Weird History
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Historical Bad Guys Who Weren't Actually That Bad

Updated September 23, 2021 7.5k votes 1.1k voters 21.7k views15 items

List RulesVote up history's classic villains who deserve a reappraisal.

A hero is only as good as their villain - at least, when it comes to popular entertainment. Not every film, book, or play operates on the classic "good guys vs. bad guys" template, but when it does, you want the bad guys to be as fun to root against as your protagonist is to root for. And this mindset often carries over to real life, whether the figures in the story merit it or not.

In history, conflict is almost never black and white. In fact, some historical good guys look pretty bad by modern standards, and the reverse can be said of the bad guys. Check out this list of historical villains who were actually good guys, as discussed by users on Reddit. Vote up the ones who got a bad rap.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    From a Redditor:

    More so in sports history, but the film Cinderella Man portrayed boxer Max Baer as a murderous psychopath who gladly killed two fighters in the ring.

    In reality, he was personally devasted by these deaths. In the one he was most directly responsible for, he ended up giving his winnings from his next few fights to the fighter's family.


    [Editor's Note: Baer knocked out boxer Frankie Campbell on August 25, 1930, and Campbell passed the following day. According to the Jerusalem Post, Baer not only provided financial aid to Campbell's widow, he also put Campbell's children through college.]

  • Photo: Joseph Willibrord Mähler / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    From Redditor u/VictorBlimpmuscle:

    Despite what was portrayed in Amadeus, and though in reality they were musical rivals, Antonio Salieri was actually friends with Wolfgang Mozart.

    In fact, years after Mozart’s [passing], Salieri assisted with and helped finance his son Franz Xaver’s musical education as a tribute to his late friend.


    [Editor's Note: Several sources attest that Salieri taught Franz Xaver Mozart, though it is not clear whether he also financed his lessons or did so as a "tribute" to Amadeus Mozart. However, it is true that the rivalry between the two men was not as bitter, or lethal, as it is popularly portrayed in media.]

  • Photo: Meister des Rabula-Evangeliums / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Roman Soldier Who Gave Jesus Vinegar To Drink

    From Redditor u/Yellafella247:

    That Roman that gave Jesus vinegar to drink. Turns out that the Roman military gave their soldiers a water/vinegar mix to drink, as it was good for refilling salt levels after sweating.

    That means all the Roman did was give Jesus a sip of his own drink, not force him to drink vinegar as a punishment or insult.

    [Editor's Note: This remains a controversial subject in Biblical theory. Historians and religious scholars still debate whether the Roman offering Jesus posca (the wine/vinegar mix) did so as an act of mercy or further humiliation, or even to simply sedate him and make his execution easier to finish. It's worth maintaining on the list, however, for the sheer fact that the vinegar drink was common in the Roman empire, and its place in the Passion is more nuanced than outright villainous.]

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    From Redditor u/ForsakenEducator:

    Spain. Got blamed for the 1918 pandemic because they were the only country honestly reporting on it. Other countries did not want to look weak during WWI and wouldn't report on it. Turned out that a farm in Kansas and possibly the French trenches were the actual origin.

    Edit: Chinese laborers locked in boxcars in Canada seems to be the current leading theory.

    In the new report, Humphries finds archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish Flu.

    He also found medical records indicating that more than 3,000 of the 25,000 Chinese Labor Corps workers who were transported across Canada en route to Europe starting in 1917 ended up in medical quarantine, many with flu-like symptoms.