Historical Misconceptions Part IV

By now, providing you’ve read Part 1, 2, and 3, you should know that the Vikings never wore horns on their helmets, Napoleon Bonaparte did not have a height complex and Marie Antoinette certainly didn’t say “Let them eat cake”*

Turns out there simply isn’t a smidge of evidence to support the Vikings being horn helmeted warriors; Napoleon was of absolute average height and Marie was probably too busy scoffing her face with cake to make such a frivolously scathing remark.

If this is all news to you, don’t blame yourself – history just happened a really long time ago.

So here we go again on our seemingly endless quest to put dispel a few historical rumours.

Here are eight things you thought you knew but really you had no idea…

1.Xmas is Christmas without the Christ

Source: Wikipedia

Xmas” did not originate as a secular plan to “take the Christ out of Christmas” or as a way to save on text message characters. X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the starting letter of Χριστός, or “Christ” in Greek.

The use of the word “Xmas” in English can be traced to the year 1021 when monks in Great Britain used the X while transcribing classical manuscripts into Old English in place of “Christ”. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first recorded use of ‘Xmas’ for ‘Christmas’ dates back to 1551.

2.Humans evolved from Chimpanzees

Human evolution questioned: Big brain gene found humans, not chimps

Source: Yahoo

Let’s get this straight, humans absolutely did not evolve from either of the living species of chimpanzees. 

Humans and chimpanzees did however evolve from a common ancestor.  The two modern species (common chimpanzees and bonobos) are humans’ closest living relatives and some anthropologists and primatologists accept that humans are not only descended from a common ancestor, but are themselves a species of living chimpanzee. The most recent common ancestor of humans and the other living chimpanzees lived between 5 and 8 million years ago.

Together with the other apes, humans and chimpanzees constitute the family Hominidae. This group evolved from a common ancestor with the Old World monkeys some 40 million years ago.

3.Dinosaurs became extinct because they couldn’t cope with climactic change

Source: Wikipedia

Many older textbooks suggest that dinosaurs became extinct because they were unable to cope with climactic change. This simply isn’t true.

In fact, dinosaurs comprised an extremely adaptive and successful group, whose demise was brought about by an extraordinary event that also extinguished many groups of plants, mammals and marine life. The most commonly cited cause is that of an asteroid impact on the Yucatán Peninsula, triggering the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.

In total contradiction, dinosaurs didn’t even really become extinct. Yes a lot did of lineages were cut short in the Cretaceous, bird survived and continued to evolve. Consequently, dinosaur descendants are part of the modern fauna.

4.Roman Gladiators said “Hail Emperor, we who are about to die salute you” before combat

Source: audienceseverywhere

Forget what you heard in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Roman gladiators did not ritually say “Hail Emperor, we who are about to die salute you” before combat. Two ancient Roman historians recount that in the year 52 AD, a large group of criminals condemned to fight each other to the death in a large staged naval battle on an artificial lake greeted Emperor Claudius that way; he may possibly have pardoned them as a result. That is the only recorded use of the phrase in ancient Rome.

5.The Library of Alexandria was destroyed by the Muslim Army during the capture of the city in 641

Source: Wikipedia

A common misconception alleged that Caliph Umar ordered the destruction of the Library based on the reasoning “If those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them; and if these are opposed to the Quran, destroy them” (or its variation).

This story did not appear in writing until hundreds of years after the alleged incident (most famously in the work of Bar Hebraeus in the 13th century) and contemporary accounts of the Arab invasion do not include any account of the library’s destruction.

So like all good secondary accounts – can we really believe something that was written by someone whose great grandfather probably wasn’t even born at the time of the alleged incident? The answer, take it with a pinch of salt.

Modern consensus suggests the library had likely already been destroyed centuries before this incident. It is even believed that the Library of Caesarea, a key repository of Christian literature, was more likely to be the library destroyed.

6. The US Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4 1776

Source: Wikipedia

The signing of the United States Declaration of Independence did not occur on July 4, 1776. The final language of the document was approved by the Second Continental Congress on that date and it was printed and distributed on July 4 and 5, but the actual signing occurred on August 2, 1776.

7.Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity

Source: Skytamer

Benjamin Franklin did not discover electricity when his kite was struck by lightning in 1752. In fact, electricity was already well known at the time. Instead, Franklin was trying to prove the electrical nature of lightning.

During a thunderstorm, as Franklin flew a silk kite with a metal key near the end of the string, he noticed the fibers on the line standing up as though charged. He touched the key and felt a charge from the accumulated electricity in the air, not from a lightning strike. This was enough evidence to prove his theory that lightning was electricity.

Had the kite been struck by lightning, Franklin would likely have been killed.

8.Cinderella wore glass slippers to the ball

Cinderella - Anne Anderson.jpg

Source: Wikipedia

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that Cinderella wore glass slippers to the ball, but historians say that part of the legend just isn’t true.

More than 500 versions of the classic fairy tale exist, dating back as far as the 9th century. In each account, Cinderella has a magic ring or magic slippers made of gold, silver, or some other rare metal, which are sometimes covered with gems but are never made of glass.

In the earliest French versions, Cinderella wore pantoufles en vair, or “slippers of white squirrel fur.”

The ‘modern’ glass interpretation came from French writer Charles Perrault in 1697 who wrote his version of the tale called “Cendrillon.” The word vair had vanished from the French language. Perrault apparently assumed it should have been verre, pronounced the same asvair, meaning “glass.”



Historical Misconceptions Part I

Historical Misconceptions Part II

Historical Misconceptions Part III


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