Here’s an ancient monster for you! Blemmyes! Now, before you dismiss this creature into the realms of fantasy and myth, look at some of the famous people quoted as having witnessed these headless people! Could there be any truth in these reports?

Various species of mythical headless men were rumored, in antiquity and later, to inhabit remote parts of the world. They are variously known as akephaloi (Greek ἀκέφαλοι, “headless ones”) or Blemmyes (Latin: Blemmyae; Greek: βλέμμυες) and described as lacking a head, with their facial features on their chest. These were at first described as inhabitants of the Nile system (Aethiopia). Later traditions confined their habitat to a particular island in the Brisone River,[a] or shifted it to India.
Blemmyes are said to occur in two types: with eyes on the chest or with the eyes on the shoulders. Epiphagi, a variant name for the headless people of the Brisone, is sometimes used as a term referring strictly to the eyes-on-the-shoulders type.

In Antiquity
The first indirect reference to the Blemmyes occurs in Herodotus, Histories, where he calls them the akephaloi (Greek: ἀκέφαλοι “without a head”). The headless akephaloi, the dog-headed cynocephali, “and the wild men and women, besides many other creatures not fabulous” dwelled in the eastern edge of ancient Libya, according to Herodotus’s Libyan sources.

Mela was the first to name the “Blemyae” of Africa as being headless with their face buried in their chest. In a similar vein, Pliny the Elder in the Natural History reports the Blemmyae tribe of North Africa as “[having] no heads, their mouths and eyes being seated in their breasts”. Pliny situates the Blemmyae somewhere in Aethiopia (in, or in the neighboring lands to Nubia).[b][15][16][17] Modern commentators on Pliny have suggested the notion of headlessness among Blemmyes may be due to their combat tactic of keeping their heads pressed close to the chest, while half-squatting with one knee to the ground.[c][5][18] Solinus adds they are believed to be born with their head part dismembered, their mouth and eyes deposited on the breast.

The term acephalous (akephaloi) was applied to people without heads whose facial parts such as eyes and mouth have relocated to other parts of the body, and the Blemmyes as described by Pliny or Solinus conform with this appellation.

Age of Discovery
Headless in Ewaipanoma (1599 engraving)
During the Age of Discovery, a rumor of headless men called the Ewaipanoma was reported by Sir Walter Raleigh in his Discovery of Guiana, to have been living on the banks of the Caura River. Of the story, Raleigh was “resolved it is true, because every child in the provinces of Aromaia and Canuri affirm the same”. He also cited an anonymous Spaniard’s sighting of the Ewaipanoma.

Joannes de Laet, a somewhat later contemporary, dismissed the story, writing that these natives’ heads were set so close to the shoulders, that some were led to believe their eyes were attached to the shoulders and the mouth to their breasts.

During the same period (around 1589–1600) another English writer Richard Hakluyt described a voyage by John Lok to Guinea, where he found “people without heads, called Blemines, having their eyes and mouth in their breast.” The authorship of the report is ambiguous.
The commonalities between Raleigh and Hakluyt writings might suggest the existence of an urban legend at that time, since both were English writers, writing during the same period, about trips to different continents (Africa and Latin America).

Many thanks to my friend, David Fessenden, for finding and suggesting this monster! Check out the website of this multi-talented literary agent!

Read more: