Famous people who may never have existed

King Arthur

Unless you’ve been living under a rock — a heavy one — you’re probably familiar with the Arthurian legend. Even if you haven’t read the stories, you likely saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail at least once in college, or maybe you heard the bad reviews about the 2017 King Arthur movie, pictured above. In any case, the British king is said to have claimed the sword, Excalibur, from the Lady of the Lake and found the aforementioned Cup of Christ. These fantastical stories are clearly a mishmash of folklore, but was the Arthur of legend based on a real man? The first tales of Arthur appeared in the ninth century and chronicle his battle against the invading Saxon armies, so it’s likely that the individuals — if they existed — who served as the basis for Arthur lived sometime before then.

Some historians suggest the Roman military commander Lucius Artorius Castus as a possible candidate. The King Arthur movie from 2004, starring Clive Owen, follows this line of reasoning and depicts him as a Roman soldier. Others suggest Riothamus, king of the Britons during the fifth century. In any case, we’re reasonably confident that the historical Arthur — whoever he was — didn’t have easy access to two hollowed-out coconuts.