Go back as far as 4000 BC and people were still fascinated by fame. But who was the Kim Kardashian of Ancient Egypt? Or the Brad Pitt of the Middle Ages? Pantheon, a new project developed by The MIT Media Lab, can give you a pretty good idea. Pantheon is a massive, interactive database of fame that "measures the global popularity of historical characters." Fusion spoke with Cesar Hidalgo, director of MIT's Macro Connections group, to learn more about the project, which just went live this weekend.
How did the Pantheon team measure the fame of historical figures from 6000 years ago? "We focused on the production of cultural work," Hidalgo said. "This could be anything from a film to a painting to winning a sports championship. The project is celebrating these cultural accomplishments."
Part of the appeal of the project? We all love lists. Aristotle is the number one most famous person since 4000 BC, with Jesus Christ ranking third. But Hidalgo said it's a mistake to look at the rankings without digging deeper into historical context.
"For me, the most interesting part isn't about who the most famous Canadian of all time is," he said. Hidalgo prefers to look at the way this data connects fame with the development of communication technology.
"Before 1400, the most famous people were mostly politicians and philosophers. After the printing press in 1400, there’s a whole new cultural domain: scientists, artists, composers. Then, at the beginning of the 20th c. when you get radio and film, you then see new categories of fame, like actors, singers and musicians."
What will be the next category of fame? Hidalgo thinks the answer lies in tech.
"As our species has evolved in last 6000 yrs there have been sharp changes corresponding with new technologies. This opens the question: with the web, who becomes famous? What are the new cultural domains? I think the Mark Zuckerbergs will be the cultural figures of our time."
And now, despite Hidalgo's warning against treating Pantheon as a listicle, we'll use the power of MIT's database to look at the wide-ranging selection of Top 5 Power Couples throughout history (as compiled by The New York Times).
Top 5 Power Couples Since 4000 BC
1) Cleopatra and Julius Caesar
2) Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Marc Antony*
*Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (IRL) are Number 15
3) Nefertiti and Akhenaten
4) Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII of England
5) (and of course) Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
Alexandra DiPalma is a producer for Fusion Lightworks, Fusion’s In-house Branded Content Agency.