Dumb Things We Believe About Ancient Societies Because Of Hollywood

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Vote up the Hollywood tropes you're guilty of believing.

Fictional tales based on actual historical events have been film fodder since people first started making movies. While the culture and practices of early civilizations on Earth fascinate modern minds, it's much easier (and more entertaining) to ingest the historical information in a two-hour saga rather than studying decades of historical research. 

But that raises the question: How much of what we know about early civilizations is actually based on Hollywood glamorization, and not rooted in historical accuracy? 

As it turns out, quite a bit of the information filmgoers ingest as facts are deeply rooted in Hollywood myth. And if we're being frank, some of the beliefs that we gained from blockbuster films about ancient civilizations are actually pretty dumb. This list features some of the most offensive tropes we've picked up from the motion picture industry.

  • Roman Gladiators Were All Male, Slaves, And Battled To The Death
    Photo: Gladiator / Dreamworks Distribution LLC
    170 VOTES

    Roman Gladiators Were All Male, Slaves, And Battled To The Death

    The Trope: Every gladiator who entered an arena was an enslaved man who battled to the death.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Despite being banned from the arena in 200 AD, Roman law initially allowed women to fight other women in spectator battles. And while the events began with criminal executions, professional gladiators rarely lost their lives. 

    Ancient Romans treated their fighters much like modern-day boxers and mixed martial arts fighters, and had referees that ensured a fair fight. Fatalities certainly occurred, but many gladiators who lost their lives did so because they either gave up or weren't pardoned by the Emperor after losing the battle. 

    Because Romans treated these fighters like professional athletes, many free men and women chose to attend Gladiator schools to train and fight in arenas and amphitheaters. 

    Notable Offenders: Gladiator, Spartacus, Rome (series)

    170 votes
  • Men Wore Kilts And Painted Their Faces Blue For War In 13th Century Scotland
    Photo: Braveheart / Paramount Pictures
    160 VOTES

    Men Wore Kilts And Painted Their Faces Blue For War In 13th Century Scotland

    The Trope: During William Wallace's time, Scottish men painted their faces blue and dressed in kilts for war.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? The Scottish Picts did paint their faces blue in an attempt to scare off their Roman enemies, but the tradition ended long before William Wallace and his men during the first Scottish war for independence. They most likely didn't wear kilts in battle, either, because kilts hadn't been invented yet

    Instead, Scottish warriors wore tunics to battle, colored with whatever dye ingredients were available. Saffron was the most popular color for elites and nobles, and common people tried to recreate the expensive color by soaking their clothes in anything from crushed leaves to horse urine. Once the tunic was the correct shade of yellow, warriors secured it with a belt around the waist and pulled a cowhide or deerskin jerkin on top to protect against harsh weather. 

    Notable Offenders: Braveheart

    160 votes
  • Everyone Was Constantly Covered In Filth
    Photo: Monty Python and the Holy Grail / EMI Films
    130 VOTES

    Everyone Was Constantly Covered In Filth

    The Trope: The entire world was a lice-infested, flea-infected, filth-covered population.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? From ancient times into the Middle Ages, humans have a history of wanting to keep clean. Ancient Egyptians invented deodorant, always wore freshly laundered linen, and washed their cups and serving ware before using them. 

    The fees to gain entry into Ancient Roman bathhouses were so small that even the poor could afford to keep clean, and did. While the rich had more facilities and were, therefore, able to maintain an even higher level of hygiene, even the empire's enslaved people washed every day. The heated bathhouses also had piped water, flushable toilets, and handwashing stations. 

    Although many peasants didn't have access to running water in the Middle Ages, washing the hands and face was considered common daily practice. Canals and fountains brought relatively fresh water to the urban populations, and some castles had piping within their walls to transport water from cisterns to the kitchens. 

    Notable Offenders: Pretty much all modern historical epics, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail

    130 votes
  • Gold Coins Were Huge And Prevalent In Every Century
    Photo: Troy / Warner Bros. Pictures
    129 VOTES

    Gold Coins Were Huge And Prevalent In Every Century

    The Trope: Ancient societies often carried giant gold coins for currency, jewelry, and cultural rituals.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Whether the film is set in Ancient Greece, Rome, or Egypt, it's doubtful that any of the characters featured in historical fiction used huge gold coins in their daily lives

    Ancient documents place the Trojan War somewhere between 1334 to 1135 BCE, with modern experts identifying 1180 BCE as the most likely date of the events. At the time, gold coins didn't exist (so no one would be laying coins on soldiers' eyes à la Troy). Ancient Romans living when Spartacus was alive used jewels and serving ware made from precious metals as payment. 

    The massive currency used as a gratuity in Gladiator was enough money for a legionary's entire year's worth of pay. Cleopatra never coined her own currency, and the fantasy coinage shown in 300 was greatly exaggerated compared to the actual money used during the period. 

    Hollywood rarely considers the historical accuracy and uses of money when filming because the props are harder to see compared to the costumes and architectural design. 

    Notable Offenders: Troy, Gladiator, 300

    129 votes
  • Vikings Spent All Their Time Raiding And Waging War
    Photo: The 13th Warrior / Buena Vista Pictures
    134 VOTES

    Vikings Spent All Their Time Raiding And Waging War

    The Trope: Vikings were basically a nomadic culture whose only jobs were to raid and wage war on their neighbors. 

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Even the term “viking” is misleading, since the word describes a type of behavior, not a singular culture. Scandinavian peoples would leave their homes to go “a viking” during the summertime, which could mean raiding coastlines, but also trading for goods or enlisting as mercenaries to foreign powers. But what did these northern peoples do during the rest of the year?

    Surviving in what is now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden was arduous and taxing work. Most Scandinavian communities lived and survived on community farms. Most of these farms raised enough cattle and vegetables to feed the entire farm population, and cold winters meant that the community members had to grow enough hay to ensure the animals were safe and warm indoors during bad weather. 

    Farmers grew rye, barley, and oats, while women tended to vegetable gardens consisting of cabbages, onions, garlic, leeks, turnips, and beans. Between plowing, sowing, harvesting crops, mending broken fences, cleaning out animal stalls, and feeding livestock, most men, women, and children worked on the farm year-round. 

    Notable Offenders: The 13th Warrior, Outlander, Erik the Viking, How to Train Your Dragon, Beowulf

    134 votes
  • Opposing Armies Charged At Each Other In Giant, Disorganized Mobs
    Photo: Alexander / Warner Bros. Pictures
    113 VOTES

    Opposing Armies Charged At Each Other In Giant, Disorganized Mobs

    The Trope: There were no battle tactics or order when opposing armies fought each other in war.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? According to experts, two armies running head-on into one another isn't ideal for battle and most likely wouldn't have happened in an actual fighting scenario. Despite movies that depict fighters as savage soldiers who charge at their enemies with no regard for order, their military units were highly sophisticated and used disciplined formations during battle. 

    Though infantry units most likely did run toward the enemy screaming at the beginning of the fight, it was more of a tactic to get them beyond their initial mortal fear of the upcoming events than a war strategy. Once they reached the enemy, armies slowed down to attack one another face to face in even lines. 

    Notable Offenders: Kingdom of Heaven, Troy, Braveheart, Robin Hood (2010), Alexander, 300

    113 votes