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Artistic License – History

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King Xerxes: Hair vs. Nair.

"In a real historical piece, if they tried to make everything slavishly right any show would be unwatchable, because there would be too much that the audience couldn't understand. The audience would be constantly distracted by details like un-filmably dark building interiors, ugly missing teeth, infants being given broken-winged songbirds as disposable toys to play with, crush, and throw away, and Marie Antoinette relieving herself on the floor at Versailles. [...] We cannot make an accurate movie of this — it will please no one."

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, with many living traces in contemporary life — roads paved on pathways carved by ancient civilizations, languages and slang that evolve from a particular regional starting point, architecture from various eras, fashions plucked from various times, materials used for tools and production, etc., but all of this is secondary to telling a good story. In most cases, historical works focus on a particular event taken out of context, revolving around a set group of individuals and depict the events with the pictorial and narrative structure as per the fashions of the year of its exhibition. Real history is filled with a vast array of characters with plenty of Hero of Another Story. In addition, 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 Hour Rousing Speech with knowledge that Nazi Germany was going to be defeated in 4 years).note  Likewise, works of art are not so cheap to create. It costs something in time and money to properly research, find and create the material needed to portray a given period with some degree of accuracy. There are also the limits of the medium to contend with. To play a famous painter believably, casting another famous painter is usually not considered a smart rule for casting. The best of actors will struggle to believably render genius convincingly. There are limits to the illusion cast by a work of art in portraying a historical reality, even in the best scenario. This also applies to writers who would struggle to render the thoughts and dialogues of the distant past in a manner that is convincing to the reader, that gives a believable impression of a past where society and values were different from the present, but not so different as to be unrelatable. In cases where the given period has very few records available, most of it has to be fictionalized anyway. Likewise, where history does lean on records, there is still room for interpretation and ambiguity, so in these cases historians and artists share common ground.

In most cases however, historians and artists don't really have the same job. A historian's job is to relate the facts, and update them as new information comes to light. An artist's job is to reflect on history, showing why certain individuals and events were important and remain important decades and centuries later. Even when history is Written by the Winners and censorship dominates cultures, artists tend to be drawn to particular events and figures more than others. Whether its the Folk Hero, the Founder of the Kingdom, the iconic Rebel Leader, certain people and events are interesting because they are more relatable to people than others. This often leads to a sense of distortion, where thanks to constant references in history, the impact of some historical figures looms larger than the facts would allow and in some cases, greatly exaggerates the given person or event's relative importance.

Still, while artists and historians have parallel jobs, in cases where the former doesn't keep up to pace with new research you can see the persistence of discredited information, decades and even centuries after being academically debunked. See Dated History for those rare cases where new evidence or insight actually does change the historical record. Compare Anachronism Stew (where the inaccuracies are not fictional inventions, just details drawn from different eras), Hollywood History (where the facts are mostly right, just caricatured and stereotyped, subject to Bowdlerization and 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. An Orphaned Etymology may occur when a word or name is used in a work regardless of whether the historical circumstances that brought the term into use had actually happened yet in the work's universe.

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.

