Did you ever wonder if the great stories of ancient mythology, tales of the men behind the Egyptian pyramids and the rulers of the fabled cities of ancient Anatolia, were real? Well, if that's the case, then you're in luck - there are indeed some notable true stories behind myths. For example, the Great Pyramid was partially built by the architect Imhotep, who was then turned into a god. Started from the bottom of the pyramid, now we here!
What are some other myths based on real people? Archaeological evidence hints tantalizingly that there may have been real royals at Troy named Priam and Paris - the ruler of the city and his son, who famously kidnapped the beautiful Helen in the Iliad. Also in Anatolia, there was King Croesus, a real-life ruler who passed into legend as the super-rich monarch who screwed up an oracle's interpretation (more on that later).
Whatever kind of tales you favor, we've got real people from mythology behind some of the most spectacular stories from antiquity.
You might have heard the phrase "rich as Croesus" to describe a semi-legendary monarch who was super-wealthy, but Croesus was a real dude. The sixth-century BC ruler of Lydia (in Anatolia) was both rich - his people supposedly were the first to issue gold and silver coinage - and martial, conquering a ton of Greek towns that were located in what is now Turkey.
But Croesus ran into some bad luck when a king named Cyrus came to power in Persia. Cyrus began gathering power and influence, which caused him to butt heads with his neighbor Croesus. After shoring up political support, Croesus prepared to attack Persia, but made sure to ask the oracle of Delphi whether or not he'd win first. The oracle responded, "If you attack, you will destroy a mighty kingdom." Figuring that meant Cyrus's Persian empire, Croesus proceeded to the battlefield - but, of course, his own kingdom was the one to be destroyed (although it happened during the reign of his son). Oops!
Yeah, yeah, we've all heard the stories about King Arthur, temporary savior of the Britons from the invading Anglo-Saxons, but was he a real guy? It's entirely possible, say some historians. Although Arthur doesn't appear in any contemporary historical sources, there's a good amount of evidence that suggests some really powerful war leader, maybe named Arthur, lived during the 5th or 6th centuries.
For example, near Arthur's birth site of Tintagel in Cornwall, a 6th-century engraving was found, dedicated by a guy named Artognou. At his capital of Camelot, long thought to be in modern Colchester, archaeologists found what could have been the real-life Round Table. And what if Arthur wasn't his real name? There's concrete evidence that a contemporary British leader who bore the moniker of "Riothamus" (not a name, but a title, which translates to "high king") might've been the model for Arthur.see more on King Arthur
King Midas could turn everything he touched to gold, according to Greek myth, but there were actually several ancient kings in Phrygia (in Anatolia) who answered to that regal name. One guy was dubbed Mita, lord of the Mushki, in Assyrian annals; it might have been Midas and his family who hung out in some giant tombs in the afterlife.
The biggest tomb in the area was over 160 feet high; called Tumulus MM by archaeologists, it was built in the 8th century BC. It could have belonged to Midas/Mita's grandfather. This old king was housed for eternity in a giant, man-made hill; in his resting place were tables, beer, and food - a giant banquet for eternity.
There were also lots of cups in Tumulus MM; a number of these vessels contained remnants of ancient alcohol. Archaeologist Dr. Pat McGovern was able to chemically analyze this booze, identify its contents as a mixture of ancient honey mead, barley beer, and grape wine, and recreate the recipe in a modern alcoholic drink.
You might remember Robin Hood as a stealing-from-the-rich, giving-to-the-poor fox from a Disney movie. The Nottingham outlaw fought off bad King John's taxes, but was he actually a real guy? In medieval England, "Robehod" or "Rabunhod" were common nicknames for criminals, perhaps inspired by a real-life Robin Hood; medieval historians also seemed to have thought he was real. And one modern take on medieval evidence suggests that Robin was a real-life robber named Roger Godberd, but he was sadly the bad kind of thief.see more on Robin Hood