This is another remarkable historical myth that some people took as fact once upon a time. It says that during the Trojan War, the Greek soldiers were able to take the city of Troy after 10 years of fighting by hiding inside a wooden horse. The Greeks created this horse and offered it as a token of peace to their foes. Yet the horse was hollow and large enough to conceal Greek soldiers. The Trojans took the gift and brought it into the city. Once they were asleep, the Greeks inside the horse came out and opened the gates to the city. The rest of the Greek army stormed the city and slaughtered the Trojans in their beds.
To be fair, it was long assumed that the city of Troy itself was a myth. That is until a German businessman and archaeology lover, Heinrich Schliemann, actually found evidence of the city’s existence at the Turkish site of Hissarlik in the 1870s.
Our sources for the story of the Trojan Horse are Book II of Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Odyssey. Homer’s works were created in around the 8th century B.C. and were composed orally. Little is known of Homer other than the fact he did exist and we don’t know who finally wrote down these epic poems. Virgil lived in the first century B.C. and his Aeneid is modeled on Homer’s work.
The tale of the Trojan Horse should not be taken literally. A number of historians believe the âHorse’ was actually a battering ram or siege machine which was used to smash down the walls of Troy. This piece of equipment may have been in the shape of a horse and the âpeace offering’ might have referred to a boat carrying a peace envoy.
There is even doubt over whether the Trojan War ever happened although some evidence has come to light. Classical sources state that the Trojan prince Paris eloped (or kidnapped) Queen Helen of Sparta. Her husband Menelaus convinced his brother Agamemnon (king of Mycenae) to go to war to get her back. The result was a decade long war which only ended thanks to the Trojan Horse trick.
Eratosthenes said the war took place from 1194-1184 B.C. although modern sources believe it could have happened during an 80 year period from 1260-1180 B.C. Archaeological excavations at the site of Troy uncovered skeletons and charred debris which are dated to 1180 B.C. Certainly, Troy was a real city that suffered destruction. Its ruins would have been visible for centuries so perhaps this is what inspired Homer to create his story of the Trojan War.
In a way, it doesn’t really matter that Christmas Day has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, son of God in the Christian faith. It has become a time of year when Christian families get together; perhaps for the only time that year. Men, women and children sometimes travel thousands of miles to meet their loved ones. As a result, the fact that Jesus Christ wasn’t born on 25th December is probably irrelevant but it is a great historical myth so it must be tackled.
Biblical scholars readily acknowledge that Jesus Christ was not born in December and the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that his birth has been assigned to every single month in the calendar by different authorities! In the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem when Jesus was born and shepherds had their flocks in open fields at that time. Since the weather in that region would be cold (with possible snow) at that time of the year, no shepherd would keep his flock in a field. The text also says a Roman Census was taking place. The Romans would never hold a census in winter.
So why do we celebrate Christmas on 25th December? As it happens, the celebration of Christmas began up to 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. There are sources which suggest that a celebration for pagan gods took place near the time of the winter solstice in Egypt and Syria. In around 400 B.C., the Mithraic religion (worship of Persian sun god Mithras) is probably responsible for creating the foundation of what we call Christmas today. In the Julian calendar, the 25th of December was deemed to be the date of the winter solstice and was also the ânativity’ of the Sun.
According to Sir James Frazer, the Christian Church deliberately chose to celebrate the birth of its founder on the 25th of December. The idea was to transfer the devotion that âheathen’ peoples had for the Sun onto he who was known as the âSun of Righteousness’. It appears as if the decision was made by Roman Emperor Constantine in 323 AD who effectively âtook’ the day from the cult Sol Invictus. This led to some confusion among Christians; many of whom condemned celebrations during that period. The decision made by Constantine seemingly goes against the Book of Deuteronomy which says that God warned against the adoption of pagan customs to honor Him.
