6 Debunked Myths About History. You will Like This Interesting Article, Maybe?

History should ideally tell the whole truth about humankind’s past. However, fictions can occasionally intrude, no matter how minor, and remain firmly embedded in the story with unwavering persistence. While some of these fictions are comparatively innocuous, others have significantly distorted people’s lives or served as the catalyst for significant movements. These are the tales of six of the most well-known myths in historical times, along with the reasons it’s time to dispel them for good.

History: Napoleon Wasn’t That Short

 Emperor Napoleon I of France (1769 - 1821), known as Bonaparte.
Credit: Hulton Archive via Getty Images

The term “Napoleon complex,” which describes how small animals, including Pomeranians and people, frequently act much larger than they actually are, ostensibly in an effort to make up for their lack of stature, is probably familiar to you. Of course, it also alludes to Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor from the early 1800s who ravaged Europe for almost two decades. But according to French accounts, Napoleon was most likely 5 feet 5 inches tall. Even though that would seem a little short by modern standards, at the time it was only an inch shorter than the typical height of a Frenchman. He might have even been a few inches taller than this estimation.

Why, then, does history recall Napoleon as such a little despot? As it happens, it’s a remarkably resilient piece of British propaganda. The caricaturist James Gillray, a British political cartoonist who is regarded as the most influential of his era, created the character “Little Boney” in 1803, depicting Napoleon as small and immature. In his cartoons, Napoleon was often seen throwing tantrums while stomping around in oversized boots, military garb, and bicorne hats. The image stuck, and the sight of a raging, pint-sized Napoleon echoed through history. Napoleon, who had been exiled twice, acknowledged that Gillray “did more than all the armies of Europe to bring me down” before his death in 1821.

For 2,500 years, people have known that the world is round

A plethora of toy globes.
Credit: Gumpanat/ Shutterstock

“Columbus sailed the ocean blue” in 1492, right, to disprove the notion held by some Europeans that the world was round. Not at all. Italian explorer Cristoforo Colombo (his real name), his European contemporaries, and all educated humans dating back to the ancient Greeks knew the Earth was a sphere. Famous mathematician Pythagoras of Samos (of a2 + b2 = c2 fame) figured out as much around 500 BCE, and 260 years later, another Greek mathematician named Eratosthenes accurately measured the Earth’s circumference.

To be sure, there’s a dramatic tension added when someone defies convention and risks dying in space, which is probably why Washington Irving created this fictional flourish for his 1828 autobiography Christopher Columbus’s Life and Travels. Irving’s imaginative history of Colombo became one of the most enduring myths of the Age of Exploration, even though he was best known for his imaginative works of fiction, like Sleepy Hollow’s Legend and Rip Van Winkle.

“Let Them Eat Cake” was never said by Marie Antoinette

Portrait of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France.
Credit: Photo Josse/Leemage/ Corbis Historical via Getty Images

Not surprisingly, royals and nobles suffered greatly during the French Revolution in the late 1700s, Queen Marie Antoinette most of all. Antoinette, whose father was Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, was viewed as an outsider from Austria when she married King Louis XVI at the age of 14, and she frequently suffered the hostility of France. Despite the fact that the French nobility was removed from the harsh reality of rural life, Antoinette was a bright and generous person who frequently made donations to charitable organizations. Though she was usually innocent of the charges, this didn’t stop her from being repeatedly linked to a number of scandals (including a well-known one involving an expensive diamond necklace).

But when it comes to Antoinette’s historical reputation, the most damaging accusation is that she said, “Let them eat cake,” in response to the starving French peasantry’s plight. But it was not done by Antoinette. Firstly, the French quote “qu’ils man gent de la brioche” refers to brioche, a type of sweet bread, rather than cake at all. Putting semantics aside, folklore experts have been linking the well-known phrase to different sources and locales from a long time before Marie Antoinette was even born, for almost 200 years.

