A list of famous people throughout history. These famous historical figures are chosen from a range of different cultures and countries. They include famous spiritual figures, politicians and writers who have helped to shape human history.
Sri Ramachandra (c. 5114 BCE) Rama was a model king of Ayodhya who lived according to the dharma. He went to Sri Lanka to fight Ravana who had captured his wife, Sita. Rama is considered an incarnation of Vishnu in Hindu mythology.
Sri Krishna (c. BC) – Spiritual Teacher of Hinduism. Sri Krishna gave many discourses to his disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. These discourses were written down in the Bhagavad Gita.
Ramses II (1303 BC – 1213 BC) – Ramses or Ramesses was the third Egyptian Pharaoh, ruling between 1279 BC – 1213 BC. Ramses the Great consolidated Egyptian power, through military conquest and extensive building.
Cyrus the Great (600 – 530 BC) was the founder of the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire. Cyrus conquered the empires of Media, Lydia and Babylonia, creating the first multi-ethnic state which at its peak accounted for around 40% of the global population.
Lord Buddha (c 563 – 483 BC) Spiritual Teacher and founder of Buddhism. Siddhartha was born a prince in northern India. He gave up the comforts of the palace to seek enlightenment. After attaining Nirvana, he spent the remainder of his years teaching.
Confucius (551 – 479 BC) – Chinese politician, statesman, teacher and philosopher. His writings on justice, life and society became the prevailing teachings of the Chinese state and developed into Confucianism.
Socrates (469 BC–399 BC) – Greek philosopher. Socrates developed the ‘Socratic’ method of self-enquiry. He had a significant influence on his disciples, such as Plato and contributed to the development of Western philosophy and political thought.
Plato (424 – 348 BC) – Greek philosopher. A student of Socrates, Plato founded the Academy in Athens – one of the earliest seats of learning. His writings, such as ‘The Republic’ form a basis of early Western philosophy. He also wrote on religion, politics and mathematics.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) – Greek philosopher and teacher of Alexander the Great. Aristotle was a student of Plato, but he branched out into empirical research into the physical sciences. His philosophy of metaphysics had an important influence on Western thought.
Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC) – King of Macedonia. He established an Empire stretching from Greece to the Himalayas. He was a supreme military commander and helped diffuse Greek culture throughout Asia and northern Africa.
Archimedes (287 B.C – 212) Mathematician, scientist and inventor. Archimedes made many contributions to mathematics. He explained many scientific principles, such as levers and invented several contraptions, such as the Archimedes screw.
Ashoka (c 269 BCE to 232 BCE) – One of the greatest Indian rulers. Ashoka the Great ruled from 269 BC to 232 BC he embraced Buddhism after a bloody battle and became known for his philanthropism, and adherence to the principles of non-violence, love, truth and tolerance.
Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BC) As military commander, Caesar conquered Gaul and England extending the Roman Empire to its furthest limits. Used his military strength to become Emperor (dictator) of Rome from 49 BC, until his assassination in 44BC.
Cleopatra (69 -30 BC) The last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt. Cleopatra sought to defend Egypt from the expanding Roman Empire. In doing so, she formed relationships with two of Rome’s most powerful leaders Marc Anthony and Julius Caesar.
Jesus Christ (c.5BC – 30AD), Jesus of Nazareth, was a spiritual teacher, and the central figure of Christianity. By Christians, he is considered to be the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament.
St Paul (5 – AD 67) – Christian missionary. St Paul was Jewish and a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity. His writings and teachings did much to define and help the spread of Christianity.
Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180) – Roman Emperor and philosopher. He is considered the last of the five good Emperors. His Meditations are a classic account of Stoic philosophy.
Emperor Constantine (272 – 337) First Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity. He called the First Council of Nicaea in 325 which clarified the Nicene Creed of Christianity.
Muhammad (570 – 632) Prophet of Islam. Muhammad received revelations which form the verses of the Qur’an. His new religion unified Arabia under the new Muslim religion.
Attila the Hun (5th Century) Ruler of the Huns who swept across Europe in the Fifth Century. He attacked provinces within the Roman Empire and was Rome’s most feared opponent.
Charlemagne (742 – 814) – King of Franks and Emperor of the Romans. Charlemagne unified Western Europe for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire. He provided protection for the Pope in Rome.