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Other examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dance in the Vampire Bund: One of the main characters is Mina Tepes, the Undead Child queen of the vampires. However, "Tepes", Romanian for "the Impaler", is a nickname that Vlad III, Voivode of Wallachia (the core of modern-day Romania), became known by during his wars with the Ottoman Empire, not a clan or family name as this series appears to believe. Believe it or not, "Dracula" is actually more accurate: it's an Anglicization of Vlad III's actual family name, Drăculești, a branch of the House of Basarab which ruled Wallachia from the 1300s to 1600s.
  • A Dog of Flanders (1975): Dub-only example. The German version of the theme song has the lyric "You know Rembrandt and Rubens, and they all painted in Flanders"note . But Rembrandt was a Dutch painter who worked in Holland.
  • The Elusive Samurai: Hojo Tokiyuki was a real figure who escaped Kamakura after his family's deaths and was sheltered by Suwa Yorishige while he planned his return to power. Given the exaggerated nature of the characters, and Yorishige's power of seeing into the future, it's clear the manga isn't bound to historical accuracy.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Steel Ball Run: Hirohiko Araki makes an author's note early on that the value of dollars discussed in the story are roughly equivalent to the modern dollars rather than 1890s dollars in order to convey the amounts to a modern reader more easily.
  • Honoo no Alpen Rose: The anime mentions that Lundi's father, Dr. Courtot, went "to Africa" (apparently Africa Is a Country) during the 1920s to work as a doctor and treat impoverished patients. It's also mentioned that before he arrived, Africa had no doctors, which is blatantly untrue — yes, Africa as a whole wasn't that economically developed during the '20s, but it certainly had basic necessities like hospitals (most third-world countries do).
  • Isabelle of Paris has enough to warrant its own page.
  • Lucy-May of the Southern Rainbow: The first episode is stated to take place in 1837. In episode 33, Lucy-May mentions it's been three years since she came to Australia, meaning the year currently is 1840. In the next episode, while Arthur is working at a quarry, he hears an explosion, and his colleague tells him it is the sound of dynamite. But nitroglycerin, the raw material for dynamite, was discovered in 1847.
  • Primitive Boy Ryu depicts dinosaurs and cavemen living in the same era. This isn't true.
  • Princess Diana:
    • No, Princess Diana did not own a guinea pig as a child, nor did she bring it to school where it won a "pet contest".note 
    • No, Princess Diana did not have a Character Tic of biting her thumb when anxious.
    • It is true that Diana attended Riddlesworth Hall School, but in actuality she was first educated at home by a governess, and then attended Silfield Private School.
  • The Rose of Versailles: Has its own page.
  • Shaman King states that current X-Law shaman Chris Venstar was involved in US military counterterrorism operations in the Middle East in 1991 (during which he had his legs burned off by Hao when he interrupted a meeting the latter was having with a terrorist group), apparently having conflated the Gulf War with the then-current US War on Terror. Also his spirit, the archangel Metatron, inhabits an H1 Hummer that is said to be the same vehicle Venstar drove as a soldier. Crossing over with Artistic License – Cars, the H1 was never used in combat: it was a derivative model of HM General's Humvee built specifically for civilian sale.
  • Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen: Drawing and quartering was a fairly well-known historical means of Cruel and Unusual Death, but it wasn't done the way depicted in volume one. Drawing and quartering consisted of partial strangulation by hanging, followed by disembowelment and castration, followed by beheading and dismemberment ("quartering"). What Elisabeth refers to as "drawing and quartering" when she inflicts it on the Knight, is actually a dismemberment by four "horses".
  • Wolfsmund, a Historical Fiction retelling of the founding of Switzerland, gets a lot of character design and tactical details very right, but a lot of the specific locations and events are invented for Rule of Drama.
    • The stories of Austrian cruelty in the Swiss cantons that inspired the series are now mostly believed to be exaggerations, having first appeared in the 16th century. Albert I Habsburg, the father of Dukes Leopold and Frederick from the story, was actually known for being quite sympathetic to commoners and serfs (he even protected Jews, who were widely despised in the period).
    • The Wolf's Maw keep that blocks the (very real) St. Gotthard Pass (where most of the action takes place for the first 2/3 of the series) never existed, and bears more resemblance to Shogunate-era Japanese sekisho than anything European in any case. The associated folk legend of the Devil's Bridge is real, but anachronistic, first recorded in the 18th century and believed to have arisen at most two centuries earlier.
    • William Tell gets a Death by Adaptation during a dangerous climb with his son to bypass the Wolf's Maw. According to Aegidius Tschudi's version of the legend, Tell is said to have died trying to rescue a child from drowning in 1354.
    • Historically, the Battle of Morgarten was indeed a major setback for the Hapsburgs, but it did not crush Fredrick's imperial ambitions. Indeed, Frederick's cause actually continued to do well for several years, until the Battle of Mühldorf.

