What Historical Figures Really Looked Like Will Change How You Perceive The Past

We all have a general idea of what people like Julius Caesar and George Washington looked like. The images of these historical figures and more have been immortalized with the help of paintings, portraits, and sculptures made when they were still alive. But these works of art couldn’t possibly have been that accurate and in some cases, artists were ordered to flatter whoever commissioned them.

Thanks to modern technology, we’ve been able to find out what these people actually looked like. If you saw Julius Caesar today, you might not think he was the ruthless general we all know him to be. Read on to see what he and other famous figures really looked like!

Cleopatra was regarded for her exotic beauty but you might’ve been surprised had you seen her in person!

King Tut

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King Tutankhamun was an Egyptian pharaoh who reigned from 1332 to1323 BC during Egypt’s New Kingdom era. Known simply as King Tut, the pharaoh ascended the throne when he was just around nine or ten years old.

King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter. Sealed for more than 3,200 years, the tomb was completely intact, containing artifacts and treasures meant to accompany Tut in the afterlife. The young pharaoh only reigned for about ten years before he died and scientists discovered what contributed to Tut’s death after finding out what he looked like.

See why he was ill and what he looked like, next.

What King Tut Actually Looked Like

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DNA studies of Tut’s mummy indicate that he had a number of health problems that contributed to his death. Tut was a tall pharaoh but a frail one as well. Not only did he suffer from multiple bouts of malaria, but Tut also had a bone disorder and was revealed to have an infected broken leg at his death.

Evidence of a club foot also revealed the potential disadvantages of traditional inbreeding at the time (his mom and dad were brother and sister). These revelations shed more light on the life of King Tut, who is the only pharaoh pictured doing everything sitting down, including performing archery.

Emperor Nero

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Nero became the last Roman emperor of the Juilo-Claudian dynasty when he was 17-years-old. Five years into his reign, he had his mother murdered after she had dominated much of his life. Soon, Nero began taking a more active role in politics but was also known for appearing in public as an actor, poet, musician, and charioteer.

Many believed that this undermined his authority as an emperor. He was detested by middle and upper classes after he raised taxes to fund extravagant public and private works for his empire. With modern technology, artists were able to find out what he actually looked like.

What Nero Actually Looked Like

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In 2019, Spanish artists created a lifelike rendering of Nero based on busts, drawings, and descriptions of the emperor. The unsettling image got Nero’s attributes down to a tee, from his chinstrap to his arrogant smirk. Now it’s not hard to see why many people hated this guy, aside from the fact that he was a murderous dictator.

In 64 A.D. a fire broke out and consumed the city of Rome, but Nero reacted by dressing up and singing from the roof of his palace. Before he could get executed, Nero took his own life saying, “What an artist dies in me!”

Soon you’ll see the real face of the man who wreaked the “Reign of Terror” over France

Nefertiti

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Nefertiti was the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten. The Egyptian Queen’s bust, made of limestone and covered in stucco, was discovered in 1912 in Thutmose’s workshop. Thutmose is the sculptor who is believed to have created the bust in 1345 B.C. in Amarna, Egypt.

Nefertiti and the pharaoh Akhenaten were known for the religious revolution in Egypt, worshipping just one god, Aten, the sun disc. Based on the sculpture, Nefertiti was obviously beautiful with defined facial features. But with 3D imaging technology, experts were able to determine what Nefertiti may have looked like in person.

What Nefertiti Actually Looked Like

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In 2018, Travel Channel’s Expedition Unknown used 3D imaging technology to scan and digitally map the facial structure of a mummy known as “The Younger Lady.” While “The Younger Lady” is believed to be Nefertiti, the mummy’s true identity is still hotly debated.

After the mummy’s face was scanned, paleoartist Elisabeth Daynes took 500 hours to recreate the face on the bust based on historical images of Nefertiti. This project seemed to prove that “The Younger Lady” was indeed Nefertiti. Upon its release, the image caused much controversy over the supposed color of Nefertiti’s skin.

Maximilien Robespierre

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Maximilien Robespierre was a French lawyer and prominent politician during the French Revolution. He was an outspoken advocate for universal manhood suffrage, the abolition of celibacy, religious tolerance, and the abolition of slavery in the French colonies.

Robespierre was integral during the Storming of the Tuileries, which helped establish the First French Republic in 1792 before the execution of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. He was thusly elected as deputy to the National Convention but is best known as a central figure during France’s “Reign of Terror.” Thanks to modern technology, researchers have been able to determine what Robespierre actually looked like.