Genghis Kahn (1162 – 1227) – Leader of the Mongol Empire stretching from China to Europe. Genghis Khan was a fierce nomadic warrior who united the Mongol tribes before conquering Asia and Europe.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) – The first Queen of France. Eleanor influenced the politics of western Europe through her alliances and her sons Richard and John – who became Kings of England.
Saladin (1138 – 1193) – Leader of the Arabs during the Crusades. He unified Muslim provinces and provided effective military opposition to the Christian crusades.
Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) Influential Roman Catholic priest, philosopher and theologian.
Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) Venetian traveller and explorer who made ground-breaking journeys to Asia and China, helping to open up the Far East to Europe.
Johann Gutenberg (1395 – 1468) – German inventor of the printing press. Gutenberg’s invention of movable type started a printing revolution which was influential in the Reformation.
Joan of Arc – (1412-1431) – French saint. Jean d’Arc was a young peasant girl who inspired the Dauphin of France to renew the fight against the English. She led French forces into battle.
Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506) – Italian explorer who landed in America. He wasn’t the first to land in America, but his voyages were influential in opening up the new continent to Europe.
Leonardo da Vinci ( 1452 – 1519) – Italian scientist, artist, and polymath. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. His scientific investigations covered all branches of human knowledge.
Guru Nanak (1469 1539) Indian spiritual teacher who founded the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak was the first of the 10 Sikh Gurus. He travelled widely disseminating a spiritual teaching of God in everyone.
Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) – A key figure in the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther opposed papal indulgences and the power of the Pope, sparking off the Protestant Reformation.
Babur (1483 – 1531) – Founder of the Moghul Empire on the Indian subcontinent. A descendant of Genghis Khan, he brought a Persian influence to India.
William Tyndale (1494 – 1536) – A key figure in the Protestant Reformation. Tyndale translated the Bible into English. It’s wide dissemination changed English society. He was executed for heresy.
Akbar (1542 – 1605) – Moghul Emperor who consolidated and expanded the Moghul Empire. Akbar also was a supporter of the arts, culture and noted for his religious tolerance.
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 – 1618) – English explorer who made several journeys to the Americas, including a search for the lost ‘Eldorado.’
Galileo Galilei (1564 -1642) – Astronomer and physicist. Galileo developed the modern telescope and, challenging the teachings of the church, helped to prove the earth revolved around the sun.
William Shakespeare (1564- 1616) English poet and playwright. Shakespeare’s plays, such as Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello have strongly influenced English literature and Western civilisation.
Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) Dubbed the father of modern philosophy, Descartes was influential in a new rationalist movement, which sought to question basic presumptions with reason.
Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) – British Parliamentarian. Cromwell led his new model army in defeating King Charles I and creating a new model of government.
Voltaire (1694 – 1778) – French philosopher. Voltaire’s biting satire helped to create dissent in the lead up to the French revolution.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) – English mathematician and scientist. Newton laid the foundations of modern physics, with his laws of motion and gravity. He made extensive scientific investigations.
Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796) – Russian Queen during the Eighteenth Century. During her reign, Russia was revitalised becoming a major European power. She also began reforms to help the poor.
George Washington (1732 – 1799) – 1st President of US. George Washington led the American forces of independence and became the first elected President.
Tom Paine (1737- 1809) English-American author and philosopher. Paine wrote ‘Common Sense‘ (1776) and the Rights of Man (1791), which supported principles of the American and French revolutions.
Thomas Jefferson (1743- 1826) 3rd President of US. Author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson passed laws on religious tolerance in his state of Virginia and founded the University of Virginia.
Mozart (1756 – 1791) – Austrian Music composer. Mozart’s compositions ranged from waltzes to Requiem. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time.
William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833) – British MP and campaigner against slavery. Wilberforce was a key figure in influencing British public opinion and helping to abolish slavery in 1833.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) – French military and political leader. Napoleon made France a major European power and meant his Napoleonic code was widely disseminated across Europe.
Simon Bolivar (1783 – 1830) – Liberator of Latin American countries. Bolivar was responsible for the liberation of Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) 16th President of US. Lincoln led the northern Union forces during the civil war to protect the Union of the US. During the civil war, Lincoln also promised to end slavery.
Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) – Developed theory of evolution. His book ‘The Origin of Species’ (1859) laid the framework for evolutionary biology and changed many people’s view of life on the planet.
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) Principle Marxist philosopher. Author of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. (with F.Engels) Marx believed that Capitalist society would be overthrown by Communist revolution.
Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) – Queen of Great Britain during the Nineteenth Century. She oversaw the industrial revolution and the growth of the British Empire.
Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) – French chemist and Biologist. Pasteur developed many vaccines, such as for rabies and anthrax. He also developed the process of pasteurisation, making milk safer.
Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) – Russian writer and philosopher. Tolstoy wrote the epic ‘War and Peace’ Tolstoy was also a social activist – advocating non-violence and greater equality in society.
Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931) – Inventor and businessman. Edison developed the electric light bulb and formed a company to make electricity available to ordinary homes.
Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) – Irish writer. Wilde’s plays included biting social satire. He was noted for his wit and charm. However, after a sensational trial, he was sent to jail for homosexuality.
Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924) – President of US during WWI. Towards the end of the war, Wilson developed his 14 points for a fair peace, which included forming a League of Nations.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) – Indian nationalist and politician. Gandhi believed in non-violent resistance to British rule. He sought to help the ‘untouchable’ caste and also reconcile Hindu and Muslims.
V. Lenin (1870-1924) – Born in Ulyanovsk, Russia. Lenin was the leader of Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution in 1917. Lenin became the first leader of the Soviet Union influencing the direction of the new Communist state.
The Wright Brothers (Orville, 1871 1948) – developed the first powered aircraft. In 1901, they made the first successful powered air flight, ushering in a new era of air flight.
Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Second World War. Churchill played a key role in strengthening British resolve in the dark days of 1940.
Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) – West German Chancellor post world war II. Adenauer had been an anti-nazi before the war. He played a key role in reintegrating West Germany into world affairs.
Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) – German / American physicist. Einstein made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of relativity. Einstein was also a noted humanitarian and peace activist.
Ataturk (1881-1938) – founder of the Turkish Republic. From the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, Ataturk forged a modern secular Turkish republic.
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John M Keynes (1883 – 1946) Influential economist. Keynes developed a new field of macroeconomics in response to the great depression of the 1930s.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945) US President (1932-1945) Roosevelt led the US through its most turbulent time of the great depression and World War II.
Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) Dictator of Nazi Germany. Hitler sought to conquer Europe and Russia, starting World War Two. Also responsible for the Holocaust, in which Jews and other ‘non-Aryans’ were killed.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) – First Indian Prime Minister. Nehru came to power in 1947 and ruled until his death in 1964. He forged a modern democratic India, not aligned to either US or the Soviet Union.
Dwight Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) – Supreme Allied Commander during the Normandy landings of World War II. Eisenhower also became President from 1953-1961.
Charles de Gaulle (1890- 1970) French politician. De Gaulle became leader of the ‘Free French’ after the fall of France in 1940. Became President after the war, writing the constitution of the 5th Republic.
Chairman Mao (1893 – 1976) Mao led the Chinese Communist party to power during the long march and fight against the nationalists. Mao ruled through the ‘cultural revolution’ until his death in 1976.
Mother Teresa (1910-1997) – Catholic nun from Albania who went to India to serve the poor. Became a symbol of charity and humanitarian sacrifice. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963) – US President 1961-1963. J. F.Kennedy helped to avert nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. He also began to support the civil rights movement before his assassination in Dallas, November 1963.
Nelson Mandela (1918 – ) The first President of democratic South Africa in 1994. Mandela was imprisoned by the apartheid regime for 27 years, but on his release helped to heal the wounds of apartheid through forgiveness and reconciliation.
Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005) – Polish Pope from 1978-2005. Pope John Paul is credited with bringing together different religions and playing a role at the end of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Queen Elizabeth II (1926 – ) British Queen from 1952. The second longest serving monarch in history, Elizabeth saw six decades of social and political change.
Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) Martin Luther King was a powerful leader of the non-violent civil rights movement. His 1963 speech ‘I have a dream’ being a pinnacle moment.
14th Dalai Lama (1938 – ) Spiritual and political leader of Tibetans. The Dalai Lama was forced into exile by the invading Chinese. He is a leading figure for non-violence and spirituality.
Mikhail Gorbachev (1931 – ) Leader of the Soviet Union. Oversaw transition from Communism in Eastern Europe to democracy. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Muhammad Ali (1942- ) American boxer. Muhammad Ali had his boxing license removed for refusal to fight in Vietnam. He became a leading figure in the civil rights movement.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous historical people”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net, 18/12/2013. Published 1 March 2018. Last updated 7 July 2019
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