10 falsifications that changed the course of history

Falsification of facts, forgery of documents, the promulgation of false evidence – not an invention of our time at all. It has happened in all centuries.

Below are the top 10 falsifications that changed the course of history

The “Prophecies” of Onomakritus – 5th century BC

The Persian king Xerxes dreamed of great conquests. The most grandiose would have been a great military campaign against the cities of Hellas. But the king was not sure if he had the strength for such a campaign. The monarch’s doubts were dispelled by relatives of the deposed Athenian tyrants, Pisistratis, or rather, the soothsayer Onomakrites, who came to the king with them. He interpreted the oracles (divination tablets) for Xerxes, confirming that his army was destined for victory. Xerxes confidently set out on the march.

Not only were the Persians defeated in Hellas, but they also lost several dependent Greek polities in Asia Minor.

In fact, Onomacritus had long had a reputation as a fraud. According to Herodotus, the interpreter “omitted those sayings which hinted at the defeat of the barbarians, and chose only the most favorable.” A few decades before the story of Xerxes, during the reign of Pisistratides, this Athenian was found to have forged the prophecies of the poet Museus and was exiled from the city.

Years later, however, the Pisistratids themselves were expelled from Athens, and then they sought out Onomakritus. Now the former tyrants needed him precisely as a deceiver: the Picistratids hoped in alliance with the Persians to regain power in Athens and did all they could to persuade Xerxes to start a war.

“Constantine’s Gift” – 8th or 9th century

The fourth-century Roman emperor Constantine I the Great suffered from leprosy, and Pope Sylvester I is said to have healed him by converting him to Christianity and baptizing him. In gratitude Constantine proclaimed the pope head of all the Christian churches, also granted him secular power over the western part of the empire, and moved the capital to the east, to Byzantium (future Constantinople), leaving Sylvester to Rome. This was documented in a special charter.
As a result, Roman high priests in the Middle Ages repeatedly used this letter as an argument in struggles for lands or to intervene in the internal affairs of other states because, according to the “gift of Constantine”, all kings had to obey the pope.

In fact, as early as 1001, the German Emperor Otto III issued an act recognizing the “gift of Constantine” as a fake. But the Italian historian and philosopher Lorenzo Vallat was the first to prove it convincingly in 1440. Scientists do not have a consensus, who and when fabricated the most influential forgery of the Middle Ages, but most agree that it was done not earlier than the middle of the VIII century.

The Spear of St. Longinus – 1098

During the First Crusade to Jerusalem to recapture the main Christian shrine – the Holy Sepulchre – from the Muslims, the knights found themselves under siege in the Asia Minor city of Antioch. A famine had begun, and the Christians had nowhere to wait for help. One of the besieged, the Provençal peasant Pierre Barthelemy (according to other sources – a monk), said that he had a vision of the sacred relic – the spear of Saint Longinus – hidden in the temple of Saint Peter in Antioch.

With this weapon, according to legend, the Roman centurion pierced the side of dying Christ on Calvary. And indeed, the tip of the spear was dug up in the place indicated by Pierre.

As a result, the armies of Christians, encouraged by the discovery of the shrine, defeated the enemy and lifted the siege. The way to Jerusalem was opened.

In fact, some influential crusaders suspected Pierre Barthelemy of having deliberately buried the forged relic in the temple – it was too timely to find it. The Provençal attempted to prove the authenticity of the relic in the customary way of the time – through a test by fire. He passed with the relic through the fire, and, a few days later, died of burns.

“Letter of the Presbyter John” – 1165

In the sixties of the 13th century, a letter of the enigmatic presbyter John, king-priest from a distant country, to the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus, was circulated in Europe. The author assured the addressee of his friendship and described the riches, miracles, and shrines of his dominions. This document confirmed the information of strangers who appeared at the papal court in the 12th century with tales of a king from the east who wanted to help Western sovereigns in their fight against the Saracens.

Eventually, stories of Eastern treasures and the hope of a powerful ally inspired knights and pilgrims to travel to the Holy Land, where an influx of new people from Europe was needed by crusaders who were struggling to defend their conquests against the Seljuk Turks.

In fact, the mysterious kingdom, lying further than Jerusalem, was never discovered in India, Central Asia, or Ethiopia in 400 years of searching. In Umberto Eco’s novel Baudolino, the letter was composed by the protagonist in order to entice Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to the idea of a campaign to the east. Historians, however, still cannot say who concocted the message.

“Poems of Ossian” – 1760s

One day the poet John Home asked a friend who knew Gaelic, a governess named James Macpherson, to translate something of ancient Scottish poetry into English for him – and was delighted with the translation he brought a couple of days later. The Edinburgh literati persuaded MacPherson to take up his search for the Scottish epic in earnest, and soon the translator published several works he said he had recorded on two expeditions.

As a result, the “poems of Ossian” (the legendary Celtic bard of the 3rd century AD) were a resounding success throughout Europe, creating a literary fashion for Celtic and a research fashion for folklorist expeditions to Ireland and Scotland. There was a new dynastic name in the Swedish royal family, Oscar, after one of the heroes.

