While many of us have been bored to death during our history classes, history in itself remains a fascinating study. We would have probably paid more attention if we had known some of the crazier history facts out there, such as the Japanese artist who drew fart battles or Abraham Lincoln being a wrestling champion.
It’s never too late, though.
Here are the 30 most shocking history facts we could find that would have made our history lessons a hundred times more interesting:
30. The Court Dwarfs
Court dwarfs were a thing of the past. Their main mission was to use their stature to entertain the court or to make the queen and king appear taller by standing next to them.
Back in ancient Egypt and Rome, dwarfs were also treated like commodities and traded.
29. The Pie Ban
Oliver Cromwell banned eating mince pie in 1644. With the help of his party, this English statesman and general banned many Christmas celebrations in an attempt to cleanse the country from decadence.
Needless to say, many of his teachings didn’t last long, and we’re happy to be born at a time when we can enjoy a mince pie guilt-free!
28. The Fart Scroll
During Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), an artist—or possibly many—painted the “He-Gassen” scroll: a series of paintings depicting epic fart wars.
These pieces of art are executed in a traditional Japanese style and show men and women in different settings firing gas bombs at their opponents.
27. The Ruthless Ruler
Draco of Athens was a lawmaker who never joked around. This politician often punished both trivial and serious crimes alike: with the death sentence.
Now you know where the word “draconian” comes from.
26. The Glutton
Tarrare was an insatiable glutton who could eat the equivalent of 15 people’s meals in one sitting. This 18th-century French showman could swallow whole cats, live eels, and even human flesh.
Later on, he served in the army and was asked to deliver a secret message to a captured French colonel. In order not to get caught, they made Tarrare swallow a box with the hidden message and walk to the Prussian enemy. Talk about bizarre historical facts!
25. The Original ‘Yo Mama’ Joke
The first recorded “Yo mama” joke has been written by a Babylonian student in 1500 B.C.
It was discovered by the archeologist J.J. van Dijk in 1976 during an excavation in Iraq.
24. The ‘Fastest Knife in the West End
Robert Liston was dubbed the fastest surgeon of the 19th century, a boon in the days before anesthesia.
However, he is also said to have set the record for a 300% mortality rate procedure in one of his operations. (This story may be unsubstantiated, but we couldn’t resist including it in our history facts roundup.) In 1847, the renowned surgeon amputated a leg so fast that he also took off his assistant’s fingers, and while switching instruments, he slashed a spectator’s coat. The patient and assistant died of infection, and the spectator died of fear and shock.
23. The Paranoid King
King Zog of Albania was an extremely paranoid monarch and only ate food prepared by his mother.
Historians believe he was onto something, as he survived nearly 50 assassination attempts.
22. The Piano Duel
If you think nowadays singers and musicians make up too much drama, wait until you hear about Daniel Steibelt and Beethoven’s classical duel. In May 1800, Steibelt challenged Beethoven to a three-round piano battle in Vienna in front of a 100-spectator crowd. The last round was an improv contest where each one of them would sight-read a piece written by the other performer.
When it was his turn, Beethoven took Steibelt’s sheet, turned it upside-down, and sight-read it backward. His improvisation was so good and unexpected that his opponent left the place—and the city—before the end of the contest.
21. The Bloody Handkerchief
When French king Louis XVI was beheaded in 1793, people dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood.
It is believed that it wasn’t an unusual practice at that time, but this is one of the historical facts that make us shiver.
20. The Ransom
After being captured by Sicilian pirates, Julius Caesar negotiated his ransom up and refused to act like a captive. The then-25-year-old Roman nobleman was upset his kidnappers asked for as little as 20 talents to set him free; he laughed off the matter and suggested a 50-talent ransom instead.
During his captivity, he bossed the pirates around and forced them to listen to his poems, often threatening to crucify them. Little did they know, Caesar wasn’t joking: After being released, he raised a naval force, went after the pirates, captured them, and crucified them.
19. The New Friend
In the last military engagement of Liechtenstein down the watch border in Italy, none of the 80 men participating in the Austro-Prussian War were killed. They even made a friend along the way and came back with 81 men instead.
The army was disbanded soon afterward.
18. The Royal Anus
In Ancient Egypt, the god-king was attended by one practitioner for each of his body parts, such as the Royal Keeper of the Pharaoh’s Left Eye, the Royal Keeper of the Pharaoh’s Right Eye, or the Shepherd of the Royal Anus, the equivalent of a modern-day proctologist.
It was also believed that during that time, slaves used to drip their bodies in honey to attract flies and keep them away from the pharaoh.
