20 Surprising Theories That Offer An Alternative Take On History

Image: Michael Foran

Even when you think you know everything there is to know about history, there’s always another side to the story. After all, the past is largely only available to us through the recorded accounts of those alive at the time, and those documents may not always be as truthful as we might at first assume. It’s no wonder, then, that so many mind-blowing alternative historical theories have arisen. Prepare to have your world rocked.

Image: F.G.O. Stuart

20. The Titanic didn’t really sink

In fact, so the theory goes, it was actually the Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, which sank in 1912. According to Robin Gardiner, the Olympic had been damaged in 1911, so in order to recoup some insurance money on it, the ship’s owners swapped it with the Titanic and planned for it to sink – but slowly enough that lifeboats could rescue everyone aboard. Instead, 1,500 people died when the ship struck an iceberg.

Image: Robert John Welch

19. Or if it did, it was on purpose

Another theory surrounding the sinking of the Titanic – and there are many – posits that financier J.P. Morgan had the ship sunk intentionally, in order to purge those opposed to the Federal Reserve Bank’s creation. Indeed, at least three notable men hostile to the idea died on the Titanic, and Morgan himself canceled his booking at the last minute.

Image: via Luminarium

18. Elizabeth I was actually a boy in drag

According to an American writer, Steve Berry, the real Elizabeth Tudor died when she was around ten years old, after falling sick while escaping an outbreak of the plague. Her minders, fearing execution, dressed a boy from a local village in her clothes – and fooled even her father, King Henry VIII, in a charade that lasted all “her” life. Supposedly, the “Virgin Queen” never married because she was actually a man.

Image: Jeaaann

17. The Great Sphinx wasn’t built by the Ancient Egyptians


Instead, it was just restored by them, according to a tablet discovered in Giza. The “Inventory Stela” notes that Khufu, the pharaoh on whom the sphinx is thought to be based, “restored the statue, all covered in painting.” Indeed, Gaston Maspero, a French Egyptologist, suggested that by the time of the pharaohs, “the Sphinx was already buried in sand” – and therefore built by an even older civilization.

Image: USN

16. Roosevelt provoked Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor

During the Second World War, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was looking for an excuse to declare war on the Axis forces – at least, according to political economist Robert Higgs. Indeed, he writes that Roosevelt attempted to first bait Hitler into attacking the U.S. When that failed, he instead brought economic sanctions down on Japan – fully aware their retaliation would include attacking Pearl Harbor.

Image: via Wikimedia Commons

15. Otto III fabricated a 300-year gap in history


So goes the “phantom time hypothesis,” devised in 1991 by Heribert Illig. According to Illig, Roman Emperor Otto III conspired with Pope Sylvester II, potentially with the help of Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, to fast forward the AD calendar by 297 years, from 614 to 911. Why? Partly to legitimize Otto’s position, but also just because they fancied being around in the year 1,000.

Image: via celebrityabc

14. Michael Jackson faked his death and fled to Bahrain

When a much-loved celebrity passes away, you often find people clinging to whatever evidence they can find to prove that he or she is not really dead. Such is the case with Michael Jackson, who many believe is still alive to this day, despite apparently dying in 2009. Adherents cite factors like a suspicious mortuary photo of Jackson and a supposed plan to escape the furore surrounding his 2005 sex trial by fleeing to Bahrain.

Image: David Rydevik

13. The 2004 tsunami was caused by U.S. nuclear testing


The tsunami that shattered South-East Asia in 2004 was as serious as it gets for natural disasters. Indeed, it’s considered to be the tenth worst of all time, and was also the fourth largest earthquake of the past century. And some people believe it was actually orchestrated by U.S. scientists testing nukes underground – a theory alas unsupported by any real evidence.

Image: Jim Summaria

12. Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike

Back in 1969, a series of articles published by American college students alleged that the Beatles member had actually died three years prior, and the man pretending to be him was actually a lookalike. Supposedly, much of the band’s art and lyrics contains “clues” to the truth, like the Abbey Road album cover, which is said to denote a funeral procession.

