From billionaires with bizarre hobbies to soldiers with strange secrets, the world has seen some pretty peculiar characters over the years. More often than not, these weirdos and their antics have proven to be a lot more interesting than they probably ever intended to be. So without further ado, here are 50 very strange facts about history’s weirdest people.
1. Philosophically Speaking, Why??
Refusing to conform to the norms of society isn’t just a modern eccentricity—some examples of it go all the way back to ancient times. When it comes to history’s weirdest people, we’d be remiss not to mention Diogenes the Cynic, for instance, an influential figure in the development of Greek philosophy. While he may have influenced many people’s thoughts over the years, we can only hope he didn’t influence their behavior!
Upon his arrival to mainland Greece as a young man, something seems to have gone off in his head that prevented him from ever behaving in a normal human manner again—regardless of how sharp his mind remained. It all started when he abruptly decided to throw away every single one of his belongings in order to adopt the lifestyle of a beggar. The only items he held onto were a bowl to eat and drink from and a small cloth to hide his private parts.
2. Class Clown
As most philosophers of his time probably would have done if given the opportunity, Diogenes regularly sat in on lectures by history’s most legendary philosopher, Plato. But he was prone to a bizarre habit during these lectures—for some unknown reason, Diogenes would intentionally eat as loudly as possible while Plato was speaking in order to disrupt his lessons.
3. Like a Chicken with Its Feathers Cut Off
In another showdown with the legendary Plato, Diogenes barged into one of the famous philosopher’s lectures holding a chicken whose feathers he had plucked off in his hands. He shouted out “Behold! I’ve brought you a man!” This ridiculous stunt was an attempt on Diogenes’ part to demonstrate that he had disproven Plato’s belief about what defines a human being.
Plato had previously defined a human being as a “featherless biped.” As one might have expected of him, Diogenes managed to find the most absurd, offensive, and sarcastic way he possibly could to make his point—though, in hindsight, he probably could have found a way to do so without harming a poor, innocent chicken in the process…
4. I Do What I Want, When I Want, Where I Want
Just in case you aren’t already convinced that Diogenes was one of history’s weirdest people, don’t worry. We haven’t even gotten to his most disturbing habit yet. He frequently tended to any and all of his bodily needs in public, wherever he happened to be when he felt the urge. This at times included defecating in a theater, eating scraps of old food off the ground, and even, to put it politely, pleasuring himself in broad daylight.
5. Man’s Best Friend
Those who knew Diogenes reported that he was unusually obsessed with dogs, and even often enjoyed acting like one. He vocally praised the animal’s moral superiority to human beings and often imitated their behavior—including growling at people who wouldn’t give him food and snarling his teeth at those he disliked.
6. Pet Name
Surprisingly, Diogenes’ peculiar attitude towards dogs is not just a meaningless fun fact—it actually had a direct impact on history. Cynicism, the major school of philosophical thought that Diogenes founded, comes from a Greek word that literally translates to “dog-like.” So I guess if anyone ever calls you cynical, you can respond with a hearty “Bow wow!”
7. A Little Dose of Vitamin D
Nobody was more respected in the ancient world than the one and only Alexander the Great—but that still didn’t phase Diogenes in the slightest. Legend has it that when the two of them met, Diogenes had been sunbathing. Alexander approached to ask if there was anything he could do for him, and Diogenes mockingly replied: “You could move out of my light!”
8. Words Will Never Hurt Me
No discussion about the weirdness of Diogenes would be complete without at least one mention of the time when he responded to being insulted by some passersby with an utterly disgusting act. He peed on them! Yes, that’s right. An important, highly influential philosopher urinated on a group of people. If that doesn’t qualify someone as one of history’s weirdest, I don’t know what does!
9. Animal Instinct
The Roman Empire gave the world some incredible characters, but it also gave us some supreme weirdos—such as the kingdom’s third ruler, Caligula. How weird was this supreme ruler? Well, there’s the story of his horse Incitatus. He loved the beast so much that he actually wanted to make it consul, the highest position the Roman Senate had to offer. He almost did it too!
10. She Sells Seashells by the Seashore
One of the most bizarre stories about Caligula is his apparent hatred of…the sea? The mad emperor reportedly once marched the battle-hardened Roman legions to the Atlantic Ocean—only to have them flog the waves and collect seashells as “spoils of war.”
