10 False History 'Facts' Everyone Knows

Napoleon Was Super-short
This political cartoon shows British Prime Minister William Pitt and Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte dividing up the globe, almost certainly after the Peace of Amiens in 1802. Note how much smaller Napoleon is depicted than Pitt. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Most of us know next to nothing about the French general and "emperor for life" Napoleon Bonaparte — a man whose military skill and political ambition made him one of the most powerful and feared figures of the late 18th and early 19th centuries — other than the fact that he was one petite dude. Even today, we say that an overcompensating short guy has a "Napoleon complex."

For years, the history books listed Napoleon's official height as 5 feet, 2 inches (1.6 meters), indisputably in "shorty" territory. But that's because they mistakenly believed that a French "foot" was the same as an English foot.

When the measurements are properly converted, Napoleon stretches to a respectable 5 feet, 7 inches (1.7 meters). That's not going to get him an NBA contract, but it's 2 inches (5 centimeters) taller than former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and nearly a head above Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev [source: BBC News]. Somehow, "Medvedev complex" isn't as catchy.