5 Big Historical Misconceptions

Credit : Shutterstock by leoks
Credit : Shutterstock by leoks
  • While we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, the actual date remains unknown.
  • The Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space.
  • Emperor Nero did not play the fiddle while Rome burned down.

History is written by the victors and as such it’s not always accurate. From popular myths and legends to half-truths and propagandas, our past has been told and retold so many times the facts can sometimes get lost. Here are five common misconceptions we all fell for at one time or another. The truth after all, shall set us free.

5. Fiddling Nero

A popular misconception about the Roman times centers around Emperor Nero fiddling while the city of Rome burned down. For one thing, the fiddle wasn’t invented until the 11th century. And secondly, historians believe the man who ruled the empire from 54 to 68 AD, was 35 miles away at a villa in Antium at the time. Upon learning of the devastating fire, he rushed back and organized relief efforts.

4. Roman Vomitoriums

 The folklore surrounding the ancient civilizations is extensive. One of them are Roman vomitoriums: designated rooms where the wealthy would purge their food so they could gorge themselves on even more food.  The real story behind the word is much more mundane. In Latin vomitorium (vomitoria in plural) means “to spew forth” and so in ancient Roman architecture, vomitoria were exit/entrance doors to stadiums and amphitheaters, so dubbed as they literally spewed hundreds into the streets.   

3. The Invention of the Radio

The invention of the radio, for which Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi is often credited, was actually made by Nikola Tesla. The true story behind this landmark invention is a complicated one. Tesla, a Serbian American scientist, created the induction, called "Tesla coil" in 1891. This device proved to be an essential component in transmitting and receiving radio transmissions. In 1985, however, before the scientist could further test his invention, a fire broke out in his lab and destroyed the apparatus. That same year Marconi, Tesla’s Italian counterpart, proved the feasibility of radio communication. Both men applied for patents in wireless technology within a year of each other; Marconi in 1896 in England, Tesla in 1897 in the U.S. In 1940, the Supreme court of the U.S overthrew Marconi’s patent in favor of Tesla’s, establishing him as the rightful creator.

2. The Great Wall of China

Although an impressive landmark, the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space. This false notion dates all the way back to the 1938 publication of Richard Halliburton's Second Book of Marvels. As a travel writer and adventurer Halliburton made the claim that China's Great Wall was the only man-made object visible from space. This claim has been disproven many times over the years, but the myth persists regardless.

1. Christ's Birth Date

Although Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, the actual date remains unknown. Most historians believe it to be in spring, closer to Easter, than in winter. The reason why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th is said to be because of an old pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice and the beginning of a new solar cycle. The festivities lasted from the 17th to the 25th of December and were a merry time where families and friends met, ate, and exchanged gifts. When the Roman Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity, the church adopted December 25th as the birth of Christ to facilitate his subjects’ transition into the new religion.


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