Category Archives: Medieval History

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11 Historical Misconceptions!

1.Was the Red Square really named after the Red Army?

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Red Square in Moscow

In contrast with the widely prevalent misconception, the Red Square(Krásnaya Plóshchad), was called Red Square long before the October Revolution(which actually happened in November) started in Moscow.

2.Was the Star of David really an ancient Jewish symbol?

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Hexagram on the  gateway to Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi, built in 16.th century

The Star of David, generally recognized symbol of Judaism, has become the symbol of Judaism as we know it only recently. Only after the end of 17.th century, the Jews started to use the hexagram as a symbol of their faith and identity. During much of the history, there was no special connection between the hexagram and Judaism, it was used all over the world as one of the many other magical symbols.

3.Did Einstein get his Nobel Prize for the Teory of Relativity?

Albert Einstein did not get his Nobel Prize in Physics of 1921 for his famous Theory of Relativity, first published in 1905, but especially for his works about the photoelectric effect.

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Albert Einstein

By the way, he didn’t acquire his prize in 1921, but rather during the ceremony which took place one year later, together with Danish physicist Niels Bohr, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1922.

4.Did Hitler really declare war to England and France?

When hitler attacked Poland on the 1.st of September, he hoped to the last moment that the Allies would tolerate his campaign in the same manner as they did after the remilitarization of the Rhineland(1936), the annexation of Austria(1938), and the annexation of Czechoslovakia(1939). Although the Nazis calculated with the possibility of war with England and France, they generally thought that the invasion of Poland would only lead to another diplomatic crisis.

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German Invasion to Poland

After Hitler continued the military campaign on 3.rd of September 1939, England and France declared war on Germany. The other countries joined as follows: Australia and Morocco on 5.th of September, Iraq on 6.th of September, South Africa on 8.th of September and Canada on 10.th of September

5.Were the Bagpipes really invented in Scotland?

Bagpipes don’t orginally come from Scotland, they were already known in the ancient Greece. People also used musical instruments similar to bagpipe in ancient Persia, China and Rome(as ”Tibia Utricularis”). In the Middle Ages, they were known as ”Cornemuse” in France, ”Cornamusa” in Italy, and ”Sackpfeife” in Germany.

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Man playing bagpipes(17.th century, Dutch Republic)

They are even mentioned in the Bible: “that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.”(Daniel 3:5)

According to available evidence, bagpipes were brought to the island of Great Britain by ancient Romans, where they have become very popular musical instrument, used to the present day. But the Scots never invented them.

6.Did human ancestors really live in caves?

Because a lot of evidence about the human ancestors comes from caves, it often makes us think that majority of these so-called ”cavemen” actually lived in caves during much of their lifetime. In reality, caves served only as temporary habitats for prehistoric humans.

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Artistic depiction of a prehistoric human camp.

First people lived, hunted, worked and slept mostly on open air, and inhabited caves only during the harshest of winters. Due to nomadic lifestyle of our ancestors, they couldn’t use the caves as permanent dwellings, but only as night shelters during their travels.

7.Were the Canary Islands really named after Canary Birds?

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Map of the Spanish Canary Islands(Islas Canarias)

Name of the Canary Islands was doesn’t come from the Canary birds, in fact, opposite is true. The name ”Canary Islands” is derived from the Latin name ”Islas Canarias”, which means ”The Islands of Dogs”. According to Roman historians, the Canary Islands have been named that way because they contained ”vast amounts of dogs of large size”.

8.Did Romans really kill christians in the Coloseum?

Although many novels, theatrical plays and folktales (such as ”Androcles and the Lion”) suggest otherwise, Coloseum was never used for throwing the Christians to the lions or similar hungry beasts.

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Christian martyrs in Collosseum(Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1883)

Christians, who died in ancient Rome as martyrs, were never executed by imperial authorities, but rather by authorities of local community on a sporadic basis. During Roman Imperial period, only dangerous criminals, murderers and bandits were regularly executed in the arena as part of a unforgettable public spectacle.

9.Was the sinking of Lusitania really an act of terrorism?

