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A folk hero or national hero is a type of hero – real, fictional or mythological – with the sole salient characteristic being the imprinting of his or her name, personality and deeds in the popular consciousness of a people. This presence in the popular consciousness is evidenced by its historical frequency in folk songs, folk tales and other folklore; and its modern trope status in literature, art and films.
Although some folk heroes are historical public figures, many are not. The lives of folk heroes are generally fictional, their characteristics and deeds often exaggerated to mythic proportions.
The folk hero often begins life as a normal person, but is transformed into someone extraordinary by significant life events, often in response to social injustice, and sometimes in response to natural disasters.
One major category of folk hero is the defender of the common people against the oppression or corruption of the established power structure. Members of this category of folk hero often, but not necessarily, live outside the law in some way.
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Antiquity (up to 450 AD)
- Alexander the Great – king of the ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedon who created one of the largest empires of the ancient world.
- Arminius – Germany, a chieftain of the Cherusci who defeated the Roman army at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.
- Boudica – Great Britain, warrior queen who led an uprising against the Roman Empire in Britain.
- Ducetius – Sicily, King of the Sicels.
- Hermocrates – Sicily, Syracusan general during the Athenians' Sicilian Expedition in the midst of the Peloponnesian War.
- Spartacus – Thracian gladiator led the largest slave revolt against the Roman Republic.
- Vercingetorix – France, chief of the Arverni tribe, who united the Gauls in a revolt against Roman forces of Julius Caesar.
- Viriathus – Portugal, the leader of the freedom fighters of the confederated Iberian tribes who resisted colonial Rome.
Middle Ages (450-1500)
- Alfred the Great – English king of Wessex.
- Yue Fei – China, general in the Jin–Song wars. His role in the war was exaggerated by later folk legends.
- Gajah Mada – Indonesia, unified the Southeast Asian archipelago of Nusantara in the 13th century for Majapahit.
- Genghis Khan – Mongolian ruler of the Steppe during the 13th century, founder of the Mongolian empire.
- Pier Gerlofs Donia – Frisia, legendary giant warrior, freedom fighter and leader of the Arumer Zwarte Hoop.
- Owain Glyndŵr – Wales, nobleman who led a rebellion against the Kingdom of England.
- Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson – Sweden, rebel and temporary regent in the 15th century.
- Eppelein von Gailingen – Germany, robber baron.
- Joan of Arc – France, a peasant girl who led the French in the Hundred Years' War after she claimed saints told her it was God's will. Burned as a heretic she became a martyr, folk hero, and eventually a saint. She is now one of the patron saints of France.
- Lazar of Serbia – Serbia, medieval Serbian ruler, who fought and perished at the Battle of Kosovo (1389).
- Miloš Obilić – Serbia, a knight who killed Ottoman Sultan Murad I at the Battle of Kosovo (1389), regarded as a national hero.
- Marco Polo – Italy, traveler and merchant, he made the Silk Road and described the wonders of Asian countries to the Europeans.
- Robert the Bruce – Scottish king who defeated the English invaders at the Battle of Bannockburn.
- Roger I of Sicily - Norman nobleman and founder of the County of Sicily. In the Sicilian folklore he is considered the liberator of the island.
- Skanderbeg – Albanian national hero who led the resistance of Albanian people against the Ottoman Empire.
- The Smith of Kochel – Germany, a well-known national hero, especially in Bavaria.
- William Wallace – Scotland, knight who led a rebellion against England in the early 14th century.
- Lady Xian – China, warrior, politician, queen of the Hsien.
- Jan Žižka – Czech knight, commander of Hussite armies in the 15th century.
Early modern period (1500-1800)
- Blackbeard – England, an 18th-century pirate.
- Nils Dacke – Sweden, leader of a 16th-century peasant revolt.
- Ahmad Shah Durrani – Afghanistan, founder of the Afghan Durrani Empire.
- Guy Fawkes – England, Roman Catholic restorationist from England who planned the Gunpowder Plot.
- Wojciech Bartosz Głowacki - Poland, he became a Polish national hero during the battle of Racławice on 4 April 1794, when he captured a Russian cannon by putting out the fuse with his hat
- Ishikawa Goemon – Japan, bandit hero famous for robbing the rich and giving to the poor, though some accounts suggest he may have kept much of his ill-gotten gains. Before being boiled in oil, he saved his infant son at the cost of his own life.
