Some of History's Most Notorious Hoaxes

By | December 11, 2019

test article image
A model of the Loch Ness Monster. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon." While professional historians may take umbrage at L’empereur’s statement, history is littered with hoaxes — some amusing but others malicious with lasting consequences on history. Here are seven (unranked) famous and infamous historical hoaxes.

test article image
The Donation of Constantine. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

The Donation of Constantine

History’s oldest known hoax, the so-called Donation of Constantine is a document which details how Pope Sylvester I converted the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity after miraculously curing him of leprosy. In gratitude and in recognition of the importance of Rome as the place of the martyrdom of apostles Peter and Paul, the Emperor granted primacy of the bishop of Rome (the Pope) over all the other sees of the Church. The emperor also granted the pope extra-legal, territorial, and administrative rights, vastly increasing the pope’s power. It also allowed the pope to appoint, the ruler of the Western Roman Empire as well as granting to the pope direct control of numerous territories. The document was a complete fraud.

The Donation of Constantine was believed to be true for centuries and figured into the schism between the east and western churches as well as struggles between the papacy and rulers in Western Europe. However, the document was probably created in the 8th century by a papal cleric. Around the year 1000, its authenticity began to be doubted. The document was fully disproved by the Catholic Priest Lorenzo Valla who showed in 1440 that the language used in the document could not have been created during the time of Constantine in the 4th century.