20 Historical Figures Who May Not Have Existed

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There are many historical figures who have been great enough for their legacy to have survived the ages. From Mulan to Shakespeare, we’ve all heard their stories. However, some, due to the lack of evidence, may be fictional and based on folklore. Read on to find out which historical figures might not have existed at all!

1. Mulan

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Despite Mulan's popularity as a Chinese Legend and a Disney Character, her famous tale of fighting as a soldier in her father's place might not be real. According to the book Chinese Shadow Theatre: History, Popular Religion, and Women Warriors, Mulan's story was based on what happened to Wei Huahu, another female warrior. There is no evidence that Mulan existed other than the similar stories they share. 

2. King Arthur

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Historians have long questioned the story of King Arthur, as the facts have proven to be unreliable. It appears that the story was based on a Roman military commander, Lucius Artorius Castus. Some suggest that it's inspired by Riothamus, the king of the Britons during the 5th century.

3. Helen Of Troy

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In Homer's The Iliad, Helen of Troy was the Greek King Menelaus' wife and known as the most beautiful woman in the world. Due to the lack of historical evidence, historians have questioned Helen's existence, while most people simply believe she was added as a mythological figure for the purposes of the story. 

4. Odysseus

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As the main character in Homer's The Odyssey, Odysseus, or Ulysses as some people know him, took 10 years after the fall of Troy. Although his adventures were doubted to be illegitimate, an archeologist found remains from a 3-story building and a well from the 8th century BC, which seemingly matched Odysseus and his lofty tale, so those adventures could be true. 

5. William Shakespeare

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Even one so celebrated as William Shakespeare, his being and legacy have been questioned by many people. Some believe that he wrote under a pen name while others don't think he actually existed at all, since there is little information on his background. J. Thomas Looney, a school teacher, suggests Shakespeare was a man named Edward de Vere, and his work was published under the pseudonym. 

6. Sun Tzu

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According to legends, Sun Tzu was a military leader in ancient China as well as the author of The Art of War. Yet there is little evidence to prove where it originally came from. Many believe it was a collection of military lessons from several generations and was put under the name as a whole. 

7. Homer

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As the masterpiece of the great scholar, poet, and author, Homer, The Iliad's true creator has been questioned by a lot of people. They think Homer was just the first to write things down. There are theories of Homer's true identity that range from a blind woman using a pseudonym, to a group of Greek scholars. 

8. Lycurgus

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Lycurgus was most well known for shaping the legal policy of ancient Sparta. Since laws must have been created by someone, why not him, a person who's good at it. Yet several theories have suggested that his ideas may in fact come from the Dorians after their invasion, or that his name was used as an easy solution to represent the hundreds of people that actually did the work. 

9. Jack The Ripper

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The story of Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who killed prostitutes in London by ripping out their throats and stomachs, has haunted people’s minds since the 19th century. Yet the true identity of the killer has never been confirmed, which has allowed many theories to flourish, even to this day.  

10. Robin Hood

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The story of Robin Hood had become popular during the 13th and 14th century when many English outlaws claimed to be the true Robin Hood. Without being confirmed as truth, some speculate that the figure was based on the nobleman Fulk FitzWarin, whose story shared some similarities and was published in the medieval tale Fouke le Fitz Waryn. 

11. Socrates

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Socrates is one of the most influential philosophers of all time, yet everything we know about his sayings and thoughts weren’t directly from his mouth but instead written by his disciples, specifically Plato. Perhaps there really was a smart man named Socrates, but we may never know if he's the one as described. 

12. Midas

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King Midas was a Greek mythological king who could turn things into gold by touch, which led to the expression "the Midas touch." Other than in Greek mythology, there is no solid evidence of his existence. Historians found an ornate burial site that dates back to Midas’ time, but there was no sign of his being during the era. 

13. Pythagoras

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Pythagoras has long been considered a staple in the mathematical world. However, historians have found no proof that he wrote anything down, especially strange as he worked in the era when not many people worked with celestial spheres, and that rightly makes people question his existence.

14. Confucius

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Confucius has long been considered as one of the wisest and greatest philosophers in Chinese history. However, due to the lack of historical evidence, a number of scholars don't believe he was real. The director of Chinese studies at the University of Colorado, Lionel M. Jensen, suggests that the figure was created by Jesuit missionaries during the 16th century.

15. King Solomon

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Many people have remained skeptical about King Solomon's existence since there isn't much evidence of it at all. Suspiciously, no artifacts from his fortune have ever been found, despite the fact that he was assumed to be the world's richest man during his reign.

16. William Tell

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According to the legend, William Tell refused to follow an order and was commanded to shoot an apple off his son's head from 120 paces away. If he didn't succeed, he'd be dead. Fortunately, he made the shot. Since his story was quite similar to a Viking folktale, he is considered to be a fictional figure by a lot of people. 

17. John Henry

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In the song "Ballad of John Henry," it tells a story of an ex-slave who challenged a steam drill to find out which one could work faster. John Henry was said to have beaten the machine but died of exhaustion shortly afterwards. As compelling it may be, the race might be fiction, but the story was popular since workers didn't like the thought that the invention would take their jobs away.

18. Moses

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There isn't much proof of Moses' existence outside the Biblical world, which makes many historians feel skeptical about his being, as well as his actions. However, some scientists have corroborated Moses' actions like the parting of the Red Sea with natural phenomenons. 

19. Muhammad

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As the most successful prophets and religious figures, Muhammad seems like a reliable figure for most people. However, due to the lack of hard evidence, there is still doubt amongst many historians.

20. St. Christopher

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The patron saint of travelers and fruit dealers, St. Christopher, was adored by his many followers. As popular as he was, he might not have been a real saint or even a real person. According to some scholars, he might have been an ordinary guy who was captured by the Romans, converted to Christianity, and was murdered for it. The controversy surrounding his existence even got him removed from the Vatican universal calendar in 1969.

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