5 Iconic Groups From History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly
History is written by the victors, and so a lot of the "facts" you have in your head are just the manic ravings of the people who stabbed their way to the top. Historical truth is a complicated and nuanced thing, so while there might be elements of truth to the popular story you know, it's rarely the complete truth. Sometimes the story has another side, or it has been spun entirely out of proportion, or it may just be an outright fabrication. We'll tell you how it really went down. Take our word for it. Or we'll stab you in the face.
The Luddites Were Not Anti-Technology
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The "Luddites" are so closely associated with their aversion to technology that the term "Luddite" today literally means "aversion to technology." Originally a 19th-century protest movement that opposed the Industrial Revolution, the Luddites went around smashing machines like some militant wing of the Amish.
"But what if these hammers, too, are machines?"
"Then we shall smash them with our thumbs!"
The Luddites were neither inept nor afraid of the technology used in early 19th-century English factories. What actually got them all worked up and hankering for some good old machine-wrestlin' was factory owners exploiting laborers. In 1811, when the Luddite uprising exploded, unemployment, inflation, and Napoleon's blockade of English ports all combined to turn staples like bread into luxury items for much of the English working class.
"Let them eat spotted dick."
The Luddites took their name from the (possibly fictional) Ned Ludd, who was said to have smashed his loom with a hammer when a supervisor criticized his knitting. Neddy clearly had some anger-management issues, but the movement named for him started as mostly peaceful protesters making outrageous demands for things like decent wages and safer working conditions. They weren't entirely keen on the use of certain kinds of machines, true, but only in the sense that the factory owners were using said machines to drive wages down and exploit their workers. You may recognize that as the exact same motivation behind every union in the world.
The whole "anti-technology" thing came about when a group of Luddites destroyed the manufacturing equipment of a few factories, not because machines are bad but because it was the surest means of forcing the factory owners to come to terms.
And colonists in Boston, contrary to popular belief, weren't crusaders against caffeine.
We saw people breaking looms and thought, "They hate those machines." That's what a baby would assume if they waddled in on you yelling into a telephone.
The Hells Angels Will Stomp You a New Mud Hole ... in Court
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Let's preface this by reminding you that we are a comedy site and there's no need to respond to this article with vicious street retribution. The Hells Angels, recently having abandoned the more grammatically correct apostrophe, are the original outlaw biker gang. As hardcore as they come, they've used murder, extortion, and violence to rise to the top of the criminal underworld.
Almost like some flying thing in Hades ...
Did we say murder, extortion, and violence? We mean meticulous litigation. If the Hells Angels see an uninitiated gang member wearing their logo, you imagine they'd take that person outside and unload the hunting section of Walmart into the offender's chest. In actual fact, they're more likely to just sue.
When rapper Young Jeezy released a line of jackets last year that used a similar image to the Angels' official logo, the Angels took him to court for copyright infringement. And not only did this affair not end with a judge's bullet-riddled corpse dumped outside the courthouse as a warning, it was actually settled out of court, which is pretty much the most gentlemanly and level-headed way a legal dispute can possibly be handled. If you've ever been so furious that you took a civil matter to trial, you are more unreasonable than the Hells Angels.
"Leave that shit for the Juggalos."
The modern day Hells Angels seem more concerned with protecting their trademark than they are with chain-whipping prospects. In 2006, they sued Disney for mentioning their gang in the movie Wild Hogs, a family film about John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy having a mid-life crisis.
And if suing goddamn Disney isn't the least-manly fight you can imagine a gang of murderous thugs picking, consider that at one time they sued a teenage girl for selling patches on eBay that resembled their logo. Just picture all those burly, tattooed, bearded men convening around a carved wooden table in the backroom of a seedy bar, the air redolent with smoke, whiskey, and grease. The largest of them slams a fist on the table, demanding silence, and says, "All right boys, we have to deal with 1directionsupafan1998 once and for all. Call ... the lawyers."
Ah, lawyers. Satan's true angels.
The Knights Templar Were a Bunch of Bankers
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During the Crusades, the legendary Knights Templar were a mysterious, Illuminati-esque cult of elite Christian warriors tasked with everything from avenging Christendom to protecting the Holy Grail. At least, that's according to every bit of popular culture that's mentioned them, from The Da Vinci Code to Indiana Jones.
In deciding to learn history from Hollywood, you chose poorly.
The Knights Templar did fight in battles, but most of their power came not from God or a bitchin' sword-arm but from their excellent banking practices.
They began as an organization after the First Crusade, and their main job was protecting pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land. Pilgrims would often travel from Europe to Jerusalem and pay for food and lodging along the way. Once they arrived, they spent their money on holy relics sold by street vendors -- since Jerusalem was the 12th-century equivalent of a tourist trap, selling knockoff versions of fragments of the True Cross and such.
"You come to my brother's shop. He give you blood of the lamb, good price."
But because the pilgrims carried so much money with them on the journey, bandits were a constant concern. You can't have your suckers being fleeced before they even get to your shops. That's bad for the economy, and that's where the Knights Templar came in: they wanted to stop the banditry but had only nine members at the start. They just didn't have the manpower to protect the whole route. So they created what was basically the first credit card.
You deposited money with their bank in Europe, and they gave you a sheet of credit called a "note of hand." You could then use this to travel to the Holy Land, with deductions made for food and lodging along the way. When you arrived, you could withdraw the funds you had left and buy your cheap Grail replica, then journey home broke and full of regret. Like an ancient precursor to Vegas. Robbers weren't as interested in stealing sheets of paper that could be used only to buy food from churches, so they mostly left the pilgrims alone.
"They don't even have good-looking livestock to rape."
The enterprise paid off big for the Templars, and they eventually became the biggest bank in Europe.
Huh, no wonder pop culture left that part out. That scene in Indiana Jones isn't nearly as cool if they stumble into the grail-room and the immortal knight asks them for four kinds of ID and a withdrawal slip.
The Librarians of Alexandria Were More Thugs Than Scholars
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The Library of Alexandria was the center of knowledge and understanding in the ancient world. Home to tens of thousands of books, it was the most complete collection that had existed up until that point, and for centuries afterward. Picture the librarians there: sort of a wise council of Dumbledores, quietly collecting knowledge and sharing wisdom with those who seek it, right?
Next, picture them letting their hair down and getting sexy after-hours.
Now add some brass knuckles and face tattoos. The librarians of Alexandria were less concerned with being a haven of knowledge than they were in securing power and prestige for Egypt. Their mission statement wasn't "Come and educate yourself." It was "Look at all this rare shit we have, hail the pharaoh or we'll beat your face in!"
"Pharaoh took that papyrus there and wiped his ass with it, just cause he could."
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
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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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