Historical Myths Everyone Believes: Debunking Common Historical Misconceptions

Gjermundbu helmet
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Mythology and history often intertwine, creating widely-held beliefs that may not align with the truth. Dissecting historical myths is essential to understanding actual past events and figures. Many myths stem from misinterpretations, dramatic storytelling, and the spread of misinformation, and have persisted throughout various cultures.

Misattributed Quotations

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Marie-Antoinette supposedly exclaimed, “Let them eat cake!” This phrase has become emblematic of the disconnect between rulers and the ruled. However, thorough research has shown that she likely never said this, and the quote’s origin predates her time.

Misunderstood Historical Attire


The image of Vikings with horned helmets is ingrained in pop culture, but authentic Norse helmets lacked such ornamentation. The misconception likely arose due to the fierce reputation that Vikings had due to their raids.

Technological Innovations

Thomas Edison
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Thomas Edison gains less credit for inventing the lightbulb and more for improving and commercializing it. The lightbulb’s creation was a collective effort with numerous inventors contributing to its development over time.

Political Achievements and Distortions

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Mussolini, notably, did not single-handedly make Italian trains run on time. This propaganda served to enhance his image and masked the actual state of Italy’s infrastructure.

Questioning Historical Birthdates

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The belief that Jesus was born on December 25th is ingrained in Christian tradition. However, some scholars contest this date, suggesting that it was chosen for other reasons, like aligning with existing pagan festivals.

Misconceptions on Punishments

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The idea that witches were often burned at the stake is gruesome but not entirely accurate. Before any burning, most accused witches in England and the American colonies were hanged, and if burned, it was posthumously.

Corporate Miscreations

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The notion that Coca-Cola fabricated the image of Santa Claus overlooks the historical basis for Santa. The corporation popularized a particular portrayal which is now deeply rooted in the holiday’s iconography.

Intellectual Abilities


Albert Einstein’s reputation as a genius is sometimes countered by rumors that he struggled in school. These claims are misleading, often a misinterpretation of his unique approach to learning.

Discussion of Discoveries


Christopher Columbus is frequently credited with discovering America. This ignores the presence of indigenous populations long before his arrival and the fact that Columbus initially did not land on the mainland of the American continent.

Infrastructure Innovations

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The construction of the German autobahn is often attributed to Hitler, but its conception occurred before his regime. The idea was originally proposed by the mayor of Cologne.

Weapons of Mass Destruction


The conception that Hitler pioneered the atomic bomb is easily refutable. The German military’s advancements fell short of producing an operational nuclear weapon, despite their wartime rhetoric.

Historical Scapegoats


The image of Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned is anachronistic, given that the fiddle did not exist during his reign. This myth also likely stems from Nero’s negative reputation amongst his subjects.

Societal Misconceptions


The belief that medieval lords had jus primae noctis or the right to sleep with their servants’ wives on their wedding night is a longstanding myth with no substantial evidence to support it.

Historical Stature


Napoleon Bonaparte is often thought to have been short in stature, yet for his time, he was of average height. This misperception could emanate from differing standards of height through the ages.

Dental Misconceptions


The legend that George Washington had wooden teeth is incorrect. His dentures utilized other materials, including human and animal teeth.

Economic Crisis and Aftermath


The 1929 Stock Market Crash is sometimes associated with a spate of suicides, though no uptick in suicides was recorded immediately after. Longer-term economic hardship did affect public health, however.

Epidemic Origins


It’s a common but inaccurate belief that the Spanish flu began in Spain. Originating in Kansas, USA, it received its misleading name due to Spain’s neutrality and thus less restricted reporting during World War I.

Misjudged Property Transactions


The sale of Manhattan allegedly for a mere $24 is another historical misinterpretation. The reality suggests a transaction of significantly higher value when accounting for historical currencies and trade goods.

Exploratory Achievements


Ferdinand Magellan is often revered for circumnavigating the globe, an achievement not completed during his lifetime, as he died during the voyage. It was his fleet that finished the circumnavigation.

Addressing these myths provides clarity and engenders a more accurate understanding of history. Acknowledging the mistakes of the past helps refine knowledge and guards against the repetition of errors in perception.

Written by Derrick Krom

Derrick is a recent graduate of Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia where he received a B.A. in English and Communication Studies. Throughout his life, Derrick has traveled the country and even got to study abroad in London, England for four amazing months. He's a guitar player, avid music fan and lover of literature, film, and all things entertainment.