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45 Strange Facts That Prove History Is Completely Bizarre

Penelope Singh

Like history? Well you’re in luck, because there’s a whole lot of it to discover. Close your eyes and dip into this grab bag of historical facts. Well, actually, don’t close your eyes—you’re going to need them to read this list. Shall we get started?


Bizarre History Facts

45. Does That Make Me Crazy?

Sultan Ibrahim of the Ottaman Empire, a total nervous wreck and a generally unbalanced ruler, once had his whole harem—a total of 280 concubuines—thrown into and drowned in the Bosphorus strait.

44. Then what was His Complex?

Napoleon wasn’t actually all that short. Sure, he was 5’6″, but that was pretty much average for his time.

43. Burned at the Stake

One expert suggests that as many as 600,000 people who were designated “witches” perished during the medieval period.

42. I Knew Giants Were Real

Giants were a big part of Ancient Greek Mythology, and their existence was “proved” to the Greeks by enormous bones that could be found buried throughout the mountainous landscape. These “giant bones” were probably very convincing, although today we know that they were likely the bones of wooly mammoths and mastodons that can still be found all over the country.

Bizarre History FactsShutterstock

41. Can’t Take it With You

Dentures: what would old people and hockey players do without them? Well, until the mid-1800s, dentures, aesthetically pleasing as they may be, were actually often made of teeth pulled from deceased soldiers. Hey, they’re not using them, right?

40. Gold Teeth

George Washington, however, had luxury dentures: they were reportedly made out gold, lead, and ivory, and were a mix of human and animal chompers. But no wood! 

39. Anyone Seen My Coffee Mug?

The extremely goth Britons of the Ice Age commonly used old human skulls as cups. I repeat: as long as they’re not using them.

38. Fly Catchers

As if fanning someone all day with a leaf wasn’t hard enough work, in Ancient Egypt, servants were often lathered in honey to keep flies attracted to them and not the Pharaoh.

37. And Don’t Forget to Floss

Pour out another one for ancient dental hygiene: in ancient Rome, it was totally normal to use urine as mouthwash. At least they were trying to use mouthwash?

36. Tea Time

During the Victorian period, many tea cups had special guards on the top to keep mens’ mustaches from becoming dipped in the tea. Fittingly, they were called mustache cups.

35. Spot Is Going to Represent Himself

In the Medieval Ages, animals could be put on trial, and were very commonly sentenced to death.

34. Your Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather Was a Mass Murderer

Over the course of his massively powerful campaigning around Asia and Europe, Genghis Khan killed an estimated 40 million people—that was 10% of the world’s population. But he’s also pretty much everyone’s common ancestor, so all that killing and maiming balances out…right?

33. Like Caviar, but Really Dead, and also it’s People

Today, the rich have plastic surgery, liposuction, and blood transfusions. But back in the 16th century, the really wealthy used to eat dead bodies, thinking that (somehow) the cadavers could cure diseases. The highest delicacy of all these bodies? Why, Egyptian mummies of course.

32. Birthday Boys

Two titans of their time also share a big day: President Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, author of Origin of Species, were born on the exact same day: February 12, 1809.

31. Senator Horseman

Conquerors really love their horses, and Roman Emperor Gaius—you might know him as Caligula—even went so far as to make his horse a senator, and wanted to eventually make it a consul.

30. The Big Smoke

Winston Churchill typically smoked eight to ten cigars a day, sometimes as much as fifteen. That’s cigars, not even cigarettes.

29. Tight-Knit Family

Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s parents were closely related—like, really close: His mother and father were actually siblings, a marital arrangement that was not uncommon among the ruling classes at the time. Some experts disagree, however, and say his parents were cousins, not brother and sister. But really, same difference here.

28. Wake Up Call

Before modern technology made their profession all but obsolete, people would hire “knocker-ups” to wake them for work; these knocker-ups would generally tap a long stick at their clients’ windows. This still sounds better than being woken up by the default Apple alarm ring tone, to be honest.

27.  Cool Cool

Ever wondered what the “D” in “D-Day” stands for? Well, wonder no more! It stands for “Day.” Yes, it’s Day-Day. It’s a military term for when an attack is to be launched.

26. Old as Ice

Iceland’s Parliament is the oldest in the world, and has been in existence since 930. You do the math, it’s very old.

25. Sweet Dreams

After a long day working on the Great Pyramids, Ancient Egyptians liked to get into bed, unwind, and lay their heads on a nice comfy rock. That’s right, they used rock slabs for their pillows.

24. Chuman

In the 1920s, Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov unsuccessfully attempted to create a human/chimpanzee hybrid by using artificial insemination. The various names for this hybrid? A Humanzee, a Chuman, and a Manpanzee. Pick your favorite! 

23. I Heart You

Silphium, also known as laserwort, was a plant that was once an effective and extremely popular contraceptive; Pliny, sounding like a guy who totally understands women’s periods, noted that it could “promote the menstrual discharge.”  Unfortunately it was so popular that it was harvested into extinction. Some researchers even speculate that the shape of the plant is what gives us the traditional heart shape we use to denote love and romance today.

22. Disease Bingo

George Washington might have been the first president of the United States, but he also should have been first in line to see a doctor: the guy variously contracted malaria, dysentery, small pox, and diphtheria, among other diseases.

21. Protector of the Small

Hitler, like many members of the Nazi party, was vehemently against cruelty towards animals, and was a strict vegetarian. If only he’d applied that logic to literally any other part of his life.

