18 Famous Historical Figures Who Might Not Have Been Real

We are taught to believe what is written in history books is nothing but the absolute truth. However, we may need to start questioning some of the things we were taught and remember that much of history was written based on tales told over many years and not things recorded at the moment like we have today. These 18 historical figures are completely made up, or questionable at best.

Robin Hood

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A heroic outlaw in English folklore, reputed to have robbed the rich and given to the poor, his historical existence is uncertain. The stories of Robin Hood have been adapted and modified throughout the centuries. According to History, medieval scholars found records of criminals named “Robehod” and “Rabunhod,” but they’re not sure who they were or how they got their names.


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A legendary figure from ancient China who disguised herself as a man to take her father’s place in the army. While her story is celebrated in Chinese culture, there is no concrete evidence that she was a real person. This doesn’t mean the Disney movie has to stop inspiring little girls to be brave.

William Tell

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A folk hero of Switzerland who was forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head and did not miss it. The Swiss point to the heroic act as the start of Switzerland’s movement to become an independent nation. Despite being a central figure in Swiss national mythology, there is no historical evidence confirming his existence.

King Arthur

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The legendary British leader who, according to medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. The legendary King Arthur may have been based on a real warrior who led British armies during the fifth or sixth century. His existence is debated due to the lack of contemporary records.


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The supposed author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, two epic poems that are the central works of ancient Greek literature. Scholars debate whether Homer was a real individual or a symbolic representation of multiple storytellers created for the cultural need for an author to be tied to these great Greek stories.

Sun Tzu

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Allegedly the author of The Art of War, a Chinese military treatise. While the book is still consulted for its expertise, no one is sure if the Chinese military mastermind existed or if the strategy classic was a compilation of Chinese wisdom gathered by many across time and then attributed to a single author.

Lycurgus of Sparta

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Traditionally credited with the establishment of the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society. However, his existence is debated among historians. Spartans simply weren’t interested in keeping written records. Britannica says the sources of his existence mainly come from Greek philosophers and historians, such as Herodotus, Xenophon, and Plato. Though they wrote about him hundreds of years later, whatever historical fact may have existed got mixed in with legend and myth.


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Although he is famous for the Pythagorean theorem, much of what is known about him comes from centuries after he would have lived. Many of these accounts are highly mythologized, including that Pythagoras was the son of Apollo. The man may very well have existed, but he’s probably quite different from the stories told about him.

John Henry

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He is an African American folk hero known for his strength and speed as a steel-driving man. John Henry was a former slave who won a rock-drilling competition against a steam-powered drill. Sadly, no hard evidence of his existence has ever been found; even with that, he still inspired numerous songs, stories, and plays.

Betty Crocker

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You’ve probably pictured her in a skirt and apron in the kitchen, baking delicious treats as you pick up a box of cake mix from the shelf. Unfortunately, she’s not a real person; she was a marketing invention by General Mills. The surname Crocker came from a company director, and Betty was considered a “friendly-sounding name.”


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Moses is an important figure in all three major Abrahamic religions, but evidence of his time in Egypt or his existence isn’t there. The Ancient Egyptians were meticulous record keepers and there is no evidence of an Israelite slave revolt in Egypt or any plagues. In all likelihood, the stories attributed to Moses were part of an older oral tradition that coalesced into the figure we find in the Hebrew Bible.

Saint Christopher

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Among Catholicism’s most popular saints and a symbol of protection and guidance for those who embark on journeys, both physical and spiritual. Legend has it that he carried a child who grew heavier as they crossed a river because the child was supposed to be carrying the weight of God. ABC News reported that “there wasn’t enough historical evidence the man ever existed, so Pope Paul VI dropped him.”

Prester John

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A legendary Christian patriarch and king in European chronicles from the 12th through the 17th centuries, his kingdom was said to have no poverty or violent crime. Pope Alexander III was so intrigued that he wrote a letter to “Prester John,” which he sent via a confidant named Master Philip to find the king. Philip returned to the Pope empty-handed, according to The Collector.

Jack the Ripper

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Jack the Ripper, as we know him, was a 19th-century serial killer responsible for the deaths of at least five women, but possibly more. Their deaths were genuine historical facts; however, the person responsible is not clear and was never caught. These murders could have been the work of multiple people, not just one notorious killer.

Pope Joan

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A legendary female pope allegedly reigned for a few years during the Middle Ages. Both church officials and scholars alike doubt her existence, mostly because stories of her life didn’t appear until the 1300s, when she allegedly ruled during the 800s. It would have been nice to believe the Catholic Church had a woman at its head at some point.

Paul Bunyan

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A giant lumberjack in American folklore, his exploits revolve around the tall tales of his superhuman labors and his companion, Babe, a blue ox. Though most of us know that the stories were not real, two real-life lumberjacks, Bon Jean and Fabian Fournier, may have inspired some of the stories.

Carolyn Keene

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Nancy Drew was not written by Carolyn Keene, as we were all led to believe. The book series was written under this pen name by a group of ghostwriters, who continue to write the stories to this day.

Helen of Troy

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Helen of Troy was an important figure in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, as well as Greek mythology in general. Described as the most beautiful woman in the world, her abduction by Paris triggered the Trojan War. While Troy itself was real, Helen’s existence is considered mythical.

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