There are so many fascinating people who came before us who have been all but forgotten. History curricula always seem to cover the same people and the same events, especially in the US.
Reddit user u/Jcaf8 asked:
Vasil Levski, Bulgarian revolutionary during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire. Used disguises to evade capture for years and created an elaborate autonomous government that angered Ottoman and Bulgarian overlords alike, including a mail service and constitution. Until him, most anti-Ottoman antagonists used guerrilla warfare, but he saw the need to develop a stable government to take over after Ottoman rule. When he was captured he absolutely refused to name any of his co-conspirators and suffered greatly for it before he was finally hung outside of Sofia. He had the kind of foresight rare in anti-government antagonists.
exekias, 5th century BC ( we're fairly sure of that) Athenian pottery artist essentially was the first person to produce incised depictions of human characters with any level of details because his techniques allowed for smaller more intricate details. This technique was then adopted by the majority of potters and was still in at the time of the fall of Byzantium nearly 20 centuries later.
Mary Elizabeth Bowser. She was a spy in the Confederate White House (working as a servant) and leaked a bunch of stuff to the Union. Jefferson Davis knew there was a spy, but never suspected her because she was black.
There are plenty of them. One of my favorite doesn't actually involve a person but a bear. Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear bought as a pet. His owner was part of a Polish artillery section and they eventually trained the bear to help haul ammunition from the depot to the guns. It's a cool story.
Carolus Rex or Charles the 12th of Sweden. Single handedly fought Russia and others leading only a small army of Swedes. Despite being outnumbered he would somehow pull out a win. Also know as a warrior king he would lead his men into battle something not as common in this time period. He was unfortunately killed in battle close to the end of the great northern war
Vera Atkins was a spy for the allies and worked with the man who is said to have inspired the character of James Bond. One of her specialties was improvising weapons on the fly. Her exploits are chronicled in a really excellent book called "Spymistress."
Olga of Kiev. Murdered an entire nation of Drevlians in righteous vengeance for slaying her husband over a tax dispute by using doves. Still got to be a Saint.
My god I forgot about this pillar of badassery. Her husband the prince gets tricked and killed by a group of overconfident bros (the Drevians), and Olga basically makes it her life's mission to kill them, everyone who knows them, everyone related to them, and anyone that gets in her way.
Killing this prince makes them even more overconfident, so they send a group of 20 men to Olga to try and convince her to marry one of them, so they'd have rights to her country. She buries them alive.
She sends word back to their home base that she's planning to accept their offer (no cell phones back then, home base hadn't gotten word about the burying), but only if they send a group of their highest ranked folks to walk her back to them. They gladly comply, send a group of chieftains (basically their entire ruling class), she tells them to clean up in the bath house after they arrive. She burns it down with all of them inside.
She then sends word back to the Drevian capital to start preparing a grand feast for their arrival. When she gets there, all the Drevians get sh*tfaced and her soldiers kill like 5,000 of them.
The survivors beg for mercy, and she basically says "look, I'm not heartless. You've all suffered. Just give me three pigeons and three sparrows from each house and we're all good". They do, and she has her soldiers tie burning sulfur to each one with thread. They instinctively fly home, and every single household erupts in flames basically simultaneously.
I'm not sure it's the coolest, but I went a surprising amount of time without hearing about (Saint) Maximilian Kolbe, and I honestly believe he should be a household name.
He was a Polish Catholic priest who was arrested and sent to Auschwitz after publishing anti-Nazi publications. When a prisoner in Auschwitz escaped, it was common punishment to kill ten people in his place, and on this day it was decided that 10 would be murdered in starvation chambers. One person chosen at random cried out for mercy, and Maximilian took his place. As the ten lay in the starvation chamber he led them in prayer and despite two weeks without food or water, stood up and looked at the Nazi guards calmly every time they entered to remove the dead. Running out of patience, the Nazi guards eventually killed him by lethal injection.
He's a national hero in Poland, but his is a name I'd really like known world over.
The random guy was called Franciszek Gajowniczek. He was a polish army sergeant captured by gestapo after escaping POW camp. He had a wife and 2 sons (both died at war) and that is one of the reasons why he was saved by Rajmund Kolbe (Maksymilian Maria were his religious names, he was a friar in st. Francis order.) Franciszek survived the war and died in 1995.
Mannerheim is fairly unknown outside of Finland, he was the tsar's bodyguard and one of the first Europeans to meet Dalai Lama, escaped Russia during the revolution and came to Finland to lead the whites in Finnish civil war.
Later lead the Finnish army in Winter War and Continuation War, giving the Red Army a good fight and then became Finland's sixth president.
The highest military award you can earn in Finland is named after him as well.
Even before civil war he was badass. He fought in the Manchurian war against Japan, during which he also led a Chinese bandit raiding party. Later, the Tsar sent him undercover to spy in northern China for three years.
The nameless Berserker of Stamford Bridge. He held off an entire English Army alone on a small bridge, with just his big dane axe. No arrow could bring him down.
Only later did someone poke him from underneath the bridge into his balls...
He instantly went to Valhalla.
Before we start: count the number of times he gets severely wounded, shot, or survives something he really shouldn't.
Adrian carton de Wiart. A belgian born british commander and gentleman. Early he abandoned college in order to enlist in the army (even though he was too young) and went to south africa fighting in the second boer war where he was wounded in the stomach and groin. In 1907 he became a british subject and in 1908 he married a countess.
He later fought in the first world war in the somaliland campaign where he was shot twice in the face losing one eye and part of an ear. Despite this he traveled to the western front. He was wounded seven more times in the war, losing his left hand in 1915 and pulling off his fingers when a doctor declined to remove them. He was shot through the skull and the ankle at Somme through the hip at Passchandaele through the leg at Cambrai, and through the ear at Arras. During the interwar period he spent much time in Poland and fighting in the polish-soviet war.
