18 Historical Figures Who May Never Have Existed

When we’re taught history in school, we all think it makes clear sense. However, some figures we’re taught about, or even some well-known figures, may not have existed. Here are 18 historical figures who may never have existed.

John Henry

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John Henry emerged just after the Civil War and during America’s railroad construction. He was thought to be a former slave who won a race against a steam drill but died shortly after. According to Reader’s Digest, “He seems to be a composite of many stories featuring citizens who embodied the fearless spirit that America wanted to project.”

Uncle Sam

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This historical figure may have just been a nickname that originated from a businessman after the war in 1812. Uncle Sam became widely recognized on WWI posters, and even though he was based on a person, the image represents more of a collective idea.


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Known for founding Confucianism, he significantly impacted Chinese society. Debates exist over the authenticity of some of his sayings, as they may have come from disciples or other sources instead. Evidence does suggest that Confucius may have existed, but he may not have been responsible for Confucianism.

Robin Hood

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Robin Hood was a legendary English outlaw who was famous for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Stories of his existence vary widely, and there’s no concrete evidence that Robin Hood was a singular historical figure. This lack of evidence brings up many questions debating his existence.

Jack the Ripper

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This serial killer was notorious during the 19th century, and his true identity is still a mystery. There are debates over whether he was a single person or if his crimes were carried out by a group of people. With no concrete evidence, we may never know who Jack the Ripper actually was.


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There is little archeological and historical evidence that Moses actually existed. This is backed by Alot, which writes, “The Ancient Egyptians were meticulous record keepers, but, as of now, there is no evidence of an Israelite slave revolt in Egypt or any catastrophic plagues.” The story of Moses is thought to originate from older oral traditions.


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This influential philosopher was known more through the writings of his students than by documenting his own philosophies. Because of this lack of writing, there have been many debates over his existence. Socrates is known for his contribution to Western philosophy, regardless of his actual life events.

Lycaon of Arcadia

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Lycaon of Arcadia was a mythical king from Greek mythology who is known for his attempt to deceive Zeus but was then transformed into a wolf. The mythical king represents the intertwining of human and divine justice in mythology. While he isn’t considered a historical figure, he’s still a mythological symbol.

Prester John

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Believed to rule over a distant land, Prester John was actually a mythological figure. He was seen as a Christian monarch and was thought to be real from the 13th century to the 17th century. Europeans had hoped that he would’ve helped fight the Muslims during the Crusades, but there’s no historical evidence that he existed.

Lady Godiva

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Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman from the 11th century. Known for her benevolence, when her husband ordered the citizens of Coventry to pay more taxes, History says she rode horseback nude through the town in protest so they would be lowered. Her story blends historical possibility with legend.


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Homer was the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but his actual existence is uncertain. Many people believe that Homer is actually a collective of authors instead of an individual. The historical origin of these literary works still remains uncertain and is seen as a blend of myth and speculation.

King Arthur

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This king’s historical existence has been debated among many scholars. Seen as a central figure in history, the tales of King Arthur mix many historical events with folklore and literary invention. There are suggestions that if King Arthur didn’t exist, then his legend could have been inspired by other historical figures.

Mary Magdalene

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Known to be a biblical figure, there have been many portrayals of Mary Magdalene throughout history. Many have debated her role and identity and had discussions on biblical interpretations and historical accuracy. Whether she actually existed is still up for debate among many scholars.

Hengist and Horsa

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These legendary brothers were said to have led Anglo-Saxon settlers into Britain. There is some historical evidence from the time to show they existed, including Bede’s writings. However, their actual existence and roles are still debated. They represent foundational myths, and there’s limited historical proof.

Yang Kyoungjong

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Yang Kyoungjong was a Korean soldier who was supposed to have fought for three different armies in WWII, including Japan, the USSR, and Nazi Germany. However, debates about his existence surfaced a little while ago. This is supported by Top Tenz, which writes, “His story was often shared without too much scrutiny, at least until 2005, when a South Korean company wanted to film a documentary about Yang Kyoungjong.”

Sun Tzu

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Sun Tzu was credited with writing The Art of War, which was a fundamental work on military strategy and tactics. Some scholars believe that Sun Tzu was a pseudonym, and a group of individuals with military knowledge may have written the book. The debate over his existence illustrates the challenges of distinguishing between historical figures and collective authorship.


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Stars Insider writes, “Laozi supposedly wrote the Chinese classic text Tao Te Ching, but his existence is still debated.” He’s considered to be the founder of Taoism, and there are many debates about whether he was a single figure or a collective group. The mystery surrounding him comes from a blend of philosophy, religion, and mythology.

St. Christopher

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St. Christopher is seen as the patron saint of travelers, but his historical existence is under debate. Despite his great amount of respect in Christianity, the Vatican removed him from the liturgical calendar due to doubts over his existence, but due to his popularity, he has not been desanctified.

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