History, as the cliché goes, is often written by the winners, which means that what is taught in school is often wide off the mark of what really happened.
Heroes can often have hidden foibles, and villains virtues that run counter to the narrative of their wickedness.
Hollywood is also to blame for a certain ignorance of history. Films based on historical events often alter the reality, most often for dramatic reasons, but sometime to fulfill the whims of a director. How many people are convinced that President Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy just because they saw it in a movie?
But when you dig deep into history, there are plenty of facts that are stranger than fiction. These are all 100% true, and it's safe to say you didn't learn about them in school.
1. How Tall Was Napoleon?
Napoleon is thought to be a short man, according to British propaganda. In fact he was 5’ 7’’ tall, the average height for a man of his era.
2. Abe Lincoln Could Have Kept Slaves In Bondage
Abraham Lincoln opposed slavery but did not, at least at first, insist on its abolition to end the Civil War. He also did not believe that whites and blacks should have the same political and social rights.
3. We Who Are About To Not Die (With Any Luck) Salute You
The movies depict Roman gladiators as always fighting to the death. However, these warrior athletes rarely died in the arena, unless someone paid really well to see it happen. It cost a lot of money to train a gladiator, after all.
4. When Columbus Sailed The Ocean Blue -- He Was Lucky He Hit America
The story of Christopher Columbus often depicts his enemies as believing that the Earth was flat, while the famous discoverer of American believed it to be round.
In fact, every educated person in the 15th century knew that the Earth is round. The question was whether Columbus could sail west to get to Asia with the ships he had at the time. It turns out he couldn’t, but fortunately for him, the Americas were between Europe and Asia.
5. Did Caesar Do The King Or Didn't He
Julius Caesar was a well-known ladies’ man. However, when he was a young man, he was accused of having a gay sex encounter with King Nicomedes of Bithynia. Caesar was negotiating for use of the Bithynian fleet. Whatever happened, he got the ships.
6. Why Going On A Pilgrimage Was Like Going To The Doctor In The Middle Ages
Pilgrimages were more often undertaken in the Middle Ages to cure ailments than they were for spiritual edification. Shrines with saints’ artifacts, usually body parts, were thought to have curative properties.
7. When Water Made You Sick To Your Stomach
For most of human history, water was considered an unreliable drink that could get one sick. Most people drank ale or wine, since fermented drinks don't carry a whole lot of bad bacteria.
8. Pyramid Builders Were Paid By The Cup
The Egyptian pyramids were not built by slaves, but rather by volunteer labor. They were paid in beer, which was chewy and had nutritional value.
9. A Little Computer Bug On The Way To The Moon
The Apollo 11 astronauts almost didn’t make it to the moon. A computer glitch occurred just as the lunar module was making its final approach.
10. Hitler Failed At His First Chosen Career
Hitler was a failed painter who was rejected for admission to a prestigious art school, the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. If he had a little more talent, the world might have avoided World War II.
11. The First African American Astronaut Didn't Work For NASA
The first African American astronaut was not Guy Bluford, but rather Air Force Major Robert Lawrence, who was part of the military’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program in the 1960s. He died in a plane crash before he could fly into space.
12. For 1,000 Years, The Roman Empire Wasn't Roman
The Eastern Roman Empire lasted for almost a thousand years after the fall of Rome, centered around the city of Constantinople in modern Turkey. The city, now modern Istanbul, fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
13. Winston Churchill Didn't Want Everyone To Be Free
Winston Churchill is known as a champion of freedom for opposing Adolf Hitler. His regard for liberty did not extend to the people of India, which he insisted should remain part of the British Empire.
14. When Was The Declaration Of Independence Really Signed?
The Continental Congress approved of American independence on July 2, 1776, not July 4, when American Independence Day is celebrated. The Declaration of Independence was not signed by all the delegates until August 2.
15. Ronald Reagan Was A Life Saver
One of President Ronald Reagan’s first jobs was as a lifeguard. He is credited with saving 77 lives long before he became an actor and eventually going into politics.
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