17. The New Church
King Henry VIII of England never took no for an answer, not even from the Pope himself. When his first wife couldn’t give birth to a male heir, he promptly created his church to be able to get his marriage annulled, something the Pope refused flatly.
In his lifetime, he married six women, whose fates can be summed up as follows: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
16. The Wrestler
Before becoming a politician, Abraham Lincoln was a champion wrestler. His wrestling reputation heightened after an extremely competitive match with the Clary’s Grove Boys, a group of ruffians, and a match with an Illinois county champion Jack Armstrong. He was also honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992 as an “Outstanding American.”
READ MORE: Other facts you didn’t know about Honest Abe.
15. The Tea Tank
At the end of World War II, all British tanks had a “vessel boiling electric,” a water-heating system that allows soldiers to “brew up” (make tea) inside their tanks.
This invention is still implemented in almost all British main military fighting equipment. You can’t get any more British than that!
14. The Terror of South China
Ching Shih is a name you need to remember. This 18th-century Chinese concubine rose to become one of the most feared and successful pirates in history. The prostitute-turned-pirate led over 50,000 pirates and became the “Terror of South China,” pillaging and taxing villages.
At the end of her career, she married a former underling and opened a gambling house in a Chinese province. She operated it until her death.
13. The Grooms of the Stool
Here’s another historical fact related to King Henry VIII. If you thought you had the worst job, wait until you hear about the “Grooms of the Stool.” These men had the mission of wiping the bottom of Henry VIII of England. Four grooms served the king, and all of them were knighted.
This proves that medieval monarchs and nobility required assistance in almost all areas of their lives, including the most intimate ones.
12. The Tomato Myth
Until 1820, it was believed that tomatoes were poisonous. It took a public demonstration in a courthouse in Salem, New Jersey, to disprove this myth.
The man behind the so-called Tomato Trial was a certain Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson. Thanks to him, people everywhere can enjoy tomatoes without a hint of fear.
11. The Pope and the Cats
If you love cats, you won’t be happy to hear about this. Pope Gregory IX believed that cats were the embodiment of the devil, and in 1233, he issued an official decree stating that Satan was half-cat.
Thus began the extermination of cats across Europe, which is believed to have helped the proliferation of rats and the bubonic plague. It might also be one of the reasons why black cats are so rare today in Europe since they have been hunted down more ferociously than other cat populations.
10. Peeping Alexander
Alexander the Great was one of the greatest conquerors of all time. He used a spying technique during his time that is still used even today.
It involved intercepting letters from his soldiers to their families and executing anyone who had anything offensive to say about the empire.
9. King vs the Criminals
The Chinese emperor Goujian of Yue is famous for placing a row of convicted criminals in front of his army before a battle would commence.
The criminals would then cut off their heads to prove to the enemy how crazy King Goujian was.
8. Baby in a Coffin
The famous Greek teacher, Gorgias of Epirus, was born in his mother’s coffin.
The pallbearers stopped the burial after they heard Gorgias crying in the coffin.
7. Fidel Castro Plots
The former director of Cuba’s intelligence service claims that there were more than 600 attempts to kill or destabilize Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
These were backed by various opponents of the regime, most notably the United States, often operating at a distance by using gangsters or anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
6. One-Legged Man Rides London’s First Escalator
The first escalator on the London Underground system went into operation at Earl’s Court in 1911. On its first day of operation, passengers who had never seen such a thing before were naturally apprehensive.
To calm their fears, it is said that a one-legged Underground employee, William ‘Bumper’ Harris, rode up and down to demonstrate its safety – although there are suspicions that this story may be a myth.
5. One Child Only
Tens of thousands of baby girls were abandoned each year in China.
This was because of the country’s one-child policy.
4. Aztecs and the Gods
The Aztecs made human sacrifices to the gods.
In 1487, at the dedication of the temple in Tenochtitlan, 20,000 people were put to death.
3. Lost Children
In the late 13th century, 30,000 children went on what is known as the Children’s Crusade.
They were convinced God would allow them to take back the Holy Land without incident, but most died on the journey or were sold into slavery.
2. Buried Alive was Normal?
Shockingly, being buried alive was very common in the 19th century and people decided to do something about it.
Eventually, inventors patented safety coffins, because it would give the “dead” the ability to alert those above ground if they were still alive.
1. Wrongful Conviction
In Venice during the Renaissance, there was a case where a rapist was given the choice of going to jail for six months, paying a fine, or marrying his victim.
Most of the time, he chose marriage.
What do you think of these historical facts? Let us know in the comments, and if you’d like more history facts, you can discover the five formerly common professions that no longer exist today, simply by clicking “Next.”