Learning history at school may sometimes feel like nothing but memorizing endless boring facts that happened throughout the centuries. While part of it certainly has to do with learning about the seemingly mundane activities people did, there’s also a more exciting side of history. Interesting or weird, the history facts listed below are worth checking!
Think about it this way: if today’s events on the news seem startling or strange, imagine how peculiar they will be in a few centuries’ time. That is precisely how our perspective is like when poring over random history facts that are a little bit weird.
From holding trials against tomatoes to being buried alive, here are some bizarre history facts from around the world.
1. The turkey used to be worshipped like a god.
Famous for being America’s favorite Thanksgiving holiday meal, this big bird was considered sacred in around 300 B.C. The Mayan people considered turkeys to be the vessels of the gods, so much so that they were even domesticated!
These birds also had roles in religious ceremonies. As a result, the turkey was genuinely revered and considered a symbol of power and prestige, reflected widely in Mayan archaeology and iconography.
2. A town once held a trial against tomatoes.
This famous red fruit that is used in so many dishes today was once considered evil and poisonous. However, a fellow from Salem, New Jersey named Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a basket of tomatoes in 1820 to dispel any rumors that they were lethal. The crowd was shocked to see that he didn’t drop dead after one bite!
3. King Henry VIII hired people to look after his poop.
The famous king most known for beheading his wives hired four men to monitor his bowel movements, wipe his bottom, and check his feces. They were called “Grooms of the King’s Stool” and were, surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) knighted!
4. Napoleon was attacked by bunnies.
Numerous armies have attacked famous conqueror Napolean Bonaparte, but perhaps none were as frightening as his encounter with… bunnies? Yes! Some time ago, the emperor requested for a rabbit hunt to be arranged for himself and his men.
Around 3,000 rabbits were gathered, but when they were released, the fluffy animals charged towards Bonaparte and his men — a close contender for The Battle of Waterloo!
5. One of the most feared pirates was a Chinese prostitute.
Source: Maggie McNeil
One of the most feared, respected, and successful pirates in history was none other than a Chinese prostitute. Ching Shih commanded a fleet of more than 1,500 ships and some 80,000 sailors.
6. A horse became a senator in Ancient Rome.
One Roman Emperor appointed his horse as a senator. Emperor Gaius was more famously known as Caligula and loved his horse so much that he declared it with the title.
7. People in Victorian England used to keep pictures of their dead relatives.
Cameras were so new and expensive during this time that picture taking was reserved for such occasions only. This was one of the few times a person would have their picture taken, and it was often in lifelike positions. Sometimes eyes would be drawn or painted onto the photos to give them a more lifelike appearance.
8. A Great Dane diffused a bomb by peeing on it.
During World War II, a Great Dane named Juliana urinated on an incendiary bomb and extinguished it. As a result, she was granted the Blue Cross Medal, given to pets for bravery and service.
9. The longest war in history lasted 335 years.
When the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly went to war, it lasted centuries. However, nobody was killed.
10. Nipple piercings were popular during the Victorian era.
Source: All That’s Interesting
Who would’ve thought that the straight-laced Victorians would be into such a fashion trend? However, the Queen of Bavaria influenced the trend with dresses that had plunging necklines to show off diamond-encrusted piercings.
The Victorians modified this with nipple rings attached with a gold chain. It was believed that this helped breasts grow more evenly and made breastfeeding easier.
11. Grigori Rasputin had terrible table manners.
Grigori Rasputin was the Russian mystic and self-proclaimed holy man who became an adviser to Czar Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia. However, he gained a reputation for influencing the royal family while taking part in questionable activities.
He was also known for having terrible table manners. He was rumored to have licked spoons and used the same utensils to serve others. He also had pieces of food fall into his beard and rot. In addition, it was well-known that he had horrible hygiene practices.
12. The world’s tallest couple nearly reached 8 feet in height.
Anna Haining Swan and Martin Van Buren Bates were a perfect match, considering how rare their heights were. Bates was 7 feet and 9 inches tall while his wife towered over him by two inches at 7 feet 11 inches.
13. Ketchup used to be sold as medicine.
Back in the early 1800s, tomatoes were thought to be effective against indigestion and diarrhea. Dr. John Cooke Bennett used a tomato ketchup recipe concentrated into a pill form as a supposed medication for those conditions. It wouldn’t be until the late 19th century that it would be considered a condiment!
14. Rum icon Captain Morgan was real.
This famous rum brand didn’t just make up the icon that made it so famous. Captain Morgan was a real person. He was a Welsh privateer who fought with the English against the Spanish in the Caribbean in the 1600s. King Charles II of England even knighted him!
