Legend Vs. Reality: Debunking History
Back when you were in school (or maybe you still are in school) they told us stories from history that helped to mold the way we saw things about our ancestors. The accounts, while they make a great story, are not always true. Movies have been made over these great tales, but most of them have been based on the legend, not the true story. Tales of valor where one stood against many or legends of discovery just aren’t the same and become more “human” once you hear what really happened. Here are five of those tales.
The 300 Spartans At Thermopylae
Since Zack Snyder's movie, 300 (2006) showed us the awesome fighting power of the Spartans, we know everything there is to know of that famous battle, right? Three hundred Spartans take on about two million Persians in a narrow pass and hold out against them for about three days. They had a few friends that came and helped them, but they were pretty useless and if the three hundred Spartans weren't there, they might as well have gone home. Sadly, this story isn't even close to correct. There were three hundred Spartans. That's right. However, they were joined by about seventy-five hundred other Greek warriors who helped them out. The Persians numbered about 300,000 men. It isn't as heroic sounding when the numbers are completely figured out. Additionally, there was a Greek navy keeping more Persians from sneaking around the Spartan line. They did a great job of keeping the Persians at bay. While King Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans did remain behind and die and buy time for the Greek armies. However, they were not alone. An unknown number of Helots (slave-like farmers to the Spartans), 700 Thespian warriors led by the general Demophilas, and 400 Thebians stayed behind, as well. Why the Spartans go down in history as getting all the credit is because that Leonidas was in charge of the united Greeks.
The Battle Of The Alamo
This battle was the deciding factor of the Mexican War. It rallied people behind a cause. Most of us remember the battle as the one where Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie, and Colonel Travis gave their lives for Texan freedom. Well, that's sort of right. The Battle of the Alamo was a massacre of 258 Texans when they stood against 2400 Mexicans led by their leader, Santa Ana. However, what you might not know is that it wasn't completely a black and white story. The reason the Mexicans were so mad at the Texans was because they had kicked the Mexicans off their own land a few months prior. So, like any nation, they put together a big army and came back seeking revenge. They surrounded the Texans (called Texians) at a ruined, three-walled, Catholic mission, known as the Alamo. The Mexicans, after 12 days of siege, attacked the defenders in three waves. Some of the defenders tried to run away but were killed by the Mexicans. The rest were killed. If you followed the John Wayne version, Davy Crockett went out in a blaze of glory. According to a Mexican account, Crockett survived the battle, but was killed afterwards. The rest is history and legend.
Christopher Columbus Finds America
Every school child learns that "in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue..." because Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand believed him when he said the world was round and that he could reach the East by sailing west. In the meantime, he "discovered" America. At least that's the story that I got when I was in elementary school. Unfortunately, it's a load of bunk. Christopher Columbus didn't discover America, unless you fail to consider the countless native Americans that were already there. Even if you think he was the first European to set foot on American soil, the Vikings were in North America and had a settlement 500 years before him, too. Rumors of other settlements also existed. Of course, there is always the proof that the world was round, right? Not really. The ancient Greeks knew about the earth being round and told a lot of people. This story is derived from a book by Washington Irving, a very popular writer in America during the 1700s. He promoted Columbus as the guy who told Europe that the world wasn't flat. As a side note, if you think you've seen a picture of Christopher Columbus, it isn't the real deal. Columbus never had a picture painted of him - when he was alive. Any picture you see of him is what some artist pictured that he looked like.
The Lies Of Plymouth Rock
When you were in school, we learned that the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, founded a colony, had some hard times, and then had dinner with the Indians and this became Thanksgiving. Wrong! First off, the Pilgrims weren't the first European people there. They got to Massachusetts in 1620. That was about 43 years after the Jamestown Colony was founded in Virginia. You’ll find the story is not quite the same, either. The Pilgrims (who actually landed at Provincetown, not Plymouth Rock), were not of all one religion and they weren’t even called “Pilgrims” until a couple of centuries later. They landed too far north of their original destination which had been set out for them and they were out of beer. That’s right. They were running short on beer for the journey. They had to land and they picked what was to become Provincetown as the landing because - the Native Americans had already plowed the fields. Why do all the tough stuff during the winter if you already have fields ready to go in the Spring? The Indians weren’t there to use it. They had already died off due to smallpox brought on by earlier settlers. This plague was considered “Miraculous” by John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was written that this area “was a lovely place for a town” - probably because it already was a town! The Pilgrims looted all of the homes and the graves of the Indians for years afterwards.
The Indian Menace
When the white man came to America, we were met by savages bent on the destruction of civilized life. They were godless heathens that cared for nothing, but luckily, the Europeans were able to put a stop to this. At least that’s how the stories go... In actuality, the Native Americans had a more civilized outlook on life than the Europeans, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find that information. In fact, the Native American ideas may be the foundation of which our democracy lies. The Iroquois League (anglicized from their name of “Haudenosaunee”) was a democratic group of tribes that met and discussed politics very similar to our current Congress - but they started it about 150 years (or more) before Jamestown! The Iroquois, whom resided in upstate New York and Canada, were as far-reaching as the Mississippi and have signs of being in the region as far back as 1000 B.C. As for being civilized, the Indians had no form of “jails” or imprisonment. In fact, it was stated that “All their government is by Counsel of the Sages. There is no Force; there are no Prisons, no officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment.” Benjamin Franklin wrote that. One of the problems Europeans had in the early days was not from being attacked by Indians, but rather by being assimilated by them. They had a pretty good life and it was peaceful and full of individual liberties. Indian women had as many rights as the men and freedom was amongst their highest gifts. It wasn’t until the Europeans started pressing their wills upon the Native Americans that things turned violent.