They say you can learn from history, but first you have to understand it. And, as we've told you before, we absolutely do not. Time and again, we've found that what we've always thought of as fact is about as accurate as a seven-year-old's understanding of sex. For example ...
5Huge Medieval Battles Were Incredibly Rare
New Line Cinema
Historical documentaries like Game Of Thrones and Lord Of The Rings have taught us that medieval warfare was a sprawling, terrifying spectacle. Rows of mounted cavalry as far as the eye can see, ranks of men with colorful shields and pikes with an ocean of (CGI) armored troops behind them. You know, like in Kingdom Of Heaven:
20th Century Fox
Now, we're not saying that shit never happened -- the battle you see above certainly did. We're saying that (for instance) famed conqueror Richard the Lionheart fought a whopping three battles in his entire Lionhearting career. Henry II, one of France's most famous leaders, fought one. Even the most famous medieval battles, like the historic English victories at Crecy and Agincourt, only served as prologues to a whole lot of sieging -- the much more common warfare tactic in which armies simply camped out around a castle or town for months or years until the people inside ran out of food and (usually) surrendered. The truth is that large, pitched battles went down in the history books specifically because they were so unusual.
Why? Well, despite all of the speeches by Mr. Braveheart about the glories of combat, in reality, you always prefer the path to victory that doesn't get half your men hacked to pieces -- armies, after all, are expensive. So rather than agree to have your 20,000 men meet their 20,000 in a scenic open field, armies would only look to engage if victory was all but assured, in which case the weaker side would try to hole up in a castle and turn the affair into a (usually boring) siege. Otherwise, open combat was to be avoided if at all possible, with leaders much preferring to pick away at the enemy with raids, weakening them one razed village or captured stronghold at a time.
Yeah, most of the fighting wasn't exactly the kind of shit they write heroic poems about. Pillaging was the primary tactic of the day, mainly because while we like to imagine epic conflicts fought over freedom, faith, and murdered princesses, most wars were fought over economic issues like property rights. Since peasants were essentially a resource (they provided food and tax revenue), terrorizing them was an easy way to hurt the enemy without the risk of taking an arrow to ye olde gonads.
On the rare occasion when large battles did happen, only armies commanded by total bozos would descend into the usual trope of two forces that fire a few rounds of arrows and then start hacking at each other in a chaotic free-for-all. Scouts and spies were used to track enemy movement, armies used terrain, trenches, and tactical positioning to try to gain an advantage, and they would, you know, try to hide their forces if possible. Commanders studied past battles and textbooks were analyzed and revised. Again, they couldn't throw waves of men at each other. They didn't have them to spare.
So every scene in which a hero leads a courageous charge into the teeth of of the enemy is actually showing that he's kind of an idiot. A true hero would be slaughtering confused peasants and stealing their cattle, dammit!
4Great Britain Wasn't An Island Until Fairly Recently
You probably remember from various science classes that all of the continents used to be connected, but slowly drifted apart over the course of millions and millions of years. Still, we assume the world map looked pretty much as it does now for all of human history at the very least -- geology takes its time.
Britain may have recently voted to leave the European Union, but that's not the first time they've rage-quit on the continent. And the last time was even more chaotic and confusing than Brexit, because not too many thousand years ago, Britain was physically torn away from Europe.
During the tail end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago, what we know now as the island of Great Britain formed the upper corner of the European mainland. The massive chunk of land connecting Britain and Europe was called Doggerland, because sometimes we name land masses after a child's attempt to explain where their golden retriever came from.
This wasn't some random icy wasteland, either; we know that Doggerland was populated. Modern fishermen occasionally haul up spears and mammoth bones, and archaeologists recently acquired technology that allows them to explore the presumably magic kingdom that's hidden under the English Channel and the North Sea. Scientists are trying to create a 3D map of the lost landmass using seabed-mapping technology, and they even plan to pull up DNA samples to see exactly who the Doggerland people were.
Ultimately, Doggerland had an insurmountable problem: It was all lowlands. Once the ice sheets began to melt and the seas started to rise, Doggerland pulled an Atlantis. In 7500 BC, a giant landslide off the coast of Norway created a tsunami that tore through the region. By 6000 BC, the people still clinging to the vanishing surface started moving to the higher grounds of what would become the Netherlands and the British Isles. Doggerland disappeared completely by 5000 BC, and up until the last moment, there were probably lots of people there insisting that the news of the disaster was all an alarmist hoax.