  • Emanuel Leutze's famous painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware" has George Washington and his soldiers crowded into small jolly boats. In actuality they used Durham boats, which were double-ended cargo boats upward of 40 feet long that would not only carry more soldiers but be better platforms for transporting horses and cannons. They're also flying the Stars and Stripes, which didn't exist until the next year; at the time, the most common (albeit unofficial) revolutionary flag actually had a British Union Jack in the canton.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix, 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 flavors — 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; 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)...
  • Chick Tracts. 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.
  • Crimson: Templar Grandmaster D'Orense proudly claims to be a direct descendant of Bernard of Clairvaux, the patron saint of their order. However, Clairvaux was a celibate monk who is very unlikely to have fathered any children (it was stated that he jumped into cold water to resist any lustful temptations). If he had sired any offspring, he would have broken his vows and that would have been something really shameful for the Templars to admit, much less take pride in it.
  • Democracy:
    • Harmodius was actually a teen when him and Aristogeiton murdered Hipparchus, but they changed his age, so his relationship with Aristogeiton wouldn't be Squicky.
    • While the myth with Hero and Leander did exist, it's believed that it was written in the 1st century A.C. (and the story takes place 600 years earlier). Still, chances are that they myth might be older than we believe.
    • Records state that when Hippias learnt about his brother's murder, he acted rationally. Here, he is seen crying over his death.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe had this one story where the Ducks travelled back in time to the year 1000. On the site of Duckburg (an American city, and located on the Pacific Coast at that!), they found a medieval European town. Fortunately, when the story was published in the United States,note  the translator changed it so that they only travelled back to the 1700s, though of course this leaves all the characters they meet with anachronistic clothes and names.
  • Djinn takes place in the eve of World War II, but it takes a lot of liberties:
    • The Ottoman Sultan is named Murati instead of Mehmed V, who was the reigning sultan in 1912, the time the comic takes place. He is also deposed by Enver Pasha before World War I even begins, whereas his real-life counterpart died a powerless figurehead less than four months before the Ottoman Empire's capitulation at the Armistice of Mudros. His brother and successor Mehmed VI would be the final imperial ruler.
    • It's a plot point that Great Britain wants to prevent the Ottoman Empire from forming an alliance with Germany by securing peace with them first, only for that to come to naught due to an diplomatic scandal. In real life, it was the other way around: the Ottomans wanted to remain neutral because of the serious decline they suffered over the years such as losing the entire Balkans in the early 20th Century just prior to WW1 and they attempted to secure an alliance with Great Britain, but they had no interest.
  • Golden Lad takes a lot of liberties with Pre-Colombian history; for instance, the pendant that gives Golden Lad his powers is in the shape of the European heart symbol, rather than any remotely Aztec symbol.
  • Lady Death: Medieval Lady Death takes place in the Novgorod Republic and shows Teutonic Knights serving as the local authority under Pope Paul V. Novgorod was an Eastern Orthodox state and as such as a Catholic order like the Teutonic Knights would have absolutely no jurisdiction over it. To top it off, Honorius III was the correct Pope during that time, while Paul V would only be born two centuries afterwards.
  • The Chilean comic Mampato has many, many examples to mention them all, just for presenting one, in Mampato and Ogu in the court of King Arthur not only presents dubiously historical figures such as Merlin or King Arthur, but also shows England of the fifth century with a medieval type culture that only existed centuries later.
  • In the Mighty Mouse pastiche of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the role of the Monitor is taken by the Minotaur, explained as being the original anthropomorphic animal. In reality, the Minotaur is greatly predated by the Lion Man statue, which dates to between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago.
  • Spider-Man: Life Story: The background of issue #1 (set in 1966) shows a poster for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The movie would only get wide American release in 1967 and a year long preview and promotion wasn't really a thing back in those days.
  • Supergirl:
