The Ten Most Influential People in History?
I saw this question on Yahoo Answers and it got me thinking. So my post about UFOs, Chilean Miners, the American Elections, Robert Gates and gays, and the nightmare in Mexico is going to have to wait. Who are the most influential people in history is a very debatable question, and honestly my knowledge of history simply isn’t what it should be to answer it properly. Still, I know enough to take a stab at it, so here goes.
First of all, by influential person in history, I mean people whom if they hadn’t lived, history would almost certainly be vastly different than the one we know. For example, this means Gutenberg isn’t on my list, yes, the printing press changed history. However, if Gutenberg hadn’t invented it, someone else would have. Same goes for the Wright brothers and numerous other inventors. The second codicil is that I’m pretty much disqualifying anyone in the last few centuries simply because it’s too soon to really tell for sure. And lastly I’m leaving off ancient personages about whom our knowledge is to sketchy to be sure. Moses or Abraham for example, since they may not have actually existed and we really know very little about their eras, are not in consideration.
Number one of course is that Jesus fellow. While his contemporary influence was minor, a good case can be made that he set in motion forces that changed history in innumerable ways, and are still unfolding to this day. Mohammad, Martin Luther, and Buddha fall into the same category. Buddha may be debatable, but without him I think Christianity/Islam would have made vastly greater inroads into Asia. So that’s numbers one to four. See, this is easy!
Then there’s the classical giants so to speak. I’m going with Julius Caesar, Alexander of Macedon, and Aristotle. Caesar ended the Roman republic and ushered in an era of Roman history that lasted for a thousand years, without him Rome might very well have been a footnote in history. And the whole history of Europe and the near east would be wildly different. Alexander of Macedon (I can’t in good conscience call one of the bloodiest butchers in history “great”) was possibly the only person in history to personally start a dark age. His destruction of the Phoenician city states alone ended a thousand year period of pirate free trading in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that was just one of many civilizations Alexander destroyed. And Aristotle guided western thought (or wildly constrained it more accurately) until the Renaissance. A case can also be made for Qin Shi Huang, the man who unified China in 221 BC. There might not be a China without him.
So that’s five through eight, only two to go. So many candidates, so hard to chose. Naw, not true. Columbus is a shoe-in for number nine. While the New World would have been discovered sooner or later, the timing of his voyages changed almost everything that followed. If the New World had been discovered a hundred (arguably even a decade) earlier or later, it’s almost a certainty we would live in a completely different world.
That leaves the last spot, who is the tenth most influential person in history? George Washington, without whom there would likely be no USA? Ben Franklin, whose invention of the lightning rod dealt a blow to Christianity that rivals Martin Luther’s? Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons, without whom the pinnacle of human adult animation would be The Flintstones? Nope. I’m going with Galileo. More than any other person, I think he is responsible for the end of Aristotelian “science” and ushering in the modern scientific era. And there’s no doubt that the modern scientific era has sent history down strange new paths.
To recap, Doug’s Darkworld’s Ten Most Influential People in history, in order of appearance:
- Alexander of Macedon
- Qin Shi Huang
- Julius Caesar
- Jesus Christ
- Christopher Columbus
- Martin Luther
- Galileo Galilei
And that’s that. What does it mean? Nothing really, since it’s all pretty subjective and depends on exactly how one is measuring “influence” on history. The fact that there are no women on the list is probably the most salient characteristic of the list. I don’t think it’s a reflection on women, it’s more a reflection on human culture in general. And not a nice reflection. The list is almost certainly weighted towards westerners, that’s where my limited knowledge of history comes into play.
Sometime this weekend I’ll post a general post on the past week’s news and events, this little side trip just struck my fancy so here it is. Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the list. I was unable to even locate the copyright holder so sadly I cannot give credit where credit is due. It’s an image of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. He’s the guy with the terracotta army. I selected him simply because he’s likely the least familiar face to my typical reader. How accurate is the likeness? Beats me, while the Chinese in so many cases invented things a thousand or more years before they were reinvented in the west, photography was not one of them.)