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Here’s What 16 Historical Figures Actually Looked Like

George Washington

Everyone knows George Washington and his accomplishments as the first president of the United States. Most of the images we see of him show him with a stern brow, which is pretty typical for the time – just take a look at any picture of Benjamin Franklin. He also has deep red cheeks and white hair, which was powdered to give the white appearance.

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George Washington

A recreation of his appearance shows something similar to what we’ve seen in our textbooks. There are a few differences, however. First, his nose was slightly more hooked than what we’ve seen in paintings. Additionally, his jaw is much stronger and even has a few dimples to accompany those red cheeks.

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King Tutankhamun

King Tut is most famous for his opulent tomb, which was disturbed and cursed those who found it (supposedly). After it was discovered, we all got a good look at the mask of King Tut, which showed the young prince for the first time. It was the only real image we’ve been able to pull from for ages.

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King Tutankhamun

Like many of these masks, it didn’t quite tell the whole story. King Tut was a pretty ill. Historians believe that he had a club foot (for which he owned several canes), an overbite, and wide hips. When his mouth was open, his teeth were likely buckteeth. He also had a flat head, a trend that was common during this time.  

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Cleopatra

Cleopatra often referred to herself as Isis, so it makes sense that many people would consider her beautiful. On top of that, she was also incredibly intelligent, having known nine languages and being the first Pharaoh to make Egyptian the official language despite herself being Greek. She must have been beautiful, considering she wooed both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

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Cleopatra

Cleopatra inspired countless works of art, but she wasn’t the beauty many of us have seen. Okay, well, that isn’t fair. She’s still quite beautiful, and it’s easy to see why so many men fell for her. However, it’s obvious that this isn’t the woman we’ve seen for decades. Much of her appeal came from her intelligence, which is pretty understandable considering how fiercely she ruled.  

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Roman Emperor Nero

Nero has an infamous reputation for being one of the evilest men in history. He’s so terrible that ancient historians and scholars state that he started the great fire that destroyed Rome in 64 A.D. Busts of the evil Nero are pretty accurate, but Nero had very masculine features to begin with – something that’s often added to busts to appear stronger as a ruler.

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Roman Emperor Nero

While the busts are pretty accurate, there’s something not many of us saw coming – red hair. That’s right! Nero had flaming red hair (no pun intended) and freckles. He doesn’t look like what many of us thought, mostly since modern citizens of Rome look much different.

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Nefertiti

Nefertiti was rumored to be the most beautiful woman in Egypt during the 14th century B.C. While many people know her name, they may not know that she was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten (and later mother to King Tut). Even her name meant, “the beautiful one has come.” The two were certainly a power couple, even creating their own religion, the cult of Aten.

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Nefertiti

Nefertiti is often depicted with a Pharaoh’s headdress as she had more power than previous wives. Then, in 2018, a team at the University of Bristol released this bust, using a mummy that’s believed to be Nefertiti’s. While there’s controversy over her skin color, it’s believed her bone structure is pretty accurate.  

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Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots became queen when she was just six days old but was shipped to France for an education. By 19, she would return to Scotland to take over the role of queen. She was known for her unparalleled beauty and physical stature – standing 5'11". Since she was Queen Elizabeth I cousin, the two looked very similar.

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Mary Queen of Scots

Mary's true face was reconstructed, and she certainly looks different. The years of her tumultuous life (mostly imprisonment) obviously took a major toll on her, as her reconstruction shows an older face. That being said, she's still quite beautiful. It turns out the paintings weren’t too far off, although they did still have the typical de-aging thing going on.

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William Shakespeare

Even though Shakespeare is more recent than many entries on this list, his appearance still changes quite a bit from artist to artist. Most portraits show him with dark brown (or sometimes reddish) hair that goes down to his shoulders, although his head is bald. The pictures also often show a face that’s smoother than a baby’s bottom.

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William Shakespeare

Recent images of Shakespeare’s real appearance were created using his death mask. The mask shows that he clearly had a bald head. What really changes is his skin texture. It was damaged from years in the sun and became wrinkled with age. He also had a much thicker nose than is depicted on most artist renditions.

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Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar was a Roman statesman and general who played an immensely important role in the rise of the Roman Empire. Accounts claim that he was a slim, thin-haired man, who often has a very discerning brow. Most depictions show him as an older man, which isn’t too odd, considering he didn’t rule very long.  

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Julius Caesar

Recent reconstructions show him looking a little different, although with very similar features. While he still has the stern brow, his head looks…much different. We have to point it out. Archaeologist Tom Buijtendorp claimed the head was misshapen due to a “heavy delivery.” Another thing we noticed: his eyes are super close together.  