A 16th-century German tale, for example, features a noble woman wondering why peasants didn’t instead eat krosem, also a kind of sweet bread. The same sentence was discovered in a book dated 1760 (when the Austrian princess would have only been 5 years old) by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in 1843. Even the 2006 film Marie Antoinette (starring Kirsten Dunst in the eponymous role) mentions that the French queen never said the words. Yet despite nearly 2 centuries of debunking, the myth remains.

The “Wild West” Wasn’t That Wild

Gunfight At The O.K. Corral scene.
Credit: Archive Photos/ Moviepix via Getty Images

A common symbol of the Wild West is the renowned gunfight at the O.K. Corral in 1881, which featured lawmen Wyatt Earp and Virgil facing off against outlaws known as the “Cowboys.” The actual gunfight, which took place in a nearby empty lot rather than the O.K. Corral and claimed three lives, lasted only thirty seconds and is widely portrayed in Hollywood movies as proof of the widespread lawlessness in the West. Although the incident was not particularly significant in western North America’s history overall, it is now practically legendary in the romanticized accounts of the Wild West, an era of American history that spanned from roughly 1850 to 1900.

Although areas where people struck gold saw a relatively significant uptick in crime, most of the supposedly “wild” West was tamer than you may imagine. Most settlers, according to historians, writers, and economists, recognized the value of resolving conflicts amicably; in fact, some towns even enacted laws restricting access to firearms. Although there were terrible injustices committed against Native Americans during this time, it has also been exaggerated that they massacred large numbers of white settlers; in fact, many of them were tolerant of waggon trains travelling west.

Another of the most famous tropes associated with the Wild West is also a fabrication, or at least an exaggeration. The hats we now associate with cowboys were not common until the late 1800s; many cowboys wore bowler hats or other lower-crowned hats instead. (The term “10-gallon hat” was coined in the 1920s.) In the West, almost every drinking hole had a standard door to keep out cold air, so the ubiquity of saloon-style doors was mostly a myth.

There Were Actually 12 U.S. Colonies (Until 1776)

Old American flag designed during the American Revolutionary War features 13 stars.
Credit: David Smart/ Shutterstock

The thirteen stripes on the American flag signify that, in 1775, thirteen colonies first rebelled against British rule, am I correct? Oddly enough, this is also a myth in some ways. Although the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 marked the official start of the American Revolution for the former British colonies, there were actually only 12 colonies at that time. The small portion of coast that is now known as Delaware was a part of the Pennsylvania Colony in 1704, even though it had its own legislative assembly since then.

June 15, 1776, was the date Delaware declared its independence, which was less than a month later, and just in time to send delegates to the Second Continental Congress to vote on the Declaration of Independence. Delaware was the first state in the union to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 7, 1787, despite being the last colony to fully form during America’s colonial era. This marked Delaware’s early entry into the new era.

Thomas Edison Didn’t Invent the Lightbulb

Thomas A. Edison exhibits a replica of his first successful incandescent lamp.
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

Though Thomas Edison is credited with many ground-breaking inventions, including the phonograph and the kinetograph, the lightbulb is the invention that has left a lasting impression on history. Although Edison is credited with perfecting the lightbulb and making electric light economically viable, he is by no means the creator of the technology. Even though a lot of people could take credit for creating the lightbulb, Ebenezer Kinnersley, an English scientist, is credited with creating one of the first ones.

He described heating a wire until it was “red-hot” in 1761, which was 86 years before Thomas Edison was born. Kinnersley was discussing an actual process called incandescence, in which a material glows due to electrical resistance. Several inventors before Edison, such as Frederick de Moleyns and Joseph Swan, were able to successfully produce incandescent bulbs and lamps using this concept, which serves as the scientific basis for the incandescent bulb. But in the end, it was Edison who, by 1880, had created a lightbulb with a carbonized bamboo filament that could last for about 1,200 hours. Lightbulbs went from being an expensive oddity to the way of the future all of a sudden.

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