Famous Historical Icons That May Not Have Existed

History is rich with many brave and courageous figures who walked the surface of the earth. From the tales of Shakespeare to the bravery of Mulan; from the mystery of Jack the Ripper to the mighty King Arthur, you must have heard of them? But what if we said that many historians and researchers are not sold on their legitimacy? What if they never existed at all? So, was it all true, or was it just invented to complement the figment of our imaginations? The truth about these icons will startle you! 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Speed Lancelot (1860-1931)


Much before it was portrayed on the big screen, Mulan was supposedly the story of a warrior who came from China. Although much of what we know now may not be all true, especially the bit when she fought in her father's place. As per Chinese Shadow Theatre: History, Popular Religion, and Women Warriors, the folktale of Mulan was loosely based on a female warrior named Wei Huahu. As for Mulan, that was not real! The following legendary figure could confuse you more...

Image Credits: Youtube/CinemaSins/Mulan-Buena Vista Pictures

John Henry

The "Ballad of John Henry," is a very prominent legend revolving around the tale of a brave man who challenged a steam drill. For what? Well, to see who can work faster! What's more surprising is that he was able to beat the steam drill! Unfortunately, it came at a huge price. However, John Henry remains out of comparison with the most famous writer of all time. Could he also be a fake?!

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/John Henry Hintermeister

William Shakespeare

It won't come as a piece of news that many people question the legitimacy of William Shakespeare, who is considered to be among the greatest playwrights of all time. People believe that Shakespeare was a pen-name used by a schoolteacher J. Thomas Looney whose works were posthumously under the same pen-name. However, there is little to no proof to validate or debunk either of the claims. Heard of Robin Hood? Was he real?

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Robin Hood

The story of Robin Hood is a staple of every household, especially for the little ones. However, it first gained momentum in the 13th and 14th centuries. Although no one can really tell how much of the story was true! During that era, many English outlaws considered themselves to be the "Robin Hood." But the best explanation is that the story was based on a nobleman called Fuk FitzWarin which was published in the medieval tale Fouke le Fitz Waryn. That still does not make it real!

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Louis Rhead


In Chinese history, Confucius was probably the wisest of all philosophers. He was known to be thoughtful and precise and a great admirer of art. However, because there is little evidence to point out otherwise, historians believe that it was all a well-made tale. The Director of Chinese Studies at the University of Colorado at Denver, Linolel M. Jense believes that "Jesuit missionaries created the philosopher during the 16th century." 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

William Tell

The story of William Tell can be traced back to 14th century Switzerland. Tell was very famous for his troublesome ways at the time. As per a historian, an Austrian official placed a hat on top of a pole in Altdoft and made it a requirement for everyone to remove their hats as they passed the landmark. But Tell being the troublemaker decided to do something different ...

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Richard G. Biever

Won't Carry Out Orders

So William Tell refused to follow the orders that were given to him. As punishment, he was asked to shoot an apple off of his son's head from a distance of 120 paces. But there would be the consequence of facing death if he couldn't do it successfully. However, Tell completed the task but many believe that this story resembles a Viking folktale. So many are not sold at the idea that William Tell was indeed real!. Yikes! 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Richard G. Biever

Sun Tzu

Credited with the authorship of the guidebook for war, Sun Tzu is a very ancient military leader from China. Historians believe that there is very little evidence to suggest that Sun Tzu actually existed and did indeed write The Art of War. A parallel narrative that runs believes that the book was a collection of military lessons, but the authorship cannot be credited to a single person.  

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain


The famous Homer, the supposed author of The Odyssey and The Illiad, you must have heard of him? What if we said that there is little proof to ascertain that the person who is believed to be the greatest author, poet, and scholar lived at some point! 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Doovele

Several Theories Around Homer

Some historians argue that Homer never actually wrote either of the books, but of course, gave himself credit for it! Other theories suggest that Homer was a blind woman; while there is another group that suggests that Homer was in fact a group of Greek scholars and not a single person. That's not it ...

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Frederick Hollyer

King Arthur

Probably all of us are familiar and well-versed with the tales of King Arthur. There have been many stories and shows depicting his valor. But the historians are not really convinced by this whole picture and they believe there are many discrepancies in the tales that have been passed to us! But why is that?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Wurthle & Sohn

Based On A Story

Many historians and researchers believe that the story of King Arthur actually corresponds to that of a military commander in Rome called Lucius Artorius Castus. While there is another group that believes that the story is inspired by Riothamus, the king of the Britons during the fifth century. Oh, ready for a shocking one?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Julia Margaret Cameron

Unfortunate Event

Although John Henry was successful in defeating the steam drill, he succumbed to the exhaustion a couple of minutes later. But he was able to make his point that workers were not really very happy with the whole steam drill machine. But many believe that parts of this compelling tale might be actually fictional. You won't believe this next one ...

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/E. L. Ahrons

Kunta Kinte

Alex Haley’s book called Roots won many accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize. It was the story of Kunta Knite, however, we do not know how much of it was indeed true! Although it inspired many miniseries and TV shows and caused a strong impact, sources state that the evidence does not match with what happened in the past. If you thought this was shocking, get ready to get astounded ...

