The 7 Most Ridiculous Lies You Were Taught In History Class

7. Cleopatra wasn’t Egyptian

Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII may have ruled Egypt, but they weren’t ethnically Egyptian at all- They were Greek.

The Ptolemaic dynasty began after the death of Alexander the Great. His trusted friend Ptolemy took control of Egypt and started a dynasty that lasted nearly 300 years. While the Ptolemys adopted a number of Egyptian customs of the time to keep power (such as brothers and sisters marrying) they never mixed with Egyptians themselves. Cleopatra was in fact the only Ptolemy to ever even speak Egyptian.

6. People knew the Earth wasn’t flat

It is often said that everyone hundreds of years ago thought that Earth was flat. That simply wasn’t the case. The ancient Greeks often noted how sailing ships would shrink and descend on the horizon.

One of these Greeks was named Eratosthenes figured out the Earth was round in 240 BCE. By measuring the length of shadows at noon during the summer solstice in Alexandria, he managed to calculate the angle the sun was making. When he did this in the nearby city of Syene, he realized the angle of the shadow was different. Eratosthenes discovered that all of our sun’s rays were not only parallel, but that the Earth was curved. Since he knew the angular difference between the two cities, he even figured out the circumference of the Earth with a great deal of accuracy.

Eratosthenes went on to become the world’s first geographer, inventing the concepts of latitude and longitude. Sailors and navigators have used these to this day. A commoner may not have known, but many clearly did. If anything, explorers were afraid of “the unknown” and if their ships could survive dangerous waters, not that they’d fall of the Earth.

5. Life in the Americas wasn’t quite peaceful before Colombus

While no one would say that life was perfect before Europeans began colonizing the New World, it certainly wasn’t the harmonious, noble and peaceful life that many wish to believe. Warfare and slavery wasn’t uncommon between tribes.

It didn’t end with war, either. The Anasazi people of the American southwest practiced cannibalism. The Mayans and Aztecs of Mexico practiced human sacrifice on a large scale in order to appease their gods. In short, Europeans didn’t quite find a paradise where everyone held hands. History and human nature tend to be more complicated than that.

4. Columbus didn’t discover America

Columbus is often credited with discovering America and the New World, but he wasn’t the first European to arrive here. America as a nation of course didn’t exist at the time, but the Vikings discovered North America nearly 500 years earlier.

Leif Erikson landed in what is now Newfoundland, Canada in 1000 CE. The Viking settlement at L’anse aux meadows didn’t last long, but there was evidence of some co-habitation between the Vikings and local native population. There’s even speculation that the Vikings may have sailed further south but that has yet to be proven.

After spending the winter in what the place he called “Vinland,” Erikson would leave for Greenland and never return. Perhaps Canadian winters were even too harsh for the Vikings…

3. Napoleon wasn’t short

No, Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t short. It turned out at the time that the French and English measured “inches” differently.

Bonaparte measured about 5’7. Sure that’s short for today, but back then it wasn’t. Napoleon would have been average or even slightly above average in height for his time.

2. Vikings didn’t have horned helmets

The Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets. Horns on helmets are a terrible idea. You’re only giving your enemy something to grab at during combat. So where did this myth come from?

Many artists and plays in Victorian England portrayed Vikings as wild men wearing horned helmets despite there never being any evidence of them doing so. The images simply stuck and remains today. I’m looking at you, Minnesota.

1.Marie Antoinette didn’t say “Let them eat cake.”

Despite the famous quote, there’s no actual evidence that Antoinette ever said this upon hearing about the starving French rioters in the streets.

Not only did it seem rather out-of-character with a woman who was well known for her charity, but she said “Qu’ilsmangent de la brioche” which means “let them eat brioche.” Brioche isn’t cake.

This quote was found in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions. In it Rousseau mentions a princess saying this, but never said who. Even though Antoinette was queen, The French Revolution was in full swing and hungry peasants took Rousseau’s words out of context, thinking he was speaking of Antoinette. It caught on. I guess cake sounds more catchy than “fancy, eggy bread.”

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