History is an endless well of fascinating facts, from ancient culture to modern warfare. But some facts are a little bit harder to believe. From out-of-the-box solutions to surprising beliefs, these snippets of the past provide some interesting insight on the people of the times. You'll certainly never look at turkeys the same way again. Here are 10 weird history facts that will change your perspective.
The shortest war in recorded history only lasted 38 minutes.
On August 27th, 1896, the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate engaged in a brief military conflict. The immediate cause of the Anglo-Zanzibar War was the death of Hamad Bin Thuwaini, the pro-British Sultan, two days prior. He was succeeded by Sultan Khalid bin Barghash. However, the British authorities would have preferred the succession of Hamoud bin Mohammed, as he was more favorable to their national interests.
In an agreement made in 1890, when a British protectorate was instituted over Zanzibar, it was stated that the British consul had to approve the sultanate candidate. Considering Khalid's succession to be a provocation of war, the British demanded he and his forces leave the palace. When Khalid instead gathered the palace guard and barricaded himself in the palace, the short war ensued. In the end, there were 500 casualties on the sultan's side, and one injured British sailor. Hamoud was placed in power and Khalid found asylum in the German consulate.
People made clothes out of food sacks during the Great Depression.
The Stock Market Crash of 1929 saw millions of American struggling to survive amidst financial ruin. The Great Depression saw its lowest point in 1933, with an estimated 15 million people left unemployed and almost half of the country's banks having failed. In order to squeak by, people had to rely on clever means of making resources last. When it came to clothing, fashion was far from anyone's mind, and so Americans turned to using common items as material. Most common were the burlap sacks used to contain food products like flour and potatoes.
Making the most out of a miserable situation, food manufacturers did their best to make the sacks more attractive. They made them colorful with fun prints, like sunshine and flowers. In order to get the logo off the bag, consumers would soak the ink overnight in lard or kerosene. By the end of the 30s, companies began to use more soluble inks to ease the process. Thus came the boom in a variety of food sack thriftiness, from dresses to curtains to quilts.
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi army relied on drugs to fight through World War II.
A global war effort is an exhausting task, and Hitler was going to make sure the soldiers of the Wehrmacht were using every advantage they could. The secret weapon used to keep Germany energized was a pill called Pervitin. While housewives popped the pill to lose weight and get their daily chores done, soldiers used it to stave off sleep and the horrors of war. The main ingredient in this magic little pill? Methamphetamine.
Hitler himself used a different and equally intense drug called Eukodal, which was a mixture of oxycodone and cocaine. There were very few drugs Hitler hadn't tried, and very few Nazi higher-ups that weren't on some kind of drug or other. Some, like Hermann Göring, relied heavily on anesthetics such as morphine.
The Roman Emperor Gaius wanted to make his favorite horse a member of public office.
Roman Emperor Gaius, perhaps more widely known as Caligula, is generally regarded as a mad man. He was the first Roman emperor to be assassinated, and his reputation was one of violence and paranoia. His horse Incitatus, however, was a trusted friend to him. Of course Caligula would want to do something to honor him.
This beloved steed was reportedly well taken care of, and gifted a marble stall, ivory manger, and bejeweled collar. It was said that the horse had servants and was commonly fed with oats mixed with gold flakes. Before his untimely death, Caligula even planned to make his horse a consul—the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic. And if you think it's strange that Incitatus was almost made into a public official, you might be shocked to learn that ancient sources report he also served as a priest.
King Henry VII had attendants specifically to help him go to the bathroom.
While this intimate courtier position developed over centuries, it was in the reign of King Henry VII of England that it became an official position of great honor. Henry VII had four "Grooms of the King's Stool" which assisted him in his most necessary task. These men monitored his bowel movements, checking them and reporting their results to the Royal Doctor. They supplied the king with a bowl, water, and a towel, and even assisted him in cleaning up after the fact.
Though it certainly doesn't sound like a job anyone in their right mind would strive for, the position meant these courtiers were privy to royal secrets. These attendants had quite a bit of court power, and the ones that served King Henry VII were all eventually knighted. This practiced continued until 1901.
Ancient Mayans worshipped turkeys as gods.
If you look back through Maya iconography, you'll see turkeys everywhere. As they were thought to symbolize great power, they played a huge role in Maya culture and religion. It was believed that turkeys had extraordinary powers which could prove dangerous to humans in the nocturnal dream space. Seen as vessels of the gods, they were treated accordingly.
This brilliant and advanced civilization domesticated turkeys in order for the birds to participate in religious rites. While you can find a turkey at any old petting zoo or grocery aisle nowadays, they were owned exclusively by the rich in 300 BCE. There were even Maya rulers who used the word "turkey" within their nickname.
Americans used to call hamburgers "liberty steaks."
Millions of lives were lost during World War II—a global conflict which contained horrors beyond imagination. On the American home front, civilians supported the war effort by purchasing war bonds, filling the workforce with women, and cultivating victory gardens to adhere to rationing. But as anti-German sentiment rose on American soil, there were language issues with some commonplace delicacies. The hamburger was deemed too German-sounding, as was, unsurprisingly, sauerkraut, so the dishes were renamed "liberty steak" and "liberty cabbage."
The University of Oxford predates the Aztec Empire.
This mind-blowing fact puts things into perspective. While Oxford is hardly the oldest university (that would be the University of Al-Karaouine, established in 859 CE), it was established way back in 1096. By 1249, Oxford had developed into a full-fledged campus, with student housing at three residence halls. And while other institutions were established earlier, Oxford is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation.
On the other end of the spectrum, many people are surprised by how recently the Aztec Empire existed. While many of us categorize this civilization as "ancient" in our minds, the founding city of Tenochtitlán at Lake Texcoco was established by the Mexica, a Nahuatl-speaking indigenous people, in 1325. Just 196 years later, Spanish conquerers captured Tenochtitlán.
The use of forks was once considered sacrilegious.
I bet you've never considered that you're taking your eating utensils for granted. While forks were long-established in the Middle East, they first made their way over to the West in the 11th century. A Byzantine princess sent waves of shock and scandal through the court when she brought forks into her husband's Venetian home. Forks were considered to be an affront to God, as the Lord had already given us natural forks—our fingers. It wasn't until the 18th century that most of Europe had adopted the fork.
The French constructed a fake Paris during World War I.
Most people are aware of the fact that World War I changed the way wars were fought—but few know just how creative people were during this massive conflict. As German bombings ravaged France, strategists rushed to find some way to keep the beautiful city of Paris safe. Naturally, they thought to construct a duplicate city that the pilots might mistake for the real thing in the cover of night.
The to-scale decoy was constructed out of wood and canvas, paying close attention to the identifying features French fighter pilots noted from above. Railways, lakes, rivers, roads, and woodland were most commonly used to orient aircrafts, so the brain behind this fake city, Fernand Jacopozzi, set his team of engineers to work. Lights were arranged to replicate rail tracks and avenues. Storm lamps were clustered on moving platforms to mimic steam trains. Immense sheds mimicked factories with sheets of painted canvas stretched taut over wooden frames. Unfortunately, this project never got to see much use, as the German bombing campaign came to an end not long after construction began.
Featured image: Andrew Neel/Unsplash