Famous people who may never have existed


Lycurgus is famous as the lawgiver who shaped much of ancient Sparta’s legal policy. Someone had to come up with these laws, so why not Lycurgus, a guy well-versed in doing so? As it turns out, somebody else might have done just that, and Lycurgus was just a mascot.

According to Britannica, several writers and historians from the 4th century BC and prior wrote of Lycurgus, though rarely did they agree on specifics. Herodotus, for example, wrote that his policies were shaped by what Crete did. He also said Lycurgus belonged to the Agiad house, one of two Spartan houses that controlled the nation’s royalty. Meanwhile, an historian named Xenophon believed his ideas came from the Dorians after they invaded Laconia and turned the Achaean people there into serfs. By Xenophon’s time, many people believed Lycurgus was part of Sparta’s other ruling house, Eurypontid, and was king regent there. Basically, his origin story’s more muddled than Wolverine’s.

It gets even more confusing because some scholars believe a guy named Lycurgus did in fact exist, and he did play a role in introducing sweeping reform that helped quell a major serf revolt in the 7th century BC. But the famous Lycurgus who basically shaped Spartan law by himself, many believe, wasn’t real, he was just used as a catch-all figure for ancient Greeks to refer to when discussing political policies, as they were apparently wont to do. It’s certainly easier than rattling off the many hundreds of names who played an actual role.