What Maximilien Robespierre Actually Looked Like

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This was the supposed face of France’s “Reign of Terror.” In 2013, forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier teamed up with facial reconstruction specialist Philippe Froesch, to create a rendering of the French Revolution poster boy’s face.

In addition to contemporary artwork of Robespierre (which was made to flatter him), Charlier and Froesch used Robespierre’s death mask which was said to be made by the actual Madame Tussaud. Tussaud made the mask with Robespierre’s severed head. He was executed July 28, 1794, a year after he became a member of the powerful Committee of Public Safety.

Wait until you see what Cleopatra’s beauty was all about and the man who fell for it, Julius Caesar!

Robert The Bruce

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Robert the Bruce, otherwise known as Robert I, was King of Scots from 1306 to 1329. Robert I is best remembered for securing Scotland’s independence from England after waging a guerrilla war against the English. After he defeated Edward II in the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314, Edward still refused to give up his overlordship of Scotland.

This prompted the Scottish earls, barons, and the community to pen a letter to Pope John XXII claiming Robert I as the rightful monarch. There are no contemporary works or art depicting Robert the Bruce, but researchers at the University of Glasgow decided to find out what he really looked like.

What Robert The Bruce Actually Looked Like

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Using casts from what is believed to be Robert the Bruce’s skull, researchers at the University of Glasgow determined what this Scottish king looked like in person. In the past, artists simply used their imaginations and word of mouth to create portraits and statues of Robert.

Using Face Lab technology, researchers used legal and archaeological evidence to create his likeness. In 1324, the Pope recognized Robert the Bruce as the rightful king of independent Scotland but he died five years later. He was buried at Dunfermine Abbey and his heart was interred at Melrose Abbey.

Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar was a Roman politician and war general who is largely responsible for the expansion of the Roman empire. Caesar was the first Roman general to cross the English Channel and the Rhine River, subsequently invading Britain.

After Caesar refused to step down from his command in Gaul to avoid arrest, he decided instead to reenter Roman Italy under arms, inciting a civil war. This military genius has long been depicted in sculptures as you see here but it wasn’t until 2018 that we had a realistic rendering of his head.

What Julius Caesar Actually Looked Like

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At The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, there is a 3D reconstruction of Julius Caesar. It was made based on a 3D scan of one of his marble portraits, artists were able to create this lifelike bust complete with salt and pepper hair.

After Caesar won the Roman civil war, his reign as dictator for life began. He began social and governmental reforms and even granted citizenship to residents in the farthest regions of the Roman Empire. Elite members of the Senate weren’t pleased by Caesar’s reign and assassinated him on the Ides of March, 44 B.C.

Cleopatra

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Cleopatra ruled over Egypt as a co-regent for nearly 30 years. After her father passed away, Cleopatra ascended the throne at age 18, alongside her 10-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII. It wasn’t long before her brother’s advisers ran Cleopatra out of Egpyt in 49 B.C. But with the help of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra was reinstated a couple of years later with her other younger brother, Ptolemy XIV.

Cleopatra gave birth to a son believed to be Caesar’s child, named Ptolemy Caesar. Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 B.C. and Ptolemy XIV died shortly after, leaving Cleopatra to rule Egypt with her son.

What Cleopatra Actually Looked Like

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Cleopatra was well-educated and could speak multiple languages, which made her the dominant ruler during her co-regencies. She was also regarded as an exotic beauty that harnessed the powers of seduction, so she was also known for her romantic relations and alliances with rulers from other empires.

Considering her reputation, it’s no surprise that 3D artists wanted to use existing portraiture and sculptures to determine what this Egyptian queen really looked like. Cleopatra’s prominent nose and masculine features might come as a surprise to some who picture her the way Elizabeth Taylor portrayed her in film.

Another famous queen on this list was rather haunting when her real face was brought to life…

Queen Elizabeth I

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Queen Elizabeth I reigned over England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn but because that marriage was annulled upon her death, Elizabeth was considered illegitimate. As a result, it took a few years for her to ascend the throne but it eventually happened in 1558.

Elizabeth relied on her trusted advisers led by William Cecil and established the English Protestant Church. There are numerous paintings that depict what this monarch looked like but in 2018, mixed media artist Mat Collishaw took things to the next level.

What Queen Elizabeth I Actually Looked Like

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Collishaw created a hyper-realistic animatronic mask of Queen Elizabeth I that literally follows you around with her eyes and opens her mouth as if to speak. The mask is attached to a mirror and sits across the Armada Portrait on display at the Queen’s House. While the famous Armada portrait depicts a youthful Elizabeth, she was actually 55 when it was painted in 1588 and Collishaw’s mask shows a more accurate vision of what she might’ve looked like at the time.

