Top 10 Deadliest Riots and How They Started


5 Romanian Revolution of 1989 – 1,104 dead

Romanian Revolution of 1989

The Romanian Revolution of 1989 proved to be violent from the very beginning, and it only elevated until the fighting ceased, a week after it began. Before the riot, citizens in Romania were unhappy with various things. The first is Nicolae Ceau?escu’s move to entirely wipe out the state’s debt. To do this, he decided to export a large amount of goods from Romania in exchange for international currency. Even if his plan would have worked, most people within the country became increasingly poor and shortages in various items were common. Things such as television, food, clothing, electricity, and plenty of other things were cut short. However, as silly as it sounds, while attempting to lessen the debt, he also held parades and celebrations to celebrate himself and his wife, which only drained more money. People were also very concerned about the country’s secret police, who were seemingly trying to turn the country into a police state. Free speech was taken away, books were censored, radio channels were banned, and no one was to criticize the regime. All of this greatly angered many citizens, and most believed that a revolution was inevitable.

How it started

With a majority of unhappiness spreading throughout the country, it was no surprise that the Romanian government was in serious trouble. The first real protest began on December 16, 1989 when Romanian officials were attempting to get rid of Laszlo Tokes, a dissident. He had spoken out against the government which caused him to lose his job as a pastor, though many citizens stood up for him and found ways to protect him from being evicted from his home. With crowds gathering around Tokes’ home, the police force was called in, and despite the ruling being turned over, the people were furious and did not leave, which meant that the police had to use force to break up the gathering. They were successful in doing so but many regrouped later in the day. The next day a group of rioters broke into the District Committee building and trashed everything, including propaganda and brochures and even attempted to set the building on fire, which failed. As the riot grew worse, the police force was called in, but this proved to be futile, so tanks and armored personnel carriers were called in, as the police was unable to stop the shootings, fires, and fights. Riots continued each day, but the largest occurred on December 21, when nearly 100,000 people came together, many of them shouting anti-government chants and calling for the resignation of Ceau?escu, which did not happen.

How it ended

Rioting continued and the crowds grew larger as Ceau?escu made a visit to Iran. His police force was still unable to control the rioters and because of this, he was forced to give a speech denouncing the riots and explaining how the events were putting the country at risk internally. However, the rioters were hearing none of it and more poured into the streets. To confront them, tanks, soldiers, and troops were all sent in, despite the fact that the rioters were unarmed. Gunfire came from various different buildings, wounding many and killing even more. With the rioting still continuing, Ceau?escu decided that it was time to flee. Thinking that the riots were suppressed somewhat, he opted to leave on the morning of December 22. Ceau?escu along with his wife raced to get into the helicopter that was set to take them to a remote location; however, rioters weren’t far behind him. Though successful at getting off the ground, the pilot, with 6 people in his 4 passenger helicopter, complained of false engine-troubles and landed in a field. Here those in the helicopter attempted to flag down cars to get away, but Ceau?escu was picked up, along with his wife, and arrested. They were put on trial and eventually executed, thus ending the revolution.

4. First Intifada 1987-1993 – 2,326 dead

First Intifada 1987-1993

Though there have been plenty of Intifadas throughout history, this one stands as one of the deadliest. The First Intifada began on December 8, 1987 when an Israeli army tank somehow got into an accident with Palestinians at the Erez Crossing who lived on the Gaza strip at the Jabalia refugee camp which killed four and seriously injured seven others. However, the Palestinians believed that this was no accident, as a few days earlier a Jewish man was stabbed to death in a nearby location. With this and long record of hostility between the Palestinians and Israelis, riots started to erupt in various locations.

How it started

For a pretty long time, the Palestinians and the Israelis have had nothing short of bad history. During the First Intifada, the Palestinians were outraged that Israelis were occupying Palestinian territories, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They say that the Israelis had been deporting and executing Palestinians. Because of this, people began to gather and decided to show their disapproval at the Jabalia refugee camp, which then lead to various other uprisings in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.  Even though by the end of it all 2,326 were dead, the riot did start out very peaceful. The Palestinians practiced resistance, strikes, barricades, tax refusal, and other methods that weren’t harmful to anyone. However, these acts eventually turned very violent and deadly and much more widespread. During the riots, plenty of Palestinian leaders were killed, including Abu Jihad. By the end of it all, 2,326 people were dead, and scores more injured.

