History teachers tend stick to the important stuff: Who won the Civil War, when was the Italian Renaissance, how did Vanilla Ice happen, etc. But focusing exclusively on big events can mean missing out on some of the lesser-known, most hilarious parts of history. And trust us, history can be pretty damn funny if you dig into the details.
5. The Pyramids Were Built By Drunks
Here’s a crazy fact about the pyramids: they weren’t built by slaves. Unless you count the pyramid builders as being “slaves to the rhythm,” because we’re pretty sure they loved to party. See, the workers building the pyramids were paid ... but not in traditional currency. Their wages were just straight up beer. Like, four to five liters a day. That’s the equivalent of nearly an entire mini-keg every single day of the week.
Depending on your personal convictions, that may sound like a terrible deal, but the workers appear to have been thrilled with the trade-off. In fact, some scholars believe that if hadn’t been for the vast supply of beer, the pyramids wouldn’t have been built at all.
The downside: It was Milwaukee's Best.
Adequate alcohol stock may have actually been the difference between finishing the unnecessarily massive tombs and revolution. Dr. Patrick McGovern, the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health (scientists are terrible at naming organizations) at the University of Pennsylvania Museum (i.e. a beer historian), agrees: “You would have had a rebellion on your hands if they’d run out. The pyramids might not have been built if there hadn’t been enough beer.” Funnily enough, it’s the same thing with this article.
And lest you think this was a one-off deal that you unfortunately missed out on, Amsterdam made headlines a few years ago with a controversial program where they handed out beer to alcoholics who picked up enough trash. There's a metaphor about life in there somewhere.
4. Andrew Jackson’s Parrot Was Kicked Out Of His Funeral For Cursing Too Much
Badass though he was, it’s hard to claim that President Andrew Jackson was a particularly good dude. One of the most enduring parts of his legacy is the horrifying Trail of Tears, whereby the government forced thousands of Native Americans to evacuate their ancestral homelands, many of whom died during the march, all so white settlers could grow cotton. So maybe it comes as no surprise that Jackson’s pet parrot was also kind of a jerk.
We actually can't caption this picture, because of federal profanity laws.
Miraculously, Jackson managed to die in his bed at the ripe, old age of 78, despite his penchant for challenging random people to duels. And despite his issues, Jackson’s funeral was well-attended. He was still a former president after all, and thousands showed up to pay their respects, even though this was a time period where every method of transportation was incredibly slow and practically guaranteed a chapped butt.
But despite all those attendees, the most notable guest at the service was Jackson’s aforementioned parrot. Before the sermon could begin, mourners heard a loud commotion. Jackson’s parrot was reportedly unleashing a volley of cuss words at anybody within earshot. He was swearing so much, he had to be forcibly removed from the house. So yeah, he was basically like everybody at the Applebee’s bar after 10pm.
There’s not a lot written about the relationship Jackson had with his foul-mouthed parrot, but it’s fairly safe to assume the bird wasn’t just acting out because he missed his former master. The parrot was apparently set off by the crying of so many slaves. According to a Reverend who witnessed the event, “The slaves of the General were horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence.”
And that's how Tarantino movies were created.
So, yeah, apparently the bird was a lot like its master, which would be almost sweet if weren’t for the whole “terrible racist” thing.
3. The Dutch Defeated The Spanish In The Eighty Years’ War With Ice Skates
Back in the 1500s, the Netherlands were owned by Spain, and Spain was pretty darn Catholic. When the Spanish king, Philip II, heard that revolutionary Protestants like Martin Luther were nailing 95 theses to the doors of churches and demanding religious reform, Phillip become a missionary of sorts and decided to stab any Dutch people that didn’t want to be Catholic. Surprisingly, the Dutch weren’t exactly thrilled with this method of conversion, and they rebelled in what’s now known as the Eighty Years’ War.
As far as the Dutch could tell, the only thing between them and victory was the fact that they were hopelessly outnumbered and outmatched. So the Dutch pulled a fast one and flooded a third of the country before the Spanish could reach Amsterdam on foot. Though it wasn’t exactly the cleverest plan ever, it did force the Spanish to turn around and come at Amsterdam via sea.
By the time the Spanish got their ships to Amsterdam, the water surrounding the city had frozen solid. In fact, the entire Dutch navy was literally suspended in ice like a bunch of goobers. Eager to stab them some Dutch, the Spanish soldiers leapt from their ships and headed toward the Dutch fleet over the frozen waters.
