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Haunting spirits of ancient ghost stories.  Source: Владислав Ройко/Adobe Stock

Haunting Tales: Exploring 4 of the Most Famous Ancient Ghost Stories


Ghosts have been a part of human folklore and legends for centuries, captivating our imaginations and sending shivers down our spines. From ancient Rome to modern-day Japan, some of the most famous ghost stories are those that have been passed down from generation to generation. The fascinating origins of some of the most popular ghost tales in history have only added to their enduring appeal. 

1.    The White Lady of the Tower of London: Anne Boleyn or False Thief?

The White Lady is a well-known ghost at the Tower of London, and she is believed to haunt the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. According to ancient legend, the White Lady was once a woman who was wrongly accused of a crime and executed within the Tower. 

There are several tales that claim the origins of the White Lady, including one about a young woman falsely accused of stealing from the Queen's apartments, who was executed despite her innocence. Another story suggests that the White Lady could be the ghost of Anne Boleyn, who was executed in the Tower in 1536 and was known for wearing white. 

The White Lady is often described as a serene and beautiful woman with long hair, wandering in a long gown. Many people claim to have seen her kneeling at the chapel altar, and some have reported feeling a sense of calmness or comfort in her presence.

Despite the lack of historical evidence supporting the existence of the White Lady, her legend is still extremely popular. Even today, visitors and tourists to the Tower of London report sightings of her ghostly figure wandering the halls.

2.    Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Ghostly Lover, Antinous

The Ghost of the Roman Emperor Hadrian is a legendary ghost story that dates back to ancient times. Hadrian ruled as Roman Emperor from 117 to 138 AD, and was known for his love of Greek culture and his building projects, including the construction of Hadrian's Wall in England.

According to legend, Hadrian was haunted by the ghost of his lover, Antinous, after Antinous drowned in the Nile River during a trip to Egypt in 130 AD. Hadrian was so devastated by Antinous' death that he ordered statues of Antinous to be made and placed throughout the Roman Empire.

Marble busts of Hadrian and Antinous, from Rome, Roman Empire. British Museum.  (Carole Raddato/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Marble busts of Hadrian and Antinous, from Rome, Roman Empire. British Museum.  (Carole Raddato/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In his grief, Hadrian reportedly saw Antinous' ghost several times during his travels. He described the ghost as a young man with a melancholy expression. Hadrian reportedly spoke to Antinous’ ghost regularly, begging for forgiveness for not being able to save him.

The legend of Hadrian's ghostly encounters with Antinous has been the subject of many works of art including paintings, sculptures, and literature. The story has frequently been used as a symbol of love and loss, leaving many to wonder if the spirits of those we love ever truly leave us.

Image by Hokusai depicting Okiku in Japanese ghost stories. (Public Domain)

Image by Hokusai depicting Okiku in Japanese ghost stories. (Public Domain)

3.    Counting Plates in the Afterlife: The Legend of Okiku's Ghost

The Ghost of Okiku is a well-known ghost story from Japan from the Edo period (1603-1868). The story is set in Himeji Castle, a famous Japanese castle located in the Hyogo prefecture.

According to the legend, Okiku was a servant girl who worked in the castle and was responsible for taking care of ten valuable plates. One day, one of the plates went missing, which resulted in Okiku being accused of theft. Despite her protests of innocence, she was tortured and killed for this crime.

After her death, her ghost was said to haunt the castle, counting the plates over and over again until she reached nine. Upon counting the ninth plate, she would wail in despair before starting to count again.

The story of Okiku's ghost has been retold in many forms, including in kabuki theater, novels, and movies. The story has become a popular legend in Japan, and it is often used as a cautionary tale about the consequences of false accusations and the importance of treating people fairly.

4.    The Curse of the Flying Dutchman and Its Endless Voyage

The Ghost of the Flying Dutchman has been haunting sailors for centuries. This legendary cursed ghost ship is said to be doomed to sail the seas forever without ever reaching port. The story dates back to the 17th century and has been retold in many forms over the years, with each retelling adding to its haunting allure.

According to maritime folklore, the Dutch captain of the Flying Dutchman was cursed for his arrogance and blasphemy. Now, the ghost ship appears as a spectral apparition to other sailors, accompanied by eerie lights and strange sounds. The crew of the Flying Dutchman is said to be made up of ghosts and other supernatural beings, condemned to sail the seas until the end of time.

The legend of the Flying Dutchman has been the inspiration for many works of art, including literature, music, and film. While there is no historical evidence to support the existence of the Flying Dutchman, the legend has endured for centuries and has become an important part of maritime folklore. It's a haunting reminder that the sea is a place of great mystery and wonder, yet is capable of spawning great horror.

In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship functions as a sign of doom. The legend tells that the Flying Dutchman and its crew were cursed and would never see land again. (Public Domain)

In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship functions as a sign of doom. The legend tells that the Flying Dutchman and its crew were cursed and would never see land again. (Public Domain)

Eerie Appeal from Beyond the Grave

While there may be little evidence to support the true existence of these ghosts, their legends have become an important part of ancient folklore and have been retold in various forms throughout history. These four ancient ghost stories continue to fascinate people around the world, in addition to the thousands of other legendary ghost tales out there. 

Whether they’re cautionary tales or symbols of love and loss, ancient ghost stories never cease to capture our imaginations and spark our curiosity about both the mysterious and the supernatural.

Top image: Haunting spirits of ancient ghost stories.  Source: Владислав Ройко/Adobe Stock

By Lex Leigh


Brigden, J. (n.d.). 6 famous ghosts from the ancient world. Available at:

Bullock, A. 2019. Simon Cowell's new £15m mansion is 'haunted by the ghost of antinous - the gay lover of hadrian'. Available at:

The University of California, Irvine. (n.d.). The ghost of okiku.  Available at:

Mambra, S. 2022. Ghost ship - the mysterious Flying Dutchman story. Available at:

Morris, E. 2016. The Tower of London Ghosts: Headless Haunts, suffocating sensations and wandering white women. Available at:




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Romulus and Remulus lost their younger brother in the woods..

Charles Bowles

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Lex Leigh is a former educator with several years of writing experience under her belt. She earned her BS in Microbiology with a minor in Psychology. Soon after this, she earned her MS in Education and worked as a secondary... Read More

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