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.
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!