Answers To 12 Questions About History We Wish We'd Gotten Sooner

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Vote up the answers that solve that historical quandary you didn't know you had.

Some aspects of history we hear about over and over again. Names, dates, major events - many of these are generally well known. Many unanswered questions exist about all of these things - ones that you may ask yourself, but then dismiss or forget. There are also questions that perhaps you never thought to ask, but once you hear them, you're instantly saying to yourself, "Yeah, that!"

We got curious about historical topics across time and subject matter. Some are more mundane than others, many are about rumors we've heard, and others relate to our daily lives. Take a look and decide which answers to questions about history satisfy your curiosity - and scratch that proverbial historical itch. 

  • In 1952, after the passing of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, the foreign ministry asked Albert Einstein to take his place. Einstein was extended the invitation due to his scientific contributions and also for his previous support of the Zionist cause.

    Einstein was Jewish and, in the letter sent to him (written in English and German), he was asked if he would "accept the Presidency of Israel if it were offered... Acceptance would entail moving to Israel and taking its citizenship."

    Einstein declined, sending this as his reply

    I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel [to serve as president], and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions.

    For these reasons alone I should be unsuited to fulfill the duties of that high office, even if advancing age was not making increasing inroads on my strength. I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.

    1,662 votes
  • Has The Leaning Tower Of Pisa Ever Been Straight?
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Leaning Tower of Pisa is, according to restoration experts, more straight than it's ever been. Efforts to keep the structure "stable and very slowly reduce its lean" were announced as successful in 2018, which was necessary to counteract centuries of the tower standing on soft ground.

    Construction on Pisa's tilting tower began in 1173, and even early in the process, it was clear that the structure wouldn't stand straight. By the time the third story was added in 1178, it had already begun to shift and showed signs of its characteristic tilt.

    Completed during the 14th century, the tower shifted about two millimeters each year until the most recent successful corrective action. 

    1,304 votes
  • When Did Passports Start Being Used?
    Photo: US Government / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    633 VOTES

    When Did Passports Start Being Used?

    Modern passports, as documents required for international travel, have been around for about a century. Throughout history, missives and administrative documents were used to introduce ambassadors, arrange safe passage, and confirm identities. The use of the word "passport" can be found in 16th-century texts, but official traveling papers weren't required of the masses until the early 20th century.

    As immigration increased, countries deemed it necessary to keep track of individuals entering and exiting their borders. This was especially true after WWI. In Britain during the 1910s, passports included descriptions of "shape of face... complexion... features..." - basically physical characteristics alongside information about country of origin. 

    In many places like the US, a passport was once a status symbol. It reflected the ability to travel and was required for international travel as of 1920. Passports also indicated citizenship and symbolized national identity. 

    633 votes
  • 4
    799 VOTES

    Why Is The Color Purple Associated With Royalty?

    The association between royalty and purple goes back to antiquity, with a notable emphasis in the Roman world. The elite status of purple is in large part due to the cost of the dye used to color garments. Because it was so expensive, only the most prominent and wealthiest members of society could afford to wear it. 

    Purple was largely derived from a substance found in the glands of predatory sea snails in the Muricidae family. Tyrian purple, specifically, was used as early as the 16th century BCE. It smelled bad and was extracted through an exhaustive process that involved drying, boiling, and straining.

    The importance of purple extended into the Middle Ages and the early modern period, ultimately becoming more available to middle and lower classes thanks to the development of synthetic dyes during the 19th century. 

    799 votes
  • Were There Female Gladiators?
    Photo: TimeTravelRome / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.0
    648 VOTES

    Were There Female Gladiators?

    In the Roman world, gladiators were entertainers, athletes, slaves, and prisoners - depending on the time, circumstances, and place - but they weren't all male. A few rare female gladiators existed, and they were called "gladiatrices" (the singular being "gladiatrix"). It's possible they were also called "ludia," a word used to describe stage performers and the wives of gladiators alike.

    Roman satiricist Juvenal, writing during the late first and early second centuries, described one female gladiator, Mevia, who fought bare-breasted. He mocked women entering the gladiatorial ring, expressing the "sense of shame... found in a woman wearing a helmet, who shuns femininity and loves brute force."

    During the late second and early third centuries, writer Cassius Dio described exhibitions in which women fought, including those held by Emperor Domitian (d. 96 BCE), who was said to have held fights where "he would pit dwarfs and women against each other."

    Women were banned from arenas by Septimius Severus in 200 CE. 

    648 votes
  • Did Napoleon Really Get Attacked By A Bunch Of Bunnies?
    Photo: Автор неизвестен / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    887 VOTES

    Did Napoleon Really Get Attacked By A Bunch Of Bunnies?

    It may not sound like a real event, but in 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to hold a rabbit hunt. He had courtier Alexandre Berthier release a group of bunnies so he and his colleagues could hunt them. Instead of getting wild rabbits, however, Napoleon's man had gathered domesticated ones that didn't run away when released.

    Domesticated rabbits were supposed to garner more kills, but they proved to be less than the ideal prey. They didn't make any effort to flee once they were free. Instead, the lagomorphs headed for Napoleon - hundreds of them charging at him in the hopes of food. Napoleon found no humor in it and stormed off in anger instead.

    General Paul Thiébault described the incident in his memoir:

    The intrepid rabbits turned the Emperor's flank, attacked him frantically in the rear, refused to quit their hold, piled themselves up between his legs till they made him stagger, and forced the conqureror of conquerors, fairly exhausted, to retreat and leave them in possession of the field.

    887 votes