They say that history is written by the victors. Others will lend more nuance to this hot take and say, instead, that history is written for the victors. In this sense, they highlight the practical purpose of history—it doesn’t reflect the mindset of a given narrator, but instead provides a most practical past for people in the present to define themselves against. But what about the chaotic histories?
What about when history seems too weird to be true? Because humans are weird creatures, why shouldn’t the stuff they do and the things they say be any less bizarre? Or violent, or irrational, or simply icky? When asked, the people below shared some of their wildest stories from the history of being human. From bucket wars to deadly waves of molasses, partake in these 25 stories from world history that sound made up but are 100% real.
25. Mothership Down
The time that Nero tried to kill his mother by putting her on a ship that was supposed to sink. Except it didn’t work because she climbed onto a bed and floated back to the shore.
To fix this, he sent a small group of soldiers to go meet her on the beach and stab her to death.
24. Even Casper Can’t Escape Justice
When the English monarchy was restored in 1660, King Charles II ordered the posthumous execution of the Members of Parliament involved in his dad’s execution who had died during the Interregnum.
Basically, he wasn’t going to let the fact that the guys were dead get in the way of vengeance. He literally had them dug up, hung the corpses, and then beheaded them.
Why let the death get in the way of a good execution?
23. The Absolutely Last Man Standing
There were still Japanese soldiers well into the 1970s who had no idea WW2 was over.
Like, they just got left behind by the Navy and held out on isolated islands. For decades.
One guy in particular spent his time feuding with the Filipino police. Everyone tried to tell him the war was over, but he thought it was a bunch of propaganda.
Word eventually got back to Japan, where they had to look up his commanding officer (who had since left the military for a career as a businessman) and fly him to the Philippines. Only after receiving a direct order from his commanding officer did the guy stand down.
22. When Bigotry Backfires
The Newport sex scandal.
IIRC, this was shortly after WWI. There was an investigation launched to root out homosexuals in the Navy.
The investigation was conducted by having undercover agents, well…have sex with men.
And to report their “findings” in very vivid detail to the guys heading the investigation.
21. Style to Blow Your Top Off
The dude who first wore a top hat caused a riot by wearing it out on the street.
Apparently, women fainted, and a mob of screaming people formed.
He was arrested for breaching the peace.
For wearing a top hat.
20. Catholics Fly When You’re Having Fun
In 1618, a political dispute between Catholics and Protestants was attempted to be settled by throwing the Catholic regents out of a window in Prague.
It wouldn’t be so unbelievable except for the fact that in 1419, radical Catholics [also] threw 7 members of the Prague city council out of a window.
19. The All-American Emperor
This dude, Emperor Norton, was a real hoot.
Declared himself emperor of the US, and many just sort of went along with it—he even exchanged letters with the Queen.
Joshua Norton was buried on Sunday, the 10th of January 1880. 10,000 people filed past the body as it lay in state; his funeral cortege was over two miles long.
His burial was marked by a total eclipse of the sun.
He was the first and last Emperor of the United States of America.
18. Why Let A Good Head Go to Waste?
A Russian sculptor was commissioned to make a statue of Christopher Columbus as a gift for the Americans (kind of like the Statue of Liberty).
After the painstaking process of making it and shipping it to America, the Americans essentially said, “No thanks,” and sent it back. So, the sculptor cut off the head of the statue, sculpted a new one, and called it a statue for Peter the Great.
You can still see it in Moscow.
17. Dance ‘Til You Literally Drop
Dancing plague around the 14th and 17th centuries, large groups of people dancing on the streets until they collapsed from exhaustion. It is so strange that it’s hard to believe.
16. Do They Give Gold Medals For Getting Freaky?
During the 1904 Summer Olympics Marathon, the winner was given a mixture of rat poison and brandy by his trainers, a Cuban postman finished in fourth despite getting food poisoning midway through the race, and a couple runners were nearly killed due to the generally poor conditions and organization/officiating of the race.
15. MacGyver Was at Pearl Harbor?
On March 10, 1942, just over three months after Pearl Harbor, the Americans fled Java Island. But they inadvertently left behind 18 Americans. So, a person called Master Sergeant Harry Hayes repaired a B-17 and, despite having no flight training before, let alone flown a plane, he successfully piloted the bomber, along with the other 17 Americans, to Australia, even without maps and instruments.
14. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Take a Lunch Break, and Kill Again
World War I started because a Serbian terrorist plot to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary failed miserably.
When a terrorist threw a bomb at the Archduke’s car, he forgot there was a 10-second delay and so it harmlessly bounced off the Archduke’s car and exploded under the car behind him. The terrorist who threw the bomb then tried to swallow a cyanide capsule and drown himself in a river, but the river was only a few inches deep.
The capsule just made him sick and so he was arrested.
Then Ferdinand’s driver got lost looking for the hospital, so the Archduke could visit those injured in the attack, and during his search for the hospital he went down a street that he had to slowly reverse out of. That street just happened to be the street where one of the terrorists decided to stop for lunch at a deli after his failed assassination plot, and so the terrorist whose group’s initial attempt failed suddenly found himself 10 feet (literally) away from the Archduke and was able to kill both the archduke and his wife with 2 shots from his gun which promptly jammed.
(The Archduke was hit in the jugular; his wife in the abdomen).
