Ah yes, history, written by the victors, with all the eyewitnesses lost to time... Some say it's one of those mysteries that man cannot know... That in the end, all known history is subjective and therefore useless as a source of knowledge...
Not so. Large chunks of history are well-documented.
But for most creators of fiction, accurately depicting historical fact comes in a very distant second place to telling a good story the best they can.
Also, many writers commit what's called the "historian's mistake", which is the idea that historical characters acted and made their decisions with full knowledge of the future — including the repercussions their actions would cause (like for example portraying Churchill as saying his Darkest HourRousing Speech with knowledge that Nazi Germany was going to be defeated in 4 years). This is also known in psychology as Hindsight Bias. Although some historical individuals made predictions that came true, this is not the same thing as knowing what would happen. For instance, a character in 1919 could plausibly predict that the Treaty of Versailles would cause hardship, anger and instability in Germany (indeed, Marshal Foch himself said at the time it was "not a peace treaty, just an armistice for twenty years", if only because he understood it to be too lenient), but it would be stretching it for him to confidently assert that the instability would specifically result in the rise of a ruthless racial supremacist paramilitary regime in Germany that would be hellbent for revenge starting the biggest war in human history and along the way, responsible for the systematic murder of millions of Jews, Roma, and others. (See The Great Politics Mess-Up for more on this particular fallacy.)
This trope is NOT for speculative history stories, which get a pass simply because they're supposed to be alternate history stories, unless they reference these events as parts of "actual" history.
Compare Hollywood History, where the facts are mostly right, just caricatured and stereotyped, when not subject to Nostalgia Filter, and Future Imperfect, where characters in a speculative fiction story set in the distant future get history horribly wrong. The Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Villain Upgrade sometimes fall into this. See Dated History for those rare cases where new evidence or insight actually does change the historical record.
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Works which attempt to invoke Paris amid the dramatic changes of the 19th century and the gilded and wobbly vainglory of Napoleon III seem to gravitate toward two years: 1870 and 1871. Those dates are indeed memorable ones in civic history, but for all the wrong reasons. At that point in history, the real Paris was under siege, with battered soldiers anxiously discussing the war in the coffee shops, people eating their own pets just to remain alive, students manning the barricades, beggars dying from starvation in the streets, elephants at the zoo being found delicious, monocled German officers peering down cannons from just beyond the city limits, and later, after the city had fallen, a revolutionary Commune set up, ending in Communards being shot dead by government firing squads. All this reality would spoil the Parisian ambiance, so it's all quietly ignored. Works that make this mistake include Joel Schumacher's The Phantom of the Opera adaptation and Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire.
On that Phantom bit: in addition to the glaring 1871 opera house date issue, the film has Christine dying in 1918 as a victim of the Spanish Influenza. Thing is, 1918 France was not only besieged by the Influenza; it was also crawling out of the end of this little thing called World War One.
It's often said that people in Ye Goode Olde Days in England always married young, sometimes so young that it seems like pedophilia to a modern viewer. But this is simply not true. We know from church records (which have been kept since at least the reign of Elizabeth I) that the average age at marriage for men and women has barely changed since 1600, holding steady at 26 for men, 25 for women all the way up to 1960. This affects not just how we see the past but also how we see media from the past. For instance, readers who buy into this trope might assume that Elinor Dashwood's fears of being an "old maid" at 19 are justified for her time period, but Austen probably meant to show her as needlessly overly anxious about a possibility that might not even occur. This is especially true since most of Austen's other female characters don't marry until they're well into their twenties. Belief in this trope can also take away much of the shock and horror that Shakespeare wanted his audience to feel over Juliet's predicament, especially since Shakespeare made her 13 when she's 16 in the source text.
So why does the misconception exist? It turns out that some people were married off at a young age - aristocrats, who until much later were the only people mentioned in the history books despite making up about 0.1% of the population. These marriages were usually political alliances, and (unlike Juliet above) were generally not consummated until the bride was old enough to safely deliver a child. The average man or woman, on the other hand, had to work for years in order to save up enough to marry; while men underwent apprenticeships or waited for their fathers to die so they could inherit the lease on the land they farmed, women worked as household servants, dairymaids, and general farm workers.
The terms "engagement" and "marriage" did not have the sharp divide that exists between them today. A promise of marriage carried as much weight as an actual marriage, and subsequent marriages could be dissolved as bigamous if a previous promise to marry existed (this is the "reason" Richard III of England gave for deposing his nephew and ruling as king. Coincidentally, it's also the reason for Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace).
There were exceptions to the childbearing rule, however- Margaret Beaufort (Henry VIII's grandmother) was married at twelve and gave birth at thirteen. Most historians agree that the reason she only had one child is because giving birth at such a young age left her unable to have any more.
'Marriageability' would be tied ultimately to the menarche, which is still wildly variable and mostly determined by weight rather than age. Some unscrupulous rich men in the 18th century would have their daughters over-fed in order to bring them to puberty earlier and get them off their hands faster (a practice still not unknown in some parts of the developing world...) To return to Jane Austen, this explains why the thin and sickly Fanny Price is not 'brought out'- that is, allowed to mix with society and thus be eligible for marriage, until her health drastically improves at age 18, when she also is noted to suddenly get taller- whereas the highly-sexed Lydia Bennett (who the narrator notes is both tall and quite fat for her age) is 'out' at only 15.
Hardly anyone realizes these days that the Byzantine Empire WAS the Roman Empire. Usually, they're treated as two distinct entities. It is somewhat understandable, as even when Rome was nominally the centre of the empire, after Constantine I the two organizations became very distinct from one another. Even contemporaries from that time recognized and understood that the entirety of the Roman Empire was divided into two distinct entities: the Latin-dominated Western Roman Empire, and the Greek-dominated Eastern Roman Empire. Within two centuries of the fall of Rome, the Eastern Romans fully transitioned to using Greek (which had been the Lingua Franca throughout most of the Empire for centuries) in all of its records. However, economic and cultural structures were an uninterrupted descendant from the Roman systems, and they named themselves "Roman" until long after the Empire itself had fallen in 1453. This led to a little diplomatic comedy when the Latin Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III wrote to the Emperor Manuel I Comnenus, referring to himself as "Emperor of the Romans" and to Manuel as "Emperor at Constantinople." In his reply, Manuel called himself "Emperor of the Romans," and Conrad "friend of ourempire" and "king". In his rejoinder, Conrad again calls himself "truly Emperor of the Romans," and refers to Manuel only as "King of the Greeks." They never once called themselves the Byzantine Empire, that phrase wasn't invented until a hundred years after the fall of Constantinople, to themselves they were the Basileia Rhomanion (Roman Kingdom in Greek). Latin-speaking foreigners generally referred to them as Constantine's Empire.
The Russians also considered themselves the moral heirs of the original Roman Empire, with the capital city of the empire referred to as "the third Rome" (the second one being Constantinople and the first one, well...Rome).
Many Roman historians embellished their history to make it more entertaining, such as the infamous exploits of Emperors like Nero and Caligula.
When Christianity finally got a spot to itself in Roman society, the "war" among Pagan historians and Christian historians derived into this trope as well. The Emperor you're writing about wasn't a member of your faith? Let's make him even worse than he was in Real Life! Pagan Emperors tortured people For the Evulz! Christian Emperors were traitors to the Empire! Lather, rinse, repeat. Until the Christians won.
Similarly, many supposed "acts" related to Christian martyrology are not only riddled with supposed supernatural apparitions and miracles, which are already kiiiiinda hard to believe for many, but some have glaring historical errors.note This is actually so bad that outy of hundreds of supposed "martyrologies", only four (Agnes, Sebastian, Felix and Adauctus, and Marcellinus and Peter) are considered as "even remotely historical. A good example is the myth of Saint Philomena of Mugnano: supposed to be about a Greek Rebellious Princess who spurns the offer of an Arranged Marriage to Emperor Diocletian and gets martyred: there were no small kingdoms left by that time in Greece (it was divided in provinces, and Philomena's supposed kingdom was in the island of Corfu — back then, a part of the Macedonia province), Diocletian was a married man and both his wife Prisca and daughter Valeria outlived him for at least four years, Diocletian reigned from outside of Rome (more exactly from Nicomedia, Mediolanum, Antioch, and ultimately Trier) while the whole "tale" happened in Rome itself, etc.
Some depictions embellish the torture used by the Inquisition, which was actually forbidden to draw blood during torture.
The Spanish Inquisition was actually highly regulated, not arbitrary as often depicted. However, since torture was an accepted way to obtain truthful confessions and denunciations were anonymous until the actual trial (which could occur as much as two years after the denunciation, during which the accused would be imprisoned without knowing who had accused them or even what the charges were), this was little comfort to its victims.
The Spanish Inquisition was also quite methodical in gathering evidence, to the point where it ended witch burnings in Spain a full century before witch-hunts began to wane in the rest of Europe due to the lack of physical evidence for witchcraft. Again, since the main business of the Inquisition was to root out heresy, for which there was little physical evidence, this was no help to the other people accused by the Inquisition.
The Inquisition actually introduced the legal concept of the presumption of innocence. Before that, the accused would have to prove their own innocence. The Inquisition held that allegations of witchcraft, for instance, required solid evidence; this went some way to alleviating the "She's a witch!" mudslinging that was the norm. Furthermore, inquisitors were obliged to provide the accused with legal counsel, considered confession without factual corroboration an unfit grounds for sentence, and were forbidden to accept accusations from ex-convicts or people who could benefit from the sentence. None of these precautions were observed by most secular courts of the period.
It's rare for anyone to note that the Papal Inquisition ("the" Inquisition) and the Spanish Inquisition were completely separate organizations. It's hardly ever mentioned that Protestants had their own persecutions of heretics (both Catholics and often Protestants of different sects) and witches. In fact they killed more witches than the Church. It's even rarer to note that the Spanish Inquisition was the state ministry, not papal organization and served the interests of the Kings of Spain, not the Church as a whole. It was founded in 1480 and was active throughout the 16th to early 19th century (it was formally abolished in 1834) so its connection to the Middle Ages is rather weak.
Often torture is treated as an exceptional method. Torture was standard practice and used by every king, country, city, etc. into the early 18th century, just as fines and imprisonment are used today.
Some of the first people to criticize accusations of witchcraft and torture were actually priests, since they had experience in dealing with both. They just pointed out the obvious: that, for instance, a broom will not hold a woman's weight in flight, and people confess to impossible things if tortured.
The Church itself also never executed heretics-priests were forbidden to shed blood, as stated above. The convicts were given to the secular authorities, who executed them. The auto-da-fe (act of faith) did not refer to the executions itself, but the public penance of the convicted heretics which occurred before the sentences were to be carried out (many were spared at the last moment if they confessed and repented).
Heretics are usually portrayed as peaceful if eccentric evangelists and are portrayed in a positive light. In reality, many heretical movements during the High Middle Ages, especially the millenarian sects, strove to reform not only religion but also secular life. Some of them tried to achieve it forcefully, by physical elimination of nobility and clergy, attracting simple criminals. Comparison with fascists and Bolsheviks is sometimes not too stretched.
Another important detail is that many seemingly minor points of doctrine are far more important than they appear at first glance. The argument over whether the Eucharist is really the Body and Blood of Christ or merely a symbol seems like hair-splitting until you consider the fact that it is the difference between true worship and either idolatry or sacrilege (worshiping the Eucharist would be idolatry if it isn't really Jesus, and treating the Eucharist as a mere symbol is sacrilege if it is Jesus). Orthodoxy is Serious Business because of Fridge Horror.
Galileo was never tortured by the church. He was threatened with torture before confessing, but this was standard (as in, any court anywhere, secular or otherwise, had little problem with torture at the time). His sentence for heresy was house arrest at his villa for the rest of his life. There were others, such as Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for his Copernican and naturalist opinions.
