Sometimes it’s easier to believe the work of a filmmaker than a historian’s. Maybe it’s because it’s more readily available to us. Perhaps we find it simpler to believe the “facts” presented to us in a story instead of understanding the complex context of a time period.
Whether we realize it or not, most of our knowledge of certain historical periods is based on filmic representations. So, of course, plenty of the information is inaccurate yet aesthetically appealing. When it comes to the Middle Ages, our perception is one of knights and sword fights, as well as the townspeople living in the worst kind of poverty, while the nobility was locked away in their castles. But to generalize an entire era this way is wrong. The following myths have been proven false, so don’t believe everything you hear until proper research has been done.
Not everyone believed the world was flat
Despite many claims, there were people who did not think the world was at the center of the universe. Ancient Greeks such as Eratosthenes and Aristotle assumed our planet was a spherical body long before Galileo was accused of heresy. Despite the influence of religion, there were plenty who did not buy that the Earth was flat.
Death penalty was not that common
One scene that always seems to find itself at the center of a book or movie set in the Middle Ages is of a character being sentenced to death. In reality the justice system back then was not so different to our present one. Trials became part of the process, and the death penalty was the gravest form of punishment given to traitors, murderers, and other dangerous criminals. Beheadings were not open to the public, only to wealthy citizens. This made hanging the most popular method.
Only few had Bible-reading privileges
It’s only natural to assume that only certain citizens had access to religion and the Bible. One of the reasons is that the wealthy would not want the poor to read particular passages. However, prior to Gutenberg’s printing press, all books needed to be copied by hand, and the Bible was the hardest one to reproduce. The ones charged with this were the clergy. They were tasked with their use and safekeeping. Actually, most of the population could not read, so it wasn’t just the Holy Books but any book that was out of reach.
We tend to imagine someone with rotting teeth, matted hair, and dirty skin when we think of this time period. But back then, there was such a thing as bathhouses. Hygiene was implanted then and became an important aspect of life. When we hear about people relieving themselves in gross manholes, we don’t listen to the part about those spots being cleaned. What is true is that not everyone chose to use them, particularly the poor.
Women were oppressed
The feudal system, the church’s power, and the economics of the time have perpetuated this belief. However women’s opinions held the same validity as men’s. The wives of feudal lords were considered intelligent and served as their husbands’ personal counselors. Despite being seen as individuals destined to different societal functions, they received equal treatment. Joan of Arc and Hildegard Von Binger are just some of the women who prove not all were oppressed.
Medieval people are seen as dirty and devoid of any intellectual knowledge. Luckily historians have been able to disprove these claims. This period was full of scientific and philosophical breakthroughs, which evolved into the population interested in them. The art of the Middle Ages is one of the most beautiful in history. Medicine began to experiment more ways to keep people healthy. It was a time of change rather than just darkness.
The population was made up of white Christians
Because filmmakers behind the big productions of this time period tend to be Caucasian, they are more likely to only include white actors. Truth is that the Medieval society was one of the most racially diverse moments in history. Immigration from the African and Asian continent turned Europe into a melting pot of religions, cultures, and languages.
Erich Von Daniken and Nicholas Quaintmer’s book History is Wrong reveals some of the greatest errors historians make when recounting important moments in humanity. When they don’t have enough documentation, some authors choose to use their common sense or even imagination to figure out how things happened. Then filmmakers take those claims as facts. Luckily time helps to correct these mistakes while allowing us to take a more honest look into the past.