8 of the world's earliest celebrities
- Spartacus was a Thracian (a group of Indo-European tribes in Eastern and Southeastern Europe) gladiator and the leader of a famous slave revolt against the Roman Republic (73-71 BC). Before the rebellion, he trained as a heavyweight gladiator. He escaped in 73BC along with many other slaves. Leading his army of runaway slaves, Spartacus won a series of attacks against the Roman army. Spartacus is well-known for his war tactics, which, in modern days, is known as guerrilla warfare (untraditional fighting tactics used by a small, mobile army that often include an element of surprise).
- Cleopatra (VII) was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, ruling Egypt from 51 BC - 30 BC. After her death, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire. She was said to be a wise and perceptive leader who brought a period of safety and wealth to a country split and devastated by civil war. She was also well-known for her beauty and much celebrated love affairs with the Roman regents, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. When her father died in 51 BC, she became co-ruler with her 10-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII and married him in line with Egyptian tradition. Whilst in exile, she fell in love with Caesar and was restored as queen with Roman military support. She even had a child with Caesar, though he never publicly acknowledged this. After Caesar’s murder, Mark Antony, one of the contenders for power, began a strategic and romantic partnership with Cleopatra. They had two sons and a daughter together. Cleopatra’s life ended up in suicide after her alliance with Antony was defeated by Caesar's adopted son, Octavian.
- Sophocles (496-406BC) was a classic, ancient Greek playwright. One of his best known works is Oedipus the King, which is widely read across the world today. Because of his physical beauty and musical talents, he was chosen to lead the paean (choral chant to a god) at the age of 16. Throughout his life, he served in various roles helping to manage the finances of Athens. But his true passion, for writing, led him to write 123 dramas for Athenian festivals and win 23 competitions for his work. Today only 7 of his plays survive in full. One of his most famous ideas, among others, was to introduce a third actor into a dramatic performance. This allows for a more sophisticated storyline and dialogue between characters. Sophocles is also credited by Aristotle for the introduction of skenographia i.e. scenery-painting.
- Chandragupta Maurya
- Chandragupta Maurya ( 340-298 BC) was the founder of the Maurya Empire and a key figure in the history of India. He was the grandfather of Emperor Ashoka, under whose reign the Mauryan Empire reached its full power and expanded to most of the Indian sub-continent. Before the time of Chandragupta, India was largely made up of small independent states with the exception of Northern India, which was then controlled by the Nanda Dynasty. With the help of his chief advisor Kautilya Chanakya, Chandragupta formed a strategic military force that finally led him to end the corrupt Nanda Dynasty as well as defeat Alexander the Great’s generals located in the present-day Afghanistan. It was only under his leadership that India was unified for the first time in history. But he is not only well-known for his strong leadership and historical achievements. He abdicated from the throne, and it’s said that he became a follower of Jainism. Jainist tradition claims that he voluntarily starved himself to death inside a cave at the age of 42. The legends about him were widely described in Hindu, Buddhist, and ancient Greek texts.
- Alexander the Great
- Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was the king of Macedonia and is famous for being a great conqueror that changed the nature of the ancient world in less than a decade (10 years). He was educated by Greek philosopher Aristotle, who shaped a lot of his thinking. After succeeding the throne after his father’s murder, Alexander unified ancient Greece and re-established the League of Corinth, a federation of Greek city-states. Against overwhelming odds, he led his army to victories defeating the Persian Empire and Egypt without suffering a single defeat. In 331 BC, he created the city of Alexandria in Egypt, designed as a hub for Greek trade and culture. His winning army reached as far as Northern India where he defeated and reinstalled Porus as King after finding himself impressed by him. During his career and rule, he oversaw an Empire united by a common Greek language and culture that stretched across three continents, covered around two million square miles and included a range of diverse, ethnic groups. The Empire, however, soon collapsed after his death in 323 BC.
- Although there were many great warriors in British history who have fought to keep Britain free, Boudicca stands out as a formidable leader whose name shouldn’t be forgotten. Boudicca was the Celtic Queen of the Iceni tribe of modern-day East Anglia, Britain. She led an uprising against Rome in 60/61 AD. Her husband, Prasutagus, wanted to win over the Romans by making the Roman Emperor and his daughters co-heirs to his kingdom. But the Romans decided to rule directly over Britain. After Prasutagus’s death, it was said that Boudicca was publicly whipped. But she soon rebelled with other tribes and fought against the Roman rule. Her warriors successfully defeated the Roman Ninth Legion and destroyed Colchester (the then capital of Roman Britain), London and St Albans. Despite finally suffering defeat and poisoning herself to death, Boudicca is considered a courageous, historical figure in what she did in her fight for Britain’s independence.
- Phryne was a famous member of court in ancient Athens who is celebrated for her extraordinary beauty. She was the daughter of Epicles from Thespiae (a region in ancient Greece) but she spent most of her life in the city of Athens. Thanks to her desirable looks, she became a model - posing for various painters and sculptors, including the great Praxiteles (the first sculptor to sculpt the nude woman in a life-sized statue). Records show that she became very wealthy from this work. She is thought to be the richest, self-made woman of her time as she offered, on her own, to rebuild the walls of Thebes, which had been destroyed by Alexander the Great. She is best known for her trial where she was initially charged with impiety (a lack of respect for the sacred i.e. God and religion). But she was defended by the speaker, Hypereides, who was one of her lovers. Phryne won the court case and her story has inspired generations of painters and writers ever since.
- Shihuangdi was King of the Qin Dynasty in China who is well-known as the first ruler of the unified China. When he took the throne in 246 BC, Qin (located in the modern-day Northwest China) was already a powerful state after lots of political and social changes. The first thing he did as King was to overthrow Lv Buwei, who had controlled state power to his own advantage. With the help of advisors, Shihuangdi demonstrated strong and effective leadership. He conquered the rest of China through espionage (using spies to gain political and military information), extensive bribery and strategic military action. The year 221 BC marked his final success... China was united for the first time in history under the supreme rule of Qin. He gave himself the name Shihuangdi, which means ‘the first emperor’ in Chinese. After the unification, he ordered big changes including the abolition of the feudal system, and the introduction of universal standardisation—from weights, measures to written language and the laws. He is also infamous for his ruthlessness as he decided to set Confucian philosophy books on fire and bury intellectuals alive. Found in the 1980s by a farmer, his grave is made up of gigantic compounds of terracotta military forces, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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