9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

It’s often said that “history is written by the winners” to which one might add “and revised by idealists wearing rose-colored glasses.”

Today, we have access to more information than ever before, but it remains unclear how well that’s helping us to clarify centuries-old misunderstandings about who we are or where we came from.

While browsing through the question-and-answer site Quora recently, I came upon a thread called “What are some of the biggest lies in history that are still being taught in modern day schools?

It was a real eye-opener.

Listed among the answers were many historical stories and happenings often cited as fact, when some barely have a toehold in the world of non-fiction.

It makes sense. Some of them are fantastic tales, and it would be really, really cool if they were true. But they’re not, and it’s high time we stopped repeating them to ourselves and our children.

How many of these historical “facts” do you still believe?

1. Slaves built the pyramids.

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

“While there probably were some slaves involved, most of the work in  pyramid construction was done by paid professionals. The pyramid  builders took great pride in their work and were held in high esteem in Egyptian society. Only a core of some 5,000 expert stonemasons and engineers were present during the whole operation and the rest were payed workers and some slaves,” explains Quora user Marko Medan.

Read more about who built the pyramids in Harvard Magazine.

2. Columbus discovered the world was round.

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

“Everyone at that time with any education knew the Earth was round. The Greeks had calculated the size of the Earth long before with a reasonable degree of accuracy,” wrote Quora user Peter Murias.

Read more about who discovered the earth was round on Science Blogs.

3. Early Native Americans were primitive “savages.”

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

“There’s no denying that in some Native American civilizations, human sacrifices occurred, just as there’s no denying that in Europe, there was a time when burning ‘heretics’ at the stake was the norm.

This negative and frankly inaccurate portrayal of Native Americans [as primitive, violent subhumans obsessed with scalping] became pervasive as white men began their conquest of the Americas. Portraying the enemy as primitive savages enabled them to garner the support to fight them and take their land,” writes Kylie Cheung for Bustle.

Read more about Native Americans before Europeans showed up in Scientific American.

4. American colonists were religiously tolerant.

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

“Some people came to the New England colonies seeking the religious freedom to discriminate and oppress anyone who did not share their religious views. Parts of two different colonies were founded by people driven out of Massachusetts Bay Colony because of the residents of Massachusetts Bay Colony wanting to exercise their religious freedom to hang people of differing religious views,” writes Quora user Richard White. “Roger Williams was driven out of Massachusetts Bay Colony for the ‘crime’ of being a Baptist—and founded Rhode Island.  Some of my ancestors helped found Waterbury, Connecticut because they had been driven out of Massachusetts Bay Colony for the ‘crime’ of being Quakers.”

Read more about America’s history of religious “tolerance” in Smithsonian Magazine.

5. Betsy Ross designed the American flag.

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

“…it should be noted that during her time Ross herself never claimed responsibility for this feat. According to Betsy, her contributions involved selecting a five-pointed star over a six-pointed one because they were easier to make. The concept of Ross creating the flag came 35 years after her death, courtesy of her grandson, William Canby. He had quite a great story to tell that was supposedly passed down through the family,” writes Radu Alexander for All That Is Interesting.

Read more about the origin of the American flag at History.org.

6. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

“Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, he improved upon the ideas of 22 other men who pioneered the light bulb before him. Edison just improved upon the existing filament technologies to create a longer lasting bulb. Then he started a company with that. Joseph Swan came up with light bulb years before Edison and it was used as streetlights in England,” wrote Quora user Santhosh Kumar.

Read more about the invention of the light bulb in U.S. News.

7. American cowboys were Caucasian pioneers.

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

Most historians now report that around one in four cowboys were African-American, while around one in three were Mexican.

Read more about America’s forgotten cowboys at CNN.com.

8. Ancient Greeks conquered Troy by hiding themselves in a giant “Trojan horse.”

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

“Most scholars agree that, if that horse ever existed, it likely was a battering ram which resembled a horse, or even a siege machine (cf. Michael Wood). There are other theories on what actually happened, but none of them is close to the [well-known] tale.

Read more about the Trojan horse myth at Oxford University.

9. The Emancipation Proclamation freed all the slaves.

9 Historical Myths Everyone Still Wants To Believe

“It didn’t; it freed only those in the Confederacy and moreover had fled to the Federal lines. Four slave states in the Union were therefore excluded: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. All the slaves weren’t freed until the 13th Amendment was passed,” writes Quora user Rosemary Holdredge.

Read more about the Emancipation Proclamation at History.com.

Were you surprised by these myths or did you already know them to be false? Tell us in the comments.

Image Credits: Thinkstock

76 comments

Jetana A
Jetana A6 months ago

wonderful mythbusters! I knew most of these, but several of them were eye openers.

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Sue H
Sue H6 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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John B
John B2 years ago

Thanks Beth for "busting" common myths.

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Jennifer F
Jennifer F2 years ago

If you aren't happy with what your children are taught in school then teach them at home.

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Rosslyn O.
Rosslyn O2 years ago

We have some beauties in Australia as well... not being from the US I had no idea, but others I did. Thanks very much for this I found it very interesting.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Wendi M.
Wendi M2 years ago

TYFS

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

noted

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Joanne p.
Joanne p2 years ago

ty

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