Our Fake History is a podcast about myths people think are history and history that might be hidden in myths. Have you ever heard that old story about how Napoleon shot the nose off the sphinx, or that Shakespeare was an illiterate fraud, or that Queen Elizabeth was actually a man? This show explores those tall-tales and tries to figure out what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what is such a good story it simply must be told. The podcast combines storytelling, humour, and historical detective work to create a show that is good for both history buffs and anyone who loves a good story.
The podcast is produced in Toronto, Canada, by Sebastian Major with help from his wife Beth Lorimer. Sebastian is a teacher, musician, and storyteller who is passionate about all things weird and wonderful from the past. All the transition music used on the podcast is written and recorded in-house by Sebastian.
Media Player Error
Update your browser or Flash plugin
There are few English kings as legendary as Richard the Lionheart. In Robin Hood stories he was portrayed as the ultimate "good King". For the Victorians he represented everything that was noble about England's medieval past. However, Richard's reputation among historians is considerably less glamorous. Was Richard really the second coming of King Arthur, or was he something far more sinister? Tune in and find out how scammer monks, the court of love, and the kiss of death all play a role in the story.. . .
Almost as long as people have been telling stories about Robin Hood, historians have been trying to find the real person who inspired the legend. Over the centuries dozens of researchers have cooked up elaborate theories in an attempt to locate the man who became the myth. Were any of them successful in finding a "real" Robin Hood? Tune in and find out how piggy-back-rides, dog-summoners, and fake family trees all play a role in the story.. . .
Robin Hood is easily one of the most beloved characters in English storytelling. For centuries the forest outlaw has been the ultimate hero of the downtrodden. He steals from the rich, gives to the poor, and resists tyranny in all of its forms. But is Robin Hood just a fictional character, or could there have been a real person who inspired the legend? By taking a close look at the earliest Robin Hood ballads perhaps we can find some clues about the true identity of this mythic outlaw. Tune in and find out how forest elves, Kurt Cobain, and Kevin Costner’s bad accent all play a role in the story.. . .
The podcast is celebrating its second birthday! For our season finale we have something a little special. This week Sebastian is joined by New York Times Bestselling author Mark Adams. Mark is the author of the excellent book Meet Me in Atlantis, an incredibly readable exploration of the weird world of Atlantis research. Sebastian and Mark get deep into Atlantis theories and commiserate about the professional hazards of dealing with historical mysteries. Tune in and find out how google earth, cooky theorists, and snarky McClean's reviewers all play a role in the story.. . .
Piracy on the high seas has existed for as long as human beings have had boats. For most of history these maritime marauders were almost exclusively men. However, there have also been a handful of notable women who lived the pirate life. Their stories can often blur the line between myth and history. Tune in and find out how severed ears, guardian lizards, and the real life Captain Jack Sparrow all play a role in the story.. . .
The 1683 Siege of Vienna often gets described in apocalyptic terms. It has been characterized as the ultimate showdown between Christianity and Islam. There is no doubt that it was a dramatic and significant moment in European history, but should it be mythologized as the ultimate battle for the fate of European civilization? Tune in an find out how the Riders of Rohan, mole wars, and knights with freakin' wings on their backs all play a role in the story.. . .
In July of 1683 the Ottoman Turks were closing in on the city of Vienna. The outnumbered Austrians frantically prepared their defenses and did their best to manage the panic that was gripping the city. The battle that was about to begin would be so dramatic that it would give birth to countless myths and legends. Just how important was the 1683 Siege of Vienna? Did civilization really hang in the balance? Tune in and find out how rotten wigs, bands of brothers, and Austrian pee pee baths all play a role in the story.. . .
The 1683 Siege of Vienna has been remembered as one of the most dramatic moments in European history. The Ottoman Turks threw the might of their empire against the walls Vienna in an attempt to capture a prize they called the "Golden Apple". This event would give birth to countless myths, both big and small. Tune in and find out how J.R.R Tolkien, a seven headed dragon, and 280 terrifying burlap bags all play a role in the story!. . .
In the world of pseudo-historical theories there are few more radical than the Phantom Time Hypothesis and the New Chronology. These theories propose that hundreds of years of human history never actually occurred. Our current chronology has been inflated with fake events and "phantom time". These theorists would have us believe that most of our history has been faked by chroniclers and unscrupulous historians. Could it be that most of human history is a fraud? Tune in and find out how golf course owners, weird math, and Russian pride all play a role in the story!. . .