    • In one scene of The Untold Story of Argo City, Supergirl and her parents are seen lifting an Egyptian temple. Said temple is drawn as a pyramid, even though Egyptian worship places do not have resemblance whatsoever to pyramids.
    • Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends: Supergirl calls King Richard I of England "the Lion-Hearted" instead of his real nickanme, "the Lionheart".
    • "The Super-Steed of Steel" considers that "Biron" and "Maldor" were traditional names in the pre-Christian Greece.
    • The Other Side of Doomsday: When he comes around and notices he has been chained to a stone's wall, the Flash identifies it as "a medieval dungeon", even though nothing about its design suggests this. Barry's reasoning seems to be "It is murky, muddy, mossy, there are shackles on the walls... It looks awful and primitive so it must be medieval. Specifically".
  • Superman:
    • In "The Phantom Superboy" -written in 1961 but set in a vague late 40s'-, Clark excitedly shows Lana the first electric typewriter on the market. The first known electric typewriter was invented in the year 1900 (although to be fair, new and innovative models were introduced during the 30s and 40s).
    • In Two for the Death of One, Superman gets dragged to XIVth Century England. One of the villagers he meets wears a horned helmet, even though Dark Ages Vikings never wore horned helmets, let alone Middle Ages Englishmen.
    • "The Living Legends of Superman": Woodrow Wilson is regarded in the distant future as the man who "made the world safe for democracy" in the aftermath of WWI, a claim contested by most historians who regard Wilson as a controversial figure with unsavory views at best, whose inability to ensure a fair peace treaty between the Allies and Germany created a breeding ground for the extremist movements which led to the WWII.
    • In Superboy 1949 #103 "The Three Ages Of Superboy", Superboy travels to three different periods of time. Ancient Egypt, where he finds slaves building the pyramids (which were actually built by free paid workers), 510 AD England, where King Arthur and his knights wear full plate armor (which appeared around 1420), and 1876 Missouri.
    • In Masters of the Universe crossover "Fate Is The Killer", one narration box states that Eternia looks like a simple world because "their civilization is based on a monarchy", ignoring that pleny modern states are monarchies. Another box informs that Eternia's civilization is a strange mix of feudalism and technology, even though Eternia is NOT a feudal society AT ALL. Feudalism was born when the weakness of the central governments caused masses of peasants to swear fealty to landed nobility, working their lands in exchange for protection against hostile forces, but that is not the case of Eternia: the royal family are the only and undisputed authority figures, and landowning aristocracy appears to be nonexistent. The narrator assumes that "Medieval=Feudalism, ergo technological backwardness", but feudalism is a political system which has nothing to do whatsoever with level of technological development, and it is not synonymous with Middle Ages either (starting as soon as the late Roman period and existing in some form or another as late as the early 20th century).
  • Tintin was guilty of this in the first few books — and then became famous for averting it. However, there are still a few obvious mistakes in the later books:
    • Prisoners of the Sun contains a serious error: the Incas, with all their astronomical research, would have understood that a solar eclipse is not permanent. Hergé later regretted this scene and always wanted to correct it.
    • The previous story, The Seven Crystal Balls, also contains a whopper, as the plot partly hinges on an inscription inside Rascar Capac's tomb which predicts that after many moons pale-faced invaders would violate it, but that they would be struck down by divine retribution. The Incas had no system of writing before learning Spanish and hence left no inscriptions. The original version of the story, serialized in Le Soir, also contained a lead disc with symbols "resembling Aztec or Inca signs", but Hergé excised the panel that showed it and texts that mentioned it when the album version was produced, probably after learning that the Incas did not actually use lead in pre-Columbian times.
  • Treasure Chest: This Godless Communism gets a lot of things wrong in regards to the history of communism, Karl Marx and the Soviet Union.
  • Ultimate Marvel:
    • In Ultimate Origins, Roosevelt preferred to rely on the Super-Soldier Captain America against Nazi Germany during WWII. The alternative, the atomic bomb, was just too horrible. However, contrary to his claims, the atomic bomb was not ready when the US was fighting in the European theater. The Nuclear Option was not an available option at that point.
    • Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: The Tunguska Event took place in 1908, not 1904. Warren Ellis knew this, but moved the year so that it happened a whole century before the comic release (2004).

