From Byzantine Emperors to Kings, from sports stars to Genghis Khan, the ruler of the greatest empire the world has ever known. Some tried and failed, some learned and some used tricks to get by – but it never held them back.
#1 Emperors and Kings
The Byzantine Emperor Justin came to power in 518 at the grand age of 70. He couldn’t read or write and had to use a stencil to sign his name. The 8th Century ruler Charlemagne, who was both King of the Franks and the Holy Roman Emperor was also illiterate. He saw the value of words and under his reign Europe saw a renaissance of art and writing. His biographer says that he kept writing tools under his pillow and kept trying to learn to write, but eventually settled with learning to read Latin.
#2 Shoeless Joe Jackson
The notorious White Sox star learned to write his name to endorse his pay-checks, but that was it. His stunning big hitting skills saw a career 356 batting average. But after not receiving a promised bonus, eight members including Jackson, entered into a conspiracy to take payment to throw the 1919 World Series. He rarely tried to sign autographs, so only a few survive and now worth $100,000.
#3 Sojourner Truth
Born a slave in 1797, she never learned to read or write, but her eloquence made her a famous abolitionist speaker. She is credited as the black woman to take a white man to court and win when she sued to retrieve her son who had been sold illegally to an Alabama plantation. Noticing that free women could still not vote or hold public office she campaigned for true equality until her death. She dictated her life story for her autobiography.
#4 Genghis Khan
Born into the tribe of ‘Blue Wolves’ he united his people, conquered lands four times the size of those taken by Alexander the Great. His Empire was the largest ever established, stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Japan, with over 700 tribes and cities under his rule. His life story was only recorded once in The Secret History of the Mongols.
#5 Dexter Manley – Redskins
Testifying before a Senate hearing on illiteracy he told of all the tricks he had employed to cover up his inability to read or write. From guessing on multiple choice questions, pretending to read the newspaper, memorizing the beltway exits and look of the words for hamburger and steak he pulled it off so convincingly his team mates could hardly believe it was true.
#6 Francisco Pizarro
As young man, Pizarro heard tales of the New World and was seized by a lust for adventure. In 1532, he conquered Peru overthrowing the Inca leader Atahualpa. Three years later, he founded the new capital, Lima. He remained illiterate so did not record his deeds, it was left to both the conquerors and the conquered to do so.
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