Do a Google search for famous vegans and you’re likely to find all sorts of lists naming historical figures like Plato, Pythagoras, Da Vinci, the Buddha, and even Jesus. These lists tend to be incredibly unreliable. Given that, for instance, not one word written by Pythagoras has survived, it’s incredibly unlikely that anyone can speak with any confidence about his actual food choices.
It’s likewise worth bearing in mind that the word vegan was not coined until 1941, so it’s unlikely that many people in antiquity were basing their food choices on the total absence of animal ingredients.
That’s not to say that there weren’t numerous vegans over the past several thousand years. For instance, anyone who bases his or her food choices on Jain Buddhist scripture is probably mostly or entirely vegan. Many other Buddhist texts from antiquity condemn the use of meat and eggs.
So if you’re looking to get a sense of vegan-leaning diets as they were practiced throughout history, the wisest course of action is to read a book on the history of vegetarianism instead of seeking out lists of historical vegans. The only such volume that looks back more than 500 years is Colin Spencer’s Vegetarianism: A History.
While it’s virtually impossible to be sure which historical figures were vegan, there’s no shortage of famous vegans alive today. See our Vegan Celebrities page for a comprehensive and accurate list.