    Comic Strips 
  • In September 2009, a character in Tank Mc Namara 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 old Swedish kings' style 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 . 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 the king of the Wends and Goths.

    Films — Animation 
  • Don Bluth's Anastasia has it on several levels. The film is loosely based on the story of a woman whom we now know falsely claimed to have been Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanova after escaping the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Bluth cannot be blamed for not knowing for certain the woman wasn't really Anastasia, as her remains were not conclusively identified until 2008 using DNA testingnote ; however, he can be blamed for other inaccuracies:
    • The film begins in winter 1916, and depicts Anastasia as an eight-year-old princess at the time. In reality, Anastasia was 15 years old and had she been eight at that point, she would've been younger than her real-life younger brother Alexei.
    • At the beginning (1916), the Dowager Empress narrates that the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty's rule over Russia was celebrated. In Real Life, this anniversary was in 1913. Relatedly, Nicholas is portrayed in the film as The Good King, unjustly overthrown, when in fact he was quite despised in Russia by the 1910s and had already faced an armed uprising in 1905.
    • While Grigori Rasputin actually being a sorcerer rather than a religious mystic (and having a talking bat sidekick) is presumably an intentional departure from history, other details about him don't match up with his historical counterpart either: Rasputin died months before the Russian Revolution at the hands of a few young aristocrats resentful of his influence over the Imperial family.note  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. Furthermore, he was also a monarchist who never harbored any ill will towards the Tsar nor his family (beyond generally wanting to gain power and profit off of their faith in his supposed psychic abilities).
    • Additionally, Rasputin's curse (see below) states that the Romanovs would die within a fortnight of the curse being set. In reality, the Romanovs were arrested in February 1917 at the start of the February Revolution, and were executed a year afterwards (when Anastasia was 17).
    • The film appears to conflate the February or "White" Revolution, when Tsar Nicholas was deposed by his court over his mishandling of World War I and general ineptitude, with the October or "Red" Revolution when the Whites were overthrown by Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks ("Reds"), who later executed the Romanovs to keep royalists from using them as a rallying point.
    • Also the Reds hated Rasputin just as much as the Whites did, so it's hard to see how they could have any connection.
    • 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 Empress 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.
    • Diminutives are not being used correctly (or not used at all). For example, Vlad is a diminutive of Vladislav, not Vladimir (although it had started to be used that way after the fall of the USSR). The diminutive of Anastasia is "Nastya", not Anya. And the proper way to address someone twice your age is using their name and patronymic (Vladimir Nikolayevich). As for Dimitry, whom she cares for, she should be calling him "Mitya" (this diminutive has since been replaced by Dima in the 20th century and only among the commoners).
  • El Cid: The Legend is very loosely based on the life of the Spanish knight Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar and rife with inaccuracies such as the circumstances of his exile, his real-life political rival being turned into an romantic false lead for his love interest and softening Rodrigo's character a great deal; he is very (in)famous for having murdered his own father-in-law for insulting his own father, while in the film, he inadvertently kills him in self-defense after Jimena's father tried to get rid of him for disrupting her arranged marriage. Also Rodrigo's wife Dona Jimena is pressed into the Big Bad's harem, something which never even remotely happened in real life.
  • 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).
  • 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: a giant octopus named Tentacles was tricked into throwing the iceberg into the ship by a gang of sharks as part of a whaling tycoon's evil scheme, and he saved the Titanic and everyone on it.
  • Monsters, Inc.: After George Sanderson gets subjected thrice to "code 2319" indignities, his assistant tells him that he'll next be sent on an easy scare job in, "Nice... quiet.. Nepal." In reality, during the film's production, Nepal had been embroiled in civil war since 1996. And four months before the film's November 2001 release, the King and Queen and eight other members of the royal family were killed in a massacre in the royal palace.
  • Mulan:
    • The Huns never invaded China. Historically, the villains in the movie would more properly be the Xiongnu (who may or may not have later become the Huns, but historians will always call them the Xiongnu in this context).
    • Fa Mulan is portrayed as (stereotypically) Han Chinese. The oldest versions of the story state she was from the northern tribes—semi-nomadic people more closely related to the invaders than to Han Chinese—for whom it would have been hardly unusual for a woman to know how to ride and fight (Central and East Asian steppe tribes typically had the women guard the camps when the men were with their herds or at war).
    • The source material for the Mulan legend, the Ballad of Mulan, is estimated to have first been recorded sometime between 386-535 CE. The Chinese use of gunpowder cannons is a relatively important plot point in the film, but gunpowder wasn't even invented until the 9th century, and cannons didn't appear until roughly the 12th century and are believed to be a Turkish invention besides.
  • Pocahontas:
    • The real Pocahontas would have been around 12 years old at the time the movie takes place, not a young woman. The romance subplot with John Smith is completely made-up.
    • The film reuses the popular misconception that "Powhatan" was the name of the local First Nations chief at Jamestown (Pocahontas's father), when in fact it was the name of the tribe; his actual name was Wahunsenacawh. Reportedly the Jamestown settlers had trouble pronouncing it.
    • Governor Ratcliffe is shown being arrested by his own men and taken back to England to face justice at the end. The real John Ratcliffe (who wasn't as bad as his movie counterpart) was tortured to death by the Powhatan.
    • Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World
      • The film is so much Lighter and Softer than the real story of how Pocahontas got to England as to be virtually unrecognizable. Rather than meet John Rolfe and go to England to negotiate peace terms with James VI and I, Pocahontas was first kidnapped and held for ransom, then forcibly converted to Christianity and baptized Rebecca. She married John Rolfe in 1614 and bore him a son, and died at about age 20 in Kent without ever returning to America as depicted in the film.
      • In the musical number when Pocahontas arrives in London, William Shakespeare is seen writing the script for Hamlet. In real life, Hamlet was already written and performed long before Pocahontas came to England, and Shakespeare himself was also dead by that point.
      • The King and his subjects enjoy a bear baiting, which, instead of pitting dogs against a bear tied up to a stake, is replaced with two jesters stabbing a bear with pitch forks. Admittedly, an actual bear baiting would be too graphic for a kids' movie.
  • Titanic: The Legend Goes On proudly states on the back of the DVD that "they embarked on the real adventures on board the Titanic." With talking geese, a rapping dog, and a mariachi band of mice.
  • Turning Red:
    • When Mei is being driven to school, the announcement board states that it's Indigenous People's History Month, which 1) is actually called National Indigenous History Month 2) takes place in Junenote  and 3) wouldn't have been official until 2009, seven years after the movie takes place.
    • While there was a lunar eclipse in late May of 2002, there were a few problems with it that the writers had to ignore for the sake of the narrative. First, it took place in the early hours of May 26, not the evening of the 25th. Second, it was only visible from the western half of Canada. Toronto just barely missed it. Third, it was a penumbral (partial) eclipse, meaning the moon never passed far enough into the earth's shadow to actually turn red.

  • Invoked and Played for Laughs by The B-52's in "Mesopotamia". The band consulted an encyclopedia when writing the song just to make sure they got everything wrong. The lyrics also do some Lampshade Hanging — the narrator claims that he "ain't no student of ancient culture", and "should read a book".
  • Jonathan Coulton:
    • "Ikea" has Ikea being founded not by a modern Swede in 1943 but in "days of yore" under the god Thor and his Viking followers.
    • "Kenesaw Mountain Landis". Well, Landis, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox Scandal all existed, but nothing else in the song resembles reality. To start with, the opening verse says that Landis "was seventeen feet tall/He had a hundred and fifty wives."
  • Johnny Horton: The first line of "Sink the Bismarck" is "In May of 1941, the war had just begun." World War II had actually been going on for over a year and a half prior to that, and no country first started getting involved in the war in May of 1941. (Britain, for example, had been trading air strikes with Germany since the second half of 1940.)
  • Played for laughs in the Insane Clown Posse song "I Want My Shit", where Violent J (claiming to be immortal) raps that he crossed the enemy line during the American Civil War while carrying a MAC-10 (a gun that wouldn't enter production until 1970). Shaggy 2 Dope immediately points out the problem with this, and after a brief argument a very annoyed Violent J corrects the line to "Walked 'cross enemy lines with a... lantern..."
  • Billy Joel's song "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" is almost nothing but artistic license — the only similarities between his Kid and the real one is that they were both outlaw gunfighters. Joel has publicly acknowledged this since 1975, the year after the song came out.
  • Elton John's "Indian Sunset". The Iroquois had no dealings with the Sioux, and lived in longhouses, as opposed to tipis. The word "Squaw" was not used as a term for women among them. Geronimo died in the hospital as a prisoner, and was not killed while surrendering.
  • Gordon Lightfoot took some artistic liberties for his song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
    • He sings that the ship "left fully loaded for Cleveland." The ship's actual destination was Zug Island in Detroit, though it would have departed for Cleveland afterwards for the rest of the winter.
    • Unlike what Lightfoot sings, the Edmund Fitzgerald was not "coming back from some mill in Wisconsin." Lake freighters that carry bulk iron ore are loaded at ore docks, not mills.
    • Captain McSorley stated in his last radio transmission that he and the crew were "holding [their] own", not that they "had water coming in".
  • Steve Martin's One-Hit Wonder song "King Tut" uses the rhyme "Born in Arizona / Moved to Babylonia" which is a great rhyme, though Tutankhamun was neither born in Arizona nor ever went to Babylonia. Really, none of the statements about Tut are true, other than "He's an Egyptian." Because the song is G-rated and catchy, some kids grew up singing it and then had to think about it. This was lampshaded by Martin himself in a 2004 New York Times piece, humorously "setting the record straight" though also taking credit for the profound insight that Tut was Egyptian.
  • Randy Newman: "In Germany Before the War" is about serial killer Peter Kurten. However, it says he killed in 1934. By then however Kurten was dead, executed for murder. He actually committed most of the murders during 1929, while his execution was in 1931. This was probably done because it rhymed with the previous verse.
  • While Sabaton does extensive research for their Horrible History Metal, they've acknowledged there are things they wish they'd known when they were writing some of their earlier songs, and some songs and videos have outright mistakes:
    • "82nd All the Way" wrongly attributes Sergeant Alvin York to the 338th Infantry Regiment rather than the 328th. The band is aware of the mistake and sing the correct regiment number when they play the song live, but they realized it too late to fix it on the album. Amaranthe repeated the mistake when they covered the song.
    • The video for "Soldier of Heaven" depicts first a bright red triplane chasing the tail of a biplane of indeterminate manufacture over the World War I Italian Alpine battlefield where the band is performing, followed by a pair of World War II Bf 109s overflying it. The latter is probably Rule of Symbolism: the song lyrics note that the bodies of many Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers still lie where they fell because they couldn't be feasibly retrieved, and thus "saw" the next war fought over the same ground (although no significant fighting actually took place in that particular area in WWII because Austria was part of Italy's ally Germany). The former, though, is simply a misplaced Call-Back to "The Red Baron" from the previous album: the Germans weren't involved in the Alpine front and Manfred von Richthofen spent his whole flying career in France and Belgium, while the Austro-Hungarian Aviation Troops never operated any triplanes and painted their planes mostly in beige with bands of red, white, and red at the wingtips. Also, the triplane's wings are too long.
    • Played for Laughs in the video for "The Unkillable Soldier", a deliberate Anachronism Stew that consciously leans on Rule of Funny because songwriter Joakim Brodén thought Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart's biography read like a comic book. Among other things, Sir Adrian (played by their Sabaton History collaborator Indy Neidell) didn't sign up for the British Army when World War I started, but was already serving in Somalia and deliberately refused to have an injury to his eye treated so that he would be invalided back to Britain and be able to join the fun in Europe. The video portrays the eye getting shot out by a German soldier (played by drummer Hannes Van Dahl); it was actually shrapnel from a near miss by a Somali. The director of the music video reportedly didn't get the joke: he wanted the band members, playing German soldiers, to wear Stahlhelms for historical accuracy, and the band replied that very little else that was going on was historically accurate and went helmetless.
  • In Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," the French and Russians are represented by their 1882 anthems, "La Marseillaise" and "God Save the Tsar." Napoléon Bonaparte didn't use the former, and the latter hadn't even been written in 1812.
  • Played for Laughs in "Purple Toupee" by They Might Be Giants, which is about the narrator's fractured recollection of history during The '60s.
    I remember the year I went to camp
    Heard about a lady named Selma and some blacks
    Somebody put their fingers in the president's ear
    And it wasn't too much later they came out with Johnson's wax
  • U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love"): "Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky." Martin Luther King Jr. was actually shot at 6:01 pm local time. Bono has acknowledged the error and regularly changes the lyric to "Early evening" in live performances. In the version recorded for the 2023 album Songs of Surrender (an album consisting entirely of new versions of the band's past songs), the lyric was changed to "In the evening".
  • In "Heroin" by The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed sings "I wish that I was born a thousand years ago/I wish that I'd sailed the darkened seas/on a great big clipper ship/going from this land here to that". The clipper ship was invented in the 1840s. The original lyric had him wishing he was born a hundred years ago; either he didn't think to change the ship or just didn't bother.
  • Neil Young's song "Cortez the Killer" describes the Aztecs as being a peaceful people for whom "war was never known". The Aztecs are notorious for being particularly brutal, practicing Human Sacrifice on a virtually industrial scale, to the point where part of the reason Cortez was able to conquer their empire so easily was because practically every other tribe in Mexico joined him in an Enemy Mine.
  • ''Warren Zevon: A very mild case in "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner." The lyrics describe Roland fighting in the Congo War, battling the Bantu "through '66 and 7", But the Congolese Civil War was officially over by 1965. The subsequent fighting in Stanleyville over the next few years was a mercenary-led uprising by the former Katangese Gendarmerie, which was made up primarily of Bazela and Luba rather than Bantu.