Bruno was not condemned for his defence of the Copernican system of astronomy, nor for his doctrine of the plurality of inhabited worlds, but for his theological heresy, among which were the following: that Christ was not God but merely an unusually skillful magician, that the Holy Ghost is the anima mundi, that the Devil will be saved, etc. Like all heretics, Bruno had multiple chances to repent, but persisted to speak his mind. Supposedly, he even told off the judge who sentenced him to death with: "Perhaps you pass this sentence upon me with more fear than I receive it." In the end, he had his tongue pierced to stop him speaking while going to the execution site. As his last act, he allegedly turned away from the cross held up to him by a priest.
In addition, so long as Galileo kept to his Copernican astronomy, he was quite popular with Church officials, including the Cardinal who, as Pope, would later condemn him. It was only when Galileo claimed that his astronomy overturned Church dogmas, and began reinterpreting the Bible, that he ran into trouble. It really didn't help that, at the time, differing interpretations of the Bible were grounds for war and rebellion on the part of both Catholics and Protestants, and that Galileo was practically in the Pope's backyard. Galileo claimed that the Bible is the final guide for the people, so all scientific discoveries should be included in the Scripture. It was the Pope who wanted to keep science and religion separate.
Galileo didn't really get into trouble until he was asked by the Papacy to include a mention towards the Aristotelian model, which at the time was supported by the majority of astronomers at the time (people tend to forget that the first people to condemn Galileo were not priests, but secular scholars). Galileo did so, but only by introducing a very unflattering character into his writing that insulted his peers. Also, he mocked the Pope. More specifically, he made up a character called Simplicio, or "Simpleton" for an essay he wrote denouncing Aristotelian astronomy... and rather obviously based him on the Pope who'd been defending him.
Most people in 1492 knew the world was round (the exceptions were a few non-Pauline Christians and, as usual, proles.) Christopher Columbus never "discovered" it: Eratosthenes of Cyrene had experimental evidence of the roundness of the Earth and a pretty good estimate of its size a full two centuries BC. In fact, Christopher Columbus was the one who failed geography forever - the reason no one wanted to finance his expedition was because he was working under the assumption that Earth is much smaller than it really is; if there wasn't another continent in the way, they would all be dead.
Those Wacky Nazis used a non-historical definition for the term "Aryan." The term predates the Nazi ideology by thousands of years. Originally, the race that swept into the Indus valley and the Iranian plateau and established the Hindi and Iranian civilizations was referred to as the "Aryan" or "noble" race. You can rest assured those people were hardly blond.note Debateable, since there is evidence that the Aryans ultimately originated in what is now Ukraine and southern Russia, and their ancient remains show that at least some of them had blond hair. Even today, there are blond people in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. The Aryans were probably not all or even mostly blond however. Nazi ideology built up a largely fictional mythos around the term and declared that it applied to white Northern Europeans. They also played fast and loose with their own definitions when politically necessary. For example, they declared the Japanese to be "honorary Aryans" because they needed their help in the war.
The fictional definition of "Aryan" was strictly for ideological / propagandistic purposes. Under the Nuremberg Laws, everyone who was not a "Jew" or a "Mischling" (from mixed parentage) was an "Aryan". ID papers of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, even Crimean Tatars living under German occupation used Arisch ("Aryan") for race (this should have created some bureaucratic fuss when they had to issue ID papers for German Blacks.)
There was also a side effect of the rooting for Jewish people via their religion: the civilian and military IDs had to describe the religion of the subject (Catholic, Protestant and so on), but they also needed a definition for someone who is not Catholic, Protestant or practically is not part of an organized religion, so they used Gottgläubig ("believer in God").
Another common World War II history failure is the notion that the Waffen-SS was an elite, special forces organization. While some did distinguish themselves in combat (mainly the first, second, and third divisions), the only extra training a Waffen-SS unit received that the normal Heer units didn't was purely ideological, and in fact, the combat training and equipment of some SS divisions were worse than the non-SS divisions. Before 1943 the SS were thought of as little more than thugs, and their military role was barely mentioned; they were bodyguards and internal security, not front-line soldiers. It wasn't until they started pushing their recruitment as front line units that they started to build the myth of elite status.
Another, smaller issue is the tendency of many works set in World War II to refer to the German Army as the Wehrmacht. The ''Wehrmacht'' was the more general, overarching organization (the equivalent in English would be saying "the military") composed of the Army (Heer), Navy (Kriegsmarine), and Air Force (Luftwaffe). These titles (except for Kriegsmarine-it's simply Marine nowadays due to "Krieg" meaning "war") persist in the post-WWII Bundeswehr, which is also often mistaken for the German Army.
Yet another common fallacy about WW2 is that both the French and Italians were utter incompetents and total cowards who couldn't fight. The French were ferociously brave in much of their fighting, as they normally were; but they were trying to fight World War 1 all over again and seriously misused their tanks and planes. The Royal Italian Army for its part did very well when properly commanded and supplied; for example, the Italian ''Alpini'' and the paratroops were infamous for their ferocity in battle. It should also be mentioned that both countries were, along with Greece and Poland, home to some of the biggest Resistance movements in Europe; they bravely fought the Germans and gave precious help to the Allied troops.
Related to America Wins the War is the conspicuous absence of the incredibly Bad Ass French armies that were reconstituted during the war, such as the French First Army, whose motto, by the end of the war, was Rhin et Danube, referring to the rivers they had torn across during the course of their invasion of the Reich.
Any media adaptation that portrays Napoleon as short. He was 5'6" (168cm), average for a man of his time. However, he was often surrounded by much larger bodyguards, making him appear short in contrast. Also, French feet were slightly larger than English feet at the time, making him 5'2" in French units. Additional confusion arises from the fact that his men called him le petit caporal, which was an affectionate nickname referencing his humility rather than a reference to his height. The English press (especially the satire Punch) seized on the misconception and began portraying him as a comically miniature tyrant to mock him.
Napoleon did not speak with a thick French accent. He was born (as Napoleone Buonaparte) and raised in Corsica; the island was settled by the Pisans (yes, the guys from the city of the "Leaning Tower"...) and then it was conquered by the Genoese, who kept it as a possession until 1768 (the year before Napoleon's birth) when it was sold to the French. Moreover, the Corsican language itself is actually a dialect of Italian: if anything, it can be said that Napoleon spoke with a thick Italian accent! It stood out so much that the Tsar of Russia was known to boast that he spoke better French than Napoleon. French was the official language of the Russian court (along with many others) during the period so this may well have been the case.
Thanks to British propaganda he is often portrayed as a near psychotic one step down from Hitler. While he was overreachingly ambitious and certainly ruthless when necessary, he was nowhere in Hitlers league.
Almost any work set in the Middle Ages will be plagued by this trope. Most of the widely-held beliefs about Medieval times were made up during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, which aimed at creating an Alternate History of the world where miracles of antiquity were followed by a thousand years of incredible ignorance and brutality, after which the glorious Golden Age started. The widespread anticlericalism of the Enlightenment didn't help much either. It gets morbidly funny when one realizes that French supporters of democracy (trying to establish and perpetuate the ideology) killed more people within a few years than the Inquisition (both Roman and Spanish) managed to sentence to death during its whole existence.
It's often assumed that the mode of death in a judicial hanging is a broken neck (unless the drop is too long and the victim is decapitated), but this is only true of hangings conducted since roughly 1850. Before this time, execution via hanging was usually caused by strangulation. The victim normally either stood on a cart or sat on the back of a horse: after the noose was tightened around his or her neck, the support was gently removed and the victim would strangle to death. And it wasn't quick or pretty: the rope cutting into the throat and cutting off the breath, the twists and the contortions of the trussed body, the stench of the feces and urine as the victim's bowels and bladder emptied, and the involuntary erection (and often ejaculation) experienced by male victims were all deliberate parts of the punishment, as was the jeering, vicious crowd which would pelt the victims with dead cats, rotting meat and vegetables, and feces as they waited to be tied to the gibbet. The families of wealthier criminals could sometimes bribe the jailers to be allowed to pull at the victim's legs to hurry death, but this was not always permitted. Even this was better than the death accorded to women who killed their husbands, even in self-defence: they were burned, and (no matter what popular history would have us believe) most burning victims were not supplied with gunpowder or other explosives to make their deaths quicker. Executions were supposed to be agonizing. They were supposed to be slow. They were supposed to cause as much suffering as possible. It was a punishment, after all.
Ligature strangulation generally leads to unconsciousness within a minute. As far as burning goes, the gunpowder thing is overstated, but in most civil executions (as opposed to witch or heretic burnings), the victim was strangled first (see point #1). Women were more often burned (or in other parts of the world, buried alive, garrotted or beheaded) rather than hanged primarily for modesty reasons (billowy skirts and no underwear); the victim was actually completely surrounded by wood and straw rather than atop it. Neither punishment is particularly humane by modern standards, but they weren't intended to be the death of a thousand cuts either. For that matter, even the death of a thousand cuts (ling che in Chinese) wasn't really the death of a thousand cuts. The victim was usually drugged, and often killed right before the mutilation. Like burning at the stake, the punishment was more about setting a strict lesson in morality for the audience than it was about prolonging agony for the condemned.
Being "broken on the wheel" was a method of execution, not the means to extract confessions or information. The victim would be strapped to a cart wheel, then have their arms and legs broken with sledge hammers. They would then bleed to death slowly. It was reserved for people such as heretics whom even the ordinary painful death by burning or hanging was considered too good for. In the Austria-based Empire of the Habsburgs, it was the harshest punishment reserved for traitors and rebels against the State.
Especially amusing, given that a "fight against global fascism" is not really the reason - in fact, had Germany not declared war on the USA, it is highly possible that the USA would not have intervened in Europe at all. Though the USA did give tons of supplies to both England and Russia in their fight against Hitler. FDR wanted war very badly with Germany. He just needed the American people to want war too. Use Miller's analogy backwards?
Pollice verso, the gesture used to determine the fate of a defeated Roman gladiator, is traditionally portrayed as a "thumb's up" or "thumb's down," indicating that the gladiator was spared or condemned, respectively. This tradition was first popularized in the 19th century painting Pollice Verso. Historical description is very limited on what the gesture actually looked like, and its name simply means "with turned thumb," so it's impossible to know exactly what it looked like. The best modern guess for a condemning gesture is a jabbing motion to the neck, mimicking the fatal neck-stab.
While the lifespan of a gladiator was not very high, most fights between gladiators were not fatal. Condemning a defeated gladiator was generally only done if he had put up a particularly shameful performance. Gladiators were expensive to purchase, train and equip, so it would be an incredible waste to kill off a gladiator after only a fight or two. Usually, only condemned men would be made to fight in certain death matches. A modern estimate is that a gladiator had a 90% chance of surviving a non-death match. The approximately 10% that did die were due to complications from particularly severe wounds and not from a deliberate killing blow in the arena. Most gladiator schools had a physician on staff to treat illnesses and wounds sustained in training and combat, adding to the investment owners had in their gladiators.
Like marrying age, there is a widespread misconception of historical lifespans, as though people before the Industrial Revolution magically aged faster. Average lifespans were low, but that was primarily because so many infant deaths bringing down the average, and people of any age often fell victim to now-treatable injuries and illnesses (particularly complications of childbirth). While a life of hard work and poor diet took its toll, aging progressed much as it does today.
In 18th century France just before the Revolution, about 5% of the population was above 65 when the last pre-revolutionary census had been made. People needed good living conditions and food available mostly to the upper classes to live to an advanced age. In modern Europe, the percentage is almost four times greater.
Here is a list of the last surviving veterans of American wars. Count the ones that hit the big 100. And before you point that these are all post-Industrial Revolution examples, bear in mind that Ramesses II lived 90 years and reigned 66. In the second millennium before Christ.
Post-1990, it became fashionable to refer to all Sioux as Lakota. Anyone who's looked at the north central part of a map of the United States knows why this is amusing.
