Did Edison actually invent the light bulb? Did Vikings really wear those silly hats? Did Catherine the Great truly die in a compromising position with a horse? 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.
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Walt Disney Invented Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse may be one of the most recognizable cartoon characters in history, and he helped turn Walt Disney into a major force in Hollywood. But most origin stories gloss over the fact that Walt Disney didn't create Mickey Mouse. In fact, Mickey was inspired by one of Disney's creations, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, after Disney lost animation rights to Universal.
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Gun Fights Happened All The Time In The American West
Hollywood Westerns always show multiple gun fights, with gunslingers drawing to shoot in saloons, on main street, or anywhere else. But the true history of the American West had a lot fewer gun fights. In fact, very few men even wore the signature low-slung pistol holsters and the tense standoffs in films rarely happened in real life. And the signature "quick draw" duel, a feature in many films that imitates European dueling, apparently only occurred two times in the Old West.
Even the word "gunslinger" was invented for a 1920 Western film. Instead, armed men in the American West were actually called "shootists."
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Gladiators Were All Slaves
Films like Gladiator and Spartacus popularized the myth that ancient Roman gladiators were slaves, forced to fight to the death for the enjoyment of spoiled aristocrats. But that myth is more Hollywood than history. In fact, many gladiators volunteered to fight, signing up to join gladiator schools for glory and wealth.
Some of these gladiators were former soldiers, knights, or even upper-class Romans who wanted to show off their strength. Many trained to wound, not kill, their opponents. And for several centuries, women also fought as gladiators.
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Vincent Van Gogh Cut Off His Entire Ear
Known as one of the greatest Dutch painters of all time, Vincent van Gogh is also famous for his struggle with mental illness. And according to one myth, van Gogh cut off his own ear after the end of a troubled love affair.
In reality, van Gogh fell in love with a sex worker named Clasina Maria Hoornik, who eventually went back to her trade, driving the artist further into despair. It was years later, however, when an unwell van Gogh was thought to cut off only the lower portion of his earlobe and gave it to an entirely different brothel worker - one he'd just met.
Long thought of as entirely a myth, since some sources indicated that van Gogh only took off a small part of his ear, new evidence came to light in 2016. A drawing of the dissected ear, drawn by a doctor who treated van Gogh, shows the ear was almost entirely severed, save for a small part of the lower lobe.