History is replete with renowned heroes, villains, generals and leaders. However, it has not always been easy on the part of the historians to ‘cleanse’ the shreds of truth from the copious scope of fiction. As a matter of fact, documentation of various literary sources have shown that larger-than-life characters were required for the numerous traditions of folklore, mythology and fantastical tales – as personifications of chivalry, charity, philosophy or even military victories. So, without further ado, let us check out ten such eminent historical figures who might have not existed as we know them!
*Note – We should stress that this list covers the names of historical characters who MIGHT not have existed as we KNOW THEM. This necessarily doesn’t translate to – they DIDN’T exist. To that end, most of the names chosen here are generally not substantiated by credible archaeological findings and so-called literary evidences from real historical authors. But their inspirations and tales may have been based on real personalities and events.
1) Homer –
While historians have been trying their best to find the factual evidences that could support the epic occurrences mentioned in the Iliad and Odyssey, the presumed author of these magnificent works might not have existed at all! The primary theory that fuels this skeptical claim directly relates to how less we know about the life of Homer. In fact, his biographical accounts (or lack thereof) directly conflicts with his impressive status as one of the most prominent writers from the Western world.
As for the later accounts, Herodotus had put forth his estimation that Homer perhaps lived around mid-9th century BC. Other olden sources place him close to the time of the Trojan War itself (in 12th century BC), while modern academics tend to believe that the figure might have lived during 7th century BC. Regardless of the actual time-period of his alleged existence, some theories also put forth the notion that he was not the sole author of the exalted epics.
2) King Solomon –
In of our earlier lists, we talked about how King Solomon might have been among the richest men of the ancient world. But incredibly enough, the accounts (and evidences) of his fabulous reign and wealth are scanty beyond Biblical references. And perhaps the greatest hindrance in the way of an undoubted proof that he existed, is the lack of material evidence from his probable lifetime – with most surviving architectural works being ‘generally’ attributed to the Omride period (which was more than a century after Solomon’s reign).
Anyhow, modern archaeologists and historians are more open to the idea of King Solomon actually existing; especially with the recent discovery of the Timna Valley copper mines that are believed to be from Solomon’s time (though they were most likely controlled by the local Edomites). Eminent archaeologist and scholar Alan Millard had also made some valid points in favor of Solomon existing, in his published article – “Texts and Archaeology: Weighing The Evidence. The Case for King Solomon”.
3) Lycurgus of Sparta-
The authoritative lawgiver of Sparta, Lycurgus is mentioned by many ancient writers (including Herodotus, Plato, Plutarch and Polybius) as the man who transformed the Laconian city-state into a powerful military entity. He was believed to have lived between the period of 7th and 9th century BC, and was credited with a myriad of initiated amendments that applied to a vast range of society-based actions from marriage, distribution of wealth, constructing houses and even sex. But the most famous of his reforms was arguably the ‘agoge’ – the brutal military training program for Spartan boys.
However, in spite of these achievements, most historians are not too convinced of the man’s existence, especially in light of contradictory literary accounts that were penned later (as Spartans didn’t have the tradition of maintaining written records). This has led to various feasible speculations that Lycurgus might have been a symbolic ‘god-like’ personification of the Spartan qualities that many later Greeks came to admire. Or he might have also filled the role of a single albeit fictional creator to whom the cultural continuity of Sparta could be attributed.
4) Midas –
In purely historical terms, there were at least three personalities named Midas from the Phrygian royalty. Among them, the most famous is arguably King Midas who is directly connected to Greek Mythology, for his supposedly wondrous ability to turn objects into gold by just his touch. And ironically, this is the character over whom most of the legends contradict themselves, with the hotchpotch sources mentioning variant accounts of the mythical king – some alluding to him being the king of Pessinus in Asia Minor, and others (including Herodotus’s account) hinting at his origin in Macedonian Bryges.
In spite of the flurry of fantastical accounts, historians have been able to verify the existence of an 8th century BC ruler named Midas, who was most probably known as ‘Mita’ in Assyrian sources. Archaeologists have even found an impressive royal burial ground with exquisite drinking vessels and an imposing wooden coffin from circa 740 BC. However, there are no credible evidences to support the fact that this Midas was indeed (or related to) the fabulously rich yet cruelly unfortunate King Midas who had made his mark in our popular culture and fables.
5) Pythagoras –
The simple yet impeccable Pythagoras theorem has held mathematicians from over the ages in awe. Unfortunately, there is only sparsely reliable information relating to the namesake creator of this geometrical dictum, and that too – with most of the accounts being written centuries after his presumed lifetime. Furthermore, the secrecy of the Pythagorean brotherhood (a religious movement supposedly founded by Pythagoras) rather accentuates the mystery and possible fabrications that surround the life of this ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician and ‘lover of wisdom’.
Interestingly, there are many colorful episodes pertaining to the great Pythagoras, with the stories, myths and accounts interlacing together to paint a rather eccentric picture. To that end, the exalted thinker supposedly came across musical notes that could be interpreted by mathematical equations. He also believed in religious transmigration (in which our souls go through various reincarnations until they turn immortal), numerology and bad effects of consuming beans! And lastly as for the famous theorem, there is more than a possibility that the principle was already used by the Egyptians, Indians and Babylonians (though the first proof might have been created by Pythagoras or Pythagoreans).