The Most Famous Exiles in History

Becoming an exile is a less than desirable feat, usually reserved for those who are no longer wanted in their own country. Ancient civilizations would banish individuals from cities as punishment for crimes as simple as showing disrespect. Today, passports can be canceled with the click of a button if you get on the wrong side of the government.

Join us as we take a look at some of the most famous exiles in history, from those banned by governments to stars who left of their own accord. Who do you recognize?

Imedla Marcos

Imelda Marcos is as well known for her extravagant lifestyle as her political woes. The former First Lady of the Philippines was the wife of the 10th president, Ferdinand Marcos. Imelda led a very privileged life, and her family were often criticized for their extensive spending habits in a time of economic crisis.

Photo by Marlo Cueto/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo by Marlo Cueto/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Revolution broke out in 1986, forcing her family to flee the country. It’s said that the wealthy woman left behind over 3,000 pairs of shoes in her rush to exit the Philippines, and is still one of the richest political figures in the world. Her husband died in exile in 1989, and Imelda was allowed to return to her home country in the early 90’s.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Perhaps one of the most famous historical figures of all time, Napoleon Bonaparte led an incredibly complex life. The Corsican statesman and military leader rose to fame during the French Revolution as a formidable soldier.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Emperor of the French was forced into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba in 1813, after his army was defeated several times. Although he managed to get back to power, it didn’t last long and he was soon defeated and exiled once more. His cause of death at age 51 under British capture has been hotly debated. One doctor ruled it as stomach cancer, while the diaries of Napoleon’s servant point toward deliberate arsenic poisoning.

Seneca

The Romans liked a good play as much as the next civilization, but Seneca’s acting skills couldn’t keep him on the good side of Emperor Claudius. In 41 AD, the dramatist was charged with committing adultery with Caligula’s sister. Things went from bad to worse for Seneca, who was banished to Corsica.

Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images
Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

Years later, he was ordered to come back and teach the young Nero, but the two ended up at loggerheads when Seneca was accused of plotting to kill him. Although it’s likely that the scholar was innocent, Nero ordered him to commit suicide by severing his arteries in a hot bath.

Giacomo Casanova

When the name Casanova is mentioned these days, it’s usually as a nickname for someone who is a bit of a womanizer, but it has a root in history. Giacomo Casanova (Heath Ledger is pictured above in the 2005 movie) was an Italian adventurer and author famous for his numerous love affairs, but he wasn’t always popular.

Photo via Touchstone Pictures
Photo via Touchstone Pictures

Casanova was imprisoned in 1755, aged 30, for affront to religion and common decency. After masterminding a plan to escape through the ceiling of his cell, the young deviant was forced into exile, spending most of his life wandering Europe. He spent the remainder of his life as a librarian, dying in 1798 aged 73.

Victor Hugo

French novelist Victor Hugo (center) is arguably one of the most beloved writers of his time, crafting incredible works such as Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo was a pioneer of the Romantic literary movement, but it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the poet.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

His work got him into politics, and his outspoken beliefs got him into trouble with Napoleon III who seized power in 1851. Napolean III declared Hugo a traitor to France, and the writer fled to Jersey. When he was spotted holding a newspaper criticizing Queen Victoria, he was forced to move to Guernsey. He returned to France in his later years, dying in Paris as a celebrated statesman and literary icon.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama might be synonymous with love and peace, but it’s been a rocky road for the spiritual leader. In 1959, the Tibetan monk fled his homeland after an uprising was repressed by the Chinese government.

Photo by Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images
Photo by Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images

India became the new home of the famed leader, who set up the Government of Tibet in Exile. Since his departure from Tibet, the Dalai Lama has toured around the world, speaking to other countries about the possibility of Tibetan independence. The 83-year-old is highly revered in India, with some politicians lobbying to give him the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honor of India, only awarded twice to a non-Indian citizen.

Dante

Italian poet Dante didn’t have as much luck in politics as he did with prose. He was condemned to exile from his beloved Florence in 1302 by his opposition, who said he would be burned at the stake if he dared to return. For the rest of his life, Dante traveled around Italy in different social circles.

Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images
Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

All was eventually forgiven in 2008 when the city council of Florence decided to posthumously wipe clean his criminal record, but that didn’t exactly do The Divine Comedy author any favors, seeing as he died in 1321. On his grave reads the work of his friend, Bernardo Canaccio: "Florence, the mother of little love."

Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky was a prominent figure in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but he lost his power when Lenin died in 1924. He made a bid for the top spot after Lenin’s death, but Stalin became the new leader and tossed his opponent out of the party.

Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Trotsky had to flee the country in fear of his life, and survived more than one assassination attempt by his rival. Unfortunately, the last attempt stuck, and he was struck in the head with an ice pick by an assailant in his study. Trotsky survived the initial attack, but died the following day.

Aristotle

Greek philosopher Aristotle was born in 384 BC – so long ago, that very little is known for certain about his life. Along with Plato, Aristotle is considered one of the pioneering fathers of Western Philosophy. He taught another important historical figure, Alexander the Great.

Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images
Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images

When his pupil died, Aristotle was forced into voluntary exile when the Athenian Assembly rebelled against Macedonian rule. The new government charged him with impiety (then a punishable offence) and he spent the rest of his life living in the city of Chalcis, concentrating on his work and teaching other Greeks about his endless theories. He died in his early 60’s.

Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski is one of the most celebrated directors in the history of film, but he’s also one of the most famous fugitives. The Polish-born filmmaker was the husband of Sharon Tate, perhaps the Manson Family’s most famous victim. A few years after the loss of his pregnant wife, Polanski was charged with the sexual assault of a minor.

Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Initially, he believed that he would get probation, but upon learning that the judge planned to imprison him, Polanski fled to Paris. He has remained a US fugitive since then, spending most of his time in France. In the light of the #MeToo movement, his Academy membership was revoked.

Juan Peron

Juan Peron was an Argentine Army general and politician, who was elected President of Argentina three times. The famed leader was overthrown in a coup during his first term, and he was forced into exile to protect himself.

Photo by Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo by Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

His reputation was viciously attacked by the opposition, who did what they could to turn the Argentinian people against him. After almost 20 years away from the country, Juan Peron returned in the early 70’s. Upon his return, over three million people gathered at the airport to greet him.

Marlene Dietrich

The beautiful and enigmatic actress Marlene Dietrich was a self-made exile, refusing to go back to her home country of Germany when Adolf Hitler rose to power. Before the war, the star, already a household Hollywood name, had been approached by the Nazi party and asked to return to Germany. She refused.

Photo by Beck/Express/Getty Images
Photo by Beck/Express/Getty Images

Dietrich donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and help Jews escape Germany, and by 1939 she formally renounced her German citizenship. "Germany and I don’t speak the same language anymore," she famously said. Dietrich kept her word and didn’t return to Germany until after her death, when she was buried in Berlin.

Pablo Neruda

Poets tend to get themselves into trouble more than the average Joe, don’t they? Back in the 40’s, Chilean writer and diplomat Pablo Neruda found himself in hot water after he protested against the treatment of communists. He didn’t leave the country straight away, and instead lived in secrecy for some time in a friend’s basement.

Photo by Sam Falk/New York Times Co./Getty Images
Photo by Sam Falk/New York Times Co./Getty Images

When the opportunity arose, he fled to Europe where he lived until 1952. Neruda’s political woes haunted him for the rest of his life, right up until his death in 1973. It is widely believed that although he was suffering from prostate cancer, Neruda was actually murdered by a doctor at the hospital who administered some sort of bacterium on the orders of the government.

Bertolt Brecht

Playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht was a celebrated theater director, who was forced to leave Germany in 1933 when Hitler rose to power as he feared he would be persecuted. He spent the early years of Nazi rule hopping around Europe, but as Hitler’s reach started to widen Brecht moved to the US.

Photo by Zander Labisch/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Photo by Zander Labisch/ullstein bild via Getty Images

His stay in America was short-lived though, as he was eventually blacklisted in Hollywood for his suspected Marxist ideals. He returned to Berlin and continued to write up until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1956. He’s buried in a churchyard close to the home he shared with his wife, Helene.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden caused some serious trouble for the US government. The former CIA employee worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency and leaked thousands of documents to journalists in 2013 to highlight the exploits of the American government.

Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for WIRED25
Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for WIRED25

Needless to say, those in charge weren’t happy and Snowden left his home country for Hong Kong, where he remained for some time. Originally, he planned to seek asylum in Latin America, but was stopped en route when the US canceled his passport. He has remained in Russia ever since, claiming that it was a ploy to trap him so the government could claim he was a Russian spy.

Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto was a trailblazer for women in politics, serving as the Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. Bhutto was the first woman to head a democratic government in a Muslim majority nation, but her life and career were plagued by her opposition.

Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Bhutto and her husband spent many years living in London and Dubai, regularly giving talks and lectures in both countries. In December of 2007, as she worked to reconcile with Pakistan, Bhutto was assassinated while waving to crowds at an event in Afghanistan. Both the Taliban and al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Chiang Kai-Shek

Kai-Shek was the leader of China from 1928 to 1949, ousted by Mao Tse Tung and the Communist "Red Chinese" in 1949. He fled to Taiwan and set up a government in exile, still acting as the "true" leader of China. Chiang wasn’t well-loved by his subjects, whom he showed little kindness. The Taiwanese people didn’t appreciate his harsh approach.

Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

He continued with his government despite his popularity, forming the "Republic of China", but wasn’t widely recognized. After his death in 1975, Red China gained control of his efforts and ran the outcast nation themselves, to little avail. Today, only 21 countries recognize the ROC as a country.

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold is one of history’s most prolific traitors. The general in George Washington’s army during the American Revolution deflected to the British side. When Britain were sure to be defeated, Arnold ran to London to avoid execution in his homeland.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

He lived a dishonest life, and became hated in Canada after swindling men out of money from his dodgy business dealings. The Canadians even burned effigies of him, they disliked him that much. The English may have housed him, but they didn’t have anything good to say about him either, as he had a reputation for being a man without honor.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein needs no introduction, as one of the most famous scientists the world has ever known. History’s greatest brain box was a teacher of theoretical physics in Zurich initially, before taking up a position in Berlin.

Photo by Central Press/Getty Images
Photo by Central Press/Getty Images

In 1933, Einstein was visiting the United States when Hitler came to power. Due to his Jewish background and his opposition to Nazi rule, Einstein never returned to Germany, instead choosing to stay in the US to teach at Princeton. In 1940, he was granted US citizenship. He loved the American way of life, and the “right of individuals to say and think what they pleased.”

Julian Assange

More than a few countries have had problems with the Editor of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. A native to Australia, Assange published secret documents through WikiLeaks that included war logs and a video of a murder in 2010, which spurred the United States to launch a criminal investigation against the computer programmer.

Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Later that same year, Sweden sent out a warrant for Assange’s arrest, after he was accused of sexual assault and rape. He now had two countries after him. He surrendered to the police in the UK a month later in December 2010 and somehow gained Ecuadorian citizenship. He’s hunkered down out at the Embassy of Ecuador in London ever since.