Throughout history, power has brought about some of the best and some of the most evil leaders known. While some leaders wanted to improve the quality of life of those they led, other leaders only sought their own interests. Their selfish quest led to gross abuse of power resulting in the murder and destruction of countless lives. Today, we’re going to show you the 25 most evil leaders in history.
Herod the Great
Herod the Great – the same Herod the Great of the Bible that slaughtered male children to try and kill Jesus in the process – was definitely an evil ruler. The ancient historian Josephus recorded a good many of his wicked deeds, including killing three of his sons, killing his favorite wife of his ten wives, drowning a high priest, killing his mother-in-law, a few uncles, and was said to plot to kill a stadium of Jewish leaders.
When the Roman Emperor Nero came to power after his adopted father died, he gradually went on a murderous rampage. First, he killed his mother Agrippina the Younger, and then he killed his first and second wives. Finally, he plotted to burn his whole city down, called the Great Fire of Rome, so he could rebuild it. Then, after it all died down, he blamed the fire on the Christians and had them persecuted, tortured, and killed. He eventually killed himself.
Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with an iron fist and had conquest on his mind at all times with visions of ruling over a unified Arab Empire. He wantonly invaded Iran and Kuwait, which devastated his army and economy. On his orders, friends, enemies, and relatives were murdered. He had his rivals and their children tortured and raped. In 1982, he slaughtered 182 Shiite civilians. In the end, he was captured, tried, and hung for his crimes.
Pope Alexander VI
The Papacy has a long history of some very evil Popes, but out of all of them, Pope Alexander VI is arguably the most evil. He was not by any means a Christian, catholic or otherwise but purely a secular Pope who used the power to advance his greed. In one particular stunt, Pope Alexander VI would marry off his beautiful daughter Lucrezia with a large dowry, and then afterward annul the marriage because he’s Pope and can do that. Then, he’d marry her off again to the next sap who fell for it. He had tons of extravagant parties which usually turned into orgies and would confiscate “illegal” money from the wealthy to finance his lifestyle. Eventually, he was assassinated by poison.
As a tyrannical despot of Libya, he did all the things they usually do. He squashed political opposition by making it illegal. He banned private enterprise, freedom of speech, and any unsound books were burned. Despite Libya’s great economic potential, few of his people actually experienced economic prosperity as he squandered most of it on funding terrorist groups. His rule is considered one of the most brutal and totalitarian eras in North African history.
Before Fidel Castro, Cuba had a thriving economy but once he overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he destroyed all of it under his oppressive Communist rule. In two years, 582 political opponents were executed by firing squad. In his fifty year rule, estimates of his executions went into the thousands. Newspapers were closed. Priests, homosexuals, and others were forced into labor camps for re-education. All basic civil rights like freedom of speech were denied.
The name Caligula is essentially synonymous with brutality, insanity, and evil. A narcissist, Caligula declared himself a god, would kill on a whim, slept with his sisters and many of other men’s wives and bragged about it. He spent money on lavish things while his people starved. Yet, out of all the evil things he did, watching people being sawed in half while he ate his dinner is probably the highest up there.
King John of England is easily considered one of the evilest Kings in British history. He tried to steal the throne from his brother by plotting with the King of France. When his enemies got in his way, he’d throw them in a castle and starve them to death. In order to build a massive army and fleet, he heavily taxed England, took away lands from Nobles, and imprisoned and tortured Jews until they would pay him what he requested. He died of dysentery on October 1216.
Empress Wu Zetian
Empress Wu Zeitan is one of the few female leaders in ancient history and history at large. Her story is remarkable, however, becoming a concubine to rise through the power structure of China, eventually becoming the Empress. However, she made a lot of enemies in the process and likely that was because she was said to engage in vile sex acts, murdered her husband, killed off a lot of her family members, smothered her newborn baby girl and blamed it on a her old rival and then ordered she be mutilated and drowned. It’s difficult to know the accuracy of these claims due to a potential smear campaign.
The architect of the French Revolution and main leader of the “Reign of Terror,” Maximilien Robespierre constantly spoke out about overthrowing the king and rising up against the aristocracy. After becoming elected to the Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre unleashed the Reign of Terror by arresting 300,000 suspected enemies and executing 17,000 of them by guillotine. With his enemies gone, he continued to call for more executions until officials around him grew suspicious and arrested him. He, in turn, was executed by guillotine.
General Idi Amin overthrew the elected official Milton Obote and declared himself president of Uganda in 1971. He launched a ruthless regime for over eight years, expelling 70,000 Asians, massacring 300,000 civilians, and bringing out the economic collapse of the country. He was overthrown in 1979, but he never answered for his crimes, living out the rest of his days in Saudi Arabia.
Born in 1336, Timur rose up to be a tyrant and murderous conqueror of Asia and the Middle East. As Timur conquered parts of Russia and even occupied Moscow, uprisings occurred in Persia while he was away. His response? He destroyed their cities, massacred their populations, and built towers from their skulls. Whether in India or Bagdhad, everywhere he went resulted in a trail of carnage, destruction, and thousands of people slaughtered.
