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17 Lies Historians Have Told Us

Updated on December 13, 2016

We have trusted our history books for years, yet they have been lying to us. Historians have twisted the truth in order to shape the thoughts of everyone else. Here are 17 lies that we have been told and have believed for most of our lives.

Europe Thought the Earth Was Round

No, Christopher Columbus did not set sail to prove the earth was round. European leaders and intellectuals did not think that a ship would fall off the edge of the earth if it sailed too close to the horizon. That doesn’t mean no one believed that, but it was not the prevalent view. Most people understood the fact that the earth was round.

Let’s start with the realization that Columbus was not the first European to see the shores of the Americas. The Vikings had already found North America and left some evidence behind. All anyone had to do was read the writings of the Ancient Greeks to know that the scholars recognized the earth as being round and even attempted to calculate its size: “The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) argued in his writings that the Earth was spherical, because of the circular shadow it cast on the Moon, during a lunar eclipse. Another reason was that some stars visible from Egypt are not seen further north.” (

The fact that the earth was round was a well-known fact. Great scholars was aware of it. The kings of the world brought the greatest scholars to advise them and give them information to make the wisest judgments. The denial by European courts to support Columbus had nothing to do with the idea that the earth was flat and he would be sailing to his doom. They turned him down because of the money and the odds of failure. Granted, if they knew what Columbus would find and what it would mean for Europe, they would have jumped on the chance to get there first and establish their empire.


Slavery Did Not Start with America

When one thinks of slavery, the image of the plantation owner standing over his slaves is usually what comes to mind. Some people even argue that the image is the true and only form of slavery worth discussing. Despite what you might have heard, slavery did not start in America, and it was not exactly the same.

Slavery has been around nearly since the beginning of time. It has been an accepted practice in nearly every culture. It was prolific in Asia. It was nothing unusual in the Middle East; it was common in Europe. Even Africa had its version of slavery. So America did not invent the institution. They just took it to a new level to create an empire that would eventually condemn that same act.

Now, let me stop to say this. I do not condone slavery. I report the historical accuracy of it. We have created this ‘truth’ that American slavery is the only form and was created on the New World’s shores. Slavery has been accepted practice in the world for thousands of years. Today, it is illegal though still practiced in some hidden cultures.

Slavery was a common and accepted practice around the world. In most cases, slaves were treated well. Quite a percentage of slaves were treated harshly, but a large number were also treated very well by the families who owned them. Many slaves were only temporary as they worked out debts or were allowed to purchase their freedom. The slave culture was a unique world that is not quite what we think of.

Slavery is not an American invention. It was an American adaptation that led to the legal end of all slavery around the world.


American Has Lost One War

As of this writing, America has not loss a single war. No, they did not lose the war in Vietnam. There was no winner or loser in that conflict. It was essentially a draw. Nobody came out a winner. It changed the face of America.

This war was one of the most controversial. It came at a time when the media could bring it quicker and more ‘real’ to the public. It didn’t come to the public weeks or months after an event. It could be seen within days, and the images were disturbing. The American public rose up in protest when they saw what war was really like.

Over several years, the war raged on with no side ever coming out ahead. In the end, a ceasefire resulted. No one won. No one lost. It was a draw. For the first time, American didn’t come out a winner, but it didn’t lose the war either.


The True Confederate Flag

The image you have of the Confederate Flag is all wrong. That is not the flag of the temporary union of Southern states. It was the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s army and was rejected as the official flag of the new union...excuse me, confederacy.

Whenever the Confederacy is researched, 99.9% (my own percentage) of the time, the incorrect flag is represented. Most research will show the wrong flag because in the mid-twentieth century, that flag became popular at Southern events such as football games. It also has become the flag most represented at Confederacy battlegrounds and shrines. It was the flag of a failed revolution that still gives off aftershocks today.


The Emancipation Proclamation Did Not Free the Slaves

The majority of people think that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the United States. The truth is that only the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave complete freedom to slaves and abolished slavery as an accepted institution in America. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed certain slaves in an effort to help defeat the South. Read this excerpt from the speech itself:

...Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

Only the slaves in particular states that had seceded from the Union were included. Slaves in the border states and the Union were not freed. They were still enslaved until the new amendment was passed. So, no the Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves nor did it end slavery.


I think most of us realize that Thanksgiving did not happen the way the plays show us, yet for many years that is how we were taught in school. The truth is that the day was set aside by President Abraham Lincoln to remind the nation that it is blessed. The stories of the ‘first’ Thanksgiving developed over time as teachers and community leaders tried to connect that day with the Pilgrims and the trials and successes they encountered.

There is an attempt to rewrite so much of history, and this is one area that has been largely turned completely around. Many historians are now saying that the Pilgrims came into the New World intent on destroying those who lived there. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. If you want to know the actual truth, read primary documents and other books on the subject. Truth is rarely on any extreme.

The Middle Ages - Dark...or Dead?

I grew up being taught that the Middles Ages were the Dark Ages because there was not much of value happening including any art, education, etc. That was not true. It was just a period before the Renaissance that had many important things happening.