The claim that all or at least most women that were burnt as witches were wise women is completely false. It was made popular by one guy and accepted as truth by the public because, well, people being killed for being too badass for their time to handle is much more interesting than people being killed because their neighbors didn't like them and claimed that they were doing witchcraft.
It gets better, as death penalties were extremely rare among the peasants, because landlords needed any workforce they could have. And wise women were usually the only people around eligible for the role of local medic and midwife. More often than not anyone trying to denounce a 'witch' was considered a troublemaker and flogged for his or her troubles.
Modern French researchers led by Jacques Le Goff (The Medieval World) had tried to prove how those who took the brunt of persecution in the Middle Ages were not "the poor" (peasant, petty laborer), but rather the marginals / outcasts, those who lived outside the society norms: the supposed thief, the supposed unbeliever, the unwed mother, the strange old woman living outside the village and so on.
Conversely, as so many people died from now easily treatable conditions, for instance complications of childbirth, the midwife-cum-medic often took the blame when they did.
While we're on the subject of witch trials, witches in Salem weren't burned at the stake, they were hanged.
And none of the accused were actually practicing witches, or pagans, or members of a minority belief system, and no one who "confessed" was executed. The 19 who were killed were the only accused who maintained their innocence. Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials didn't really happen in Salem, Massachusetts, but in nearby Salem Village, now called Danvers.
When it comes to persecution by the Church, people today tend to go a bit overboard. For instance, a lot of media portrays the historical Church as violently anti-science. This is simply not true. In fact, the Church sponsored a lot of scientific research, particularly medical research, and quite a few Catholic researchers have been credited as the fathers of many scientific fields— including evolution. This makes more sense when you consider that in medieval times, there were generally only two institutions in a country that would have the money and resources to support large-scale research: the government and the Church.
ANY depiction of Vikings is almost certainly wrong, since they never wore helmets with the iconic horns. Either they wore hats out of leather, or metal helmets that deflect sword blows away from the head (standards varied depending on what the Viking could afford). A horned helmet would A. be more expensive to make B. easier to knock off, and C. adds no real combat benefits what so ever. When the Vikings wore decorations on their helmets, it was always wings.
No, the "Viet Cong" were not the official army of North Vietnam. They were a guerrilla group in South Vietnam. And the real name of the group was either "Mặt Trận Dân Tộc Giải" or the French "Front National pour la Libération du Sud Viêt Nam" (FNL for short) either of them will do, but it's NOT "Viet Cong". "Viet Cong" was a derogatory term meaning basically "Vietnamese Commie".
The current King of Sweden, Carl 16. Gustaf, is actually only the tenth King of Sweden named Carl. 16th century Swedish historian Johannes Magnus (1488-1544) invented six extra Carls as part of a pissing contest with Danish historians about whose country was the oldest, and this fake chronology was later adopted by the Swedish kings.
Jack Chick, where to begin? Dinosaurs lived into the Middle Ages, Allah is a moon god and the existence of the Inquisition is apparently almost completely unknown.
Astérix, for Rule of Funny reasons (the aim was to be like how children imagine the history they learn at school). This is so omnipresent that it doesn't really deserve breaking down further, but it's interesting to see historical accuracy flop back and forth depending on how seriously we are supposed to take a part. For instance, most of the times we see writing in the series, the characters carve it into tablets, even for disposable things like memos or personal letters or teaching to children - mostly because it's really funny imagining a Roman bureaucrat having to carve twelve huge slabs of rock just to induct a new legionnaire. However, in one scene where Asterix is planning a bank robbery and makes a diagram of their plan of attack, he does it on a diptych wax tablet, which is what someone in his time period would actually have used for making notes that would have to be quickly disposed of later.
Historical inaccuracy in Asterix comes in a few flavours - Purely Aesthetic Era anachronism for humour, deliberate Hollywood History, fudging dates for the plot to work and occasionally just total mistakes. It was extensively researched by the creators, who both visited museums to speak with expert historians and read primary sources, and then all of the research was ignored so they could do something they found funny instead.
Some fudged details and dates - Pompey is still alive (although without any power) but Vercingetorix is dead (in reality, Vercingetorix was being kept in prison for several years and Pompey was assassinated during the military campaign we see take place in Asterix the Legionary, leading the English translator to assume he was dead); Cassivelaunos's troops lost to Caesar and Britain was occupied (in reality, his troops won, twice, with Caesar's successor Emperor Claudius instead finally conquering Britain); The Colosseum appears and/or gets mentioned numerous times despite the fact that it was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian more than a century after Caesar's death; Cleopatra and Caesar are husband and wife (Caesar had a different wife and Rome did not recognise marriages between Romans and non-Romans, although the upshot of this was that Cleo and Caesar's relationship was not considered adulterous)...
Practically every "Founders fic" in the Harry Potter fandom hits this hard. One particularly egregious example has Rowena Meredith Ravenclaw ("Meredith" was a male name up to the 20th century) take a train to America at one point. Yes, in the tenth century she uses a ground-based form of transportation which hasn't been invented to travel from Scotland across 5,000 km of ocean to a continent that had only been discovered by the Vikings among Europeans at that point. The language issue is usually glossed over too, even though Britons of the time would have spoken a profusion of Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic, Welsh, Cumbric, Pictish, Manx, Cornish and perhaps some learned people speaking Latin or Greek.
"Ah, AHEW realism... I only read way in the beginning so maybe they fixed this, but did you know that it's totally easy for the Nazis to erase the French language from the world? Just take over a few European countries and bang! No more French!"
Axis Powers Hetalia fanfics or fanarts about former British colonies, with colonial America interacting with other British colonies, can be highly unlikely or just plain impossible depending on how it's portrayed. For example, the British visited Australia for the first time on 1770, 5 years before The American Revolutionary War started, and New Zealand the year before, so those two wouldn't have met baby America — if they ever met the guy in these days, they would've interacted with the older one that doesn't look hyper different from the actual one. Some writers and artists know this, but ignore it for Rule of Cute. There's also the number of fans who seem to believe that the American Revolution was the end of the British Empire. The number of de-ageing fics which get rid of the characters memories but have them a) still speaking their modern languages (particularly bad if the language, for example English, didn't exist in the time period the child is supposed to be from) and b) write them as having knowledge of modern technologies such as *cars* is also rather spectacular.
The Legend of the Titanic has a mouse who sneaked aboard the Titanic named Top Connors tells his grandchildren the "real" story of the Titanic where a giant octopus named Tentacles saves the ship and actually threw the iceberg at the Titanic.
The Anastasia film feature is plagued by this. Granted, it was directed mainly at children but still:
Rasputin was a monk summoned to the court by the Tsar's wife herself, because he was believed to be capable of alleviating the Tsarevitch's severe hemophilia;
Rasputin died before the Russian Revolution at the hands of a few young aristocrats resentful of his influence over the Imperial family;
Although he wasn't even remotely a saint by any means, he considered himself a Christian and would never deliberately indulge in any occult practices (he was a monk too, as mentioned previously). Furthermore, as far as we know, he was also a monarchist who never harbored any ill will towards the Tsar nor his family;
Anastasia's bones were found in 2008. After the film was made, but still...
The main plot is that Anya/Anastasia is trying to get to Paris to see the Dowager Empress (her possible grandmother). In Real Life, the Emperess lived in her native Denmark after the Revolution.
The Nostalgia Chick: I think it was mainly for recognizability and aesthetics. And "Together in Copenhagen" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
The East India Trading Company had no authority in the West Indies. The name is a clue. The real company the EITC was based on was the East India Company (notice the lack of the word 'Trading'). "Authority" in the West Indies in the film seemed to stem more from political connections of the head of the company (Lord Becket) than any authority of the company.
In Teaching Mrs. Tingle, one of the main characters is a girl we're constantly told is a great brain, and she produces a final project for her History class that's an "authentic recreation" of the diary of a girl who was killed during the Salem Witch Trials, right down to the book being authentically aged to resemble a diary that had survived the period. The eponymous teacher opens the diary at random, and finds an entry on how the fictional girl fears she'll be burned at the stake tomorrow. No one was burned at the stake in the Salem Witch Trials, and a person of that time period would have known this. They hanged those convicted, while one was crushed under weights for declining to enter a plea, and while people were burned in Europe, it was usually for heresy, not witchcraft (though, to be sure, the two were sometimes linked). The student gets a C, though not for this mistake.
Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, possibly the most awful of all awful Brucesploitation films, states during a biographical sequence that Bruce Lee's grandfather was 19th Century China's greatest samurai.
Numerous movies have inaccurately portrayed The Alamo with the curved roof at the time of the eponymous battle—in truth, the roof had crumbled due to neglect, and it was 1912 before the familiar facade was restored.
Bluto: Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
Bluto was probably drunk. And was holding a GPA of 0.0. He's also privately called out on this (see page quote). It may have been a plea from the writers, 'The character is a moron. Don't judge us by him.'
Dreamgirls has a scene with the Dreams recording "Heavy" while there's a riot going on. This riot is actually the Detroit race riot of 1967. This, at first, is important for the sake of the era and to show how life was in Black America during the 60's. However, the next scene states that the year is actually 1966, making the riot scenes irrelevant.
The X-Files: Fight the Future starts off 35,000 years ago in North Texas, and depicts a pair of Neanderthals running through the snow. 1) Neanderthals never lived in North America. 2) There's no evidence that humans had even reached that part of America by 33,000 BC. This is technically Prehistory, but let's not split hairs.
On the second one, there is some evidence, though American archaeologists are for various reasons not so willing to admit it, but obviously not Neanderthals.
A Fistful of Dynamite — John Mallory, being an Irish nationalist in 1913, owns an IRA flag. Problem is the IRA did not exist until 1919. He would have most likely been an Irish volunteer for the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) if part of any official organisation whatever.
Kingdom of Heaven is full of this: Renaud de Châtillon was never a Templar, nor was Guy de Lusignan. The latter was actually the king of Jerusalem when Renaud launched his attack on the caravan, King Baldwin having been dead for several years. Sybille's marriage with Guy was not an arranged one: her family was actually opposed; and it goes on and on...
Indeed, the Knights Templar were explicitly forbidden from marrying, as well as owning land. Crowning a Templar as a King would have been a legal impossibility at the time.
One particularly egregious example is the protagonist teaching the desert-dwelling people how to irrigate their land and so becoming their lord. Yeah. The people who had been farming a desert (and digging wells) for thousands of years being taught all they know by the Mighty Whitey when, if anything, during the Crusades it was sort of the other way round (medieval Europe didn't even have round towers until they got the idea from the Arabs).
There's no suggestion in the film that he invents the irrigation system, but there's a clear implication that he's the only person with the initiative to think of digging for water, or the skill to find it.
A Roman senator claims, "Rome was founded as a republic!" It was founded as a kingdom. Although the Romans didn't want to think of Rome ever having been a kingdom. As far as the Romans were concerned, the real Rome was founded when they kicked the asses of the Etruscan kings and established the republic. Furthermore, the character is a politician trying to push his political agenda.
Power passes automatically to Commodus on Marcus Aurelius' death in the film. In reality, there was no official line of succession, since the state was not officially monarchist. In fact, before Marcus Aurelius there had been a longstanding tradition of emperors hand-picking their successors from outside their biological families. The historical Commodus was in fact the first emperor "born to the purple", i.e. born during his father's reign, and did indeed break the usual tradition by succeeding his father. He also became sole emperor after Marcus Aurelius' death because he had ruled jointly with him for four years. Even in the film, Marcus Aurelius tries to make someone other than his son emperor; the only oddity is the assumption that Commodus would otherwise naturally be the successor to the throne. There is no evidence he killed his father to get the position.
