With no evidence that Vikings ever had horns on their helmets, it’s amazing this idea is so closely associated with our collective understanding.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – all throughout history we’ve muddled the specifics and mistaken fiction for fact. We’ll take you through the fun and fascinating common misconceptions when it comes to history and debunk some of the biggest myths…
Early ‘pilgrim’ settlers in America didn’t have buckles on their hats
Just when you were starting to come to terms with hornless Viking hats, here’s another headwear-related myth. The image we have in our minds of the early settlers in America – the Mayflower voyagers who landed in Plymouth to start a new life – isn’t actually accurate. Black and white clothing? Nope! Tall black hats with buckles? Wrong again.
In reality, pilgrims only wore black and white on Sundays, but sported an array of colours during the rest of the week. Their hats were also shorter than what’s often depicted, and without the shiny gold buckle.
Napoleon wasn’t short
There are a few theories on how the rumour about Napoleon Bonaparte’s short stature got started. Perhaps it’s because he was affectionately nicknamed le Petit Caporal (The Little Corporal), or maybe it’s because he was always accompanied by a tall imperial guard (who were selected for their height).
However the rumour came to be, the truth of the matter is: Napoleon was 5 feet 7 inches, slightly above the average Frenchman’s height at the time. Think about that next time you accuse someone of having a ‘Napoleon complex’.
No one thought the earth was flat
At least no one in medieval Europe did. That story of Christopher Columbus having to fight for funding from those who feared he’d fall off the earth’s edge? Turns out, it’s just a tall tale.
The idea of a spherical Earth actually dates back to the 6th century BC. And ever since Greek philosophers developed their theories of astronomy, pretty much everyone in the West has believed the Earth to be round.
Albert Einstein didn’t struggle at maths
We love this story because it gives us a great excuse for letting our own maths skills slip. Unfortunately, it’s not true in the slightest. Despite being a widely-believed and often repeated story, Einstein himself set the record straight, saying: “I never failed mathematics. Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”
Which historical misconception surprised you the most?