20. I Come in Peace

Much like Hitler, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is not much known for his kindness and mercy; this is after all, a man who ordered the Purges on his own people, resulting in around 20 million deaths. But guess what? Dude was nominated for a Nobel Peace Price in 1945. And then again in 1948. That’s right, I don’t have a single Peace Price nomination, and Joseph freaking Stalin has two. I’m just saying, I didn’t kill millions of people.

19. Liberty Steaks

Because the name sounded too German, Americans used to call hamburgers “Liberty Steaks” during World War II. So the whole French Fries/Freedom Fries fiasco was really just a sequel.

18. Family Feud

Hitler’s nephew William, a US Navy solider, actually fought against Hitler during the war.

17. That Ain’t Genetics

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl disaster struck the Soviet Union when a nuclear plant released radiation pretty much everywhere after an explosion. Firemen were sent into the center of the radiation to extinguish the fire, and the radiation was so intense in this exclusion zone that one fireman’s eyes were said to turn from brown to blue.   

16. If I Only Had a Clue

The ancient Egyptians have given us a plethora of cultural behemoths, from the Great Pyramids to the Sphinx to the Rosetta Stone. Still, you can’t get everything right, and these same peoples also thought that the brain’s primary function was the production of mucus.

15. Citrus Craze

Although they didn’t make it over to England until the 1600s, pineapples became a massive fad in the UK in the 1700s. People would carry them around as symbols of their wealth and status, and everything from clothing to kitchenware was decorated with the exotic fruit. You could even rent a pineapple for an evening and take it out for a spin to impress all your friends.

14. Good Things Come in Small Packages

Ancient Greece was a strange place: For one, they believed that redheads turned into vampires after death. Okay, okay, so maybe they’re right about that one. They also thought that small penises were elegant, especially in comparison to bigger, er, packages, which they associated with “old men and barbarians.”

13. A Clash of Kings

The four suited kings in a traditional deck of cards actually represent historical kings. Some of the assignations are in dispute, but largely the kings are thought to be: King David of Israel as the King of Spades, Alexander the Great as the King of Clubs, Charlemagne as the King of Hearts, and either Augustus or Julius Caesar as the King of Diamonds.

12. Write it Down

Since written accounts of history only began about 6,000 years ago, about 97% of human history is lost to the sands of time; modern humans first appeared around 200,000 years ago.

11. Micro Power

Most people can agree that singing birthday cards are kind of annoying. But tell that to Winston Churchill: the cards, which contain a chip that plays the song, hold more computing power than all the Allied forces had at their disposal in 1945. And your cell phone? Well, it’s got more power than NASA had in 1969—you know, that year they sent humans to the moon. But you keep on playing Candy Crush, don’t let me interrupt you.

10. A Distinguished History

With all the history we have behind us, it can be hard to keep track of everything. Which is why is seems super disorienting to think that the University of Oxford, which opened its doors to students in 1096, is actually older than the Aztec empire, which began in 1427, by hundreds of years. Super disorienting, but super true. 

9. Monty Python and the Holy Snail

Put this on your list of strange ancient battles: Medieval manuscripts depict Knights fighting snails. Granted, no one really knows why the knights are fighting these snails, but maybe it’s best to keep the mystery.

8. I Can Feel it Comin’ in the Air Tonight

For a very long time, people believed that diseases were caused by bad smelling, infected air—it’s what’s known as the miasma theory of disease. This is why plague masks look so freaky: plague doctors wore them and the masks’ long, hollow noses held flowers and other combatants of the smelly, supposedly diseased air.

7. The Moscow Drought

When Russians got lost in the revelry after the defeat of Germany in World War II, Moscow literally ran out of vodka. Considering this is a country that later encouraged citizens to drink vodka to stave off cancer in the aftermath of Chernobyl, I’m shocked.

6. Where Are Your Manners?

Here’s a comeback for all the fussy moms out there: tablecloths, no matter how fancy they’ve gotten today, were originally designed as one big, long napkin. Guests were meant to wipe off their hands and faces on the tablecloth after a messy feast.

5. Thine Mamma

Shakespeare gave us what many see as the perfection of the English sonnet, dozens of new words and phrases that we still use today, and a lasting oeuvre of work that we’re forced to study in high school. He also, in his infinite wisdom, gave us one of the very first ancestors of the “yo mamma” joke:

Demetrius: Villain, what hast thou done?
Aaron: That which thou canst not undo.
Chiron: Thou hast undone our mother.
Aaron: Villain, I have done thy mother.

Burn!

4. Impostor

Look, I don’t want to blow your mind or anything (yes I do), but Cleopatra was Greek, not Egyptian. She was an ancestor of Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great’s generals.

3. Keys to the VIP

So Stalin has two Nobel Peace nominations, Hitler was a PETA-loving vegetarian, what else can surprise you? Well, Saddam Hussein was given the keys to the city of Detroit in 1980. Look, I don’t make the facts, I just tell them.

2. We Don’t Need No Education

Next time your parents try to tell you to stay in school, tell them Harry S. Truman—they may know him as the 33rd President of the United States—didn’t have a college degree. I mean, he was the last president not to have one, and these days you can barely get a job as a receptionist without at least a B.A…but the point is, mom, that he didn’t have one.

1. Farting Around

Old Japanese scrolls show that in the 1500s, people used to engage in a funny but truly disgusting game where the players would try their best to out-fart the others! If I had a time machine I could only use once, let’s just say I don’t think I’d be going to kill Hitler… (I’d go to win a fart-off).

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