History has seen the rise and fall of some infamous and notorious rulers. They brought about inexplicable horror upon the common people in their thirst for power and recognition. They ruled with an unopposed authority and silenced all possible threats in the most ruthless manner. In modern day, the idea of an insane ruler with absolute power and control over his/her people may sound both unnerving and fascinating at the same time. However, back in the ancient times, almost every major civilization routinely saw the ascension of notorious kings and queens to the throne. These were the people whose infamous names went down in history. Here is a list of top 10 notorious rulers of history.
10. Commodus (Roman Emperor)
Commodus was a famous or rather infamous Roman emperor who was absolutely despised by his people for his outrageous antics throughout his rule. He proclaimed to be the re-incarnation of the mighty Hercules himself, and would openly participate in gladiator battles. Back in those times, gladiators did enjoy a huge fame among common people, but the upper class Romans considered it a mere spectacle, in which lower class slaves participated. When Commodus started to openly involved in gladiator fights, it miffed off quite a many people. Upon that, his fights were never fair, he would fight injured gladiators or maimed animals in the name of showing off his skills.
When he became the Emperor of Rome, he had some pretty big shoes to fill – his father, Marcus Aurelius had been much revered by the Romans. Even if he had failed to live up to such high standards set up by his father, history would have gladly forgiven him. But as it happens, he failed at becoming a leading emperor in every possible way. He also turned out be a ruler who had no respect and vanity for his own people. His laughable display of manliness only garnered absolute disgust among Roman senate and general public. And today we remember him for his colossal ego and ineffable cruelty.
9. Attila The Hun (Roman Emperor)
The Huns were a resounding force with fierce warriors that gave the Roman Empire a good deal of headache from around 1st century AD. Once they showed up in the waning centuries of Roman civilization, they routinely struck terror in the hearts of common Roman people. Attila the Hun single handedly wrecked more havoc than all his predecessor huns combined. He became the leader of the Huns in 434 AD, and then in the next ten years, he led multiple invasions and succeeded in capturing territories that encompassed modern day Hungary, Spain, Greece and Italy.
Attila was a skilled horseman, and a tactical military leader. His authority remained unchallenged throughout his rule and in time, he turned the Huns into a lethal group of fighters. He would often ravage through enemy colonies, burn down, captured towns and kill every single civilian occupant. In Italy, he wreaked such destruction that the entire city of Aquileia was brought to its knees. He had trained his men to be absolutely ruthless to their enemies. So much so that they completely decimated the city into pieces. When they were done, one could not even tell where Aquileia stood before.
8. Nero (Roman Emperor)
If you are well acquainted with ancient Roman history, you know there is going to be a strong presence of Roman emperors in this list. Nero was one of the most infamous of Rome’s emperors. History remembers him today as a madman with absolute power – a ruler who indulged in frequent debaucheries and had an extreme hatred for Christians.
Apart from being a thorn in the life of common people of contemporary Rome, he is also known to have murdered his own mother Agrippina and his wives Octavia and Poppaea Sabina. And then there is the story of how he set the Great fire in Rome so that he could build a new city-center with a brand new palace for himself. When the monstrous blitz eventually died out after engulfing much of Rome, the first thing he did was build himself a brand new palace.
7. Fu Sheng (Ancient China)
Fu Sheng was an infamous emperor of the Qin Dynasty who ruled only for two years during the period of Dong Jin Dynasty (317 – 420 AD). But, two years worth of lunacy and unprecedented pride were enough to put him to his death at the hands of his own family members. He was blind in one eye and legends say that he lost that eye when an eagle viciously poked him while he was trying to steal its eggs. When he came into rule, uttering words like “without”, “devoid” or “lacking” became a taboo and saying them was punishable by death.
His true notoriety came into light when he started executing important government officials just because he felt like it. Along with his bloodthirsty nature, he also possessed quite noticeable physical strength and brute force which made him a formidable adversary in battle. A heavy drinker, he was known to be perpetually drunk and would take important state decisions while under the influence of alcohol.
6. Emperor Yang of Sui (Ancient China)
Yang of Sui was the second emperor in Sui Dynasty who reigned in mainland China. Even his ascension to the throne is mired by controversy as many historians say he murdered his own father to become the new Emperor. Once he landed on the throne, he directed many of the dynasty’s coffers into completing significantly large and unnecessary architectural projects. Being one of the most self-indulgent tyrants in history, he showed total disregard for the condition of poor peasants and the common people.
He imposed such excessive taxes on general public so he could fund his operation projects such as reconstruction of the Great Wall of China, construction of Grand Canal and the refurnishing of entire eastern capital of Luoyang. Such behemoth construction required an unprecedented amount of manpower – Yang forced around 8 million people into labor to complete all this projects. Consequently, a number of uprisings rose against the rampant carelessness of Yang’s government and at the end he hung himself to his death.
5. Vlad The Impaler (Rome)
We have heard much about the cinematic Dracula, but only a few know that his character was inspired by a real life person. Vlad The Impaler, as the name suggests, was known to kill his enemies by impaling their bodies with blunt stakes. He spent much of his life in avenging the murder of his father and older brother – a mission he executed with no mercy. He never gave his enemies a quick death. They would die slowly in excruciating pain inflicted upon by stakes that would pierce through their abdomens and chests. And here is the catch, no matter what felony you committed – you may have killed someone, or just stole some bread, death by impalement was the only punishment.