Commodus actually did fight in the arena, though he was almost certainly in no danger. The person who killed him, Narcissus, might have been a former gladiator, but he didn't slay him in the arena- he strangled him while he was bathing. However, Commodus was never noted for any incestuous or parricidal behavior. There is a reason Marcus Aurelius was the last of the "Five Good Emperors", but it's just that the character flaws given in the film are not quite the same as those he had in real life; rather, the real Commodus was considered bad for things like believing himself to be Hercules and renaming everything in the Empire- including Rome itself- after himself, a whole other kind of crazy.
Asking the Senate to bring power back to the old Republican Offices would be somewhat akin to asking the French today to restart the Bourbon Monarchy in its absolutist Ancien Régime glory.
In a similar vein, even in the heyday of the Republic, the Senate was not an elected body; members were appointed to it by a censor (later Emperor) or the Senate itself by vote, or won a major public office at election (excepting the Plebeian Tribuneship, although quite a few Tribunes were Senators). It wasn't hereditary, however; a Senator's son who failed the property qualification test would lose his appointment.
Significant legislative and executive power also rested in the Citizens' Assembly, from which Senators were excluded. The Citizens' Assembly was very much like an Athenian or Swiss Canton direct democracy — any citizen could cast a vote on a matter at hand that day. This is almost universally wrong in any movie depicting Ancient Rome. In Hollywood's mind, only the Senate existed.
Neither Marcus Aurelius, nor anyone else in the government, had any interest in democracy. The system of city-state democracy of the Roman Republic had proven itself to make the empire ungovernable once it expanded too far. They needed a concentration of power to establish order and keep the peace after the Civil Wars, which came about partially due to ambitious Generals filling the power void in the far away provinces and fighting the bogged-down Senate for authority by invading Rome.
300 is so obviously not meant to reflect actual history. In fact, historical records of the event are already believed to be rather sensationalized and greatly embellished. Zack Snyder and Frank Miller also drew inspiration from ancient artwork, which, much like Hollywood, glamorize battles of the past. Audiences have loved muscle-bound, half-naked supermen kicking the snot out of each other for quite a while. It's fairer to say that 300 didn't fail history so much as kick it into a well and give it the finger. The embellishment is heavily implied as part of the Greek propaganda even during the film. On the other hand, Zack Snyder did state rather audaciously that the history presented in the film is "90% accurate, although the visuals are pretty crazy."
Particularly egregious was how the film ignores the fact that Sparta, far from being an ancient bastion of democracy, had the most brutal caste system in Greece with the helots. Also there's a line contemptuously referring to the boy-lovers in Athens, when records suggest that Sparta was well-known for its own traditions of pederasty.
The army that fought against the Persians was actually at least five or six thousand strong, with units from all over Greece. The 300 refers to the number of Spartan hoplites in the pan-Greek army.
Braveheart is particularly well known for its lack of historical accuracy, to the point that Scottish historians are still complaining about it more than 15 years later. No mercy is granted for the film essentially admitting its Hollywood History nature in the opening narration.
Queen Isabella was three years old at the time when the film is set, so there's no possibility she could have had an affair with Wallace.
Scots did not actually wear kilts at the time, as they do incorrectly throughout the film. The crushed velvet that members of royalty sport in that film wouldn't be invented until centuries later. Also their style of clothing is more suited to the 15th century, not the 13th.
Stirling Bridge is nowhere to be found in the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Its inclusion was planned but in the end it proved too expensive to build one. Also, Andrew Moray, a Scottish resistance leader, was vital to the planning and execution of the battle. Absent from the film.
The Scots had stopped using the blue woad worn by Wallace and his men around the time of the Romans, though it's presented as something of a throwback within the film.
William Wallace always staunchly supported Robert the Bruce's claim to the throne. Bruce never directly betrayed William Wallace either. His victory over the English at Bannockburn also took many years of more struggle before it was achieved.
Wallace was hardly the simple highlander he is portrayed to be, but a minor aristocrat probably from the South of Scotland.
King Edward I gets a Historical Villain Upgrade. The film portrays him almost as a Card-Carrying Villain, whilst in reality his record was pretty mixed - whilst a brutal conqueror abroad and an anti-Semite, he did not oppress his English subjects, and was in fact considered fairly radical in European circles. His laws established Parliament as a permanent institution, set up a working taxation system and ushered in an overall more progressive system for England. Edward I did not kill his son's lover by throwing him out of a window. Nor did English barons invoke primae noctis (the supposed right of lords to take the virginity of their female subjects on their wedding nights). In fact, primae noctis likely did not exist (certainly it would not have been legal). It's a throwaway line but Edward is mentioned as being "a cruel pagan" — No evidence that he was any less (or more) devout Christian than your average English king of his time.
Agora repeats popularmyths about Hypatia and the Library of Alexandria to preach about atheism and rationalism vs. religious fanaticism. To what degree the movie does so is, however, somewhat open to debate. In Real Life, as you might expect, Hypatia was not atheist but a pagan. She was also a pure philosopher more than a scientist.
Judge Doom's ultimate goal in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is to build the Pasadena Freeway on the land where Toontown stands; his shutting down LA's trolleys is a Shout Out to the Great American Streetcar Scandal. However, the film is set in 1947 - the Pasadena Freeway was already built in 1940.
In that same film Eddie and Roger watch the Goofy cartoon "Goofy Gymnastics" in the film theater. Despite the fact that this cartoon was released in 1949!
Several cartoon characters in the movie would only make their debut several years later: Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner ("Fast and Furry-ous", 1949), Tinkerbell (Peter Pan, 1953), the penguin waiters (Mary Poppins, 1964)... However, the makers defended themselves by saying that these characters were simply not employed yet by their studios in those years.
Tanis, Egypt from Raiders of the Lost Ark is a real place. It could not have been rediscovered by the Nazis in 1936 because it was never lost in the first place. In fact, there were numerous archaeological digs in Tanis before the Nazis even came to power. Egypt was also under British influence in 1936, when the movie is supposedly set.
Playing loose with locations is common through the franchise. The tiny village Marion's bar is in is identified as Patan, the second biggest city in Nepal in the novelization. The third act of Raiders takes place in a secret Nazi submarine base in Greece, which would have been objected to by the Greeks in real life, naturallynote Or it might have been in the Dodecanese, which was Italian at the time; however, the adventure map implies the contrary, and Italy and Germany had not become allies yet at the time anyway.
In Last Crusade, set in 1938, Indy and his father drive from Venice to Berlin (passing a road sign with these two names on and no other place in between) to retrieve a book from a Nazi book burning (based on the one from 1933) and escape Germany in a commercial Zeppelin flight (all canceled after the Hindenburg's disaster in 1937). The third act takes them to Hatay, a short lived (but real) Turkish republic that is portrayed as an Arab monarchy. Even the Hatay flag is fictional.
Confused Matthew went to great lengths to explain how Titanic went beyond Artistic License and outright falsified what happened on the Titanic to make the upperclassmen on the ship as unsympathetic as possible and thus try and make the main characters more sympathetic. His two biggest beefs seem to be: Falsely portraying First Officer (third in command of the ship, Chief Officer is 2nd in command) William Murdock as a corrupt individual who took bribes and shot people to ensure certain people spots on the lifeboats, and making up the idea that the ship's crew tried to keep the lower class men down in third class to let them all die.
Everyone's Hero could have been a good movie about Babe Ruth's called shot in the 1932 World Series... if they had not gotten EVERY SINGLE historical fact wrong in that movie. The list of historical inaccuracies in the film would take up this entire page (for example, the 1932 World Series did not go into seven games or have a 3-4 home field advantage format).
Australia. In reality, the Japanese never set foot on Australian soil (The famous battles along the Kokoda Track were in Papua New Guinea.) They bombed Darwin, then left. The bombing also actually occurred in 1942, not 1941.
Japanese Sub Crews did occasionally go ashore in remote locations along the coast to gather fresh water, and float planes landed on the northern islands after the raid in an unsuccessful attempt to find and rescue downed Japanese aircrew. The large landing party shown exploring the beach for no logically explained reason in the movie was pure fiction.
Darwin was never ordered to be evacutated. After the end of the first raid (the Japanese carriers), the RAAF base commander ordered his command to muster outside of the base in order to prevent further unnecessary casualities. It was while exiting the base that some troops encounted civilians leaving Darwin and, from lack of clear orders, 'hitched lifts'. It was while this troop movement was happening that the second raid (54 Japanese land based Nell and Betty twin engined bombers - also not shown in the movie) arrived and carpet bombed the RAAF base with some 530 60kg bombs, causing a massive morale effect but little to no extra damage or casualities.
Zero fighters carried drop tanks, not the bombs that were shown attacking the mission station.
Bathust Island was straffed by Zeros, not bombed. Their target was the American transport aircraft that had previously forced landed on the RAAF Advanced Operational Base (read 'basic airstrip') there.
The Godfather part III features the death of Popes Paul VI and John Paul I in the year 1979, while all these events actually took place in 1978!
Barry Lyndon takes place in the eighteenth century. Yet somewhere in the film "the kingdom of Belgium" is mentioned, despite the fact that Belgium would only become a kingdom in 1830! Belgium at this point was part of the Holy Roman Empire.
A small one in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the movie claims to start in 1845 Northwest Territories, Canada... Except the Northwestern Territories would not become a part of Canada for at least another 40 years (depending on where in the vast area that eventually became 4 provinces and 3 territories it happened to be), and Canada itself was not a country until 1867 (although it was called the Dominion of Canada prior to that).
RFK Stadium is shown with a baseball diamond, when in real life the Washington Senators baseball team had moved to Texas in 1971, two years before this film is set.
Hank tells Logan that most of the students and teachers were drafted for the Vietnam War, which is why Charles shut down the school. In real life, most—if not all—of them could have stayed through a student deferment, and it's hard to believe that Charles couldn't push such a thing through if he really wanted to.
In The Outlaw Josey Wales, character Lone Watie (implied to be a relative to Confederate general Stand Watie), tells the title character that, when the The American Civil War broke out, the Cherokee chiefs declared war on the Union due to their mistreatment on the Trail of Tears and on the reservation. Actually the real Watie family was in favor of removal to Oklahoma, and settled there voluntarily before troops were sent in to force the matter. In addition, the Cherokee tribe was split on the matter; despite being slaveholders, many of them remembered that they were forced out from a Southern state by a Southern president. Principal Chief John Ross (who had always been opposed to removal) paid lip service to the Confederates at first, then emphatically threw his weight behind the Union as soon as he could without fear of reprisal.
In Undercover Blues, it is said that Paulina Novacek (villain of the movie and former STB agent) "left Prague two jumps ahead of the firing squad." There were no executions in Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution (Czechoslovakia abolished the death penalty in 1990); before the revolution, executions were carried out by hanging.
Transformers claims that many of the advancements in technology in the 20th century were a result of reverse-engineering Megatron, who had been hidden under the Hoover Dam by the US government. The filmmakers include cars in this list of technologies. Apparently Michael Bay hasn't heard of Karl Benz (as in Mercedes-Benz), who patented the first internal combustion-powered car in 1895, thirty years before the Hoover Dam was even thought of.
Seven Samurai played with this trope both ways. It portrayed the main samurai of the cast as all being brave and noble, but also acknowledges that the majority of them were brutal thugs who uses their power of higher social class to oppress the weak. Kurosawa said he did this because he's descended from a samurai family, and wanted in some way to apologize for his ancestor's actions. The Japanese still regard this film as a classic, but they were not happy with him deciding to speak the truth on this historical matter.
In-universe example in Iron Sky, Renate uses a heavily edited version of The Great Dictator to teach schoolchildren that Hitler was a kind and grand man who only wanted the best for the world. Renate herself has been fooled by the same propaganda and is utterly crushed when she later sees the full version.
Sergeant York, while mostly accurate, takes some liberties with the real events of Alvin York's life:
York's friend "Pusher" Ross is killed by a captured German soldier who managed to get hold of a grenade. York then shoots the German in revenge. Pusher is fictional, and although one German did refuse to surrender, threw a grenade and was shot by York in response, the grenade didn't kill any Americans.