How it ended

The riots began to die down in 1991, was the Palestinians weren’t getting anywhere and a clear direction was no longer in site. Palestinian people were being slaughtered each day, and the Palestine Liberation Organization was losing members. However, the Intifada did change numerous things. For one, the decision to combine Palestinian areas with Jordan was no longer considered. Also, many countries, including the U.S. spoke nationally about Israel’s wrong-doings, which isn’t something that many countries do. The rioting also brought about plenty of international discussion as to who should own the Gaza Strip and various other locations.

3. Direct Action Day 1946 – 4,000 dead

Direct Action Day

This riot stands as the deadliest Muslim-Hindu riot in history. Direct Action Day, also known as the Great Calcutta Killing, happened on August 16, 1946, and ended with 4,000 people dead and almost 10,000 people homeless. The riot occurred in a place now known as Kolkata, a city in the province Bengal in British India, which at the time was known as Calcutta. During the 1940s Constituent Assembly of India, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League were at odds when the British government was opting for independence of the Indians. However, this plan did not satisfy everyone, mainly the Muslims who were long seeking an independent and separate Pakistan; however, this plan was shot down without thought. The riot began on the 18th day of Ramadan, and was planned to be peaceful, but turned out to be anything but.

How it started

With plenty of unhappy Muslims because of the decision for Indian independence, Hindus living within Calcutta were attacked on a massive level. Muslims used clubs, knives, guns, and other weapons to kill any Hindu they saw, including young children and women. Some even say that women were beaten, raped, and buried alive. The unhappy rioters would even stone offices and set various businesses on fire. To get revenge, the Hindus then began to attack Muslim mosques as well as the Muslim slums. The fighting not only caused death, but thousands of injuries as well as shortages within the city. Those who survived were often left homeless and had to wander to look for food as well as some place of safety.

How it ended

The rioting seemed to end and die down on the 21st day of Ramadan, and at this time an estimated 4,000 people were dead, though some sources have said the death toll was around 7,000-10,000. The fighting was so bad that even police forces from both sides were unable to control it, let alone stop it completely. Many times, the police forces became those who picked up the dead bodies and put them alongside the road to avoid anymore trauma while the fighting continued. On August 22, the riots finally ended after British troops were sent in to calm the violence. During the riots, many people left their homes, but those who did not leave were subject to the violence. With over 100,000 injured, the riots didn’t end in Calcutta. In fact, Direct Action Day sparked various other riots throughout India.

2. Arab revolt in Palestine 1936–1939 – 5,600 dead

Arab Revolt

During the Arab revolt in Palestine 1936-1939, those who took part in the riots were protesting two main problems: large Jewish immigration to the Palestine area as well as firing back against the British’s colonial rule. The first years of the riots were mainly lead by Arab Higher Committee (AHC). During this time violence wasn’t a huge issue; those who took part would simply go on strike and other types of political protest that caused no real harm or danger to anyone. However, this took a turn in 1937 after the British had calmed the first round of riots. In September 1937 the rioting turned violent and thousands were killed. It is said that during the riots about 10% of the male Palestinian population between the ages 20-60 were killed, imprisoned, exiled, or wounded. But, in the end, these riots would prove to be quite unsuccessful.

How it started

In April 1936, several different Arab leaders banded together to protest Zionist advances in Palestine. These leaders, better known as the AHC, were calling for Arab workers to go on strike and to boycott any type of Jewish products. The group, lead by Haj Amin al-Husseini, represented the aims of the Arabs in Palestine until 1948. In Palestine, Jews were accumulating more land and more were immigrating to the location and the Arabs were not only frustrated at this influx, but also do to the European power that they were under. The AHC was calling for a swift end to these practices and wanted to spring up an Arab nationalist government to rule Palestine. Even though the riots started off peacefully, they quickly escalated once the Arabs realized that the British were able to squash their methods and that no change was going to come about through peaceful protest. By the end of 1937, Arabs, Jews, and even British soldiers were being killed due to violent and gang activities. Many Arabs were imprisoned, some hanged, and some even sent to live elsewhere.