11. If You Can’t Eat ‘Em, Join ‘Em!
As cruel and absurd as ancient Roman entertainment methods were, Caligula found a way to make them even more so. Ordinarily, criminals would be thrown to wild beasts for the amusement of onlooking audiences. That was all well and good, but one day, there were no criminals to sacrifice. Caligula still wanted a show—so he made a chilling order. He commanded his guards to throw an entire section of the audience down to be eaten.
12. Disturbing Joke
Caligula had a malevolent sense of humor. Once at a dinner party, he reportedly burst into raucous laughter. When asked to explain the reason for his mirth, he replied, “I’ve just thought that I’ve only to give the word and you’ll all have your throats cut.” Hilarious, right?
13. Now That’s What You Want in a Leader…
Caligula was an utterly deranged ruler—but Emperor Nero was somehow even worse. Nero ruled when the Great Fire of Rome struck, destroying massive swaths of the great city. But this devastating blaze was no accident; nearly every ancient source claims that Nero himself started the fire, either because he wanted the space to build himself a lavish palace or because he simply hated the city’s ancient architecture.
The only historian who didn’t outright blame Nero was Tacitus…who said he was “unsure” if Nero started it.
14. A Love-Hate Relationship
Nero also had a very bizarre obsession with his mother, which drastically oscillated from extreme love to extreme hatred. After having obediently followed her advice on every single decision he made from the throne during the first five years of his reign, Nero’s attitude towards her changed when she disapproved of his extra-marital affair. Furious, he dealt her a cold-hearted betrayal: He had her executed. I guess that’s one way to solve family differences!
15. Holy Beef
Over the past two millennia, all kinds of characters have assumed the role of Pope—and among them was one of history’s weirdest people, Stephen VI. Suffice it to say that this Pope seems to have missed the parts of the Bible that denounce holding grudges. Stephen absolutely despised one of his Papal predecessors, Pope Formosus, and throughout his tenure, he stopped at nothing to make that clear to everyone…
16. Rest in Pieces
Eight months after Pope Formosus had already passed away and been buried, Stephen VI decided that even death was not enough to end his obsession with his rival. He ordered his predecessor’s corpse to be dug up, removed from its coffin, dressed up in its former Papal uniform, and put on trial to answer for everything Stephen felt he had done wrong.
17. Due Process
During the trial of Formosus’ corpse, Stephen VI hired a deacon to answer on behalf of the deceased Pope and confess to all of the new Pope’s accusations against him. When the humiliating posthumous trial ended, Stephen still wasn’t satisfied, so he then ordered Formosus’ body to be thrown into the river.
18. All Weird Things Must Come to an End
Things didn’t quite end well for Stephen and, in his case, there was only so much weirdness the public was willing to put up with. Supporters of poor Formosus were outraged by Stephen’s antics involving his corpse and decided that enough was enough. Shortly after that episode, Stephen was overthrown and thrown in jail…before his enemies strangled him to death.
19. The Original Mr. Bean
One of the weirdest (and scariest) characters to emerge from the Medieval era was Scotland’s Sawney Bean. While no one today is 100% sure whether he truly existed or was just an urban legend, the story goes that he and a female companion decided to flee the regular world and hide out in a cave with their fourteen children for 25 years.
20. Growing Pains
As a clan of 16 living in a small cave, things got real weird, real fast. Having no one else to socialize with, many of Bean’s children developed incestuous relationships and had children of their own. The bizarre family troupe eventually grew to a total of 48 people. But as if that isn’t bad enough, this family had an even darker secret…
21. A-Hunting We Will Go
So the story goes, while living in the cave, Sawney Bean and his family developed a disturbing habit—they started hunting and eating the people who lived in nearby villages. Over the course of the 25 years they spent living in the cave, they killed hundreds. In fact, going to hunt for people to eat was the only reason that family members were ever allowed to leave the cave.
22. Doggy Bag? Or Person Bag?
Eating human beings is a terrible thing to do, but I guess you could say Bean made the best of it. Apparently, whenever one of his kids or grandkids would bring back a victim, Bean was careful and resourceful enough to set aside some of their victims’ body parts as leftovers to be pickled and saved for eating at a later time.
23. They Messed with the Wrong Guy
The Bean family’s reign of terror finally came to an end when they picked the wrong guy to target as their next dinner. When they attacked a man who happened to be highly skilled in combat, he put up a huge fight and made as much noise as he possibly could so that his neighbors would realize something was wrong. The family was soon caught and executed, never to let their weird lifestyle harm anyone else again.
The Bean Clan eventually faded into myth, but their story has resonated through the years. Wes Craven actually used the legend as the inspiration for his movie The Hills Have Eyes.