The German troops are shown being commanded by a major. They were actually commanded by Paul Vollmer, who was only a lieutenant. The fictional major in the movie isn't named.
York is seen using a Luger he takes from a captured German after losing his US Army Colt M1911. In truth, he never took a gun from a prisoner to use, and kept hold of his Army Colt for the entire battle. This was changed because the Luger the armorers provided was the only blank-adapted handgun available on the set.
The battle occurs in a very open and frankly desert-like environment, as compared to the thickly-wooded hills of the actual ravine in France. It's possible the filmmakers wanted to give the battlefield a more harsh and desolate-looking appearance in order to add tension.
An egregious example in Seabiscuit, though only to those who read Laura Hillenbrand's original book. The film depicts Seabiscuit's jockey, Red Pollard, as having been raised in an affluent family that lost its fortune in the 1929 Wall Street crash. While the real Pollard was indeed born into a wealthy family that lost its fortune, he had left home to become a jockey back in 1922, and the family had lost its fortune when a major flood of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton destroyed the family business in 1915.
The Hurricane starring Denzel Washington portrays boxer Rubin Carter as a totally innocent man who is wrongly convicted of two murders thanks largely to a racist cop who's had it out for him since his boyhood. No evidence exists that the lead detective held any grudge against Carter, and he was described as a jovial man, very different from Dan Hedaya's scowling, tight-lipped portrayal. The film whitewashes Carter's criminal history, depicting Carter as defending himself in boyhood against a pedophile, then being arrested and sent to a juvenile facility by this same racist detective. In reality, Carter was arrested for assaulting and robbing a man, a crime that is not disputed. This was only one of many offenses he committed. Moreover, while Carter's actual guilt or innocence continues to be debated, the film portrays him as having been exonerated by the efforts of three Canadian activists and a young African-American who wrote to him in prison. They did not find evidence showing he was innocent, however, but only some that had not been presented by the prosecution. He was ordered released or retried-New Jersey appealed this ruling, lost, and chose to not retry him again (he had already been retried before in 1976, with another guilty verdict resulting). Carter was thus never exonerated, or even acquitted. On a lesser note, to build up the idea of Carter being victimized by racism in the 1960s, he is shown defeating white boxer Joey Giardello, who is then declared to have won anyway. Carter himself agreed Giordello beat him, and he sued the film producers over this portrayal, settling for a hefty sum.
The Necronomicon: The Dee Translation by Lin Carter has a scene where Abdul Alhazred ingests Black Lotus in order to see visions of the past. Among other things, he sees scenes from The Crusades where Saladin fights at Jerusalem. The problem? The text states clearly that Alhazred died in AD 738. Saladin was born in AD 1138. (Granted, Time Travel is a part of the Cthulhu Mythos, so it is possible that the Black Lotus can show visions from the future as well as the past. But Alhazred describes the Crusades as a perfectly well-known event that the reader is expected to be familiar with. If he were seeing scenes from the far future, you'd think he would remark on it.)
Ellis Peters slips up in the Brother Cadfael novel The Raven in the Foregate. One of the (many) complaints about Father Ailnoth is that he refused to come when a man's wife is having a rough delivery, and as a result the newborn dies unbaptized. Under canon law, midwives (or anyone else) were allowed to baptize infants if there wasn't time to call in a priest. The situation Peters describes definitely qualifies. There is no reason for that child to have died unbaptized, other than the need to have yet one more suspect when Ailnoth turns up dead. She is also in error when she implies in The Hermit of Eyton Forest that an ordained priest must preside at a licit wedding ceremony. Today this is true (if you can get a priest in a reasonable amount of time), but not in the 12th century — and a long time thereafter — when a declaration of intent, with or without witnesses, followed by consummation was sufficient for canonically valid marriage. However a boy under fourteen could not make a valid marriage, and the issue of free consent would have made this a no-brainer to any canon court.
For in-universe history Lord Rust, particularly in Terry Pratchett's Jingo, falls to either this or errs regarding military history. Examples include believing their army can defeat the Klatchians, citing similar battles from history as evidence. His aide is left the job of pointing out details such as "One side was mounted on elephants", "There was an earthquake", "They lost", and "That was just a nursery story".
My Heart Is On The Ground by Ann Rinaldi failed history. The book is about Nannie Little Rose, a Lakota Native American girl who is sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Firstly, Nannie probably would not have been given a diary in the first place, which discounts the whole book. But, let's say she was. She would not refer to herself as "Sioux", instead she would use her area or band. Rinaldi also gets many Lakota customs wrong, mainly by using American descriptions of them rather than finding out what actually happened. She even makes up the more "Indian" sounding words for Lakota words that already exist, such as "night-middle-made" and "friend-to-go-between-us". A detailed list of the historical inaccuracies can be found here.
John Keats's On First Looking into Chapman'sHomer compares the experience to "stout Cortez" becoming the first European to see the Pacific. Actually, Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first guy to do this.
Alex Cross novel Alex Cross's Trial by James Patterson. This book, set when Teddy Roosevelt was president (i.e., between September 14, 1901 and March 4, 1909) and which claims to be historically accurate, makes the following mistakes:
The book focuses on lynchings taking place in the South, stressing that this is unusual and is not happening anywhere else, even though lynchings have taken place EVERYWHERE in America—the South, the Midwest, the West and yes, in the North.
Roosevelt sends the white hero, Ben Corbett to his hometown of Eudora, Mississippi and report on lynchings and Klan activities. The modern version of the Klan was not founded till 1915, in Georgia, and wasn't any kind of a really big deal until after World War I. The Reconstruction Klan was dissolved after ca. 1877. (Patterson admits that it had been disbanded officially, but maintains that it existed at the time of the story (possible) and that its impact was so great as to merit Presidential investigation (not supported by historical record)).
Three "White Raiders" (read: Klansmen) are arrested (by a sheriff who's a Klansman and who believes in what they're doing) and Roosevelt sends one Jonah Curtis to prosecute the case. Jonah is a black man. It's not that Jonah's black and practicing law; the first African-American to be admitted to a state bar was Macon Bolling Allen in July 1844. The problem is that Jonah is a black man who, between 1901 and 1909, apparently works for the federal government and is recognized by the state of Mississippi as an attorney. To find a situation that's more or less analogous, the first black man to serve as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Mississippi since Reconstruction was Tyree Irving. He was hired by the Northern District of Mississippi in 1978.
Roosevelt claims that the above lawsuit will ensure him the black vote for all time. Patterson hasn't heard of common ways that white people of the period kept blacks and other minorities from voting. Like, oh, the poll tax and literacy tests.
At the end of the book, Ben takes Moody Cross (Alex's ancestor) into Eudora, walking hand in hand with her and walking into restaurants and stores demanding that they be served—and actually expecting the store owners to comply. Because it's not like segregation and Jim Crow laws existed, or that an attorney would know about either.
Special mention must be made of the treatment of black civil rights leaders in this book. Leaders of the time, like W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida Wells-Barnett, are mentioned, but the book doesn't say who they are or what they did. Consequently, all we have are names and no context. And in the end, they're reduced to leading a group of blacks through town, chanting. Although it's never stated, it's implied that they're doing this because that's what civil rights leaders do. It's not like they found things like the NAACP (which Du Bois did in 1909) or work as journalists for Chicago papers and write books and give lectures throughout Europe about lynching (which Wells-Barnett did starting in 1893).
In The Chalet School in Exile, which is set during World War 2, the titular school relocates to Guernsey. As this article points out, the school would have been utterly screwed if it had relocated there, as it was occupied by the Nazis at the time.
Anne S. Lindbergh does this a lot. In The Hunky-Dory Dairy which features some families from 1881, trapped in the present day, the families still believe in witchcraft. When they hear of modern technology, such as helicopters, they believe it is powered by devils. Never mind that, by the 1880s, the Industrial Revolution had started a century before, and experiments in human flight were already underway.
She does this in The Prisoner of Pineapple Place as well. Mr. Sweeney, the stodgy isolationist conservative who, fearing U.S. entry in World War II, took an alley with six families out of time, is so conservative that he objects to the newfangled concept of "introducing foreign substances into the body" (medicine). Never mind that ingestible medicine has been around for centuries, if not longer.
The Bible has a few of these. Not helped by the fact that its contents were written by very different people at very different times.
Battle of Jericho: according to the Bible the Israelites conquered Jericho after God knocked down the walls. According to archaeologists the Israelites were conquering this region in 1400 BC and by 1562 BC Jericho was abandoned and didn't have any walls. So the Israelites were over 150 years too late.
That may depend on the archaeology. Jericho has been recorded at dozens of varying locations thanks to the fact that the city was repeatedly being rebuilt before being destroyed (hence why in the Gospels Jesus was recorded as both "entering Jericho" and "exiting it" at the same time.) At one site, though, they did find the walls. They were completely sunk into the ground.
King Herod's massacre in Bethlehem is only recorded by Matthew; even chronographers that didn't like Herod don't mention it.
There is still the problem that the explanation given for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem in the first place is fictional; the Romans never demanded anybody return to the home town of their ancestors for the sake of a census (the logistics of that would be a nightmare, obviously-every census in recorded history also notes where people are presently living too). Since the whole Bethlehem episode is only present in the Gospels aimed at the Jews (to fulfill a prophecy stating the messiah was to be born there), modern historians consider it more likely that Jesus was actually born and raised in Nazareth. It's further supported by the fact that the custom of the period was to name people after the town of their birth, not the one they settled in (where Nazareth was, on the other hand, is an open question).
Another curious fact: the word "cross" is never used in the original manuscripts of the Bible. To this day we don't know the exact shape of the piece of wood that the Romans nailed Jesus on. What we see in churches is the general approximation, and has several variations in different denominations.
As a general rule of thumb, the older the events described are, the harder it is to tell the difference between truth and fabrication. As such most of the Old Testament is very difficult to verify either way, but most of the New Testament can be put to a test, and parts of it have been verified quite reliably, while others have been found extremely suspect.
Many cases of anachronism come from authors using dubious oral traditions or reading things wrong (Matthew's account of the triumphal entry is based on the author misreading Zechariah in Greek translation). Other times, the writers simply know that their original audience wouldn't know or care about details. For example, Luke is very confused about the geography of 1st century Palestine, but it was written for a non-Jewish readership for whom the geography didn't much matter. Other times, details are changed to better fit a narrative device or theme. Ancient historiography was more concerned with the story being told and its meaning than with accurate reporting.
Twilight. While there's a fair bit of general history fail, Carlisle's story is particularly bad. The fact that the sewers where he found fellow vampires didn't exist at the time is only the tip of the iceberg. Rosalie's history is also a bit cringe-worthy: apparently her family remained prosperous during the Depression because her father worked in a bank, apparently ignoring the fact that banks took one of the hardest hits after the Stock Market crash (that said its plausible when you take into consideration that there were over 30,000 banks in America before the Great Depression, and only about 15,000 banks failed. Realistically, only about 50% of American Banks failed while the other 50% stayed afloat and managed just fine).
The Oera Linda Book claims the Greek alphabet was based on a North European (Frisian) alphabet, among other things.
Hanta Yo, by Ruth Beebe Hill. The whole book. It's supposed to be an epic, and it is.
Detectives in Togas (set in Ancient Rome) has some of them. One boy claims to have goldfish (can't be, they originated in China). Or when one boy calls another one a turkey (which came from America).
Within the story, in G. K. Chesterton's "The Curse of the Golden Cross", where Father Brown recognizes the murderer's made-up "history" as nonsense. "To anybody who happens to know a little about the Middle Ages, the whole story was about as probable as Gladstone offering Queen Victoria a cigar. But does anybody know anything about the Middle Ages? Do you know what a Guild was? Have you ever heard of salvo managio suo? Do you know what sort of people were Servi Regis? It was never a story of the Middle Ages; it was never even a legend about the Middle Ages. It was made up by somebody whose notions came from novels and newspapers, and probably made up on the spur of the moment."