It should be noted that the first suggestion of the above âtransfer’ of Christmas Day was not mentioned until the 12th century. Since the date was set according to the Julian calendar and we have been using the Gregorian calendar since 1582, it’s obvious that this date will be completely different now. There is also the small matter of Jesus being born years before we thought which of course has ramifications with the whole AD and B.C. timelines but that’s a story for another day!
This is one of the longest lasting myths in history as evidence to debunk it was only found in the 1990s. Until that point, it was assumed that the Egyptians used slave labor to build their magnificent pyramids. The myth goes back to at least the 5th century B.C. which is when the Book of Exodus was probably completed. The book explicitly states that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Although there is no mention of the pyramids in Exodus, it was widely believed that these slaves were the builders of the remarkable ancient structures.
Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, was writing at around the same time as the completion of Exodus and he wrote that 100,000 slaves were used to complete the pyramids. However, he didn’t mention Israelites at all. This evidence was all that was needed to keep this myth alive for over 2,400 years. History books mentioned the whole âslaves built the pyramids’ thing as fact while Hollywood movies depicted the Egyptians as cruel tyrants who whipped their slaves. In 1977, Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, raised a few eyebrows by suggesting that his forebears built the pyramids, not the Egyptians.
The myth was dispelled thanks to archaeological excavations of the sites near the pyramids at Giza which began in the 1990s. This huge project started after a tourist found some graves belonging to the pyramid builders in 1990. The digs found tombs dedicated to Egyptian citizens who had worked on the pyramids. A large proportion of these tombs date back to the 4th Dynasty (2575 – 2467 B.C.). The Great Pyramid of Giza, built for Pharaoh Khufu, was completed near the middle of the Dynasty in 2530 B.C. While the tomb shafts were relatively modest and the bodies had not been mummified, there were jars full of beer and bread for the afterlife. The way the bodies were positioned and the proximity of the tombs to the pyramids strongly suggest these builders were not slaves.
Further archaeological evidence revealed that the workers were actually recruited from poor communities in Egypt and worked in three month shifts. Herodotus’ figure was also way out as there were approximately 10,000 workers who ate reasonably well. It took around 30 years to build a pyramid and while evidence suggests these workers died fairly young, they were definitely not slaves. While the work was tough, it was probably still a better life for these laborers than what awaited them back in their impoverished homes. They were also honored for their work which would have been a big incentive back in ancient Egypt.
We can blame Greek philosopher Plato for this particular myth. He wrote about a city called Atlantis in around 330 B.C. and said the founders were half human, half god. According to Plato, Atlantis existed 9,000 years before him and consisted of a group of islands with an abundance of silver, gold and other precious metals. It also supported a range of exotic flora and fauna.
In the modern era, we have the notion that Plato spoke of Atlantis as a utopian civilization but in reality, he described it as a technologically advanced but morally bankrupt empire that tried to take over the world by force. One version of the story suggests that the ancient Athenians stood up to the Atlantis Empire. Another version says the Gods became angry with the nature of the empire and sent a night of terrible fire and earthquakes that caused Atlantis to sink to the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen again.
Speculation over where Atlantis could be found has been rife for centuries. Dozens of places have been suggested as possible locations including the Atlantic Ocean, Turkey, Germany, Bolivia, Antarctica, Malta and the Caribbean! This is despite the fact that Plato outlines where the city lies. He said it was in the Atlantic Ocean beyond âthe pillar of Hercules’. This would place it near the Strait of Gibraltar yet no trace has ever been found.
There is a possibility that a real island inspired Plato to create his tale. A contender is the archipelago of Santorini in the Aegean Sea which was devastated by a volcanic eruption approximately 3,600 years ago. There was a highly advanced Minoan civilization living on the island at the time and it disappeared at around the same time period as the eruption. Santorini was an island at that point in history but was destroyed by the volcanic eruption which also set off tsunamis and blew an immense amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The result would have been cold, wet summers which ruined the harvests and led to the rapid decline of the Minoans.