The Great Library treated books kind of like Pokemon -- even if nobody ever used more than a dozen of them, the most important thing was to collect them all. Whenever a ship came to port in Alexandria, the librarians immediately seized all of the books on board. They then brought these back to the Library and made rushed, cheap copies, which they returned. The nicer originals were kept for the collection. They pulled this book-stealing stunt on Athens once, borrowing their entire library and sending back the cheap copies. This almost led to a war, and we can only lament that there's not a chapter in our history books called "The Great Library War."
Often, the librarians would wait for times of plague or famine, then pressure book owners to trade their collections for scraps of food or medicine. We can bemoan the destruction of the Library of Alexandria all we want (and we will), but the repeated attempts to burn it down make more sense when you consider that Egypt was using it as a symbol of power and subjugation, versus if you just assume history was full of roving gangs of literacy-hating arsonists.
They'd have hit the pyramids, but books are more flammable.
The Incas Did Not Believe the Spanish Were Gods
What You're Picturing:
When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Peru, they were accepted and worshiped as gods by the locals, which contributed to their downfall as they naively assumed their deities wouldn't be so materialistic as to raid their plentiful gold reserves. Ancient humans were so stupid!
The Incas had recently been conquered by a new emperor, Atahualpa. Since whole empires do not generally get conquered by gibbering idiots, when Atahualpa's spies informed him that the Spanish were on the way to mess up their shit, he accepted them as foreign ambassadors, not gods.
He put them up in a nice hotel and ordered them some call girls.
The idea that white explorers were considered deities by ancient tribes is an assumption borne by arrogant retrospective racism. In the time of the Incas, folks were so used to people with bizarre skin colors turning up to negotiate land and resource agreements that it had become exhausting routine. Far from laughing at these backward, superstitious tribesmen, the Spanish were impressed by how smart and advanced the Incas were. A firsthand account of the meeting between Spanish and Inca people by conquistador Cieza de Leon admits that this first contact wasn't so much a meeting between man and gods as it was an ordinary bureaucratic exchange. "You look really pale and sickly compared to what we are used to -- you must be gods!" was never uttered.
No god wears neck ruffles.
The discovery that unknown humans halfway across the planet were, in their own way, every bit as together as the Europeans sparked debates across the continent about whether or not foreign tribes were as deserving of human rights as everyone else. Clearly, the answer they decided upon was "Nope! Let's kill 'em." And they did. History!
John Martin is a teacher who also does other stuff; you can buy things he makes here. Jason Webb is a stand-up comedian; you can follow him on Twitter or Facebook. J. is a reader and a writer. He can be found here.
For more misconceptions you probably have, check out 6 Organizations You Didn't Know Were Secretly Badass and 5 Fictional Stories You Were Taught in History Class.
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