During world war 2 he fought in Poland and Norway before being sent to garrison Northern Ireland as he was too old to lead troops in active combat. In 1941 he was sent to negotionate with the Yugoslav government but his plane crashed after a refuel at Malta and he was knocked unconscious. After regaining consciousness thanks to the cold water he and the others were captured by italians who brought him to a prison camp for senior british officers.
He made five attempts at escaping and succeeded once, unfortunately he was a 61 year old man with an empty sleeve, an eye patch half and ear and several other battle scars, oh and also, he was in the middle of northern Italy with no capability to speak italian. After 8 days he was recaptured. After being freed he attended the Cairo conference and is seen on the picture from said event together with Winston Churchill, Franklin.D.Roosevelt and Chiang Kai Shek.
After the war he retired, remarried and settled down in Cork, Ireland.
Major Digby Tatham-Warter, whose Wikipedia entry reads like the synopsis of an amazing WWII action-comedy. Among other noteworthy items, he carried an umbrella everywhere because he had trouble remembering passwords and reasoned that anyone who saw him would assume that only a "bloody fool Englishman" would carry an umbrella into battle. At one point he disabled an armored car using his umbrella. He was eventually captured but escaped and led 150 escaped POW's back across the lines to freedom, on bicycles.
After the war is he credited with inventing the modern safari, where animals are photographed instead of killed.
An unknown Soviet tank crew that held an entire German division back for a day in the Battle of Raseiniai in 1941.
From Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II:
A KV-1 or KV-2 tank (accounts vary) advanced far behind the German lines after attacking a column of German trucks. The tank stopped on a road across soft ground and was engaged by four 50 mm anti-tank guns of the 6th Panzer Division anti-tank battalion. The tank was hit several times but fired back, disabling all four guns. A heavy 88 mm gun of the divisional anti-aircraft battalion was moved about 730 m (800 yd) behind the tank but was knocked out by the tank before it could score a hit.
During the night, German combat engineers tried to destroy the tank with satchel charges but failed despite possibly damaging the tracks. Early on the morning of 25 June, German tanks fired on the KV from the woodland while an 88 mm gun fired at the tank from its rear. Of several shots fired, only two penetrated the tank; German infantry advanced and the KV opening machine-gun fire against them and the tank was knocked out by grenades thrown into the hatches. According to some accounts, the crew was buried by the German soldiers with full military honors; in other accounts, the crew escaped during the night.
Not unknown but seems to be far less commonly known is Subutai, the main general under Genghis Khan and his son Ogedei. Was a brilliant strategist that could coordinate armies separated by hundreds of miles. He also conquered more territory than any other military commander in history.
Read this sentence:
Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, was an Austrian-born Russian anti-Bolshevik lieutenant general in the Russian Civil War and then an independent warlord whose Asiatic Cavalry Division wrested control of Mongolia from the Republic of China in 1921 after its occupation.
When I read his biography I had to keep fact checking because honestly, this guys life seems utterly unbelievable. He formed his own Mongol horde in goddamn 1921.
He was obviously an irredeemable @sshole, but what a wild life.
Zenobia, queen of the Palmyrene Empire. She was a warrior and well educated, fluent in several languages. After her husband was murdered, she became regent of her son. She seized control of territories in the east, conquered Egypt, and built a powerful empire. Later, she was captured after a Roman siege and executed. She is known as a heroic queen and a freedom fighter who inspired Catherine the Great.
Prince Michael of Romania (1921-2017)
He became King of Romania at the age of 6 following the death of his grandfather. (His father Carol has previously renounced the throne). The regency didn't work out so well, so Carol reclaimed the throne when Michael was 8. Carol was deposed by the Nazis in 1940 when Michael was 18. Michael took the throne, but the government was run by a Nazi puppet, whom Michael overthrew in 1944 when the country switched sides.
After the war, the monarchy was abolished by the communists, so he became an ordinary citizen. But unlike just about every other deposed monarch, he was loved by his people.
Fun fact: He was a field Marshall of the Romanian Army. When he died in 2017, he was by several decades the last surviving flag officer of World War II. (The nearest competitors died in the early 90s)
Phùng Thị Chính was a Vietnamese warrior who lead troops into battle against the Chinese while pregnant. Went into labor on the front lines, gave birth, and kept fighting carrying her newborn.
Yi Sun-sin was a Korean naval commander, except he never studied naval combat or strategy. he repeatedly fought back much larger Japanese fleets using superior strategy and just general ferocious bad-assery.
Both of these are well known in their respective cultures, but you rarely hear about them in western history classes.
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (née Byron; 10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is sometimes regarded as the first to recognise the full potential of a "computing machine" and one of the first computer programmers.
At 16 years old, she volunteered to ride over 40 miles by horseback in the middle of the night to warn the Revolutionaries that the British were coming. It was originally suggested that her older brother make the trip, but she volunteered, claiming the British forces were a lot less likely to stop a young girl on the road. By the time the British troops arrived (about 400 of them), the town had been evacuated, thanks to Sybil.
She rode farther than Paul Revere, and is often referred to as "the female Paul Revere", even though she gets almost no historical credit. According to Wikipedia - "Prior to her famous ride, Sybil saved her father from capture. When a royalist named Ichobod Prosser tried, with 50 other royalists, to capture her father, Sybil lit candles around the house and organized her siblings to march in front of the windows in military fashion, creating the impression of many troops guarding the house. The royalist and his men fled" . So yeah....pretty bad @ss for a 16 year old girl in the 1700's...