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10 Historical Figures Who Had Syphilis

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Back in the day, having sex outside of marriage or with multiple partners was pretty taboo and not as acceptable as it is today. And, since protection wasn’t invented and widely used until the 20th century, people were really taking risks.

But who said that stopped them?

Many historical figures were promiscuous and paid the price with their health. The most common disease was syphilis, which can cause arthritis, brain damage, and blindness.
Check out the ten historical figures who had syphilis in their lifetime.

Adolf Hitler

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The Fuhrer had all the symptoms of advanced syphilis— manic attacks, itching, stomach pains, and more. His doctor also specialized in the disease. Even though Hitler kept it a secret, when word got out they simply blamed a Jewish prostitute for giving it to him. Ironic, much?

Ivan the Terrible

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Rumored to have been promiscuous with both sexes, it is believed that around the end of his life he displayed signs of syphilis. The 16th-century czar was known to have manic attacks; he even killed his son during one episode. Back then, the disease was “treated” with mercury, and to no surprise he died from poisoning. However, it is still unknown if Ivan’s problems were mostly physical or psychological, and there is no way to know for certain if he suffered from the STD.

Henry VIII

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The English king that was famous for breaking away from the Catholic Church gradually went insane and paranoid. 100 years after his death, historians speculated that the madness was caused mostly from syphilis. (Well, he did have six wives. )


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The Infectious Diseases Society of America published an article suggesting that Shakespeare probably had syphilis. The playwright wrote extensively about the disease and its symptoms, and it is also known that he received extensive treatment such as mercury vapor and hot baths.


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The Italian adventurer was not only famous for his writings, but also his sexual liaisons. Even though he supposedly used condoms made out of sheep skin, he still contacted venereal diseases.


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Scholars speculate that he probably contacted syphilis since he was associated with prostitutes, and eventually went deaf.

Abraham Lincoln

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According to ol’ Honest Abe’s friend and law partner, the president told him that he got the disease sometime during the 1830s. Lincoln was taking mercury pills for decades to “cure” the disease, and it is believed he gave it to his wife. This could be the reason for her death as well as several of his infant children.

Leo Tolstoy

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The Russian author of War and Peace was infected in his youth, and he decided that a good way to treat it would be with arsenic. His experience with syphilis could be an explanation for why he explored the relationship between life and death in his works.

Benito Mussolini

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This was never confirmed, but there were rumors going around Italy during Mussolini’s rule that he was suffering from the disease. Gastric problems and a “grenade wound” was enough to make people suspicious.


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It was known that the French military leader was taking arsenic, a common medicine to treat syphilis. Sounds insane? By the end of his life, Napoleon was exiled to a lonely island, so it’s not too surprising that he decided to take poison.

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