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"Although the graduate schools now go in for all manner of metacritical precautions, it is still a common enough ambition to find and follow the clue which will show that quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, that trinity of squares, have been wrong all the time."
Frank Kermode, "Reading Shakespeare's Mind", The New York Review of Books, October 12, 1967.note 
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History is for the most part not a mystery. Chronicles, legends, ruins, artifacts, and other forms of evidence have given us a pretty solid grasp of what happened in previous centuries. We know who fought which battle where and when, who ruled which country, who invented which device, who lived where, and who married which king and when.

And then sometimes we find out that we were wrong.

It isn't a common occurrence: most of our knowledge about the past is based on hard evidence. No amount of scientific innovation is going to change the date of the Battle of Vimy Ridge or the number of people who died in the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland. But some of what we believe to be sound historical fact is based on soft and sometimes unreliable evidence - hearsay, legends, traditions, opinions that have gone unchallenged due only to respect for authority and / or a lack of dissenting voices, reasoning based on data too fragmented to be unambiguous, and occasionally outright forgeries. When new discoveries or new methods of investigation or even new opinions on an event lead to the original belief being discredited among historians, the writer who based his work on contemporary history can be unfairly left looking like he skimped on the research.

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As you might guess, the more distant the subject in time the more likely this trope will come into play. We know more about any given day during World War II than we do about the entire reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu, also known as Cheops (the one who built the really big pyramid), for instance.

Compare Science Marches On for when the same thing happens in science.

This trope is not for Alternate History stories where the writer deliberately changes historical fact to explore the possibilities of a new timeline. Examples where a writer simply didn't know better should go in Hollywood History. Examples where a writer deliberately misstates history to make it more palatable go in Politically Correct History. This trope can however be caused by someone in the past misstating history for the purpose of political correctness if their version ends up being taken as fact by later generations. Likewise, this trope is not for cases where an author takes a clear side in something that is currently actively debated by historians, only for situations where later research or revelations definitively reverse the common understanding.

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Examples:

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Prehistory

    Early hominids 
  • The infamous Piltdown man, despite being correctly guessed as a fake the year after its "discovery" and several times afterwards, wasn't completely discredited until four decades later for several reasons:
    • A big one was that many early 20th century people of European descent, including respected scientists, simply couldn't palate that humanity's ancestor could have originated some place other than Europe or its near vicinity, much less Darkest Africa.
    • Some people who knew better were supporters of the eolithnote  theory, and the Piltdown Man was the only thing to support it, so they kept silent.
    • A third reason was that the original model of human evolution, that the brain became advanced first and the body shifted to serve it, was being systematically torn down with every new human ancestor discovered except Piltdown Man; after its "discovery" it was considered a clinching counter-example, but the reason it was finally re-examined decades later was that by then it was the only one.
    • The examining methods were still very crude when Piltdown Man was "discovered" but had become far more refined forty years later.
    • The Piltdown cranial and jaw specimens were kept locked away for decades to preserve them, with virtually no follow-up examination that might have exposed their discrepancies. Believers considered them too priceless to be handled, and any curators with private doubts may not have wanted their origin debunked on their watch.
  • The discovery of "Ardi" in 2009, the most complete Ardipithecus skeleton to date, threw into question many established theories regarding human evolution. The prevailing theory on why humans began walking upright had been that Australopithecus, the first truly bipedal hominid, evolved on the savanna, and being bipedal enabled its ancestors to see further across open landscape, finding food and shelter and spotting predators more easily. However, analysis of Ardi's skeleton indicated that the thick forest-dwelling and one million years older Ardipithecus was capable of walking upright to at least some degree. The current theory is that bipedalism arose in Ardipithecus as a means to better navigate dense jungle and underbrush.
  • More than a dozen pre-modern human varieties (Java man, Peking man, etc.) are now believed to have been local breeds of Homo erectus (which may or may not be the ancestors of modern humans) and not actually separate species at all.

    Homo neanderthalensis 
  • One of the first complete Neanderthal skeletons discovered is that of a male with a twisted, bent spine, a wasted lower jaw, and a pronounced hunchback. Archaeologists assumed this was a typical Neanderthal skeleton, which led to the popular view of Neanderthals as hunchbacked, chinless knuckle-draggers. Later analysis indicated, however, that the individual in question was probably well over sixty years old and suffered from severe arthritis and bone wastage.note  Most skeletons found since suggest that a Neanderthal would look very similar to a modern human as long as they didn't enter a Homo sapiens beauty contest. Well-known works based on the old trope include Isaac Asimov's short story The Ugly Little Boy and numerous cartoons from Gary Larson's The Far Side.
    • Jean Auel resurrected the arthritic old man, named him Creb, and made him a great shaman-priest and Ayla's adoptive father in Clan of the Cave Bear. Other influences were a Neanderthal skeleton found in Shanidar, Irak in the 1960s who lived to old age despite losing an arm in his youth (also given to Creb), and who was buried with flowers (which inspired Iza's knowledge of medicinal plants and the scene of her burial)... or so was theorized based on clusters of pollen found around the skeleton. Thirty years later, this pollen was attributed to contamination by archaeologists, or rodents who had nested inside the skeleton after its burial. And thirty further years on, more pollen clusters were found that could be explained by an actual burial with flowers. Allegedly.
  • It was also assumed that Neanderthals couldn't speak, or that their ability to articulate was very limited, because no hyoid bone was found in a Neanderthal skeleton until 1983. Writers like Auel who wanted to portray them as intelligent usually had them use sign language. Now it's even likely that the modern human's version of the FOX P2 gene came from Neanderthals.
    • While analysis of Neanderthal vocal tracts have shown that they would not be capable of some human sounds and that they would sound strange to us, this wouldn't have prevented them from communicating with any sounds. In fact, their ear canal suggests that they heard in the same frequency as us and unlike chimpanzees and more primitive hominids like Australopithecus, indicating the use of speech as communication.
    • In retrospect, the notion that Neanderthals could have entirely lacked a hyoid bone is, in itself, an antiquated one: most other tetrapods and all other primates have such a bone, just positioned too high to permit our style of speech.
    • The Ugly Little Boy was expanded into a novel where one of the doctors goes into a detailed lecture about the hyoid bone. The Neanderthals are portrayed as having a language with click consonants; Timmy learns to speak English, but it sounds a little blurry.
  • Claims that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans couldn't interbreed - or that if they did, their descent would be short-lived and/or infertile, a source of angst in Earth's Children, The Neanderthal Parallax, and Dance Of The Tiger among others - have been thoroughly disproven with the discovery that all modern humans but Sub-Saharan Africans have a small amount of Neanderthal DNA in them (and in the case of Australoids, also Denisovan-like DNA). As of now, the saving grace of these works is that all deal with pairings of Neanderthal men and modern women. For one reason or another, all Neanderthal DNA in modern humans seems to have come from females.
  • Fair-haired, light-eyed, and light-skinned H. sapiens meeting dark-haired, dark-eyed, sometimes dark-skinned H. neanderthalensis, and their obvious Unfortunate Implications. The most notable example may be The Clan of the Cave Bear, but it's not the only one. Even at the time of writing, this was questionable if not illogical, because Cro-Magnons were recent immigrants from Africa while Neanderthals had evolved for hundreds of thousands of years in Europe by that point (this is explicitly why it's the opposite in Dance of the Tiger, from around the same time). We now have evidence that red hair and green and blue eyes were not uncommon among Neanderthals.

    Homo sapiens 
  • The 2005 Spanish prehistoric novel Tras las huellas del hombre rojo ("On the red man's track") is inspired by the "Ebro Frontier" theory of The '90s, which claims that the Ebro River delayed the entry of H. sapiens in the rest of the Iberian Peninsula for about 5,000 years (c. 42,000-37,000 years ago), allowing Neanderthals to continue living there in isolation while disappearing from most of Europe. As of 2020, two archaeological sites from that period have been attributed to H. sapiens, one in Portugal and another in Spain (though both being on the western coast, it is still possible that H. sapiens reached them by following the northern coast without crossing the river).
  • The early peopling of the Americas was once thought to have happened in a single dispersal event from Asia when the Ice Age ended around 10,000 years ago and a corridor appeared between the Cordilleran and Laurentide Ice Sheets, allowing Clovis culture hunter-gatherers to walk between ice-free areas in Alaska and the lower 48, after which sea levels rose to cut the connection between Alaska and Siberia behind them. Later, evidence surfaced of people already living in the Americas 15, 20, or (more disputedly) 30 to 40 thousand years ago. It is now thought that there were at least two main dispersal events, one following the Pacific coast during the Last Glacial Maximum over 20,000 years ago, which may have been done by boat in some parts, and another by Clovis overland around 13,000 years ago that largely replaced the earlier migration leaving only residual genetics in South America. A third, coastal-maritime dispersal beginning around 5,000 years ago originated Arctic peoples like the Inuit, and an enigmatic fourth at some point in the middle may have originated the proposed Dené-Yenisean language family (if it is both correct and not a result of back-migration from North America to Siberia, as some have suggested).
  • It was widely believed that all sorts of civilizational developments happened in the Neolithic Revolution and were linked to the rise of agriculture and the transformation of roaming hunters into settled farmers. Weaving textiles or making ceramics are advanced skills and something humans only did when they settled down, right? Wrong. The fact that ceramics were older than the Neolithic has been known for some time, but the more recent discovery of the imprints of textiles in said ceramics upends traditional perceptions of the earlier eras of the Stone Age considerably.
  • While it was once generally believed that Europe's Mesolithic "Western Hunter-Gatherers" were displaced by "Early European Farmers" in the Neolithic, genetic studies have painted a more complex picture. There does seem to have been an initial displacement, but the evidence says that after the initial expansion, the two groups co-existed side by side for centuries with ongoing gradual admixture.
  • Marija Gimbutas' interpretation of the Kurgan hypothesis grouped together a number of cultures that were located at the Pontic steppes. This grouping is now considered overly broad, and the "Revised Steppe theory" that focuses specifically on the Yamnaya culture as the origin of the Indo-European dispersal is believed to be more credible.
  • On the subject of Gimbutas, her theory of a peaceful and egalitarian gynocentric Old Europe being replaced by the more warlike and hierarchical Indo-Europeans who made Europe significantly more patriarchal than it had been before has been contradicted by the discovery of Neolithic European hillforts, along with evidence that adult males were given preferential treatment in burial rites.
  • Soviet historian and linguist Nikolai Marr developed the Japhetic theory, claiming that the Kartvelian languages of the South Caucasus are related to the Semitic languages, from which he extrapolated that the Caucasian and Afro-Asiatic languages (along with the Basque language) shared a common root, also claiming that "Japhetic languages" had been spoken throughout Europe before the advent of the Indo-Europeans. While the Soviet government promoted this theory for a while in an attempt to apply Marxist theories of class struggle to linguistics, the theory is now considered deeply flawed both inside and outside the former Soviet Union, and it's now believed that the peoples of Old Europe were not like how Marr claimed them to be.
  • The Alpine mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman was assumed to have frozen to death or died in some accident... until an arrowhead was found embedded in his shoulder. Then DNA of different men was found on him and his belongings, all but confirming that he was chased up there by a group that fought and killed him. Some old documentaries also depict him as a bald man purely because his mummy looks bald, but this is now known to be an artifact of decomposition. He actually had a full head of hair and a beard when he died.
  • A popular belief of early modern times was that Europeans could be divided into two groups: "fair" Europeans from the north, known for rationality, intelligence, hard work, and integrity, and "swarthy" Europeans from the south, known for laziness, dishonesty, greed, and stupidity. Racial "scientists" later subdivided the swarthy Europeans into Mediterraneans and Alpines, the first of which was said to be creatively Brilliant, but Lazy and shiftless, and the second stupid, plodding peasants. Despite the skepticism of mainstream anthropologists and historians, the Nordic "master race" theory became a cornerstone of Nazism. Less horrifically, it also shows up in much of the fiction of the time: Conan the Barbarian might be the best-known example. Of course, we now know that Nordicism is bunk: not only do we now know that "Nordics" did not arise in Scandinavia (which was the last area of Continental Europe to be peopled), we also know that the various "fair" Northern Europeans aren't particularly closely related to each other.
    • In fact all of the West Eurasians (a much broader group than just Europeans) are closely related to each other: skin color and pigmentation variations are recent and can't be used to indicate relatedness/lack-of-relatedness.
  • While the Khoisan were once thought to be a "more primitive" offshoot of the Bantu, they're now known to be a distinct group; in fact, genetic evidence proves that they predate the Bantu by a very long time.
  • Europeans didn't initially take African stories of encounters and dealings with "dwarf tribes" seriously, believing them to be mere myths. This changed with the European exploration of the Congo basin, when multiple explorers made contact with African Pygmies. Needless to say, the stories of the "dwarf tribes" were given far more credibility after that.

Antiquity

    General 
  • There are many ideas about the Bronze Age that are no longer considered accurate:
    • Most historians no longer take seriously the idea that the Late Bronze Age Collapse was caused by a single factor. The prevailing theory is that it was the result of a "perfect storm" or "domino effect" of many different things: earthquakes, droughts, disease outbreaks, invasions and instability.
    • For a long time, it was accepted that the end of the Bronze Age was brought on by the discovery of iron smelting in Asia Minor, with the discovering tribes promptly sending their 4/3 Legions to curbstomp everybody else's 1/2 Phalanxes. Later archaeological evidence demonstrates little proof of such conquest occurring; while there is no overriding theory as to what caused Bronze Age states such as Mycaenaean Greece to collapse (or ones such as Egypt to not collapse), it's now believed that iron metallurgy was adopted as a localized replacement for increasingly rare bronze tools. Copper and tin are almost never found in the same geographic areas, and bronze metallurgy depended upon a healthy trade network, whereas iron is the most abundant element that people at that time can get and use (and 2nd most abundant metal on Earth, behind aluminum, which requires electricity to smelt effectively). To early adopters, iron made softer, inferior tools and weapons compared to bronze; better bloomeries, higher smelting temperatures, and the ability to carburize wrought iron into steel would be discovered later and totally change the equation.
    • Some now speculate that (non-meteoric) iron tools and weapons were actually developed concurrently with bronze ones in some places. A number of copper ores also contain iron, and a furnace capable of melting copper is also at a temperature capable of reducing iron ore to metallic iron in the presence of carbon monoxide. Iron tools found in bogs in Northern Europe have been dated to the middle Bronze Age, and bronze swords have been found with iron inlays in the handle. Bronze may have simply been used because it's prettier, and indicative of a far-reaching trade network. Bronze also doesn't rust, which would have been a liability of early iron implements in non-arid regions.
    • In sub-Saharan Africa, no "Bronze Age" occurred, and civilizations progressed directly from stone tools to iron ones, due to the lack of access to bronze or the metals that were used to make it. This was long overlooked by European historians because of racist attitudes presuming black Africans to automatically be primitive and their history not even worth studying.
  • It's generally believed that the sizes of ancient military forces were exaggerated. For one example, the Second Persian invasion of Greece supposedly had more than 2.5 million troops, but modern estimates say they only numbered a fifth of that at most. Similarly, the Gallic relief force at the Battle of Alesia supposedly numbered at least a quarter million, but estimates of 50,000 to 100,000 are generally considered more reasonable nowadays.
  • The notion that Greco-Roman civilization was more "advanced and rational" than the supposedly "backward and superstitious" medieval Europe is now considered a gross oversimplification. For example, the Greeks and Romans both prosecuted people for witchcraft, while the medieval Catholic Church taught that the practice was not real and professed that claims of belief in it were a mark of either ignorance or malice; there are actually documented cases of people who accused others of being witches getting in trouble for heresy.
  • All those marble statues, pillars, and facades found in Greek and Roman ruins were originally thought to have been as clean, white, and free of ornamentation when they were new as they are now. Tests on Roman ruins (and discovery of buried ruins at Pompeii, Palmyra, and Antioch) revealed that the Greeks and Romans painted almost all of their white marble in loud, garish colors using vegetable-based paints that decomposed and bleached out as the buildings fell to ruins. This trope affected not just fictional representations of the old days but also architecture (notice how gleaming white the US Capitol is?) and interior design.
    • And just to prove that History Marches On, other historical evidence disagrees. Several statues were found with no traces of paint at all, and historical texts (Ovid, Virgil) describe the youths and gods of Roman and Greek mythology as fair as the "white and translucent marble of a statue." The references in ancient literature to white statues far outnumber those of painted statues (although they do exist). Additionally, stone records of artists describing the process used to create statues includes the step of polishing the stone until lustrous. Not only does this indicate that the stone was the final product (glossy finish), it also counters the argument that they were painted afterwards, as paint does not adhere well to polished stone. There is also a great prevalence of colored stone—especially the purple Imperial marble of the emperors—which would negate the need for paint. So far art historians seem to be saying that some statues were fully painted, others partially painted or gilded, and some left white.
    • Carving statues from marble was more a Roman custom. Greeks much preferred casting them in bronze, and used marble mostly for smaller-scaled prototypes. Which is why Greek statues are generally known nowadays by their Roman marble copies—most bronze originals were melted for their bronze in the Middle Ages, and you couldn't melt marble down into anything useful. For these statues, we cannot know how much of them was painted, since so few survive, but all the mentions of white are hardly applicable.
  • There was a similar notion about all Greeks and Romans wearing "noble" white clothes. While some people actually dressed in white (e.g., Romans conducting in the forum), most people preferred garish, bright colors. This is equivalent to assuming that the three-piece business suit or the full tuxedo is everyday casual wear for today. Romans actually hated the toga (they were hot in the Italian summers, cumbersome, and you can't use your left arm while wearing one), so much that there had to be a law stating that togas must be worn to enter a forum in part to discourage anyone from trying anything funny while there.
  • One clothing misconception that seems impossible to dispel is the depiction of Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, etc wearing leather or metal armbands. This arose in the Renaissance when artists misunderstood Roman representations of segmented arm armor (manica) as wrist bands and put them in what seems like every depiction of Antiquity they made. Despite being aware of the inaccuracy for several decades, media continue to include them because of audience expectations.

    Ancient (and Early Imperial) China 
  • The prevailing theory that Chinese civilization began at the Yellow River and radiated outwards from there was once prevalent. Modern Sinology generally considers it just one of three main centers of civilization (albeit the most important one), with the other two being the Yangtze and Liao rivers.
  • Traditional Chinese historiography had the Xia dynasty as the first one, who were overthrown by the Shang dynasty. However, since there are no contemporaneous records of the Xia dynasty, its historicity is in doubt; one theory is that the Xia were an invention of the Zhou dynasty, who overthrew the Shang, in order to fabricate a precedent for their actions.
  • While it was once a popular theory (mainly among Western historians, but some Chinese also adopted it) that the Shang dynasty was semi-legendary at best, the discovery and decipherment of oracle bones resulted in the development of a king list closely matching accounts of the dynasty collected in the Shiji. As a result, virtually all historians accept the historicity of the Shang dynasty today.
  • Qin Shi Huangdi, the founder of the Qin dynasty, was undoubtedly a ruthless man who made some terrible mistakes. However, the traditional view of him as a corrupt, monstrous, tyrannical madman and the Qin dynasty as a crypto-totalitarian dystopia is now widely believed to have been the product of later exaggerations. Archaeological findings, such as the rediscovery of legal codes, appear to show that the Qin were significantly more "mainstream" than previously thought.
  • Sun Tzu's The Art of War is considered the Big Book of War, but while the popular image is that its value was recognized from the start, evidence suggests it was merely one of several military manuals and actually looked down upon as being for peasants note . Its popularity truly began during the waning days of the Han Dynasty, when the warlord Cao Cao (a noted admirer of Sun Tzu) made it required reading for his generals and even provided annointed versions that included examples from his own many, many campaigns. Some scholars suggest that the modern version of The Art of War is actually based on Cao Cao's simplified and annointed version.
  • Speaking of Cao Cao, thanks to the cultural impact of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in China, Japan and Korea, it was generally just accepted that he was a Dirty Coward opportunistic Magnificent Bastard note . It wouldn't be until Mao Zedong (an admirer of Cao Cao) began ordering more positive depictions of Cao that there was a real attempt to study the historical Cao. However, even now there is often pushback to such attempts due to how ingrained the idea of "Cao Cao the villain" is in culture. The 2012 drama Cao Cao, the hero, for example, wasn't released in China until 2015 (and even then renamed to simply Cao Cao) due to people refusing to see Cao Cao as anything other than a villainous figure. This is very notable because the series was explicitly based on historical records, rather than the Romance like most works.

    Ancient Egypt 
  • Historians generally just assumed that the pyramids were built by slaves, since they couldn't imagine anyone working at such a difficult, back-breaking job voluntarily. This theory was exploded when archaeologists discovered contracts and other evidence showing that the pyramid builders were almost all free men. Historians now suspect that the pyramids were not just tombs but also enormous public works projects intended to give underemployed farmers something to do in the off season.note  Currently, the general idea seems to be that the builders were free men, but not doing the labor voluntarily—the government was taking their taxes in the form of labor rather than money or goods. Furthermore, they were building temples to their gods - and that might qualify them to be treated better in the afterlife. Still, virtually every movie set in Ancient Egypt gets this wrong.
    • It was partly also backed up by being in The Bible (Exodus).note  However, no evidence exists for so many Hebrew slaves existing in Egypt, let alone working on the pyramids as slaves. In fact it now appears they arose from within Canaanite culture, with some Egyptian cultural influence from Sinai nomads; stories about foreign origins were both intended to associate them with "superior" foreign empires, and to differentiate them from culturally and linguistically (and even religiously!) similar neighboring groups. Israeli archaeologists, permitted to dig up the entire Sinai Peninsula looking for evidence, found none, and even they now admit this (the Jews being slaves in Egypt then coming to what's now Israel was one of their claims to the region, which is Serious Business).
  • The Ancient Astronauts hypothesis has also been thoroughly disproven. The idea was that these early civilizations were too primitive—and for "primitive" read "stupid"—to build anything that sophisticated. The blueprints have been found, along with graffiti on the stones indicating that the builders treated their work as a team sport.
  • Historical wisdom had it that Hatshepsut was a wicked stepmother who stole the Egyptian throne from Thutmose III, the legitimate heir (and her nephew, son-in-law, and stepson), and had herself crowned King of Egypt. She supposedly allowed Thutmose to control the army but otherwise ruled the country with an iron fist until her death despite Thutmose being a competent adult for most of her reign. The proof? After Hatshepsut's death, Thutmose walled up all her inscriptions, tore down her statues, and obliterated her name from the histories - clearly, a sign of someone who had finally had enough of a meddling mother-in-law. Putting aside for the moment how unlikely it would be for a woman to stage a successful palace coup in 1514 BC when her opponent had complete control of the military, it was discovered in the 1990s that Thutmose didn't even begin to obliterate Hatshepsut from the historical record until twenty years after she died. Historians now think that Hatshepsut and Thutmose were allies who ruled as co-monarchs, and that the elderly Thutmose or his son walled up her inscriptions because even decades after her death the people saw her as a more legitimate ruler than Thutmose. This has also put a few thorns into the common belief that Thutmose was Egypt's most successful and best-loved ruler. The trope is the basis of Pauline Gedge's novel Child of the Morning.
    • The supposed conflict even had some historians theorizing that Thutmose had arranged Hatshepsut's murder. Tests on her mummy show that she likely died of cancer that either formed in the liver or spread there. There was also a flask of skin lotion found with her whose contents included benzopyrene, a potent carcinogen sometimes found in traditional eczema preparations.
  • Paintings from the reign of Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) show the "heretic king" with a large, flabby belly, unusually wide hips, and other features not often seen on healthy adult men. Until 2007, it was assumed that these paintings portrayed Akhenaten accurately and that his unusual body shape was likely a result of either an intersex condition or birth defects caused by generations of Royal Inbreeding. CT scans of his mummy, though, reveal that he was neither intersex nor deformed in any way. Historians now think that the body differences shown on the paintings were totemic - in other words, that Akhenaten was portrayed that way for religious purposes.
    • Likewise, his disestablishment of the state religion and proclamation of Aten as the one and only true God has been portrayed as a New Age revelation just short of Crystal Spires and Togas, a beneficent proto-Christianity, the inspiration for monotheistic Judaism, a megalomaniac's delusions, or even something his mom put him up to for political reasons. The most popular theory among historians was that it was due more to a feeling that the traditional gods had deserted Egypt (not only had the country endured a massive earthquake and tsunami but also several epidemics) coupled with Akhenaten's desire to wrest power from the priests of Amun.
  • X-ray evidence showing splinters of bone inside Tutankhamun's skull once led historians to believe that the pharaoh was murdered by his vizier, Ay, as part of a palace coup. Scans of the mummy using modern diagnostic imaging devices proved that the skull was splintered from the inside after death, probably as part of the mummification process, and that Tutankhamun likely died from a massive infection arising from a fractured leg (this does not disprove that Ay killed him, of course, but it does make it less likely—broken bones were not necessarily fatal even at that point in time). This mistake is something of a plot point in The Egyptian and Mummies Alive! among others.
    • Even newer evidence from DNA sequencing finds that Tut was the product of Brother/Sister incest, had malaria, and, if he had lived longer, would have developed a serious bone disease. Examination of his skeleton showed that unlike his father Akhenaten, Tutankhamun was deformed from Royal Inbreeding, by a club foot and slight cleft palate and overbite.
    • It was also assumed that Tutankhamun's reign couldn't possibly have been of any real significance, simply because he died at such a young age. That was before it was verified that he was Akhenaten's son, and thus took the throne during one of the most tumultuous periods of Egyptian history. The fact that his reign was the one in which worship of Amun was restored means, even if he personally did very little, his reign really did have an impact.
  • In 1994, Ramses II was discovered to be a redhead and in 2016, he was discovered to be fair-skinned. Portrayals of him where he is black haired (when not shaved bald and given a wig) and brown skinned is thus dated. Since there have always been Egyptians of all skin and hair colors (some of Ramses' own hieroglyphic murals depict his subjects running the full gamut of skin colors), this shouldn't come across as surprising though.
    • Archaeology has also solidly settled the matter of Ancient Egyptians' "red" race as 'more or less the same as modern day Egyptians, with free but not game-changing influx of neighboring peoples like Nubians, Berbers, Semites, Greeks, etc'. No evidence that the Egyptians were once Nordic, West African, Native American, Atlantean, or genocided and replaced by Arabs in the Middle Ages (even though there is a difference between Muslim Egyptians and Chrisitan Copts, the former having more Arabic genetic traces than the latter) as different Author Appeal flavors of Pseudohistory have pretended. Our post-18th century notions of race were alien to Ancient Egypt, in any case.
  • The Great Library of Alexandria attracts a number of myths:
    • For one, the Library was not destroyed by Christians or Muslims. The idea that the Muslims destroyed it was probably a garbling of their destroying the Great Library of Ctesiphon. The most reliable accounts point to the library being caught up in collateral damage when Julius Caesar burned Alexandria's harbor in 48 B.C., and most scholars now believe that the damage was limited to warehouses and annexes storing part of the library's collection rather than total destruction. In any case, the Great Library itself continued to operate in some capacity for at least another three centuries after the event.
    • The idea first sprang by Edward Gibbon and furthered by Carl Sagan that if it weren't for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, human civilization could had progressed much further than where we are today and the intervention of religion is what stopped the advancement, as all of the knowledge in the Library of Alexandria could've been used to achieve these scientific accomplishments. While many vocal atheists cling to this notion, historians see nothing but a fallacy conjuncture.
    • The Library of Alexandria wasn't all that different from other libraries of the time. Not every book that was stored in the Library focused on science. There was also knowledge about philosophy, history, poetry, etc.; and teachers who taught at Alexandria mostly focused on these fields and paid less attention to science.
    • Books were written in papyrus, a material that decays quickly over time. Even if one managed to save the books, they would need to be rewritten several times. Papyrus does not last long in Southern Europe's climate, but more so in Egypt's, and parchments were very expensive in the Middle Ages.
    • Christianity did not stop technological and scientific advancements in the Middle Ages (see examples and further explanations in the Middle Ages folder). Even if it had, Christianity and the destruction of the Library of Alexandria would not have stopped scientific and technological advances worldwide, as this idea excludes those in the Muslim World China, India, and the Americas.
    • Archaeological evidence suggests that the Great Library's death blow wasn't even caused by a fire, but rather a combination of institutional decline and its collection simply being moved elsewhere. Its general decline might have started by a political disagreement in 145 BC resulting in several notable thinkers leaving the Museum (the often-forgotten proto-university that the Great Library was a part of). An earthquake that happened shortly after probably didn't help. Alexandria's importance as a center of commerce and scholarship suffered a gradual general decline after the Roman conquest of Egypt, and the Museum and the Great Library undoubtedly struggled along with the rest of the city. The library may have simply faded in importance until someone sold off its remaining contents.
  • Cleopatra VII has had a lot of discredited ideas surrounding her.
    • She was once seen as a scheming, amoral Femme Fatale whose sins led to her death and to the destruction of Egypt as an independent nation. Evidence from Alexandria and a reappraisal of historical records led many historians to believe that Cleopatra saw seducing Caesar and Antony as a legitimate way of convincing them to help restore order in a country quickly approaching lawlessness while at the same time preventing Rome from invading and enslaving the populace. The discredited trope informs everything from William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar to the paintings of Alexandre Cabanel and Guido Cagnacci.
    • Historians were also divided over whether Cleopatra was the most beautiful woman to ever live or an outright gonk. There was no middle ground. Recently, they decided to look at the very coins Cleopatra minted, and concluded she was an average-looking young woman — no great beauty, but nothing to be embarrassed about either. Contemporary accounts said she had a bewitching voice and a strong, forceful personality. In any case, nobody is sure what classical standards of beauty were, so there's no reason to say that she wasn't beautiful.note 
    • For the longest time, people assumed that Cleopatra had numerous slaves bitten by the asp she'd later kill herself with to make sure that its venom was potent. She didn't need to: the Egyptians had used snakes to kill upper-class prisoners for thousands of years, and they knew what breed to use and how. They were also aware that an asp that's already bitten numerous slaves isn't going to have enough venom left to kill a fly. Some now believe that the asp story is a cover-up, and that Cleopatra was killed on the orders of Octavian.
    • It has also been generally assumed that Cleopatra and Caesar were a political alliance and Cleopatra and Antony a genuine love affair. This theory has come into question. Caesar knew that the Roman people would never accept Cleopatra and that while he could bring her to Rome he couldn't marry her without losing the love of the common people, nor could he name their son his legal heir in Rome.note  Antony, who was nowhere near as wise to the game, seemed to believe that the opposite was true and that allying himself with Cleopatra would benefit him in Roman politics. Basically it appears that she had a love affair with Caesar and a political alliance with Antony. Or, she actually did have genuine romantic relationships with both... or neither.
  • Hypatia of Alexandria has long been held up as a "martyr for philosophy", a woman who was killed because of her Neoplatonic beliefs, being interested in science, or daring to be a free woman. It's now generally understood that her murder was not due to religion, philosophy or science; in actuality, it was the result of her involvement in a political dispute. She was an advisor to Orestes, the prefect of Alexandria, who was feuding with Cyril, the bishop; some accused her of preventing a reconciliation between the two, which led to her murder at the hands of an angry mob.