How it ended

During this time, the British were also waging for a possible war with Germany. The country realized that they needed to maintain their Middle Eastern oil supply as they were dependent upon it and because of that have to ensure that the Arabs were in goodwill. However, at the same time, British rule was highly influenced and supported by the Jews as they were fighting against Nazi Germany. But in the end the government sided with the Arabs and relied on appeasement despite the country’s history of supporting Palestine as a Jewish homeland as well as the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Despite Britain’s decisions, Jewish immigration and growth continued. In 1937 the British, working alongside with the AHC, tried to draft a way to mediate the situation. A Peel Commission was created which stated that Palestine should be separated into Jewish and Arab states, but the Arabs were not for any type of partition. In the end with no reasonable conclusion met, the British had to keep the riots down with force and got rid of the AHC. Today, Palestine is still a land full of conflict.

1. Nika Riots – 30,000 dead


While most riots usually last a day or two, the Nika riots in 532A.D. lasted a week, and today the riots are known as the deadliest ever, with thousands left dead throughout the city. Half of the city was burned to ashes and debris and the number of people who died is truly shocking. The riots took place in Constantinople at the Hippodrome and turned very violent after the news of the emperor of the time, Justinian I, not bringing releasing two men who were accused of murder. The name of the riots, “nika” means conquer, which really sets the stage for the riots. Those who participated often shouted the word.

How it started

In the fifth century, chariot races and other type of Olympic-like games were very popular. Just like in today’s world, there were teams that would compete against each other to become the champion. The two teams of the time of the riots were the Blues and the Greens. Justinian was very fond of the Blues and definitely made this known. However, a few days before the riot started, players from each of the teams was accused of murder and sentenced to execution. Many of the team members were hanged but somehow the execution was botched and one member of each team escaped and went into hiding at a church sanctuary. People called upon Justinian to have these men released; instead, he had the church secured by guards. At the games people called for the release of the men, but Justinian did nothing, and the violence started. Rioters banded together and began to set various buildings on fire, including the Hippodrome after the emperor decided to hold even more chariot races the next day.

How it ended

As the city grew more out of control, those who worked with Justinian, his senators, decided this was an opportune time to overthrow him as they did not agree with his new tax laws. Because of this, the senators joined in on the rioting and called for a new emperor as well as for John the Cappadocian and Tribonian step down for supporting Justinian’s tax ideas. However, this did not happen and with the rioting continuing, Justinian had two of his guards go to the Hippodrome and lock the doors to keep the people inside.  The two men then killed everyone who was inside. By the end of it all, 30,000 people were dead and a majority of the city was left in a disastrous state. Justinian did eventually have the city rebuilt after he exiled those who turned against him.

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  1. Harinder Singh on

    No mention of anti-sikh riots in India in 1984 in which more than 10,000 sikhs lost thier lives all over India, more than 3,000 (govt figure) in the capital city of New Delhi alone. The riots were organised by the ruling party of India after the Prime Minister was shot dead by her sikh bodyguards.

  2. Lokesh Arora on

    The deadliest riots should have included the riots which began on partition of India and pakistan. According to Wikipedia ” The partition displaced up to 12.5 million people in the former British Indian Empire, with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million.[1]”

    Please Check and respond.

  3. “palestinians” are parasites who live of israel’s generocity by using its health, education systems, electricity
    food and also work in israel but still want to destroy it in the name os their alah…..what pathetic propaganda they are waving….they are no more then a midiocre criminals that dont know right from wrong.
    If anyone has any doughts, come to Israel and visit.
    Oh and by the way there were never such people as “palestinnians”…those are rioters who were kicked out of jordan for making trouble there…noone wants them.
    So stop saying its their land.

    • You are Really Funny My Friend ,,

      Go back to history, READ & READ & READ , before you say something.
      Palestine is one of the oldest cultures in the World, it had Palestinians living on it thousands years back before you people were given a land on it on Balfour declaration on 1917. (as if Britain owned it at that time).
      Jordan was always Jordan and Palestine was and will always be Palestine.

  4. Yeah, go back to Berlin in 1938 Michael. Sounds like you would fit right in.

    Anyway, total nonsense to say the 1936-39 revolt in Palestine was a riot. It was a guerilla-terrorist uprising which had a few riots involved but it was mainly waged through assassination, train and vehicle mining and bombings. It can’t be considered a riot by any definition.

  5. What about 2002 riots in Gujarat India? ,One of the most brutal riots in human history killing and burning alive 2,000 muslims…..

  6. Rioting is meant to be something different from an uprising or a civil war.

    Funny enough, though, that hunger and hatred have been the cause for most of the riots.

    The involvement of governments in instilling riots is something worth a pondering too.

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