The Virgin Queen ultimately reigned for 44 years until her death on March 24, 1603 at Richmond Palace.

Some might say Queen Elizabeth’s real face is more or less accurate to her portraits, but would you think the same about one of the Founding Fathers coming up?

William Shakespeare

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There is much debate over what William Shakespeare actually looked like but many scholars and historians agree that this engraving by Martin Droeshout is the most accurate. For sure, the man who gifted the world with literary classics such as Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet had evidence of facial hair despite a receding hairline.

In 1775, Professor Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel discovered William Shakespeare’s death mask in London. Back in the nineteenth century, death masks were created of someone’s face using wax or plaster over their dead face. Though there is still debate over whether the mask actually is that of Shakespeare, someone decided to turn it into the real thing.

What William Shakespeare Actually Looked Like

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In 2010, Dr. Carolin Wilkinson of Dundee University analyzed Shakespeare’s alleged death mask to create a rendering of what his face really looked like in person. Using 3D imaging to map out every feature of the face using the mask, Wilkinson was able to create this rendering that shows a somber Shakespeare.

Most people would agree that this depiction is somewhat similar to all the other interpretations out there, save for the fact that we don’t have a view of his entire head. Shakespeare died at the age of 52 on April 23, 1616.

George Washington

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We all know George Washington as the very first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. After leading Patriot forces to victory during the War for Independence, Washington presided over the 1787 Constitutional Convention and helped establish a new federal government.

The Founding Father is a highly revered figure in United States history and now we see his face everywhere. He is on the dollar bill, the quarter, and his portrait is hung up in many government buildings and museums across the nation. We’re all familiar with his face but what it actually looked like didn’t come to light until recently.

What George Washington Actually Looked Like

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Researchers compared detailed renderings to painted portraits to create this computer-generated image of Washington to prove that most of his portraits are pretty authentic.

What makes this image so realistic is Washington’s five o’clock shadow and his full head of hair – all of which was real and powdered white in his day. Washington died on December 14, 1799, after complications with a sore throat. He was 67 years old.

Mary, Queen of Scots

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She was known as Mary, Queen of Scots but her real name was Mary Stuart. She was the queen of Scotland between 1542-1567. Sadly, her father passed away right after she was born and due to that she became the queen six days after birth.

Her mother would send her off to France so she could grow up in the French court before returning to Scotland in 1559. Does this painting really show how she looked all those years ago?

The Real Queen Of Scots

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Professor Caroline Wilkinson of Dundee University used paintings and drawings to re-create a 3-D face of the Queen of Scots. Wilkinson also had to draw upon biographical info in order to bypass the highly stylized depictions of her artwork.

This rendering of her isn’t too far off from how she looks in her classic paintings but you can clearly tell the difference. The feature of her that stayed closest to the original is her nose.

Richard III

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For two years, Richard III was the king of England (1483-1485). As history has gone by, the reputation of Richard III has been considered less than honorable. Richard was labeled as a tyrant in Shakespeare’s play that involved him. He was eventually replaced by the Tudors.

During the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, Richard III boldly led a charge into the heart of Henry Tudor’s army. The defeat of his clan quickly followed that move!

The Real Richard III

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It wasn’t possible to recreate what Richard III might have looked like until 2012. That’s because his body was lost to history soon after he passed away. In 2012, a research team looked through some clues that brought them to a parking lot.

There they found his body and it was exhumed. There were a lot of members from Dundee University who helped bring us this image. There aren’t realistic paintings from when he was alive, so researchers had to use historical records.

Meritamun

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In case you weren’t aware, Meritamun stands for “beloved of the god Amun.” We only know about this queen thanks to researchers from the University of Melbourne discovering her skull in their archives. Naturally, she was from ancient Egypt.

How her skull traveled across the globe is beyond anyone’s comprehension. She became a Great Royal Wife of Pharaoh Ramesses the Great. Her place of burial was the Valley of the Kings, Egypt, Valley of the Queens, Egypt.

How A Queen Should Look

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Researchers couldn’t find much on Meritamun mainly because all they had was her skull. Still, they managed to find some information about the former queen. It indicated that she was between 18-25 years old. Her cause of death still remains a mystery.

Something interesting they discovered was that she had a sweet tooth due to her having tooth decay. It makes sense because she lived around the time Alexander the Great introduced sugar to Egypt! Even queens have a vice.

Jesus Christ

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We’re sure you have at least a clue about who Jesus Christ is: the biblical figure that walked on water, rose from the dead three days later, turned water to wine, and healed the blind.

He gave up his life for the better good by getting crucified on a cross. There are a few renditions of what he looked like, and it would appear that artists didn’t capture his true essence.

Is This The Real Jesus?

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The Bible doesn’t describe Jesus’ physical appearance and much modern evidence indicates that he looked nothing like the way he’s been portrayed over the centuries.

And without skeleton remains or other body parts that might have Jesus’ DNA, researchers had to rely on forensic anthropology. A team of British scientists and Israeli archeologists used the same methods that are commonly used to solve crimes when they created this image. Is this what Jesus really looked like?

The Lord Of Sipan

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Have you ever heard of the Moche mummies? The Lord of Sipan was the first of a slew of discoveries that have been labeled the Moche mummies. Archaeologists originally found him in 1987, in Peru.

This discovery was one of the most significant of the 20th century. The Lord of Sipan had a load of treasures buried with his body, similar to King Tut. How do you think they recreated this historical figure?

Here Is The Sipan Lord

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As you can imagine, the forensic team had their work cut out for them! Sadly, pressure from the sediment broke the skull into 96 separate pieces during the excavation. Thankfully, modern tech helped a huge deal in reconstruction.

There’s a process called photogrammetry (creating a 3-D image by using cameras set up at different angles) that the team used to reconfigure the skull. The Brazilian Team of Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Odontology produced this image.

Saint Anthony

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In 1195, Saint Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He may have only made it to 36 years old, but he made a great impact during his day. He had a great uncanny ability to heal the sick.

The Catholic Church still adores Saint Anthony, as he is thought to be the second-fastest person to be canonized as a saint. Just a year after his death, the church declared him the saint of lost things.

Will The Real Saint Anthony Please Stand Up

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They say when Saint Anthony died, the bells rang by themselves and children were crying in the street. We know that his body was exhumed 30 years after his death, but all they had to go by were his jawbone and tongue.

Researchers from the University of St. Anthony of Padua’s Anthropology Museum teamed up with a 3-D designer hailing from the University of Sao Paolo to recreate the real face of Saint Anthony.

King Henry IV

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Many refer to King Henry IV as “Good King Henry” or even “Henry the Great.” Some find that amazing due to how his reign began. He became the King of Navarre at 19, then married two months later.

The city was flooded with Protestants as they celebrated, but they were quickly greeted with what later became known as the “St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.” The king barely avoided death and had to serve in the French Court.

A Real Good King

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It is said that The Good King survived 12 assassinations attempts during his lifetime. Researchers chose to him a subject to recreate due to his religious tolerance. The team that pieced Robespierre together is the same team that did King Henry.

That team was forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier and a facial reconstruction specialist named Philippe Froesch. Sadly, The Good King didn’t survive his 13th assassination attempt. A Catholic man drove a dagger into him in 1610 and that’s all she wrote.

Johann Sebastian Bach

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Johann Sebastian Bach came from a musical background. He was born in 1685 in Germany. While he was alive, many considered him a great musician, but history will tell you he’s one of the best composers to live.

He is the result of the golden age of music. Even when he was young, Bach was known as a musical prodigy with the organ, although he mainly wrote his music for the church. It is said that it would take many composers anything close to what Bach accomplished.

Take A Better Look At Bach

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Dr. Caroline Wilkinson from Dundee University had to use a cast of what she believed to be the skull of Bach to recreate him. After his death, he was buried in an unmarked grave and was almost lost to history.

150 years later the church where he was laid to rest needed renovation and that was the best chance to find him. They found what was thought to be his skull and used it to make the image you see here.

Simon Bolivar

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The Venezuelan military leader known as Simón Bolívar was one of the most influential figureheads in the world. He played a huge part in the revolution against the Spanish Empire. Born into considerable wealth, he was sent to Spain for his education.

He couldn’t help himself from getting caught up in the resistance movement. After France invaded Spain, many labeled him as “El Libertador,” or The Liberator in English. The battle that ended his life was with the disease tuberculosis.

Simon After CGI

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If you were to think that this was an image of a real human being then we wouldn’t be surprised. Looks can be deceiving. A forensic imagery team spent a whole year poring through historical documents, with some help from the Venezuelan government.

After much research, they were able to create this legendary representation of the man. Many would believe that he is super aesthetically pleasing, something you wouldn’t notice from the paintings of him.

Nicolaus Copernicus

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There was a period of time when the people of Earth believed that the center of our universe was the Earth. Thankfully, Nicolaus Copernicus made things clear with his theory. Born in 1473, his model still stands true until this day.

Too bad he’s not around today to tell those who think the Earth is flat that they’re wrong. He was born in Poland but his brain led him all around Europe during his lifetime.