Occasionally shows up in Time Scout. Some historical facts are mangled, particularly glaring is the presence of Aleister Crowley in Victorian London as a Satanist. He was alive, yes, but he was only nine years old.
As for Crowley being a "Satanist".... well, he essentially started his own religion; and there is no more support for labeling him a "Satanist" rather than a Buddhist, an atheist, an Egyptian polytheist or even an extremely heretical Christian. This was done to death on the old Magicknet boards, eliciting the comment "Satanists worship Satan, Crowley worshiped himself."
In a crossover with Artistic License - Religion, Satanism is Newer Than They Think and mostly came about only after Crowley's death. La Veyan Satanism, the most well known sect in the United States, was founded in 1966. The Temple of Set came about in 1975. Our Lady of Endor Coven was founded in 1948, one year after Crowley died. Most Satanists also practice a form of humanism and see Satan as an allegorical figure or a good way to troll Christians.
In The Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal Rising, Hannibal Lecter is shown watching the opening of Operation Barbarossa—-the German invasion of the USSR in WWII...from his parents' aristocratic estate in Lithuania. Lithuania had been annexed by the Soviets a year or so before, and by that time, the Lecters and all other local aristocrats would have probably been off in Siberia.
Or, more likely, in an unmarked grave.
Destroyermen author Taylor Anderson freely admits to fudging a couple of details for the sake of the story. In Real Life, the destroyers USS Walker and Mahan and the battlecruiser HIJMS Amagi never actually fought in World War II. The Amagi depicted in the series was badly damaged by an earthquake during construction and was scrapped in 1922; the one that appeared in WWII was a different vessel. The real USS Walker was scuttled seventeen days after Pearl Harbor, while Mahan was scrapped in 1931. He said in the afterword to book one that he used these ships because he didn't want to disrespect any sailors who actually did fight in the war. Otherwise carefully averted: Anderson is a historian by trade and does the research.
In The Heroes of Olympus, the Lare Vitellius claims to have been around Julius Caesar and to have fought in the Punic Wars. This is lampshaded when Hazel points out Caesar was around after the Punic Wars, though being a Ghost means Vitellius could have fought in the Punic Wars and been around Caesar.
Happens sometimes in The Royal Diaries series, about historical famous princesses. A rare justified example because quite a few of them existed during a time period that not much is known about, and the authors will admit to taking some artistic license.
Pam Jenoff The Kommandant's Girl is set in Nazi-occupied Poland, and yet features the Polish characters living in luxurious apartaments with refrigerators, as well as casually purchasing ice cream, oranges and chocolate.
Clement Attlee was not, as one character in World War Z suggests, a "third rate mediocrity" whose only claim to fame was unseating Winston Churchill, but one of the most efficient and effective British politicians of the 20th Century and a key figure in peace and war. This can be forgiven, though, as the speaker was an old, semi-senile, hard-left American politician nicknamed "The Whacko" who was known for getting very, very excited in debates.
Harry Potter states that Hogwarts was founded roughly one thousand years ago and that Merlin was one of its graduates. At the same time, King Arthur's rule is dated four or five centuries earlier, at which time Merlin was already a skilled wizard. Whether Merlin attended the school when he was already roughly five hundred years old is not addressed.
In Jurassic Park, Grant muses that if 60 years were compressed into a single day, 80 million years would become 3652 yearsnote Actually closer to 3653 (3652.968...), assuming 365 days per year, or 3650 (3650.467...) counting leap years, which according to him is older than the pyramids. The pyramids of Giza are more than 4500 years old.
The Charmed episode "The Witch is Back" made the mistake of assuming that people were burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials (see Teaching Mrs. Tingle under Film).
On The West Wing, many of President Bartlet's historical anecdotes are inaccurate. Wingnuts often explain this as evidence that the President himself is not infallible, or (perhaps more of a stretch) that the series is set in a universe with a slightly different history (after all, if the current world political leaders are different, and the American election schedule is even two years off, why not some other things as well?).
In Star Trek, Louis Pasteur is frequently referred to as a medical doctor. In the real world, Louis Pasteur was a chemist (although one who saved more lives with his work than many real doctors).
Another episode featured a Roman Empire with 20th Century technology (no explanation for the parallels this time.) They were threatened by an underground that turned out to be the equivalent of Christians. In fact, early Christians were never politically opposed to the Empire, a misapprehension probably caused by their scapegoating in Nero's reign.
This hilarious exchange from Mythbusters during the Benjamin Franklin myths episode:
Tory: "We just killed a dead president!"
Grant: "Ben Franklin was never president..."
In the Victorian-era set Doctor Who stories "Ghost Light" (from 1989) and "Tooth and Claw" (from 2006) different villains plot to overthrow Queen Victoria and seize the throne for themselves thereby, it's explained, becoming rulers of the most powerful country in the world. The only problem with this plan is that Victoria was a powerless symbolic figurehead and the villains' plots make about as much sense as a modern day villain planning to control Britain by replacing Elizabeth II (which, incidentally, is used as the basis for the villain's plot in Johnny English.) The British monarch has not attempted to veto a Bill of Parliament since Queen Anne and has not appointed a government that did not have the confidence of Parliament since King William IV.
As King William IV directly preceded Victoria, it may not be such of a great stretch, at least as far as the parliamentary-backed government goes.
The serial "Four to Doomsday" has the Maya civilization being twice as old, or more, as it actually was.
"City of Death" has a doozy — even when the episode aired, people were pointing out that life began on Earth about 3-4 billion (thousand million) years ago, not 400 million. Given a lovely Hand Wave from producer Graham Williams:
"The good Doctor makes the odd mistake or two but I think an error of 3,600 million years is pushing it! His next edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica will provide an erratum."
Another thing — the atmosphere of primordial Earth would have been unbreathable and poisonous. You know what, though? Don'tworryabout it.
The new series episode "The Shakespeare Code" repeatedly shows plays being performed in the Globe Theatre at night. Plays in Elizabethan England were performed during the day, since several hundred years prior to the invention of electric lighting, they would have had no way to light the stage properly when it was dark. Oh well, Rule of Scary, right?
In the season 4 episode The Next Doctor, the date is explicitly said to be December 24, 1851. There is a splendid full moon that night and early that morning — though on that precise day, the moon was actually a waxing quarter.
In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the city of Angel Grove was colonized by the British in the early 18th century. The city of Angel Grove is in southern California. Which coast were the original 13 colonies on, again?
In another episode, Booth claimed to be a descendent of John Wilkes Booth. John Wilkes Booth, while married, did not have any children, legitimate or illegitimate. His brothers and sister on the other hand had children, but no one can claim direct descent from the man who killed President Lincoln.
Highlander: The Series had the MacLeod clan leader living in a hut with the clan. But historically, and today, the Scottish clan leaders lived in castles—the MacLeod clan leader still lives in Dunvegan Castle today.
Additonally, Glen Finnan, the birthplace of Duncan and Connor,is way outside MacLeod lands.
And there's the infamous "Battle of Waterloo with snow" episode, "Band of Brothers" (not to be confused with the TV miniseries by that name)...the producers just couldn't wait for a snowless day to film, they had to work with what they had.
Sue: That's what they said about a young man in Chicago in 1871 who thought he'd play a 'harmless prank' on the dairy cow of one Mrs. O'Leary. He successfully ignited its flatulence, and the city burned, William! That young terrorist went on to become the first gay president of the United States: Abraham Lincoln!//
Santana: That is offensive. He shot Martin Luther King.
A number of 2012-focused "documentaries" wistfully wonder what the Maya would say about 2012 doomsday theories if they were still around. Evidently, someone forgot to inform the roughly 7 million living Maya, most of whom view the doomsday stuff as a load of bunk, of their non-existence.
In Babylon 5 Captain Sheridan locates the Jack the Ripper killings in London's West End instead of the East End. Straczynski admits it was a typo and it was overdubbed in the DVD release.
The second episode of Bonekickers, which has a shipment of slaves that takes place a good decade or so after Britain outlawed the slave trade.
A minor example, but an eye-roller nonetheless: the Human Target episode "Imbroglio" attempts to show Badass Guerrero as an opera aficionado, but he identifies composers Rossini & Verdi as being from the Baroque era (neither is).
The main plot of the CBBC series Leonardo involves Piero de' Medici plotting to overthrow the Duke of Florence. Except there wasn't a Duke of Florence in Leonardo's time, and Piero was the de facto ruler of the city himself. (The later Duke of Florence was Piero's great-grandson, simply formalising the Medici rule.)
Interestingly, in one episode Piero give his son Lorenzo a potted history of how his grandfather Giovanni invented modern banking, which is more or less accurate (except that he says Giovanni "arrived" in Florence, when he was actually born there).
Another major inaccuracy is the presentation of Niccolò Machiavelli. Not only was Machiavelli not black, when the programme is meant to be set (1467), he hadn't even been born. Machiavelli was born in 1469 and Michelangelo, who turns up as a Jerk Jock, was born in 1475, a full eight years later! Moreover, Machiavelli and Da Vinci didn't know each other when they were teenagers, mostly because of the seventeen year age difference.
The Young Blades episode "The Exile" features Charles II attempting to assassinate Oliver Cromwell while the latter is attempting to sign a peace treaty with Louis XIV. The episode ends with the main character convincing Louis to recognize Charles as the rightful King of England and reject Cromwell's treaty. In reality, Charles II and Louis XIV were cousins, and Charles spent most of his life in French courts due to the political problems in England, so there's no way they wouldn't have known each other.
In the very next episode, "Da Vinci's Notebook," Siroc states, "As everybody knows, da Vinci died in Paris." Actually, he died in Amboise, over 100 miles away.
Michael: Abraham Lincoln once said, "If you are a racist, I will attack you with the North."
Later in an episode where Michael sends Jim on a scavenger hunt, one of the clues states "You will find me in the parking lot under the first president." Jim, seeing through the mistake, checked under a Lincoln.
In another episode, Michael hires a Benjamin Franklin impersonator for Phyllis' bachelorette party. He refers to Franklin as having been a United States president, despite the actor's attempts to correct him.
How I Met Your Mother: Robin describes the division-winning 2004 Vancouver Canucks as "a scrappy, little underdog team that prevailed despite very shaky goaltending and, frankly, the declining skills of Trevor Linden." All of these features are incorrect. Far from scrappy underdogs, the Canucks were favorites to win the division from the get-go; goaltender Dan Cloutier had his best season as a professional and was near the top of the league in every statistical category; and Trevor Linden's skills had not been relied upon as a core feature of the team for the better part of a decade.
Combat was a television series depicting American G.I.'s fighting Germans in France during World War II. It lasted five seasons, although historically, after D-Day France was liberated in about four months, and Germany surrendered after less than a year. Total U.S. involvement in World War II was less than four years.
Same goes for Mash and Hogan's Heroes, both of which lasted longer than the war they were set during.
The Borgias has quite a few examples, including valiant but doomed-to-fail efforts to reduce how evil Rodrigo and Cesare really were, making Giovanni Sforza abuse and rape Lucrezia when he actually ignored her and only consummated the marriage fairly late into it, and putting Machiavelli in as an adviser to the Medici, which he never was, about 4 years before he had any position of power in Florence (he was also a bitter enemy of the Medicis, who had imprisoned and tortured him. The Prince is sometimes even interpreted partly as a Take That against them).
