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The Most Famous


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This page contains a list of the greatest Italian Companions. The pantheon dataset contains 673 Companions, 60 of which were born in Italy. This makes Italy the birth place of the 4th most number of Companions behind France and United Kingdom.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Italian Companions of all time. This list of famous Italian Companions is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Italian Companions.

Photo of Catherine de' Medici

1. Catherine de' Medici (1519 - 1589)

With an HPI of 79.76, Catherine de' Medici is the most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 75 different languages on wikipedia.

Catherine de' Medici (Italian: Caterina de' Medici, pronounced [kateˈriːna de ˈmɛːditʃi]; French: Catherine de Médicis, pronounced [katʁin də medisis]; 13 April 1519 – 5 January 1589) was a Florentine noblewoman born into the Medici family. She was Queen of France from 1547 to 1559 by marriage to King Henry II and the mother of French kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. The years during which her sons reigned have been called "the age of Catherine de' Medici" since she had extensive, if at times varying, influence in the political life of France.Catherine was born in Florence to Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, and Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne. In 1533, at the age of 14, Catherine married Henry, the second son of King Francis I and Queen Claude of France, who would become Dauphin of France upon the death of his elder brother Francis in 1536. Catherine's marriage was arranged by her uncle Pope Clement VII. Henry during his reign excluded Catherine from state affairs and instead showered favours on his chief mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who wielded much influence over him. Henry's death in 1559 thrust Catherine into the political arena as mother of the frail 15-year-old King Francis II. When Francis II died in 1560, she became regent on behalf of her 10-year-old son King Charles IX and was thus granted sweeping powers. After Charles died in 1574, Catherine played a key role in the reign of her third son, Henry III. He dispensed with her advice only in the last months of her life but outlived her by just seven months. Catherine's three sons reigned in an age of almost constant civil and religious war in France. The problems facing the monarchy were complex and daunting. However, Catherine maintained the monarchy and the state institutions functioning, even at a minimum level. At first, Catherine compromised and made concessions to the rebelling Calvinist Protestants, or Huguenots, as they became known. However, she failed to fully grasp the theological issues that drove their movement. Later, she resorted in frustration and anger to hardline policies against them. In return, she was blamed for the persecutions carried out under her sons' rules, in particular the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of 1572, during which thousands of Huguenots were killed in France. Some historians have excused Catherine from blame for the worst decisions of the crown, but evidence for her ruthlessness can be found in her letters. In practice, her authority was limited by the effects of the civil wars. Therefore, her policies may be seen as desperate measures to keep the House of Valois on the throne at all costs and her patronage of the arts as an attempt to glorify a monarchy whose prestige was in steep decline. Without Catherine, it is unlikely that her sons would have remained in power. Catherine has been called "the most important woman in Europe” in the 16th century.

Photo of Messalina

2. Messalina (17 - 48)

With an HPI of 73.71, Messalina is the 2nd most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 47 different languages.

Valeria Messalina (Latin: [waˈlɛria mɛssaːˈliːna]; c. 17/20–48) was the third wife of Roman emperor Claudius. She was a paternal cousin of Emperor Nero, a second cousin of Emperor Caligula, and a great-grandniece of Emperor Augustus. A powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity, she allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot. Her notorious reputation probably resulted from political bias, but works of art and literature have perpetuated it into modern times.

Photo of Livia

3. Livia (-58 - 29)

With an HPI of 72.86, Livia is the 3rd most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 44 different languages.

Livia Drusilla (30 January 59 BC – AD 29) was Roman empress from 27 BC to AD 14 as the wife of Emperor Caesar Augustus. She was known as Julia Augusta after her formal adoption into the Julian family in AD 14. Livia was the daughter of Roman senator Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus and his wife Alfidia. She married Tiberius Claudius Nero around 43 BC, and they had two sons, Tiberius and Drusus. In 38 BC, she divorced Tiberius Claudius Nero and married the political leader Octavian. The Senate granted Octavian the title Augustus in 27 BC, effectively making him emperor. Livia then became the Roman empress. In this role, she served as an influential confidant of her husband and was rumored to have been responsible for the deaths of a number of Augustus' relatives, including his grandson Agrippa Postumus. After Augustus died in AD 14, Tiberius became emperor. Livia continued to exert political influence as the mother of the emperor. She died in AD 29. She was the grandmother of the emperor Claudius, great-grandmother of the emperor Caligula, and the great-great-grandmother of the emperor Nero. In AD 42, Livia was deified by Claudius, who acknowledged her title of Augusta.

Photo of Zita of Bourbon-Parma

4. Zita of Bourbon-Parma (1892 - 1989)

With an HPI of 72.44, Zita of Bourbon-Parma is the 4th most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 44 different languages.

Zita of Bourbon-Parma (Zita Maria delle Grazie Adelgonda Micaela Raffaela Gabriella Giuseppina Antonia Luisa Agnese; 9 May 1892 – 14 March 1989) was the wife of Charles I, the last monarch of Austria-Hungary. As such, she was the last Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, in addition to other titles. She was declared Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI. Born as the seventeenth child of the dispossessed Robert I, Duke of Parma, and his second wife, Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal, Zita married the then Archduke Charles of Austria in 1911. Charles became heir presumptive to the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria in 1914 after the assassination of his uncle Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and acceded to the throne in 1916 after the elderly emperor's death. After the end of World War I in 1918, the Habsburgs were deposed and the former empire became home to the states of Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, while other parts were annexed to or joined the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Italy, Romania, and a reconstituted independent Poland. Charles and Zita left for exile in Switzerland and, after the failure of attempts to restore royal rule in Hungary, were subsequently removed from that country by the Allies to Madeira, where Charles died in 1922. After her husband's death, Zita and her son Otto served as symbols of unity for the exiled dynasty. A devout Catholic, she raised a large family after being widowed at the age of 29; she never remarried.

