Humanities › History & Culture Top 10 Myths and Urban Legends About Ancient History Share Flipboard Email Print Phiipp Foltz/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Figures & Events Ancient Languages Greece Egypt Asia Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated May 02, 2019 It's a little harder to prove that myths about ancient history are false than it is to disprove myths about more modern eras. However, the prevailing opinion is that many myths and legends are wrong. Some, like the Cyrus Cylinder (which has been called the First Human Rights Document), remain controversial. Some long-accepted ideas about ancient history might more properly be called "urban legends" to signify that they are mostly modern ideas about ancient history. Along with these ancient urban legends, there are plenty of myths the ancients wove into their history. 01 of 10 Lucky Thumbs Up kosta korçari/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 It is believed that when the person in charge of a gladiatorial event wanted one of the gladiators to be finished off, he turned his thumb down. When he wanted the gladiator to live, he pointed his thumb up. The gesture signifying that a gladiator should be killed is not exactly thumbs down, but thumb turned. This motion is thought to represent the movement of a sword. 02 of 10 Amazons Cut off a Breast Statens Museum for Kunst/Hans Jordaens/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain The Amazons were probably not the one-breasted man-haters we think of when we hear the word. They are more likely to have been fully-breasted Scythian horse-riding warriors, judging from artwork, although Strabo does write that their right breasts were seared off in infancy. 03 of 10 Modern and Ancient Greek Democracy David Maiolo/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0 Aside from the question of whether the U.S. is designed to be a democracy instead of a republic, there are countless differences between what we call democracy and the democracy of the Greeks. It is totally unfair to say that all Greeks voted or to claim that those who didn't vote were branded as idiots. 04 of 10 Cleopatra's Needle Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park, New York City. Charley Lhasa/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 The pair of obelisks called Cleopatra's Needles, located on the Embankment in London and near the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, were created for Pharaoh Thutmosis III, not the famous Cleopatra VII. However, these ancient monuments may have been called Cleopatra's Needles from the time of Augustus, Cleopatra's nemesis. 05 of 10 300 Spartans Luvr/David Jak Lui/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain At the Battle of Thermopylae, there were 300 Spartans who lay down their lives to give the rest of the Greeks a chance. There was a total of about 4,000 fighting under Leonidas, including willing Thesbians and unwilling Theban allies. 06 of 10 Jesus Christ Was Born on December 25 Jeff Weese/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 We don't even know for sure what year Jesus was born, but references in the Gospels suggest Jesus was born in the spring. Franz Cumont and Theodor Mommsen are partly responsible for popular beliefs that the god Mithras or Sol (perhaps Sol Invictus Mithras), was born on the winter solstice — said to be the rationale behind the date of Christmas. David Ulansey, Absolute Astronomy, and others say it was Sol Invictus, not Mithras. An ancient Armenian story of Mithras' virgin birth is interesting in comparison with Jesus. 07 of 10 Caesar Was Born by Caesarean Section 5697702/Pixabay The idea that Julius Caesar was born by Caesarean Section is old, but since Caesar's mother, Aurelia, was involved in his upbringing, and the surgical techniques of the 1st (or 2nd) century B.C. should have left her dead, it is unlikely that the story about Caesar's birth by C-section is true. 08 of 10 Judaism Borrowed Monotheism From Egypt Richard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0 Akhenaten was an Egyptian pharaoh who put aside the traditional Egyptian pantheon of gods in favor of his own sun god, Aten. He did not deny the existence of other gods, as a monotheist would have, but held his god above the others, as a henotheist. The date of Akhenaten may make it impossible for the Hebrews to have borrowed from him, as their monotheism could have preceded Akhenaten's birth or followed the return of traditional Egyptian religion. Another possible influence on Judaism's monotheism is Zoroastrianism. 09 of 10 Caesar Misquote S. Dennis K. Johnson/Getty Images Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. The quote is anachronistic in detail and spirit. There were no drums and all swords were double-edged in Caesar's time. The idea that citizenry needed to be persuaded of the value of war is not true to the first century B.C. 10 of 10 Latin is the Superior Logical Language webandi/Pixabay This is a hard one for me since I tend to buy into this myth, but Latin is not any more logical than any other language. However, our grammar rules were based on the grammar of Latin. The specialized vocabularies we use in areas like law, medicine, and logic tend to be Latin-based, which makes Latin seem superior. Sources "A Brief History of Human Rights." United for Human Rights, 2008. "Mithraism." Absolute Astronomy, 2019. "Mithraism." The University of Chicago, March 31, 2018. Strabo. "Geography, I: Books 1-2." Loeb Classical Library, Horace Leonard Jones (translator), Volume I, Harvard University Press, January 1, 1917.