History: Fact or Fiction?

It’s often said that “History is written by the victors”.  Which implies that much history is little more than war propaganda (written by the victors – to make themselves look good).

The very quote “History is written by the victors” is an example of this.  It’s usually attributed to Winston Churchill,  But as this article points out, this may not be true. So the quote is usually attributed to Churchill (who won WWII). While Hilter (who may equally well have first made the quote), gets no credit (because he lost).

And if you think about it, “history” is just someone saying what they believe (or want you to believe) happened, at some time in the past.   So where did they get their information from?  Well most likely, they read it or heard it from someone else.  And where did that someone else get their information from?  Well most likely, they read it or heard it from someone else again.  And so on…

Very few historical works seem to present any hard core evidence of what they claim happened (they just present it as fact).  And adding the natural human tendency to embellish the stories one tells – and to interpret and see things how you want to interpret and see them – the result is that most history is almost certainly partly if not totally inaccurate.

The stories about the pilgrimage to Mecca of the Malian King “Mansa Musa” is an example of this:-

Wikipedia says:-

“Musa made his pilgrimage in 1324, his procession reported to include 60,000 men, 12,000 slaves who each carried four-pound gold bars, heralds dressed in silks who bore gold staffs, organized horses and handled bags. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals.[9] Also in the train were 80 camels, which varying reports claim carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust each. He gave away the gold to the poor he met along his route. Musa not only gave to the cities he passed on the way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but also traded gold for souvenirs. Furthermore, it has been recorded that he built a mosque each and every Friday.”

But at Black History Pages we read:-

Mansa Musa is mostly remembered for his extravagant hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca with, according to the Arab historian al-Umari, 100 camel-loads of gold, each weighing 300 lbs.; 500 slaves, each carrying a 4 lb. gold staff; thousands of his subjects; as well as his senior wife, with her 500 attendants. With his lavish spending and generosity in Cairo and Mecca, he ran out of money and had to borrow at usurious rates of interest for the return trip. Al-Umari also states that Mansa Musa and his retinue “gave out so much gold that they depressed its value in Egypt and caused its value to fall.”

So was it 500 or 12,000 slaves (each carrying a 4 pound gold bar)?

And 60,000 people in total?  Or just approximately 1000?

And 80 camels each carrying 50 to 300 pounds of gold dust?  Or 100 camels each carrying 300 pounds of gold?

And did he really build a new mosque each and every Friday?  If so, how big and permanent was it?  Etc?

Clearly, the story appears to have been greatly exaggerated along the way.

And in this case, both the descrepancies – and the rather unbelievable nature of some of the claims made – alert you to the fact that the stories have probably been greatly embellished over the years.

But if those descrepancies were eliminated – and the authors all agree on some common story (whether accurate or not) – then the fact that the entire story may well be mainly fiction is no longer readily apparent.

Which might well be the case with much of the “history” we know today.