Great buildings were constructed in this period with amazing designs. Books were copied by monks and became pieces of magnificent art. The Catholic Church became more powerful and found ways to become part of the political structure and was the main method of preserving knowledge. Many things were happening during this period.

Why were they called the Dark Ages? Because who wrote the histories wanted to be in the limelight. The Renaissance writers were very proud and pleased with their accomplishments. They saw themselves as a light in a dark world. So it made sense to call the period before them, the Dark Ages.


All Founding Fathers Were Christian

We were taught that America was founded as a Christian nation by Christian men. While Christianity was the basis for the new leaders, they did not always practice what they preached nor that they believed as we think of when we hear ‘Christian’. Some were deists. Some put on the air of Christianity but only on Sunday. The rest of the week, they did not hide how they felt or their opinion on things.

Were they believers in God? Yes, their personal letters attest to that. Would they say they were Christian? Probably. But were they the devout men we have been taught? Probably not.


Nero Fiddled

The legend says that Emperor Nero fiddled as Rome burned. It was also said that he was the one who started the fire so he could blame the Christians. Ah, what our enemies can say about us!

After many years of telling students that Nero did fiddle and did cause the fire, historians have started to correct that. It seems that the fiddle story was complete fabrication. His enemies came up with that because they wanted to make him look bad and hurt his reputation which worked as we still believe that story.

Did he start the fire? Evidence says he probably didn’t. It has been discovered that he actually did a lot to aid the victims of the fire. He did actually blame the Christians because he did want to rid the empire of them, but actually setting the fire? No.


Marie Antoinette Said to Eat Cake

No one actually heard the Queen of France say that the peasants should eat cake. In fact, it had been rumored for years about other monarchs using that phrase. Anytime a monarch became disliked by powerful people, the enemies created strong rumors to make them look bad. Many other female monarchs were accused of this very phrase so that the general public would turn on them. History has left it to stick to Marie Antoinette.

In actuality, the queen has been portrayed as a horrible woman while in reality she was very kind and worked to help the common people. The problem was that she was not French.


Lucretia Borgia Was a Wantonly Murderous Woman

I grew up hearing how horrible Lucretia Borgia was. Through her, men were murdered to help her obtain wealth and power. The enemies of her father did a wonderful job of ruining her name through the years. The truth is probably that this woman was completely innocent.

Lucretia was the only daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Her father used her to marry into the most powerful families in Europe to strengthen his position as pope. When the marriage didn’t benefit him as well, he found ways to end the marriage and pawn her off onto another man. The first marriage was a major scandal in that the pope annulled it after declaring the husband was impotent. Under extreme pressure, the man admitted it and walked away.

Two other marriages ended in death with rumors circulating that Lucretia had killed them because she wanted to have her brother as a lover. The truth is that she was close to her brother who tried to protect her from their father, but even he played a role in dissolving her marriages.

Black widow? Research has shown that she was probably innocent of all that history has laid on her. She was just a pawn in a dangerous game her father controlled.


Napoleon Was a Shrimp

Poor Napoleon has really gotten the shaft over his heighth. We even have a psychological disorder named after him to describe men who have a complex because they are too short. The truth is that in that day and time, he was pretty average at five foot seven inches.

Okay, today we might say that is kind of short for a man, but in back that it was average. So why has he had such a short reputation? Because French records showed him at five two which no one stopped to look at what unit of measure they used. Converted, it was five seven.

Sorry, Napoleon. We can’t change the syndrome’s name, but we will try not to make the jokes of you being such a shrimp.


The Chicago Fire was Caused by Mrs. O'Leary's Cow

What started the Chicago fire of 1871? No, it was not Ms. O’Leary’s cow that we were told for years. The cause of the death of around three hundred people is still not completely known, but it wasn’t a temperamental bovine.

A large part of Chicago was destroyed. But in the end it was the best thing for Chicago as it allowed it to start over.

Note - This was not the worst fire of the time. At the same time of the Chicago fire, there was a bigger and more devastating fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Due to the telegraph lines being down, no one knew of the disaster for a few weeks. It took the lives of nearly 2,400 people. Maybe it was a meteor shower that struck both areas. Who knows, but many people died that night.


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    • Stella Kaye profile image

      Stella Kaye 15 months ago from UK

      There is no absolute truth in History, with the exception of verified dates. Even written evidence may just be someone's personal opinion. It is said that History is written by the victors who will obviously hold a biased view to bolster themselves up. History is like a jigsaw that we can only try to piece together but there will always be some bits missing. To say that Historians have lied is thus a bit of a harsh statement.

    • asifahsankhan profile image

      asifahsankhan 15 months ago

      Nice Article. : )

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 15 months ago from The English Midlands

      Very interesting. But lies? That's probably going a bit far. I think that the real problem is that people expect 'facts' from their history books when the only real 'fact' is that the past is open to interpretation, and historians interpret the evidence that is available to them. Plus, there are myths and stories that are believed and then passed on. Mostly this is done quite innocently. However, I assume that there will have been times when it has benefited some to pass on false history.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 15 months ago from Wisconsin

      Good point. :)

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 15 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Just goes to show that "fake news" has been around a lot longer than the Internet.