptolemy I Soter.

Jewish Slaves Built the Pyramids

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Movies that zoom in on ancient Egyptians typically portray the pyramids as something built by Jewish slaves. However, there is no evidence of any pyramid being built by a Jew. Egyptians are known for their records, and because there was no explicit mention of a Jew being enslaved to make it, it’s largely believed that this concept is just a myth. In fact, Discover Magazine notes, “The best evidence suggests that pyramid workers were locals who were paid for their services and ate extremely well; we know this because archaeologists have found their tombs and other signs of the lives they lived.”

Rats Spread the Black Death

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The Black Death, or the bubonic plague, was a pandemic that occurred in Europe between 1346 and 1353, effectively killing around 50 million people. At first, people believed that the bacteria that caused the plague was spread by fleas that can be found in rats. However, new studies show that the carriers of the inflected fleas and lice that spread the plague weren’t rats—they were humans!

The Salem Witch Trials Burned Hundreds of Witches

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This is not to say that witch burning didn’t happen; it did, but mainly in Europe during the medieval ages. It’s an entirely different story for accused Salem witches. Instead of being burned, most of them were hanged. Additionally, the witch trials only lasted one year, and during this time, only around 20 people were executed as witches compared to the 300 people accused.

The Spanish Influenza Originated in Spain

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Because it’s called the Spanish influenza or the Spanish flu, it’s so easy to think that the sickness itself originated in Spain. However, checking accounts and historical data, this is not the case. The 1918 flu is called the Spanish flu only because the first newspaper reports claimed it had originated in the country. In reality, it’s much more plausible that the origin of the disease is the American army camp in Kansas, filled with military men preparing to go to war.

The Great Wall of China Is Visible From Space

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This false fact remains a common misconception in today’s world. The truth is that the Great Wall of China cannot be seen in space, especially through the naked eye. The walls themselves are very long, but they are made very thinly, making it hard to distinguish them from other structures once you’re in space.

Marie Antoinette Said, “Let Them Eat Cake”

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“Let them eat cake” is a sentence believed to show the power and wealth of the French monarchy, especially compared to its struggling, poor citizens. However, the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, never said this. It was only connected to her 50 years after the French Revolution.

Vikings Wore Horned Helmets

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When you think of Vikings, you immediately picture burly and muscled men with big, horned helmets. However, there is no scientific or archaeological evidence to prove this. So far, only one helmet attributed to the Vikings has been found, and it has no horns. Instead, it’s a simple rounded iron cap with a nose guard.

George Washington Had Wooden Teeth

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George Washington didn’t have the best set of teeth, and he indeed had multiple dentures. However, these dentures were made of materials such as ivory. It’s theorized that ivory gets stained easily, thus making them look like George Washington had wooden teeth.

The First Thanksgiving Was a Peaceful Meal Between the Pilgrims and Native Americans

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Kids in America are taught that in 1620, Native Americans and the Pilgrims had a three-day feast to celebrate their relationship—later referred to as Thanksgiving. However, in reality, these two groups had hostile feelings toward each other and could not see eye to eye. The Pilgrims even viewed the Native Americans as savages and schemed to steal their farmlands!

Pocahontas and John Smith Fell in Love

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The name “Pocahontas” itself is not accurate; according to historical data, the real name of the Native American girl was Amonute. She was only about 11 or 12 years old, and she saved John Smith when her family tried to execute him. According to John Smith, they became close and taught each other their languages. He never mentioned anything about falling in love or anything romantic happening between them.

Van Gogh Mutilated Himself by Cutting off His Hear

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The narrative behind Van Gogh’s mutilated ear is so dramatic that people refuse to believe any other story. Because of this, many think that Van Gogh himself chopped off his ear in a fit of passion during a fight with another artist, Paul Gaugin. However, accounts by Historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans say otherwise. According to them, Paul Gaugin, a skilled fencer, cut off Van Gogh’s ear; they both made a “pact of silence,” though, as Van Gogh refused to get his dear friend in trouble.

Albert Einstein Failed Math as a Student

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When a kid gets a low exam score, what do people usually say as a consolation? It’s okay since Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers of all time, also flunked math at some point. However, this is simply not true. He passed math and instead did poorly in language, zoology, and botany.

Benjamin Franklin Was the One Who Discovered Electricity, and He Did This While Flying a Kite

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Benjamin Franklin contributed many things to the field of electricity. He started the belief that lightning is a form of flowing electricity and popularized the thought that electricity has positive and negative elements. However, he didn’t discover electricity itself. A man named William Gilbert coined the term “electricity” around a hundred years before Benjamin Franklin was born.

Executioners or Hangmen Wore Hoods

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Hollywood often portrays executioners or hangmen as people who wear hoods during their execution. This may be a way for them to protect their identity and reputation in society. However, this is a myth. Hangmen and executioners would show their faces, and this kind of job was seen as something to be passed on in the family.

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20 Things You’re Doing That Make You a Bad Neighbor

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People have different personalities; that’s a fact. When you move somewhere with a tight-knit community, you will get to know many people who will either clash with your personality or make you feel like you’ve found a new friend. However, no matter what it is, remember to establish boundaries. If you don’t, you might soon see a lot of bad blood between you and other people in the community!

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20 Christian Practices That Confuse and Puzzle Others

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All regions differ in some way. Catholics collect saint cards and plan their vacations around religious sights, and Buddhists believe in karma and reincarnation. Like them, Christians also practice some things that are simply unheard of or puzzling for others. They practice tithing, cast out demons, and more!

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Author: Karen Danao


Karen is a writer and also a marketing and advertising professional. Beyond the keyboard and the screen, she is someone who’s out to enjoy every bit that life has to offer!

Poetry, philosophy, history, and movies are all topics she loves writing about! However, her true passion is in traveling, photography, and finding common ground to which everyone from different cultures can relate.