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Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri is the author of the Divine Comedy, the three-part series about a man making his way through hell (Inferno), purgatory (Purgatorio), and heaven (Paradiso). Dante Alighieri most often is depicted with strong features, particularly a hook nose. The hook nose was depicted to be a “wise” feature.  

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Dante Alighieri

Because the nose is cartilage (and doesn't stick around long after we pass), we can't prove that Dante didn't have a hook nose, so the facial reconstruction also includes a similar nose. That being said, his features were a lot less sharp than paintings made us think. One big change is his brow, which is much less stern than any painting or statue may show.

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Johann Sebastian Bach

Unlike Mozart and other famous composers, Bach’s life is shrouded in mystery. Bach only sat for a single painting in his lifetime, and that’s the one we used to match a name to a face. So, suffice to say, we don’t have a really good clue of what he looks like – other than the painting, of course. His body was also buried in an unmarked grave, so it took a while before archaeologists found it. 

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Johann Sebastian Bach

Once the grave was found, we could figure out what he really looked like with a little reconstruction. Using the skull, scientists designed an image to show us his real appearance. It doesn't look too much different from what we've seen in the paintings, although there are some major changes. He had a thick neck, a firm brow, and a soft underbite. Stuff like skin and eye color were assumed based on paintings.   

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Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I was one of the most famous monarchs in British history. She’s also famous for being one of the most beautiful queens, one that was eternally youthful. Well, there’s a reason for that – Queen Elizabeth was extremely concerned about her appearance. When she got older, she issued a “face template” for artists to work off of. This is why many of the portraits look alike.

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Queen Elizabeth I

The real Elizabeth obviously aged, and her beauty techniques took a huge toll on her skin. Pale skin was sought-after, so many women often painted their faces with white paint. The white paint Elizabeth used (along with many other women) was heavy with lead. Lead, which is toxic to the skin, severely damaged her skin. She also contracted smallpox, which left her half-bald and skin pocked.

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Jesus of Nazareth

Most of us saw images of Jesus since we were young children, and most renditions are the same. He’s a younger to middle-aged man, usually light-skinned. He also often has long, light brown, wavy hair and a longer beard. Sometimes, he even has blue eyes. Historians and artists got together to create an image of what Jesus would really look like.  

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Jesus of Nazareth

The real image of Jesus looks much different. Real scholars determined that Jesus would have a darker hue, like many other people in Israel at the time. Along with this, his hair was likely a woolly texture and dark brown in color. Finally, his eyes would most certainly be brown.  

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St. Nicholas

Santa Claus, the holly-jolly giver-of-presents, was based on St. Nicholas. He was born in a small town in the country known as Turkey. Also known as the Patron of Children, St. Nicholas looks just like Santa – Caucasian with hair as white as snow. Well, he actually looks a little different.

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St. Nicholas

While he did certainly have snow-white hair as he aged, he looked more like an aged man that had been through a lot of turmoil. He had a heavy jaw and a broken nose that never quite healed properly. Many historians believe this was caused when he was imprisoned. He also had darker skin and brown eyes, something that’s rarely (if ever) depicted in artists’ renditions.

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Copernicus

Copernicus is the astronomer who suggested that the Earth revolves around the Sun and that the Sun was the center of the Universe (rather than the other way around). His images mostly show that he's a young but masculine guy with a nice mane of hair.

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Copernicus

No doubt Copernicus was a young man with a full head of hair at some point, but this scientific facial reconstruction shows an older astronomer. Researchers know for a fact that Copernicus had a broken nose that never healed correctly and a scar above his right eye. Some have stated that he doesn’t look too unlike modern-day actor James Cromwell.  

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Saint Anthony

Saint Anthony is known for being one of the fastest people canonized to sainthood, which occurred a year after his death. Now, he's referred to as the Saint of Lost Things, which comes from the history of his life. Most images show him as a younger man with very soft features.  

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Saint Anthony

Saint Anthony's actual features look a lot different. First of all, his bowl cut was much less precise, which makes sense since they didn't exactly have clippers. Saint Anthony also had thicker features, from a stronger jawline to a girthy neck.

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Richard III

Richard III was King of England and Lord of Ireland, and he was one brutal guy. He's best known for his two turbulent years of ruling, which included murdering his nephews (along with anyone else) who threatened to take his throne. Richard's facial features show narrower eyes but soft features. Most paintings show him with a frown or a straight-lined mouth.

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Richard III

While the paintings show a softer face, they don't show the real Richard. This facial reconstruction taken from Richard III's skull shows he had almost a boy-like face. Now that isn’t the image that comes to mind when you think of this child-killing, brutal leader.

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