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Helen of Troy

Dubbed as the most beautiful woman in the whole wide world, the beauty of the Helen of Troy was well-renowned. She was the wife of the Greek King Menelaus in Homer’s The Iliad. However, researchers are of the view that this was just a character invented to make the story more interesting, mostly because there is very little evidence to ascertain that Helen truly did exist! 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Dante Gabriel Rossetti

King Solomon

There is little to no evidence present from the time when King Solomon ruled. Therefore, people are not sold that he truly existed. Especially because there might not be any manuscripts but if he was the richest man then, why haven't we found any fortunes and artifacts over the time despite many expeditions?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Simeon Solomon


King Midas is thought to be the person to whom the origin of the expression "Midas touch” is attributed. Believed to be a man with exceptional powers of turning everything that he turned into gold, Midas was a Greek mythological king. However, how much was true about this King, or was it all a pleasing mirage?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Nicolas Tournier

No Evidence

Although the tale is believed to be true in Greek mythology, there is very little evidence pointing towards the same. Researchers and historians were able to discover an ornamented burial site that was traced to the time of the supposed King Midas but found no proof that the stories were indeed true! Who fears Jack the Ripper?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Walter Crane (1845-1915)

Jack the Ripper

The petrifying legend of Jack the Ripper has been around since the early 19th century. It has terrorized kids, grown men and women alike! This London-based man was known for his mean and gruesome ways that could still give anyone the chills. But how much of it was correct?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/R. Taylor (R. & E. Taylor (Firm))

A Hoax

The identity of this mysterious Jack the Ripper was never revealed to the public. That is the main reason why many believe that the whole business was just a hoax. Even journalists and police claim the same because they were never able to arrest this perplexing character. Having said that, was Odysseus real?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain


Homer is amongst the most famous authors of all time, mostly because of his epic poem called The Odyssey. In the epic, Odysseus was the protagonist and was also known as Ulysses. After Troy fell, Odysseus took 10 years to return home. And the adventure was anything but easy ...

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Rabax63

Was This Journey True?

There have been claims that this supposed 10-year-long journey to reach his home did not really happen. Therefore, several historians and researchers claim that the adventures of Odysseus cannot be established as the truth. Next up, the Pythagoras theorem!

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Theodor van Thulden


Growing up, did you hate Pythagoras for the theorem that he gave for making all our lives and mathematics a wee bit tougher? Urgh! What if the man responsible for the theorem, Pythagoras, never really existed? Who do we blame for all our math troubles then!

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Raphael

No Proof

Historians do not have ample proof to signify that there was indeed a person called Pythagoras back then who created the theorem. One of the major reasons for this doubt is because of the time period that he is said to have worked in. Because during that time, not many people worked with celestial spheres! Hence, the suspicions ... Oh, ready for a shocking one now?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/John H. Manas

Carolyn Keene

Many of us grew up on The Nancy Drew stories. Wasn't it the absolute favorite, the mystery, the drama, the unexpected twists, and turns? The Nancy Drew Series was written by Carolyn Keene. However, it may come as a shock to many that Keene was only a pen name. In fact, it is believed that different Nancy Drew stories had different ghostwriters! Shocking? No more than this next one ...

Image Credits: Reddit/tethysian

Alan Smithee

We are pretty sure you'll be able to recall the Twilight Zone? Directed by Alan Smithee, it was pretty popular back then! However, there is no person called Alan Smithee and it's all nothing but a pseudonym. Just like Nancy Drew, different episodes of the Twilight Zone were directed by different directors! Many bewildering ones coming ahead, folks!

Image Credits: Reddit/CriticoolHit/Twilight Zone-Warner Bros.

Donald Kaufman

In the film Adaptation, the role of Donald Kaufman was played by the Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage. The film was able to convince its viewers that the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman actually had a brother named Donald. But it was later revealed that it was nothing more than great writing. That's what we call masterpiece fellas! 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Bruno Chatelin

John Doe and Jane Doe

You must have heard the terms, Jane Doe and John Doe, especially in relation to a criminal investigation. Ever wondered what it was? Well, no they are not people but codes! John Doe is the code given to people who couldn't be identified while Jane Doe is a code for unidentified female victims. Love your Betty Crocker ... we have something there too!

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Noah Wulf/For Illustrative Purposes

Betty Crocker

In American households, Betty Crocker became a staple brand because of its amazing recipes. So much so that people believed Betty Crocker to be the queen of the kitchen. However, much to everyone's disappointment she was nothing more than a fictional character. As long as we keep getting secrets to exquisite cuisine, who really cares!

Image Credits: Reddit/blairstein666

Alfred Bulltop Stormalong

A hero sailor who was almost nineteen feet tall, that's Alfred Bulltop Stormalong for you. He was supposedly a hero in Massachusetts but it still did not make him real. He was another of the fictional characters restricted to just old legends and nautical-themed folklore. You found this flabbergasting, wait for the next one!