- Piet Hein – Netherlands, captured the Spanish treasure fleet.
- Juraj Jánošík – Slovak outlaw living in the Tatra mountains, defending Carpathian peasants from the tyranny of Hungarian landlords.
- Lempira – Honduras, was a leader of the revolution against the Spaniards.
- Louis Mandrin – France, bandit of the 18th century liked by the population because he attacked the tax collectors.
- Redmond O'Hanlon – Irish, rapparee of the 17th century.
- Daniel Shays – American farmer who led Shays' Rebellion in the late 18th century over debt and taxes.
- Ivan Susanin – Russia, Russian peasant who saved the tsar in the early 17th century's Time of Troubles.
- Yermak Timofeyevich – Russia, Russian Cossack leader who began the Russian conquest of Siberia.
Modern period (1800-present)
- Johnny Appleseed – United States, he introduced the apple to large parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
- Dokubo-Asari – Nigeria, a political figure who currently fights against western oil companies in the Niger Delta.
- Stepan Bandera – Ukraine, leader of the nationalist and independence movement of Ukraine.
- Billy the Kid – United States, a 19th-century American frontier outlaw and gunman.
- Black Hawk – Midwestern United States, a Sauk Indian warrior who resisted white settlement.
- Bonnie and Clyde – United States, bank robbers who evaded retribution in the 1930s.
- Hristo Botev – Bulgarian folk hero, poet, revolutionary.
- Mohamed Bouazizi – Tunisian fruit vendor who immolated himself in protest of government mistreatment and sparked a successful revolution in that country and the Arab Spring.
- Daniel Boone – United States, an American pioneer in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
- Brian Boru – Ireland, High King of Ireland who "drove the Danes out of Ireland" at the Battle of Clontarf.
- John Brown – United States, attempted to lead a slave revolt in the south by raiding Harper's Ferry, helped spark the American Civil War.
- Calamity Jane – United States, a tough Wild West woman.
- Kakutsa Cholokashvili – Georgia, anti-Soviet guerrilla fighter who led the August Uprising, national hero of Georgia.
- Antonio Canepa – Sicily, founder of the Volunteer Army for the Independence of Sicily, he is considered a hero by the Sicilian nationalists.
- Joseph Cinqué – West African man of the Mende tribe, leader of the Amistad slave rebellion.
- Gregorio Cortez – Mexican-American folk hero.
- Davy Crockett – United States, an Indian-fighter and Congressman; died fighting in the Alamo.
- Zerai Deres – Eritrea, Eritrean-born man lionized for his act of vengeance against the Italian Fascists in Rome during an imperial celebration.
- John Dillinger – United States, gangster and bank robber. Robbed dozens of banks, escaped from jail multiple times.
- Anton Docher – United States, Roman Catholic missionary and defender of the Native Americans in New Mexico, he fought for five years in the French colonial army.
- Mike Fink – United States, the toughest boatman on the Mississippi River and a rival of Davy Crockett.
- José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia – Paraguay, first consul of Paraguay.
- Giuseppe Garibaldi – Italy, general, he personally commanded and fought in many military campaigns that led eventually to the formation of a unified Italy.
- Geronimo – United States, Apache warrior, fought United States army for years defending his people and homeland.
- Salvatore Giuliano – Sicily, the historian Eric Hobsbawm described him as the last of the "people's bandits" (à la Robin Hood).
- Tomoe Gozen – Japan, female samurai warrior.
- Husein Gradaščević – Bosnia, called "Dragon of Bosnia", led the resistance of Bosnians and uprising for autonomy of Bosnia against the Ottoman Empire.
- Nathan Hale – United States, a captain in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
- Simo Häyhä – Finland, a legendary sharpshooter in the Winter War with 505 confirmed kills.
- Hekimoğlu – Turkish folk hero who led a campaign against feudal lords.
- Wild Bill Hickok – United States, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, scout, Civil War soldier, stage coach driver, performer, abolitionist.
- Hone Heke – Māori chief who chopped down British flagpole three times.
- Joe Hill – United States, union leader and songwriter wrongfully convicted of murder in 1915.
- Andreas Hofer – Austrian and particularly Tirolian hero who resisted the Bavarians and Napoleon.
- Jesse James – United States, Wild West outlaw who supposedly robbed from the rich and gave to the poor (in reality his crimes only profited himself and his gang).