In fact, the “translator” was soon suspected of having written the “poems of Ossian” himself. In 1781, the Celticologist William Shaw, eager to prove the authenticity of Macpherson’s sources, traveled to the sites of his expeditions, but heard little resemblance to the subjects of the “poems” from the locals. When Macpherson published several “originals” in Gaelic, specialists became convinced that the language of the “Ossian poems” was not archaic, as one would expect from an ancient epic, but eighteenth-century Gaelic with many Anglicisms. Yet McPherson’s “translations” became the most influential hoax in the history of European literature.

“Letters from the Box” – 1667

The papers of her husband James Hepburn, Lord Boswell, fell into the hands of the Scottish feudal lords who rebelled against Queen Mary Stuart. Included, the rebels claimed, were love letters and poems from the ruler – evidence that her affair with Boswell had begun during the lifetime of her previous husband, Lord Darnley. Although nowhere did they mention Mary’s complicity in Darnley’s murder, the “letters from the box” were considered evidence of her guilt. The ousted queen was declared a criminal. Mary, having lost the battle with the rebels, fled to England to her cousin Elizabeth I. And she received… the status of a prisoner of honour.

The English queen willingly assumed the role of arbitrator in her cousin’s conflict with her subjects. It was in Elizabeth’s interest to keep Mary to herself, not taking her side, but not turning her over to the rebels. This allowed Elizabeth to control Scotland and neutralize a potential pretender to the English throne.

In the end, Mary never regained her power or her freedom again. The Scotswoman attempted to break free through intrigue against Elizabeth and was executed.

In fact, according to modern textual analysis, the style of the “letters from the box” is uncharacteristic of Mary Stuart. The queen, a gifted student of the famous poet Pierre de Ronsard, could not have been the author of the rather primitive “chest verses” either.

Elizabeth Petrovna’s “Testament” – 1774

In 1774, a mysterious lady stirred up European diplomatic circles with letters stating that she was the daughter of Russian Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, born in a secret marriage. The “princess” had with her Elisabeth’s “will” in which the sovereign commanded her to pass on the throne to her daughter.

Alexei Orlov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian squadron in charge of the Italian port of Livorno, also received a message from the pretender to the throne. Orlov pretended to believe him and, having lured the adventurer onto a ship, organized her arrest and delivery to Russia while his men stole from the house where the “princess” was staying the red-hot documents. During interrogation, the girl claimed that the “will” was sent to her in an anonymous letter.

As a result, a year later, she died in prison from consumption and never disclosed her true identity. Russia’s most famous impostor went down in history with a name invented by French novelists, which in reality, she never wore – Princess Tarakanova.

In fact, the “will”, as historians believe, was fabricated by Polish adventurers from the impostor’s entourage.

Schulmeister forgeries – 1805

The countries of the Third Anti-French Coalition decided to move against Napoleon, and the Austrians, led by Baron Charles Mack, advanced westward. Bonaparte then quickly redeployed his troops from the English Channel coast to the Danube and sent them to bypass the enemy. At Ulm, the danger of encirclement became apparent to Mack, and he still had a chance to save his troops by withdrawing them.

But Karl Schulmeister, the head of Austrian intelligence, had delivered to the commander the letters of the enemy officers and the Paris papers, which stated that the French were so displeased with Napoleon that he was going to raise his troops and send them to his own capital to suppress the mutiny. An enthusiastic Mack stayed at Ulm.

As a result, the 32,000-strong Austrian army was surrounded and capitulated on October 20, 1805. Napoleon’s opponents had lost a substantial part of their military strength, which predetermined their defeat at Austerlitz, the collapse of the Third Coalition, and Bonaparte’s conquest of Europe.

In fact, Schulmeister, whom Mack placed at the head of his intelligence service, was one of Napoleon’s best spies. Both the correspondence and the press produced by Schulmeister were forgeries produced in France at his request.

“The Protocols of the Sages of Zion” – 20th century

A collection of plans for taking over the world, drawn up in secret meetings of the Zionists, appeared in the press in the 1900s. Nicholas II read the “Protocols…” with interest. When cronies of the tsar suggested that they be used in the propaganda struggle against the revolutionary movement, Peter Stolypin, who was head of the Cabinet and Ministry of Internal Affairs at the time, organized a secret investigation.

In the end, it turned out that the collection was a forgery, which first appeared in anti-Semitic circles in France. “Leave the ‘Protocols’ alone. You can’t do a clean job by dirty methods,” decreed Nicholas II. However, these documents are still popular among the “global Jewish conspiracy” expositors.
In fact, the “Protocols” were most likely fabricated in Paris by the agents of the Russian secret police.

“Zinoviev’s Letter” – 1924

Under the first Labor government in British history, relations between the USSR and Britain began to improve. However, a few days before the parliamentary elections, in which Labour hoped to maintain its influence, a scandal broke out.

On October 25, 1924, the Daily Mail published a letter to the Central Committee of the British Communist Party, obtained by British intelligence, signed by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern Executive Committee, and two other Communist activists. The authors urged the British Communists to prepare an armed uprising.

As a result, British voters were seriously frightened by the “red threat,” and the Conservatives won the election by a wide margin. Relations with the Soviet Union soured for a long time; the Soviet government did not receive a loan from Britain to rebuild the economy.

In fact, Zinoviev denied any involvement in the creation of the Red Letter, pointing to factual errors in the text that could not have been made by a party leader. British Foreign Office historian Dr. Jill Bennett suggests that the document was fabricated by some white immigrants in Riga.

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