20 Silly Facts of History

By Dan Geoffrey

1. According to the Roman historian Socrates of Constantinople, Arius, a 4th century
Christian heretic from Egypt, literally pooped himself to death. Socrates attributed Arius’
rather…explosive demise to divine intervention. Heresy: Not even once.

2. In 14th century Italy, soldiers from the city of Modena snuck into the neighboring city of Bologna
and stole a wooden bucket. This abominable act of aggression sparked a two year war, now
appropriately known as the War of the Oaken Bucket, between the two city states, culminating
in the Battle of Zappolino, in which 2,000 soldiers died. The Bolognese lost the war and their
bucket too.

3. In 40 AD, Caligula, third Roman emperor, marched his army into Gaul (what we now call France),
a territory which had been under Roman control since the days of Julius Caesar. He and his
troops first robbed the local peasants blind and then got on ships to invade Britain. When they
landed on the other side of the English Channel, the emperor ordered his troops to gather
seashells and return home to celebrate his apparent victory over Neptune, god of the sea.
Caligula had also planned to make Incitatus, his favorite horse, consul of the empire, a position
similar to that of prime minister, but he settled for making him a priest instead.

4. The Roman emperor Elagabalus, a native of Syria, came to power at the age of 14 after a
succession crisis in which no other possible heir to the previous emperor could be found. One of
his more interesting accomplishments was that he walked backwards all the way from the city of
Emesa to Rome in front of a chariot carrying a meteorite, which Elagabalus claimed was sent by
the gods. Elagabalus would become one of the most ineffectual and hated emperors in Roman
history, assassinated by his own bodyguards at the age of 18.

5. General John Sedgwick was a general for the Union Army during the Civil War. At the battle
of Spotsylvania Courthouse he was killed by a Confederate sniper. His last words were “They
couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

6. Lieutenant General Lewis Puller of the United States Marine corps was famous for his words of
wisdom while serving in the Korean War. When his troops were surrounded by enemy forces,
General Puller said, “Great. Now we can shoot at them from every direction.”

7. In 1962, schools in Tanganyika (now known as Tanzania) had to be closed because of an
outbreak of contagious laughter that lasted for six months.

8. In Ancient Egypt, it was common for people to shave their eyebrows off as a sign of mourning
when their cats died. Apparently the internet isn’t the only place where cats are worshipped.

9. In Medieval Europe, peasants drank beer more often than water because the water was so dirty.
Beer, on the other hand, was guaranteed to be clean because it was boiled.

10. Charles VI of France is known as one of the craziest monarchs of all time. Charles managed to
convince himself that he was made of glass and would scream at innocent bystanders because
he was terrified that he might shatter if they touched him.

11. The 17th century English general and later dictator Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan and a religious
fanatic. During his five year reign as ‘Lord Protector,’ he banned theatrical performances,
Christmas parties, and mince pies.

12. Attila the Hun was one of the most feared men in all of history. Even the Romans, some of the most infamous warriors the world has ever known, called him ‘Flagellum Dei,’ Latin for ‘The Scourge of God.’ Attila died of a nose bleed in his mid-forties. For a man who had once claimed

“Where my horse has ridden, no grass grows,” it was a pretty anticlimactic way to go.

13. The shortest reigning monarch, King Louis XIX of France, was king for approximately twenty
minutes before he gave up his crown to Henry V.

14. When President Andrew Jackson died in 1845, his pet parrot had to be removed from his funeral
because it wouldn’t stop swearing.

15. The 30 Years’ War started in 1618 when two Austrian diplomats were thrown from a tower
window by Czech soldiers. They survived, but only because they landed in a pile of horse
manure.

16. When Peter the Great was making reforms to westernize Russia, he banned the growing of
beards and forced men who already had beards to shave.

17. “The Great Emu War” was fought between the Australian army and Australia’s overgrown emu
population. A horde of some 20,000 emus took up residence in the Australian outback and
threatened local farms by destroying fences and sometimes ruining entire wheat crops single-
handedly. Even Australians armed with machine guns weren’t able to defeat the emu legions of
death, with only a few thousand emu casualties in three years of fighting.

18. The Netherlands and Austria were in a state of naval warfare for exactly one day, October 8,
1784. The war is now known as “The Kettle War” because the only shot fired hit a soup kettle on
an Austrian ship. The Austrians lost the war, and their soup.

19. The Chinese emperor Zhengde used to enjoy playing make-believe, and built a small model of
a village on the palace grounds. He would dress up as a shop keeper or farmer and force his
servants to buy imaginary goods from him, presumably with dastardly consequences for not
playing along.

20. The last king of modern Egypt, King Farouk, was a notorious pickpocket. He once stole a watch
from Winston Churchill himself.

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