The Lincoln County War was once called "a war without heroes". However, it did manage to produce an American legend. Billy the Kid would eventually be celebrated as a righteous avenger who fought for the little guy. But how accurate is this depiction? Was Billy the Kid really much more than a hired thug? Tune in and find out how the Princess Bride, the best scene in the Godfather, and some dude named Brushy Bill all play a role in the story.. . .
There are few times and places as romanticized as America's "Old West". It has a robust mythology peppered with gunslingers, outlaws, and rugged pioneers. One of the most recognizable of these legendary rogues has to be Billy the Kid. The young outlaw barely lived to see twenty-one, but his legend would prove to be immortal. In a world that produced hundreds of outlaws and gunfighters, why has Billy the Kid been so lovingly mythologized? Tune in and find out how laundry theft, a gun hidden under a breakfast for two, and some dude named "Windy" all play a role in the story.. . .
In the world of Atlantis research there are many who believe that ruins of the lost city can, and will, be found. By carefully considering the details in Plato's dialogues some researchers believe that fabled sunken city can be accurately located. Is there anything to the many theories about Atlantis' real location? Tune in and find out how the largest volcanic eruption in human history, math jokes, and Gotham City all play a role in the story.. . .
The world of Atlantis research can be a very strange place. Some researchers believe that Atlantis was a real Bronze Age city whose ruins might one day be found near the rock of Gibraltar. Others believe that the true "lost civilization" is actually far more ancient. Perhaps the real Atlantis was a sophisticated maritime society that existed during the last ice age. Could it have been that the climate change that accompanied the end of the ice age also wiped away this amazing civilization? Tune in and find out how sleeping prophets, Noah's Arc, a brave muskrat, and our buddy Graham Hancock all play a role in the story.. . .
In 360 BCE the Greek philosopher Plato wrote of a powerful island nation that had been sunk to the bottom of the ocean by wrathful gods. Plato called this lost city Atlantis. Little did he know that this story would go on to launch an entire genre of pseudo-historical speculation. The myth of the dazzling lost civilization would inspire countless amateur theorists and would-be archaeologists. Was a there a real city that inspired Plato's story, or was Atlantis just a figment of the philosopher's imagination? Tune in and find out how Graham Hancock, Charles Darwin, and the OFH drinking game all play a role in the story.. . .
In the history of the Blues there are few musicians as revered as the great Robert Johnson. Although he saw little success in his own lifetime, his music would go on to influence generations of singers, songwriters, and guitar players. Legend has it that Johnson gained his great talent after he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. His tragic life and violent death are often explained as the dark fallout of his ill advised contract with Satan. What can be said for certain about the most mysterious figure in American music? Tune in and find out how fake mothers, poisoned whiskey, Levon Helm, and guy named "Honeyboy" all play role in the story.. . .
In the early 1600's most English people assumed that Captain John Smith was a liar. His memoirs were peppered with romantic stories of shipwrecks, duels to the death, and exotic lovers. His contemporaries were pretty sure he had made it all up. This included his most famous exploit--- when he was saved from execution by Pocahontas. Over the years this tale has been scrutinized by countless historians. Despite the fact that it seems completely made up, there are many who believe that there is more truth to Captain Smith's story than one might assume. Tune in and find out how defiant epitaphs, fairytale inventions, and running into your ex-girlfriend at the movies plays a role in the story.. . .
The story of Pocahontas is one of the most enduring legends of America's early colonial period. Her relationship with the Englishman John Smith would become the inspiration for everything from cheesy romance novels to Disney films. However, the reality behind this beloved story is far more grim. Should the story of Pocahontas be written off as a romantic fable, or is there some truth to be found? Tune in and find out how international men of mystery, legitimate piracy, and three severed heads all play a role in the story.. . .
Archimedes was one of the ancient world's most important mathematicians. His discoveries would form the foundation upon which all future western science was built. However, he's probably best remembered for his amazing inventions that saved his city from attackers during the siege of Syracuse. The most discussed of all of these amazing devices has to be Archimedes' "Death Ray". This mysterious machine was said to be able to set ships on fire from hundreds of meters away. Did this fabled "Death Ray" really exist, or is just another legend in a life filled with mythology.. . .
