History is easily distorted. Sometimes, we don’t have enough information to determine what actually happened, and events remain shrouded in mystery. Other times there are so many stories and myths surrounding people, times, and places that it becomes almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. Over the course of history, fantastic stories or outright falsehoods can be told over and over, and become commonly accepted legends to the point where the tall tale overshadows the actual events. As it turns out, history is often much more complex than what we learn in school. Perhaps nothing demonstrates just how insane real history is by the amount of it that is false or simply didn’t happen.
Every day, we are reminded about the power of the past. Not understanding the past prevents many from understanding our present and our future. All of us are born into a society and a social structure, be it a family, religion, nation, culture, or some other community, that is historically constituted. The way we view and understand history shapes how we view and understand the world, and the history’s influence on our everyday lives. Everyone has a vested interest in understanding history as it actually happened, and not fables, tall tales, or outright lies and fabrications that are passed off as actual events.
To that end, here are 10 of the most commonly told historical events that never really happened, not as in “didn’t happen the way we were taught,” but simply never occurred at all.
10 George Washington and the Cherry Tree
9 Orson Welles Reading ‘The War of the Worlds’ Causing Mass Panic
8 Ben Franklin, the Kite, and the Thunderstorm
7 Burning at the Stake at the Salem Witch Trials
6 The Pyramids Being Built By Slaves
5 Nero Playing the Fiddle While Rome Burned
4 Protestors Spitting on Returning Vietnam Veterans
3 Marie Antoinette saying, “Let Them Eat Cake”
2 Gulf of Tonkin Incident
1 The Exodus
Despite popular portrayals in classic films like Cecil B. De Mille's The Ten Commandments, and DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt, there is no archaeological or historical evidence that the exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt ever happened. In fact, as previously noted in this list, there is no proof of Hebrew slavery in Egypt in the first place, nor are there any signs of habitation on the Sinai peninsula for the second millennium BCE, where over 600,000 Israelites are said to have lived for 38 years. Modern historians tend to think the Exodus story is a metaphor, and despite many efforts to find evidence to support the events of the Book of Exodus, most archaeologists have abandoned the pursuit.
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