24. Smell Ya Later
As far as eccentric millionaires go, none can compare to 19th-century aristocrat Henry Cyril Paget, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey. Not only did he have extremely lavish tastes and dress in extravagant, jewel-covered robes wherever he went, but he even had his car rewired to emit the smell of perfume instead of exhaust fumes. I’m sure that’s what his parents had in mind when they left him their fortune!
25. Trouble in the Bedroom
Paget’s obsession with jewelry and showmanship extended far beyond his clothing and vehicles. In fact, it even got in the way of his love life. Though he never seemed interested in consummating his marriage, he did occasionally demand that his wife pose for him in the nude so that he could cover her from head to toe in jewels.
26. The Show Must Go On
Paget once decided to spend a bucketload of money converting part of his estate into an enormous home theater. He then hired a bunch of actors and paid them several times their normal salaries to join him on stage for an audience of no one to act out the plays of Shakespeare. Needless to say, Henry always gave himself the lead roles!
27. He Should Have Saved for a Rainy Day
After several years of living life the way he did, things started to finally catch up with Paget. His expensive and outlandish tastes had racked up more than $700,000 of debt for him—on top of all the money he had already blown through. All of his belongings were sold to repay his creditors, and he died of tuberculosis just one year later.
28. Hand Me Down My Walking Cane
Prior to the liquidation of Paget’s assets and his subsequent passing, he had been the proud owner of the world’s largest collection of walking sticks. This may not have been as impressive as his home theater (or as practically useful), but it definitely went a long way in securing his place as one of history’s weirdest people!
29. The Other Oval Office
You probably know him as the president who oversaw the Vietnam War, but those who worked for him knew Lyndon B. Johnson as a weirdo of historical proportions. Though he always maintained a very serious public image, Johnson’s behavior was anything but stable in private—most notably when it came to his strange habit of holding important policy meetings while on the toilet.
It just goes to show that even if you’re a weirdo, there’s still no limits to how far you can make it in life!
30. Starting Young
Britain’s Lord Byron unexpectedly inherited the position of Baron of Rochdale at the age of 10. By the time people realized he was probably too weird a person to be trusted with such responsibilities, it was too late. For starters, the nobleman frequently wrote and publicly shared poems mocking anyone and everyone whom he disliked.
Sure, that’s not that weird, but we’re just getting started…
31. Letter of the Law
While attending university, a young Lord Byron heard that pet dogs were not allowed on the premises. So, naturally, he obliged and got rid of his dog. He then came back with a pet bear in its place. Yes, that’s right. A bear. He insisted that since the school’s policies banned dogs but stated nothing about bears, they had no right to complain about his new companion.
32. Quite the Resume
While still only in his 20s, Lord Byron relocated to Italy to escape scandal, taught himself to speak Armenian, and decided to rewrite parts of the Bible for his own amusement—replacing some tales with stories that he felt were more interesting. And what were you doing during your 20s?!
33. A Monster Story
Upon his departure from England, Lord Byron spent some time wandering throughout the various countries of mainland Europe, eventually befriending and temporarily moving in with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley his partner, the future Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. According to some accounts, Byron was sleeping with Shelley’s sister in the next room while she was writing the now-classic book.
34. If I Could Talk to the Animals
I guess Byron didn’t have such a bad experience with the whole pet bear thing, as he continued to acquire pets of all kinds throughout his entire life—even while roaming through Europe or staying at the Shelley home. Not only did Byron keep his animals inside the house, but he also believed that they were reincarnated souls. The long list of animals he owned at one point or another includes foxes, monkeys, peacocks, eagles, badgers, and geese.
35. Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Boredom!
Eventually, Lord Byron started to get bored. So, he did the only logical thing one can possibly do in response to boredom—got deeply involved in a foreign country’s independence movement, despite no relevant experience whatsoever. Though he offered himself to help fight on the Greek independence movement’s behalf and actually showed up for battle, he died unexpectedly of an illness before he got the chance to go through with any actual fighting.
36. Does Not Compute
Though Lord Byron fathered a number of children out of wedlock over the course of his short life, he did have one legitimate child—and we’re all very lucky that he did. The one daughter whom he had within the context of his marriage was Ada Lovelace, a mathematical genius who first came up with the concepts that we now know as the field of computer programming.
37. She’s in the Money
Hetty Green wasn’t just one of the nineteenth century’s richest women. Despite a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars (she’d be a billionaire today), she may very well have been the cheapest person in history. Refusing to ever pay for an office of her own, Green would just sit herself down on the floor of the public bank whenever she had business to conduct.