P.T Barnum did everything he could to curate his own historical legacy. He was deeply concerned with how people would remember him after he was gone. Would he go down as a greasy hustler, or would he be celebrated as a great entertainer? Since that time historians have debated Barnum's legacy as a hoaxster and manipulator of the media. Were Barnum's "humbugs" just good fun, or was he too quick to dispense with morality in order to make a buck. Tune in and find out how fish-monkeys, a woolly horse, and the town of St. Thomas, Ontario all play a role in the story.. . .
In the 19th century there were few Americans more famous than P.T Barnum. Long before he founded the circus that would bear his name, Barnum made a name for himself by pulling off elaborate hoaxes. Barnum's so-called "humbugs" walked the line between charming practical jokes and cynical frauds. How much should we believe about a man who lied for a living? Tune in and find out how fake news, George Washington's wet nurse, clockwork robots, an someone named "zip the pinhead" all play a role in the story.. . .
The Crimean War cavalry action known as “the charge of light brigade” was immortalized by the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson . The poet described a glorious charge into the mouths of Russian cannon carried out by men who would sooner die than disobey their orders. But is any of this actually true? What was the real charge of the light brigade? Why has one of history’s biggest military blunders been remembered so fondly? Tune in and find out how the sick man of Europe, being “sporting”, and a whole lot of donkeys play into the story.. . .
When Tsar Nicholas II was executed in 1918 the Bolsheviks pumped the Russian media full of misinformation. The official story was that the Tsarina and the Prince had been spared and moved to a safe location. Absolutely nothing was said about the four imperial princesses. This would give rise to one of the most robust historical myths of the twentieth century--- that the Princess Anastasia had escaped the execution and made her way to freedom. Soon impostors started popping up all over Europe claiming to be the missing princess. But were any of these claims legitimate? Tune in find out how "Dad behaviour", Jamie Lee Curtis, the German Kaiser, and the best brother in the world all play a role in the story.. . .
If there is anything stranger than the life of Grigori Rasputin, then it has be his unbelievable death. As Rasputin's influence at court increased the rumours about his debauched personal life became even more intense. Could it be that he had actually seduced the Tsarina? His meddling in the Tsarist government eventually earned him powerful enemies who were happy to put the peasant out of his misery. But perhaps these assassins bit off a little more than they could chew. Tune in and find out how cool code names, cyanide laced cream puffs, and a well-placed genital wart all play a role in the story.. . .
There are few twentieth century figures as mysterious as Grigori Rasputin. The Siberian mystic has been portrayed as a scheming dark magician who seduced the Russian Queen and made a cuckold of Tsar Nicholas II. He’s been blamed for everything from the First World War to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. But how much should we believe about this strange Russian peasant? Is there anything to the legend of Rasputin? Tune in and find out how children with iron teeth, religious sex-parties, Robert Redford, and Homer Simpson all play a role in the story.. . .
The deeper you dig into the claims made in 1421: The Year China Discovered America the weirder the story becomes. The author Gavin Menzies boldly asserts that the fleets of the Chinese Admiral Zheng He managed to circumnavigate the globe some 100 years before Europeans. But he is not content to stop there! By the end of his controversial book Menzies has the junks of Zheng He accomplishing feats of navigation that would not be repeated again until the late 19th century. But does his evidence stand up to scrutiny? Tune in and find out how paranormal maps, forged carbon dating tests, and prehistoric giant sloths all play a role in the story!. . .
One of the most controversial historical theories to emerge in the last 15 years is the so-called "1421 thesis". The theory was originally formulated by the former British submarine commander Gavin Menzies. He contends that during the Ming Dynasty the Admiral Zheng He led an impressive fleet of Chinese junks on an unprecedented journey of discovery. According to Menzies this journey took them to the New World nearly 80 years before Columbus. But is there any proof to support this incredible claim? Tune in and find out how dragon thrones, giraffes masquerading as unicorns, and the Chinese Luke Skywalker all play a role in the story.. . .