The tales of his notoriety don’t end there. At one time, there was rampant sickness among the locals living in the city of Tirgoviste (then capital of Vlad’s empire Wallachia). Vlad the Impaler decided to address the situation and clean up the diseased streets. He invited all the sick and poor to one of his castles for a great feast. Once everyone was done, the Impaler quietly excused himself off the premise, locked the entire place from the outside and then burned it to smithereens while everyone was still inside. Unlike Bram Stocker’s Dracula, he did not suck the blood out of his victim’s neck. Eating bread crumbs dipped in his victim’s blood was more of his style.
4. Ivan IV The Terrible
A number of Russian Tsars could have made into this list, but the first Tsar of them all – Ivan the Fourth gets a position on the top five for his sheer notoriety. Yes, he played a pivotal role in creating a central, more stable Russia, but he is known for frequent violent outbursts that led to dire consequences on multiple occasions. Things started going south when his first wife died in 1560 – he went into depression and his paranoia rose maddeningly high. He was convinced that the boyars had conspired the murder of his beloved wife.
For the next 24 years, he ruled with absolute power, brought about brutal ends to his enemies and terrorized the living daylights out of the general public on a regular basis. At one time, he got miffed at the apparent insolence of his eldest son. In his fitting rage, he killed him on the spot by hitting him on the head with a 30 pound iron bar. Things did not end well for his other sons too – the middle one was mentally compromised and the third son died mysteriously at a very young age. During his reign, the cold corner of Russia did grow into a powerful empire, but Ivan’s only legacy remains the moniker he earned from his dastardly acts.
Herod is generally portrayed as an insane megalomaniac in the bible – a heartless paranoid who wanted to kill Jesus and the innocent commoners. Herod did commit some notorious atrocities, but this depiction is unfairly biased against him, particularly given the fact that he was a devoted pagan. He saw himself as a saviour of pagan patrons – a protector of Jews in Palestine and outside during his reign from 37 BC – 4 BC. That being said, as he grew older, the darker side to his personality became more apparent.
The growing deception and mistrust in his own family only added to his mental instability. His sister Salome in particular made good use of his condition, poisoning his mind against his own family. He ended up killing his own beloved wife Mariamne, her two sons along with other members of her family. Things only got worst in his dying years when he became completely unhinged and ordered the mass murder of infants of Bethlehem. Among all this disarray, he unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide and finally died in 4 BC due to a prolonged illness.
Just when you thought Nero was as worse as it could get, Caligula went beyond the known realms of notoriety by bringing unparalleled carnage in only four years of rule. It is an irony that when he became Emperor in 37 AD, the Romans sighed with relief since it was the end of Tiberius’ reign. His first 6 months in the rule could not have been any better – he brought about popular reforms and freed civilians who were unjustly imprisoned by Tiberius. Right around the 6 month mark, he became severely ill and when he recovered in October of 37 AD, he wasn’t the same person.
One by one, his weird antics started to show up. First, he ditched regular togas and began wearing feminine dresses like silken gowns. In his absolute madness, he declared himself a living god and had a bridge built between his palace and the temple of Jupiter, so that he could make regular consultations with the deity. He even tried to appoint his horse ‘Incitatus’ as a consul to the senate. Whoever voiced their objections against this lunacy had to face dire consequences. He was clinical in finishing off his rivals and even forced the parents witness executions of their children. By now, Rome could no longer stand his never-ending pestering. On January 24, 41 AD, he was assassinated by a group of guardsman who stabbed him to his death.
1. Genghis Khan
Born by the name of Temujin, Genghis Khan was a warrior and ruler of Mongolian origin who went on to create the largest empire in the world – the Mongol empire. From 1206 to 1227, for 21 years, his troops marauded through Northeast Asia destroying tribes that came in their way – conquering nearly 12 millions square miles of land. Genghis Khan was ruthless in his expansion stint. He craved a path of blood-fest that ran through Asia and Europe, leaving behind a trail of millions of dead people. As gory this unprecedented expansion was, he did successfully modernize the Mongolian culture that now enveloped a far bigger bound of land. He was also known to be quite tolerant about other religions and gave full religious freedom to everyone in his empire as long as they paid him taxes.
He was generous to all his allies and a frightening manifestation of destiny for his enemies. If anyone betrayed him or were disloyal to him, he would not only kill them, but completely destroy the tiniest of traces that could be linked back to them. One cannot quite comprehend the exact number of killing Genghis scored during his extended conquests in Asia and Europe, but historians put the count somewhere between 38 to 40 million people. In fact, evidences show that during the period of his conquest in mainland China, the native Chinese population declined by millions. Modern historians also claim that he may have devastated around three-fourth of the contemporary Iran’s population during the Mongol’s war with Khwarezmid Empire. In fact, the Mongol expansion spree might actually have plummeted the entire world’s population by about 11 percent.
Since the inception and implementation of the concept of society, human history has witnessed both the good and bad aspect of human nature. There have been quite a good number of rather infamous people who displayed a particular penchant for being the physical manifestation of evil. Today, we remember them not for the good they did (some of these in fact brought about positive changes), but for the despicable deeds they carried out to remain in power. They never hesitated in torturing and killing common people as long as it brought about some fruitful consequence to their personal cause.