The True Nicolaus

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Old renditions of Copernicus don’t do him much justice. He’s seen as hollowed and gaunt. It’s only right that once technology advanced, someone would create a better representation of the man who told us the truth about our universe.

Even with the new depictions, he still looks slightly miserable. Some would say that’s the price of a genius. Oscar Wilde said the stupid and ugly live the best lives in this world. Would you agree?

The Lady of Cao

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Prior to 1990, researchers had been excavating the El Brujo region of Peru when in 2005, they unearthed a mummy they called Lady of Cao. She had been buried in a simple cloth and it was estimated that she had died around the year 400.

Since she was first discovered, experts assumed that she was from the Moche, a culture of people that predated the Incas by thousands of years. Because she was mummified and buried with various artifacts it is assumed that she came from the aristocracy.

The Lady Of Cao Brought To Life

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Not long after her discovery, the Lady of Cao’s remains were brought to a museum in El Brujo. She is kept in a climate-controlled room, and can only be seen by looking at a mirror.

After being forensically brought back to life, it’s still not clear what her role in society was. However, it is believed that she was in her late twenties when she died. She was buried with a manner of different objects, and was possibly a human sacrifice.

St. Nicholas

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St. Nicholas, also known as Nikolaos of Myra, was a 4th century Christian Saint. In fact, he was a Bishop from Turkey. He had a reputation for being an extremely generous man and overall caregiver to others.

He would supposedly leave gifts in children’s shoes when they left them outside, spawning the holiday of Christmas as we know it today. Although St. Nicholas was a real person, his myth certainly outgrew the reputation of the real man.

What He Really Might Have Looked Like

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Although St. Nicholas has been transformed into the modern-day Santa Claus, the features of the fictional man in the sleigh couldn’t be further from the truth. Considering that St. Nicholas is from the region now known as Turkey, he would have had a darker complexion and more Middle Eastern facial traits.

In the West, people tend to assume that historical figures are white like they are, but in reality, they all looked like the regions that they were from. At least he still has the beard!

Giovanni Battista Sidotti

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Giovanni Battista Sidotti was born in 1668 and became an Apostolic missionary. He went to Japan to spread the word of Christianity, something that was incredibly dangerous to do at the time. Upon his arrival, he tried to disguise himself as a Samurai and failed.

He was then captured by the Japanese who imprisoned him until his death in 1714. For his actions, he is regarded as the “the last missionary,” as well as a martyr in the Christian faith.

Sidotti As A Real Person

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Luckily, Giovanni Battista Sidotti’s remains were found relatively intact compared to some other historical figures that have been recovered in the past. His body was discovered in 2014 during an excavation project that cost more than 2 million yen.

This made it much easier to get a more accurate depiction of what the man might have really looked like. Although his skull was damaged, the forensic anthropologists still had all they needed to work with. They claim that this image is astonishingly close to his true likeness.

The Mycenean “Griffin Warrior”

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In 2015, a tomb site was excavated that was discovered to be from the Bronze Age, dating back to 1450 BC. Inside the tomb, archaeologists found the remains of an intact male skeleton along with 14,000 objects ranging from weapons to jewelry. There was also an engraving found in the tomb which might answer clues who the man was.

Although the identity of the man is still unknown, it is believed that he might have been a Mycenaean warrior or priest. The tomb was later named the most important discovery in 65 years of the Greek Ministry of Culture.

What He May Have Looked Like

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From the remains of the body that was found, it was estimated that the man was around five foot five inches, a height that would have been considered tall at the time. Also, judging by the combs discovered in the tomb, it was assumed that the Griffin Warrior also had long hair.

Using the skull found, psychical anthropologist Lynne Schepartz and Tobias Houlton from the University of the Witwatersrand created a digital interpretation of his face. They concluded that he had a prominent jaw with close-set eyes.

Dante Alighieri

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Best known for his work, The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri is considered to be one of the most influential Italian poets of his time during the Late Middle Ages. At its core, The Divine Comedy is a description of the numerous aspects of Hell and even Heaven, many of which have become common establishments in the Christian religion.

In addition to his poetry, he was also a respected philosopher, with many of his ideals remaining relevant to this day. He passed away in 1321 at the then-relatively advanced age of 56.

The Real Dante

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Many of the portraits that were made of Dante Alighieri are very similar, so it appears that his likeness was agreed upon by most people. This helped in making the CGI rendering which still has the stern face and hooked nose that are common in so many of the depictions of him.

His likeness was created by taking the measurements of his skull back in 1920. Unlike his portraits, this rendering gave him bigger eyes, a more rounded jaw, and a softer facial expression.