Most people would be shocked to learn that what they know about history is based less on carefully researched fact and old records and more on poor research, bigotry, and the historical equivalent of a game of 'telephone' as these examples clearly point out.
1. The Myth- When ancient Romans weren't engaging in orgies, man-boy love, or perfecting the toga, they were participating in group vomiting sessions in buildings specially designed for the experience called vomitoriums.
The Truth- I'll borrow from the the Wiki entry here. A vomitorium is "A passage located behind a tier of seats in an amphitheater used as an exit for the crowds." You can pretty much find modern day versions of 'vomitoriums' in every stadium in the country. And although millions of drunken fans stumble through this area to the bathrooms to puke, that's where the relationship ends.
How hot is that?
Why We Believe it- The movie Caligula. And anything on HBO these days. And it's just a lot of fun to believe that the society that preceded us was comprised of a bunch of hedonistic savages wearing robes.
Just imagine an entire world populated by Hugh Hefner.
2. The Myth- George Washington, the father of our country and enemy to cherry trees everywhere, wore wooden teeth.
The Truth- Washington did indeed wear dentures, but there was about as much wood in them as Chaz Bono has in his pants. His teeth were actually made from a combination of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and human and animal teeth making George the dopest leader of a nation.
Pictured Above: The First Bling
Why We Believe It- That stupid cherry tree again. It brings one urban legend full circle, from the fictitious portrayal of the President as a boy cutting down a tree to wearing teeth made out of wood later in life. Also, how much more folksy and down to earth can you get? We like to believe Washington was a common man, the salt of the earth, who was similar to all Americans at the time--hard-working, honest, and simple; the polar opposite of those entitled, tax-assigning Brits. The notion of Washington grinning gold just doesn't gel with what we want to believe.
3. The Myth- Napoleon Bonaparte was a little man. They even named a damned complex after him.
And later Randy Newman gave us license to hate all short people.
The Truth- He was 5 feet 7 inches, not exactly a midget even by today's standards, but back then, Napoleon was taller than his average countryman.
Why We Believe It- Well, his nickname was the little emperor, but that was more of a sign of affection back then. And plus Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is the closest to historical study many of us will ever get. Plus, it's fun to think of Napoleon marauding across a countryside on a comically huge horse, conquering nations just to prove he can measure up. Even today, when we see a guy in a large car we just know he's compensating for something. The truth is just that Napoleon liked conquering. And those pictures of him holding his stomach are exaggerated, too. His hand was actually tucked inside of his fly.
This man is playing with his balls.
4. The Myth- In the middle ages, people said 'ye' instead of 'the'.
And Renaissance festivals were never the same.
The Truth- At some point a lazy historian confused the middle ages character thorn (þ) in abbreviations of the word "the", which in Middle English texts looked just like a y. What does this mean? Someone, somewhere was too lazy to look up a word and the rest of us were too lazy to verify it.
Why We Believe it- It's quaint, isn't it? And it gels with what we think of old timey people what with their forsooths and perchances and what not.