- Jigger Johnson – United States, a lumberjack known for his exploits at hunting, brawling, and the like.
- Casey Jones – United States, railroad engineer who remained in his locomotive and died in a collision while braking in order to save his passengers and sounding the whistle to warn the crew of the other train.
- Konstanty Kalinowski – Belarus, leader of Belorussian, Polish, and Lithuanian national revival and the leader of the January Uprising.
- Kaluaiko'olau – Hawaii, Hawaiian man who evaded deportation for leprosy by hiding in the Hawaiian rain forests.
- Karađorđe – Serbia, leader of the Serbian Revolution.
- Ustym Karmaliuk – Ukrainian counterpart of Robin Hood, who led a peasant rebellion.
- Ned Kelly – Australia, bushranger and leader of the Kelly Gang, most famous for crafting bullet-proof armor.
- Theodoros Kolokotronis – Greek general during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.
- Tadeusz Kościuszko – Belarus/Poland, military leader.
- Martin Krpan – Slovene smuggler and strongman.
- Paul Kruger – South African Boer leader and President of the South African Republic (Transvaal).
- Rani Lakshmibai – warrior Queen of Jhansi, fought and was martyred as the first revolutionary for Indian Independence.
- Lam Sai-wing – China, martial artist and student of Wong Fei Hung.
- Lampião – Brazilian outlaw, leader of a Cangaço band in Northeast Brazil.
- Abraham Lincoln – United States president during the Civil War.
- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman - Bangladesh, led Bengali nation's decade long struggle for independence against then autocratic rule of Pakistan, finally resulting the Bangladesh Liberation War and the independence of Bangladesh.
- Nana Sahib – India, a leader in the First War of Indian Independence until his mysterious disappearance.
- Francisco Solano López – Paraguay, president during the Paraguayan War.
- Ned Ludd – Britain, leader of the Luddites in the 1810s.
- Nelson Mandela – South Africa, anti-apartheid activist who became President on apartheid's end.
- Mahatma Gandhi – India, the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
- Prince Marko – Serbia, a medieval prince active during the fall of the Serbian Empire and Ottoman invasion, a hero in Serbian epic poetry.
- Jack Mary Ann – north Wales, a folk hero from the Wrexham area whose fictionalised exploits continue to circulate in local folklore.
- James Morrow Walsh – Canada, a mountie who turned Sitting Bull and his peoples from enemies into friends in 1879.
- James Mckenzie – New Zealand, outlaw and inspiration to landless immigrants in early colonial New Zealand.
- Kuzma Minin – Russia, became a national hero for his role in defending the country against the Polish invasion in the early-17th century together with Dmitry Pozharsky.
- Juan Moreira – legendary Argentine outlaw, famed as a skillful knife fighter. He is considered one of the most important figures in Argentine history.
- Maharana Pratap – India, a 16th-century Hindu ruler and Rajput hero.
- Big Joe Mufferaw – Canada, a larger than life French Canadian woodsman took his life as a lumberjack in Ottawa.
- Miyamoto Musashi – Japan, a skilled swordsman, soldier, philosopher and author.
- Pedro I of Brazil – hero of Brazilian independence and hero of the Portuguese Civil War.
- Pemulwuy – Australia, an Aboriginal resistance leader.
- Philippe Petit – France, tightrope artist who walked between the two towers of the World Trade Center.
- Dmitry Pozharsky – Russia, became a national hero for his role in defending the country against the Polish invasion in the early-17th century together with Kuzma Minin.
- Pazhassi Raja – India, fought against British Raj in south India (Kerala) with guerrilla war tactics.
- Bass Reeves – United States, the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He worked mostly in Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory. During his long career, he was credited with arresting more than 3,000 felons. He shot and killed 14 outlaws in self-defense.
- Louis Riel – Canada, founder of Manitoba, led two rebellions against the Dominion of Canada.
- Dorus Rijkers – the Netherlands, sailor and savior of over 500 men, women and children as the captain of a rescue-boat, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century.
- Mir Chakar Rind – Pakistan, a 15th-century Baloch chieftain and folklore hero found in the Hani and Sheh Mureed tale.
- Paul Revere – American silversmith and a patriot in the American Revolution whose 'Midnight Ride' warned patriot rebels of the arrival of the British military troops.
- José Rizal – Philippines, a critic of the Spanish colonizers, was gun-fired by his executioners in Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park).