Image: via The Washington Times

11. Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by several different authors


With a paucity of available information on Shakespeare, it’s no wonder some reckon his plays weren’t actually written by him at all. Indeed, from Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere to essayist and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, there are plenty of theorized candidates for the true author – or authors – of the Bard’s works.

Image: John Crawford

10. AIDS was created by the CIA

This Cold War-era conspiracy theory originated at a time when the Soviet Union and the U.S. were known to bandy around crazy biological warfare accusations. However, there are still those who believe it to this day. Indeed, the notion that the CIA was behind the AIDS crisis took hold thanks to the USSR’s use of East German doctors to give it credibility.

Image: Carol M. Highsmith

9. The Twin Towers were felled by a controlled demolition


The tragedy of 9/11 was a breeding ground for conspiracies, many of which are still propagated. One of the most common suggests that the towers weren’t actually brought down by the planes that crashed into them, but by controlled explosions inside the two buildings. Devotees point to the structures’ almost instant collapse and the sounds of explosions reported by witnesses.

Image: Luke Rauscher

8. William Shakespeare was an English spy

Some theorists claim that, not only was Shakespeare apparently not responsible for his plays, he was actually an English spy by the name of Francis Garland. The diaries of mathematician John Dee make extended references to Garland’s services as a spy, but there’s no evidence he ever existed – leading some to believe he was a pseudonym for Shakespeare.

Image: Joe Haupt

7. Princess Diana was murdered by MI6


Following the death of Princess Diana in 1997, Mohamed Al-Fayed – father of Dodi, Diana’s boyfriend, who also died in the same car crash that killed her – made scores of conspiracy claims that she had been murdered. One such claim involved the use of another car, a white Fiat Uno, which he claimed forced Diana’s car to crash.

Image: Walt Cisco/Dallas Morning News

6. Multiple gunmen were responsible for JFK’s assassination

Despite the Warren Commission concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, there are still those who suggest the 35th U.S. president was killed by more than one person. Indeed, the number of bullets fired has led many to suggest a second gunmen was present on a nearby grassy knoll.

Image: Apollo 11 Image Library

5. NASA faked the moon landings


The 1969 moon landings have long been held in scorn by conspiracy theorists, who claim that NASA faked them in order to win the Space Race. “Evidence” like Buzz Aldrin’s American flag waving in wind that wouldn’t exist in a vacuum is popular among such theorists, who assert that NASA filmed the moon landings on a secret set, possibly with the help of film director Stanley Kubrick.

Image: thierry ehrmann

4. Aleister Crowley was a secret agent for the British Empire

The man who proclaimed himself the “Great Beast 666” may have been more than just the “wickedest man in the world,” as the media branded him. In fact, some claim that the occultist, painter and poet was actually a British spy. Crowley himself even referred to his work for British intelligence agencies in his writing.

Image: The Illustrated London News

3. The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 was a British plot


Just three years after the Titanic sunk, her rival ship RMS Lusitania endured the same appalling end. Instead of an iceberg, however, it was a German U-boat that had determined Lusitania’s fate – or so the story goes. Indeed, many theorists suggest that she was actually sunk by the British to bring the U.S. into the war. The theorists point to the speed she went down – just 18 minutes – and explosions heard aboard by survivors.

Image: Polize Gazette

2. Jack the Ripper never actually existed

According to some, Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper was actually entirely imagined by the press at the time. They claim that the murders attributed to him were just another five random killings, no different from so many others. Back then, this area of east London was known for its squalor and high crime rate.

Image: via Metropolitan Museum of Art

1. Van Gogh didn’t kill himself


It’s well known that artist Vincent van Gogh committed suicide at the age of 37. However, a pair of biographers have recently disputed this. Indeed, in 2011 they alleged that Van Gogh was killed accidentally by two boys playing with a malfunctioning gun – but decided to take the blame himself in order to protect them.