Image Credits: Youtube/Sandboxten

James S.A. Corey

Do you know who the author of numerous books such as Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves, Leviathan Wakes, etc is? Well, yeah, James S.A Corey. Only that is a pseudonym that Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham created to distribute the credits of their work amongst themselves! Next up, the heart-breaking story of Jack and Rose from Titanic!

Image Credits: Reddit/tkinsey3

Jack Dawson

When you first saw Titanic, we are pretty sure you must have been in love, hurt, and then devastated by the story of Jack and Rose. You may have even tried searching for the real Jack Dawson and his lady-love. Could you find anything? Why not? Because Jack Dawson never really existed. It was just fictional. Yeah, we know it's more heart-breaking but we’ll still never ever let go, Jack!

Image Credits: Getty Images/CBS Photo Archive/Titanic - Paramount Pictures (North America) 20th Century Fox (International)

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes most definitely was the ravishing man and an excellent detective. But only in the reel life and in books. Because in real life, there was no Sherlock Holmes! Disappointed? Ugh! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author actually based his character on a surgeon called Joseph Bell. What an unexpected twist! 

Image Credits: Getty Images/Hulton Archive


Another famous hero who is no more than a complete fiction is Zorro, the well-known swordsman who always sports a black mask while riding on a black horse. He was a legend created by Johnston McCulley who actually revolved his character around a thief called Joaquin Murrieta from the 19th century! Next up, Ichabod Crane ...

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation / United Artists

Ichabod Crane

Yes, even Ichabod Crance from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is also not real, just like the other character Washington Irving. Ichabod Crane was a hero during the old times but he was only a fictional element that was created by the author for his short story. Having said that, we have Irving next ...

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/John Quidor

Washington Irving

Just like Ichabod Crane, Washington Irving was also a fictional person. It may come as a shock to many, but there is no proof to actually credit Irving's existence. And if he ever did exist, no one could prove it now! Coming up next, the brave Sybil Ludington!

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Daniel Huntington

Sybil Ludington

During the American Revolution, Sybil Ludington, a 16-year-old girl, was a game-changer. At least it was made out to be until it was discovered otherwise by a women's organization later. The Daughters of the American Revolutionary unearthed the stories of Sybil’s heroism never really occurred! Next up, a person or a brand?

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Charlibear7

Ann Taylor

You must have heard of the very popular female clothing line, Ann Taylor? If until now you were under the impression that it was started by a person of the same name, then you are mistaken! The brains being this very famous apparel brand is actually a guy called Richard Liebeskind! Have you tasted Uncle Ben's... we have a secret there too!

Image Credits: Reddit/rkgk13

Uncle Ben's

Uncle Ben's is a very famous American food company but if you believed that the owner was a person called Uncle Ben, we hate to be the bearer of bad news for you. You are wrong! The guy you see on the packets is called Frank Brown. He is a restaurant manager and a rice grower! Five more to go, folks!

Image Credits: Reddit/HRZN420

Juan Valdez

Juan Valdez is a very famous coffee brand and it's only understandable to assume that the owner decided to name the brand after him. However, like the others on this list ... we have a big reveal over here too! In reality, it’s merely an illustration created by Doyle Dane Bernbach. The name does have a special significance because it suggests a place in Colombia from where the coffee beans have been taken! 

Image Credits: Getty Images/Ray Mickshaw

Piotr Zak

BBC Third Programme was a popular channel in 1961 that would broadcast classical music compositions. At that time, one of the most listened-to musical pieces was believed to have been created by Piotr Zak, a polish composer. It was enjoyed by many as it presented a funny tune. However, the pieces were originally made by BBC producers Susan Bradshaw and Hans Keller. Whoops!

Image Credits: Reddit/YorjYefferson

JT Leroy

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things was a semi-autobiographical book in 1990 authored by Laura Albert and J.T. Leroy. Only the latter was a fake name given by Laura and Savannah Knoop, her sister-in-law, was the one who posed as Leroy. Next up, Mavis Beacon!

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Brad Coy

Mavis Beacon

During the 1980s, there was a voice-over from a person called Mavis Beacon who basically thought typing skills in a very popular educational material. Many grew fond of this anonymous teacher who also had a pleasant character. But in reality, it was only the machine all this time ... Eerie, isn't it? 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Gordon Tarpley/For Illustrative Purposes

Nat Tate

William Boyd, a Scottish writer, is accredited for a biography on Nat Tate that he wrote in 1998. It discussed the struggles and experiences of the artist. So to celebrate his life, David Bowie decided to host a party. Turns out, all this including the book launch was a trick to just greet everyone on April Fools! Another level of dedication, we must say!

Image Credits: Reddit/PortlandoCalrissian

With a lack of evidence, there can't be anything certain about many of the historical figures on our list. They might have existed or they very well could have been a tale, folklore, or just stories. Do you think all these figures from history were real? Let us know in the comments section below and don't forget to share!

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⚠︎ Illustration Purposes Disclaimer

Photos in this article are used for illustration purposes only. Depicted persons (all or some) have no relationship to any persons / events described in this material.