5 Badass Characters You're Picturing Totally Incorrectly

Most of us didn't learn about, say, the Wild West by visiting a research library and poring over Oklahoma manure industry receipts from 1896. No, chances are you learned your Old West history by watching stuff like Tombstone or Cowboys & Aliens or Hey Dude.

The point is, pop culture provides us with a convenient shorthand to understand history, but most of the time pop culture is drunk as hell. So chances are everything you know about cowboys, knights, samurai, or pirates -- that is, pretty much every type of historical occupation you ever wanted to have a kid -- is a whole load of bunkum. For instance...

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5
Knights Could Actually Move Quite Well In Their Armor, Thank You Very Much

If we asked you to picture a medieval knight coming at you in full armor, you'd probably imagine him moving with all the agility and grace of Frankenstein's monster or an office printer that grew legs (but skipped leg day). So yeah, knights were all slow and awkward, right? Such was the price of carrying around over 100 pounds of protection and looking metal as shit.

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Well, a series of experiments -- one of which involved dressing a guy up in a real armor and having him run on a treadmill -- have found that this impression is quite incorrect.

University of Leeds


What happens when you reach the maximum speed at the gym and travel back in time.

When people actually looked back in the historical record, they found that those crazy metal outfits keeping the knights' guts protected from impalement were hardly a problem when it came to kicking ass. Yes, the armors were considerably heavier than a regular shirt and pants, but the knights were prepared for that. Take French knight Jean Le Maingre, aka Boucicaut, who left not only a trail of corpses around Europe but also detailed records of his training regime. He would run, jump, climb, and swing heavy weapons while wearing his armor, which we're guessing still reeks of BO.

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A bunch of Swiss researchers decided to recreate Boucicaut's medieval Rocky routine and discovered that, while you did need to be in peak physical fitness, it was totally possible to be a superhero knight.

National Museum of the Middle Ages – Cluny

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Meanwhile, we got a cramp making this GIF.

While they took the historical records as their starting point, the researchers went a step further and had the armored test subjects take a jog around town, chop wood, and do somersaults, cartwheels, and flips just for the hell of it. They even answered the age-old question: Could knights dance while in their armor? Science has declared that yes, they could.

Daniel Jaquet

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"Thou hast just gotten served."

Of course, it's entirely possible that 500 years from now a group of researchers will run a similar series of tests and determine that Batman was a real person, but would that be so bad?

4
Up To 25 Percent Of All Cowboys Were Black, And There Were Black Lawmen

If you're looking for famous African-American cowboys in Hollywood, the pickings are slim -- there's more or less Blazing Saddles and Django Unchained. Which is pretty dumb, seeing as how about 25 percent of cowboys in the late 19th century were black.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that up to 9,000 African Americans would decide to look for work in the Old West, or as they probably called it, "not the South." Sure, there was still racism -- black cowboys couldn't stay in white hotels, or fuck with white people in any sense -- but there was plenty of work for them and they actually got the same wages as their white co-workers. Yes, Old West cattle industry workers were more open-minded than the people casting John Wayne westerns a century later, apparently.

Library of Congress

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The cool-ass clothes might have been a plus, too.

Some black cowboys even reached positions of power. The most badass was probably a former Texas slave named Bass Reeves, which already sounds like a made-up cowboy name. In his 32-year career as lawman, Reeves arrested 3,000 felons (including his own son) and shot 14 men, while managing never to get shot himself. He also reportedly used disguises and had a Native American partner, leaving him one theme song away from being a real-life Lone Ranger.

University of Oklahoma Library

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The main difference was that he wore the domino mask under his nose.

Of course, there were also black cowboys on the other side of the law -- and sometimes, with good reason. John B. Hayes, also known as "the Texas Kid," would go around looking for saloons with "For Whites Only" signs, sit down, and ask for a drink anyway. After being refused, he would enter the establishment with his horse and start shooting out the lights. Again, that's how he acted when he didn't drink (it's unclear if the horse was equally sober).

3
All That Stuff You Believe About The Samurai Was Propaganda (By The Samurai)

The samurai were so damn cool that their philosophy of honor, loyalty, and bitchin' haircuts is still admired centuries after its creation. Well, make that "century."

The famous idea of the samurai having a code of conduct called bushido (the whole "a warrior needs to be prepared to die for honor and glory" thing) was more or less made up by a book that came out just over 100 years ago. Although the author was from Japan, Bushido: The Soul Of Japan was originally published in the U.S. and wasn't even translated into Japanese until years later, when it was already a hit. This tome of ancient wisdom was actually created in Monterey, California.

Leeds & Biddle

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That's a beach ball.

