Historical Misconceptions We Keep Seeing That Make Us Frustrated

List Rules
Vote up the most irritating inaccuracies.

History is full of dumb tropes that many people accept as fact. Think of the many infamous utterances of famous people that likely were never said at all (looking at you, Mark Twain). Or the various myths that surround the Founding Fathers, including one individual who supposedly chopped down a cherry tree and had wooden teeth.

There are plenty of misconceptions that make history buffs cringe when we hear them repeated. From mistakes that never really happened, to fallacies that have mistakenly become truths - when we encounter these misnomers, we die a little bit inside. While plenty more exist, this list highlights the most frustrating and common historical misconceptions that continue to be repeated as fact. 


  • People Didn't Just Die At 30
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    883 VOTES

    People Didn't Just Die At 30

    In the "old days" people did everything earlier - moved out on their own, got married, had children. Many assumed this was simply because lives were so much shorter, so people had to get started on things earlier if they wanted to do them at all. Heck, reaching 30 was a miracle, and practically the equivalent of someone today turning 90. 

    Well, that last part isn't entirely true. The misconception about "average life span" that usually throws people off is the fact that this number is more a reflection of how many individuals made it to a certain age, rather than the fact that individuals as a whole lived longer or shorter lives. It was the high infant mortality rate that brought down the average life expectancies of centuries past.

    For example, if a couple had six children, three of whom passed as infants and three of whom lived to 60, then it would be misleading to say their children on average lived to age 30, although it is technically accurate.

    So, while medicine and other technological advances certainly help us add on a few years now, people did not just drop dead at 30 before these advances. In fact, even in the first century, records exist of people living to 100 and beyond.

    883 votes
  • A Knight's Armor Was Not Clunky And Clumsy
    Photo: Sebacalka / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    712 VOTES

    A Knight's Armor Was Not Clunky And Clumsy

    Despite most common portrayals of knights in shining armor, their wardrobe was actually not difficult to move in. (They also weren't usually romantic heroes, but that's for a different list.) Given the relatively lightweight and mobile body protection worn by today's military, it's no wonder so many people assume that layers of metal plates covering the body would be cumbersome.

    Knowing it was necessary both for survival and the success of battle, a knight's armor was built to allow for relatively easy movement. Yes, it was heavy - sometimes weighing as much as 77 pounds - and earlier designs were certainly less efficient. However, because a suit of armor comprised many smaller pieces that fit together, it allowed for near-normal mobility. In fact, knights were able to run, fight, and mount a horse in their armor. 

    712 votes
  • Ninjas Didn't Wear Black
    Photo: Sidharta-999 / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    604 VOTES

    Ninjas Didn't Wear Black

    In any book, movie, or comic, ninjas are always portrayed as wearing black (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aside). And usually, they'd bring out nunchucks sooner or later. In reality, however, ninjas were basically undercover agents. Acting as spies, they would not have dressed to stand out, but to fit in. They may have dressed as priests, farmers, beggars, or whatever else the job might have called for. 

    Typically, ninjas wore clothes that were dark blue or almost an orange color - similar to a farmer's uniform. When expecting a battle or hand-to-hand combat, a ninja would wear a chain-hemp top for protection. They only wore hoods when they needed to hide their identity; otherwise, ninjas tried to look as inconspicuous as possible.

    604 votes
  • 4
    753 VOTES

    The Egyptian Pyramids Were Not Built By Slaves

    It's a common misconception that Egypt's Great Pyramids were all built by slaves, particularly Jews. To the contrary - plenty of evidence points to the pyramids being built by paid laborers 4,500 years ago. For one, archaeologist found the remains of a village built just for workers, something that would not have been done if they were slaves.

    Additionally, evidence in the village shows proof that the laborers were fed the best cuts of meat and given plenty to eat. Graffiti (most likely written by the workers) near one of the pharaoh's tombs read "The Friends of Khufu Gang." It's doubtful slaves would have left such a heartfelt message.

    753 votes
  • 5
    625 VOTES

    All Dinosaurs Did Not Live At The Same Time

    The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park led us all astray. Dinosaurs did not live together at the same time. Most people refer to "the age of the dinosaurs" as one time span. In fact, dinosaurs lived during three different periods: the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous (all part of the long Mesozoic era, which lasted 186 million years).

    The spiny-backed Stegosaurus lived during the Jurassic period, approximately 150-155 million years ago. The infamous Tyrannosaurus rex didn't even live in the same period; those upright theropods lived during the Cretaceous period, approximately 66-83 million years ago. This means T. rex actually existed closer to when humans were alive than when Stegosaurus roamed the earth.

    625 votes
  • Napoleon Bonaparte Wasn't That Short
    Photo: Jacques-Louis David / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    554 VOTES

    Napoleon Bonaparte Wasn't That Short

    French leader Napoleon Bonaparte is famous for many things, and his short stature is always one of them. However, understanding French measurements and average male height of the time reveals he wasn't so outrageously short after all. 

    The English measurement system pegged Napoleon's height at 5 feet, 2 inches. However, the French inch at the time was slightly longer than the Imperial inch. So, a height of 5 feet, 2 Imperial inches would have been the equivalent of about 5 feet, 5 French inches. While that might still sound short compared with today's average American male height of 5 feet, 9.3 inches, it was only an inch shorter than average during the 18th century. 

    It appears that his legacy of being short (and thus trying to make up for it in other ways, hence the "Napoleon Complex") stemmed from a British cartoonist named James Gillray who became famous for his satire of the embattled Frenchman. Some of his cartoons portrayed Napoleon as excessively short and child-like. The cartoons became so popular in England, and irritated Napoleon so much, that he sent many messages to Britain demanding they be stopped. The requests were promptly ignored.

    554 votes