- Rob Roy – Scotland, outlaw whose word was his bond.
- Juan Santamaría – Costa Rican national hero.
- Sarutobi Sasuke – Japan, incredibly acrobatic spy said to have been raised by monkeys and trained in the Ninja heartland of Iga and Koga provinces during the golden age of the Ninja.
- Laura Secord – Canada, heroine of the War of 1812.
- Sitting Bull – shaman leader of the Hunkpapa Lakota.
- Soapy Smith – United States, infamous 19th-century Colorado and Alaska bad man.
- Samuel Steele – Canada, a mountie who bring peace to Canada West, and the Yukon for laws and order. Preventing bloodshed between the First Nation peoples and the settler peoples of Canada.
- Tamanend – United States, an Indian chief who became the source of many folk legends during the American Revolutionary War.
- Tecumseh – United States, Shawnee chief who formed a Native American confederacy to combat the United States.
- Ten Tigers of Canton – China, group of ten fighters in southern China.
- Joseph Trumpeldor – Israel, leader of the Jewish forces at Tel Hai.
- Nat Turner – America, leader of Nat Turner's Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection), a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831.
- Dick Turpin – England, highwayman.
- George Washington – United States, first president and revolutionary war commander.
- Wong Fei Hung – China, Chinese doctor, martial artist, and revolutionary.
- Huo Yuanjia – China, Chinese martial artist.
- Ip Man – China, he was the first man teaching martial artist liberally; his most famous student was Bruce Lee.
- King Arthur – Britain, legendary British warlord.
- Cúchulainn – Ireland, folk legend and the pre-eminent hero of Ulaid in the Ulster Cycle.
- Till Eulenspiegel or Tijl Uilenspiegel – Germany and the Low Countries, trickster and jester.
- Fionn mac Cumhaill – Ireland, warrior, leader of the Fianna. Primary figure in the Oisin cycle.
- Fong Sai-Yuk - China, martial arts folk hero.
- Grettir the Strong – Icelandic outlaw.
- John Henry – United States, mighty steel-driving African-American.
- Hercules – Greece, strongman and demigod.
- Homer – poet credited as the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey.
- Robin Hood – England, outlaw usually associated with the motto "Steal from the rich, give to the poor".
- Hua Mulan – China, heroine who disguised herself as a man in order to join an army.
- Hung Hei-Gun – China, martial arts folk hero.
- Merlin – Britain, the greatest Mage ever existed, it's unknown if he was real and if he was an alchemister or a priest.
- Nai Khanom Tom – Thailand, master of Muay Thai.
- Nasreddin Hodja – Seljuk Empire, Muslim philosopher and wise man.
- Miloš Obilić – Serbian knight, assassin of Ottoman sultan Murad I.
- Odysseus – Greece, legendary king of Ithaca.
- Ragnar Lodbrok or Ragnar Lothbrok – Sweden and Denmark, legendary Viking king.
- Rummu Jüri – Estonia, outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor.
- Siegfried – Germany, the legendary dragon-slaying hero in Nibelungenlied.
- William Tell – Switzerland, hunter began the rebellion against the Austrians.
- Twm Siôn Cati – Wales, robber and trickster nicknamed the Welsh Wizard.
- Beowulf – Scandinavia, legendary Geatish hero later turned king
- Pecos Bill – United States, giant cowboy who "tamed the Wild West"
- Paul Bunyan – United States, giant lumberjack of the North Woods
- Chen Zhen – China, martial artist who fought against Japanese aggression in pre-World War II China
- Febold Feboldson – United States, farmer who could fight a drought
- Martín Fierro – Argentina, hero of the eponymous poem by Jose Hernandez
- Koba – Georgia, folk hero whose legend bears a resemblance to Robin Hood
- Joe Magarac – United States, steelworker made of steel
- Momotarō – Japan, legendary figure from the Edo period who defeated a band of ogres
- Juan Bobo – Puerto Rico, trickster folk hero
- Alfred Bulltop Stormalong – United States, immense sailor whose ship was so big it scraped the moon
- Väinämöinen – Described as an old and wise man with potent magical powers.
- Zorro – United States, a masked vigilante.
- Vlad the Impaler – Romania, an emperor who defended his country from the Ottomans, with fictionalised identity as a vampire.
- El Santo – Real life Mexican wrestler, with heavy fictionalised adventures in movies and comic books.
|Look up folk hero in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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