There are many famous people from Rome. Some you may know about; others you have definitely heard of but chances are you didn’t know they are from Rome; and a few more you have probably never heard of before.
If you are curious to find out who are the most famous people from Rome – from ancient Rome, from a more recent past, and even contemporary – just continue reading this post!
The Most Famous People From Rome
Juan Carlos I of Spain
What is a Spanish royalty doing in a list of famous people from Rome? You see, Juan Carlos I may be part of Spanish royalty but he was born in the family home in Rome. His father was a Count of Barcelona, and his mother was the Princess of Two Sicilies, Spain and Barcelona; they were living in exile at the time due to the Spanish Civil War.
Aside from the complicated family tree, Juan Carlos moved to Spain in 1948. He was the grandson of Alfonso XIII – the last king of Spain before the monarchy was abolished in 1931; General Franco was persuaded to allow the royalty back into the country.
Eventually, Juan Carlos was crowned King of Spain in November 1975, until his abdication in 2014. He’s now often referred to as King Emeritus.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
1598 – 1680
Though the famous sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini may have been born in Naples, he has had a lasting legacy on the city of Rome, creating numerous works of art across the capital. Once he was ensconced in Rome, it is said that he rarely left the city walls (except for a begrudging trip to Paris). In fact, Pope Urban VIII famously said to Bernini: “You are made for Rome, and Rome for you.”
But it’s not just the impact Bernini had on Rome: it’s on the art world and the history of art as a whole. Bernini is credited as being the creator of the flamboyant Baroque style of sculpture. His influence on artistic styles has left an imprint comparable to that of Shakespeare on literature.
As well as a sculptor, Bernini was formidable as a city planner and architect, and was the brains behind numerous chapels, churches, public squares, and various secular buildings.
Pope Urban VIII
1568 – 1644
Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII in 1623, a position he held until his death. Born into the Barberini, an influential noble family of Rome, his tenure as Pope was characterized by conflict. His time as Pope included 21 years of the disastrous 30 Years War. He was the last Pope to extend the territory of the Papal States, and he established an arsenal in the Vatican City, an arms factory at Tivoli, and built fortifications at the harbor of Civitavecchia.
But it wasn’t just war that Pope Urban VIII was interested in. He was also a staunch patron of the arts, with the above mentioned Bernini often involved in his artistic and architectural commissions. His legacy as a patron of the arts can be seen throughout Rome – just look for bees on various fountains and sculptures throughout the city (bees featured on the Bernini family crest).
1890 – 1973
Known for surrealist fashion, Elsa Schiaparelli found fame as a couturier. She pushed the boundaries for fashion design at the time, taking from the Surrealist movement (especially Salvador Dali) to influence her own unique artistic style, which often included bold prints, colors, and textures. She founded her own fashion house in 1927, Maison Schiaparelli, and is considered one of the pioneers of the “wrap dress.” Her greatest rival was Coco Chanel.
1483 – 1520
Another honorary Roman, Raphael Sanzio was born in Urbino. He was a big part of the High Renaissance movement; and he was very prolific, producing an enormous body of artistic work throughout his short life. Raphael, as he is known, passed away at the age of 37. He was buried at the Pantheon, upon his request, following a grand funeral.
He spent only 12 years in Rome, working under two different Popes, but it was a successful time for the young artist. Much of his work is displayed throughout the city today, particularly in the Vatican Palace in the aptly named Raphael Rooms, which are adorned with frescoes painted by the man himself. He also was influential outside Rome, but not for his painting – it was his talents as a printmaker that saw his name spread throughout the country.
100 – 44 BC
Possibly the most famous Roman, Julius Caesar lived during the time of the Roman Republic. He was a skilled general who wrote extensively on his military exploits but was also a very popular politician. He moved into the realm of politics having emerged victorious from a period of civil wars to assume control of the Roman Republic. He was proclaimed “Dictator for life.”
Once in power, he set forth on a path of progressive bureaucratic changes. He offered Roman citizenship to far-off reaches of Roman territory, devised means of support for military veterans, and embarked on land reform measures. If that wasn’t enough, he changed the calendar to the Julian Calendar.
But the elite of Roman society did not take kindly to his populist politics and reforms. Senators conspired against him, eventually deciding that he should be assassinated on the Ides of March. This led to the collapse of the republic, more civil war and, eventually, the Roman Empire.
1929 – 1989
Hollywood films would be very different without Sergio Leone, one of the most famous people from Rome. This influential film director and screenwriter has made a lasting impact on the silver screen, not least thanks to his development of the so-called “Spaghetti Westerns.”
His filmmaking style, as seen in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in America, is iconic and has been hugely influential in the world of cinema to this day.
Leone was born in Rome to parents who were already well known in film. His father, Vincenzo Leone, was a pioneer of cinema and famed for his silent films; his mother, Edvige Valcarenghi, was a star of silent films. The young Leone was inspired by his father’s film sets and dropped out of studying law at the age of 18 to enter the film industry.
1928 – 2020
You may not know who Ennio Morricone was, but chances are you have heard his music – he was one of the world’s best music composer, having written the music for a series of movies which include The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by above mentioned Sergio Leone.
During his career, Morricone won 1 Grammy Award, 3 Golden Globes and 5 Anthony Asquith Awards for Film Music by BAFTA. He received 5 Academy Awards nominations for Best Music, and finally won Best Original Score in 2016 with The Hateful Eight.