  • Mom Can't Cook!: Discussed in the Cadet Kelly episode, when the Korean War's Battle of Chosin Reservoir is described as a very successful "advance to the rear". Both hosts had independently looked up the number of casualties for the UN troops (the greatest estimate is over 17,000), and note that this is a rather optimistic view of that battle.

  • The Goon Show: "The Histories of Pliny the Elder" begins with Julius Caesar successfully conquering and occupying Britain for ten years, and ends with the heroes joining up with Spartacus and dying in a volcanic eruption. Caesar only managed to make two brief forays to Britain during his campaigns in Gaul, the Romans didn’t annex Britannia until eighty years after Caesar’s death, and Spartacus was killed in battle over a decade before the start of the Gallic Wars. Justified as Goon Show ran on Rule of Funny, and they probably decided to just throw in every aspect of Roman history the average listener could be expected to know about, the episode also included a reference to Hannibal Barca, who had been dead for over a century by Caesar's time.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Arkham Horror, one of the Arkham Asylum encounters in the Innsmouth Horror expansion has you sneaking into a finger-painting session. Finger-painting is indeed used as a component of mental therapy at times, so that's done right. The problem? Art therapy in general dates only to the late 1940s, with finger painting as a later addition to the milieu. Finger painting itself dates to prehistoric times, but it wasn't part of art education until the 1930s.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Armor and weapons in D&D as a general rule owe more to modern misunderstandings of medieval equipment than to real history.
    • Studded leather armor, common throughout all editions, never existed: just putting metal studs on pieces of leather provides essentially no additional protection. What did exist is "brigandine" or "coat-of-plates" styles of armor (for example what Stark soldiers are shown wearing in Game of Thrones), where small steel plates (often recycled from scrapped plate armor) were riveted to the inside of an outer layer made of leather or thick cloth. It provided decent protection at a price even many commoners could afford. The game designers likely saw a picture of brigandine and jumped to the wrong conclusion. Also, it's grouped as a "light" armor, while splint mail, which operates on a similar principle but has metal strips on the outside of a foundation material, is grouped as "heavy" armor — and speaking of which, splint armor tended to be used in greaves or vambraces (often paired with brigandine) rather than as an entire suit.
    • The game has, since its inception, described a longsword as a one-handed sword. Only as of 3rd edition has the weapon been able to be wielded in one or two hands for extra damage, which was codified in the 'versatile' property in 5th edition, but even this is historically inaccurate. In reality, the term "long sword" was explicitly devised to describe swords too long to be used in one hand (what the game typically classifies as "greatswords"). The term was meant to differentiate from swords meant to be wielded in one hand, which were typically just called "swords," or in some cases "arming swords." Then there's the term short sword, which was also not a designation used with any regularity during the time swords were common weapons, though some editions of the game acknowledge this and say that it's a generic catch-all for any thrusting sword longer than a dagger but shorter than an arming sword (e.g. a small sword).
  • F.A.T.A.L.'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.
  • Grave Robbers from Outer Space. Subverted with the Re-interpreted Historical Figure Who Probably Wasn't As Evil As All This.
  • Pathfinder: In addition to inheriting various errors from its parent game Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, the "weapon groups" mechanic divides up several broad categories of weapons for the purposes of (mainly) Fighter and Cavalier class features, including two separate groups for "spears" (stabbing weapons on sticks) and "polearms" (other kinds of bladed, long-handled weapons like halberds or pole-hammers). This distinction didn't historically exist: spears are properly a subset of polearms. Nearly all medieval and post-medieval oddly-shaped spear variants from the halberd to the glaive could still be used to stab an enemy held at haft's length, and conversely the heads on fighting spears were often edged and could cut in addition to stabbing.
  • 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 the 1700s (... while a Shout-Out to Louis XIV is at the height of his power and a Napoleon expy is making an Early-Bird Cameo). Woe betide the GM who tries to use its books for anything set in the real Cavalier Years.
  • 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.