15. Morphine was regularly used as a medication for children.
Source: NYAM Center for History
In the 19th century, there was a popular medicine meant to act as a pain reliever for children. It was called Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. However, it might be shocking to know that this syrup was actually heavily laced with morphine!
16. Ancient Romans used stale urine as mouthwash.
Some of the strangest things our ancestors did are questionable, and this fun fact is one of them. People in Ancient Rome would use stale urine as mouthwash. While this sounds downright disgusting, the ammonia in urine is one of the most effective natural cleaning substances there is. As a result, it was highly sought after in Rome, so people had to pay a tax for it.
17. Forks were formerly considered to be sacrilegious.
Forks are so commonplace today that it’s difficult to imagine them being a point of contention in the past. However, these utensils were once seen as blasphemous because they were considered artificial hands, offensive to God.
18. The Bloody Mary Drink wasn’t always called that.
The famous Bloody Mary drink used to be called A Bucket of Blood. It then became known as the Red Snapper until Bloody Mary was settled upon as the official name.
19. The Tug of War used to be a bonafide Olympic sport.
Tug of war seems like a fun activity that you’d do on a weekend retreat or team building, but it was considered a professional sport back in the early 1900s. In fact, it was part of the Olympics! The countries that won the most medals in this sport were Great Britain and USA.
20. Urine was used for dyes.
Another interesting fact about urine! Apart from being a powerful cleansing agent, the ammonia in stale urine also helped develop color in dyes while binding it to cloth. In fact, it was such a valuable asset to the textile industry of 16th-century England that that urine was kept in special pots to be transported across the country for use in factories!
21. A Pope declared war on cats.
In the 13th century, Pope Gregory IV declared war on cats! He believed that black cats were more than just bad luck: he thought these animals were instruments of Satan himself. Because of this, he ordered the extermination of these felines across Europe. However, this backfired in the worst way since it increased the population of plague-carrying rats.
22. Russia once ran out of vodka.
When the Second World War ended, Russia unbelievably ran out of vodka while celebrating! Parties lasted for so long after the long war ended that all of the nation’s reserves ran out just 22 hours after the celebrations started.
23. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is based on a true story.
This famous nursery rhyme is actually based on real history. Mary Sawyer was an 11-year-old girl who lived in Boston and was followed to school by her pet lamb. She even helped raise money for a community church by selling wool from her lamb.
24. Abraham Lincoln was a wrestling champion.
Before Abraham Lincoln took office, he was declared a wrestling champion. It isn’t difficult to see why. Abe stood at 6’4″ and only lost once among his 300 contests. As a result, he earned quite a reputation as an elite fighter in his county. Abe eventually became the wrestling champion of New Salem, Illinois.
25. Tablecloths were once used as table napkins.
Source: Abbey Medieval Festival
Originally, tablecloths were designed to be used as communal table napkins. People would wipe their hands and faces on the tablecloth after a meal.
26. Roman gladiators became celebrities.
Much like their modern athlete counterparts today, Roman gladiators also endorsed products due to their celebrity status!
27. A secret society called The Order of the Pug existed.
In 1740, a secret society called the Order of the Pug was discovered by Roman Catholics in Bavaria. New members were made to wear dog collars and scratch at the door to get in. This society was active until about 1902.
28. Heroin was once used as medicine.
Branded as heroin hydrochloride, doctors prescribed this to treat everything from headaches to nausea!
29. Stalin used to remove people he didn’t like from photographs.
It’s incredible to think that some equivalent to today’s Photoshop was used back then! Stalin erased anybody he didn’t like from photos, which eventually included Lenin and Trotsky.
30. Teeth from dead people were used for dentures at one point in history.
Source: Medline Plus
Before dentures were invented, prosthetics were made using teeth extracted from the mouths of dead soldiers. Pretty gruesome.
31. Ancient Asia used elephants for death sentences.
Who would have thought that death by elephant was a real thing? In Ancient Asia, elephants were trained to slowly crush skulls, break bones, and twist off limbs. Rulers also had elephants execute people using blades fitted onto their tusks. This method of execution remained prevalent in some parts of Asia up until the 19th century.
32. Some Buddhist monks mummified themselves.
In practice called Sokushinbutsu, monks would gradually stave off food and water and starve themselves to death in the span of a thousand days to mummify themselves. They believed that by doing this, they would reach true enlightenment.
33. The wealthy elite used to eat dead bodies.
In the 16th century, dead bodies were considered delicacies that could cure diseases. This was enjoyed mostly by the wealthy elite. And the highest delicacy? Egyptian mummies.