Morricone was also an orchestra director – he conducted, among others, the Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala Theatre, and the Rome Opera House Orchestra.
In 2009, Ennio Morricone was appointed the rank of Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honor by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
63 BC – 14 AD
Augustus was the first Roman Emperor and first ruler of the newly rebranded Roman Empire. He reigned from 27 BC until his death and his legacy is enduring. Born on Palatine Hill and named Gaius Octavius, Augustus was the grand-nephew of Caesar. Caesar, having no legitimate children or heirs under Roman law, adopted the young Octavius.
In fact, Augustus presided over the initial part of a period in Roman history known as “Pax Romana” – a peaceful era that would span two centuries. Even though it’s called the “Pax Romana”, Augustus’ reign saw its fair share of conflict, including with Roman general Pompey, and embarked on a war against Antony and Cleopatra.
58 BC – 29 AD
Also known as Julia Augusta, Livia was the wife of Emperor Augustus and, as many suggest, his advisor. Throughout her long life, she played an influential role in politics and was a prominent figure in Roman society.
There isn’t much direct information about Livia but she was granted the honor of having the title Augusta (Empress), which was bestowed on her following the death of Augustus. This effectively brought her into the Julian family. She was the mother of Emperor Tiberius, grandmother of Caligula and Claudius, and the great-great-grandmother of Emperor Nero.
Totti is one of the most famous people from Rome. Football fans probably already know the name, but if you’re not au fait with the game, then you should know that Francesco Totti is a former professional footballer. He spent his career playing for his home team, Roma, and the Italian national team.
He is thought to be one of the greatest Italian players of all time and the best footballer to have ever played for Roma. In fact, he’s the second-highest scoring footballer in the Italian League. Retiring in 2017, he was the subject of a documentary made in 2020, My Name is Francesco Totti.
1870 – 1952
Maria Montessori has had a lasting impact on education. You may recognize her surname from the early years’ schools named after her that follow her philosophy. She was born in Chiaravalle but moved to Rome because of her father’s work in 1875.
She studied to become an engineer – unusual for a woman at the time – before going on to study medicine, paediatrics, and the natural sciences. This was not seen favorably; because of her gender, she was harassed and treated with hostility by other students and professors alike.
In 1906 she was invited to help with the care and education of children from low-income families in an apartment in San Lorenzo, Rome. It was here that she employed methods she’d been working on throughout the years, eventually forming what would become the basis for her educational methods. Today schools bearing her name can be found across the globe.
1480 – 1519
A member of the House of Borgia, Lucrezia Borgia was a Spanish-Italian noblewoman. She was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and was made governor of Spoleto, a position usually only reserved for cardinals.
Her powerful family meant that she was in a unique position as a woman during the times she lived. Born in Subiaco, near Rome, to a mistress of her father, Lucrezia had the privilege of an unusually academic education. She was accomplished in numerous fields, including languages; she was fluent in Spanish, Catalan, Italian, and French.
Though she is remembered for being a poisoner, having affairs and for being something of a femme fatale, Lucrezia had an influential role in Roman society of the day.
1918 – 2003
Franco Modigliani was an Italian-American economist, who would go on to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1985. Born in Rome to a Jewish-Italian family, his father was a pediatrician and his mother was a social worker.
Modigliani studied law at the University of Rome; in his second year, he won a nationwide contest in economics. He left for Paris in 1938, after the Fascist government passed the Italian Racial Laws, which mainly targeted Italians of Jewish descent.
After Paris, he moved on to the United States, where he lived for the rest of his life. He taught at various universities, with his academic work on economics seen as groundbreaking – something which would lead to him being awarded the Nobel Prize.
Sophia Loren is a classically famous Italian actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Starting her career in 1950, aged just 16, her career trajectory simply continued from there – and she’s still working to this day. She’s won an Academy Award, numerous Golden Globes, a Grammy, a BAFTA, and various other accolades throughout her extensive career.
Born Sofia Villani Scicolone in Rome, her family moved to Naples having been driven out of the capital by bombing during World War II. She was noticed during a beauty pageant at the age of 15 when someone suggested that she should try out acting – and the rest is history.
43 BC – 17/18 AD
Born Publius Ovidus Naso, Ovid lived during the reign of Emperor Augustus. He is a landmark literary figure, whose contemporaries include Virgil and Horace.
Though his Ars Amatoria – a somewhat subversive series of love poems – granted him fame in his day, it was to be his Metamorphoses that has stretched through time. This series of mythological tales of transformation remains an important source of the ancient world to this day.
Even though he was popular during his lifetime, his fame eventually was to be his demise. Emperor Augustus had Ovid banished 8 AD to Tomis (present day Romania) on the Black Sea coast. Nobody knows for sure why he was exiled but it’s been suggested that adultery – perhaps with Augustus’ grandchildren – played a part.
Giovanni Maria Lancisi
1654 – 1720
An anatomist, physician and epidemiologist, Giovanni Maria Lancisi was born, lived and died in Rome. Of particular importance are his studies on malaria, which led him to draw a correlation between the presence of mosquitoes and malaria.
He studied at the University of Rome and qualified in medicine, after which he was the physician to, not just one pope, but three: Innocent XI, Clement XI, and Innocent XII. It was in 1717 that he recognized that swamps infested with mosquitoes were the breeding grounds for malaria.
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