On 7.th of May 1915, RMS Lusitania, world’s largest ship at the time, was torpedoad by a German U-Boat. In following minutes, more than 1000 passengers drowned in the sea, including 128 citizens of the United States. The sinking, often interpreted as an act of terrorism, strongly influenced the decision by the US to declare war on Germany in April 1917.

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Sinking of RMS Lusitania(1915 painting)

Contrary to American propaganda during the First World War, Lusitania was not completely a civil vessel. During its final trip, RMS Lusitania was allegedly loaded with large amount of military ammunition. Its unusually fast sinking was probably caused by violent explosions of dynamite, which was being transported by the ship at the time. For that, it should have been regarded as a military ship according to the international law.

10.Did Martin Luther really nail his 95 theses to church door?

‘Only few pillars of the Western education seem as solid as the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. However, it’s very possible that it didn’t happen the way we all have been taught it did.

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Martin Luther(1526)

According to available evidence, this memorable event did never happen. There were no eyewitnesses, and even Martin Luther himself never said anything about him nailing his theses to the church door. Of course, Luther did publish his 95 theses in year 1517. However, they were not hung on the church door, but rather handed out straight to the bishop of Brandenburg.

11.Was the Pompeii really buried in lava?

Contrary to popular belief, ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were never buried under the hot lava, but rather under the volcanic ash and pyroclastic material from the Mount Vesuvius.

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79 explosion of Vesuvius(artistic depiction)

Inhabitants of the cities didn’t die from the direct volcanic explosion, but instead they suffocated from the sheer amounts of volcanic ash and toxic gases released before the pyroclastic eruption itself.

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Witch

Were Witches Really Burned in the Middle Ages?

So-called “Middle Ages”, European historical period from 5th to 15th century, have quite a disrepute in the modern times. We don’t consider it one of the periods which majority of us, civilized and enlightened people of modern age, would sincerely like to visit.

However, we often overlook one important fact; that one of the darkest episodes in human history, the witch-hunt hysteria of centuries long-gone, has actually nothing to do with the Middle Ages.

In fact, first major witch hunts appeared at the very end of the medieval period, in the Renaissance era, and continued until the end of the Enlightenment age. During the times of Galileo, Luther or Gutenberg, probability of being burned at the stake as a witch or wizard was the highest in history.

Although executions by burning were fairly common in the Middle Ages, they were reserved only to heretics and other people who disobeyed the Catholic church. Witch trials, as we see them in the movies, with their absurd accusations of weather manipulation, satanic worship and child sacrifices, never happened before year 1400.

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Burning of the witches in Baden, 1585

In the year 1419, the word “hexereye(witchcraft)” was first used in Valais during a trial, and in year 1431, Joanne of Arc was executed, after being accused of witchcraft. However, true witchhunt hysteria didn’t begin until year 1487, when the book ”Malleus Maleficarum”, written by Heinrich Kramer, was published for the first time.

This book, and many similar works, were written to quasi-scientifically prove that witches do exist.In scientific and judiciary terms, they explained the imminent dangers of the witchcraft to the society, and the ways it should be coped with. In subsequent decades, witch-hunting was being gradually more and more endorsed by the state and church. However, the true witch-hysteria didn’t begin until the years 1560-1630.

Feast of the devils and the witches. Wood engraving, date and author unknown

At the time, most of the scientists, university professors, theologists and philosophers started to consider the existence of witches being factual, although the idea had been dismisssed by the church long centuries before. Even famous doctor Paracelsus and many reformators, including Martin Luther, explicitly endorsed the persecution of witches. Oftentimes, the most educated people of the society stridently demanded no mercy for the witches, because their crimes were allegedly feats of the devil.

Probably the most zealous man among all of these people was French reformator John Calvin. Before his arrival to the Geneve, local witch-trials always resulted in relatively mild punishments, such as financial penalties or expulsion from the city. In the years 1495 – 1531, less than one dozen of witches were executed burned at the stake in Geneve. However, after John Calvin had arrived, more than 500 people convicted of witchcraft were executed during a period of only two years. In contrast with other city councillors, he strictly insisted on burning all people even accused of witchcraft.

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Portrait of John Calvin, by Hans Holbein

Exact cause of this explosion of collective hysteria remains unknown to the present day. But one thing is for sure; this dark time in human history has nothing to do with the Middle Ages.

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