Essay:Greatest Myths of World History

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Here is a growing list of the greatest myths of world history:

Slaves built the pyramids

For many years, it was widely believed that the pyramids were built mainly with slave labor.[1] We now know that although some of the laborers were conscripts or prisoners of war, most of the laborers were free men.[2] Most of the men who worked on the pyramids were farmers or farm laborers. In the summer, when the Nile flooded and farm work was impossible, they found work as builders.

Ordeal by water

According to an anti-Christian myth, the medieval Catholic Church employed a trial to test potential witches by sinking them in water. If they floated, they were guilty, if they drowned, they were innocent. While the ordeal by water did exist, it was used to test potential criminals in general, rather than specifically witches[3] and the accused were pulled out of the water before they drowned. The ordeal was mostly based on Germanic paganism and was in fact opposed by the Catholic Church.[4]

Medieval dissections

Anti-Christian sources often claim that dissections were forbidden by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. This myth is most likely derived from the book History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White. He supports his assertion by a bull published by Pope Boniface VII in 1300 which allegedly forbade dissections. In reality, the bull concerned the burial of noblemen who had died abroad and had nothing to do with dissections. At the time when this ban was supposedly in place the famous surgeon Mondino performed numerous dissections and even wrote a book on the subject of which 25 editions were altogether published.[5]

Columbus proved that Earth is round, or set out to discover America

Many public school students are falsely led to believe that most people thought the earth was flat until Columbus or Galileo proved it was round. In fact, the ancient Greeks and perhaps peoples before them fully understood that the Earth is round.

When Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, what he was really doing was looking for a sea route to Asia. It didn't turn out quite the way he expected; he made landfall on one of the Bahamas.

A pox on you!

Anti-Christians teach that the Christian Europeans deliberately spread smallpox among the American Indians, as in handing out blankets with the germs. "...the myth is so vibrant that it made its way into a scene in the movie Broken Trail (2006)."[6]

In fact, the germ theory of disease was not even discovered until the 19th century.

'... at odds with any such idea is the effort of the United States government at this time to vaccinate the native population. Smallpox vaccination, a procedure developed by the English country doctor Edward Jenner in 1796, was first ordered in 1801 by President Jefferson. The program continued in force for three decades, though its implementation was slowed both by the resistance of the Indians, who suspected a trick, and by lack of interest on the part of some officials. Still, as Thornton writes: "Vaccination of American Indians did eventually succeed in reducing mortality from smallpox."'[7]

"Let them eat cake!"

Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake" was almost certainly never uttered. The phrase was likely invented by anti-monarchist revolutionaries seeking to have Marie and Louis XVI executed. Moreover, even if it was uttered, it would have made sense because there was a shortage of bread and cake was a rational substitute.

The original French would have been "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" (brioche being a rough form of cake made of flour, butter and eggs). Apparently, French law required bakers to sell loaves at fixed prices and fancy loaves had to be sold at the same price as basic breads. Given a flour shortage at the time, brioche would have been an affordable, and available, alternative. Conversely, Rousseau in his memoirs, Confessions says in Vol 6, "At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, 'Then let them eat pastry!'" However, Rousseau wrote this in early 1766, when Marie Antoinette was only 10 years old.[8]

The Space Program Invented New Technology Such As Teflon

The space program is often praised by textbooks for inventing new technology, including Teflon. In fact, no significant inventions can be attributed to the government space program, and Teflon was invented privately before the space program even existed.


  1. "The Greek historian Herodotus described the building of Khufu's pyramid by more than 100,000 slaves. [1]
  2. "Some of the builders were permanent employees of the pharaoh. Others were conscripted for a limited time from local villages." National Geographic
  3. [2]
  4. Fourth Lateran Council. Canon 18: [3]
  5. The Popes and Science by James Walsh
  6. [4]
  7. [5]