Photo of Poppaea Sabina

5. Poppaea Sabina (30 - 65)

With an HPI of 69.82, Poppaea Sabina is the 5th most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 35 different languages.

Poppaea Sabina (AD 30 – 65), also known as Ollia, was a Roman empress as the second wife of the Emperor Nero. She had also been wife to the future emperor Otho. The historians of antiquity describe her as a beautiful woman who used intrigues to become empress.There is a large villa near Pompeii that bears her name because of the archaeological finds there. It has been largely excavated and can be visited today.

Photo of Josephine of Leuchtenberg

6. Josephine of Leuchtenberg (1807 - 1876)

With an HPI of 68.56, Josephine of Leuchtenberg is the 6th most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 40 different languages.

Joséphine of Leuchtenberg (Joséphine Maximilienne Eugénie Napoléone de Beauharnais; 14 March 1807 – 7 June 1876) was Queen of Sweden and Norway from 8 March 1844 to 8 July 1859 as the wife of King Oscar I. She was also Princess of Bologna from birth and Duchess of Galliera from 1813. She was regarded as politically active during the reign of her spouse and acted as his political adviser, actively participating in government affairs. She is acknowledged as having introduced more liberal laws regarding religion.

Photo of Maria Luisa of Parma

7. Maria Luisa of Parma (1751 - 1819)

With an HPI of 67.86, Maria Luisa of Parma is the 7th most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 42 different languages.

Maria Luisa of Parma (Luisa Maria Teresa Anna; 9 December 1751 – 2 January 1819) was, by marriage to King Charles IV of Spain, Queen of Spain from 1788 to 1808 leading up to the Peninsular War. Her relationship with Manuel Godoy and influence over the King made her unpopular among the people and aristocrats. She was rivals with the Duchess of Alba and the Duchess of Osuna, attracting popular attention. The death of her daughter-in-law Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily, whom she disliked, was said to be the poisoning by the Queen.

Photo of Caterina Sforza

8. Caterina Sforza (1463 - 1509)

With an HPI of 67.83, Caterina Sforza is the 8th most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 32 different languages.

Caterina Sforza (1463 – 28 May 1509) was an Italian noblewoman, the Countess of Forlì and Lady of Imola, firstly with her husband Girolamo Riario, and after his death as a regent of her son Ottaviano. Caterina was a noblewoman who lived a life maintaining her responsibilities with her family and power as a ruler in the courts. Her status and image was shaped by the masculine and feminine roles she took on throughout her lifetime as a ruler, wife, widow, and mother, in addition to the cultural activities she participated in during Renaissance Italy.The descendant of a dynasty of noted condottieri, from an early age, Caterina distinguished herself through her bold and impetuous actions taken to safeguard her possessions from possible usurpers and to defend her dominions from attack, when they were involved in political intrigues. In her private life, Caterina was devoted to various activities, including experiments in alchemy and a love of hunting, dancing, and horse riding. She was educated and engaged in religious rituals and matters, commissioned works of art, a fashion icon, and was a collector of many jewels and clothing. In addition, she undertook urban, residential, and military architectural projects.While her role as a ruler was considered to be masculine, Caterina had series of portrait medals that embodied her diplomatic skills and political power as a successful regent. At the time, portrait medals were important among the noble society and could be distributed and exchanged as a way to communicate self-presentation, characteristic, and accomplishments of that person. Caterina's first medal represented her beauty, womanly virtue, and conformity to the female role as a noble wife and mother. When Girolamo died, Caterina's next medal represented loyalty and protection of her family with her new position as a chaste widow. While it was feminine, it was also clearly masculine because it represented her additional powerful position as a regent.She had many children, but only the youngest, Captain Giovanni delle Bande Nere, inherited his mother's forceful, militant personality. Caterina's resistance to Cesare Borgia meant she had to face his fury and imprisonment. After she gained her freedom in Rome, she then went on to lead a quiet life in Florence. In the final years of her life, she confided to a monk: "Se io potessi scrivere tutto, farei stupire il mondo" ("If I could write everything that happened, I would shock the world").

Photo of Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily

9. Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily (1772 - 1807)

With an HPI of 67.44, Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily is the 9th most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 39 different languages.

Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily (6 June 1772 – 13 April 1807) was the first Empress of Austria and last Holy Roman Empress as the spouse of Francis II. She was born a Princess of Naples as the eldest daughter of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Queen Maria Carolina.

Photo of Julia the Elder

10. Julia the Elder (-39 - 14)

With an HPI of 67.29, Julia the Elder is the 10th most famous Italian Companion.  Her biography has been translated into 33 different languages.

Julia the Elder (30 October 39 BC – AD 14), known to her contemporaries as Julia Caesaris filia or Julia Augusti filia (Classical Latin: IVLIA•CAESARIS•FILIA or IVLIA•AVGVSTI•FILIA), was the daughter and only biological child of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, and his second wife, Scribonia. Julia was also stepsister and second wife of the Emperor Tiberius; maternal grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and the Empress Agrippina the Younger; grandmother-in-law of the Emperor Claudius; and maternal great-grandmother of the Emperor Nero. Her epithet "the Elder" distinguishes her from her daughter, Julia the Younger.

Pantheon has 60 people classified as companions born between 400 BC and 1892. Of these 60, none of them are still alive today. The most famous deceased companions include Catherine de' Medici, Messalina, and Livia. As of April 2022, 3 new companions have been added to Pantheon including Maria Salviati, Isabella of Clermont, and Sancia of Majorca.

Deceased Companions

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Newly Added Companions (2022)

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Which Companions were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 16 most globally memorable Companions since 1700.