Genghis Khan, who not surprisingly was Timur’s hero, was a ruthless Mongolian warlord highly successful in his conquests. He ruled over one of the largest empires in history. Of course, that all came at a high cost. He was responsible for the deaths of 40 million people. His attacks may have reduced the world population by 11 percent.
Vlad the Impaler
Vlad the Impaler is also known by another name: Count Dracula. You don’t get a name like that without earning it. He was notorious for impaling his enemies with large stakes on the battlefield. But his armies poisoned wells, burned crops, and had diseased men pass on their pestilence unto the enemy. It was outside the city of Targoviste that he earned his name Vlad the Impaler. He ordered 20,000 Ottoman men to be impaled and left to be picked away by the crows.
Ivan the Terrible
Grandson of Ivan the Great, Ivan the Terrible brought about a unified Russia but in the process lived up to his name and instituted a reign of terror in the region. He’s said to have a terrible childhood and enjoyed torturing animals. When he became Tsar, he started off pretty well, constructing reforms. But when his wife died, he fell into a deep depression and his reign of terror began. He seized lands, created a police force to destroy dissent, and displaced many of the nobles he blamed for his wife’s death. He beat his pregnant daughter-in-law, killed his son in a fit of rage, and blinded the architect of St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun was a greatly feared barbarian during the later years of the Roman Empire, bringing terror, destruction, rape, and pillaging to millions. After killing his own brother Bleda to become the sole ruler of his empire, he invaded most of the Roman Empire. The destruction of the city Naissus was so horrible, the corpses of the city clogged the Danube River for years. He impaled deserters through the rectum and ate two of his own sons. Because he was so feared, many Romans paid bribes to keep him away.
Kim Jong Il
Kim Jong Il is considered one of the most successful despots since Joseph Stalin. Coming into power in 1994, Kim inherited an impoverished North Korea with a full-scale famine starving his people. Instead of helping them, he put the country’s money toward building the world’s fifth largest military and in the process, letting a million of his people starve to death. He tricked the United States into giving him nuclear technology so he could build nuclear weapons and terrorized South Korea with threats, a bombing run in Myanmar, killing South Korean officials, and sinking one of their submarines.
Vladimir Lenin was the first leader and revolutionary of Soviet Russia, overthrowing the monarchy and turning Russia into a totalitarian state. However, the Red Terror is his true claim to infamy. This was a massive campaign by him under the Bolshevik government to imprison and execute the former ruling classes. However, it also repressed peasants, industrial workers, priests and anyone who opposed the Bolshevik government. Within the first few months, 15,000 people died, priests and nuns were crucified, and it would become common practice for the police to kidnap a husband so his wife would come and purchase him back with her body.
King Leopold II
Leopold II was the King of Belgium. But, he also had another name: The Butcher of Congo. The Congo was ripe with rubber and he wanted to exploit it. So he reigned down terror on the colony with his armies. Though he never set foot in the Congo, he had 10 million Congolese people massacred. He frequently ordered his military to cut off the hands of rebellious workers as proof. Eventually, word got out of his atrocities and he was forced to sell it from outside pressure. But his reign devastated the country for decades.
Leading the Khmer Rouge Communist government in Cambodia, Pol Pot rounded up academics, scientists, teachers, city residents, religious leaders and pretty much anyone educated and put them into concentration camps where they were mass executed. An estimated two million people died of starvation, execution, or disease during 1975 to 1979.
Communists revolutionary Mao Zedong lead the takeover of China to communist rule. Under his leadership, he instituted massive land reform, stealing large plots of land away from landowners through violence and terror. Anytime criticism came his way, he would quickly squash dissent. But it was his “Great Leap Forward” campaign which led to an intense famine from 1959 to 1961, resulting in the deaths of 40 million people.
Osama Bin Laden
As one of the most notorious terrorists in history, Osama Bin Laden formed al Qaeda and carried out several terrorist attacks against the United States. In 1998, he ordered the bombing of a U.S. embassy in Kenya, killing 300 people. And, of course, he ordered the attacks on September 11th which killed 3,000 innocent civilians. Many of his orders also involved having his own men kill themselves as suicide bombers.
Emperor Hirohito was the leader of Japan during some of the worst war crime atrocities in human history. From the Nanking Massacre where thousands were raped and murdered to Unit 731 where they did horrendous biological experiments on people resulting in 300,000 people dying, the Emperor had the power to stop it and did nothing.
During Stalin’s reign of the U.S.S.R., he took control of large plots of land. Millions of farmers refused to give up their land, so he had them killed. This also led to famine across Russia, resulting in more millions killed. Under his totalitarian rule, he expanded the secret police, encouraged citizens to spy on each other, and had millions killed or sent to the Gulag. Twenty million people died under his brutal and tyrannical rule.
Hands down, Adolf Hitler was one of the most notorious, evil, and destructive leaders in human history. With his angry hate-filled speeches, his ordering of Kristallnacht, his wanton invasion of European and African nations, and his ordering of millions of Jews being tortured, raped, and executed in concentration camps, plus countless other atrocities known and unknown, Hitler personifies hate and evil like few have before or since. In total, historians credit him with the deaths of 11 million people.
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Editing: © Ralf Roletschek Ralf Roletschek
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