38. The Scenic Route
Green, also known as the “Witch of Wall Street,” would intentionally take long detours home from the bank instead of just taking a direct route. This was in order to fend off any potential stalkers whom she feared might be following her. Hmm…quirky, cheap, and paranoid? Sounds like the perfect triangle of weirdness!
39. Sweeping It Under the Rug
On one occasion, Green’s excessive cheapness led to her taking time out of her busy day to return a 10-cent broom to the store where she had bought it several years earlier because she was upset that its bristles had become worn out. But if you think that sounds extreme, her next attempt to save a few bucks will truly make your jaw drop…
40. Broken on Many Levels
When Green’s young son broke his leg, she did everything she could to try and heal it at home by herself. Upon realizing that these efforts were not working out, she got herself and her son dressed up as poor people, hoping to get accepted into a free clinic for the needy. This plan didn’t work, and it wasn’t until her son’s leg got infected and had to be amputated that she finally paid for proper medical care.
41. Humble Origins
Our next weirdo hails from 18th century France, and his name was Tarrare. Unlike some of the Kings and Popes discussed so far, Tarrare was born as just an ordinary peasant boy—but he would soon prove to be anything but ordinary. As it turned out, Tarrare may have been the hungriest person of all time. Even though he ate constantly, he never felt full and always demanded more.
42. An Unbalanced Diet
When Tarrare was just 17 years old, he began sneaking into people’s barn houses and eating the food that had been left out for their animals. His parents eventually couldn’t take this craziness anymore and kicked him out of the house. And that was when the true insanity began…
43. Getting This Show on the Road
Upon leaving home, Tarrare made a career out of eating in front of audiences who could not believe their eyes. By this point, the boy’s extreme appetite had escalated from merely eating non-stop to eating things that no human should ever put in their mouths—even things like live animals and large rocks.
44. Special Treatment
Tarrare became a soldier during the French Revolution but quickly fell seriously ill after consuming a bunch of stray cats and other items that weren’t actually intended to be eaten. While recovering in the hospital, he was given special permission to receive quadruple the normal rations of food in order to try and satiate his insane and endless hunger.
45. Putting His Talent to Good Use…Or Not!
Things took an even crazier turn when Tarrare was recruited by General Alexandre de Beauharnais as a spy. The plan was for him to eat a wooden box containing a note to an imprisoned general who was being held in enemy territory. Tarrare obliged, ate the box, and set off on the mission—though it didn’t go quite as planned. Enemy forces captured the starving spy within the first 30 hours of his journey.
46. Okay, Now This Is Going Too Far…
Upon his return to France following his failed spy mission, Tarrare’s extreme eating took yet another turn for the worse. During his next hospital stint, he began drinking stored blood and eating pieces of dead bodies. This was horrific enough—but then, he finally went too far. Hospital staff accused him of eating a toddler.
Though he denied this allegation, the hospital had seen enough and threw him out once and for all.
47. Getting to the Bottom of It All
When Tarrare passed away at the age of 27, many people viewed it as an opportunity to investigate just what the heck might have caused his body to have been so abnormally hungry all the time. Doctors performed an autopsy, which revealed that his digestive system was severely mutated and the entire inside of his body was completely lined with pus.
In the end, the doctors had to cut the experiment short because they couldn’t stand the horrible smell his body emitted.
48. History’s Weirdest People: Medical Edition
If there’s anyone you’d hope would be more stable than the average person, it would probably be your doctor. Unfortunately, patients of Dr. Carl Tanzler would have been very disappointed in this regard. After years of envisioning a soulmate someday appearing before him, Tanzler thought the day had finally arrived when a young tuberculosis patient entered his office who looked just like the girl of his dreams.
He fell head-over-heels in love with her, and went out of his way to try and cure her illness—while also showering her with presents and declaring his love in the process. But this was no fairy tale romance…it was more like a horror movie.
49. Doctor’s Orders
Unfortunately, Tanzler’s beloved patient succumbed to her illness and passed away not long after he met her—but that didn’t stop him from continuing to love her. After sponsoring her burial and visiting her graveside every single night for two years, Tanzler decided that this wasn’t enough. So, he snuck into her tomb, stole her body, and brought it back home to live with him.
Tanzler began to treat his dead crush’s body almost like his own personal doll. He decorated her skull to try and recreate her face, replaced her decaying bones with hangers and wires, and stuffed her body with rags to try and maintain its original shape. Tanzler kept this up for seven full years before the girl’s family caught on and reported him to the authorities for grave robbing.