All of this was done in the name of Serbian independence from Austria-Hungary and at the behest of Serbian military officers. Serbia then dissolved the group in 1916 (2 years after the start of the war) and executed its leaders.
13. Best Friends Forever (Or At Least Until Your Crucifixion)
When ya boi Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates, and he laughed at them for the low ransom and told them to raise it.
Then over the course of time it took the Romans to raise the money, Caesar developed something of a friendship with the pirates to the point where he was joining in with their games and exercises.
When the ransom arrived, he handed it over to the pirates and was set free. With his freedom he returned to the pirate ship (which was still where he left it), took them as prisoners and then crucified them.
(Edit: yeah I forgot to mention that he told them previously he’d crucify them, but they thought he was joking).
12. Sea You Later, Mr. Prime Minister
Didn’t Australia name a pool after a drowned PM??? Like, really guys?
Harold Holt, the Australian Prime Minister who went in the ocean for a swim and disappeared.
11. Can’t Take a Good Canuck Down
The 1995 break-in at Sussex Drive (Canadian prime minister’s home). Attempted murder thwarted by PM’s wife brandishing loon statue.
My favorite part is PM Chrétien, after his wife woke him in a panic, tried to tell her, “It’s just a dream”.
Tl;dr: a very Canadian assassination attempt.
Comes in handy!
10. Never Officially Moved In
The most respectful territory control that currently happens.
Hans Island is a small island that is contested territory between Canada and Denmark.
Every few months, a platoon from one of the nations goes to the island, takes down the other country’s flag to put up their own, drinks a crate of booze left behind by the other army.
They’ll drop a crate of their own booze and then leave.
9. A Holiday Time-Out
The Christmas Truce in World War I. Guys from both sides crossed the lines and celebrated Christmas with each other, then went back to their respective lines and resumed killing each other.
Some people find it touching, I find it straight up bizarre.
8. The War They Forgot to End
The 335 Years War between the Isles of Scilly and the Netherlands started in 1651 and ended in 1986, when a historian was trying to debunk the myth that the two were at war.
He discovered that the two were in fact at war and didn’t know it. This prompted the signing of a peace treaty to end the longest war to have zero battles and no bloodshed.
The Dutch more or less declared war and forgot about it.
The Dutch ambassador joked that it must have been harrowing for the Scillians “to know we could have attacked at any moment”.
Edit: To correct some ambiguity, the Isles of Scilly are a region of Britain, not a country.
7. You Can’t Train the Germanic Tribalism Out of the Boy
The Battle of Teutoburg Forest. So, there’s this Germanic Chieftain, Segimerus, and as punishment for fighting Rome, the Romans took his son Arminius and attempted to turn him into one of them. He was raised by a Roman family, given a Roman military education, and ended up as an officer in a force under general Publius Quinctilius Varus.
In the meantime, Segimerus dies, so his son is, by all rights, the Chieftain of this tribe. Varus was sent to Germany to fight Arminius’ tribe, and, wouldn’t you know it, Arminius disappears one night.
In the morning, the army moves off through the forest, and, shockingly, gets ambushed by Arminius and an army of angry Germans, who wipe out Varus’ army. Varus himself commits suicide to avoid facing punishment for this disaster, and Rome never tried to take territory on that side of the Rhine ever again.
6. Mass Death Never Tasted So Sweet
The great molasses flood of 1919. A storage tank at a factory in Boston burst killing 21 people and injuring 150 more in a 35-mph tidal wave of molasses.
5. Commander in Kicking Your Butt
A guy manages to sneak up to Andrew Jackson with two pistols and tries to shoot him.
Both his pistols misfire, despite such a thing being statistically impossible, and Jackson realizes what just happened. Jackson proceeds to nearly beat the would-be assassin to death, and probably would have, if he hadn’t been pulled apart from the man by several congressmen, including then incumbent Davy Crockett.
4. A Patriotic Excuse to Manscape
After being exiled, Napoleon returned to France in his Hundred Days. When he arrived, his former armies faced him. He exposed his chest and told them to shoot their emperor if they so wished.
No one shot him up, so we got Waterloo to read about in the textbooks.
3. Take a Bite Out of This Mean, Green Military Machine
Battle of Ramree Island. A WW2 offensive to retake part of Burma held captive by Japan that resulted in the largest number of crocodile-related deaths in a single historical event.
Quote from a solider & naturalist who participated in the effort:
“That night [19 February 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M. L. [motor launch] crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch-black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth.
At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left… Of about one thousand Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about twenty were found alive”.
2. Delicious. Refreshing. Armed.
There was that time Pepsi became the 6th most powerful military in the world.
So, Pepsi signed a deal with Russia in the 60s to trade bottles of vodka for Pepsi, and since the Ruble wasn’t an international currency yet they couldn’t pay in cash. Fast forward to the 70s and the deal expires, so the USSR has to come up with a new one, so, for 3 billion dollars’ worth of Pepsi the USSR give them 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer. Pepsi then sent them to Sweden to be dismantled.
But for those few days, they were a great military power.
1. Other Wars Will Pail In Comparison
War of the Bucket.
This was a war in 1325 between Bologna and Modena fought because, I kid you not, Modena stole Bologna’s town bucket.
Modena won and still holds the bucket today.