Ancient to early modern history
- In ancient Rome, Romans did not build rooms called vomitoria in which to purge themselves after a meal. Vomitoria were the entranceways through which crowds entered and exited a stadium.
- The classification of the European era between the decline of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance as the "Dark Ages" is now rejected by most modern historians. During the early Middle Ages, significant literary and educational advances (especially during the period known as the Carolingian Renaissance) were made, including the foundations of the modern university, as well as scientific advancements in the fields of physics, astronomy, medicine and surgery, agriculture, architectural engineering, logic, mathematics, optics andbiology. It is also erroneously claimed that the Roman Catholic Church suppressed scientific advancement during this era, however a great deal of advancements were on the behalf of Catholic priests, monks and friars. There is also no evidence of any scientist during the Middle Ages incurring infractions only for their research. See: List of Roman Catholic cleric–scientists.
- There is no evidence that Vikings wore horns on their helmets.
- There is no evidence that iron maidens were invented in the Middle Ages or even used for torture, despite being shown so in some media. Instead they were pieced together in the 18th century from several artifacts found in museums in order to create spectacular objects intended for (commercial) exhibition.
- Christopher Columbus's efforts to obtain support for his voyages were not hampered by a European belief in a flat Earth. Sailors and navigators of the time knew that the Earth was spherical, but (correctly) disagreed with Columbus's estimate of the distance to India, which was approximately one-sixth of the actual distance. If the Americas did not exist, and had Columbus continued to India, he would have run out of supplies before reaching it at the rate he was traveling. Without the ability to determine longitude at sea, he could not have noticed that his estimate was an error in time to return. This longitude problem remained unsolved until the 18th century, when the lunar distance method emerged in parallel with efforts by inventor John Harrison to create the first marine chronometers. The intellectual class had known that the Earth was spherical since the works of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Eratosthenes made a very good estimate of the Earth's diameter in approximately 240 BCE. (See also: Myth of the Flat Earth)
- Contrary to the popular image of the Pilgrim Fathers, the early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusettsdid not dress in black, wear buckles, or wear black steeple hats. According to Plimoth Plantation historian James W. Baker, this image was formed in the 19th century when buckles were a kind of emblem of quaintness. This is also the reason illustrators gave Santa Clausbuckles.
- Marie Antoinette did not actually use the phrase "let them eat cake" when she heard that the French peasantry was starving due to a dearth of bread. The phrase was first published in Rousseau's Confessions when Marie was only 10 years old and most scholars believe that Rousseau coined it himself, or that it was said by Maria-Theresa, the wife of Louis XIV. Even Rousseau (or Maria-Theresa) did not use the exact words but actually Qu'ils mangent de la brioche ("Let them eat brioche [a rich type of bread]"). Marie Antoinette was a very unpopular ruler and many people therefore attribute the phrase "let them eat cake" to her, in keeping with her reputation as being hard-hearted and disconnected from her subjects.
- George Washington did not have wooden teeth. According to a study of Washington's four known dentures by a forensic anthropologist from the University of Pittsburgh (in collaboration with the National Museum of Dentistry, itself associated with the Smithsonian Museum), the dentures were made of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and human and animal teeth (including horse and donkey teeth).
- The signing of the 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, it was printed and distributed on July 4 and 5, but the actual signing occurred on August 2, 1776.
- The United States Constitution was written on parchment, not hemp paper.
- Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) (pictured) was not particularly short, and did not have a Napoleon complex. After his death in 1821, the French emperor’s height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches in French feet. This corresponds to 5 feet 6.5 inches in modern international feet, or 1.686metres. Some believe that he was nicknamed le Petit Caporal (The Little Corporal) as a term of affection.
- According to Time magazine, there is a common misconception among Americans that Abraham Lincoln freed the American slaves with theEmancipation Proclamation of January 1863. Most slaves were not immediately freed as a direct result of the Proclamation as it only applied to the parts of rebelling states not under Union control; those rebelling states did not recognize the power of the federal government to make such a decree. The Proclamation did not cover the 800,000 slaves in the Union's slave-holding border states of Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Marylandor Delaware. As the regions in the South that were under Confederate control ignored the Proclamation, slave ownership persisted until Union troops captured further Southern territory. It was only with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 that slavery was officially abolished in all of the United States. Thirty-six of the United States recognize June 19 as a holiday, Juneteenth, celebrating the anniversary of the day the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas in 1865.
- Italian dictator Benito Mussolini did not “make the trains run on time”. Much of the repair work had been performed before Mussolini and the Fascistscame to power in 1922. Accounts from the era also suggest that the Italian railways’ legendary adherence to timetables was more myth than reality. Mussolini's trains were subject to frequent labour disruptions due to his conflict with labour unions.
- During the German Invasion of Poland in 1939, there is no evidence of Polish Cavalry mounting a brave but futile charge against German tanks using lances and sabres. This seems to have its origins in German propaganda efforts following the Charge at Krojanty in which a Polish cavalry brigade surprised German infantry in the open and charged with sabres until driven off by armoured cars. While Polish cavalry still carried the sabre for such opportunities, they were trained to fight as highly mobile, dismounted infantry and issued with light anti-tank weapons.
- During World War II, King Christian X of Denmark did not thwart Nazi attempts to identify Jews by wearing a yellow star himself. Jews in Denmark were never forced to wear the Star of David. The Danes did help most Jews flee the country before the end of the war.
- Albert Einstein did not fail mathematics in school, as is commonly believed. Upon being shown a column claiming this fact, Einstein said "I never failed in mathematics... Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus."
- John F. Kennedy's words "Ich bin ein Berliner" are standard German for "I am a Berliner". An urban legend has it that due to his use of the indefinite article ein, Berliner is translated as jam doughnut, and that the population of Berlin was amused by the supposed mistake. The word Berliner is not commonly used in Berlin to refer to the Berliner Pfannkuchen; they are usually called ein Pfannkuchen.
- According to various polls, between 11 and 24% of Americans incorrectly believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. The White House describes Obama as a "devout Christian" who prays every day.