The Top 5 Most Misunderstood People of the Ancient World

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The lens through which we view history tends to grow less and less focused as time stretches on. How can we be certain that the accounts passed down to us have not been corrupted and convoluted over the years? Too often we settle for generally accepted accounts of ancient figures and don’t bother to look beyond the broad strokes of lore and legend to see the actual human beings as they were. If you’re tired of fabled heroes of the ancient world being put up on pillars, or sick of ancient “tyrants” being unfairly vilified, read on!

5 Confucius

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Most people think of Confucius as a religious leader, but in fact the “religion” known as Confucianism is really more of a philosophy, and did not in fact come into any sort of organized form until centuries after his death. During his life, in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., he was a writer, teacher and scholar, but certainly not a preacher or prophet.

4 Cleopatra

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Usually thought of as Liz Taylor from the 1963 film of the same title, Cleopatra was in fact a real person, and was more than just a sexy, alluring Egyptian vixen. She was a brilliant ruler who managed to ally herself with Rome as its power was expanding, and consolidate control over her own people despite the then-notable handicap of being born a woman. In her less than 40 years on earth she left a legacy that endures to this day, if oft under appreciated.

3 Julius Caesar

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Most people know one thing about Julius Caesar: He was murdered. And yes, murdered he was, and on The Ides of March in the year 44 B.C. – by a group of men who were supposedly his friends. Thus many people assume he had it coming. In fact, however, Caesar’s death was more the result of him being a decent ruler than a tyrant; his killers were the power-hungry jerks. While he was a fierce and successful military leader and did become history’s first “dictator,” it was a term originally closer to what we call a president today, albeit president for life. Caesar definitely loved power, but he used it largely for reforms to the benefit of Rome.

2 Judas Iscariot

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Judas is just about the most hated figure in the Bible, perhaps coming in second after Satan, and just a little bit more maligned than Cain. We see Judas in Da Vinci’s famous fresco of The Last Supper clutching that bag of silver and we just hate him, right? Here’s the thing: There are many Biblical scholars who believe that Christ asked Judas to give him that fateful kiss in order to identify him to the Romans, as Jesus knew there was no getting out of his fate. Judas might just have been the most loyal disciple of all.

1 Alexander the Great

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Was he all that great? Or was he more of a power-hungry, bloodthirsty killing machine? By the time of his death in 323 B.C. – a death that came from a drinking binge, mind you, not a battle – he had created an “empire” that spread from modern Greece in the west to the Himalayan Mountains in the east. The thing is, he largely seemed to pursue conquest for its own sake, never establishing a truly lasting, stable system of governance in much of the territory to which he laid waste. He was a brilliant military leader, but tens of thousands of people killed in siege and battle aren’t impressive when the gains are largely erased within decades.

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