Our Fake History is celebrating its one year anniversary! In honour of this milestone we have turned the show over to the listeners. In this episode Sebastian does his best to answer as many of your questions as he possibly can! Tune in and find out how Fender Telecasters, know-it-all students, and the young Julius Caesar all play a role in the story.. . .
Ty Cobb has been remembered as one of baseball's greatest villains. Despite being universally recognised as one of the game's most talented players, Ty Cobb is mostly remembered as violent racist who was hated by all who knew him. However, a new biography is claiming that Ty Cobb's reputation was unfairly tarnished by an unscrupulous biographer looking to make a name for himself by exposing the "real Ty Cobb". Was Ty Cobb really the monster that so many believe him to be? Tune in and find out how forged letters, pistol whippings, and Tommy Lee Jones all play a role in the story.. . .
It has been nearly six hundred years since Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in Rouen. Since that time there have been no shortage of conspiracy theorists and armchair psychologists who have tried to explain the girl who stubbornly resists explanation. This episode we dive deep into the weird theories about France's favourite Saint. Tune in an find out how LSD experiences, the plot of Star Wars, and a Bishop called Pierre the Pig all play a role in the story!. . .
If Joan of Arc's rise to fame was unexpected, then her success on the battlefield was completely flabbergasting. Joan would score a series of impressive victories over the English and clear a path to Rheims so her Dauphin could become King of France. But what's a girl to do when her mission from God wraps up more quickly than anticipated? How should a modern lover of history make sense of a life so filled with miracles and impossible deeds? Tune in and find out how foot spikes, a proud bastard, and an archer named Lionel all play a role in the story.. . .
An historical myth managed to get loose and pass itself off as a fact in Episode #21! In this "Mini-Episode" Sebastian does his utmost to wrangle the loose myth and banish it to the pit. What results is a brief history of the most obscene gesture in the western world. Tune in and find out how Socrates, The Boston Bean Eaters, and the namesake of the "Charlie Horse" all play a role in the story!. . .
The story of how Joan of Arc, an unassuming peasant girl, became the leader of French armies is one of the most dramatic in all of European history. In many ways Joan's biography can read like a fairytale, or like the classic hero's journey. As you might imagine it is a story that is coated in a healthy layer of mythology and exaggeration. Parsing the legends from the verifiable historical facts can get messy when it comes to France's most unlikely national hero. Tune in find out how a man made of glass, the history of obscene gestures, and the best way to shut down a cat-caller all play a role in the story.. . .
There are few expeditions from the so-called "age of discovery" as harrowing as Ferdinand Magellan's attempted circumnavigation of the globe. The journey was plagued by storms, scurvy, starvation, and mutiny. By the time the expedition was over only one leaky boat and 18 traumatized sailors managed to make their way back to Spain. What became of the man who has so often been celebrated as the first person to sail around the world? Tune in and find out how blood filled goblets, vengeful slaves, and Quentin Tarantino all play a role in the story.. . .
Famous historical "firsts" tend to be controversial as a rule,
and the world's first circumnavigation is no exception. Ferdinand
Magellan is often celebrated as the first person to sail around the
world, but is that actually true? In many ways the expedition that
is given credit for completing the first circumnavigation may have
actually been one of the era's most disastrous sea-voyages. Who
really deserves the title of "first person to circle to globe?"
Tune in and find out how the flat earth, an island of people with
no heads, and a retirement plan based on cloves all play a role in
the story!. . .
The story that a woman disguised as man was once elected Pope has been floating around since the 1200's. In fact it was widely believed for hundreds of years that there had once been a real female Pope. But during the tumult of the Protestant Reformation the story was rejected by the Catholic Church, and it has subsequently been scoffed at as a myth. Was Pope Joan just a strange medieval legend, or was her legacy erased by a conspiracy? Tune in and find out how transvestite nuns, anti-popes, and a weird chair with a hole in the seat all play role in the story!. . .
We have explored the myth of Trojan War and we have sung the Ballad of Heinrich Schliemann. All that’s left is to answer the question that has inspired this entire trilogy of episodes. To determine whether or not the Trojan War was based on a verifiable historical event we are going to have to scour the Iliad for clues, peruse ancient Hittite clay tablets, and examine all the archaeological evidence that wasn’t thrown in the trash by Heinrich Schliemann. Will we solve the great Trojan puzzle? Tune in and find out how multiple Homers, Sea People, the god of earthquakes, and mean twelve-year-old girls all play a role in the story.. . .
