How do we prove a person from antiquity really existed?

What kind of evidence would you look for to verify that a figure from antiquity had actually lived?

Do you believe there is "verifiable evidence" that Socrates existed? How about Confucius, Siddhartha, Abraham, or even Muhammad? What constitutes proof when we're talking about ancient sources?

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Did Socrates really exist? Here is how a lister in another online community penned it:


We have none of Socrates own writings, and it is unclear whether he ever wrote anything.

As for the teachings ascribed to him, they could simply have been made up by Plato and others (anyone who has ever read Plato's Socratic Dialogues would probably be amazed at thinking that Plato could ever memorize all those phrases/arguments/illustrations of Socrates and the others) for the purpose of justifying their own beliefs/philosophy/way of life/etc.

And, as for the very few sources outside of Plato that make mention of Socrates, those mentions most likely are interpolations by followers of Plato, and if not, are simply a re-iteration of the fairy-tale they had already heard from Plato, and not grounded in actual independent sources.

[P]erhaps a man named "Socrates" did exist, but certainly he never said anything that Plato ascribed to him. In fact, it's much more logical to assume that his whole life as a philosopher/his teachings were made up by Plato and others, and that his "martyr's death" at the hands of the Athenians was simply an apologetic fable made up to excuse their strange theories/beliefs.


Although such arguments can be articulated, classicists and historians of antiquity do not even entertain the prospect that Socrates was a fictional personage. There are different standards for validating ancient history.
The only way we can be reasonably sure is to have documents that support each other.  Different document from unrelated sources can prove the existance of a person fromthe past.
That's the interesting thing about the classicist's acceptance of the existence of Socrates. He is tangentially mentioned by name in two other ancient sources, but only Plato sets out his teaching and philosophy. We have no other sources for what the actions and teachings of Socrates were. And yet, who either questions the existence of Socrates, or disputes that he taught what Plato says he taught? Even the post I quoted above was "tongue-in-cheek." The writer was illustrating the conclusions one would come to if you judged another ancient historical figure with the scrutiny modern critics have used against certain persons in the bible. Ancient history has always been evaluated differently than modern history.


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