Graveyard Shift Stories And Urban Legends About The Mythic Headless Men  

Christopher Myers
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Stories about mythical headless men have been told for centuries. By most legends, these humanoid creatures are incredibly buff, and go by many names, such as Akephaloi, Sternophthalmoi, and Blemmyes. Tales of these headless beings first appeared in Ancient Greece, but were later repeated by the Romans, French, and English empires over a period of centuries. The exact physiognomy of the headless men varies based on accounts (some say they have faces on their chests, whereas others claim their eyes are located in their shoulders), but all the descriptions are remarkably similar, despite coming from vastly disparate locations. Legends of the headless men paint a picture of a strange species of cryptid that dwells in undeveloped corners of the world. Here's what history tells us about the mythic headless men.

The Oldest Record Of The Headless Men Is From 440 BCE

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Photo: Guillaume Le Testu, Le Havre./Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In Greek historian Herodotus's seminal work, The Histories, he describes a race of "headless men that have their eyes in their chests." They were said to inhabit remote regions in the African country Libya, along with "elephants and bears and asps, the horned asses, the dog-headed... huge snakes and lions."

Written around 440 BCE, this is considered the oldest recorded reference to the strange creatures, though Herodotus does not give them a name.

The Greek Geographer Strabo Linked Them To The Blemmyes

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Photo: Richard of Haldingham/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Greek geographer Strabo, who wrote in the 1st century BCE, was another early source of information on the headless men. According to Strabo, the Blemmyes (the term he used to describe the headless men) were an Ethiopian tribe who lived between the Nile and the Red Sea. Later (roughly 77-79 CE), Pliny the Elder equated this tribe to the headless men described by Herodotus. In The Natural HistoryPliny wrote, "The Blemmyæ are said to have no heads, their mouths and eyes being seated in their breasts."

While other sources have confirmed the real-life existence of the Blemmyes in that region, all evidence of their monstrosity comes from Greek and Roman authors, and no Ethiopian sources have corroborated their stories. Since the Blemmyes reportedly were a constant source of trouble for Greco-Roman conquerors from 150 BCE through the 3rd century CE (roughly), it's possible stories of the headless men were used to justify the battles Romans raged against them. 

Allegedly, Blemmyes Were Fierce Warriors

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Photo: Hondius, Jodocus/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In book five, chapter eight of The Natural History, Pliny the Elder describes the Blemmyes in great detail. Written between 77 and 79 CE, the account places the headless men in the African country Ethiopia, either southeast of Egypt or west beyond the Libyan Desert. Pliny admits the location of the headless men has varied considerably during different epochs.

He also claims their "predatory and savage habits" prompted the reports of their ferocity. Pliny's use of the term "savage" implies the Blemmyes were primitive, bloodthirsty beings. This mentality perhaps helped justify the Greco-Roman society's constant efforts to colonize the land the Blemmyes inhabited.

French Author John Mandeville Described Them As "Cursed" And "Foul"

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Photo: Master of Lord Hoo's Book of Hours/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Published in France in 1357 CE, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville describes all manner of strange and curious creatures. Among them is a race of creatures without heads, who have eyes on their shoulders.

However, Mandeville placed these creatures on an island in Asia, rather than in Africa, as earlier accounts had done.