But is there any truth to it? Well, during the middle ages in Japan, when everyone was at war and there were actual samurai warriors, no one would have had any idea what that book was talking about. By the time the 1600s rolled around, the samurai were famous not for their fighting abilities, but their administrative and bureaucratic skills. Basically, if they existed in the present day they would be more likely to be accountants and lobbyists than Navy SEALS. It was during this uneventful period that the samurai, having little to do and no reason to justify their existence, started getting all dramatic about honor and death, but it was mostly just empty talk.

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Even when they were running around killing people, the samurai's approach was less "epic swordfight" and more "try to catch the victim off guard or lure them into a trap." In fact, they rarely used swords -- in battle, they preferred to stick to a bow and arrow. Yes, they were fucking campers.

Mizuno Toshikata

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Upon finally besting his opponent, this brave warrior rises from his hiding place and declares, "GG EZ."

And you know the famous oath of loyalty they swore to their masters? The idea comes from the religion Confucianism and has nothing to do with military badasses at all. Also, that loyalty usually lasted only for as long as the master's checkbook would allow it. This should go without saying, but just because a code of conduct exists it doesn't mean people will follow it. Cops in America aren't supposed to shoot innocent people ever, for instance, but, well, you know.

2
The Zulu Warriors Absolutely Had Guns And Knew How To Use Them

When you think about Zulu warriors, your mind probably goes to the half-naked African men armed with nothing but spears, fabulously designed shields, and some killer tribal dance moves. Like in the Michael Caine movie Zulu, where they look like this:

Paramount Pictures

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Damn, he's a good actor. We can't even tell which one he is.

In reality, even as far back as the 1879 Anglo-Zulu war, the Zulus were packing a lot more than that. They had plenty of their own guns, sold to them by a bunch of western countries, including the United States. The movie shows them capturing rifles from a British military base, but that was just gravy: They already had thousands of guns before that. And no, they didn't clumsily try to use them as spears or fishing equipment -- some had actually been taught how to shoot decades earlier while employed by European hunting parties. Because "training random people you meet how to use firearms and hoping they don't turn against you" has never, ever been a good strategy.

National Army Museum

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"Hey, what Doctor Who bullshit is going on here?" - Hollywood

The Zulus liked guns so much that they made John Dunn, a white guy who knew how to score weapons, into the king's trusted advisor. Dunn even taught the king's brother how to shoot, turning him into a "noted marksman." Most Zulus, on the other hand, were quite crap at aiming the damned things ... but there's nothing you can't achieve with hard work and perseverance, so they actually managed to strike several British soldiers.

Of course, this doesn't mean that their guns were cutting-edge; in a lot of situations, they were being sold crappy older rifles once newer ones came on the market for their (usually white) suppliers to buy. It's like when we send those losing-team Super Bowl shirts to Africa, except in this case the shirts could shoot someone in the face. The British ultimately won, but it was waaay harder than if the other guys had just had a bunch of extremely sharp sticks.

1
The Freedom-Loving Spartans Were So Not 300

The movie 300 achieved what countless history teachers had been trying to do for generations: Convincing America that ancient Greece was awesome, and especially Sparta. A whole city-state full of manly, patriotic warriors who fight off foreigners in the name of freedom? S-PAR-TA! S-PAR-TA!

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Unfortunately, if they ever did a prequel based on the childhood of those same characters, it would have to be NC-17. That's because in preparation for becoming a badass Spartan soldier, it was normal for a young man to enter into a erotic relationship with an adult male -- you know, what we now call "pederasty."

Jacques-Louis David


If Leonidas was alive today, he'd drive a van with this exact artwork.

This wasn't some consensual thing, either. Once a boy turned 12, an older man just "selected" him to be his sex partner. This went all the way to the top, with one eventual king of Sparta being recorded to have been picked out as a lover when he was a kid. These relationships were so important that they're mentioned in writings by Plutarch and Plato, not to mention depicted on the vases from the time period (which we're not showing you so we don't all end up in a database).

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It's hard to tell from this evidence if these relationships stopped at fondling or went into third base, but either way, woof. Even when a Spartan youth grew up and married a woman, she was expected to dress as a man on their wedding night, presumably because it was the only way he could get it up.

Not only that, but the supposedly freedom-loving city of Sparta was full of slaves, called "helots." Sparta even refused help from Athens at one point because it didn't want those bleeding hearts to put ideas in their slaves' heads. They liked slavery so much, they actually had more slaves than Spartans. This proved to be not such a good idea once the helots rebelled and brought the whole place down. Whoops.

Also check out 5 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About Ancient Civilizations and 5 Embarrassing Failures History Class Turned Into Victories.

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