    Ancient Greece 
  • Since Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos posited in 1935 that a volcanic eruption on the island of Thera (now known as Santorini) contributed to the fall of Minoan civilization, the effects of the eruption on the Minoans have been debated.
    • Early theories proposed that volcanic ash choked off plant life in the eastern half of Crete, starving the local population. However, examinations revealed that no more than 5 millimeters of ash fell anywhere on the island, meaning it was unlikely to have caused a famine.
    • The idea that the eruption started the collapse has been questioned in recent years. Some believe that the roots of Minoan collapse may run deeper than previously thought, since some evidence that the Minoan civilization was already starting to exceed its environmental carrying capacity has emerged.
  • Since Dionysus didn't initially seem to have a Mycenaean counterpart, it was thought by 19th century academics that he was a foreign deity who only started being worshipped in Greece at a relatively late date, an idea thought to be backed up by how many of his myths involve the theme of him traveling abroad and having difficulty being accepted back in Greece. This was disproven when inscriptions bearing his name in Linear B were discovered. It's now generally thought that worship of him went underground for a time.
  • The Trojan War. Up to the Renaissance, Homer's account was treated as historical truth (excluding the machinations of the gods, of course). But as scientific archaeology was established, Troy was relegated to myth. Right now, most archaeologists agree that a Bronze Age city once existed at the site where Troy should have been based on clues in Homer, and that some sort of battle did occur there. It's safe to assume that Homer employed a generous helping of Artistic License, however.
    • As early as the first century, a man claimed that the battle did occur... but the Trojans won.
    • There is even a theory that The Iliad and The Odyssey are in fact Alternate History, in which the real retreat after years of battle gets a twist ending tacked on. The Fridge Brilliance in this is that most of the interactions with gods and mythical creatures center on Odysseus, the man that also came up with the Twist Ending horse trick. It's like someone added the character for storytelling purposes.
    • While the possibilities the Trojans won are interesting, they're still hypotheses. We know there was a Troy, a.k.a. Ilios, Wilusa in Hittite documents. Wilusa was a vassal state of the Hittite Empire, that before the dates given for the Trojan War was ruled by Mycenaean Greeks. They were on good terms on paper, but there seems to have been some interesting developments.
    • The heroes of the Iliad might have not been kings at all. In Linear B, they seemed to be names of shepherds and other working-class people (e.g. Achilles was mentioned as a shepherd). Some names, though, do appear in Hittite documents as kings; for example, Agamemnon is mentioned as Akagamunaš. His father Atreus might have been mentioned as Attarsiya. That said, we don't know if these names refer to the legendary kings.
    • Paris was Greek. Or maybe he was a mix of two people? In the Iliad, he was also called Alexandros and someone named Alaksandu ruled Wilusa. Pariya might have been his Luwian name. Whether he merged with another figure, or he took a Luwian name out of respect, we don't know.
    • There were problems between Ahhiyawans (Achaeans, a.k.a Mycenaean Greeks) and Hittites over Wilusa, according to Tawagalawan letter, where it's mentioned that they went to war for it. However, the Hittites were clearly the aggressors, not the Mycenaeans. Tawagalawa is the Hittite form of Ancient Greek name Eteocles, or rather a more archaic form *Etewoklewes with 'w' falling from use over time ('ϝ' or digamma is the Ancient Greek letter for W). In the same way, Wilusa became Ilios. Tawagalawa was the brother of the King of the Achaeans, whose name did not survive.
    • A renegade named Piyamaradu (piyama means "gift" in Luwian, "Radu" was one of their gods) was the main subject of the Tawagalawa letter. For 35 years he attacked Hittite vassal states (including Troy) causing trouble to not one but three kings, before just disappearing. It's generally agreed he was an ally and commander of Mycenaean Greeks, because whenever he was almost caught by Hittites, he would flee to his base in Millawanda (Miletus), which was controlled by the Greeks. What makes his story interesting is that it falls within the Trojan War chronology. It seems Achaeans were using a Hittite intern as a commander for their armies. It has been hypothesized that he claimed inheritance over Wilusa, which is why he might have been interested in siding with the Greeks, but it's still dubious. He is the most important person mentioned that has to do with the possible real Trojan War and we have no idea who he corresponds with in the Illiad. Priam has been mentioned as a possibility. Yes, Priam, the Trojan King.
    • The Hittites destroyed Miletus as revenge for Piyamaradu's raids, which prompted the Greeks to officially rise against the Hittites. Their objective was Wilusa, one of the most important cities. While the details aren't certain, the Greeks won, so the Hittite King had to send an apology letter for what he did to Miletus, where he asked for Piyamaradu, their biggest ally. We don't know what happened to him. The few details that remain mention a battle in Scamander.
    • Archaeology shows that there were a series of nine ancient cities built on the site of Troy, often separated by periods of devastation, and that the Troy of Homer was one (either the sixth or the seventh) or a combination of two: one which archaeologists call Troy VIh, when the city was rich and splendid and which was destroyed by an earthquake, not war, and another, Troy VIi (formerly VIIa), which was exactly like Homer described (the architecture, geology etc.) but wasn't rich, and was still suffering from the earthquake. That city was destroyed by war. Scholars have described it as a city under siege.
    • There is a hypothesis that the Trojan Horse is actually allegory for a timely earthquake. In the Epic Cycle, Odysseus' ruse is helped by Poseidon, who kills Laocoon before he can warn the Trojans. In Greek Mythology, Poseidon was the god of both horses and the depths (of sea and land), and earthquakes were one of his tricks. A Troy damaged by a big earthquake could have fallen easily to invading Mycenaeans who would not have a prayer of taking the city in its prime.
    • Troy continued to be lived on for some centuries after the supposed war. Not according to the Iliad.
    • The Hittites mention the Greeks were taking women and children and killing men in their western territories. This Greek habit only occurs in a war. The word they used to refer to the prisoners is the same Homer used. They were attacking three Hittite islands around Troy.
    • It's generally agreed Helen of Troy's myth was added later. Helen used to be revered as a full goddess, not a demi-goddess. The story of her being kidnapped in her youth by Theseus, and her brothers going to save her is what appears to be the original myth. We know this because Helen's story has other Indo-European parallels. Also, her Eidolon was a far more important part of her story, and Homer barely scraped this in the Iliad.
    • The appearance of warriors in the Trojan War is also subject to this. Ever since the Archaic period, they've been shown armed in either whatever was the current fashion of the day, or in an archaic manner usually harkening to Classical Greece. Since the 19th century, though, we've found that their styles of weapons and armor were completely different from anything that had yet been pictured. This shouldn't have been surprising if you consider that the Iliad contains a detailed description of a very real Mycenaean helmet made from the tusks of boars. Even within recent times, the depictions have evolved. A few decades ago it might have been claimed that warriors throughout the Late Helladic period carried tall tower or figure-8 shields. However, the Trojan War is purported to have occurred toward the end of the period, and it's now thought that tall shields were out of fashion by then, while round shields like Homer describes really were the most common style at the time.
  • Macedonia's history has been subject to a number of re-examinations over the years.
    • N. G. L. Hammond's once popular theory that a distinct Macedonian ethnos had existed since the Greek Bronze Age is now seen as lacking in supporting evidence and widely criticized as a conjectural reconstruction based on sources written long after the events they describe. Starting in the early 2010s, an alternative model of Macedonian history that put the founding of the kingdom in the 6th century BC gained traction.
    • Similarly, the traditional accounts that Macedonia expanded by expelling and exterminating other peoples has been called into question due to the general continuity of material culture and settlement sites in the area. More likely, Macedonia grew early on the same way its neighbors (Epirus, Illyria, Thrace and Thessaly) did: by incorporating various tribes and settlements into a kind of political confederacy that was consolidated into something more solid and permanent over time. While fighting between various communities was hardly unheard of, the archaeological record contradicts ancient accounts of entire peoples being driven out and put to the sword.
  • The so-called "Spartan Mirage." Historians for a long time held Sparta as an unstoppable military juggernaut, due to its core army of Proud Warrior Race Guys and badass warrior kings, ceasing warlike activities only to deliver dry witty phrases to philosophers for posterity's sake. Problem is, most historical sources can be divided into two categories: a) Athenian oligarchs such as Plato or Xenophon, who praised what little they knew of Sparta's system in order to address their own criticisms of Athenian democracy, and b) Roman sources such as Plutarch, writing long after the fact and trying to link Sparta's "martial spirit" to Rome's own (with Plutarch openly dismissing older sources in favor of personal sympathies). Sparta was something of the North Korea of its day, complete with secret police; contact with the outside was highly discouraged, and visitors to Sparta such as Xenophon were essentially treated to a Spartan Disneyland of all the things they wished to glorify about themselves. More modern assessments of Sparta, working from primary sources, generally show a more prosaic portrayal of their military might: Sparta was a regional power that essentially cannibalized all the non-military functions of its own state in order to continue a bitter war with the city-state of Argos, and was able to use the ensuing victory to bully its allies into fighting for them. At the time of Thermopylae, this victory had been within a generation, and the city-state was better known for the beauty of its women than its military prowess; the mythology of its heroic defeat is thought to have cast a long shadow and heavily influenced the city's culture. Spartan military supremacy lasted less than a hundred years, its hegemony over Greece only ten, the "invincible" Spartan army lost more battles than it won (and that's not counting the ones where the commanders were simply bribed away), and its central warrior caste was decimated by the city's own leaders to profit from their "inalienable" land holdings.
    • This even pertains to The Spartan Way. We have no sources that indicate Spartans, children or adults, performed any sort of combat training. Although Spartan children of both sexes were given a heavy emphasis on physical education, and boys were taught to master hunger and extremes of temperature, there was no indication of weapons drills or formation training; the Spartans did perform basic formation drills, making them a first among Greek city-states, but this training was only done when the army marched to war, and included their allies. Greek warfare of the Classical period was that of committed amateurs, and it was felt that courage was more important than skill with weapons. In addition, the agoge evolved over time, and was not considerably different than the training of leisure-class children in other city states.
    • In Sparta, BTW, it is stated that there was no military training for actual skill, because a warrior is supposed to win through strength and courage, not tricks. The result was that while they definitely had good warriors, whenever they encountered actual tactics, the results were jarring.
  • Hoplites probably weren't a slow-moving formation of bronze armor, interlocked shields and bristling spears presented at the enemy for the vast majority of classical Greek history. Men that could afford only a spear and shield were accepted as hoplites, and since poorer fellows tend to outnumber richer ones, they were commonly represented in hoplites' ranks. Hoplites stood too far apart for even the second rank of men to be able to effectively stab at the first rank of enemies and the average Greek hoplite was poorly-disciplined, so they certainly fought as individuals and any time hoplites would have had their shields packed next to each other would also have rendered them entirely immobile. The aforementioned poor discipline likely led to their generally-used deep formation as a way to ensure units would stay in a coherent order without lines falling apart in movement (moving together in formation over a stretch of time is actually very difficult) and attacking hoplites charging in. The first appearances of true pike weapons in Greece is about the real point in time Greek troops armed with pole weapons fought in a close-order formation. Spartan hoplites' distinctions from other hoplites from Greece probably were being a tad closer to this popular image of a hoplite, though of course at this point there's a much lower bar to hurdle.
  • Unfortunately for writers, historians seem to change their minds about Alexander the Great almost as often as the seasons change. Was he bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual, asexual or omnisexual, and does it matter that he wouldn't have recognized the terms? Roxana: passionately desired wife or all-but-ignored political pawn? Bagoas: manipulative poisoner, victim of child molestation, or adult lover? Hephaestion: lover, colleague, rival, or all three? Alexander's death: poison, alcoholism, typhoid, meningitis secondary to scoliosis (the 2009 belief), West Nile disease (the 2010 belief), waterborne parasites (the 2012 belief), or accident? Did he really will his empire "to the strongest" on his deathbed, or to a specific person, or was he too sick to even speak at the time (the latter is the currently prevailing view)? Was he Too Good for This Sinful Earth or a Magnificent Bastard? Given the historical revolving door, it would be hard to fault a writer for making up his own mind about any of it.

    Ancient India 
  • Once, it was widely held that the Indo-Aryans were more advanced than the natives of India. When archaeological excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization proved there was already an advanced culture in Northern India when the Indo-Aryans migrated there, a new theory was adopted of a hostile invasion of nomads into an advanced urban civilization. The idea of an "Aryan invasion" was itself discredited, however, when no evidence was found of a conflict.
  • Tradition holds that the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka was a spectacularly cruel man before his conversion to Buddhism, a man who did things like build a torture chamber disguised as a beautiful palace where he inflicted torments inspired by Naraka. Modern scholars believe that, while Ashoka was a significantly more merciless and ruthless man before he had an epiphany that may or may not have been related to him becoming a Buddhist, his misdeeds were most likely exaggerated to give him a reputation for bloodlust and sadism, thereby making his transformation even more remarkable.

    Ancient Near East 
  • Once, it was widely believed that the Gutians (a people who overran Sumer and Elam as the Akkadian Empire went into decline) were Indo-Europeans, due to tablets seemingly describing them as having light skin and hair and the names of their kings having apparent links to Indo-European languages. Both pieces of evidence are now believed to be the result of flawed translations, and it's now generally accepted that there is no evidence linking the Gutians to any modern group.
  • Some 19th-century archaeologists promoted a theory that the Amorites were Indo-Europeans who dominated the Israelites, and that the House of David (and therefore Jesus) were actually Amorites. It was proven in the 20th century that the Amorites were a Semitic people, but the idea was and is popular among some racialists even after its debunking in the mainstream.
  • Assyrian claims that they perpetrated acts of brutality against noncombatants are no longer taken at face value by most archaeologists and historians. Nowadays, they're generally viewed as propaganda pieces designed to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies and discourage revolts, not true accounts.
  • The Nabataeans were initially thought to be an Aramaic people. Modern scholars reject this idea, however, due to historical, linguistic and religious evidence strongly pointing to them actually being a Bedouin tribe from pre-Islamic Arabia, though they did adopt some Aramaic cultural features.
  • David and Goliath were rejected as myth, but scholars now see the armor Goliath wore as plausible for the Mycenaean civilization. His Greek name was probably Kalliades. His story might have a Greek origin, and certain hard-to-translate phrases from the Bible seem to be loan translations from Ancient Greek.
    • The Bible has a fleeting Canon Discontinuity once, where it mentions that Goliath's killer was Elhanan son of Jair, not David. The Targum Jonathan solved this by claiming that Elhanan was another name of David, and the King James Bible by saying that Elhanan killed Goliath's brother while David killed Goliath. Modern scholars presume that Elhanan was the killer in an older version of the story and that the deed was attributed to David when he became popular and the other was forgotten. So if Goliath was real, he probably didn't live in the time of David.
  • At least some historians now doubt that Judah and Israel were ever a single united kingdom under the House of David (or Saul, or a confederation under the loose rule of the Judges). Considering that the source material was for many years considered too sacred to question...
    • Closer examination of said source material demonstrates that even the contemporary authors themselves were aware of infighting among the ancient Jews. Most of the blame can be laid at the feet of those who gloss over such things in the quest to find good allegories.
    • Similarly, differences between the northern and southern Jewish kingdoms are thought to explain the story of the Jewish Exodus. There's little to no credible evidence of the entire population of Hebrews being enslaved in Egyptnote . Later attempts to integrate this fact with the book of Exodus involved smaller groups either as hostages or mercenaries, or groups of commoners escaping famine conditions. One current historical thesis is that the entire story is political grandstanding; the earliest written accounts of the Exodus were found in the northern kingdom of Israel. While the southern kingdom of Judah was an Egyptian client state, Israel instead allied itself with Egypt's Mesopotamian rivals.
  • The final redaction date for the Torah has continually moved forward, from earlier than 1000 B.C. (the alleged time of Moses, and the rise of the Kohanim priests), to the Deuteronomical revival of king Josiah of Judah circa 600 B.C.. Some historians even believe that the Torah didn't reach its final form until the Babylonian captivity (beginning some 20 years after Josiah's death, and lasting about 50-60 years). Similarly, the prominence of Jerusalemnote  and the preeminence of monotheism over henotheismnote  have been moved to later and later points in history to square them with archaeological and documentary evidence.
  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, supposedly built by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife Amytis of Media, were long considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, their historicity is now considered dubious due to a lack of archaeological evidence or references in contemporary records, and many historians think that they were either purely mythical or a garbled account of a garden built by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in Nineveh.
  • While it was long thought that the Medes were the ancestors of the Kurds, contemporary linguistic evidence has put this idea into doubt.
  • People thought that King Belshazzar from the Book of Daniel was made up, until historical research unearthed that he was King Nabonidus' son and co-regent in Babylon. While his father went out to face Cyrus' army, Belshazzar stayed behind to fortify the city. Cue the writing on the wall.
  • The Persian emperor from the Book of Esther is usually identified as Xerxes I. There is no historical record or other evidence of a "beauty contest" held during his reign to find a replacement queen after he divorced his primary queen for disobeying him. He did have a Royal Harem full of wives and concubines, but he acquired them in the same way that most kings of that time did: through Altar Diplomacy. And his primary queen wasn't named Vashti. Her name was Amestris, and she was never divorced by Xerxes I or deposed from her position as primary queen.
  • It was once universally accepted that all of ancient Armenian king Tigranes the Great's children were mothered by Cleopatra of Pontus, the daughter of Pontic king Mithridates VI Eupator. Gagik Sargsyan cast doubt on this theory, however, suggesting that she was only mother to two of his children, and that he had a previous marriage before becoming king. His reasoning was that if Tigranes the Younger was able to lead a campaign in 82 BCE, he and his elder siblings would've been too old to be Cleopatra's children. Sargsyan also pointed out that since his daughter Ariazate was probably the mother of Parthian emperor Orodes I (whose reign began in 80 BCE), she couldn't have been the daughter of Cleopatra, who only married him in 94 BCE.
  • The census which led to Joseph's journey to Bethlehem (and the birth of Jesus in that city) has no documentation in historical Roman records. Nor does it make sense by Roman standards (requiring Jews to travel to the city of a distant ancestor would have involved separating them from every quantifiable source of income, making such a census useless for tax purposes; the Roman censuses we know of involved census takers traveling from city to city instead of the reverse, just like today). The earliest known Gospel according to current evidence, the Book of Mark (the book of Matthew was once considered older, but that in and of itself is another case of dated history), begins with Jesus' baptism and ministry and completely ignores his life prior to that. In the modern day, the Nativity story is often thought of as a literary device to ensure Jesus' birth in Bethlehem (the city of David, ancient king of Israel and presumed ancestor of the Jewish Messiah) despite his lifelong association with the city of Nazareth in Galilee, fulfilling a prophecy which said the Messiah would be born there.
    • Archaeology casts doubt on whether Bethlehem even existed at the time of Jesus' birth, leading some to argue that he might have been born in Bethlehem of Galilee, which would have made slightly more sense since that village is closer to Nazareth than Bethlehem of Judea.
  • Jesus is only ever described as a tekton - a Greek word meaning "worker". The idea that he was a carpenter arose largely because Joseph was a woodworker and most people assumed he taught Jesus his trade. "Our Savior the Carpenter" also sounds more noble than "Our Savior the Itinerant Worker", which is what many believe the historical Jesus was. Other theologians argue that considering Jesus never made any references to carpentry in his teachings but did talk quite a bit about stones, he may have been a stonemason instead.
  • There is almost no non-religious based historical consensus on the Crucifixion besides the fact that it happened.
    • Though common, crucifixion was not standardized. The Latin word Crux and the Greek Staurós could be applied to any vertical wooden structure where someone was nailed to, like a stake, wall, frame, even a tree. In other words, our very notion of 'cross-shaped' is inspired by religious representations of the Crucifixion, rather than the other way around. Those were likely based on the text saying Jesus was nailed with his arms extended and the legend "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews" fixed above his head.
    • Even accepting the common definition of cross, some historians have questioned that Jesus would have been forced to carry the whole cross to Golgotha as impractical, proposing that the condemned were forced to carry the horizontal section only while the post remained in place to be reused. Others favor that the real cross was T-shaped rather than a conventional Latin cross, as that would have been easier to assemble.
    • Practical experiments (including by Nazis at Dachau concentration camp) showed that if a man was nailed through his palms as Jesus is usually represented, the hands would rip completely under his weight. Because of this, it's been proposed that the condemned's arms were also tied to the cross, or that the nails were inserted through the wrists, or even the forearms.
    • Even then, Jesus' own weight would have likely suffocated him long before he's said to have succumbed. Some have suggested that the cross' post had some kind of footrest to 'help' the condemned resist for longer and therefore make him suffer more.
    • The number of nails involved is unknown, with some churches claiming up to 14 nails. The commonly depicted three nails (one through each palm and another through both feet) were codified in The Renaissance; four nails (one per hand and foot) was the preferred version in the European Middle Ages. In The '70s, Israeli archaeologists found the tomb of Jehohanan, a 1st century crucified, and claimed that his injuries supported a crucifixion with three nails, one through each forearm and the third through the heels, with the feet placed laterally on the post. However, a review questioned most of their findings and only admitted evidence of one nail through one heel, adding that such nail wasn't long enough to perforate both heels.
    • The Last Temptation of Christ references nearly all of these points one way or another. He is shown carrying only the horizontal beam, where he is nailed (by his wrists) and also tied. His cross is brand new, but the thieves are nailed to dead trees, and Golgotha is full of other older, 'occupied' crosses. His cross would have looked like a T, but the INRI sign at the top is wooden and makes it look like a Latin cross. The third nail is not through the heels and crosses both feet, but still allows him to turn his legs to the side (and thus acts as Scenery Censor, since unlike in other depictions, Jesus is naked here).
  • The Synoptic Problem, as briefly mentioned above. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the "synoptic" gospels, meaning "same eye"), all agree on the basic structure of Jesus' life, and contain much material (the Triple Tradition, almost all of which is the "biographical" portion of the three Gospels) that is the same word-for-word. In addition, there is a considerable amount of other material that is shared between Matthew and Luke, but not Mark (the "Double Tradition"; this is mostly "sayings", among them the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes). The problem, so to speak, is attempting to determine which of the Gospels came first, and whether the other two knew of each other. In the 5th century, St. Augustine of Hippo proposed a hypothesis that Matthew was the first of the three written, Mark was an edited version, and Luke copied from both of them. This is still the official position of the Roman Catholic Church (due to the tradition of the Book of Matthew being written by one of the Apostles), and the ordering of the Gospels in modern Bibles comes from this hypothesis. Many scholars would later come to reject the theory citing Mark's overall shortness, relatively crude Greek, and the fact that Matthew and Luke don't really seem to agree on anything outside of the common material, and often interpret the common material in different ways. Several other theories about the order have been proposed over the years, with the current majority behind the "two source" hypothesis: the book of Mark came first, and the books of Matthew and Luke copied independently from Mark and a hypothetical "sayings" source, often referred to as "Q."note 
  • The discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in the late 1940s really shook up the world's image of the early history of Christianity, as they contained the scriptures of a long-extinct sect of Christianity called the Gnostics, who had a radically different view of God and Jesus than traditional Christianity. These sources also contained several Apocryphal texts—gospels that failed to make the final cut and weren't included in the Bible. Gnostic views were known long before, but references came from second-hand sources like Orthodox writers bashing Gnosticism.
    • Conversely, the notion of "Pauline" Christianity coming into prominence very late after Jesus' death and squashing differing accounts is also considered apocryphal by most historians. While Gnosticism, Nestorianism, Arianism, and other alternative approaches to Christianity certainly did exist, they only gained prominence outside of the Roman Empire, and were swallowed up by orthodox movements (or later, Islam). In a similar vein, the Gospel of John (and the linked Epistles I, II and III John) was often thought to have supported a dualist Gnostic worldview; discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (which, contrary to common knowledge, contain no New Testament works; their value in theology comes from the fact that they showed the texts of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament) had been codified fairly early and hadn't been substantially altered by the rise of Christianity) suggests John was instead using rhetorical devices similar to those used by the Essenes.
  • The prevailing theory was once that "adoptionist" or "low" Christology (which claims that Jesus was born only human and became divine after being "adopted" by God) predated the "incarnationist" or "high" Christology (which claims that the Son was a divine being who became human) and was the mainstream view until the notion of a pre-existing divine Jesus was developed and eventually supplanted the idea that he was merely exalted (adopted as God's son). However, the current scholarly consensus since the 1970s is that high Christology was developed very early on and coexisted with low Christology, eventually winning out and relegating low Christology to the status of heresy (though unlike many heretical views, there are still some strains of Christianity that teach adoptionism, including certain Unitarian and Mormon sects).