In our quest to discover if the Trojan War was a verifiable historical event we have to grapple with the amateur archaeologist who first tried to solve that mystery. Heinrich Schliemann believed that he had found real proof that the city of Troy actually existed. His discoveries were some of the most celebrated archaeological finds of the late 19th century, which earned him the moniker “the father of archaeology”. But Schliemann was also a prolific liar who freely misrepresented his findings and invented wild stories about his personal life. Can we trust one of academia’s greatest scoundrels? Tune in and find out how missing gold dust, fake treasures, Mike Meyers, and PT Barnum all play role in the story!. . .
The story of the Trojan War is one of humanity’s oldest tales of
armed conflict. For the Ancient Greeks the war represented the
bloody end of an historical epoch. The fall of the city marked the
end of the so-called “Age of Heroes”, and heralded a new era where
superhuman demi-gods would no longer walk the earth. But is the
Trojan War just a myth, or was there a real conflict that provided
the inspiration for the story? It’s going to take three whole
episodes to find out, so strap in! Tune in and find out how Oceans
11, heroes in drag, and divine bribery all play a role in the
story!. . .
The Pacific Ocean is the most expansive body of water on planet earth. Despite this fact ancient people managed to venture forth into its immensity and create a civilization of incredible sophistication. The question of how the ancients managed to settle the Pacific perplexed academics for generations. This left the door open for some pretty wild theories about the origins of the Polynesians. Chief among these theorists was the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdhal . Heyerdahl’s audacious stunts would make the world question the conventional wisdom on the Polynesians. But should his theories be trusted? Tune in and find out how stone giants, Gilligan’s Island, and the last cannibal on Fatu Hiva all play a role in the story.. . .
The Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace is so deeply enveloped in mythology that finding the real man can seem almost impossible. His life story has doubled as both entertainment and propaganda since it was first recounted by the minstrel Blind Harry in the 1400’s. The film Braveheart brought the larger-than-life myth of William Wallace to a whole new generation, and also managed to add a few new (fake) details to the Wallace legend. As we close in on the end of William Wallace’s life, the fake history really starts to pile up! Listen and find out how spear hedgehogs, reformed pirates, lion fights, and Lando Calrissian all play a role in the story.. . .
William Wallace is not only one of Scotland’s best loved national heroes, he’s also one of the most internationally well-known. His role as a leader in Scotland’s medieval wars of independence against the English made him famous, but the poetry of an obscure minstrel named Blind Harry would make him a legend. Blind Harry’s epic poem, “The Wallace”, would double as Wallace’s official biography for centuries, and would inform the script of the 1995 film Braveheart. But, how many of Harry’s tall-tales sync up with the verifiable facts of Wallace’s life? Listen and find out how fishing pole fencing, the King of England’s butt, a booby-trapped bridge, and a whole lot of missing limbs play a role in the story!. . .
The spear that pierced the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross has been one of the most fabled holy relics in history. The so-called “Spear of Destiny” is said to possess incredible supernatural powers that can make its carrier unbeatable in battle. But the spear also carries a terrible curse: lose it and you’re dead. Legend has it that the “Spear of Destiny” has passed through hands of Europe’s greatest conquerors, and its occult properties are said to have obsessed the Nazis. Tune in and find out how ghost historians, Attila the Hun, pseudo-histories, and a supernatural Forest Gump all play a role in the story.. . .
You can now download “extra episodes” of Our Fake History for $1.99 each directly from the website ourfakehistory.com . “More Ninjas?” gives you more great ninja stories, and “What Did Constantine Really See In The Sky” explores the myths surrounding the first Christian Emperor of Rome. We also discuss some thoughtful critiques of the last show!. . .
The story of the war between the Aztec (Mexica) empire and the Spanish conquistadors is one of the most dramatic in world history. The accounts of the conquest are diverse and, at times, contradictory. Some sources claim King Montezuma truly believed the conquistador Hernan Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl. But can these sources be trusted? Tune in and find out how psychedelic flute concerts, the Wizard of OZ, Scrooge McDuck, and novelist Vladimir Nabokov all play a role in the story!. . .
