Some Historical Myths Debunked

Jul 27, 2012 by

Myth … a traditional or legendary story

A lot of what we “know” to be historically true can sometimes turn out to be a coloured view perpetuated through an unspoken or unconscious sense of national pride or even an idea of how it ‘should’ve been’. Every nation has its favourite tales from the past, but how accurate are they?. We look at a few here.


The Norman Conquest in 1066

The Myth

:

Good Saxons versus Bad Normans – and Harold was killed by an arrow though the eye.

The Reality

:

To every English school child it evokes a Saxon hero, Harold, and a French villain, William, who met and fought at the Battle of Hastings.

The outcome, we are told, was decided by an arrow in Harold’s eye. But history is seldom as commonly related.

Harold, son of Godwin, was an Anglo-Dane with no claim to the throne beyond Edward’s deathbed blessing.

William was no Frenchman, but descended from the Norse warrior Rollo and granted Normandy by the French king Charles the Simple in 911. He, too, had no claim beyond the late King Edward’s apparent, but earlier, blessing. Both Harold and William were of Viking descent.

To cap it all, Harold’s death was even more gruesome. There’s no evidence that Harold was actually killed by an arrow in the eye. The main evidence rests of the fact that in the Bayeaux tapestry the name Harold simply appears near a figure with an arrow in the eye. Post-eye injury, if it did occur, he was hacked to pieces and was so mutilated that his mistress, the charmingly named Edith Swan-Neck, had to be summoned to identify its parts.


The American Revolution, 1774-83

The Myth

:

The American colonists had nothing to lose but their chains.

The Reality

:

The American War of Independence began as nothing of the sort.

It was essentially an argument between loyalist and radical British subjects over trade and taxes, only gradually acquiring the rhetoric of civil rights and liberties. Even today that argument is mired in chauvinism.

London protested that a derisory £1,400-a-year in revenue was being gathered from the 13 colonies to pay for having been rescued by Britain from French autocracy in the Seven Years War.

To call this rescue “absolute despotism”, as the Americans did, was absurd. The protested Stamp Acts were imposed throughout the empire, as were other trade restrictions, while the colonists enjoyed their own assemblies and were for the most part autonomous.

As a colony with self-governing rights, America was far better treated than Ireland.


The building of the Eqyptian Pyramids

The Myth

:

Slaves built the great pyramids in Eqypt.

The Reality

:

We have all seen the movies and heard the tales of slaves captured by Egyptian military excursions being used to build the pyramids and temples of Ancient Egypt, but, in fact, they are all completely wrong. Contrary to popular belief, excavated skeletons show that the pyramid builders were actually Egyptians who were most likely in the permanent employ of the pharaoh. Graffiti indicates that at least some of these workers took pride in their work, calling their teams “Friends of Khufu,” “Drunkards of Menkaure,” and so on—names indicating allegiances to pharaohs.


The Emperor Caligula and his favourite horse Incitatus

The Myth

:

Emperor Caligula made his horse a consul (a figurative head of the republican government)

The Reality

:

Caligula’s love for his horse, Incitatus, was well known in his time and in present times, but the modern love of a good myth has promoted the horse to a far greater position than in reality. About 70 years after Caligula died, the historian Seutonius wrote of Caligula and Incitatus: “Besides a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, purple blankets and a collar of precious stones, he even gave his horse a house, a troop of slaves and furniture, for the more elegant entertainment of the guests invited in his name: and it is also said that he planned to make him consul.” The fact that this was not a first hand account (hence saying: “it is also said”) the report is dubious. There are no other records that indicate that Caligula did ever indicate that he planned to raise Incitatus to such an important place – let alone do it.


Thomas Edison and the Lightbulb

The Myth

:

Edison Invented the Lightbulb.

The Reality

:

In fact, Thomas Edison not only did not invent the lightbulb, he did not invent many of the things attributed to him. His shrewd business skills enabled him to steal, improve, and patent many ideas before their original inventors were able to. He was, in addition, a ruthless man who attempted to discredit other inventors in order to gain popularity for his own. Prior to Edison’s patent for the electric lightbulb in 1880, electric lights had already been invented. In 1840, British Astronomer and Chemist, Warren de la Rue, enclosed a platinum coil in a vacuum tube and passed an electric current through it, thus creating the world’s first light bulb – a full 40 years before Edison.

However as platinum was very expensive which made it impossible to be distributed on a commercial level.

Joseph Wilson Swan, born in 1828 in England worked as a physicist and chemist. Swan used a carbon paper filament in his light bulbs and In 1878 he received a British patent for his light bulb. Swan began placing light bulbs in homes throughout England. By the early 1880s he had started his own light bulb company.

Edison undoubtedly copied Swan’s work and claimed to boot that he invented the Lightbulb. However in a suit filed by Swan Edison lost. The British Courts forced Edison, as part of the settlement, to name Swan a partner in his British electric company. Eventually, Edison managed to acquire all of Swans’ interest in the newly renamed Edison and Swan United Electric Company.