    Ancient Rome 
  • Some Ancient Greek historians were fond of the idea that the Etruscans migrated to Italy from overseas. Herodotus thought they were originally from Lydia in Anatolia, while others advanced the theory that they were Pelasgians who came from Thessaly. Archaeological evidence favors an indigenous Italian origin.
  • Carthage was probably not salted after the Third Punic War, and neither was Milan by Frederick Barbarossa over a thousand years later. The idea appears to come from confusion over a Medieval order calling for the city of Palestrina to be ploughed over "like Carthage", and also salted. Carthage itself was certainly ploughed over, but the idea of it being salted doesn't turn up until the 19th century.
    • For that matter, historians and novelists have misunderstood what was meant by salting and ploughing a city. Ploughing and salting were merely symbolic gestures similar to running defeated soldiers under the yoke. There wasn't enough salt in the Republic to render barren the land underneath Carthage, nor enough manpower to completely flatten the city. Not to mention that salt was far too expensive to squander tons of it by dumping it on the ground. The Romans needed the infrastructure of Carthage intact and the land fertile, as Roman soldiers would be sent to live and farm there after they were demobilized.
    • The legend may be partly based on the Biblical story of the salting of Shechem. Being near the Dead Sea, this was actually practical.
  • Like Troy, Pompeii faded into obscurity to the point of being considered a myth by the time of its rediscovery in the 18th century. This despite the fact that it disappeared in a much more recent time, with extensive written records including those of first-hand witnesses, and one of the most read Roman scientists and authors of all time, Pliny the Elder, had died when attempting to rescue two friends from the eruption (Pliny was the local naval commander).
    • The account of the eruption by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, was still considered bogus well into the 19th century, when other volcanoes erupted in the exact same way as he described the Vesuvius in AD 79. Because of it, this kind of eruption (pyroclastic explosions with a tall column of ash and pumice but little liquid lava) is commonly known to vulcanologists as a Vesuvian or Plinian eruption.
    • Changes in sensibilities have allowed the publication of rather explicit images that were on display on the city, which changed popular perception of the Romans from a genteel, prim, proper, and moral people to a debauched, hedonistic people. Archaeologists and historians believe that Roman sexual taboos were as strong as ours, just completely different in nature, and that Romans were considerably more open and frank about sexual matters than we are.
    • Archaeological opinion about Pompeii's reputation likewise has gone back and forth, as it's alternately been regarded as a red-light pleasure resort (thanks to all the whorehouses) or just a typical city from an era that wasn't prudish about such things.
  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, as religion further faded in academia and it became clearer that much "contemporary" writing about early Christians was Medieval interpolation, many historians, including Edward Gibbon, came to believe that all references to the persecution of Christians were fabricated, and the Romans paragons of religious tolerance. Ultimately, due to archaeological findings and better techniques of textual analysis, this belief has only a very few holdouts.
  • It's a trope of Medieval-to-modern Christian historical fiction that the Romans persecuted Christians because they didn't understand Christianity and misinterpreted acts performed by Christians, or because they were a religion that catered to the poor and were seen as dangerous to the aristocratic establishment. Later historians, both secular and Christian, have nuanced this.
    • The Roman persecution of Judaism and Christianity had to do with its laws: they would tolerate a faith only if it accepted the Emperor and was inclusive. If Jews and Christians accepted as Jews and Christians those who also believed in, prayed to, and accepted other gods, then it was A-OK. In practice, to be Christian or Jewish was to accept one belief and reject all others (much like many other faiths with strict doctrines concerning religious identity). Romans, on the other hand, enjoyed worshipping and erecting temples to all kinds of distant gods (like, say, the Egyptian Isis and later the Persian Mithras) while still praying to Jupiter and participating in Saturnalia, so they didn't see why they couldn't keep doing that and still stop in at a church or synagogue from time to time. This was a policy of enforced syncretism, and faiths which tended to assert their own independence in doctrine and membership demands aroused the paranoia and suspicion of the government, the same way the Eleusinian and Dionysian Mysteries did in earlier eras in the Republic and in Ancient Greece. The word Mystery Cult signifies the state suspicion that these faiths were underground movements that could potentially agitate against them.
    • Roman persecution of Christians has been found in part to be due to the refusal of Christians to worship the emperor. Later Romans, after some dialogue with Christians to get them in line with their policies, asked for a requirement to pray for rulers, which is repeated many times in Christian scripture and is still maintained today. Likewise, for those seeing Christianity as revolutionary in origin, there has been no historical evidence of any anti-state revolt led by Christians. Historians note that peasant-led Christian revolts happened in The Middle Ages (against the Corrupt Church and Christian kings). But in the Roman era, the dangerous revolts like the Spartacus uprising, Boudica's uprising, Queen Zenobia's Palmyrene Empire, and the ulcer that was the Jewish Revolts were all non-Christian. It is definitely true that Christianity did attract followers among women and the lower orders who were neglected, disenfranchised, and subjugated by the state, but they certainly did not promote revolution or agitation against the state. Likewise, Christians also tolerated and condoned slavery in the Roman era, though they also advocated for better treatment of slaves and included them in gatherings. However, Epicureanism took the same position on slaves and slavery. So the opening narration of Spartacus, which claims that slaves were freed only with the rise of Christianity and the end of pagan tyranny, is a little too generous to the former and not entirely fair to the latter.
    • The Romans did see Christianity as destabilizing, but this was because rival Christian sects and groups often fought each other violently and because the Christians persecuted pagans and deliberately won over converts by subverting other cults. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor, complained in his missives about how Christians were anti-syncretic while at the same time blatantly co-opting pagan motifs, getting jobs teaching Homeric classics, and using their classical training to better sell their faith. Julian, as an ex-Christian neo-pagan, was clearly biased, though many historians think he had a point. Furthermore, once Christians found active patronage under Constantine and Theodosius (who banned all pagan practices), the Church drifted away from the flock that had supported and built it (women, slaves, the poor) and became subsidized and catered by Rome's aristocratic elite. The Christian aristocracy of Late Antiquity Rome also created the system of serfdom, by which peasants who formerly had rights and freedom of movement were tied to the land — something the Church did not lift a finger to stop or hinder (and even tacitly condoned).
  • The Christian shrine in the Roman Colosseum has tripped up many writers and readers. The ruins of the Colosseum were consecrated in 1749 by Pope Benedict XIV, supposedly in memory of the many early Christians martyred in that location. But there's no evidence to suggest that Christians were ever martyred at the Colosseum; even the editors of the Catholic Encyclopedia found none, with most records saying that martyrdoms took place at other locations in Rome like the Circus Maximus. There's a possibility that Nero's massacre of Christians after the Great Fire took place on the land on which the Colosseum was later built, but it's more likely that Benedict XIV invented the story to justify protecting the building from property developers looking to turn it into a wool factory.
  • There's also a popular conception portraying Roman paganism and Christianity as the main rivalry, with the assumption that the latter was the most popular religion back in the Roman Empire. This ignores that Christianity was just another sect along with hundreds of other religions (ex. Cult of Iris, Gnosticism, the Imperial Cult, the Bacchic Rites, the Dionysus Mysteries, Manichaeism, etc). Likewise, the persecution and treatment of Christians also extended to other religious groups that were rarely mentioned in history like the Celtic druids, Bacchaes, and Manicheans. Like the explanation above, their treatment of religion was less for reasons of high-minded tolerance and more for reasons of "follow the law, stay proper, and we will leave you alone".
  • The notion of living emperors being worshipped as gods is more or less a modern invention. While some of the more unbalanced emperors, such as Caligula, may have claimed divinity, and many claimed descent from one god or another, there's little evidence the average Roman citizen was willing to play along. The genius, or spirit, of deceased emperors was often given divine honors, but this itself was an extension of contemporary Roman religious practice; the pater familias of a Roman family was given the same honors by his gens, and the Emperor was considered to be a "father" to the entire city. The only two rulers who were officially deified were Romulus and Julius Caesar, and both were only deified posthumously.
  • It's now generally dismissed that Christianity was the primary cause of the fall of Rome, and no serious historian entertains the idea that it did so by making people too stupid to run an empire. Rather, the Roman Empire had a number of compounding problems well before the spread of Christianity and the rise of Christianity happened because of the gradually failing social order. It's also generally accepted that there is no one cause of the breakup of the Roman Empire. It was rather a series of problems that arose, some coincidental and some not, that caused a gradual decline.
    • On the flip side, the idea that Rome collapsed because of its own decadence and luxury (popular in the 19th century) is not well-supported either. For one thing, we actually see Romans in the historical record complaining about how hedonistic and lacking in virtue their society was getting... pretty much every single generation. It's really no different than your parents complaining about The New Rock & Roll corrupting the kids these days, as though kids of their generation weren't up to all kinds of mischief.
  • Orgies in Ancient Rome: For centuries people believed that orgies were nothing more than sex parties. Modern research has debunked this idea. In reality, they were secret rites. Decadent activities could be a part of them, but it was all in the style of a ceremony, perhaps closer to the Wiccan "Great Rite". Accusations of sexual orgies were lodged by Christians later on. The pagans had also accused the Christians themselves of engaging in sex parties. Such slanders have been made against virtually every religious group where it's unpopular. Similarly, the supposed rite at such events of stuffing yourself with food until you want to throw up, going to a special room to do so, and then returning to continue eating is also an example of this trope. The myth is based on a misunderstanding of the word "vomitorium", which refers to the exit of an amphitheater and has nothing to do with actual vomit (They share the same etymology, though: vŏmo, vŏmis, vomui, vomitum, vŏmĕre, "to spew forth"). If you have ever been to an event at a major arena (e.g. a football game — any kind), and entered and exited through a corridor to get to the seats, you have been in a vomitorium. You may have sicked up in it, but probably not intentionally.
    • It was a common belief from the Victorian era that Ancient Rome was sexually decadent, hedonistic, and presumably more open-minded to sex than other periods. This is both true and not. One has to take into consideration that this belief started when Pompeii was discovered and made open to the public during the 18th and 19th centuries. The people were shocked by the discovery of Roman sexual imagery and activities exposed (as before then, Rome had for a long time been perceived as a cultivation of glorious culture and art, with Greco-Roman sculptures and copies of Roman texts being their only sources on what Rome was like). It's easy to see the Romans as licentious when compared to the prudish Victorians. However, as much as Romans had different standards from the Victorians', in their own way they actually had strict gender roles and high expectations on sexual roles. For example, a man was expected to perform missionary on his wife and treat her as a "woman of higher status" only and not a "woman of pleasure". It was considered taboo to have her on top of him, as it was a sign that he was "effeminate". Hence, many Roman poets loved to satirize things that were taboo, like women's sexuality and anal sex. They had sex with prostitutes, exploited their slaves, used boys as the bottom, depicted sexual activities in art — the same as other cultures and time periods have done... but other activities were deemed "sexual decadence" and were still an absolute no-no to the Romans. Hence anecdotes like Tiberius owning a sex circus, Caligula committing incest, Messalina having a sex marathon behind her husband's back, and Elagabalus prostituting himself before men and women, which were likely slander by later writers.
  • The Eagle of the Ninth has two main inspirations: the lack of historical references on the Legio IX Hispana after AD 117, when it was stationed on the Caledonian border, and speculation that it had been wiped out during an invasion of what is now Scotland; and a Roman eagle that was found buried under a British house in the 19th century (and is attributed to the main characters at the end of the book). Later historians found evidence that the Legion had actually been moved to the German border, and later, to Asia. This caused speculation that it was destroyed in AD 161 during a battle in Armenia, though the latest thinking has veered back to some kind of disaster north of Hadrian's Wall; the IXth does disappear from the records and a new Legion was imported to Britain at about the same time. The Romans undoubtedly knew perfectly well what had happened to the IXth, the information just didn't survive to our time. As for the buried eagle, it turned to have been decoration from a Roman temple to Jupiter, and not a military standard as it was initially assumed.
  • The common view of Roman history, since at least the Enlightenment, is that of the "idle plebs", in which the Roman citizenry was freed from most physical labor by the large number of slaves, and spent their time eating free grain and watching state-sponsored gladiator games. In reality, while the grain dole was a real thing, it was seldom if ever distributed to the very needy, and in any case never provided enough for a family to survive on. Urban slaves and freedmen dominated the skilled trades, leaving most of the city's free population to eke out a meager living as semi-itinerant day laborers, and malnutrition and disease were rife among them. Even in rural areas, while large farms had a core labor force of slaves, the labor-intensive nature of planting and harvesting meant that these would require large numbers of free laborers as well. The construction of Roman monuments and mining work was also once presumed to have relied entirely on slave labor, but then historical accounts and archaeological evidence (like remains of luxury meats being found in the working area of gypsum mines) showed that at least some jobs employed free workers with a high salary.
  • Domitian:
    • Resoundingly negative views of the man prevailed in the mainstream for a long time, with the standard view being that he was a cruel and paranoid tyrant. Starting in the 1890s, however, a revisionist characterization of Domitian as a ruthless but efficient autocrat who laid the foundations for the glory days of the Five Good Emperors began to take greater prominence and eventually became the mainstream opinion. While he was no saint and his rule did have negative aspects (such as the curtailing of civil liberties and a willingness to have people prosecuted on false charges for political reasons), his harshness was largely limited to a Vocal Minority and his policies generally received widespread support during his reign.
    • Though it was once widely believed that Domitian was willing to leave Dacia be after he negotiated peace with Decebalus and had no plans for further Dacian Wars, the discovery that he ordered more troops to be brought to Upper Moesia from Pannonia and Syria suggests that he was actually gearing up for a rematch (or at least suspected that the Dacians might have wanted one) before he was assassinated.
  • It was once accepted that Commodus left the Danubian front immediately after becoming sole emperor, but now it's largely believed that he stayed there for months and only left after negotiating peace with the Danubian tribes. The "he left right after his father died" story is a suspected exaggeration based on his irresponsible and hedonistic behavior later on.
  • Many post-Nicene historians claimed that Helena Augusta, Constantine the Great's mother, discovered the True Cross and other relics of Jesus while on a visit to Jerusalem. Modern scholars are generally inclined to view these stories with skepticism, since the earliest sources on the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, including Eusebius' Life of Constantine, make no mention of this.
  • Sir Charles Oman's claim that the Battle of Adrianople represented a turning point in military history, with heavy cavalry triumphing over Roman infantry and ushering in the era of knights and cataphracts dominating battlefields in Europe and the Middle East, was repeated by many 20th century writers. The idea was overturned by T. S. Burns in 1973, when he pointed out that the Romans actually had more cavalry than the Goths, the battle was mainly fought by infantry on both sides, the increasing importance of cavalry in the Late Roman Army had already begun before the battle, and the rise of the medieval knight was still centuries away.

    Other 
  • Starting in the Meiji era, Japanese scholars promoted the idea that the Ryukyuans were a sub-group of the Yamato people, partly to justify the Japanese annexation of the Ryukyu Islands. 21st century genetic studies put the kibosh on this by proving that the Ryukuans were more closely related to southern Jōmon hunter-gatherers.
  • While it was once believed that the Austronesian peoples had their roots in Malaysia, the current prevailing theory is that their origins lie in Taiwan.
  • Mainstream scholarship once held that the Berbers adopted the trappings of civilization from Phoenician colonists, but archaeological evidence emerged indicating that at least some Berbers were civilized long before the Phoenicians even existed as a distinct people.
  • One formerly popular theory was that the Cimmerians were somehow related to the Thracians, or possibly even a Thracian tribe themselves. However, this is now believed to be the result of historians extrapolating too far from Strabo's discussion of a Thracian-Cimmerian alliance. Instead, the most popular theory today is that they were an Iranian people who originated from the Pontic-Caspian steppe and imposed their rule on a section of the people that made up the Catacomb culture.
  • The once-popular theory of the Bantu expansion as a singular migration is no longer considered credible. Instead, it's now thought that the expansion took place in at least two distinct waves.
  • Traditionally, it was believed that the Igneri, the original inhabitants of the Lesser Antilles, were conquered and displaced by the Kalinago. However, linguistic and archaeological evidence contradicts the notion of a mass emigration and conquest; it's now considered more likely that some kind of cultural fusion took place between the two peoples.
  • Nilotic peoples are now considered to have entered Kenya earlier than previously thought. Once thought to have only arrived in around 1000 AD, new archaeological evidence suggests they may have reached western Kenya as early as 1000 BC.
  • While virtually everyone agrees that the Land of Punt existed and was somewhere in or near the Horn of Africa, the predominant theory on where it was and how much territory it controlled seems to be constantly changing. Was it centered around Somalia, Somaliland, Eritrea, Djibouti, northeast Ethiopia, or northeast Sudan? Did it control only part of the Horn of Africa or all of it? Did it have a foothold on the Arabian peninsula or not? How far did its influence extend into the Indian Ocean?
  • In the early 20th century, it was suggested that the Illyrians of the western Balkans were The Remnant of a very large area that reached into Central Europe, and that they migrated south during the transition between the Bronze and Iron ages. The evidence was alleged Illyrian toponymy in parts of Europe outside their known territory. However, archaeological evidence in the 1950s pointed to an unbroken continuity of culture in the area during that time, and the onomastic once dubbed "Illyrian" is now believed to be Old European.
  • British Celts were said to paint or tattoo themselves with a blue pigment (as is mentioned in examples of This Means Warpaint) which led to the naming of the Picts (from Latin Pictus, "painted one"). Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War refers to this paint as "vitrum", which meant "glass" in Latin but was also a common term for the woad plant, leading to assumptions that the Celts used woad to paint or tattoo themselves... however, actual attempts to apply the plant for tattooing have found that it is painfully caustic, causes scarring and doesn't keep its color well. Attempts to use it for body paint find that it dries up and flakes off too easily. This means that unless the Celts had a lost recipe for effective woad tattooing or body paint, woad was not used for their blue tattoos.
  • Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator's description of an encounter with a tribe of "hairy savages" in what is now Gabon was once thought to be some kind of misunderstanding or tall tale. Then in 1847, Europeans learned of the gorilla, with many scholars believing Hanno met a troop of gorillas.
  • The Romans recorded the Huns as appearing suddenly to the east of the Goths' territory in Ukraine. In the 18th century, Joseph de Guignes proposed that the Huns and the Xiongnu, a Mongolian people that invaded China between the 3rd century BC and the 2nd century AD, were one and the same. However this theory rested on linguistic grounds only, and was rejected by Otto Maenchen-Helfen in the early 20th century based on archaeological findings - which were later challenged, as well. The origin of the Huns, along with their relation to the Xiongnu and the "Huna" that invaded Persia and India in the same broad time, continue to be hotly contested to this day.
  • One popular theory of early Korean history was that Korean pottery gradually becoming more standard before turning essentially uniform by the end of the 4th century CE reflected either more minor cultures being assimilated out of existence or the creation of a unifed Korean culture through fusion. However, it's now believed that the standardization of pottery was reflective of an economic change, not a cultural one. The prevailing theory is that the production of pottery became increasingly centralized, which required said pottery to become more and more standardized.

Middle Ages

    General 
  • Most Hollywood History of the Medieval period is patently untrue, as it is heavily based on the accounts of Protestant and Enlightenment writers, who would fabricate information and present hearsay as fact to advance their point of view. The Middle Ages were actually a colorful epoch, sporting many significant advancements in science, a lot of cultural crosstalk (Gothic architecture, almost synonymous with the Middle Ages, was inspired by Indian and Arab/Muslim building styles) and not nearly as much dirt as later accounts would have you believe. The problem started with Renaissance writers considering the entire epoch between Antiquity and them to be just like recent history - and recent history was the Black Death and the Hundred Years' War. But the Middle Ages lasted over a thousand years and such a long time span was not all the same, as one would expect; Medieval Stasis did not apply in reality. The Early (10-13th centuries) and High Middle Ages (14-15th centuries) could be called times of prosperity, and some retaking of Roman heritage (the deed the Renaissance authors were so proud of) already started to happen. But then the Black Death arrived, and with it a whole host of new wars and troubles, which ended that boom.
  • The whole Middle Ages are often referred as the "Dark Ages" because of widespread illiteracy and lack of civilization. A common conspiracy theory is that the Catholic Church intentionally inhibited people from learning to read in order to keep the monopoly of thought. The actual reason for illiteracy was that there simply was no accessible writing media in Medieval Europe. Learning to read and write requires a medium upon which to scribe. Papyrus decomposes and rots quickly in the cold and humid European climate, and parchment and vellum are atrociously expensive. Papermaking from linen rags was either introduced or invented independently in the 12th century, and once papermaking became ubiquitous in the 14th century, literacy also spread like wildfire, especially in cities and towns. Learning the Roman alphabet and the corresponding phonemes is very easy, and literacy can be assumed in a matter of weeks. On the other hand, literacy was commonplace in Russia and Scandinavia already in the High Middle Ages, as they used birch bark as writing media. Birches are rare in Central Europe, but ubiquitous in the North.
    • The use of the term "Dark Ages" to refer to the Middle Ages actually began life as a cleverism when Italian poet Petrarch said his era was "surrounded by darkness and dense gloom," in the 1330's. The phrasing was supposed to be an example of irony considering those in the Middle Ages thought of themselves as living in some kind of "bright age" compared to the "dark age" of Rome before Christianity. Basically, the term "dark ages" got popular because it was already in wide spread use during the time commonly referred to as "the dark ages."
  • Added to the above is the myth that Catholic churches chained up Bibles and Gospel books to keep laypeople from reading them. As mentioned above, the majority of laypeople in Western Europe were illiterate. The actual reason the books were chained up was because they were valuable—the Gospels, in particular, could easily have gold covers, possibly studded with jewels, which made them tempting targets for thieves. Even without such embellishment, the books, in a time before the printing press, were expensive, time-consuming to make and hard to obtain in and of themselves. Secular libraries such as those at universities also chained their books up.
  • Even the names "Dark Ages" and "Middle Ages" are going out of style: both were invented to emphasize the glory of the ancient world and the nobility of the scholars who reached for it, in comparison to the ignorant fools in the middle and those who laughed at their theories, yes, laughed, but they'll show them, they'll show them all. Historians now are more likely to use the phrases "early Medieval" and "late Medieval" (though since "Medieval" is derived from the Latin for "middle age", you have to wonder if it just sounds cooler).
  • Renaissance scholars and especially Enlightenment scholars put in a lot of work to 'prove' how few books had been written in the Middle Ages: by throwing away anything written in that time-period. Later researchers bought into the propaganda and genuinely believed nothing of note was written during Medieval times.note  They also introduced the idea of Medieval people being obsessed with religion. Not an entirely wrong idea, given the importance of pilgrimages and piety to most commoners (as well as uglier forms, such as anti-Semitic riots), but the ordinary people weren't falling at the knees of the sinister church-men. On the opposite, the Latin Church was frequently criticized for its priests failing to live up to the holy standards they should have, to the point where a lot of laymen acted as preachers just so somebody would get it right. The nobles and kings weren't shy about arguing over political matters with Popes eithernote , and Crusades tended to disintegrate into We ARE Struggling Together on national grounds.
    • Rather than a laicist movement, the Renaissance was also a time when many turned to Christianity and wanted to purify and reinvigorate it (differences in how and what this meant led to the various Protestant and Catholic reformations). Though commonly associated with the "Dark Ages", witch burnings and overzealous persecution peaked in the post-Medieval period. The icing is that after the triumph of the Reformation, Protestants would use witch-burnings to demonstrate how brutish and backwards the Catholic church was... even though most occurred in Protestant countries and their numbers increased after the Reformation.
  • It was once a popular theory that medieval trials for witchcraft and heresy were partly attempts to stamp out a pre-Christian pagan religion. This is now considered pseudohistorical and based on a very selective reading of primary sources.
  • Droit du Seigneur, the idea that feudal lords had the right to take the virginity of their serfs' daughters, is now considered a myth. While it may have happened on an informal and extra-legal basis, no evidence has surfaced that it was ever codified in the laws of any country (but saying your enemies did it was a good way to motivate your troops in war). And as pointed out by Machiavelli, engaging in such practices would have offended religious authorities and outraged one's subjects.
  • According to chroniclers, the Guanches (the indigenous inhabitants of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands) had no system of writing. This viewpoint has been challenged by the discovery of petroglyphs in certain locations on the island, although the jury's still out on whether the Guanches actually created them.
  • The Old Prussian religion was once generally accepted to be polydoxic — to be more specific, a faith defined by a belief in the sacredness of all natural forces and phenomena (not personified but possessed of their own magic), as well as a belief that the world is inhabited by a limitless number of spirits and demons. But in the 21st century, a competing theory emerged, with some historians arguing for a well-developed, sophisticated polytheism with a clearly defined pantheon of gods.
  • While it was once believed that the marriage of prepubescent girls to grown men was common practice in Medieval and early Modern Europe, the marriage registries of the period show that most people waited until at least their late teens to get married. Marrying young girls was reserved almost exclusively to the nobility, who did it for political reasons, and even then the marriage was rarely consummated before the girl was old enough to get pregnant without complications. The Byzantine emperor Andronikos I was criticized in contemporary accounts for consummating his marriage with the twelve-year-old Agnes of France.