Before the Spanish arrived in the early 1500's, the Aztec, or Mexica, people had built an impressive civilization. Their empire was composed of bustling cities that were larger, cleaner, and more architecturally sophisticated than most cities in Europe at that time. The arrival of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés would prove so disastrous for Aztec society that supernatural explanations did not seem out of the question. Did the Aztecs believe that Cortés was in fact the god Quetzalcoatl? Did the myth of a bearded god colour how the Mexica dealt with this gold-hungry pirate? Tune in and find out how hungover deities, a boat built from snakes, and a stick used to support a man's giant gut all play a role in the story.. . .
When Marco Polo returned from his travels in Asia he brought back with him tales of lands previously unimagined by Europeans. One of his strangest stories was that of the so-called “old man of the mountain” and his band of devoted assassins. The story of a mysterious mystic who used visions of paradise and mind altering drugs to manipulate his followers fascinated westerners for generations. But was there really an “old man of the mountain”? Did the leaders of the Islamic world actually sleep wearing armour for fear of the “old man’s” deadly assassins? Tune in and find out how secret gardens, rivers of wine, the Great Khan of the Mongols, and severed head who can speak, all play a role in the story.. . .
After seizing power in 1799 Napoleon’s legend would only continue grow. In the years after the coup d’etat that brought him to power Napoleon would redraw the map of Europe and refashion himself as an emperor. Myths lurk around every corner of the great general’s career, exaggerating and distorting an already unbelievable life. Even Napoleon’s death is rife with legend and conspiracy theories! Tune in and find out how rigged votes, surprised Popes, poisonous wallpaper, and butt-leeches all play a role in the story!. . .
Napoleon is simultaneously one of the most well-known and most misunderstood figures in Western history. He has been portrayed as both the ultimate romantic hero and the most despicable war-mongering dictator. Napoleon’s life is riddled with legends, exaggerations, lies, and many unbelievable-but-true events! Has Napoleon become more of a myth than a man? Tune in and find out how the Sphinx’s nose, Charles Dickens’ favourite historian, little cabbages, and Steve Jobs all play a role in the story!. . .
William Shakespeare is easily the most well-known playwright in the English language. His works are praised as some of the greatest feats of writing and are still required reading throughout the English speaking world. But what if the man from Stratford-upon- Avon was not the true author of the plays? What if the “Bard” was actually an illiterate who bumbled into fame and fortune? There are still hundreds of educated people who believe William Shakespeare was the biggest fraud in literary history. Listen and find out how aristocratic conspiracies, faked deaths, secret ciphers, Morse code, and Mark Twain all play a role in this story!. . .
Ninjas, Japan’s shadow warriors, have been a pop-culture staple for generations. The legend of the ninjas has become so overblown, that some have gone so far to suggest that they never truly existed. But that is just what the ninjas want us to believe! The ninjas were very real, and they played a pivotal role in Japan’s “warring states period”. Nevertheless, separating ninja-fact from ninja-fiction continues to be a tall order. Listen and find out how medieval water noodles, puppet emperors, toilet warriors, and Seb’s horrific pronunciation of Japanese names all fit into the story!. . .
Is the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur just a bedtime story for morbid children or does it contain the kernels of real history? This week we dive into this classic myth and discover how it might hold clues about a real conflict between ancient bronze-age civilizations. Tune in to discover how bull jumpers, volcanic eruptions, boys with double-daddys, and the real life Indiana Jones all play a role in the story!. . .
The “Great Fire” of 64 AD was the 9/11 of the ancient world, complete with it’s own “truther” conspiracy. Could Emperor Nero actually have been behind the great fire? Did he play the fiddle as Rome burned? Listen and find out how murderous oarsmen, zombie emperors, human street lamps, the number of the beast, and something called “pseudo-neros” all fit into the story!. . .
Queen Elizabeth I is easily one of England’s most celebrated monarchs. The so-called “virgin queen” has been credited with leading England through a golden age. However, she is also the subject of countless historical myths and conspiracy theories. This week we unpack the scandalous tale that Queen Elizabeth was actually an impostor in drag. Listen and find out how King Henry VIII, Dracula, Catherine the Great’s horse, and an unlucky kid named Neville all figure in the story!. . .
Dedicated to helping listeners find new history podcasts.