The Ten Most Influential People of the 16th Century
10. Hernan Cortes (1485 – 1547)
Cortes can be considered to represent the whole lot of conquistadors who can be considered responsible for wiping out whole civilizations. Cortes’ conquest of Mexico lead to the downfall of the Aztecs and the devastation of Mesoamerica. The story of Cortes’ arrival in the Aztec Empire and his dealings with Montezuma are almost legendary.
Cortes and his men were brutal. The native peoples of the new world were ravaged by the diseases they brought and the violence they inflicted. And unfortunately because of men like Hernan Cortes, an entire hemisphere of civilizations in the word were soon lost, diminished, or oppressed.
9. Ferdinand Magellan
Exploration (1480 – 1521)
Magellan set out to sail the world, and though he personally didn’t make it, 18 remaining members of this crew completed his vision and circumvented the globe for the first time. And even though the “world is round” theory was becoming more and more accepted by this point, Magellan proved once and for all that it was true. But more than that, he gave people a vision of the world as a single, united entity and gave the world a global context of community.
8. Oda Nobunaga (1534 – 1582)
Nobunaga was the man responsible for the unification of Japan. He was a military revolutionary and an economic master. His methods were brutal, but he modernized Japan and brought the country to the forefront of Asia and the world.
7. Mulla Sadra (1571 – 1641)
Sadra’s philosophy is one of the most influential and important in the history of the Muslim world. His Transcendent Theosophy had a huge effect on Islam. His ideas of existentialism still permeate Muslim thinking today.
6. Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Leonardo was the ultimate Renaissance man. He was a painter, inventor, mathematician, and much more. His Mona Lisa is probably the most famous painting in the world. He made very detailed sketches of human and animal anatomy. And even though he didn’t build them, he imagined the helicopter, the tank and the calculator.
However, his scatterbrain methods meant that many of his discoveries in science and innovation didn’t really move on, so its his work as an artist which is remembered most. Yet his insights into engineering and anatomy would come to influence many also, leaving his influence to be wide sweeping.
5. Suleiman I (1494 – 1566)
Known as Suleiman the Magnificent, he was perhaps the most famous of the Ottoman Empire sultans. Known as the lawgiver for his systemic changes in Ottoman society, his reign brought about the golden age of the Empire. He united the Arab world and proceeded to conquer much of Europe. Even now, the distrust between Arab and Western nations which exists today can be traced back to Suleiman.
4. Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)
Machiavelli created the field of political science with his book The Prince in which he laid out the means necessary to gain and maintain power. His idea of power as not just the means to an end but the end itself was not new, but he brought it out into the open and put it all into context. Machiavelli clearly explained the acquisition of power and the need to keep it by any means necessary. He literally wrote the book on how politics work.
3. Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
There may have been no better artist in the last 1000 years than Michelangelo. He has created some of the finest pieces of art in the world and has inspired countless artisans as well as countless everyday people for centuries.
Michelangelo was also an architect and designed much of the amazing St. Peter’s Basilica. But his artwork is what still blows people away today, whether it is his Pieta, his amazing frescoes in the Sistine chapel, or of course, the Statue of David which may very well be the most perfect single piece of visual art that we have.
2. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)
Copernicus’ astronomy findings put the sun at the center of Earth’s orbit, taking away Earth’s position at the center of the universe. His discoveries about the solar system were groundbreaking and make would force the human race to rethink our position in the universe.
Copernicus didn’t spread his findings around a lot, knowing what their impact on society would be. He did publish his findings alter in life, but it wasn’t until Galileo would follow up on his work decades later that the true impact of his work was felt.
1. Martin Luther (1483-1546)
On a scale of 1 to 10 of importance, the Reformation would have to be a 10 for its impact on history. His Ninety-five Theses which he nailed to the door oft he Wittenburg church began a wildfire in Europe. It would lead to the splitting of Christianity into the Catholic Church and the Protestant defectors. The authority which the Holy See held over the world suddenly found itself in peril and it would never recover the power it once held.
Not only did he change the world politically, but he also changed it spiritually as well. He put the power of knowledge of God into the hands of the people. He liberated the common man from the hold of the Church and put the onus of faith and salvation into their own hands. Luther stood by these views no matter how much they angered the Vatican and how much it tore the European continent apart. His impact is massive, making him not only just the most influential person of his century, but perhaps the most influential person of the millennium.