    Early Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) 
  • The very concept of the Fall of Rome as a singular event (in 476 AD) is discredited, and really came about because Renaissance and Enlightenment historians in Western Europe wanted to make a clear line between the glory of Rome and themselves. This meant dismissing, denigrating, or outright ignoring the Byzantine Empire, which remained the dominant superpower in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa until the 7th century (and may well have remained so, if the rise of Islam had not coincided with the end of over 20 years of total war with Persia that left the Empire exhausted), held Rome until the mid 8th century, and large portions of Italy well into the 11th century. After that, it remained a regional power until the 4th Crusade of 1204 (and even then, it stuck around in diminished form until 1453). It also remained a magnet for scholars, traders, and adventurers, being at the Western end of the Silk Road and the Varangian trade route from the Baltic. It wasn't even called Byzantine until the 16th century, when it was dubbed as such to separate it from Rome, in a long tradition that previously had referred to it as 'the Kingdom/Empire of the Greeks', among other things. This is despite the fact that the Byzantines themselves very much considered themselves to be 'Romaioi', and were called that by their eastern neighbors - the Ottomans even kept the title of Roman Emperor as 'Kayser-i-Rum', dubbing their Christian subjects 'Romans', into the 20th century. When it was discussed, it was usually dismissed as the effeminate and corrupt debased remnant of the noble and macho Roman Empire, save for honorable mention of 6th century titans like Justinian the Great and Belisarius.
    • The roots of this are complicated, but have to do with the Iconoclasm controversy of the 8th and 9th centuries. The idea was that the very iconoclastic Muslims were God's punishment on the Byzantines for violating the commandment on worshiping graven images, leading to about a century and half of wrangling over the status of icons (eventually the pro-icon party won out). At one point in the late 8th century, the Empress Irene took the throne, and the Pope - who opposed her and had been trying to wrangle more independence for Rome in any case - took it as an excuse to declare the position of Roman Emperor vacant and crown Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. He didn't take it overly seriously, but later successors did. The Byzantines, meanwhile, didn't have too much problem with the idea of a foreigner being considered Emperor/Imperator/Basileus of their own people (i.e. the Franks), but had a very big problem with someone else calling themselves Roman Emperor, as it implied a claim to Constantinople itself. Add in a lot of geopolitical squabbling over Italy, some of the more ambitious Sicilian Normans trying to conquer the Empire, and a growing rivalry with Venice and you have a recipe for trouble. The Crusades absolutely did not help, with plenty of pre-existing xenophobia on both sides, and then there was the series of disasters that was the 4th Crusade of 1204, which sacked and occupied Constantinople until The Remnant Empire of Nicaea took it back in 1261. However, at the same time, the West and East maintained active diplomatic relationships, traded royal brides on an increasingly regular basis, and the Pope was horrified by the sack of Constantinople, excommunicating the entire Crusade on the spot - though the sheer amount of cash later won him over.
    • Even a common "excuse" for using the term "Dark Ages" nowadays (i.e. that it is wrong for the whole Middle Ages, but a somewhat accurate term for the few centuries after the Fall of Rome, when political disruption affected record-keeping negatively, and there is a dearth of knowledge on the historical events of this period as a result; thus "Dark Ages" is not about a fall in the quality of life at the time, but about a drop on historical knowledge about it) ...is really only valid for the British Isles, which were thrown into chaos after the legions left in 410. In Gaul, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, not to mention the Byzantine Empire, Roman institutions survived (just with Germanic kings replacing Roman governors at the top in the first four), and we have a generally solid idea of what was going on there in this time. We lose the picture in more faraway areas outside of Roman civilization like NW Africa and central, northern, and eastern Europe, but this is because we only had second-hand Roman narratives about them in the first place.
    • Despite common Western interpretations later on, the division of the Roman Empire wasn't seen as the division of a state when it happened, but the division of its government, and the deposition of Romulus Augustus by Odoacer in 476 wasn't considered a cataclysm, or a notable event at all. Romulus had himself usurped the previous emperor, Julius Nepos, the year before. Odoacer named himself King of Italy but also claimed Nepos as his superior (who was still ruling The Remnant in Dalmatia), and after Nepos's murder he pledged himself to the emperor Zeno in Constantinople, thus reuniting the Roman government under him (if only on paper). The common people of the West continued to consider themselves Roman and follow Roman law, which was different from the laws ruling the Germanic kings and peoples. These different law codes were unified and the ethnic lines blurred after the kings asserted independence from Constantinople over the 6th century.
  • With archaeology in its infancy, 19th-century "reconstructions" of ancient Germanic tribes tended to confiscate their trousers and tunic sleeves, arm them with weapons from the wrong time period, and attach horns or wings to their helmets.note 
  • The supposed fall of Western culture was once thought in part to have been caused by a series of massive tribal migrations collectively known as the "Völkerwanderung". Specific examples included the migrations of the Saxons, Angles and Jutes to England; the Lombards into Italy; the Vandals and Visigoths into Spain; and the Franks into northern France. The belief was that these tribal migrations displaced the original inhabitants of these areas, sending them into less hospitable areas (such as the supposed "Celtic fringe" of the British Isles) and disrupting cultural progress. But DNA comparisons of ancient and modern peoples show very little evidence that the Völkerwanderung ever occurred; modern Englishmen, for instance, are far more closely related to ancient Britons (and to modern Scots, Irish, and Welshmen) than they are to modern Saxons. This DNA evidence is so new that historians are still grappling with the implications, but one possibility is that the Völkerwanderung only displaced the elite - about 0.5% of the population in most areas - leaving the bulk of the population unaffected except by the consequent cultural changes. Another theory is that people did move, but only a little, with people abandoning their old homes but resettling close by. It does indeed seem that the massive relocations all over Europe that historians once saw as fact never really occurred.
    • One of the strangest results of the recent DNA comparisons is the discovery that Europe contains two genetic outliers - two ethnic groups that are less closely related to Europeans in general than others. One, not surprisingly, is the Finns, who trace their origins back to what is now Asian Russia. The other? The Italians, who have less in common genetically with the Spanish, Romanians, French, etc. than they do groups that were never part of the Roman Empire (such as the Ukrainians or the Irish). Nobody has yet come up with an explanation for this seemingly impossible result.
    • England is a rather odd example, since the genetics vary a lot based on region. Surprisingly, Midlanders cluster closest to continental Europeans (being about equidistant from continental Northwestern Europeans and the Insular Celts), while less surprisingly, people in western and northern England cluster the furthest from the continent (being virtually identical to their Celtic neighbors). General modern consensus is that there was a significant migration of Anglo-Saxons to Britain, but not to the extent that was once believed. It's now generally believed that they were a minority of between 10-25% of the total population that assimilated the native Britons, rather than the old theory that they massacred and drove out all of the natives.
    • Some of those erroneous assumptions are due to upper-class historians of previous eras preferring to write about elites and often kings and leaders were treated as identical to the tribes / peoples they led. Also, there seems to be a difficulty distinguishing between armies and peoples during the 5th and 6th century. Also also sometimes the linguistic evidence leads one astray - while the Spanish language has little to no Germanic influence (indicating a quickly assimilated small elite) French has much more "Frankish" loanwords and the decidedly Germanic Old English all but replaced the previous Celtic (and Romance-British) languages - so absent genetic evidence and with chroniclers talking of "utter defeats" and "cataclysms", it is quite understandable to think the Anglo-Saxons all but replaced the prior Celtic population.
  • The idea that the Slavs descended from Scythian and Sarmatian peoples is now generally considered pseudohistory. There is some evidence of cultural cross-pollination, such as the Budini people, who lived in close contact with Scythians and are generally believed to have been a Proto-Slavic tribe, but they probably weren't directly related. It is generally believed nowadays that Scythians were to various degrees displaced and/or assimilated by Turkic migrations during the Late antiquity. This remains a highly controversial topic however, as both Russian and Turkic nationalists have an interest in hijacking Scythian historiography to claim them as their own ancestors.
  • One idea that gained significant traction in the 19th century is the notion that there was a "Celtic Church" in the Medieval British Isles separate from the "Latin Church" of Continental Europe. Nowadays, the idea that Celtic Christianity was inherently distinct from the Catholic Church has been rejected by mainstream scholars due to a lack of substantiating evidence; while Christians in the Celtic world developed unique traditions and practices not seen in Christendom as a whole, Celtic areas respected the authority of Rome and the papacy as much as any other region of Europe.
  • It was once a common belief in Europe that Muhammad was a former Christian who abandoned his faith in anger when he failed to become an archbishop. Today it's known that he never was a Christian.
  • The survival of Greco-Roman works in the Muslim World while they were lost in Christian Europe was though to have been because of conscious preservation by the Muslims (and/or direct persecution by the Christians), but that is seen now as mostly myth. For climatic reasons, papyrus documents survived better in the countries the Muslims conquered. There were also Christians and Jews in those areas who preserved ancient works, but the Muslims who ruled got the credit. Most lost books and plays weren't destroyed deliberately, they just weren't copied, and rotted away.
  • Before the late 20th century, it was unchallenged that Rodrigo (Roderic) was the last king of the Visigoths in Spain, that he was legitimately elected in 710 after the natural death of the previous king, Witiza, and that "Witiza's children" were sore losers who had invited the Muslims to invade in 711 and collaborated with them either out of spite or naivety. However...
    • Sources closer to Roderic's time were uncovered, claiming that he had been elected by the Senate (yay!) but "in a revolt" (wait what), and that he had "conquered the Palace" (!) after a period in exile (location unknown, but could very well have been Ceuta, where some Andalusian stories after the conquest, long considered legendary, had placed him).
    • Revised chronologies also showed that Queen Cixilo, the presumed mother of Witiza, had only married King Egica some 25-30 years before Witiza's death. So either Witiza was born from an undocumented first marriage of Egica, or he was a young man when he died, not old as assumed. If the latter, Witiza's children would be literal children in 711, and young ones. This is consistent with the children's names not being recorded and the Witizan faction being led by his brother, Bishop Oppas. Sure, it is still possible that Witiza died of natural causes since sources don't say either way, and that Roderic just took advantage of it to seize power, but the simpler explanation is that Roderic murdered Witiza.
    • Finally, archaeology revealed that while Roderic was minting coins in the capital, one Achila II was minting his own in the northeastern part of the kingdom. Was Achila one of Witiza's children? A third claimant to the crown, until he was also swept aside by the Muslim invasion? Either way, it shows Roderic wasn't even in control of the whole kingdom when he went down fighting the Muslims. A 12th century list of Visigothic kings was also found in France, which does not include Roderic (unlike lists made in Spain) but has Achila II reigning in 710-713, followed by a last one called Ardo in 713-720. The end of Ardo's reign coincides with the Muslims conquering the last Visigothic province (Septimania, in what is now southern France) nine years after Roderic's death at Guadalete.
  • The Battle of Talas (751), where the Tang dynasty was defeated by the Abbasid Caliphate and the Tibetan Empire, was once said to have been a crucially important event that ended Chinese hegemony over Central Asia and ensured Islam became the dominant religion there. While the battle may have been significant in other ways (many sources claim it indirectly resulted in papermaking technology being brought to the Islamic world), scholarship has disputed this particular claim:
    • It's now believed that the diminishing Tang influence after the battle had more to do with the collapse of the Western Turkic Khaganate and especially the devastation of the An Lushan rebellion than the battle itself. Moreover, some evidence suggests that Tang power in Central Asia reached its zenith by 755, four years after the battle happened and the year the rebellion broke out.
    • While the Tang's Karluk allies did defect to the Abbasid-Tibetan forces, the Karluks as a whole didn't turn against the Chinese. Indeed, the Karluk Yabghu polity continued its alliance with China.
    • Other religions continued to play major roles in Central Asia for some time after the battle. The Qara Khitai Empire, for example, had a population that largely followed traditional Khitan religion, Buddhism, and Nestorian Christianity.
  • The traditional view of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass (778) as a joint Basque-Muslim ambush of Charlemagne's rearguard. A 2018 review of the area's geography and Carolingian sources suggested that the army's core was attacked (probably after being chased from Pamplona) and the Franks fought their way through 14 kilometers of pass with great losses, beginning at Errozabal plain (later morphed into Roncevaux; not the town of Roncevaux, founded later and named after the battle). Roland died, but also the Mayor of the Palace Eggihard, Royal Paladin Anselm, and many other paladins that the chronicler (Einhard) does not name because he considers their deaths common knowledge. This would only have happened if Charlemagne's own life was in danger and they died protecting him, which is consistent with Charlemagne covering 27 km in one day when the normal speed of his army was 8,5. In addition, there is no mention of Muslims at the battle, which makes more sense for the area and the time; in fact contemporary Muslims do not mention the battle at all. It appears that the Franks hid Charlemagne's presence in the defeat and flight, and the Chanson de Roland later misrepresented the campaign as a Crusade and the battle as a Muslim attack on the rearguard, in order to include a External Retcon ending where Charlemagne hears of Roland's death and returns to bury the fallen and conquer Spain.
  • Reports of the Classic Maya collapse between the 8th and 9th centuries are now known to have been exaggerated. Maya civilization as a whole did not collapse in any meaningful way; rather, it was a shift away from the Southern Lowlands as a power center. The Northern Yucatán in particular prospered afterwards, though admittedly with very different artistic and architectural styles. Because of this, a number of scholars have gone on record opposing use of the word "collapse" to describe the event.
  • Horny Vikings. Real Life Vikings did not have horned helmets. The idea that they did results from early archaeologists mixing together scattered evidence from several time periods. Actual physical examples of horned helmets from Northern Europe are much older and appear to be ceremonial. Vikings were professional raiders, and their actual gear was Boring, but Practical. They'd know not to wear something so cumbersome as a horned helmet into actual battle: once an opponent got past the intimidation factor, those cool-looking horns would be little more than handles to grab onto.
  • Pope Joan was accepted as real for centuries, but is considered a legend nowadays. Not only do records indicate that she couldn't possibly have reigned in the mid-850s as claimed, no contemporaries make any mention of a Pope who turned out to be female, not even enemies of the Papacy. Photios I of Constantinople, who became Patriarch in 858 and was deposed by Pope Nicholas I in 863, vehemently asserted his own authority as patriarch over that of the Pope in Rome and would have made the most of any scandal regarding the Papacy; yet he never mentions the story once in any of his voluminous writings, even saying at one point "Leo [IV] and Benedict [III], successively great priests of the Roman Church", without a hint of Joan ruling between them. The first mention of Joan is from the 13th century.
  • The Magyars were once thought to be closely related to the Scythians and/or the Huns. Linguistic analysis in the 19th century seems to have disproven this (again, some cultural cross-pollination can't be entirely ruled out given the dynamics of the Eurasian steppes), but the idea of a Hunnic connection has continued to exert a relevant influence on Hungarian nationalism.
  • The 13th-century Saga of Erik the Red and Saga of the Greenlanders claim that Erik gave Greenland a misleading name to attract settlers from Norway and Iceland. This was accepted without much thought until the Medieval Warm Period was identified in the late 20th century, which made some wonder if this was a just-so story, and Greenland was green enough when Erik settled in 985 AD.note 

    High Middle Ages (11th-13th centuries) 
  • It is now believed that there wasn't really a specific people known as the Kurds until the High Middle Ages, the first unambiguous evidence of Kurdish ethnic identity being from the 11th century. Prior usage of "Kurd" was more likely as a social term to designate northwestern Iranian nomads, partially as a means of distinguishing them from the Persians.
  • El Cid:
    • Most things people may remember - that he killed his future father-in-law in a tourney, witnessed Sancho II's murder (and that Sancho II was murdered), forced Alfonso VI to swear he was not involved in his brother's death at St. Gadea's church, won a battle while dead - are just literary creation, and have always been known to be. Still, historians were willing to believe that the rivalry between the Castilian El Cid and the old Leonese nobility in the Cantar Del Mio Cid had a basis in El Cid being, or descending from, a Self-Made Man who had gained noblehood through military service. However, genealogical and documentary research in the 21st century showed that he descended from Leonese nobility on both sides of his family (his ancestors included the Flaínez, which were of Gothic origin and among the oldest lineages in the kingdom). He may have been born in Castile as per tradition, or not, and just accompanied Sancho there when he was given it by his father. The c. 1200 Cantar may have introduced or exaggerated a Castilian-Leonese conflict because it was written when Castile and Leon were separate kingdoms with border disputes and opposing views on their relations with the Almohads, while in El Cid's time (c. 1045-1099) there was almost no difference between the two.
    • The name "El Cid" itself. Nowadays, and for centuries used exclusively for Rodrigo Díaz. Pop history will always note that it derives from the Arabic word Sidi ("Lord"), have him receiving it as a title from either his Muslim soldiers or employers (as in Anthony Mann's El Cid), and highlight how strange it is for a Knight in Shining Armor of the Crusader era. However, contemporary documents show that "cid" was just a common word for war leader in 11th-century Spain, used by Christians and Muslims alike, and that it continued to be used as a courtesy until the 14th. The historical Rodrigo was known and signed as El Campeador ("Master of the Field"), which was an actual accomplishment. He went from El cid (one of many), to El Cid Campeador (the one and only), to El Cid (the one, after the common meaning of "cid" was forgotten).
    • Christians serving Muslim kings and leading Muslim troops, even against other Christians, wasn't uncommon in the 11th century either. The Muslim south was richer but militarily weak after the fragmentation of the Caliphate of Cordoba (though there are examples from the time of the Caliphate as well), and outsourcing was convenient to get around the taboo of fighting other Muslims. What made Rodrigo exceptional was that he was exiled beforehand, won every battle he fought, and wound up as de-facto King of his own Muslim state.
    • On the other hand, the Siege of Alcocer from the Cantar was deemed an invention due to the implausibility of El Cid taking a detour from his ride between Burgos and Zaragoza to fight the king of Valencia in southern Guadalajara, an area that was ruled by Toledo at the time. Until it was discovered in the 21st century that there was another Alcocer just southwest of Zaragoza, and sure enough, the archaeological remains of the castle and El Cid's camp were found.
  • While The Hashshashin were once widely said to have drugged recruits, led them to a paradisical garden, and told them that only their leader had the means to get them there again, this is now generally considered to be a myth.
  • Though Crusader forces resorting to cannibalism out of desperation during the Siege of Ma'arra is widely accepted, the idea that they tortured and murdered captive Muslims to eat them rather than sticking to eating people who were already dead is now in dispute. Examination of Muslim sources shows no mention of the Crusaders killing people to eat them, something the Muslims would undoubtedly have capitalized on to demonize their enemies.
  • Despite the modern associations with the word, Gothic architecture actually wasn't all that dark; churches used to be painted bright colors, and there was plenty of light let in by typically Gothic pointed, tall, stained glass windows. After centuries, the paint faded away, everything was covered in grime and dust, and the colors were lost. Emulators in later centuries made buildings that looked like the old churches ended up looking, with all the gloominess and intimidation that entails, despite the fact that they didn't look like that originally. Modern tourists sometimes complain after a cathedral gets its windows washed because suddenly the interior is "too bright".
    • In terms of art history, the idea that The Renaissance was an improvement over Gothic art became this in the 19th century, when Medievalism and folklore became a topic of interest, and many sought to restore and preserve Europe's Medieval past. Art historian E. H. Gombrich argued that art as a profession actually flowered to a greater degree in the pre-Renaissance age where artists were part of guilds, patronized and subsidized by the Church than they were in the post-Renaissance age, where they had to struggle in the marketplace to sell their paintings for a living and barely struggled over the poverty line. While there were some who were able to avoid this through attracting wealthy patrons (like Michelangelo) or their own business savvy (like Albrecht Dürer), artists generally had less financial security in the Renaissance than they did in the medieval era.
    • The very name "Gothic" is a misnomer maintained out of force of habit. It is rooted on Renaissance writers deriding Late Medieval architecture as "the ways of the Goths" (maniera dei Goti) and proposing a return to Roman architecture, unaware (willingly or unwillingly) that the Goths were gone for centuries before "Gothic" architecture appeared, and the actual period of Gothic rule in Italy was one of stability and continuation of Roman architecture (Justinian's wars, plague, and the Lombards should be blamed for its end).
  • Traditionally, the First Swedish Crusade of the 1150s was seen as the first attempt by Sweden and the Catholic Church to convert pagan Finns to Christianity. However, not only is it now accepted that the Christianization of southwestern Finland began in the 10th century, whether this supposed crusade even happened is now a subject of debate.
  • Rosamund Clifford, a mistress of King Henry II of England, had some longstanding myths about her, such as that she was the mother of Henry's illegitimate son Geoffrey Plantagenet (it's now believed that he was born before Henry met Rosamund, and his mother was more likely a woman named Ykenai), and that she was murdered by Henry's jealous wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (in reality, she probably died of an illness).
  • The view popularized by Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe of plucky "Saxon" commoners still resisting their "Norman" overlords a century or two after the conquest has been shown to be hogwash - but that doesn't stop it showing up in most Robin Hood adaptations, where the Sheriff's soldiers are referred to as Normans to make it OK for Robin to kill them. In the Robin Hood story, the Merry Men also long for "Good King Richard" to return and oust the evil Norman usurper, John. But Richard was John's brother, so, presumably, a Norman as well. Also it's often forgotten in the stories that although John did take control of England when Richard was held prisoner in Austria, he also succeeded him as king after his death (not without a rebellion, though it was put down).
    • The idea either dates to the Hundred Years War, when Henry V's propagandists started to play up an imaginary antagonism with France (despite Henry's whole claim in that war being based on him being technically a member of the French royal family), or to the Reformation, when it was even more useful to play up a nationalist narrative. Such was the strength of the legend that people were referencing the "Norman yoke" which had supposedly derailed incontrovertible English freedoms as justifications for rebellion in the 17th century. There was no sense of Norman and non-Norman by then, but it was a handy reason to demand more rights. Sir Walter Scott was clearly on a well-trodden path when he penned his work.
    • The fact that the Norman/Saxon distinction eventually evaporated as they blended together doesn't mean that the "Norman yoke" of, say, William the Conqueror didn't exist or that he didn't persecute the Saxon aristocracy and their allies during the "Harrying of the North" in 1069-1070. But he and the Normans did introduce liberties and achievements, such as the end of Saxon slavery and a reduction of serfdom. Likewise, the Norman-Plantagenet King Henry II would introduce The Common Law.
  • The Rapa Nui people were once generally thought to have arrived on Easter Island around 300 CE. However, archaeological evidence has cast doubt that they were there that early, with some suggesting arrival dates as late as 1200 CE.
  • While it was long rumored that there was a secret agreement between the Republic of Venice and the Ayyubid Sultanate to redirect the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople, these rumors are no longer considered credible by historians.
  • Traditionally, it was thought that the Mongols ceased their push into Central Europe and withdrew east in 1242 because they learned Ögedei Khan had died and its commanders were obligated to go back and help choose his successor. Due to the timing and distances involved, as well as the fact that the Ilkhanate's official histories make no mention of this, it's now believed that this is unlikely. Other potential explanations have been given more weight recently, such as unfavorable weather, unexpectedly stiff resistance, a Cuman rebellion, and even simple disinterest in continuing the campaign.
  • The Islamic Golden Age was traditionally said to have come to a sudden end with the Sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258. However, re-examination of evidence has led to a theory that the Golden Age was already on its way out by that time and the Mongols just caused it to end sooner and more violently than it otherwise might have. For example, the Sunni Revival of the 11th and 12th centuries led to a series of institutional changes that resulted in Islamic scientific output declining until the Ottoman Empire breathed new life into it.
  • Marco Polo did not introduce pasta to Italy after eating it in China. While it is true that the first concrete information concerning pasta products in Italy dates from the 13th or 14th century (i.e. his era), Italians had been eating dough products for centuries by the time he made his famous Asian travels (see laganon).

    Late Middle Ages (14th-15th centuries) 
  • There was once a widely-held theory that the Māori displaced a pre-Māori population when they arrived in New Zealand, and that the supposedly Melanesian Moriori of the Chatham Islands were the last remnants of these people. Starting in the 1920s, however, studies have shown that the Māori were the first humans to arrive in New Zealand, and that the Moriori were actually a Māori offshot.
  • Romani people were once thought by many in Europe to have originally come from Egypt; indeed, the common term "gypsy" is derived from "Egyptian". However, genetic and linguistic research points to them being descended from inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.
  • The plague:
    • For centuries it was assumed that Europe's first introduction to plague (the Black Death) was in 1348-1350, when roughly one-third of the population died. Nobody knows exactly when plague arrived in Europe for the first time, but recent scholarship suggests that plague was behind many ancient epidemics, including the Plague of Justinian and the pandemics that affected Egypt in the time of Amenhotep III and Greece in classical times. The 1348 plague was not an exclusive European phenomenon either: By the time it reached Europe, it had already ravaged the Middle East and much of Asia, killing an estimated 25 million people in China alone.
    • Plague can infect people in three ways: through the lymph system ("bubonic plague"), through the lungs ("pneumonic plague"), and through the bloodstream ("septicemic plague"). Most of the descriptions handed down to us by Medieval doctors describe bubonic plague, so it was once thought that it was the most common form; many people even today think that "bubonic plague" is the correct name for the disease. But the main reason doctors described bubonic plague so often was because bubonic plague victims lived long enough for the doctor to arrive, unlike victims of pneumonic and septicemic plague who generally died within hours of the first symptoms. Meanwhile, evidence from the 20th century plague pandemic supports the idea that pneumonic plague is actually slightly more common than bubonic.
  • For most of the 20th century, it was believed that the initial expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century was accomplished by attracting recruits to fight in the name of Islamic holy war against non-believers, due to later Ottoman writers characterizing their ancestors as ghazis. Starting in the 1980s, this idea came under attack, with many pointing out that the Ottomans didn't act the way one would expect zealous religious warriors to: they tolerated many heterodox and syncretic beliefs and practices, willingly recruited Byzantines into their ranks, and fought wars against other Muslims. It's now believed that the idea of early Ottomans being "holy warriors" was an exaggeration or outright myth promoted by later generations because it suited their political interests.
  • Serbian claims about the Battle of Kosovo (such as the betrayal by Lazar's son-in-law Vuk Branković and the assassination of Sultan Murad by Miloš Obilić) were extraordinarily influential in the South Slavic world and generally accepted as fact for centuries. Nowadays, however, most historians acknowledge that surprisingly little is reliably known about the battle, with many claims about it arising decades or even centuries after it happened. There is no evidence of a betrayal by Branković (many say the legends confused Vuk with his son Đurađ, who refused to join Hungary's regent John Hunyadi in battle), it's not clear how Murad died, and the battle may not even have been a Serbian defeat at all! Not only that, but the Battle of Kosovo was not as decisive as portrayed in the myth, since the final downfall of the medieval Serbian state only happened 70 years later.
  • Machu Picchu was originally believed to have been built in the 1450s. But in 2021, a study led by Richard L. Burger used radiocarbon dating to determine that the Incas may have built it as early as 1420.
  • Why the Khmer Empire's capital of Angkor was abandoned had long been the subject of dispute. Initial theories were that it was caused by massive, sudden depopulation due to some kind of catastrophe, like an earthquake or a disease outbreak. However, examination shows no evidence of a sudden mass die-off, nor massive damage caused by a single natural disaster. Climatological research has caused another theory to gain popularity: that the transition from the Medieval Warm Period to the Little Ice Age had serious effects on the weather in South and Southeast Asia, causing alternating periods of lengthy drought and serious flooding that overtaxed the city's irrigation systems beyond the population's ability to adjust, forcing a gradual scattering of the population that in turn reduced the city's ability to adapt. This vicious cycle continued until the city was all but abandoned except for a few key areas.
  • It has been claimed in Serbian historiography that Albanian national hero Skanderbeg's great-grandfather was a Serbian noble who was granted possession of Kaninë Castle by Stefan Dušan. This reading is now known to be based on a mistaken translation by German historian Karl Hopf, but the claim still pops up from time to time in some Serbian nationalist circles.
  • Joan of Arc was lionized in 19th century Republican France as a symbol of the nation and the French people. Consequently, they turned her into a rival and victim of those opposed to the Republic - the monarchy, aristocracy, clergy - and diminished their role in the fight against the English. In reality, Joan was not a poor peasant, but the daughter of the Dean of Domremy, and could ride a horse before she met the Dauphin; she never decided strategies or fought in the battles, but served as a standard-bearer and rallying point while the aristocrats led the army (in fact, part of her defense at the trial was that she never killed a person, in battle or otherwise); and Charles VII really tried to take Paris (several times in fact) instead of witholding resources to engineer Joan's defeat out of jealousy. As for Joan's trial, it was the work of the Bishop of Beauvais who was an English ally, so it is not surprising that his verdict was undone by the French King and the Pope as soon as they could. She was also not burned as a witch. Her crime was relapsed heresy, having to do not with her voices but with her cross-dressing. She promised she would never again do so, then her captors stole her skirt and replaced it with pants; it was either that or go naked. Anyway, her real crime was opposing the English, and she was reviled as a witch and a whore in England for decades afterward because of that (e.g. Shakespeare's Henry VI).
  • Henry IV of Castile was said to have a broken nose by the contemporary chronicler Alonso de Palencia. However, when their tombs were opened in the 20th century, Henry was found to have a normal nose, and his father, John II, a broken one. It is unknown if this was a honest mistake or a deliberate manipulation, because Palencia was a supporter of Ferdinand and Isabella, and an enemy of Henry.
  • While there's still some debate over Richard III's overall character and culpability for certain actions (specifically the deaths of his nephews), this trope is in play for Richard's appearance. As part of the Historical Villain Upgrade he received from Tudor historians and playwrights, Richard was depicted as a deformed hunchback. Later historians concluded that this was anti-Richard propaganda. However, when his body was discovered in late 2012/early 2013, it was found that he actually did suffer from scoliosis and roundworms. His portrayal in Shakespeare complete with hunchback, withered arm and limp was more than just an exaggeration of his appearance - had he been as Shakespeare wrote, he wouldn't have been capable of mounting the horse he offered to trade his kingdom for - but the kernel of reality within the myth was there.

    Not yet sorted 
  • Regarding Columbus' landfall on the Americas:
    • First of all, Columbus was not the first European to make such a landfall.
      • The Vikings beat him there by some five hundred years.
      • Adding another layer, pop history writers sometimes accuse hidebound academics of having clung to a Columbus-first paradigm until the past few years. That hasn't been the case for decades; it's pop history that's clinging to an outdated image of what academics believe.
      • Though yet to be verified, the discovery of carvings in Latin in Newfoundland suggests that even the Vikings may have been beaten to North America by other Europeans. Should they be authenticated, they will give credence to, of all things, a long-discredited tale about Saint Brendan, said to have crossed the Atlantic in the 500s.
      • There is even some evidence to support that Native Americans actually crossed the Atlantic as early as 60 BC.
      • The Chukchi people had been crossing from Alaska to Chukotka (part of NE Asia) for millennia, across the Bering Sea.
      • Currently anthropological and genetic evidence point to America actually being populated, originally, by people who entered from Asia. Theories for the route include the Beringian land bridge—at certain points in the Ice Age, there wasn't any Bering Strait—and the seacoast south of the land bridge.
      • Recent genetic and linguistic testing, particularly genetic tests on sweet potatoes, has lent considerable weight to the theory that the Polynesians also reached as far as the east coast of the Americas.
    • The complete lack of anybody other than Native Americans—no, not even Vikings—living in the Americas when Columbus arrived didn't stop racist Europeans from declaring that no Native Americans could have built the Mesoamerican pyramids or the Mississippian mounds. No, it must have been a "lost race". Even attributing them to "Giant Jewish Toltec Vikings"note  was considered more plausible than admitting that Native Americans built them. Such racist notions were finally discredited by 20th-century scientific archaeology. Fringe theorists still sometimes revive them, though.
  • Christopher Columbus:
    • The concept of a Flat World is a Dead Unicorn Trope. In Medieval times, people not only knew Earth was roundnote , they knew (and had known since the Hellenistic era) roughly how big it wasnote . Columbus, however, either got it wrong or shaved a third of the established value off to make it a better sell. He underestimated the size of the globe and overestimated the size of Asia, so that the distance that he predicted between Europe and Asia was much shorter than in realitynote . That's why all those monarchs before Isabella refused to fund him: they were right and he was wrong. He and his sailors would have died en route or been forced to turn back if not for his big stroke of luck: an entirely unknown land mass at just about the distance from Europe that he predicted. What makes it worse is that he really should have known he was wrong. The very method ships used to navigate are not just based on the fact the world is round, but they also give really good estimates of how big the world is. Although in his defense they work best for latitude, not longitude, so maybe to him the world was cigar-shaped?

      If he was genuinely wrong, his reason for believing that the distance between Asia and Europe was a lot smaller than it actually is wasn't entirely unreasonable (though it was still wrong, technically). His theory was based on driftwood reaching the Canaries from the west, with a frequency that was far too common to be from as far away as Asia actually is. So while he was wrong about the size of Earth, he was right that driftwood washed ashore in the Canary Islands far too frequently to have come as far away as Asia is. He knew something was close enough to reach on a sailing voyage, he was just wrong in assuming it was Asia.

      The "he fudged the distance" theory is used in Orson Scott Card's novel Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus and Alejo Carpentier's novel El Arpa y la Sombra. The former describes Columbus desperately looking at ancient records to try to find "proof" that his size of Earth was the correct one. He is pretty obviously shown to be disregarding any piece of evidence to the contrary. Interestingly, the novel shows that by the time he brought his case before the Spanish royal court, his case was solid enough to rival the established proof, leaving the tie-breaker up to the Queen, whom he convinced by his sheer piety. Also, according to the novel, Columbus thought he was looking for China, not India, because a hologram sent from the future pretending to be God told him to. The latter proposes that Columbus knew of the Vikings' travels, so he knew he'd find new lands, and he used the wrong size on purpose to get financing for the expedition and return a hero for the discovery.
    • People who want to strip Columbus of his usual heroic portrayal risk falling for the opposite fallacy and labeling him an idiot. In these cases, pointing and laughing at the "fact" that he confused the Caribbean with India and its inhabitants with Indians is common. In reality, however, Columbus didn't sail in search of a route to India, but The Indies, which is how East Asia (China and the Spice Islands, i.e. Indonesia) was called in Europe at the time (hence why after America was confirmed as a new continent Indonesia was called the East Indies and the Caribbean the West Indies, which is the appellation that survives today). In fact, when Columbus first made landfall in the Bahamas he assumed he was in an island close (but not even in) to what Europeans called "Cipango" - Japan. A very honest mistake to make given the current European knowledge of Asian geography, since the Bahamas are at the same latitude as Taiwan and they don't even look that different from the Okinawa archipelago.
  • Bartolomé de las Casas claimed in his multi-volume History of the Indies that the pre-Columbian population of Hispaniola alone was over three million. Subsequent research has indicated that Las Casas' figures were greatly exaggerated, with 2020 genetic studies estimating the maximum population of the Caribbean islands' indigenous peoples to be in the mere tens of thousands.
  • Witch burnings:
    • Everybody knows that people in the Middle Ages loved to burn witches—it was like their version of the movies. Go into town, do some shopping, and then stop to watch some witch burnings. Good times. Except this is another of the things manufactured by later philosophers to elevate their own times over the so-called Dark Ages. The Medieval Catholic Church actually considered it heresy to believe in witches—that's right, accusing a woman of witchcraft would likely get you in trouble. It was only late in the Middle Ages when the Church declared witches to be real, and it's the supposedly enlightened Renaissance and Reformation when the witch burning craze took off. Incidentally, burning was primarily a continental thing—in Britain (and Salem, Massachusetts) the punishment was hanging except in cases where accused witches were also convicted of heresy.
    • Witch hunts were in fact a very Protestant thing during the Reformation, while the Catholic world remained generally apathetic about it (the main exception being France). So if you are planning to follow Dan Brown and write a story about poor girls being rounded up and burned by the Corrupt Church because they are feminists ahead of their time who know the truth about Mary Magdalene, consider that for example, the entire number of witches burned by the terrible Spanish Inquisition was 12. In a single trial in 1609 directed by a French inquisitor that was sacked after it, and after which the whole existence of witchcraft was declared bollocks by his superiors.
    • Contrary to popular belief, witches were hunted not by Inquisition (that was formed to fight heresy) but by the local, secular authorities as witchcraft was considered a common crime like murder, assault or theft. Inquisitorial courts actually had no jurisdiction in such cases, unless the witch was also accused of belonging to a heretical cult or worshipping the Devil (which was their jurisdiction).
    • The Malleus Maleficarum, or "Hammer of the Witches", was not held up as a guide and example by the church. "Malleus", often named as one of the most evil and misogynist texts ever written, details essentially how women are prone to evil and witchcraft and stipulates how one can make sure a person is a witch. There's really no way for a woman to "win" once she's been accused according to the "Malleus", as refusal is a sure sign of witchcraft, the ability to withstand torture and not confess is proof of guilt (vis-a-vis the devil giving her the ability to withstand) and if a man should attest to her innocence all that does is prove him guilty too. This was however not used by the Inquisition or accepted by the Catholic church itself, though many individual Catholics did. It was later banned, though too late by then. At the time it came out the position of the church for centuries was that witchcraft was not real, and that at worst a "witch" was being fooled by the devil with false visions of doing things like riding a broom.
  • The Spanish Inquisition:
    • So the Inquisition was too busy killing Jews and Protestants to bother with peasant superstition, right? Nope! The Spanish Inquisition actually spent very little time killing Protestants and "crypto-Jews/Muslims", and most of their time correcting peasant superstitions. Because the Church in Spain was reformed 20 years before Luther, and all of Luther's works were banned, Protestantism never really spread to Spain. Instead the Inquisition spent most of the latter half of the sixteenth century correcting folk superstitions in rural Spain (and not by torture, amazingly enough). It's true they were a surprisingly small organisation with little effect outside the cities in which the minority of the population lived. Most (approx 70%) of the cases brought before the Inquisition dealt with lapses of morality and general sexual misconduct, and most of those concerned ordinary Spanish people. The other 30% dealt with charges of religious ignorance which they strove to correct. Roughly 3% would concern people brought up on full charges of heresy and fewer still were burnt. The Inquisition sought primarily to educate ordinary people about and uphold the faith, not to go around burning witches and heretics. That said, we have no idea how many people in Portugal, Castile and Aragon were tried and hanged as witches by local authorities and nobles acting under their own jurisdictions. The number could be in the thousands, but the records simply don't exist.
    • The Inquisition was the first judicial body in Europe to have established rules of evidence, recognize an insanity plea, ban arbitrary punishments, and dismiss anonymous accusations. It was actually closer to modern jurisprudence than most secular courts of the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods. They also believed that the accuser held the burden of proof, whereas most secular governments at the time required the accused to prove their own innocence.

      Accused persons were also allowed to have counsel, testify on their own behalf, and present evidence, something many secular courts also forbade. That said, many people died in prison before getting to trial (this was not unique to the Inquisition—diseases spread like wildfire inside prisons at the time). Confessions were also still extracted by torture, though again that was simply common practice. The Inquisition also put some limits on this the secular courts did not have. Only methods that didn't draw blood could be used, for instance (since priests were not allowed to). The strappado and water cure were favorites. While still quite horrific, they paled in comparison with some other common torture methods at the time. Additionally, torture could only be used once by the Inquisition, although this was often gotten around by "suspending" the session, then restarting it again later.
  • The concept of Trials by Ordeal were not the illogical or comic farces they are seen as today where the only logical result was guilt or death. In societies where religious belief was strong the guilty would be inclined to confess (often to a reduced punishment) while the innocent would request the ordeal. Modern research now shows that priests had ample opportunities to determine the results of the ordeal themselves,note  with two-thirds typically being found innocent. Those found guilty were likely privately judged by the priests or simply seen as necessary to maintain belief in the system. Trials by Ordeal vanished during the enlightenment as society-wide belief in religion weakened, and had been largely replaced already by legal reforms that the Church instituted (including forbidding priests to participate, which thus ended most).
  • Medieval arms and armor have long been depicted as clunky, heavy, and cumbersome, and only relatively recently has this prejudice begun to be overturned in popular culture:
    • Swords were believed to simply be little more than heavy and crude iron clubs inferior to Eastern swords, and knights simply bashed away without finesse. However reconstruction of historical surviving treatises on Medieval and Renaissance swordplay reveal a highly-developed and formalized school of martial arts. Furthermore, most of the sword and armor examples which led to the popular depiction were actually ceremonial and display pieces that were never intended for actual combat. Close study of actual battlefield weapons (which are much rarer, as these weapons were made to be used, not preserved) reveal light, well-balanced, and often very sharpnote  blades that actually contained higher-quality steel than their Eastern counterparts.note  An actual longsword would range between 2-4 pounds, with the median range being much more common. Compare this to Dungeons and Dragons' 6lb longswords in earlier editions.
    • The concept of armor that was so heavy that knights couldn't even get into the saddle themselves, or severely restricting their mobility, also owes much to display or ceremonial pieces, as well as to the elaborate and heavy tournament armor. However the former examples were never intended for practical use at all, while the latter was the period's equivalent of football pads, being overengineered to protect the wearer. Actual armor made for combat weighed no more than the kit that a modern soldier carries with him into combat, and in fact the weight is actually better distributed. Plate armor actually wore lighter than the mail armor of earlier periods, and when properly fit to the wearer offered very little restriction to range of motion. In fact, some contemporary accounts describe knights testing out new suits of plate armor by doing cartwheels in them. Armor as cumbersome as that depicted in popular fiction would have been completely worthless on the battlefield. A good depiction of this can be seen here, in an obstacle course run between a firefighter, a modern soldier, and a man in full plate armor. The man in armor came in between the soldier and the firefighter overall, but in the run in full gear, actually outran the soldier by 14 seconds.
    • In spite of the popular image, it's now understood that knights in full plate armor generally did not carry shields. For a warrior already encased head-to-toe in steel plate, adding a shield just leads to diminishing returns in the amount of protection it provides compared to the weight it adds to the kit. Instead, the arrival of plate armor led to the shrinking and ultimate abandonment of the shield, and the adoption of two-handed weapons (particularly the longsword, polehammer, and halberd) that were better able to deal with said armor (as well as providing considerable advantages to a fully-armored fighter's unarmored opponents). The main exception is, again, tournament armor, which did have a shield — because jousting knights were deliberately aiming at them!
  • The mistaken belief that everyone in the Middle Ages believed that bathing was unhealthy is especially pervasive in modern times. In fact, there were public bathhouses throughout the Middle Ages, despite nudity taboos and opposition by liturgical factions. As often is the case, there were a number of factors at work.
    • Bathing did not start to decline until the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance, where there was a shift from woolen to the much easier to clean and maintain linen clothing, allowing for one who had not regularly bathed to maintain a clean and well-groomed appearance. That the decline in bathing saw a significant increase in the importance of laundry should also be noted.
    • Another factor may have been the Black Plague, which was believed to be spread by communal bathing in the bathhouses. This is plausible if the infected entered it, as they probably did. Apparently the water wasn't changed very often, meaning that disease microbes would linger there. Regardless of whether this was true, however, it was blamed by some and associated with vanity, which the Plague was widely regarded as divine punishment for. The bathhouses, many of which dated back to Roman times, thus were often closed or abandoned.
    • Even before this it was possible the bathhouses could be disease vectors, as (despite condemnations by the Church) illicit sex (prostitution included) occurred there (this was also the case in Roman times). Some were even viewed as simply fronts for brothels, or just brothels in disguise. Thus the spread of syphilis from the end of the 1400s also seems to have discouraged use of the bathhouses by association, as it was then a quite deadly disease and an especially painful way to die.
    • Even then, bathing still happened. It wasn't anywhere close to modern frequency, but it was for the practical reason that the water had to be hauled to where you were bathing and water is heavy. Thus they would normally bathe with the same water that was drawn to do the laundry in as it was already gathered for that purpose.
  • Related to the supposed dislike of bathing is the depiction of Vikings as a band of unwashed barbarians by Medieval English writers. Scandinavian peoples at the time had a rather elaborate bathing culture (Saturday was called "bathing day" in Old Norse). The unwashed, smelly appearance of Vikings was a result of them being an invading force, who had come there by ship, both of which were not conducive to hygiene. Some Medieval chroniclers actually complained that Viking men were too attractive to local women as they kept themselves cleaner than local men.
  • Sauna is often understood as a particularly Finnish phenomenon. Actually the sauna culture existed everywhere in Europe in the Middle Ages, and it was a direct continuum of the Roman bathing culture. The Finnish sauna is the last remnant of the once pan-European bathing culture. Likewise, the Russian word for sauna, banya, stems from Italian bagnio which in turn is a corruption of Latin balneum, bath-house. The reasons why the sauna culture declined in the Renaissance were threefold:
    • The climate change which led to deforestation and scarcity of firewood in Continental Europe (remember, Finland is heavily forested and Finns have no lack of firewood).
    • The spread of syphilis, which transmitted extremely easily in saunas.
    • The Reformation and tightened sexual mores, which considered nudity immoral and obscene. The Renaissance and the centuries after that were generally significantly more sexually conservative (sometimes to the point of outright prudishness) than the Middle Ages.
  • "Feudalism", once considered the defining characteristic of Medieval government and society, is now considered to be an invention of historians. The notion of a pyramid of obligations linking king to lord to knight to commoner goes against many primary sources; kings held (or were expected to hold) the allegiance of all their subjects, not simply as landlord to the most prominent ones, and the gifts and homages of the ruling class were an unkempt web of reciprocal obligations.

    Having said that, poor communications back in the day meant that while kings in theory held the allegiance of all their subjects, they (like present-day governments in large countries) relied on local representatives for day-to-day governance. And again like many present-day governments, poor supervision by the higher-ups (kings/central governments) often led to local representatives accumulating more power/wealth than what they were supposed to.
  • A common "pop historical fact" is that alcoholic beverages such as beer or wine were used as replacements for water due to concerns about potability. This is, by and large, hogwash. Neither beverage in their own right is antiseptic (although both contain alcohol, and beer mash is heated during the fermentation process, both still harbor microorganisms - in fact the entire point of fermentation is that yeast grows producing ethanol. And yeast is a micro-organism. It manages to outcompete most pathogens, but not all), and primary sources indicate that water (pulled from difficult-to-contaminate sources such as wells or springs) was still heavily consumed in its native state. Similar to today, alcoholic drinks were consumed for their intoxicating effects and for variety in the diet.
  • Another pop historical fact that gets tossed around is that the average human life expectancy in the Middle Ages was 35 years old. While this is true, it does not mean that someone would have been considered elderly at 35. This is a wild misinterpretation of the data which ignores the meaning of the word average. In general a person could expect to live into their 70s, much like they do today, assuming they survived childhood. The reason the average life expectancy at birth was so low is because at much as 30% of all people born died before they were five, and the vast majority of those died before reaching one. This incredibly high level of infant/childhood mortality is why the average life expectancy is so low despite the actual human lifespan not being too different from the current. It also didn't help that the lack of technology back then made it impossible to cure ailments that today could be easily treated of with surgery or medications (for example, deaths caused by skin infections were ubiquitous). Goes without saying, however, that the fact that life expectancy was lower did play a role in the perception of elders. An individual approaching their 80s would have been treated with the same reverence we would show today to people above their 90s or to centenarians.
  • The notion of Europeans importing spices to disguise the flavor of rotten meat is now considered outdated. The meat preservation techniques known at the time (mostly involving salting, drying, or smoking) were rather effective, and spices were much too expensive to waste on meat that had spoiled. Most domestic meats, in any case, would have been kept perfectly fresh by the simple expedient of leaving it alive until shortly before consumption.note  If anything, Medieval people would have even more cause to avoid spoiled meat than modern ones, having no recourse but bed rest and dubious herbal or folkloric remedies to cope with food poisoning and diarrhea.
  • Food for those not of the nobility was often thought to be considered bland when, in fact, it was not. It wasn't seasoned the way modern people are familiar with, but they often used herbs that could be either fresh or ground into a paste and the juices spread over the meal, and so on. It was also healthier than many assume and with more variety. Commoners did eat meat, usually fish (if a fishable water source like a river, lake or the ocean were close) or pork. The Hanseatic League also engaged in Europe-wide trade of preserved salted fish to such an extent that it became "peasants' food" hundreds of miles away from any coast. Beef and chicken were rare, but that was because cows and chickens were used for their milk or eggs, so any beef or chicken came from one that had simply gotten too old to produce such or recently died of natural causes. Carp became increasingly common as the Middle Ages wore on - the Romans had tinkered with farming it, but it was medieval cloisters (and their demand for "fish" broadly construednote  during Lent) that led to a boom in carp farming across Europe, to the point that scholars cannot distinguish which parts of Europe carp was introduced to deliberately for farming and where it spread "naturally" or by accident. Villages also commonly had a communal pond that served as a reservoir for water in case of fire or drought - those ponds invariably housed fish usually carp, but also often pike or trout.
  • The Sadlermiut were once thought to be the last remnants of the Dorset culture, due to their technology and culture being distinctly different from that of the mainland Inuit. Research published in 2015, however, proved that they were actually descended from the proto-Inuit Thule people. Now it's believed that their differences from the Inuit are a product of isolation, though in the absence of any evidence of genetic admixture, it remains a mystery how they acquired Dorset technological and cultural features.
  • Sengoku Period:
    • Oda Nobunaga was well known for his use of volley fire, but the idea that he was the first in Japan to use the tactic is now considered questionable, since some recently-discovered sources imply that the Ikkō-ikki were using it before him.
    • The popular claim that Uesugi Kenshin was assassinated by a ninja is now considered probably apocryphal, and modern historians generally believe he more likely died of cancer or cerebrovascular disease.
  • In the late 19th century, a theory emerged that the core of today's Ashkenazi Jews were descended from Khazars, a Turkic people who inhabited the Pontic-Caspian steppe and had apparently converted to Judaism. According to this theory, they abandoned their homeland during the Mongol invasion and fleed to Central and Eastern Europe, forming the bulk of the Ashkenazim, while Jews from Germany (those ultimately descending from the original Isralite stock) formed only a minority of these migrants. It also postulates that Yiddish language evolved from Crimean Gothic rather than German. Most scholars view it with considerable skepticism, due to the lack of any evincible link between Khazars and the Ashkenazim:
    • For one, the conversion of Khazars to Judaism itself is poorly understood, and it's impossible to determine whether it was a mass conversion or only the elite took part on it (which is considered more plausible).
    • Yiddish' characteristics, grammar and vocabulary, are undoubtedly of High German stock, making any attempts at connecting it to other Germanic languages just complicating things. Other proponents of the theory suggest that originally-Khazar Jews learned Yiddish from German Jews, but again, it's just complicating things.
    • Genetic studies also failed at proving connections between modern Ashkenazi Jews and steppe Turkic populations. Ashkenazim form a genetic cluster with Southern Italians and Greeks, suggesting that they intermixed with Southern European populations before migrating to Germany, then Eastern Europe. It makes sense when you look at a map and see what's between Central Europe and the Near East.
    • For what matters, descendants of the Khazars are believed to be Turkic peoples still inhabiting the North Caucasus, such as Kumyks, who are Muslim. While we're at it, there are Turkic-speaking Jews in Crimea (which was under Khazar control): Krymchaks and the Crimean Karaites. Long story short: no, academic consensus suggests not even they originated from converted Khazars (though there could have been intermixing between them).
    • Annoyingly, this theory has been hijacked by a fringe of anti-Semites/conspiracy theorists who believe Khazars converted to Judaism to infiltrate and destroy European peoples, that Ashkenazi Jews are actually Khazars and "fake Jews" or "impostors", that it's Khazars who lead some worldwide conspiracy, that there's a "Khazarian Mafia"... you get the rest.
  • Once, the general consensus was that Native Americans had developed scalping independently of the Old World and practiced it for centuries, if not millennia. In the latter half of the 20th century, a competing theory occurred, claiming that scalping was unknown among Native Americans until they learned how to do so from Europeans, who offered to pay allied tribes bounties for the scalps of members of enemy tribes. This competing theory was debunked after the discovery of the Crow Creek massacre site, which proved that Native Americans were scalping people over a century before Columbus first arrived in the New World, and it's now thought that the Europeans paid Native Americans for scalps because they were already known to be good at collecting them.

Modern Age

    16th century 
  • Norwegian historian Yngvar Nielsen concluded in an 1889 study that the Sámi of Norway lived no further south than Nord-Trøndelag county until they started moving south in around 1500. This hypothesis was accepted as the truth until the 21st century, when several archaeological finds indicated a Sámi presence in southern Norway and Sweden in the Middle Ages.
  • While Juan Ponce de León has long been said to have been searching for the Fountain of Youth, most historians now consider this claim apocryhpal, since there are no mentions of it in any of his writings and the first known mention of him wanting to find it is in 1535, more than ten years after his death.
  • Traditionally, the subject of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa was assumed to not be anyone in particular, with even one extravagant theory positing that it was a 'female self-portrait' of Leonardo. Nevertheless, many fictional works that included Da Vinci as Historical Domain Character would sometimes include a generic woman posing as a model. Turns out they were right: In 2005, it was discovered that Da Vinci was commissioned to paint a portrait of a Florentine noblewoman named Lisa del Giocondo ("Mona" is an Italian honorific, akin to "Miss" or "Madam"). Lisa’s husband was a silk merchant who was friends with Leonardo’s father and it’s believed the painting was commissioned to celebrate a pregnancy.
  • Machiavelli, author of The Prince, was a staunch supporter of the concept of a free republic. Unfortunately, The Prince was his only well-known piece for a long time. Now it is thought that he was most likely a satirist, because that was his only pro-Medici screed, and after writing it, he went right back to writing pro-republic stories. He was also often portrayed as a cynical, somber and shrewd politician. Contemporary data, including his letters and works, portray him rather as a very sociable satirist who also happened to be an observant historian and a good rhetor.
  • The Borgias:
    • Contemporaries viewed Lucrezia Borgia as a scheming, amoral poisoner who abetted her father and brother (Rodrigo and Cesare Borgia, respectively) in their plans to dominate Europe. This belief became even more prevalent in Victorian times, when the words "borgia" and "lucrezia" became shorthands for "female serial killer". More recent scholarship casts doubt on this belief, as there is no historical proof that Lucrezia harmed a flea herself, let alone committed multiple murders. If anything, Lucrezia's life might have been easier if she had been a poisoner. It's thought now that Lucrezia was blamed by her contemporaries because she was a safe target compared to her relatives. Old Harry's Game references this in one episode where Edith tells a man that there's no evidence Lucrezia Borgia ever murdered anybody. However, since the person she's talking to is Satan, he knows from personal experience that the rumours are true.
    • The rumor that Lucrezia was incestuously involved with her brother and father was also taken as fact by contemporaries and people of later eras to cement how despicable the Borgias (and sometimes Catholics in general) were, but it is now considered a probable slander against the family; the originator may have been Lucrezia's first husband after being forced into an annulment that he did not agree with; though to be fair, the Borgias did themselves no favors when Lucrezia had a son of unknown paternity (the Infans Romanus, Giovanni Borgia. Jr.) and her father legally adopted him.
    • Then there is the Borgias' alleged poison, la cantarella, a potent yet undetectable brew whose formula could be adjusted so that the victim could die at any time the poisoner wished. Too bad it's not actually possible for such thing to exist. Roderigo probably used plain old arsenic while Cesare and Giovanni strangled their enemies and threw them in the Tiber.
    • Did we mention that the Borgias were no more murderous than any other prominent Italian family of the time? They got the bad rep because they were social climbers and had non-Italian origins, not because they were particularly evil. Additionally, Pope Alexander VI's religious tolerance and philanthropy to Rome's Jewish population was seen by his anti-semitic successor as Not Helping Your Case.
    • The biography The Borgias: The Hidden History by G.J. Meyer maintains that there's actually no evidence that Alexander VI had any children. Cesare, Lucrezia, and Giovanni were related to him somehow, but the family tree is tangled and records are uncertain. At a time when diplomats sent their masters every bit of gossip they could get their hands on, there's no contemporary record of the pope having a mistress or children. Reformist preacher Girolamo Savonarola denounced the Borgias in general and Alexander in particular in the harshest possible terms and accused them of every kind of corruption imaginable, except sexual immorality.
  • Once, it was universally accepted that Juan Sebastián Elcano and the other survivors of Ferdinand Magellan's expedition became the first people to circumnavigate the globe when they returned to Spain. But now there are many people who believe the first person to do so (albeit not in one trip) may have been expedition member Enrique of Malacca, who left the expedition to return home.
  • While the Spanish Empire and Spanish Inquisition were viewed in a resoundingly negative light in other countries for a long time, it's now believed that the bad reputation Spain had was the result of demonization campaigns by Spain's rivals.
  • The claim that Hernan Cortes was mistaken for a god by the Aztecs, once widely accepted, is now viewed in the historical community as something that's at best debatable. Skeptics point to the fact that the story seems to originate from a much older Cortés' chaplain and secretary, López de Gómara, who had never even been to Mexico, and that none of Cortés' surviving writings mention anything about being thought of as divine.
  • It was believed that Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha from the Ottoman Empire was married to Hatice Sultan, the sister of Suleiman the Magnificent, though this was based on conjecture and scanty evidence. In the late 2000s, research done by scholar Ebru Turan brought up a woman called Muhsine Hatun and discovered references to her in multiple Venetian and Ottoman texts, including a letter signed by her to Ibrahim. It is now generally accepted that Muhsine Hatun was his wife, and no marriage to the sultan's sister existed.
  • The eventful and controversial reign of Henry VIII has engendered many myths:
    • Whig history often depicted Henry as "Bluff King Hal", a jolly Falstaffian monarch whose general good cheer was interrupted only by the tragic necessity of sending his whoring wives to the Tower. In reality, Henry was a complex, mercurial hypochondriac with a horrific temper and a complete inability to accept criticism or see himself as he really was. It was his courtiers who were forced to display forced jolliness, lest Henry's temper be directed against them. Some of his later reputation may have been based on the fact that he was incapable of overt deceit. Even if true, this wouldn't make him bluff but sneaky.
    • It was also said that Henry was unusual in that he had more wives than mistresses and was attentive to his wives - at least before he divorced or beheaded them. Evidence from the Letters and Papers of Henry's reign tell a different story: payoffs to numerous women, more grants of land to his laundresses' bastard children than a baron would normally receive, etc.
    • Yet the same historians who claimed Henry was a paragon of marital devotion also claimed that he suffered from syphilis, with the sore on his leg as evidence of the infection. The Letters and Papers again tell a different story. Syphilis was the HIV of the early 16th century; it beggars belief that Henry's team of experienced, educated physicians would have missed the most obvious diagnosis of their time. But Henry's apothecary bills show that he was never treated with any drug that was used to fight syphilis at the time. As for the sore on Henry's leg, there's some evidence that it was much worse than previously thought; instead of a single sore on one shin, both of Henry's lower legs were apparently covered in abscesses. Whether this was caused by a bone infection or by a combination of varicose veins and diabetes is anyone's guess.
    • The belief that Henry went through six wives because he was a misogynist has also been called into question. Henry's father took the throne after the long series of Wars of the Roses. These came about because the ruling king was deemed weak and unfit, and there was no clear next in line, setting the stage for various houses to vie for the crown. Henry VII had two sons but one died young (Henry VIII's brother Arthur) which served as a reminder that one heir is not enough. Reportedly on his deathbed he told his surviving son that the most important job of a king was to secure the throne and produce heirs. Henry VIII was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for over two decades and did not seek to divorce her until the prospects of her bearing a son became nil. Anne Boleyn bore a daughter but miscarried a son and was then accused of adultery. Jane Seymour gave birth to a prince but died shortly after. He deemed Anne of Cleves too unattractive and said it would be impossible to get aroused by her and impossible to sire sons. Katherine Howard was believed to have been unfaithful and thus any sons she gave birth to could be suggested not to be the king's. Catherine Parr survived the monarch.
  • Anne Boleyn gets the worst myths, being given a sixth finger, a projecting tooth, a facial defect, and a goitre in the late 16th century (and a third breast in the 20th courtesy of the Book of Lists). None is contemporary. Rather she was said to be attractive by even her enemies (if not the most conventionally beautiful of women). Had Anne suffered from any obvious defects she wouldn't have been sent to court in the first place.
    • Historians long believed that Anne had been born in 1507, which sat well with Whigs who didn't think Henry would marry a woman much over 25 if he wanted to have children with her. But a letter from Anne to her father has been dated to 1513-1514. The content and penmanship imply that Anne was around 13 when she wrote it, pushing her birth back to c. 1501. It may be that the 1507 date came from a document where the "1" was misread as a "7".
  • There is a myth that Jane Seymour died after delivering the future Edward VI via Caesarian section. This sprung up very shortly after Edward's birth; there's even a Child Ballad about it. But there is no evidence either in the historical record; if Edward had been born via Caesarian, Jane wouldn't have survived the birth, let alone been seen by dozens the next day sitting up in bed healthy and hale. There would also be a surgeon's bill in the records, which there is not.
  • Anne of Cleves's ugliness is a myth propagated by Henry himself, who was enraged that she didn't recognize him when he showed up in disguise at her lodgings. Courtiers who wrote home about the controversy said that Anne was perfectly pleasant-looking; one calls her Henry's most attractive queen to date. An X-ray of a painting of Anne shows that she may have had a longer nose than we in modern days would deem attractive, but in Tudor times a long, thin nose was considered a sign of royal blood and therefore widely seen as desirable. There is no contemporary evidence for Anne being ugly, pockmarked, or overweight. She may not have fit Henry's tastes, but that doesn't mean she was unattractive.
  • Catherine Howard was assumed to be older. Most historians had agreed that this painting by Holbein was of Howard, and that the notation proved that she had reached the age of 21 by the time of her arrest. However, it was found that the painting was originally owned by the Cromwell family, who were unlikely to have commissioned a painting of the queen involved in their downfall.note  There's no consensus for Catherine's date of birth, though few historians believe she was over 20 at her execution, and many that she was as young as 16.
  • Catherine Parr was often portrayed by Protestants as well-educated and fluent in Latin and Greek before she married Henry. Recent biographers haven't found evidence that she was particularly erudite, and it appears that she only spoke English when she arrived in court in 1543, and taught herself Latin and Greek so she could read the Bible in its 'original'.
  • Due to his untimely demise, Edward VI is often said to have been a sickly child. But courtiers and ambassadors wrote that he mostly enjoyed good health until he caught measles in his teens. It was this infection that weakened his immune system and caused him to fall ill with a fatal chest infection in 1553.
    • It was once thought that Edward's last days were prolonged by the Duke of Northumberland (Jane Grey's father-in-law) feeding the tuberculous Edward a concoction containing arsenic (keeping him alive but in agony) until he agreed to write a will disinheriting his sisters in favour of Jane. This is nonsense, from a medical standpoint as much as a historical one. For one, it's not certain that Edward had tuberculosis; for another, feeding a patient with terminal TB arsenic is immensely more likely to kill him than to extend his life. Most importantly, we have Edward's notes making it clear that the idea to disinherit Mary and Elizabeth and put the staunchly Protestant, undeniably legitimate Jane on the throne was his own idea, taken before his illness. His first intention was to limit the succession to Jane's sons, but he didn't survive long enough for Jane to have any.
  • Mary Tudor's most pervasive myth is about her false pregnancy. It was only in the early 20th century that the idea of a "phantom pregnancy" arose, but historians and fiction writers ran with it. Current thinking is that Mary had some kind of tumour that caused abdominal swelling.note  As for the "Bloody Mary" sobriquet, it stems from books published by her religious enemies after her death; her sister Elizabeth ordered about three times more executions than Mary did (but also ruled nine times longer).
  • Catherine de' Medici was one of the cruelest royals of the early Renaissance. She followed the (in retrospect, probably sarcastic) advice of Machiavelli, to ensure that her husband and three of her sons ruled France; hundreds of noble and wealthy Frenchmen died either directly at her hand or otherwise. She even arranged for her son Charles to be sexually abused by courtiers in an unsuccessful attempt to turn him gay so that he would die childless and his younger brother Henry (whom she adored) would eventually become king. Given her deservedly bad reputation, it's not surprising that contemporaries in England blamed her for instigating the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Screeds called her a "Catholic bigot" who washed her hands in the blood of Protestants. This is a tough one to be sure - accounts are confusing and the Massacre seems to have been a spur of the moment occurrence, which makes figuring out the responsible difficult. Modern historians believe that the massacre was actually instigated by the Guise family, who feared Catherine's alliance with the Protestant Navarre family. However, Catherine probably bears the brunt of the blame for making the Massacre an honest to God one. As for the Guises, contemporary accounts note that after (quite possibly accidentally) kicking it off by killing Admiral de Coligny, the Duke of Guise went around placing Huguenots under his personal protection - furthermore, he was one of the only Catholic participants to apologize for the affair.
  • It was once generally accepted in both the Western world and the Middle East that the death of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent caused the Ottoman Empire to enter a period of stagnation and decline from which it never recovered. However, starting in the late 1970s, the fundamental assumptions of the so-called Ottoman Decline Thesis were re-examined, and studies over the course of the following two decades led to the rise of a new consensus in the 21st century: that the decline of the Ottoman Empire did not truly begin until significantly later than previously thought, and the period after Suleiman's death marked the beginning of an era of transformation that lasted until around the year 1700.
  • Elizabeth I:
    • There is no evidence of the "Virgin Queen" being accurate or not. Certainly no evidence that she had sex with Robert Dudley. There's also no evidence that she was incapable of bearing children: the old myth that she was born without a vagina (or that she was a man! which would have delighted Henry VIII) is disproved by the numerous examinations she underwent as part of marriage negotiations, often in the presence of foreign ambassadors who would have no reason to keep anything they saw secret.
    • The "she was a man" myth is just sexism, a Victorian fantasy that no woman could have made Elizabeth I's accomplishments, so she must have been a man (compare the "Shakespeare didn't write his plays and poems" conspiracy theory, which was also made up by aristocrats who couldn't fathom a commoner writing their favorite works, around the same time). One version promoted by Bram Stoker in his 1910 book, Famous Imposters, claims the real Elizabeth died of illness as a child and the members of her household forced a farm boy to dress up as her to keep Henry VIII from blaming them. Forgetting for a minute that lots of people died young in those days (Henry himself lost a brother and a sister), concealing such a thing for the entirety of Elizabeth's life would have required such a massive conspiracy as to render it impractical, and raises the question of why a boy would be used in place of a girl anyway.
    • It's known that while she was living with Catherine Parr and her husband Thomas Seymour after Henry's death, she was in some kind of intimate relationship with Seymour. Whig historians blamed her for the liaison, claiming that since Tudor-era girls could marry at age 12, they must have been fully sexual adults at that age, and that Seymour was the victim of a sexually precocious Elizabeth. No wonder Parr sent her away! But not only is this a misreading of Tudor beliefs on marriage and sexuality, it's one of the most obvious victim-blaming exercises in history. Even in Tudor times, a gentleman was supposed to be proper toward any young girl under his roof. He could offer honourable marriage to a ward unrelated to him by marriage or blood, but a stepdaughter was sacrosanct. But it's only in the 21st century that historians have had the detachment to label Seymour's actions as the sexual abuse they most undoubtedly were.
    • Contrary to some claims, Elizabeth, unlike Mary, did not have an unhappy childhood. She was not sent away in disgrace after Anne's execution, in fact Henry VIII was seen playing with her and judged to "love her very much" the Christmas after his marriage to Jane Seymour. Court sycophants praised the young Elizabeth to her father - which they certainly would not have had she been in disfavor. She seems to have spent time at court whenever there was a queen to chaperon her and was living there under the care of Catherine Parr during Henry's last years.
  • Ivan the Terrible blinding architect Postnik Yakovlev after the construction of Saint Basil's Cathedral was complete so that he could never design anything so beautiful again is now considered to be probably a myth, since it's now known that Yakovlev collaborated with Ivan Shir Iai on some projects in Kazan after he finished his work on the famous cathedral.
  • One popular explanation for the existence of the "Black Irish" (a dark-haired phenotype appearing in people of Irish origin) was that they were descended from survivors of the Spanish Armada. However, historical analysis has shown that what few survivors weren't immediately killed or handed over to the English couldn't possibly have left such a large impact on the Irish genome, and genetic analysis suggests that the Black Irish have far deeper roots.
  • The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras were once thought to be ancient agricultural relics that were over 2000 years old. However, they were later found to be from the sixteenth century at the very earliest, developed as a response to Spanish colonization of the islands driving lowlanders up the cordillera, where taro was previously farmed.

    17th century 
  • Once upon a time, the prevailing view was that Australia was completely isolated from the rest of the world until Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon landed there in 1606. Today, it's known that there was (admittedly somewhat isolated) contact with other areas beforehand; perhaps most notably, people from Indonesia and New Guinea visited Australia's north coast, developing trading and social relationships with the Aborigines who lived there.
  • John Smith never mentioned a romance with Pocahontas. This story first appeared in the 1803 book Travels of the United States of America by John Davis and it stuck. Pocahontas (who was actually about 10 when they met) and John Smith were friends, though. Historians agree that Smith was captured by the Powhatan but was released without Pocahontas' involvement; he didn't write that Pocahontas rescued him from death until 1616 in a letter to the queen of Denmark - possibly to build up Pocahontas' reputation as The Chief's Daughter. In 1995, historians pointed out that this story is suspiciously similar to that of the Spaniard Juan Ortiz in Florida, mentioned in the narrative of the De Soto expedition which just happened to be translated and become a best-seller in England a few years before, in 1609.
  • While Jan Pieterszoon Coen was long considered a national hero in the Netherlands, his legacy has become more controversial since the 19th century when certain unpleasant facts about his conduct were brought back to light. Now he's widely criticized for the violence he employed, such as in the final stages of the Dutch conquest of the Banda Islands, which was excessive even by the standards of his time.
  • The conventional black-and-white view of the Galileo affair as a conflict between reason and dogmatism is now considered a gross oversimplification of a more grey-shaded reality, in part because Galileo never actually conclusively proved heliocentrism. Tellingly, he had no answers for the strongest argument against heliocentrism: if the heliocentric model were the truth, there should be observable parallax shifts in the position of the stars as the Earth moved.note  Furthermore, before Galileo's trial began, he received a proposal from cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a staunch defender of heliocentrism, that was actually a brilliant workaround to reconcile Galileo's position with the Church: he could teach heliocentrism as a theoretical model, on the basis that the apparent motions of the planets could be better understood if Earth was imagined as if it rotated around the Sun. However, Galileo was too stubborn to settle on a workaround instead of having his theory accepted as it was.
  • Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba was a ruthless political operator and certainly had blood on her hands, but contemporary historians are by and large skeptical of certain negative claims made about her (that she murdered one of her own servants to prove a point, that she took the throne by having her brother poisoned, that she forced her lovers to fight each other to the death), mostly because they were originally made by her Portuguese enemies.
  • After the death of Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle of Lützen, rumors circulated that he was assassinated by Prince Francis Albert of Saxe-Lauenburg. While these rumors continued to be retold as late as the 19th century, it's now generally accepted that he was killed by enemy fire.
  • Scottish journalist Charles Mackay's 1841 account of Tulip mania was more or less taken as fact for over a century. But in the 1980s, historians and economists began to examine the story with a more critical eye. Nowadays, Mackay's story is generally considered to have been incomplete and inaccurate. For example, the economic fallout from the bubble is now believed to be greatly exaggerated; contrary to claims that Dutch commerce suffered a severe shock, there's no evidence that anyone besides a relative handful of merchants and craftsmen were seriously affected by the bubble. Some of the anecdotes he recounts are also now considered very unlikely; for example, the story about a foreign sailor who ate a tulip bulb thinking it was an onion and got locked up for it was probably a lie, since tulip bulbs taste bad and are poisonous if not prepared properly.
  • Rembrandt's iconic painting Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq was thought to be a night scene for a very long time, hence more common (and succinct) name The Night Watch. However, after World War II, it was discovered to be coated in a dark varnish.
  • For a long time, it was believed that Oliver Cromwell's son Oliver Cromwell II died in a skirmish. But in the 20th century, letters were rediscovered proving that he died of smallpox.
  • Once, it was nearly universally held that the Han Chinese managed to "sinicize" their Manchu conquerors, leading to the idea that the Qing dynasty was run by people who were Chinese in their thoughts and institutions. Nobody seriously doubts that there was strong Chinese influence on the Manchu: Manchu people today are overwhelmingly Chinese speakers, while native Manchu speakers count a few hundreds at best. However, the opening of Chinese archives in the 1990s led to the growth of a competing theory: that the Qing merely manipulated their subjects, used Central and North Asian models of rule as much as they did Confucian ones, and regarded China as only a part (though admittedly a very large and important part) of a much wider empire that extended well into Inner Asia. While there are critics of this new theory, one of the most prominent being the Chinese-American academic Ping-ti Ho, the older conception of the Qing dynasty is now considered debatable.
  • When historian John Fiske came up with the name "The Golden Age of Piracy" in 1897, he defined it as lasting 70 years, spanning the era between 1650 and 1720. Between 1909 and the 1990s, the trend for defining the age was one towards narrowing its scope, with some defining it as lasing only ten years or even less. However, in the new millennium, influential research suggested that Fiske was closer to the truth after all and may have actually been underestimating its length (some scholars have proposed ending dates as late as 1730, a full decade after Fiske said it ended), even if the idea of the Golden Age has changed to less of a singular period and more of a series of similar but distinct phases.
  • Nowadays, it's believed that the idea of the Great Fire of London putting an end to the Great Plague is a myth. By 1666, the plague was already on its way out, and the city had been on the road to recovery for more than six months. That being said, it did help bring about conditions that helped mitigate the impact of future outbreaks; London was rebuilt to better standards and more sanitary conditions prevailed.
  • Traditionally, it has been said that the Sikhs saved the Hindus from the depravations of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Rediscovered information shows that things were more complicated: the Sikhs initially took up arms to defend themselves, the Sikh leadership were more reliant on Hindu Rajputs to train their troops and fight for them than previously thought, and some Sikhs (perhaps most notably Guru Har Rai’s eldest son Ram Rai) actually fought on the side of the Mughals against their fellow Sikhs.
  • The Enlightenment was interpreted in the post-revolutionary and early modern era as embodying a largely aristocratic culture and society. The dominant image is still a bunch of cosmopolitan individuals gathering in a salon hosted by liberal nobles and later trickling down to upstart middle-class societies who wanted to be The Team Wannabe and who later misinterpreted ideas during the Revolution, at least as seen by the pro-Enlightenment Anglophones. This exploded when Robert Darnton published The Literary Underground of the Old Regime and explored the fact that many Enlightenment ideas and works proliferated to ordinary people via pirated books or in some cases disguised as cheap pulp and pornography, some of them written by Enlightenment types like Mirabeau specifically to flout censorship and pass Beneath Suspicion, and this played a crucial role in spreading and disseminating ideas to a larger audience than previously envisioned.
  • The accounts of multiple great waves in the earthquake that destroyed the Jamaican city of Port Royal were once thought to be exaggerated. That is, until until geological surveys of the area showed that it was indeed possible for a tsunami to enter the harbor, hit one side, rebound, hit the other side, rebound and repeat.

    18th century 
  • The Will of Peter the Great, a document purporting to show Russian ambitions to dominate Europe, is now known to have been forged by French essayist Charles-Louis Lesur as an attempt to justify Napoleon's invasion of Russia.
  • King George III's madness was once thought to be a result of Royal Inbreeding. Now, however, it's generally believed to have been a side effect of porphyria, a disease that has nothing to do with inbreeding.
  • Some myths about the Battle of Culloden are now understood to be just that:
    • Not only were not all the Highlanders swordsmen, it seems likely that most of them weren't. Only 190 broadswords could be discovered on the battlefield, as opposed to the more than 2,000 muskets that were found.
    • Bayonets were not the decisive factor that allowed the government forces to win the battle. One widely-touted eyewitness account reported that the men of Barrell’s and Munro’s regiments killed one or two men each with their bayonets, but some quick math makes this seem very dubious. Barrell’s numbered just over 300 men; supposing the estimate is correct, that means this regiment alone accounted for 3-600 enemy casualties with just their bayonets. This doesn’t tally. Nor does the historical record. Cumberland instructed his infantry to stab into the body of the man opposing the soldier to his right. This proved effective at first but in fact, while it blunted the Jacobite charge, it neither stopped it nor repelled it. The Clans cut clean through the centre of Barrell’s and were only stopped by the concentrated firepower of the second line.
    • Lord George Murray, one of the Jacobite commanders, later claimed that the plain, open flatness of the battlefield inordinately favored the English cavalry and artillery while proving unsuitable for the Highlanders. This was accepted as fact for many years, but is now not considered credible because the Highlanders had fought and won on much flatter ground at Prestonpans. In reality, the problem was the boggy state of the field, which actually disadvantaged both sides.
    • While it was once thought that most of the Jacobite casualties occurred at the hands of the government artillery, it's now known that the artillery's effectiveness has been greatly exaggerated. True, it played an important role in provoking the fateful charge, but the softness of the ground prevented the cannonballs from bouncing as they should have. In fact, the artillery didn't become effective until they switched to canister shot after the clans charged. Because of this, estimates have been lowered from a 30 minute-long barrage of unanswered cannon fire that killed hundreds to a bombardment that lasted 15 minutes at most and only killed 150 at a maximum.
    • One popoular legend claims that the three regiments of Clan MacDonald on the left flank didn't close with the enemy because they never charged. The story goes that they were in a snit about Lord George allocating the right flank to the Atholl battalions and refused to obey orders. However, while it's true that they failed to strike a blow against the government forces, it's not because they didn't charge. What really happened is more complicated. They stubbornly refused to redeploy when the Jacobite line was moved closer to the longitude of the Culwhiniac enclosure, thus accounting for the strange skewed nature of the Jacobite line. When the main charge went in, the MacDonalds also charged... but they had further to run and they encountered knee-deep bogs in the terrain they had to cover, which impeded their momentum. Thus, when they met with the steady platoon volleys of the Royals and Pulteney’s regiments, their advance was checked and they were forced to withdraw by the movement of the enemy cavalry.
  • Mason Locke "Parson" Weems wrote a hagiographic biography of George Washington that contained many anecdotes about him that later became iconic, such as him refusing to lie about chopping down a cherry tree and praying in the snow at Valley Forge. While these stories were generally accepted as true for many years, they are now considered apocryphal, probably invented out of whole cloth by Weems to provide moral instruction to America's youth.
  • As the United States came into increasing conflict with Native Americans over the course of the 19th century, Daniel Boone was falsely characterized as a man who hated Indians and killed them by the score. In reality, Boone respected Native Americans and was respected by them, and by his own admission could only be sure of ever killing a grand total of three Amerindians.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
    • Mozart's composition method was the subject of myths in the 19th century, with a prevalent claim being that he composed entirely in his head and then wrote the music down in a single draft. However, the rediscovery of earlier drafts of his compositions has since proven that his sheet music went through numerous revisions.
    • The idea that Mozart was buried in a pauper's grave is now generally understood to have been based on a misunderstanding of funeral practices in 18th century Vienna. While it's true that he was buried in the same plot as several other people, this was standard practice for middle-income families at the time; the burial was organized and dignified, a far cry from the images of corpses being unceremoniously dumped into an open pit now synonymous with "mass graves". His remains really were later dug up and moved somewhere else to make room for more burials, but once again, this was commonly done due to grave space being at a premium in Viennese cemeteries; it had nothing to do with the wealth and status of those interred.
  • One popular myth is that the kangaroo got its name when James Cook and Joseph Banks asked a local Aborigine what it was called, and the local responded with "kangaroo", which actually meant "I don't understand". This was disproven in 1972, when linguist John B. Haviland in his research with the Guugu Yimithirr people was able to confirm that "gangurru" referred to a rare large dark-coloured species of kangaroo.
  • The American Revolution:
    • It was widely believed that the Revolution was caused solely due to the imposition of British taxes without any representation from the colonists, who held no power in the American colonies. While taxation is still considered to be a major reason behind the revolution, more recent historians cite the Seven Years' War as sowing the seeds for America's independence, as not only did the war drain Britain's economy and lead them to impose heavy taxes on America in the first place, but the Proclamation of 1763 forbade any settlement west of the Appalachians, in order to prevent future conflicts with Native Americans. This angered colonists, who were eager to settle new lands. In addition, the British were initially lenient on colonists who wouldn't pay taxes; it wasn't until the Tea Act of 1773 that they began to enforce these new taxes, which became the straw that broke the camel's back and caused revolution to erupt.
    • While the basic facts of Paul Revere's ride are relatively well known, their interpretation has gone back and forth based more upon the tenor of the times and the personal slant of historians than the known facts of the event itself. A recent history devoted nearly a third of the book to the perpetual debate between Revere's skeptics and partisans. What's certain is that most people get their view of Revere from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem. It gets a lot wrong, the most crucial being that he didn't actually get to his destination. He was arrested, while another rider was the one who got through. But "Revere" rhymed best, so he got the credit (the successful rider in reality was the far more obscure Dr. Samuel Prescott).
    • When 1776 was written, not a lot of information about James Wilson was available. The playwrights tossed in a bit of Artistic License and created a climax where his desire to remain a nobody is the crucial factor in him breaking with Dickinson and voting for independence. They note in the DVD Commentary that this was never singled out by historians as a major misstep, but later findings show that James Wilson was a staunch proponent of independence, and that the delay in the vote which the play attributes to stalling techniques by Adams was in reality partially due to Wilson wanting to go home and check that his constituents were all right with his vote.
    • No, the Hessians probably weren't drunk at the Battle of Trenton. While they weren't as alert as they should've been, it's now generally believed that they (or at least most of them) were sober when they were attacked by the Continental Army.
    • The claim that Martha Washington named a feral tomcat after Alexander Hamilton to make fun of his promiscuity was generally accepted as true for decades, but is now considered dubious due there being no evidence of the story circulating until after Hamilton died. Nowadays, it's widely suspected to be posthumous slander against Hamilton, possibly by John Adams who was still bitter about Hamilton trying to undermine his administration, possibly by vengeful Loyalists who were trying to diminish Hamilton's popularity abroad.
    • Conditions at Valley Forge were indisputably awful, but the idea that inclement weather was a major problem is now considered a myth. While it was once claimed that the encampment was blanketed in snow and many soldiers were killed by frostbite and hypothermia, no contemporary accounts or sources state that death occurred from freezing temperatures alone, even if some soldiers needed amputations. Rather, snowfall occurred infrequently, above-freezing temperatures were regular, and ice was uncommon. Stories of harsh weather are most likely the result of unintentionally conflating Valley Forge with the later winter encampment at Jockey Hollow in New Jersey, which saw the coldest winter of the war. At Valley Forge, disease and a lack of supplies were far bigger problems than the weather.
  • Stories of Thomas Jefferson having children with one of his slaves, a woman named Sally Hemmings, was once considered mere political mudslinging. However, DNA testing has proven that some of her descendants were also descended from a member of the Jefferson family, which almost certainly means that at least some of her children were fathered by Thomas.
  • The French Revolution, being one of the most controversial events in world history, is often periodically updated and revised:
    • Marie Antoinette's spending habits were not a major contribution to the financial crisis that helped cause the revolution. Not only do financial records prove that her spending was actually significantly less than that of many other people at Versailles (and certainly not enough to be one of the main causes of the economic problems facing the country), France's finances were already in a shaky situation before she arrived. While calling her spending extravagant isn't entirely inaccurate (at least taken in a vacuum), it didn't even come close to bankrupting the country; her "Madame Deficit" nickname was undeserved. If she hadn't spent a single livre between 1770 and 1789, the situation still wouldn't have been salvaged. She was simply scapegoated for a number of reasons.
    • On the topic of Antoinette, the idea that the Petit Trianon royal estate was a completely private getaway where she pretended to be a commoner is now considered apocryphal by most serious historians. While it was described as "private" by contemporary sources, it was only private by the standards of a royal estate; her entourage there consisted of "only" a single footman and maybe some friends, which was small compared to the much larger one she had at Versailles. Notably, contemporary depictions of the estate make it clear that there would have been many guests and servants there. There's no evidence to back up the stories that she pretended to be a farm girl, milkmaid, shepherdess, or anything of the sort when she was there either; claims that she did can be dated to 1798 at the absolute earliest, and even that may be too generous. All contemporary evidence points to her running the hameau de la reine the way any elite landowner of the time would have managed a country estate they owned. Contemporary criticism of the hameau was about its secrecy and privacy, about the supposed unethical sexual and political dealings going on there, about its expense; they make no mention of her pretending to be a peasant woman.
    • Revolutionary propaganda claimed that the Storming of the Bastille resulted in the release of numerous mistreated prisoners who were locked up for political reasons. It's now known that at the time of the storming, there were only seven prisoners, none of their imprisonments were political in nature note  and they were treated quite well.
    • The Sans-Culottes weren't exactly the prototypical urban proletariat they were long imagined as. In reality, they were a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits that included shopkeepers, artisans, unemployed youth, low-rent actors, dissident clergy, and even aristocrats who were Slumming It, among others.
    • Mostly thanks to Anglophone portrayals, the Revolution is often painted as undone by revolutionary excess, thanks to misunderstandings of the original Reign of Terror which is almost never presented in its original context of a series of emergency laws to save France from Civil War and invasion. Later historians see the Terror as being part of the Revolution's war effort, calling it the first Total War. They also note that many key reforms happened during this period: increased participation of citizens with the government, restructuring the army, building institutions like the Louvre and Jardin des Plantes, and in 1794, the abolition of slavery. Almost none of this ever gets so much as an acknowledgement, let alone a depiction, outside France itself.
    • While it was long taught that the French nobility was one of the primary victims of the Reign of Terror, this is now known to be not entirely accurate. In reality, only 8% of the Terror's victims were aristocrats (though since the aristocracy made up less than 2% of the population, they still suffered disproportionate casualties), and for most of its existence, the Terror mainly targeted clergy, food hoarders and actual or accused counter-revolutionaries. There was a greater focus on nobles during the "Great Terror" after the Law of 22 Prarial, but even that was abolished in a matter of days after Robespierre fell.
    • Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France was perhaps the most influential commentary on the Revolution in the Anglosphere and is still heavily cited by the most conservative commentators. However, Burke is no longer taken seriously by the majority. Alfred Cobban, a conservative historian himself, noted that Burke did very poor research on France, basing his work on memories of a single visit to the country. Burke's defenders argue that he predicted the Reign of Terror, but the Terror was a consequence of the declaration of war, made by the Girondins and supported by Louis XVI (i.e. the more traditionalist side) and opposed by radicals like Marat and Robespierre. In addition, the essay is dated for its classist dismissal of the Third Estate as malicious rabble and "Jew brokers", and its echoing of Augustin Barruel's Conspiracy Theory that The Illuminati and Freemasons orchestrated the Revolution as part of a ploy to overthrow Christendom.
      Alfred Cobban: "As literature, as political theory, as anything but history, [Burke's] Reflections is magnificent."
    • Maximilien Robespierre is was once often depicted as a proto-Lenin and/or a proto-Stalin, when Robespierre never had anything near that level of influence and authority in actual policy-making. David A. Bell remarked that "No serious historian of the French Revolution of the past century has accepted the idea that Robespierre ever exercised a true personal dictatorship." But thanks to Hollywood History and Robespierre being far more well known than other revolutionaries, this fact has yet to trickle down to the common public.
    • Speaking of Robespierre, for many years, it was said that the Reign of Terror ended after his fall from power. Today's historians take a more nuanced view. While it's true that certain laws and procedures were abolished after he and his supporters were executed, the mechanisms of the Terror continued to operate for many months.
    • The Revolution has also been misunderstood as being a case of "anarchy" and mob rule with the masses rising against the nobles. In reality, the French Revolution was predominantly a middle-class revolution. The most radical major party, the Jacobins, advocated for what we would call free market capitalism. The Parisian mob so often sentimentalized and demonized rather was a highly literate community for the era (Paris had an almost entirely literate male population). More left-wing factions were actually repressed by the Jacobins.
  • The 1790 Footprints, a set of footprints discovered near Kīlauea on the island of Hawaiʻi, were long thought to have been left by retreating war parties led by the warlord Keōua Kūʻahuʻula that are known to have been in the area during an eruption that year. However, a 2008 forensic study determined that many of the footprints were actually left by women and children, strongly indicating that at least some of them can be attributed to everyday activities rather than warfare.
  • The Haitian Revolution:
    • It used to be generally thought that Haiti's population of black slaves always wanted independence. But it's now known that the majority actually supported continued French rule initially, because the first calls for independence came from slave owners, and the slaves justifiably feared even harsher treatment from their masters without the threat of retribution from the French government to keep their abuses in check.
    • The story used to go that Haiti's population was divided by race. While not wrong, per se, that view is now known to be a considerable simplification of how things actually were. The white population was divided based on classnote  and originnote . As for the black population, it was also divided between the free and the slaves, as well as between those born in Haiti and those born in Africa (the former tended to view the latter as "savages", while the latter considered the former "lapdogs") and between Christians and Voudoun practitioners. Only the free people of color could really be called united.

    19th century 
  • The media following King Solomon's Mines that feature lost and always foreign civilizations in the mists of Darkest Africa:
    • These myths have their roots in the plain racist interpretation of Great Zimbabwe after its discovery by European explorers in the late 19th century, who stated that the place was "too advanced" to have been built by the "obviously primitive" black Africans. This view was debunked by archaeologists as early as 1905. When the hardline white minority regime came to power in Rhodesia, they promoted the myth of Great Zimbabwe as having been built by a "lost" white or Asian civilization to the extent that archaeologists excavating there had their work interfered with by the government who were keen to suppress anything which contradicted the official story, which persisted until white minority rule in Rhodesia came to an end... in 1979.

      Also, Great Zimbabwe wasn't really discovered in the late 19th century so much as rediscovered. The place had been visited and documented plenty by the Portuguese in the 16th century, when it wasn't abandoned, and there was even an unfortunate Englishman named Jonas Wright who traveled there during a civil war, in 1632, and was killed. Making Great Zimbabwe any mystery required a big deal of self-delusion from the beginning. It wasn't the only time this happened in the history of European exploration in Africa: James Bruce's account of his "discovery" of the Blue Nile's source spends a few lines trying to convince the reader that two Iberian Jesuits who had been there more than a hundred years earlier, Pedro Páez and Jerónimo Lobo, totally weren't, when not plain insulting them. Unfortunately for Bruce, not even his nation's historians agree with him anymore.
    • The Benin Bronzes were apparently also the subject of crackpot "lost civilization" nonsense by European racists who refused to believe that they had been created by Africans.
    • Ethiopia's famous monolithic churches were widely speculated to have been built by Arab, Egyptian and Iranian Christians exiled to the Horn of Africa, even though the Ethiopians maintained the tradition of carving them out and haven't stopped doing so in the 21st century, let alone the 19th.
  • Similarly to the above, the Mound Builders and other advanced civilizations in the Americas were later denied by Europeans as being Native American, a view which thrived in the 19th century. They ignored even the accounts from Spanish and French explorers who'd met the people there, or those who knew them, in previous centuries, instead positing that they were actually Europeans, Chinese, Phoenicians, Indians (from India), or Jews (the ten lost tribes of Israel-this theory was used in The Book of Mormon for instance). Tropes like Precursors and Ancient Astronauts are often recycled versions of these, just replacing Old Worlders with aliens.
    • Critical to this was the still persistent myth of the "empty America", a.k.a. the stereotype that North America was wholly inhabited by small bands of nomadic, egalitarian hunter-gatherers until the Europeans arrived. This naturally tied into ideas of European innate superiority and how colonists were morally entitled to drive the natives away because they were incapable of making anything productive out of the land. We know now that the Midwest and the Southern US were instead occupied by highly populated and stratified agricultural societies from about 800 to 1600 A.D., and that these presumably collapsed as a result of epidemics and increased warfare brought (ironically) by the introduction of European horses, iron, gunpowder - and the early European colonies' own demand for pelts and slaves. Thus the nomadic plains tribes later encountered by colonists as they crossed the Appalahians were actually the recent few, Mad Max-esque survivors of their collapsed civilization, rather than an example of how things had always been.
    • Archaeologists are just starting to find evidence that the same happened in the Amazon, and that Orellana wasn't exaggerating when he claimed to have seen large settlements while sailing along the course of the river (as he's been assumed for centuries).
  • Much like the "empty America" myth, the idea that Siberia was underpopulated until its colonization by Russia is now considered discredited and outdated. Russian explorers, merchants and missionaries (along with the Cossack hunters and fighters often credited with colonizing Siberia) unintentionally introduced new diseases that devastated the indigenous Siberians; some populations may have declined as much as 80%.
  • Lost continents such as Atlantis also stem from outdated ideas. It was originally thought that land masses such as this were needed to explain similar plants and animals on multiple continents, with the lost ones between acting as bridges. Cultural similarities were also claimed between Egyptian and Mayan people among others, having a common descent from the Atlanteans.note  The former were debunked by the discovery of continental drift, with the latter going as well after more knowledge from these cultures was found, with no evidence to show they had a common origin along with distinct differences, or debunking most claimed similarities. However, by then it had been taken up by occult groups and is still thriving among fringe pseudo-history theorists.
  • One myth that gained great popularity in the 19th century UK was the idea that the British people were descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Ancient Israel. This is now considered psuedohistorical, with the evidence used to support it thought to be based in coincidence and misinterpretation. Ironically, despite the theory originally being used by Jews and philo-Semites to promote the idea of a commonality between the British and Jewish peoples, it later gave rise to the anti-Semitic Christian Identity movement.
  • The Two Babylons, a notorious anti-Catholic screed claiming that the Catholic Church was in fact the continuation of an Ancient Conspiracy started by the Biblical monarchs Semiramis and Nimrod to propagate Babylonian religious beliefs and pracitices around the world, was once taken seriously by many. Now, however, its conclusions are believed to have been based on misunderstandings and conjecture. For example, the idea that the word "Easter" is derived from the name of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar is now considered merely a textbook case of folk etymology.
  • Napoléon Bonaparte and The Napoleonic Wars:
    • Napoleon is now believed to have been of about average height for a man of his era. The commonly held Anglosphere idea that he was short is derived from the fact that the French foot was longer than the English foot, so the English unknowingly shaved a few inches off his height after seeing reports of how tall he was. Other possible factors were his Affectionate Nickname le petit caporal and the fact that he was often surrounded by members of the Old Guard (who were mostly of above average height, making him look shorter in comparison).
    • A once-popular myth about the Ulm campaign is that Austrian and Russian armies failed to join forces in time because the Austrians used the Gregorian calender while the Russians were still using the older Julian calendar. Some historians have pointed out that this idea is contradicted by the fact that virtually all known Russian correspondence with Austria during the War of the Third Coalition made sure to include both the Gregorian and Julian dates of events as a matter of course. It's now believed things were more complicated than that: the Austrians believed Napoleon would choose to give battle in northern Italy, and their planning with the Russians reflected that fact, so both were caught off guard when Napoleon chose to focus his efforts in southern Germany instead.
  • The German Coast uprising of 1811 was long written off as a fight against bandits, if not omitted altogether. Now, though, it's understood as a major slave rebellion. The prevailing theory as to why the truth was suppressed was because an organized, politically sophisticated slave revolt that wasn't wantonly murderous didn't gel with the popular narrative among slaveowners and slavery defenders that holding on to slaves was good for everyone involved.
  • 2021 saw the unearthing of a document detailing the purchase of land that would become Liberia's capital Monrovia, which proved several widely accepted facts about said purchace to be myths.
    • Once it was said that local chieftains rejected the contract because their societies prohibited the purchase and sale of land. The fact that this purchace agreement shows formal approval of the land sale proves this wrong.
    • While it was said that the locals couldn't comprehend the contents of the contract because they had no knowledge of English, there is now proof that at least two of the West African signatories knew at least enough of the language to conduct negotiations in it.
    • The notion that Robert Stockton forced the locals to sign the contract at gunpoint is now known to be based on a misunderstanding. While he did draw his guns during the meeting, it was to ward off two pro-slavery outsiders who tried to sabotage the negotiations. In any event, the signing only happened the day after he drew his guns, so even if he had threatened the rulers he was in talks with, they would've had ample time to mobilize their troops, many of whom had guns of their own.
  • Ranavalona I, Queen of Madagascar, was not viewed in a kind light by foreign contemporaries. They strongly condemned her policies and made her out to be little more than a cruel and xenophobic tyrant, and possiby a madwoman to boot. However, more recent historical analyses have taken a less overtly negative stance on her, with many recharacterizing her as an astute political operator who worked to expand her realm's territory and influence and tried to preserve Malagasy political and cultural sovereignty from European encroachment.
  • British machinations during the Great Game were motivated by fears that Russia would use its expansion into Central Asia as a springboard to threaten the British presence in South Asia. While this was considered a very real possibility even after the original Great Game ended, most contemporary historians believe that Russia had no serious plans for South Asia.
  • Scholarly consensus on the Thuggee seems to be constantly in flux. Were they really motivated by warped devotion to Kali, or were they just after money? Had they existed since antiquity, or did they only arise much later? Were they as divided as they seemed, or were they decentralized cells of a larger organization? Did they even exist at all?
  • Like George III's porphyria, Queen Victoria's status as a carrier of hemophilia was also originally blamed on Royal Inbreeding. As is the case with George's porphyria, hemophilia is caused by a single mutated gene and is therefore not more common in inbred populations. The mutation is believed to have first occurred spontaneously in the gametes (=eggs/sperm) of either of Victoria's parents, making her the first person in her family ever to have the mutation. It’s now believed the mutation probably came from her father since he was in his early fifties when she was born and these types of mutations tend to pop up in the children of older fathers. Thus, inbreeding would have absolutely nothing to do with it. If anything, it's interbreeding with Victoria's daughters that spread hemophilia to so many other nations' royals, whether they were previously related to her or not. American television shows love this trope, though.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's reputation as a depraved, drunk, drug-addled madman is now known to stem from character assassination by his literary rival Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who wrote a slanderous biography of Poe full of distortions and outright lies after Poe's mysterious death in 1849. This biography was treated with undeserved credibility for a long time and became the standard for characterization of Poe.
  • Inuit accounts that some members of Franklin's lost expedition resorted to cannibalism to survive were once largely considered unreliable. However, in 1992, Canadian researchers discovered the skeletal remains of some expedition members that showed evidence of having been cannibalized, most notably cut marks on bones consistent with de-fleshing. On the basis of this evidence, it's now accepted that the Inuit were right and at least some among the men turned to eating their own dead in desperation.
  • The Revolutions of 1848 were once considered largely failures. However, it's now believed that they had more success than previously thought. Governments were forced to change how they acted or at least presented themselves, and the revolutionaries did obtain some political successes, both immediately (such as the end of feudalism in Austria and Prussia) and in the longer term (greater self-determination for the Hungarians).
  • Empress Dowager Cixi's reputation in her own lifetime and for some decades afterwards, both within China and abroad, was that of a cruel, self-serving, reactionary despot more concerned with prolonging the existence of the ailing Qing dynasty and using state resources for her own benefit than the wellbeing of her country and people, who played no small part in China's downward spiral during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This traditional appraisal, however, was called into serious question by revisionist historians starting in the 1970s. Through examination of primary sources, it has become clear that much of her bad reputation comes from backdoor gossip and misrepresentation. Within China, both Nationalist and Communist historians scapegoated her for deep-rooted problems that created a virtually unsalvagable situation; while in the Western world, Orientalist stereotypes were a contributing factor to her villification. Many historians have painted a more nuanced portrait of her as a charming, shrewd, and conscientious administrator and political operator who had to balance multiple internal and external influences and whose leadership was probably the best option China had at the time. She was also not as anti-reform as she has often been painted; she was involved in the abolition of slavery and torture in China, and led a program of sweeping political change whose main flaw was not being implemented until late in the Qing dynasty's decline.
  • The American Civil War:
    • After the war, it became a common refrain (especially in Lost Cause mythology) that the Confederate states seceded partly or even entirely for reasons other than slavery, the most popular one being states' rights. However, examination of primary sources reveals that the Confederate politicians were motivated largely if not completely by wanting to preserve slavery in perpetuity, which is why they were so reluctant to accept proposals that they boost their dwindling manpower by giving slaves their freedom in exchange for service in the Confederate military. Their supposed committment to states' rights now considered particularly laughable since the federal government of the Confederacy actually passed laws prohbiting any of its constituent states from abolishing slavery, showing where their priorities truly lied.
    • On a related note, a popular idea rose in the 1920s that the Confederacy's supposed commitment to states' rights prevented the Confederate states from properly coordinating with each other and the Confederate central government, which hamstrung their war effort. This is now considered a myth: while the Confederacy did have problems with internal divisions, the impact they had is believed to have been exaggerated, and the Union also had serious internal divisions.
    • Robert E. Lee's traditional reputation is now believed to have been overblown. Not many seriously doubt that he was a talented commander, but it's thought that he wasn't as talented as once thought. While it was once thought that his defeats on the battlefield were the result of incompetence and/or disobedience by his subordinates (with James Longstreet in particular taking flack due to some of his postwar statements and actions), the fact that Lee willingly accepted the blame for them during his own lifetime combined with scholarly analysis of his tactics and strategies have shown that he wasn't quite the infallible general he was often made out to be.
    • It was traditionally held that the Confederate leadership was qualitatively superior to their Union counterparts, an advantage the Union overcame through its quantitative edge, overwhelming the Confederacy with its greater manpower, bank deposits, and industrial capacity. While these advantages certainly played a key role in the eventual Union victory, the idea that the Confederate generals were straight-up superior is now considered an exaggeration, or at least a simplification. Many Union generals, like William Tecumseh Sherman and George Henry Thomas, are now considered to have been very good commanders in their own right, while quite a few prominent Confederate generals (such as Braxton Bragg and Gideon Pillow) are now believed to have been straight-up incompetent.
    • Contrary to the idea that Union generals won largely by sending wave after wave of troops into the meatgrinder, it's now known that Confederate casualty rates were actually significantly higher than Union ones. Ulysses S. Grant in particular was unfairly labeled a "butcher" who won mainly through brute force; starting in the 1950s, the view among historians has increasingly shifted towards him being a calculating and skillful strategist and commander who had the talent to utilize the Union's potential advantages and understood how to wage war in an age of industry better than many of his contemporaries.
    • Nowadays, it's known that the use of "hooker" as slang for a prostitute doesn't come from Joseph Hooker hiring prostitutes to service his soldiers. This use of the word with its popular meaning occurred in print as early as 1845, and likely comes from the fact that the Corlear's Hook area of Manhattan was a notorious Red Light District in the early 19th century.
    • Gettysburg as the war's main turning point is now considered a flawed idea by many historians, as it ignores the impact Union victories in Tennessee and Mississippi had. Even those who believe it did mark a turning point in the overall war generally say a large part of its impact was due to it happening the day before Vicksburg's surrender, which meant the Confederacy had been put on the backfoot in the Eastern Theater at the worst possible time.
    • While the Union's conduct during the war was by no means spotless, the stories of maruading Union troops are now believed to be exaggerations. Evidence suggests that the worst offenses were generally perpetrated by opportunistic criminals and pro-Union partisans and paramilitaries, not by Union regulars.
  • The Dunning School of Reconstruction, which held that granting blacks the vote and the right to hold office had been a mistake and Radical Republican efforts to reform the postwar South were just a means of attacking it after it had already lost the war, dominated scholarly and popular depictions of the era from the 1900s to the 1930s. However, its fundamental precepts were re-examined as the African-American civil rights movement gained steam in the mid-20th century and found to be wanting. While it was true that corruption and oppression were problems, the bad parts of Reconstruction were blown out of proportion while the more positive elements were minimized or twisted. One recurring thread that got particular criticism was the characterization of freedmen as either ignorant dupes who were used and abused by unscrupulous whites (both Northern carpetbaggers and Southern scalawags) or unthinking savages whose depredations threatened civilized society. New attention was paid to the role African-Americans played in shaping the course of events as this racist attempt to diminish their capacity as independent actors capable of constructive activity fell out of favor.
  • Spurious precision exaggerated the Paraguayan casualties of the War of the Triple Alliance. The traditional view was that Paraguay lost 84% of its pre-war population. This estimate was based partly on anecdotal evidence and partly on an 1857 census that is now known to have accidentally or purposely inflated the country's population. While the number of casualties will probably never be known for certain (though just about everyone agrees that military-aged males suffered disproportionate losses) and even the lowest estimates are pretty terrible in their own right (a country losing 7% of its population is certainly nothing to sneeze at), figures of more than 69% are now considered unlikely at best.
  • The Wild West:
    • It's now believed that the Old West probably wasn't as violent or "wild" as generally imagined. The overall homicide rate was actually rather low in most places, about 1.5 murders per year per average western town. Additionally, those murders weren't likely to be committed with guns and gunfights/shootouts/duels in general were not as common as is thought due to many frontier towns putting restrictions on guns. However, death from diseases like cholera, dysentery, and tuberculosis, or in an accident like being kicked/dragged by your own horse, makes for far less compelling media.
    • The west is accepted as having been much more racially diverse in modern times than in years past or in the media. Ther are estimates that anywhere from about 30-50% of cowboys were black, Hispanic, or Native American. The media is still quite far behind on this matter as well.
  • 19th century German historians promoted what is now known as the Borussian myth, the idea that German unification was inevitable and it was Prussia's destiny to accomplish it. After World War II, this myth was deconstructed and analyzed, and is now considered merely an attempt to work backwards and rationalize why German history took the course it did.
  • Assessments of George Armstrong Custer have shifted over the years. While he initially received critcism after his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, it wasn't long before the public saw him as a tragic military hero, due in no small part to a number of hagiographic books written about him by his widow Elizabeth. The disaster was frequently blamed on Marcus Reno's alleged cowardice and Frederick Benteen's alleged tardiness. However, later historians cast a more critical eye on Custer's conduct, pointing to his refusal of reinforcements and leaving behind a battery of gatling guns despite knowing he was facing superior numbers, as well as his decision to divide his command. Though Custer still has a number defenders, the "tragic hero" Custer is no longer the consensus. The more critical view has bled into the mainstream, with many works of fiction and popular history characterizing him as a reckless, arrogant Glory Hound who needlessly got himself and hundreds of his men killed.
  • For a long time, it was believed that one of the key reasons for the British defeat at Isandlwana was that the soldiers ran out of ammunition because Quartermaster Bloomfield dispensed reserve bullets to soldiers in an absurdly slow, "orderly" fashion. However, it appears this story is exaggerated, if not a myth; while Durnford's Native troops did ran out of ammunition, it was mostly because they had been deployed too far from the camp to ensure a steady supply of ammo, not Bloomfield's poor handling of supply. Most British units closer to the main camp were able to keep up a steady stream of fire until they were overrun, as attested by both British and Zulu accounts of the battle. A related myth is that Bloomfield and his aides weren't able to open the ammo boxes because the commissary had misplaced their screwdrivers; even if this had been the case, the boxes could've easily been broken open with rifle butts or other tools.
  • The Chicago cholera epidemic of 1885, which is claimed to have killed up to 90,000 Chicagoans after a thunderstorm washed polluted water into Lake Michigan. Historian Libby Hill debunked this in her 2000 book The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History, showing that there were no contemporary records of such an epidemic; no more than 1,000 Chicagoans died from cholera, typhoid or other diseases in 1885. Hill's book hasn't stopped newspapers, novelists and even historians from propagating the claim, including Erik Larson's popular nonfiction book The Devil in the White City.
  • While the First and Second Boer Wars are commonly though of as "white men's wars" (even when they took place), in more recent times increasing scholarly efforts have been undertaken to document the role black Africans in the region played in the conflicts, both as military personnel and non-combatants. Black people living in the Boer Republics were also forced into concentration camps, though they were separated from interned Afrikaners; Africans were also the victims of massacres (at the hands of Boer forces) and forced labor during the war.
  • Painters and musicians of the 18th and 19th century were captivated by Orientalism, and especially by the concept of the Turkish harem. They were enraptured by the idea of hundreds of beautiful young concubines or "odalisques" loitering around in various states of undress, fawned on by cringing slaves and guarded by eunuchs, all existing solely for the pleasure of the Sultan. The best-known works influenced by this are probably Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio and Ingres's Grand Odalisque.
    • We now know, of course, that the Real Life Turkish harem was very different from the imaginations of these artists; most inhabitants were older female relatives of the sultan or of previous sultans, and the concubines that did live in the harem were often left to wither on the branch, most sultans being either too old, too drunk, or too uninterested to make use of them. In fact, non-castrated men were generally forbidden to enter the harem, which included the sultan himself. The task of choosing his bed mate generally fell to his mother.
    • The majority of women in the Seraglio weren't on the concubine track at all, but engaged in various professions necessary to the running of the Sultan's household. A woman could make a nice little fortune for herself and look forward to eventual retirement and marriage.
  • Vincent van Gogh's last painting was once believed to be Wheatfield with Crows. However, new studies conducted in 2020 have cast this into doubt, and a competing theory that Tree Roots was his final painting has gained significant credence.
  • Some beliefs about the beatified Chilean girl Laura Vicuña are now known to be inaccurate:
    • For many years that included the time of her beatification, no photograph of her was known to exist. This meant that representations of her were derived from a portrait painted by Italian artist Caffaro Rore, which was based on an account of Laura's appearance by her younger sister Julia decades after the fact. This portrait made her appear very European-looking, and other depictions followed suit. However, a rediscovered school picture of Laura has made it clear that she was actually Mestizo and looked it, and church depictions have been changed to match.
    • Popular accounts of Laura's life and death have been debunked by biographers Bernhard Maier and Ciro Brugna, who have pointed out multiple inaccuracies, especially in regards to Laura's father José Domingo. Unlike in the earlier accounts, he never legally married her mother Mercedes Pino and didn't die before the family moved to Argentina; in actuality, he outlived Laura, as shown in rediscovered notes saying that Laura actually offered her life for both her parents.
  • While the notion that Bram Stoker based Dracula on Vlad the Impaler has been seriously discussed since at least 1958, it was the 1972 publication of In Search of Dracula that popularized it. However, the rediscovery of Stoker's notes has cast this idea into doubt:
    • The notes give no indication that Stoker even knew Vlad the Impaler existed. According to them, he got the name from the book An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, which contained references to multiple voivodes known as "Dracula" and a footnote claiming that "Dracula" meant "Devil" and was a name given by Wallachians to people who were particularly courageous, cruel or cunning. This strongly indicates that he chose the name because of its devilish associations, not because of the history and legends attached to its owner.
    • For that matter, the idea that there was a singular model for Dracula has itself come under attack. More likely, he was a composite containing aspects of multiple people, both historical figures and people Stoker knew personally.
    • We now know a great deal of where Stoker's knowledge of vampire lore came from. He consulted numerous books on superstitions and added a few inventions of his own to make his vampires stand out from others. We also know more about how the novel changed over time. Originally, the count wasn't from Transylvania at all; he was from Styria in Austria. And before he came across the name Dracula, it appears Stoker was calling his vampire Count Wampyr. There are actually multiple places where the name "Wampyr" is crossed out and replaced with "Dracula". If Stoker had based Dracula on Vlad, it seems likely that he would've been named that from the beginning. The evidence points to Dracula being an amalgam like many other fictional characters, a mix of information Stoker found interesting and ideas he developed on the way. Dracula isn't even representative of one European state: he's a pinch of Transylvanian folklore with a Wallachian name, a Hungarian ethnic background and a feudal estate straight out of English Gothic Horror.

    20th Century 
  • While it was once believed that Ty Cobb was one of the most violent and racist individuals to ever play baseball, it's now generally accepted among historians that his bad reputation was based on sensationalized and even outright fictionalized biographies. Cobb really did get into a number of fights, but his reputation for violence was exaggerated and what he did wasn't as extreme by the standards of the time as it would be today; though it's true that he assaulted a heckler, that was hardly uncommon in those days. Not only was he not as violent as claimed, he was also an advocate for racial equality, in contrast to the once-accepted image of him as a virulent racist, and his advocacy was recognized and praised in black newspapers of the era. He noted his approval when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and called Roy Campanella one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.
  • For over 70 years, it was taken for granted that ill-fated Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott was a brave and noble hero undone by bad weather and bad luck. That changed dramatically with the publication of a 1979 book called Scott and Amundsen (later re-titled The Last Place on Earth) which characterized Robert Scott as a bungler out of his depth. According to this view Scott made a series of blunders which led to the deaths of him and his party, including: using ponies that were ill-suited for polar conditions (and getting weak, poor-quality ponies at that) when he had been advised to use dogs, deciding to rely on man-hauling sledges to the Pole instead of using dogs, failing to ensure that the motorized sledges would actually work, failing to lay enough fuel and supplies, choosing to take a fifth man to the Pole when they had rationed for four, and not issuing clear instructions for a dogsled party to come to his rescue. Full publication of Scott's diaries have also revealed some pretty unflattering passages, including what can only be described as irritation towards Edward Evans for dying. There has been pushback against this view since, with Scott defenders pointing out that he actually did leave orders for a relief party to come get him (although it was phrased to not be a priority), and Scott falling victim to what was, even for the Antarctic, a terrible blizzard. But even as the issue has continued to be debated, it's basically consensus that Scott's party met with failure and disaster, while Amundsen got to the Pole first and got back alive, because Amundsen's expedition was planned better and led better than Scott's.
  • The RMS Titanic sank on a dark, moonless night. Most survivors in lifeboats thought they saw the ship sink in one piece, while the few survivors struggling in the water thought it broke in two. The inquiry into the sinking accepted that the lifeboats had a better vantage point, and it was accepted that the Titanic sank whole. In 1985, however, the ship was found on the ocean floor in two pieces, surrounded by a debris field that could only have been created by the two pieces separating at or near the surface. All movies about the sinking filmed before 1985 show the ship sinking whole, while the ones made afterwards show it splitting before sinking.
    • Clive Cussler's bestseller Raise the Titanic! (published 1976 and set in 1987) imagines the ship in one piece. Furthermore, the book argues that thanks to the icy cold temperatures, the ship would be nearly perfectly preserved and capable of salvaging. Cussler himself wrote in later editions how he was working off the assumptions of the time and how happy he was the novel was finished before the discovery invalidated the entire plot.
    • The Film of the Book was outdated even faster, being released in 1980. Here, the ship has the bridge and three of four funnels intact, and there is even a barely decomposed human body aboard!
    • Raise the Titanic! also mentions the ship having a massive gash across the bow from the iceberg. In reality, the iceberg just pushed in the hull's plating to allow water to seep in (had there been such a huge gash, the ship would have sunk in half the time).
    • Some works written before the wreck was found, like Millennium (1983) by John Varley, have the wreck never being found at all. In this case, the ship and the "casualties" were taken forward in time.
  • The fatalities that occurred as a result of the Colorado Coalfield War are now believed to be significantly higher than official records suggest. Modern estimates vary signficantly, but even the minimum suggested death toll of 69 is more than twice as high as the contemporary figures.
  • Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa signed a contract with Mutual Film Company, one where the studio paid him for the exclusive right to film his troops in battle. This much is true. However, the supposed clauses demanding Villa conduct his battles in certain ways (such as saying he could only fight in the daytime) while being recorded were proven to be apocryphal when Villa's biographer Friedrich Katz found a copy of the contract in a Mexico City archive and discovered that they were nowhere to be found.
  • On a more light-hearted note, the bra was considered a very modern invention, and post-WWI women's fashion was considered revolutionary, with the earlier eras of costume popularly perceived as very restricting to women (although this latter view is often more Hollywood History than actual fact). With the 2008 discovery of some well-preserved textile remnants in the Austrian castle of Lengberg, it suddenly turns out that bra-like garments with separate breast cups were worn in the 15th century, and the tailoring techniques of that time bear some surprising similarities to 1930s fashions... In other words, 20th century women's fashion only re-invented the wheel.
  • World War I:
    • Studies of German documents after the fall of the Berlin Wall suggest that there might have never been a "Schlieffen Plan", at least as most commonly presented in post-1918 literature. This is, however, hotly contested among historians.
    • In Britain and the US at least, even historians who saw the war as worthwhile depicted Western Front generals like Douglas Haig and Sir John French as blundering incompetents wantonly sacrificing their men for little appreciable gain. This view was propagated by popular histories like Basil Liddell Hart's The History of the First World War and Alan Clark's The Donkeys, not to mention fiction like Paths of Glory and Blackadder. More recent historians (Hew Strachan, Brian Bond) tend to emphasize the tactical and logistical difficulties brought by the war's unprecedented scale and new technologies (planes, tanks, gas) making it extraordinarily difficult for generals on either side to adapt. More extreme claims, like Haig's supposed obsession with cavalry, have been sharply revised. This is by no means a consensus view (see John Mosier and Denis Winter for opposing views), but analysis of WWI became less one-sided in just 20 years.
    • T. E. Lawrence's reputation seems to shift with each passing decade. From the '20s through 1955 he was viewed as a Chaste Hero and military genius serving both the British and his Arab allies. After Richard Aldington's Biographical Enquiry of 1955, he was viewed as some combination of Consummate Liar, Small Name, Big Ego and Depraved Homosexual. In the '60s it was common to depict him as an imperialist agent knowingly selling out the Arab rebels, based on a selective reading of declassified War Office files. From the '70s onward, biographies like John Mack's Prince Of Our Disorder focused on his psychosexual hangups and literary output. More recent volumes typically explore Lawrence's military and diplomatic achievements, framing them in light of more recent events in the Middle East.
    • Unlike what was claimed in some contemporary accounts, Mata Hari almost certainly never blew a kiss at the firing squad that executed her.
    • The Treaty of Versailles was seen in its time, mostly thanks to J. M. Keynes' book, as a "Carthaginian peace" or a victor's justice forced unfairly on Imperial Germany. This was an explanation shared within Germany, by liberals, by conservatives, by socialists, by fascists, and by communists, who agreed with Keynes because of his later fame as an economist. Decades later, the French economist Etienne Mantoux debunked Keynes' analysis, and historians A.J.P. Taylor, Fritz Fischer, and Hans Mommsen argued that Imperial Germany was truly culpable for the First World War, and deserved to pay reparations. They also claimed that the real problem with the reparations was that they were too lenient, as Germany was in a position to pay, meaning that Versailles was a Golden Mean Fallacy that humiliated Germany politically but left it in a militarily and economically secure position to act on its desire for vengeance, while at the same time leaving the League of Nations with no force and authority to enforce the conditions of the Treaty.
  • Remember Rasputin? The mad monk who was poisoned, beaten, and shot in the head four times before being thrown in the icy Neva River, and when they fished him out they discovered that he'd drowned? Turns out, the entire story was probably a lie. The autopsy report (discovered after the fall of the Iron Curtain) states that Rasputin was shot in the head by a .455 Webley revolver, a gun normally issued at the time to British Secret Intelligence Service, and died instantly. There was no evidence of poison, no evidence of pre-mortem beating, and no evidence of drowning. Whether he was killed by the SIS or by Prince Felix Yusupov, who had close ties to the British government, using a British gun, will probably never be known, but the story of poisoned cakes and wine and the indestructible mad monk seems to be an invention. It's even unwise to read too much into the murder weapon being a Webley because, while it was issued to the SIS, the revolver and its ammunition could be bought all over the world and was a popular sporting and self-defence weapon.
  • It was speculated for decades that Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia survived the execution of her family by the Bolsheviks. This inspired two movies and numerous pretenders who claimed to be Anastasia or one of her sisters.note  Later, the Romanovs' mass grave was found and five of the seven family members were identified; Alexei (the only son) and either Anastasia or Maria remained missing. In 2007, charred remains of a boy and girl were found near the mass grave, and in 2009 they were proven through DNA testing to be Alexei and one of his sisters, proving definitively that the whole Romanov family was killed.
  • Mussolini did not make the trains run on time. Even in his own time, some observers (namely American journalist George Seldes) called Mussolini on this, but the myth persisted (and nobody stopped him from lying about it).
  • Thanks to the influence of Leon Trotsky and his writings, it was once a common belief among the anti-Stalinist left that Josef Stalin was just being used as a front-man by a nebulous conspiracy of "Bolshevik Rightists". It's now understood that this viewpoint was due to Trotsky fatally underestimating Stalin, a fact he himself acknowledged later on.
  • The Zinoviev letter, a supposed directive from the Comintern to the Communist Party of Great Britain, was widely thought to be genuine for decades. Since the 1960s, however, the consensus has been that it was a forgery designed to energize the Conservative Party's base and undermine support for Ramsay Mac Donald's government.
  • In 1928, a young woman named Nan Britton wrote a book claiming that her daughter Elizabeth Ann had been fathered by US President Warren G. Harding, dead with no known children in 1923. She was generally dismissed as delusional: the book was terribly written, it had outright ridiculous parts like Britton claiming to have had sex with Harding in a closet in the executive office of the White House, and Harding's family said that he was infertile. Yet in 2015, a DNA test proved that Harding really was the father of Britton's daughter.
  • While Eliot Ness certainly disrupted Al Capone's operations, the animosity between them is now considered to have been exaggerated. Capone was significantly more concerned with rival gangsters than he was with federal agents, and there's no hard evidence that the two ever met until 1932 — at the very end of Capone's criminal career, when Ness was helping escort Capone to prison.
  • There were a lot of misconceptions widely held about Alfred Hitchcock, the way he worked and even his own personality that were taken as fact until quite recently:
    • It was commonly believed that Hitchcock pre-planned all his films, that he story-boarded all the scenes in his films to the last detail and never improvised or changed his mind during production. As Bill Krohn's Hitchcock at Work reveals, while Hitchcock did in fact do a great deal of pre-planning, not all of his films were such models of efficiency as he led everyone to believe. To begin with, Hitchcock shot all his films in sequence rather than out of narrative order. This was rare and exceptional in the Golden Age, and it meant that a surprising number of his films went over-budget and over-schedule, which never became a problem for him because they were all hugely successful in the box-office and because Hitchcock managed to convince film journalists that there was nothing to see there.
    • A number of his movies went into production without a complete script. These included the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much and Strangers on a Train and also Notorious, which was more or less made up as it went along. Likewise while Hitchcock did storyboard a large portion of his scenes, he also winged it on many occasions. The famous crop-duster sequence in North By Northwest wasn't storyboarded at all, but after the film was finished, Hitchcock commissioned artists to create new storyboards based on the scene he shot for promotional purposes, to make it look like he planned the whole thing all along. And likewise, many of the scenes in his films differed from how they were storyboarded.
    • Hitchcock also had a tendency to deflect or invent excuses to explain the reasons certain films didn't work. In the case of Suspicion, he said that the film's ending was rejected because audiences didn't want Cary Grant to be a villain and a Karma Houdini, implying that the studio originally approved a script with such an ending to begin withnote . It's now known that in actual fact, the original ending of Suspicion ended much the way the film currently does, differing only in that preview audiences didn't find it as laughably funny as the one Hitchcock shotnote .
  • When The Hindenburg suffered its infamous explosion, suspicions that it was destroyed in an act of deliberate sabotage led to decades of speculation. However, examination of declassified FBI documents has led most historians to conclude that the disaster really was an accident, and any "evidence" pointing to someone aboard trying to destroy the zeppelin was most likely mere coincidence.
  • On account of being controversial and a major celebrity, there were huge numbers of myths spread about Orson Welles that are now known to be false:
    • The initial radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds (1938) allegedly causing mass hysteria and chaos because people thought that Earth really was being attacked by Martians: there is no evidence of any "mass hysteria," riots, looting, or chaos taking place that night or in the days that followed. Also, according to a kind of ratings data, the entire United States was not tuned in to that particular broadcast; only a relatively small number of people actually listened to it, certainly not enough for there to be "mass hysteria." Even among those, very few could be described as panicking. Most just called up the newspapers and police to learn if something was really going on.
    • Due to the high-profile Executive Meddling on some of his films, Welles was often held as the emblematic "irresponsible director" by critics and the emblematic martyr of creative expression by supporters. Now, of course, Welles does bear some amount of blame for the way his career turned out, and his feuds with his former colleagues were by no means one-sided and by all accounts he did have a self-righteous and myth-making tendency, but this wasn't in any sense exceptional in kind or degree, or atypical of show business types. For one thing, Welles never quite made films on very expensive budgets (unlike, say, Michael Cimino); indeed, Welles was critical of New Hollywood for young directors being given such large amounts of money for personal films, feeling it would lead to irresponsible behavior, concerns that were dismissed at the time. Even Citizen Kane was relatively cheap compared to other films of its kind, and that film had a smooth, competent production; the controversy around the film began during the editing and around the time of its release. The majority of Welles' films were made on low budgets and they were delayed because of the usual low-budget difficulties, but even given all that, Welles had a gift for working very fast, quickly and improvising and maximizing from very limited resources, as well as having enough people skills to command loyalty from production crew and actors to stick with him in very trying circumstances.
    • Many once widely believed misconceptions about Citizen Kane and its production originated in Pauline Kael's essay "Raising Kane", written to accompany the published screenplay. Besides propagating the "Common Knowledge" that Welles carelessly forgot to explain how anyone knew Charles Foster Kane's last words when there was nobody there to hear them,note  she argued at length that Herman Mankiewicz was the sole author of the screenplay, with Welles merely stealing credit after the fact - an argument that's still popular today. In reality, the two wrote separate drafts of the script and Welles combined together before shooting began, so the co-author credit is accurate.
    • As for Welles' films being taken away from him, and him being a martyr for artistic expression, the majority of Welles' completed films (Citizen Kane, Macbeth, The Tragedy of Othello, Chimes at Midnight, The Trial, The Immortal Story, F For Fake) are now known to exist as per his intentions with full Auteur License. This actually makes him exceptional to most directors of The Golden Age of Hollywood (who would be lucky to even be allowed in the editing room and many of whom at the end of their careers would only claim three or four films as works they were entirely satisfied with). The likes of George Cukor and King Vidor who enjoyed far more prolific Hollywood careers faced Executive Meddling far more often; for just one example, A Star Is Born was butchered worse than any of Welles' films (in fact, the movie's Re-Cut version has to be filled in with production stills). It also differs him from Erich von Stroheim (who with the exception of Blind Husbands faced Executive Meddling on each and every one of his films). The butchering of some of Welles' films (Touch of Evil, The Magnificent Ambersons, Mr. Arkadin) is more well known, and in each case, Welles finished shooting, and he's relatively fortunate for the fact that, Ambersons excepted, his films are generally capable of being reconstructed.
  • About Nazi Germany, the conversations Hermann Rauschning claimed to have had with Adolf Hitler, which he wrote down in his book Conversations with Hitler (Hitler Speaks in the UK). Modern historians specializing in nazism have since questioned the authenticity of said conversations, and the most serious among them such as Ian Kershaw tend to simply disregard them. Some documentaries such as De Nuremberg à Nuremberg made ample use of them before more research was done.
  • World War II:
    • For a while, it was assumed that Nazi Germany was efficiently-run because of its fast ascension from economic devastation to conqueror of Europe. For example, in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Patterns of Force", this view led a misguided historian to believe he could make it work without the ethical problems. Philip K. Dick also wrote The Man in the High Castle on the assumption that the Nazis were capable of overrunning half the planet. Since then, a lot of evidence has drawn historians to the conclusion that the regime was full of internal corruption and egotistical rivalries, which hurt its efficiency in many ways. Some of this was by design: Hitler wanted his subordinates feuding with each other, both out of Social Darwinist ideology and because bitter rivals would be much less likely to join forces and seize power from him. Ultimately, the modern historical view is that Germany did as well as it did in the first half of WWII in spite of the Nazi regime, and a lot of it had more to do with Allied General Failures and unwillingness to take decisive action until the winter of 1939-40.
    • While the image of Polish cavalry charging at German tanks with lances and sabers is undoubtedly iconic and has been interpreted in many different lights, it's now known to be based on a misunderstanding. War correspondents saw the corpses of Polish cavalrymen and horses near German tanks in the aftermath of the Battle of Krojanty and incorrectly assumed the Poles had tried to charge them, a misinterpretation Nazi propaganda ran with. What really happened was that the Polish cavalry made a surprise charge that dispersed a resting German infantry unit, only to be themselves surprised by a German armor column that drove up a nearby road.
    • The Pearl Harbor attack has become enshrined in history as brilliantly planned and executed primarily as a CYA and face-saving gesture for both sides. In reality Fuchida's execution was effective but not brilliant and Genda's attack plan contained fundamental errors that become apparent in hindsight. The US Military played up the brilliance of the attack to make their own mistakes seem less important. And the mythical "third wave" attack on the oil storage facilities was not considered by Genda or Fuchida until after the war when they realized it was what their US interrogators wanted to hear and went Sure, Let's Go with That. A lot of this is thanks to the Pearl Harbor raid only being a small part of a simultaneous attack at targets right across the Pacific that was otherwise a complete success.
    • Even relatively well-known events like the Battle Off Samar became Shrouded in Myth fairly quickly: Modern scholarship comparing photographs and cinematography with the various ship's logs and action reports revealed that the traditional narrative of the battle promulgated in Samuel Eliot Morrison's History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II simply cannot be reconciled with the courses and positions of the Japanese ships involved. Even if Morrison had access to Japanese primary sources the heroic nature of the engagement and triumphalist tenor of the times could have prevented him from cross-checking "his" heroic sailors' accounts against their defeated enemies'. Among other things, the battleships Yamato and Nagato played a much bigger role in the battle than previously believed (the shell that crippled USS White Plains was almost certainly fired by Yamato from an estimated range of 31.6 km, eclipsing by a wide margin the record-setting 24 km hits by Scharnhorst against HMS Glorious and by HMS Warspite against Guilio Cesare), and the torpedo salvo that forced Yamato to steam north out of battle was probably fired by USS Hoel, and not USS Johnston as commonly reported.
    • Also Off Samar, Japanese cruiser Chokai was proposed to have been fatally damaged by hits from USS White Plains sole 5-inch gun but it sank leaving only one survivor, and the sole surviving Japanese source (Haguro's action report) to mention Chokai's damage states that it came from an air attack. Chokai's wreck was found in 2019 with all of her torpedo launchers and reloads intact, debunking its sinking by White Plains. Instead, evidence was found for a disabling hit on one turret, which was also mentioned on her action log.
    • It was once generally held that the battleship Yamato was sunk mostly intact. But it's now known that this was not the case: the ship's ammunition exploded while sinking, splitting off the bow and forcing out its monster turrets, and the wreckage is more or less torn to pieces.
    • During the war, much was made of a document known as the "Tanaka Memorial", supposedly written by Japanese Prime Minister Giichi Tanaka in the 20s and detailing the steps that Japan would take to conquer Asia and then the world.note  The document was widely believed to be genuine, though well-informed observers doubted it already, and it was decisively exposed as a forgery following the Tokyo Trials. It's still not sure who committed the forgery (some sources say it was the Chinese Kuomintang regime or the Chinese Communists trying to garner more foreign support for their wars against Japan,note  others say it was the Soviet NKVD hoping to pull a Let's You and Him Fight between the West and Japan). The document seemed credible because Japan was indeed engaged in an (undeclared) war with China at the time.
    • Enemy at the Gates is often mocked for its portrayal of Stalingrad (most notably for showing unarmed Russians charging German machine guns and getting killed by their own officers for retreating). However, the film is actually (loosely) based on a 1973 non-fiction book of the same name, which draws its content from archives and actual anecdotes from soldiers. Unfortunately, governments classified most of their WWII archives at the time and only granted the author access to a select few, and many of the soldiers interviewed turned to be Unreliable Narrators. The sniper duel is largely based on an interview with the real-life Vasily Zaitsev during the battle, but scholars have failed to find the dueling sniper in German archives (called Major Walter König in contemporary Soviet news, and Heinz Thorvald in Zaitsev's biography). It's now generally accepted to be Soviet propaganda.
    • For decades, it was believed that the Wehrmacht was (aside from the top brass and a handful of "bad apples") a mostly apolitical force that was by and large not involved with the Holocaust or other Nazi war crimes. This was largely because the Wehrmacht's history immediately after the war was written in part by the very same generals who ran it and who sought to 'rehabilitate' its image, as well as their own actions. While there were some note  who dissented from this consensus, they were a distinct minority, especially in Germany. The idea started to crumble in the 1980s as new avenues of research opened up, and the fall of communism allowed historians access to documentation and material evidence that had previously been shut up in archives behind the Iron Curtain. By the mid-1990s, evidence that the Wehrmacht had been complicit and even actively involved in Nazi war crimes (including the Holocaust) became overwhelming. Now the consensus is that, while there were many within the Wehrmacht who were not involved in these crimes and some who even actively tried to protect people, the Wehrmacht as an institution was intimately linked with the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
    • Albert Speer's conduct during the war has also had some reappraisal over the years. This started at the Nuremberg Trials, where Speer presented himself to the court and the wider public as the token 'Good Nazi', a Consummate Professional devoid of ideology who was Hitler's only true friend, did not know anything about the Holocaust beyond rumors, and whose conscience drove him to refuse Hitler's final "scorched earth" orders and even attempted to assassinate him. While the assassination claim was dismissed as a fabrication even by his former colleagues, his sudden atonement saved Speer from the hangman's noose and he was sentenced to twenty years at Spandau Prison instead. This 'Speer Myth' became the dominant narrative, later codified through his own memoirs. Several historians who did more digging into his record came to question this, including proof that he was present at the 1943 Posen Speeches where Himmler clearly outlined what was happening in the SS camps, and Speer's rather eager use of slave labor as Minister of Armaments, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths of primarily 'Eastern workers'. He also directly ordered the dispossession of Jewish tenants in Berlin when he was still simply Hitler's chief architect before the war. While several works of fiction until the mid-2000s (such as Downfall) still give him a fairly sympathetic portrayal, some more recent works (such as Über) have accurately reflected the fact that he was one of the key Nazis leading Germany's war effort, not a blameless bureaucrat.
    • Isoroku Yamamoto's talk of dictating peace talks in the White House was far from the jingoistic boast it was thought to be at the time. The actual context of the quote was him trying to impress upon his superiors the true enormity of the task they had set themselves in attacking Pearl Harbor — Yamamoto wasn't promising to dictate peace terms in the White House, he was saying that the only way for Japan to definitively win against the United States was to invade, fight across the breadth of the American continent and do just that. In short he was telling his superiors "you're asking the impossible. They're not going to roll over and die with one bloody nose."
    • The idea that Hitler could have won the war had he just listened to his generals is now mostly considered a myth promoted by surviving German generals. While Hitler certainly made some serious mistakes during the course of the war, it's believed that there were multiple times when he made the right calls, with many historians pointing to cases where he went against his generals' recommendations and succeeded and instances when he went along with his generals (sometimes despite his own misgivings) and things went poorly. Even his long-derided decision to prioritize the Caucasus offensive over taking Moscow is now thought to be a case where Hitler was right and his generals were wrong: taking Moscow wouldn't have made the Soviets capitulate, and Germany and its allies really needed the oil that the Caucasus oil fields could provide.
    • The Kokoda Track campaign was long mythologized in Australia as part of the "Anzac spirit", which has led to some myths about the campaign gaining credence for a long time. One well-known example is the Battle of Isurava: for a long time, it was mythologized as "Australia's Thermopylae", where an Australian force that was defeated by the Japanese nevertheless fought a successful delaying action against an overwhelmingly more numerous enemy and managed to inflict more casualties than it sustained. However, it's now known that the Australians outnumbered the Japanese in the battle, and their successful withdrawal had more to do with Japanese tactical errors.
    • Outside of Poland, the Bloody Wednesday of Olkusz was long misrepresented as a specifically anti-Semitic event. Now it's generally understood that the atrocity indiscriminately harmed both ethnic Poles and Polish Jews; in fact, the majority of the victims were actually gentiles.
    • There was no Japanese propaganda radio broadcaster who went by Tokyo Rose. It was a nickname given by American newspapers to describe these broadcasters, who were later conflated into one person by propaganda. While the idea of a singular "Tokyo Rose" started out as merely symbolic for Japanese propaganda as a whole, it was later taken at face value.
    • Few historians now seriously consider the idea that Operation Sea Lion had a realistic chance of defeating Britain. Even if the Luftwaffe had managed to defeat the Royal Air Force, the invasion would've been a logistical nightmare, German intelligence efforts against Britain had already been subverted, and the Royal Navy would've wrought merry havoc on German shipping.
    • Some once generally uncontested claims about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis have become more controversial or been outright proven false.
      • The ship's captain, Charles B. McVay III, was long held responsible for the sinking, especially after he was convicted on charges of incompetence and negligence. While he always had defenders who claimed he was convicted unfairly so he could be used as a scapegoat for the loss of life, they were a distinct minority. That was, until research conducted by Hunter Scott in 1998 brought renewed attention to extenuating circumstances which undermined the case against McVay, notably the fact that he was not warned about Japanese submarines in the area and also that his request for a destroyer escort was rejected by naval command, who assumed the area he was sailing in was safe. Now, he's generally considered to have been a fall guy to draw the blame away from the higher-ups who were responsible for putting the ship in danger, and he was exonerated in 2000.
      • While it's long been claimed that huge numbers of the ship's crew were killed by sharks, these claims have become hotly contested in the 21st century. Many have gone on record stating that it's likely that sun exposure, thirst, hunger, bleeding, internal injuries and even suicide killed far more people than the sharks did; with sharks getting a disproportionate share of the blame due to a combination of post-traumatic stress and people mistaking scavenging for predation. To back up these claims, historians and marine biologists have pointed out that Oceanic Whitetips, the species the lion's share of shark deaths in the incident have been attributed to, are now believed to be primarily scavengers. A 2017 investigation hosted by Shark Week determined that the number of fatalities caused by sharks was most likely in the low dozens.
    • The Bombing of Dresden's death toll was a subject of debate for a long time, but the idea that up to 500,000 people were killed was considered at the very least credible... until it was discovered that the document these higher estimates were based on, the supposed Tagesbefehl 47, was discovered to be a forgery promulgated by Joseph Goebbels.
    • Since Nazi Party Chancellery chief Martin Bormann seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth in the last days of the war in Europe, it was long speculated that he might've escaped. He was even tried in absentia at the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to death for his complicity in German war crimes. That changed in 1973, when a skeleton discovered by construction workers in Berlin the previous year was determined to be Bormann's. Any reasonable doubt was dispelled in 1998 when genetic testing done on fragments of the skull conclusively proved that Bormann did indeed die in 1945, either committing suicide or being killed in a firefight shortly after leaving the Fuhrerbunker.
    • Once, it was believed that Francoist Spain saved vast numbers of Jews from the clutches of the Nazis. But it's now understood that previous claims were exaggerated and Spain's actual efforts were more half-hearted and inconsistent. While it's true that the Spanish government allowed 25,000-30,000 Jews to leave Continental Europe through Spain, it failed to repatriate or otherwise protect the vast majority of Sephardi Jews living under Axis occupation, and it severely limited visas granted to Jews from 1943 onwards. Some actions previously credited to the Spanish government were later found to have been carried out by individual Spaniards acting on their own initiative. Not only that, but documents uncovered in 2010 show that in 1941, Franco's government collected a list of all Jews living in Spain at the time; the fact that Franco was negotiating a potential alliance with the Axis at the time strongly indicates that he was willing to sacrifice them if he thought it would benefit him to do so.
    • Pope Pius XII was long criticized for his supposed inactivity in allowing the Jews and others to be slaughtered by the Nazis and their allies, with a number of possible reasons being suggested for his allgedly doing so. It is now known, however, that behind the public facade of stubborn neutrality, Pius was busily working to save countless souls from the Nazis and established links with the German Resistance. He allowed officials within the Catholic Church to do whatever they could to protect those targeted for death in the Holocaust, and may have actively encouraged and masterminded such activity. Contrary to his nickname of "Hitler's Pope", it is now known that Hitler (who was at least somewhat aware of what Pius was doing but couldn't openly act against him as long as he kept up his public face of neutrality) referred to Pius as "Nazism's greatest enemy".
  • The Sonderweg theory of German historiography claims that Germany followed a course from aristocratic to democratic government unlike any other in Europe, one that made the rise of something like Nazism almost inevitable. Once accepted nearly universally, it has been the subject of serious criticism since the 1980s, with some historians pointing to the experiences of Britain and France in the 19th century as the exception rather than the norm, and others claiming that the liberal German middle class held more influence than previously thought. While the idea of the Sonderweg isn't exactly discredited and still has its adherents, it's no longer considered the gospel truth it once was.
  • In the aftermath of World War II, it was alleged that an underground, clandestine organization known as ODESSA (from the German: Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, meaning: Organization of Former SS Members) was set up by SS officers in either the war's last days or its immediate aftermath to help Nazis escape to South America or the Middle East. Today, however, it is generally believed no organization by that name actually existed.
  • Dr. Charles R. Drew dying after being denied admittance to a whites-only hospital because of his skin colour when he was injured in a car crash, and thus (ironically) not receiving a blood transfusion. This gets a mention in an episode of M*A*S*H. He was actually admitted to the Alamance Greater Hospital in Burlington, North Carolina, and was pronounced dead half an hour after receiving medical attention. One of the passengers in Dr. Drew's car, John Ford, stated that his injuries were so severe — mostly in his leg due to his foot being caught under the brake pedal when the car rolled three times — that there was virtually nothing that could have saved him and a blood transfusion might have killed him sooner due to shock.
  • Ed Wood is often called "the worst director of all times", however some film historians now dispute that. His movies were bad, there's still no doubt about it, but they were averagely bad for B-Movie standards of his time. Wood's reputation as one of the worst directors come from some modern critics who by chance saw some of his movies, most notably Plan 9 from Outer Space and judged it based on 90s or early 2000s standards granting him the title. In reality Wood's movies would be considered bad but by far not the worst of the time, specially compare with such stinkers as Robot Monster or Monster a-Go Go. To put it in perspective his movies would be for the time kind of The Asylum or Syfy Channel Original Movie levels of "bad", not Vídeo Brinquedo levels of bad, or he would be considered a low-budget Michael Bay instead of a Uwe Boll.
  • For Western historians, the interpretation of the "Stalin Note" went through this twice before ending about where it began. The first view was that Joseph Stalin was not serious about wanting a united neutral Germany, and sent the note to sour relations between Germans and the West. But in the early 80s declassified documents indicated that the western powers had not always acted in good faith about the offer, leading to a shift towards viewing Stalin as more serious about it... which lasted until the end of the Cold War, when declassified Soviet documents indicated that the Soviet goal had been to sour German-Western Allied relations.
  • The debate over whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg really were guilty of providing top secret information to the Soviet Union raged for decades, and they had many defenders who believed their conviction was a Miscarriage of Justice. However, when many documents decoded by the Venona project were declassified, it became clear that Julius definitely spied for the USSR, and it seems likely that Ethel was at the very least complicit in her husband's crimes.
  • For many years it was taken as obvious that Israel was heavily outnumbered and outgunned in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. However, after a generation of "New Historians" working in the 1980s and 90s examined newly declassified documents, it became widely acknowledged that Israel enjoyed considerable military advantages over its Arab enemies, with more than twice the manpower and a steady stream of state-of-the-art weapons from abroad.
  • When the Soviet space dog Laika died aboard Sputnik 2, it was initially reported that she was euthanized by poisoned food shortly before she ran out of oxygen. Then in 2002, Dimitri Malashenkov revealed that she actually died from overheating on the fourth circuit of the satellite's orbit.
  • Quebec's Quiet Revolution was once characterized as a great upheaval in Quebecois society. However, re-examination of prior economic and political developments in Quebec have shown that the events of the revolution appear to have been foreshadowed by things like the expansion of Quebec's manufacturing sector that had already begun decades earlier and the previous popularity of Quebec Liberalism (particularly the 1940s reforms of Adélard Godbout). Because of this, the Quiet Revolution is now seen not as a sudden u-turn in Quebec's Francophone society, but as a natural continuation of pre-existing trends.
  • The claim regarding the murder of Kitty Genovese, based on a New York Times article that came out shortly after Genovese's death, saying that 38 people watched her being killed in plain view, and did nothing. This was, for years, the only narrative about what happened, even being referenced in Alan Moore's Watchmen by Rorschach. However, later researchers found that the Times story lacked evidence: nobody saw the attack in its entirety and those that did see it only saw parts of it. Some people heard her cries for help, but assumed it was a lover's quarrel or just people leaving a bar. One man did open his window and yell "Leave that girl alone!", whereupon the killer left. He returned again to attack her a second time, but disguised himself, so people who might have seen him didn't realize it was the same guy. The second attack took place out of view of any witnesses. Two of Genovese's neighbours called the police and another, a 70-year-old woman, cradled her while she was dying. So while Genovese's murder was undoubtedly horrible, it was no more awful than most murders: the story that people "stood and watched" it happen right in front of them and didn't lift a finger is entirely without foundation, and seems to have been made up by the original reporter, as the Times itself acknowledged in a 2016 article.
  • Some widely-held ideas about the 1960s counterculture are now considered myths:
    • The stereotypical protesters against the Vietnam War are generally hippies and other countercultural strains. However, the anti-war movement and the counterculture weren't as intertwined as often thought; indeed, new distinctions have been made between cultural movements and activist movements (though of course, there was overlap, and some movements were both). While some groups combined anti-war politics with the hippie lifestyle, hippies generally prioritized spiritual enlightenment and community building over conventional political organizing. In fact, many hippies were indifferent towards or even opposed to political activism, and instead hoped to change America by effectively abandoning established institutions and mainstream society.
    • No, American hippies didn't just live in coastal cities and rural communes. They could be found all over the United States, even in small Southern and Midwestern cities.
  • Anton LaVey once claimed to have ritualistically shaved his head "in the tradition of ancient executioners". It's now known that he shaved his head because he lost a bet with his wife and made up the "ancient executioners" story to add to his mystique.
  • There are now known to be no confirmed reports of second-wave feminists burning bras. The myth probably stems from a protest organized by New York Radical Women at the Miss America 1969 contest, where protestors threw feminine products into a "Freedom Trash Can" on the Atlantic City boardwalk. While they did initially plan to burn them, the police advised them not to, since doing so on a boardwalk posed a fire hazard. Some local news stories claimed these items were burned at least briefly, but these claims are heavily disputed. Nevertheless, the idea caught on among both supporters and opponents of second-wave feminism, probably due to parallels with men burning their draft cards.
  • While it was once widely believed that the Crips were an offshoot of the Black Panther Party, it's now generally accepted that the group got its start from a merger of pre-existing street gangs. Nor did it start out with any political or community agenda; co-founder Stanley Williams went on record refuting this idea, writing in his memoir that it was just a fighting alliance.
  • Even though the Lin Biao incident remains shrouded in mystery to this day and the Chinese government's official account is viewed with considerable skepticism abroad (in large part due to the lack of corroborating evidence aside from testimony that may have been coerced), some once-popular foreign theories about what happened have since been discredited by examination of evidence. For example, it was once widely suspected that Lin wasn't actually aboard the plane that crashed and he was actually secretly murdered in Beijing. However, unknown to most people at the time, a Soviet medical team had secretly dug up and examined the bodies found at the crash site, confirming in a classifed report to Leonid Breshnev and Yuri Andropov that one of the corpses was Lin's. The report was only made public in the early 1990s. Similarly, theories that the plane had actually been shot down were contradicted by accounts from eyewitnesses in Mongolia, which made no mention of any shoot-down.
  • The identity of Deep Throat, the principal informant of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who helped unravel the Watergate scandal, was a mystery for thirty years. In All the President's Men (1976), he's portrayed as an anonymous figure in a trenchcoat, with some speculating that he was actually a combination of different people from Nixon's inner circle; in Dick (1999), "he" is actually two teenage girls. In 2005, Deep Throat was revealed as former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, whose motives were likely revenge against Nixon for not promoting him to replace Hoover. In retrospect, it was never that much of a mystery; Nixon's tapes show that the administration figured it out almost immediately and it killed his career.
  • The sectarian aspects of the Lebanese Civil War are now believed by most historians to have not been as prominent as once thought. While many of the people and factions involved used religious rhetoric, it's currently understood that the underlying reasons for the conflict were largely secular and most of the participants weren't particularly motivated by religion. Indeed, there were conflicts between factions that were largely the same religion, such as Sunni Muslims (the Palestine Liberation Organization vs. the Syrian Army), Shia Muslims (Amal vs. Hezbollah), and Maronite Christians (Forces Libanaises vs. the Marada Movement).
  • Jimmy Hoffa was long thought to be buried under the west end zone of Giants Stadium. This was seemingly put to rest when the stadium was demolished in 2010 and no human remains were found.
  • Carlos the Jackal is the Big Bad of The Bourne Series, written while he was at large, which presents him as a Diabolical Mastermind and attributes a number of assassinations to him, including that of JFK. The actual Carlos was captured in 1994, and is now viewed as more of a bumbling Smug Snake whose past reputation was highly exaggerated. This also accounts for most of the differences between the books and the movies (he had been caught by that time).

    21st century 
  • United 93 was produced before the cockpit voice recorder tape or accurate transcripts were released to the public. As a result, the words and actions of Jarrah and Ghamdi while in the cockpit are now known to have been slightly different in reality, and it is possible that the pilots Dahl and Homer were wounded but alive up to the crash instead of killed immediately. There is also no evidence whatsoever that German passenger Christian Adams panicked or promoted collaboration with the terrorists. That was a complete invention for the film.
  • When Palestinian militant Abu Nidal died of a gunshot wound in his Baghdad apartment, many (especially Palestinians) rejected the official verdict of suicide and insisted he was murdered on the orders of Saddam Hussein. However, in 2008, journalist Robert Fisk obtained a report by Iraq's Special Intelligence Unit M4 indicating that Abu Nidal really did shoot himself.

Alternative Title(s): Outdated History

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