34. Chinese women used to bind their feet.
This is different from the foot binding you typically see ballerinas do. Chinese women used to bind their feet so tightly from an early age to not grow. This painful custom was meant to display social status. It was also, for a time, a symbol of beauty in Chinese culture.
35. People dipped their handkerchiefs in Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette’s blood.
It’s no secret that the people of France reviled the young emperor and his wife. When they were finally beheaded, rumor has it that people took their handkerchiefs and dipped them in the former royals’ blood to keep as souvenirs. This was further confirmed by scientists in 2011.
36. The shortest war didn’t even last an hour.
The war between England and Zanzibar was so short it only lasted 38 minutes.
37. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was never straight.
What gave this building its iconic look was the flawed architecture from the very beginning of its design and construction. The foundation was set on weak and unstable soil, and it began to sink when the second floor was being built.
38. A railway once employed a baboon.
Though no one is sure how it came to be, the South African railway once hired a baboon. Surprisingly, in its years of service, the monkey never made a single mistake!
39. An Native American chief was buried sitting atop his horse.
Another beloved horse on this list belonged to none other than the great Omaha Native American Chief Blackbird. He was said to have loved his horse so much that he was buried sitting atop his companion.
40. People used to be woken up by peas before the alarm clock was invented.
Source: Atlas Obscura
Before the ringing or beeping of an alarm clock became the universal wakeup call, people called knockers-ups were hired. They shot dried peas from blowguns at people’s windows to wake them up in the morning.
41. Soda was traded in exchange for military equipment.
In the early 1990s, Pepsi owned 17 submarines, a destroyer, a cruiser, and a frigate! This was because they made a deal with the Soviet Union, which exchanged soda for military equipment.
42. A parrot had to be removed from a funeral for swearing too much.
US President Andrew Jackson was buried in 1845, but his pet parrot was determined to make the ceremony a memorable one. In fact, the bird swore so loudly that he had to be removed from the funeral rites!
43. Pharoah Pepi II despised flies
The ruler hated flies so much that he was rumored to keep slaves covered in honey around his bed chambers to keep the flies away from him.
44. Greek and Roman statues were mostly colored.
It’s hard to imagine Greek and Roman statues being any other color than white, but that was the case when they were created. Paint just faded over time or was removed by people.
45. Christmas was banned at one point.
During the 17th century, Christmas was outlawed in New England states because the celebrations during this time involve gluttonous displays of eating and drinking, aggressive begging, and even breaking into wealthy homes!
46. The avocado was named after testicles.
The word “avocado” comes from the Aztec word “ahuacacuahatl,” which translates to “testicle tree.”
47. Cats were once used as shields in battle.
During the battle of Pelusium in 525 BC, the Persians used cats as shields. This was because Egyptians considered them sacred and were forbidden from killing them!
48. The last guillotine execution happened around the same time Star Wars IV: A New Hope was released.
Guillotine executions seem like a relic belonging to 16th century France, but it was still used until the late 1970s! The last person to be executed by a guillotine died in September of 1977, just a few months after Star Wars IV: A New Hope was released.
49. Albert Einstein was once offered the presidency of a country.
The famous scientist was offered to be Israel’s second president in 1952, but he politely declined the position.
50. Kim Jong Il has a penchant for the arts.
The former North Korean leader wrote six operas!
51. Arabic numerals were invented by Indian mathematicians.
The numbers we use today are referred to as Arabic numerals, but they were actually invented by Indian mathematicians!
52. Rocks were once used as pillows.
The ancient Egyptians used slabs of stones as pillows in the past.
53. The athletes of the Ancient Olympics used to perform naked.
Doing each Olympic sport naked was meant to imitate the Greek gods. However, it was also done out of practicality. Performing naked could clear the toxins from the skin through sweat. The word “gymnastics” actually has its origins in the Greek words “gumnasía,” which means “athletic exercise,” and “gumnós,” which meant “naked.”
54. A Roman emperor died by having gold poured down his throat.
Marcus Licinius Crassus was the wealthiest man in Rome during his lifetime. However, his thirst for wealth would eventually lead to his downfall. After an unsuccessful plea for peace with Parthian leaders, Crassus was killed with molten gold to symbolize his greed.
55. Wearing skirts was considered manly in Ancient Greece.
It seems a little strange given today’s standards in clothing, but masculine and feminine clothing items were actually the opposite in Ancient Greece. Skirts were seen as masculine, and trousers were viewed as effeminate.
If you enjoyed reading these weird history facts, then look out for our other posts!