  • For the most part, the creators of Aisopos have Shown Their Work, but they also have taken liberties.
    • Yadmon is the story's Big Bad, instead of a kind master that tried to free Aesop.
    • In Herodotus' Histories pots were used to disable the Persian cavarly, not the Spartan one.
    • The context in which some of Aesop's myths are used in the webcomic is quite different from how they are normally used.
    • Thales really did stop a war by predicting an eclise but here he is shown to do so much earlier than history recorded.
    • Periander of Corinth was more ruthless, murderous, unpredictable and cunning. His pragmatism and intelligence are both accurately portrayed however.
    • Solon went into a self-imposed exile because he didn't want to be forced to change his laws. Here he goes into exile because he attempts a coup that goes horribly wrong.
  • In Educomix, World War II was fought between Ireland and the South Pole, and one of the combatants was Jesus.
  • xkcd: In-universe in strip #1255 "Columbus". One man tells the story of how Christopher Columbus sailed across the ocean to prove the world was round, and a woman butts in to change the story so he ends up in Valinor. When he tells her to stop making stuff up, she responds that he needs to stop making stuff up.

    Web Original 
  • In Invention Pioneers of Note, the episode on Alexander Graham Bell asserts, among other things, that he fought in World War 2. While the error is definitely intentional, it's not as clear if this is supposed to be a In-Universe Factoid Failure, Blatant Lies, or something else.
  • OverSimplified:
    • Despite the gags at the beginning of first French Revolution episode, King Louis XVI wasn't always an Adipose Rex. Based on historical records, he was quite tall for his time, standing at an impressive 6'4'', and was actually pretty muscular. In fact, he was the outdoorsy type, with hunting being one of his more passionate hobbies. It wasn't until his late thirties, after slacking off on exercising for years, that he became fat, and even then, he was more on the chubby side than obese.
    • The Civil War episodes include several gags portraying Ulysses S. Grant as a hard drinker, while actual historical evidence points strongly towards Grant being actually a severe lightweight whose occasional indulgences were pounced upon by envious rivals, especially John McClernand, using the partisan press, although the video does point out his enemies exploiting it.
    • The Civil War episodes also play slightly on the old myth that the Confederacy had better generals than the Union. This is only possible if one (like the video does) focuses mainly on Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, because elsewhere the Confederate generals were generally so inferior as to make Lee seem Surrounded by Idiots. In the end, the North found four men who could all competently lead major armies to victory: the aforementioned Grant, William T. Sherman, Phil Sheridan, and George Thomas. The South really only ever had Lee, and even that is debated since many historians now criticize Lee's overall strategy as too wasteful of Confederate manpower.note 
  • Sabaton History has a few occasional errors:
    • The video for "Midway" misidentifies an archival photograph showing Hiryu dodging a trail of splashes as being from a land-based fighter attack. In fact that photograph depicts a failed bombing run by a B-17.
    • The video for "Bismarck" incorrectly states that the German battleship was the largest ever built. In fact that honor belonged to the contemporary Japanese Yamato-class battleships, though this was not confirmed until after the war. The video also neglects to mention Robert Ballard's conclusion that the surviving crew scuttled the ship, rather than the British claim that the torpedo attack by HMS Dorsetshire was the proximal cause of the sinking.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence History


Lord Martagnan

Martin wakes up as the musketeer Lord Martagnan, who clearly references the real-life musketeer D'Artagnan.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / HistoricalDomainCharacter

Media sources: