From ancient times till today, a number of people have rose up and challenged the status quo. They stood out as rebels who were willing to take on established norms and traditions, leaving a lasting mark in history. They have all had a significant influence on different aspects of life and people today, and subsequently changed how we perceive life.
Here are the top 20 most influential people in history.
- 1. Jesus Christ
- 2. Albert Einstein
- 3. Isaac Newton
- 4. Leonardo Da Vinci
- 5. Aristotle
- 6. Muhammad
- 7. Galileo Galilei
- 8. Alexander the Great
- 9. Charles Darwin
- 10. Plato
- 11. William Shakespeare
- 12. Martin Luther King Jr.
- 13. Socrates
- 14. Mahatma Gandhi
- 15. Abraham Lincoln
- 16. George Washington
- 17. Moses
- 18. Karl Marx
- 19. Nikola Tesla
- 20. Gautama Buddha
1. Jesus Christ
Jesus, also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe he is the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah (the Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus is also revered outside of Christianity.
In Islam, Jesus is considered one of God’s important prophets and the Messiah. Christian doctrines include the beliefs that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born of a virgin named Mary, performed miracles, founded the Christian Church, died by crucifixion as a sacrifice to achieve atonement for sin, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, from where he will return.
2. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics). His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He is best known to the general public for his mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”.
He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”, a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory. He published more than 300 scientific papers and more than 150 non-scientific works. His intellectual achievements and originality have made the word “Einstein” synonymous with “genius”.
3. Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author (described in his own day as a “natural philosopher”) who is widely recognized as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687, laid the foundations of classical mechanics.
Newton formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that formed the dominant scientific viewpoint until it was superseded by the theory of relativity. Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a sophisticated theory of colour based on the observation that a prism separates white light into the colours of the visible spectrum.
He also formulated an empirical law of cooling, made the first theoretical calculation of the speed of sound, and introduced the notion of a Newtonian fluid. In addition to his work on calculus, as a mathematician Newton contributed to the study of power series, generalised the binomial theorem to non-integer exponents, developed a method for approximating the roots of a function, and classified most of the cubic plane curves.
4. Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, known as Leonardo da Vinci, was an Italian polymath of the Renaissance whose areas of interest included invention, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, paleontology, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of palaeontology, ichnology, and architecture.
He is also widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time. Although he had no formal academic training, many historians and scholars regard Leonardo as the prime exemplar of the “Universal Genius” or “Renaissance Man”, an individual of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination.” He is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived.
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Lyceum, the Peripatetic school of philosophy, and the Aristotelian tradition. His writings cover many subjects including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, esthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, and government.
Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him. It was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.
Muhammad was an Arab religious, social, and political leader and the founder of Islam. According to Islamic doctrine, he was a prophet, sent to preach and confirm the monotheistic teaching preceded by Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. He is viewed as the final prophet of God in all the main branches of Islam, though some modern denominations diverge from this belief. Muhammad united Arabia into a single Muslim polity, with the Quran as well as his teachings and practices forming the basis of Islamic religious belief.
7. Galileo Galilei
Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaulti de Galilei was an Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer, sometimes described as a polymath, from Pisa. Galileo has been called the “father of observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of the scientific method”, and the “father of modern science”.
Galileo studied speed and velocity, gravity and free fall, the principle of relativity, inertia, projectile motion and also worked in applied science and technology, describing the properties of pendulums and “hydrostatic balances”, inventing the thermoscope and various military compasses, and using the telescope for scientific observations of celestial objects.
His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the observation of the four largest satellites of Jupiter, the observation of Saturn’s rings, and the analysis of sunspots. Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism and Copernicanism was controversial during his lifetime, when most subscribed to geocentric models such as the Tychonic system.
8. Alexander the Great
Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (basileus) of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and a member of the Argead dynasty. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through western Asia and northeast Africa, creating one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India.
He was undefeated in battle and became the measure against which military leaders compared themselves. He is widely considered one of history’s most successful military commanders and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactics. He is often ranked among the most influential people in history.
9. Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. His proposition that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors is now widely accepted, and considered a foundational concept in science. Darwin published his theory of evolution with compelling evidence in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species.