Prince Djem arrives to live in exile under Pope Alexander and is poisoned to collect a reward from his brother, Sultan Beyazid, that is used to pay for Lucrezia's dowry in her first marriage (just as poor clueless Djemannounced his intentionto convert to Christianity!). In reality, Djem arrived in Rome during the reign of Innocent VIII, Alexander's precedessor, was asked repeatedly to convert to Christianity and head a crusade against the Turks but refused, and died years later while a captive of the French Army. Also, when Cesare tells Lucrezia that Djem died of malaria, she immediately speaks of mosquitos, but the connection between the disease and mosquitos wasn't established until the late 19th century.
When the French do invade, they are portrayed as an unstoppable hegemon that makes mincemeat of the Italian mercenary armies, which was true. The idea is conveyed, however, by having the French artillery fire chain-shots (a weapon invented in the next century and used mostly in naval warfare) to make literal mincemeat of the Roman army without engaging it in combat, and the Italians are portrayed as completely ignorant of the military applications of gunpowder (or maybe it's only the show's version of Juan Borgia-the real one was in Spain at the time and missed the war altogether). French artillery also destroys Lucca after it surrenders; in real life this happened to Rapallo (a Genoese city occupied by the Neapolitans in an attempt to stop the French advance) and Mordano (a Papal fortress), while Lucca (an independent micro-republic) was liberated from Florentine occupation by the French. King Ferrante of Naples dies from the shock of hearing that the French army is coming, when it was his death that prompted the French to invade, since they disputed his succession. They take Naples without a fight and are ravaged by the plague; in real life it was syphilis and the French soldiers caught it exactly how you'd expect. Finally, the French capture Prince Alfonso (much younger and never crowned king in the series) and kill him after torturing him with a pear of anguish, a 17th century device that might have never been used in reality. The real Alfonso abdicated in favor of his son (who led the Neapolitan armies) and fled to Spanish-ruled Sicily.
A lot is made of how the Borgias are hated for being Spanish, not Italian. Juan even recalls the children insulting them when they first arrived in Rome. Alexander's kids never "arrived" in Rome because they were born there. Their mother, Italian noblewoman Vanozza dei Cattanei, is regularly described as a "Spanish beauty" in the show, her obvious Italian name notwithstanding.
Lucrezia has her first son Giovanni before Juan dies. In real life, Giovanni was named after her deceased brother. He also was most probably not actually her son, but her half-brother, sired by her father Rodrigo on a mistress (Rodrigo admitted his paternity in a papal bull). She did raise him, however, and gave birth to at least six children (dying from complication of delivering the last one). The rumors of her committing incest and murder (especially through poisoning) are without proof.
The Vampire Diaries presents an interesting case. At the 50s Decade Dance, one of the songs played is "My Boyfriend's Back" from 1963. However, it very well could have been to show that 2009 teenagers don't know much when it comes to 50s music.
Used as a plot point in an episode of Head of the Class where the students are taking part in a historical reenactment competition, the principal Dr. Samuels insists on some popular history inaccuracies - for example their Marie Antoinette must say "Let them eat cake." The students call him out on the fact that she never said that. He maintains that the judges will not know that she didn't say it and will in fact expect her to say it, and will deduct points if she doesn't say it. So she says it, and the team loses for historical inaccuracy.
In September 2009, a character in Tank McNamara was said to have researched the Vandals (the name of a college sports team) and found that they were part of Norse mythology. The Vandals have nothing to do with Norse mythology; they were a historic Germanic tribe, or perhaps Slavs, who invaded the Roman Empire.
This misinterpretation comes from the fact that the Swedish kings used to style themselves as "Suecorum, Gothorum et Vandalorum Rex" Vandalorum being the Wends (or the Vends), not the Vandals. This is however somewhat of a Real Life example, since the "Vandalorum" was meant to be (mis)interpreted as "Vandals", which were remembered as exercising impressive military force — not unlike the impression one in the 20th century could have derived from "King of the Vikings"note which actually would have carried some historical accuracy, but probably also been highly politically incorrect before the 19th century. That the Swedes started using this particular title (in 1540, a good 300 years after the Wends disappeared from history) is mostly as part of a pissing contest with the king of Denmark and Norway, who similarly claimed to be king of Wends and Goths.
Witch Girls Adventures seems to be written under the premise that Vlad Dracul and Vlad Dracula are the same person, and not in a Beethoven Was an Alien Spy or Julius Beethoven Da Vinci sense. For reference, this is the same as writing a story under the premise that George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush are the same person. They just seem to have not realized they were not only two different people, but father and son. A hint is that "Dracula" roughly translates to English as "Son of the Dragon", with "a" being the "Son of" part.
FATAL's creator Byron Hall claims that the game is absolutely historically accurate—when he's not claiming that some hideously offensive magical item was included for controversial humor. In practice, "historically accurate" in this case means that he just looked up stuff that people used to believe at one point or another, and treated it as though it's actually true.
Swashbuckling adventure game 7th Sea tries its best to justify this by being set in a world which is not explicitly Earth ("Theah"), but instead has nearly-identical geography (except for lacking the Americas), and is made entirely of Fantasy Counterpart Cultures with Significant Names. The result is a world much like our own, circa 1560 (the Queen of "Avalon" is a clear Elizabeth I expy) through 1700 (... while a Shout-Out to Louis XIV is at the height of his power). Woe betide the GM who tries to use its books for anything set in the realCavalier Years.
When William Shakespeare tackles history, history usually loses. However, it's hard to fault him given his often-stated intent to entertain people. It's more of a failure when modern writers use Shakespeare as a definitive authority, something he himself might not have appreciated.
Shakespeare was patronized by the British monarchy (in spite of possibly not being a good Protestant). He knew exactly what side his bread was buttered on. Dan Brown is offended at being compared to Shakespeare because — as he points out — he gets things like geography and clothing accurate. Usually.
The Winter's Tale is set during pagan times, yet features the Kingdom of Sicily (1130), the Kingdom of Bohemia (1212) and the Tsardom of Russia (1547).
Richard III is Tudor propaganda based on dubious sources. Other than Richard's accession and death and the murders of the Princes in the Tower, the Bard gets everything wrong.
Much of what he tells us about Richard III was already "Common Knowledge" at this point, so it's not all his fault. As hinted above, the guy who deposed Richard III was Henry VII, Elizabeth I's grandfather. So it wouldn't have been a good idea to try and paint a positive picture of Richard III.
Macbeth changes Duncan from a young, violent invader to a wise old king, telescopes Macbeth's 17-year reign into two years, creates Lady Macbeth almost from whole cloth, and reimagines the Stuart family tree.
King James was supposedly descended from Banquo through his son Fleance. Macbeth was commissioned by James, who paid Shakespeare a king's ransom to write and stage it. Naturally Shakespeare would throw in things that would please James. This is also why at the end of the original play, Shakespeare put on another play showing the descent of the Stuarts from Fleance through to James VI. Total nonsense, but James and Shakespeare both liked it.
Many people believe that Sir John Falstaff was a historical person because of his inclusion in ''Henry IV Parts 1 and 2". Although he may have been very loosely based on an old Stratford acquaintance of Shakespeare's, Falstaff himself is wholly fictional.
Sir John Fastolf was a very real knight of the Garter who was a contemporary of Henry V (and long outlived him). To what extent he was the inspiration for Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff is debated to this day.
The character was originally named John Oldcastle, after a real 15th century person. Since Oldcastle had well-connected descendants, Shakespeare had to change the name.
And read books with pages, as well as the entire events of Caesar's murder, burial, and arrival of Octavius all being compressed into the same day, the actual events occurring within the period of a month.
Books with pages aren't as bad a problem as usually assumed — vellum codexes bound in wood did exist in the Roman times.
And Caesar saying "For I am constant as the Northern Star"; the location in the sky of the North Celestial Pole varies due to the Precession of the Equinoxes, and in Roman times it wasn't near any star.
Shakespeare's portrayal of Henry V as a wild vagabond when he was the heir to the throne is also inaccurate. Henry was always the same duty bound, serious man his whole life.
Shakespeare has King John say, "The thunder of my cannon shall be heard" in France. The first English cannons were used at the battle of Crécy in 1346 – 130 years after the death of King John. Cannon are also mentioned in Hamlet which is set in the 11th century, well before gunpowder was invented in Europe.
Christopher Marlowe, an Elizabethan dramatist who influenced Shakespeare, was also prone to this. In his Tamburlaine plays, the eponymous (anachronistic) Scythian conqueror ("Tamburlaine" was Turkic, not Scythian) takes control of the Persian Empire (which ceased to exist in 330 BCE, unless he meant the contemporary Safavid Empire, which did not exist in "Tamburlaine's" time) by capturing its capital, Persepolis (which was burned down by Alexander the Great over a millennium ago), capturing the King of Turkey (which was a sultanate) and marrying the daughter of the Egyptian (Mamluk) Sultan, Zenocrate (who, aside from being invented, has a Greek name).
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Real history is mixed in with the story of the seventh president's fame as an emo rock star, but there's quite a bit of (presumably) entirely intentional inaccuracy.
For starters, Abigail and friends were children, not teenagers as in the play. (Miller himself admitted this.)
While it is true that Giles Corey died while being pressed, they were already convinced that he was a witch, and that's how the law saw his death.
John and Elizabeth Proctor tried very hard to stop this nonsense, but John was hanged long before the craze died, and Elizabeth only escaped on account of pregnancy, being released once the hysteria ran its course.
1776... apart from the fact that it's Founding Fathers singing and dancing about independence? The show is actually fairly accurate to history as it was known at the time, with many things taken from the writings of the people involved, but there are some digressions explained in the book:
Many of the Congressmen were cut because there were over fifty of them and they just wouldn't fit. Some of Sam Adams' traits were combined with his cousin John, including his eerily accurate prediction of the The American Civil War.
The Declaration wasn't actually decided as a stalling tactic. In a surprisingly sensible move, Congress voted on independence first and debated over the wording later.
Martha Jefferson didn't visit Jefferson in Philadelphia. (The actual reason Jefferson was so anxious to get home was because she was quite ill at the time.)
Unanimity was not an official condition of independence, but it was understood that they all needed to do it for the reasons Hancock stated.
The final vote didn't come down to the issue of slavery and a Southern walkout. To a modern audience, the issue had to be addressed—it was a fundamental hypocrisy that later ripped the country apart. Plus, Franklin pointing out that they were also Americans was pointed in an era where phrases like "un-American" were freely hurled at political opponents. In reality, Congress removed the anti-slavery clause without that much fuss, quietly passing the buck to the next generation.
In general, details were moved around and filled in when they were absent. Today, historians believe that James Wilson was similar to Lyman Hall, being a committed independence man who only delayed his vote so he could check with his constituents. But when the play was written, all they could find was that he'd abruptly switched his vote, so they wrote him as an indecisive Yes-Man to Dickinson.
Evony. Apparently Napoleon's diary was written in the medieval era.
Part of the backstory for Killer7 involves an elementary school that has decided who the president of the United States would be since George Washington, located in Seattle, Washington. At the time of Washington's presidency, Seattle didn't exist, only populated by the tribes already living in the area. Seattle wouldn't be founded until 1851, sixty two years after Washington's election. Even with the extremely bizarre nature of the game, there is no reason to make such a mistake.
The game Imperium Romanum has a scenario set in 132 BC. The very first words of the description claim that Augustus Caesar currently has a firm hold on Rome as the first Emperor. This is off by more than a hundred years: Julius Caesar (let alone his adoptive son Augustus) hadn't even been born yet. This is not hard to notice if you're aware of the widely known fact that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC.
In Assassin's Creed III, Robert Faulkner in Sequence Five says that the Aquila is the best ship from the US to Singapore. Thing is, Singapore had fallen into obscurity centuries before and wouldn't be revived by British colonisation for at least 40 more years.
Another example from Assassin's Creed III is Washington being behind the destruction of Connor's village in 1761, a whole three years after Washington retired from the military.
Nearly everything about the game's depiction of the Boston Tea Party is wrong. The game depicts it as a riot in which a few dozen British soldiers get slaughtered. In reality, the destruction of the tea was conducted in near silence, there were no British soldiers present (having been withdrawn to Castle Island after the Boston Massacre in 1770), and nobody was so much as injured.
God of War didn't even try to portray Kratos realistically, it seems. To give one example, he was bald. Real soldiers of that time period wore their hair long, and were very proud of it, doing their best to keep it groomed.
In the 2006 E3 press conference, Genji was advertised as being "historically accurate". Immediately after the spokesperson said this, his player character was attacked by a Giant Enemy Crab...
Poked fun at in Sony's E3 2013 press conference - an indie developer stopped while describing his game and said, "and while historically accurate, it doesn't feature any Giant Enemy Crabs".
Used in-game in BioShock Infinite. The citizens of Columbia venerate the Founding Fathers (Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin) as prophets and messiahs, while in reality, they would have been appalled at the fanaticism, oppression, racism, elitism, and abuse of power the Columbians preach and practice. (Jefferson established the "separation of church and state", Franklin protested against the caste system, and Washington was racially and religiously tolerant, and is against a permanent office position.)
All the Civilization games seem to think that Persia historically ended with Alexander's conquest. In reality, there was a country called Persia right up until 1935. After that date it was called by its native name, Iran.
The creators of Ryse: Son of Rome, Crytek, have admitted to not be aiming for historical accuracy with their game. It certainly shows when Boudicca sack Rome with war elephants. And the historical silliness doesn't stop there.
In Educomix, World War II was fought between Ireland and the South Pole, and one of the combatants was Jesus.
Associated Space has the following exchange in the spirit of Animal House:
Fatebane: Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man. Admiral Patton punched right through the Western Wall and sank the Japanese fleet. And that was in the days of triremes: oar-powered ships that couldn't fire back as well as coastal fortresses.
Nazar: And how many ships did he lose in that battle?
Fatebane: It's the principle that matters! If she could do it, so can we!
This article on a Tarot poker game in a fantasy novel claims that the Tarot deck is the ancestor of the modern playing card deck. Modern European playing cards only appeared sometime around 1370, and the earliest Tarot decks appeared circa 1440.
In 2009, the dressup game site Poupeegirl held a Time Travel event, with avatar items representing "Western" and "Middle Ages" themes. Which was all well and good, except the Middle Ages themed items were all Rococo-era styles.
During The Nostalgia Critic's review of Pearl Harbor, he gives an extremely long rant about the undisciplined and unpreparedness of the American Military during the attack. What he fails to realize? It was a surprise attack, many of the people on the ships weren't only their compliment, but workers from all over the base so it makes sense that a few can't swim. And he claims that the Doolittle Raid killed many civilians... when in reality only a few died (despite the fact that the targets were factories which are military targets). Note: he could have gotten this all right if he just took the time to review the Other Wiki's page on both subjects, or asked his navy father.
More precisely, it was the Germanic tribes, not the Christians, that brought an end to the ancient Western Roman civilization. It was the Church that helped to preserve and introduce ancient science to the mostly illiterate Germanic tribespeople. In the Eastern Roman Empire (which was Christian since the 4th century) the situation was completely different.
In the Hey Arnold! episode "Pig War" the kids pull a Trojan Horse knock off using a giant wooden pig. While doing so Arnold states with great certainty "This worked for the Trojans because they knew their enemies were easily flattered and loved gifts". Arnold, you fail history forever.
And so do all but one of the people playing the British. One kid attempts to point out the Trojan War as precisely why they should not let that wooden pig in their fort, and he is promptly ignored.
South Park's "I'm a Little Bit Country" presents a massive historical failure on the American Revolution. Determining exactly how the Founding Fathers would view the invasion of Iraq is a debate much too large for this page, but the armed conflict of the Revolution itself was already raging in the Colonies. The battles of Lexington and Concord had been fought in 1775, Benedict Arnold had captured a crucial British fort to help break the siege of Boston, and several other battles were fought. Not everyone wanted to go to war, and many of the Founding Fathers even opposed independence itself, but they recognized that the violent struggle was an inevitability.
The Transformers movie gets a pass for a lot of things based on Rule of Cool, but a few things are still outright mistakes.
Hoover was involved in the construction of the Hoover dam, but he started this involvement well before he was president.
The popular notion is that Walt Disney's animated cartoon Ben and Me is what started the misconception of Benjamin Franklin's famous kite experiment, which has found its way into every adaptation of the event. Though he did come up with the idea, there's no clear evidence that Franklin ever performed it himself, and the Mythbusters clearly showed that if Franklin attempted the experiment the way it's popularly portrayed, he would have been fried to a crisp by the lightning bolt.
Played for Laughs in Teen Titans where Beast Boy proclaims "Now I know how George Washington felt when Napoleon beat him at Pearl Harbor". And at the beginning of the same episode, Beast Boy gives an account of the start of The Revolutionary War, thinking that it started in 1492, and was caused because the colonists getting tired of only being allowed to eat english muffins and drink tea. Raven replies by wondering if he got all of that from a cereal box (he did).
From Family Guy we have the episode "Road to Germany" where Stewie and Brian travel back to 1939 to save a wayward Mort Goldman who accidentally went crap in Stewie's time machine. When learning that Nazi Germany was making a nuclear bomb, Brian attempts to pull an Author Filibuster when Stewie asked 'Why doesn't America go and kick their asses?' which Brian replies 'Probably because they didn't have any oil'. This joke and much of the episode falls flat for several reasons:
In 1939, the American Army was well, crap, and its Air Force was still using outdated aircraft, many of which were behind the rest of the world (and moreover, it was Nazi Germany that had perhaps the most advanced in the world). So even if they wanted to attack at that time... they didn't have the means. The army at the time couldn't even afford enough guns and was using wooden replicas during live-fire drills, and they had no comparable tanks to face the German Panzer Divisions. And the Army Air Force, the P-40 and P-39, two planes which could compete (but not very well) against the Bf 109 were a year away from being deployed, thus they only had metal biplanes and the already obsolete P-35 and obsolescent P-36 Hawk.
In 1939, the United States was still gripped in The Great Depression and was firmly Isolationist despite Roosevelt's attempt to send aid to Great Britain.
Nazi Germany's nuclear program... was kind of crap.*
The Germans planned an experiment with a highly enriched uranium core and a heavy water moderator. That design was so colossally stupid that had they actually performed the experiment, it would have gone prompt-super-critical and killed all the scientists performing it.
They hadn't even produced enough uranium to produce a bomb at that point, and Hitler... frankly didn't care. Additionally, German physicists had messed up the math, and didn't think an atomic bomb was even possible. It didn't help (well, from the perspective of anyone not in Nazi Germany, it did help) that Germany had driven out many of their best nuclear and/or theoretical physicists (such as one Albert Einstein) due to Germany's anti-Semitic policies.
America at that point had all the oil they needed and didn't have to rely on foreign supplies. In fact, America was producing more oil than the rest of the world combined (the oil fields in the Middle East were largely undeveloped). And oil at that time was generally cheaper than water unless you were at war with half of the world. In fact, part of Japan's casus belli in 1941 was the fact that Roosevelt had embargoed US oil from Japan over the Second Sino-Japanese War, especially Japan's conduct in Nanking. So, if anything, it was Japan that went to war (partly) for oil against the United States, not the other way around.
The British never went for daytime bombing raids after the early 1940s. They instead relied on a night-time campaign. It was the Americans who did the daytime raids. Not only that, the Lancaster Bombers weren't even on the drawing board in 1939.
Another from Family Guy, this one from "The Big Bang Theory". It is shown that Leonardo da Vinci was Stewie's ancestor. However, Leonardo never married or had any by blood children, legitimate or otherwise. In fact, many speculate he was gay.
"Road to the Multiverse" makes the utterly incorrect Hollywood History assumption that it was Christianity that caused the Dark Ages. And while have been multiple times were Christianity has attempted to trump on knowledge. There are multiple other (non-religious) causes for the Dark Ages, and much of our knowledge of science and philosophy were preserved by Catholic monks, and the Catholic Church opening willing to support science and learning throughout this time and the renaissance.
And in exact same episode, they also assume that Walt Disney was an anti-semite despite him hiring and working with Jewish employees, none of which have said that he showed any kind of hatred or bigotry.
Another time they had the aforementioned Lancaster Bombers...with the American Air Force insignia. The United States Army Air Force never had the Lancaster Bomber, instead used the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator. It might be forgivable if they just mixed up the B-24 with the Lancaster, considering their similar appearance.
The Simpsons: Grandpa Simpson very often mixes historical events and/or relates them in a surrealistic and nonsensical way, and often claiming to have taken an active part in them. This might be a result of ignorance, severe senility, or both. Nobody around ever corrects him, however. In fact Bart did once praise his knowledge on early aviation (without realizing it was all bollocks):
Bart: What a piece of junk.
Grandpa: Junk?! That's the Wright Brothers' plane! At Kitty Hawk in 1902, Charles Lindbergh flew that on a thimble-full of corn oil. Single-handedly won us the Civil War, it did!
Bart: How do you know so much about history?
Grandpa: I pieced it together, mostly from sugar packets.
Homer: Are you sure you don't want to come? In a Civil War re-enactment we need lots of Indians to shoot!
Apu: I don't know what part of that sentence to correct first.
During his exam to become a citizen, Apu is asked a final question:
Examiner: What was the cause of the Civil War?
Apu: Actually, there were many factors, both domestic and international-
Vlad Plasmius: If I can destroy the world's first airplane, then man will never fly.
The Looney Tunes short Yankee Doodle Bugs has Bugs Bunny helping his nephew Clyde study for a test by giving him a crash course in early American history. The accuracy of Bugs' accounts can be measured by Clyde's response after he returns home from school and Bugs asks how he did: glaring angrily, pulling out a Dunce Cap, and placing it on his head. ("Does this answer your question?")
Hilariously parodied in an episode of The Powerpuff Girls. Mojo Jojo, drafted into babysitting the girls, tells them a horribly inaccurate version of Napoleon's life. Once he finishes, the girls shut him down by thoroughly telling him the real story of Napoleon's life in between hitting him with pillows.
Although the old Schoolhouse Rock shorts could be remarkably informative for young audiences, "No More Kings", the one about the American colonies and Revolution ("Rockin' and a-rollin', splishin' and a-splashin'", etc.) harps on and on about George III's tyrannical unfairness. King George's recurrent mental illness was such that he seldom exerted true control over Britain, let alone the colonies; it was Parliament which instituted the tax policies which (some) American colonists found so intolerable.
His illness didn't really hit him until later on in life; the British constitution on the other hand did limit his role in government anyway. He also was probably one of the nicest kings Britain ever had; not a saint or anything but very much considering the crown a duty rather than something that gave him the right to be a dick, so he wasn't a tyrant by any real stretch of the imagination. He supported the war on the colonies because countries generally do not tolerate armed internal rebellions, and for all that was still happy to make peace once his side lost, treating the other side as a Worthy Opponent if anything.
It also suggests that England directly governed the colonies before the 1770s. In fact, the colonies had been largely allowed to govern themselves before then, and it was Parliament's attempts to impose more control on the colonies that was met with resistance.
Acknowledging that Parliament was to blame for the excesses would have amounted to a de facto recognition of Parliament's ability to govern and control the colonies; the colonials were subjects of the King, but not citizens of Great Britain.
In an episode of Camp Lazlo, a very excited Lazlo makes an incredibly inspired speech to encourage the other campers.
Lazlo: Did Napoleon give up the moon to the Swiss? Don't you think he would've planted his butt on a pinecone to keep the moon base from falling to the barbarians?!
The others do appear confused by this, but the speech does its job anyway.
Animaniacs, with an example not covered by the Rule of Funny: in the Presidents Song, the Warner siblings inform us that Woodrow Wilson brought America into World War I in 1913. Not only is this four years before America joined in, it's one year before the war actually started.