Did Edison really invent the lightbulb? Did Catherine the Great really die in a compromising position with a horse? Did Vikings really wear those silly hats? These questions, and others like them, have haunted all of us from time to time. Fueled by artistic licenses taken by historical TV shows or just often repeated public misconceptions, there's a surprising amount about history everyone seems to get dead wrong. History is a vast, complicated, and confusing subject, composed of lots of really weird stories and characters. Some of these stories are true, some are exaggerated, and some are just blatant, shameless lies. Which silly historical myths have you been buying into all this time? Prepare for your preconceptions to be brutally shattered below.
What Medieval Torture Devices Were
Torture wasn't exactly unheard of during the Middle Ages, but a lot of the specific torture devices that were supposedly used during that period have been made up by future generations wanting to cash in on their titillation factor. The most common of these is the Iron Maiden, which was originally pieced together for display in a British museum during the 18th century. (Museums were weird and fascinating things back then, existing more for "entertainment" than for actual education, and often contained an equal mix of natural and historical artifacts, and blatant frauds or "curiosities.") Iron Maidens do exist... they just probably weren't ever used to actually torture anyone.
Walt Disney Invented Mickey Mouse
Actually, it was Ub Iwerks, one of Disney's most prolific and talented animators, who invented Mickey. There's an apocryphal story about Disney doodling an original sketch of proto-Mickey character Oswald Rabbit on an envelope while riding on a train (supposedly, this is also how Lincoln came up with the Gettysburg Address – we're skeptical about that one, too) but this hasn't been verified.
Witches Were Burned At the Stake In Salem
There's some evidence suggesting that people accused of Witchcraft in Europe during the Middle Ages were occasionally burned to death as punishment, but this was never the case in America during the late 17th century. The Salem Village Witch panic was definitely real, but although accused witches were killed in a number of creative ways (including being tied up and thrown in the river, and being crushed to death by rocks), none of the techniques used involved fire.The most common method of executing people convicted of Witchcraft in Puritan New England was hanging.
Gladiators Were Chattel
Ancient Roman tastes may have run toward the violent and perverse (and the violently perverse), but the modern concept of Roman gladiators as chattel-like grist for the mill of the Roman entertainment complex is somewhat exaggerated. Successful gladiators were popular with the Roman public, and anthropological records suggest they were most likely treated accordingly, often having long careers and being attended to by trainers and doctors.