By the 1870s, the scientific community and a majority of the educated public had accepted evolution as a fact. Darwin’s scientific discovery is the unifying theory of the life sciences, explaining the diversity of life. Darwin has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history, and he was honoured by burial in Westminster Abbey.
Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered the pivotal figure in the history of Ancient Greek and Western philosophy, along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle.
Plato has also often been cited as one of the founders of Western religion and spirituality. Plato was the innovator of the written dialogue and dialectic forms in philosophy. Plato also appears to have been the founder of Western political philosophy. The works of Plato have never been without readers since the time they were written.
11. William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon” (or simply “the Bard”). His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship.
His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, Shakespeare’s works have been continually adapted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain popular and are studied, performed, and reinterpreted through various cultural and political contexts around the world.
12. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr.) was an American Christian minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.
King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in cities and states throughout the United States beginning in 1971; the holiday was enacted at the federal level by legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Socrates was a Greek philosopher from Athens who is credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Plato’s dialogues are among the most comprehensive accounts of Socrates to survive from antiquity,
It is this Platonic Socrates who lends his name to the concepts of Socratic irony and the Socratic method, or elenchus. Socrates exerted a strong influence on philosophers in later antiquity and in the modern era. Depictions of Socrates in art, literature and popular culture have made him one of the most widely known figures in the Western philosophical tradition. Socrates is also renowned for his contributions to the fields of ethics and epistemology.
14. Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist, who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from British Rule, and in turn inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
The honorific Mahātmā, first applied to him in 1914 in South Africa, is now used throughout the world. Gandhi’s birthday, 2 October, is commemorated in India as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and worldwide as the International Day of Nonviolence. Gandhi is commonly considered the Father of the Nation in India.
15. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States (1861-1865). Lincoln led the nation through its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis in the American Civil War. He preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the U.S. economy. Lincoln is remembered as the United States’ martyr hero, and he is consistently ranked as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.
16. George Washington
George Washington was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and founding father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Previously, he led Patriot forces to victory in the nation’s War for Independence. He presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which established the U.S. Constitution and a federal government. Washington has been called the “Father of His Country” for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.
Washington played a key role in adopting and ratifying the Constitution. He set enduring precedents for the office of president, including the title “President of the United States”, and his Farewell Address is widely regarded as a pre-eminent statement on republicanism. Upon his death, he was eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. He has been memorialized by monuments, art, geographical locations, stamps, and currency, and many scholars and polls rank him among the greatest U.S. presidents.
Moses, is the most important prophet in Judaism. He is also an important prophet in Christianity, Islam, the Bahá’í Faith, and a number of other Abrahamic religions. In the biblical narrative he was the leader of the Israelites and lawgiver, to whom the authorship of the Torah, or acquisition of the Torah from Heaven, is traditionally attributed. God sent Moses back to Egypt to demand the release of the Israelites from slavery.
After the ten plagues, Moses led the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, after which they based themselves at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses died within sight of the Promised Land on Mount Nebo. Scholarly consensus sees Moses as a legendary figure and not a historical person.
18. Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. His political and philosophical thought had enormous influence on subsequent intellectual, economic and political history, and his name has been used as an adjective, a noun and a school of social theory. Marx’s critical theories about society, economics and politics – collectively understood as Marxism – hold that human societies develop through class conflict.
Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history, and his work has been both lauded and criticized. His work in economics laid the basis for much of the current understanding of labour and its relation to capital, and subsequent economic thought. Many intellectuals, labour unions, artists and political parties worldwide have been influenced by Marx’s work, with many modifying or adapting his ideas. Marx is typically cited as one of the principal architects of modern social science.
19. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist who is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. His alternating current (AC) induction motor and related polyphase AC patents, licensed by Westinghouse Electric in 1888, earned him a considerable amount of money and became the cornerstone of the polyphase system which that company eventually marketed.
20. Gautama Buddha
Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhattha Gotama or Siddhārtha Gautama, or simply the Buddha, was a philosopher, mendicant, meditator, spiritual teacher, and religious leader who lived in Ancient India. He is revered as the founder of the world religion of Buddhism. He taught for around 45 years and built a large following, both monastic and lay. He is believed by Buddhists to be an enlightened teacher who attained full Buddhahood and shared his insights to help sentient beings end rebirth and suffering.