If there’s one thing that Netherlands has always been good at, it’s iceskating. The Spanish quickly learned that while a killer triple axel isn’t much help in, say, a Middle Eastern desert, it can be pretty damn useful when the entire battlefield has been turned into a giant a hockey rink.
"You want none of this, turd."
As the Spanish soldiers gingerly stepped across the slippery ice toward the Dutch fleet, something crazy started happening. Dutch soldiers, moving at incredible speeds, would appear out of nowhere, pepper the Spanish with musket fire and then promptly disappear. Terrified, the Spanish retreated, but hundreds and hundreds of them were picked off by these phantom Dutch soldiers. When the Spanish finally managed to pick off a couple of them, they realized the Dutch army were literally skating circles around them. As far as we can tell, this is the only time in history when being good at ice skating resulted in beating somebody else up.
Eventually, the Spanish would design a bunch of skates for themselves, but they never got as good as the mighty Dutch, and a mere eighty years later, Netherlands won their freedom to skate however they chose.
2. The Pentagon Was Built That Way Because It Was Supposed To Be Built Somewhere Else
You would probably assume that the Pentagon is built that way for some sort of military purpose. Like maybe it’s harder to attack a building that has five walls, because enemies can never pick which side to attack. But actually, like most American achievements, there was no brilliant reasoning behind it.
See, when the Pentagon was originally planned, it was supposed to fit neatly in between five separate roads. The location picked for the site was so weirdly shaped, that most of the design time was wasted figuring out how to cram their sprawling military building into such a strange, constrained area. Eventually one junior draftsman came up with a freaky pentagon shape that just barely squeezed into where it needed to be. After much deliberation and fine-tuning, the other architects managed to twist that idea into something they all agreed was ugly, but it did have one nice feature, according to Socrates Thomas Stathes who came up with the original idea: “It fit.”
"Well, if it doesn't work, we can just turn it into a Wal-Mart."
But of course, after all that work, several people immediately complained that the proposed War Department headquarters would block the views from Arlington Cemetery, so at the last minute another location was proposed. This new location would have allowed them to design the building however they wanted, but they were running out of time to get the whole project finished. See there were these bad people called "Nazis" over in Europe, and they probably weren’t going to put their evil on hold while America designed a new headquarters in the shape of a bald eagle eating a hotdog or whatever.
So they slapped it together in its current location, using the old design, and commenced in dropping elbows on the forces of ultimate douchebaggery.
1. Benito Mussolini Wrote A Horrible Romance Novel
When Benito Mussolini wasn’t murdering and torturing his own citizens-- or lying about how that was okay because he totally made the trains run on time -- he was writing terrible historical romance novels. Well, okay, to be fair, he wrote his only novel, The Cardinal's Mistress, before he became a world-renowned brutal fascist. But it wasn’t widely published until about six years into his reign, presumably as another form of torture.
Mussolini’s novel attempts to retell the real-life torrid love affair of a 17th century Catholic Cardinal, Carlo Emanuele Madruzzo, and his mistress Claudia Particella. Madruzzo’s had the holy hots for Particella, but he couldn’t marry her unless he resigned as cardinal, which the Pope wouldn’t allow. Things got worse when Madruzzo spent the town's treasury, trying to make Particella like him, and then he ... killed his niece? Then he buried the body ... accidentally? It’s a pretty confusing story.
The true, unflinching face of romance.
Eventually, as a result of Particella’s unwillingness to trade sexual favors for help from the unscrupulous Don Benizio (another priest), the romance abruptly ended when Particella was murdered via poisoned wine. So it goes.
The story itself is pretty boring, but it’s really Mussolini’s epic prose that elevates it:
Don Benizio wept like a boy. And like a boy he knelt at Claudia's feet. With broken phrases, interrupted by terrible groans which burst from his breast, with words which were in turn puerile, disordered, suave, and terrible, with the desperate gestures of one who has been crushed, he begged love, pardon, pity.
“Do not cast me into the abyss. Do not make me drain the bitter cup of vengeance. Cast a ray of your light into my darkened soul.”
Unsurprisingly, this book wasn’t particularly well received in America. The famed critic Dorothy Parker hilariously wrote in her review for the New Yorker:
“When I am given a costume romance beginning, ‘From the tiny churches hidden within the newly budding verdure of the valleys, the evensong of the Ave Maria floated gently forth and died upon the lake,’ my only wish is that I, too, might float gently forth and die, and I’m not particular whether it’s upon the lake or dry land.”
You can still purchase this book today if you need a hot conversation starter at your next social gathering or feel the urge to read something that’ll make you want to die.