Throughout the history of mankind there have been some rulers that use fear and terror to gain control of their people. They rule with an iron fist and an unrelenting thirst for power and recognition. Unfortunately for society there was too many for them all to fit on the list, so here’s the worst of the worst.
10. Attila the Hun
Widely known as The Scourge of God, Attila ruled the Hunnic Empire with his brother, Bleda from 434 until he murdered him in 445. After Rome refused to pay him tribute, he attacked a stretch of land along the Danube. The Balkans and Greece were his next targets, with each victory weighing heavily on the Roman treasury. Before he left for Gaul, Western Emperor Valentinian’s sister, Honoria offered herself to Attila and he accepted demanding half of the Western Roman Empire as her dowry, which was refused. After the defeat to King Theodoric in Gaul, he turned his army on Italy in an attempt to reclaim Honoria as his bride. Disease stopped Attila’s advance and with Pope Leo I acting as a middle man, he negotiated a peace treaty with Valentinian. In the midst of preparing an attack on Constantinople, and while celebrating his marriage to Ildico, he suffered a severe nosebleed and choked death. However, legends suggest that he was murdered, possibly by his new bride. While some consider him a great ruler, most people consider him a ruthless barbarian warlord.
9. Ivan the Terrible
Born in 1530, Ivan was taught by his boyars how to be the Grand Prince of Moscow, a title he was given after his father’s death in 1533. In 1547, Ivan crowned himself the first Czar (God’s anointed) of Russia. He set into motion a number of reforms including lessening the boyars’ power, confirming the position of the church and restricting the mobility of peasants with new laws. In 1565 Ivan formed the Oprichnina, a section of Northeast Russia that was ruled solely by him and policed by the Oprichniki. In the latter part of his reign, he was desperate for his realm to reach the sea and launched Russia into the 24-year Livonian War against Swedes, Lithuanians, Poles and Livonian Teutonic Knights. After drought, famine, and an epidemic of the plague that killed between 600-1000 people daily in Moscow alone, Ivan became mentally unstable and his Oprichniks got out of hand and quickly became incredibly violent. In 1581 in a fit of rage he killed his eldest son and heir, Ivan by striking him in the head with his pointed staff. He died in 1584 while playing chess, a later examination of his remains found that he was poisoned with mercury.
8. Benito Mussolini
Known to many as Il Duce (the Leader), Mussolini’s political career began in 1900 when he became a member of the Socialist Party. After serving in WWI, he formed the National Fascist party in 1919and advocated for aggressive nationalism and forcible restoration of order as well as ruthlessly opposing Communists and Socialists. He was elected to Parliament in 1921 and the next year he sent Fascists to march on Rome and Mussolini was granted joint leadership with King Victor Emmanuel III. He transformed Italy into a dictatorship, taking total control of all spheres of political, social, economic and cultural life, and executed his opposition with the help of the secret police and Fascist party militia. Despite his distrust in Hitler, he aligned himself with Germany during WWII. Hitler pressured Mussolini into adopting an Anti -Semitic policy in Italy which along with the previous wars against Ethiopia and Spain, led to widespread unpopularity. He was dismissed by the King in 1943 and was imprisoned until he was rescued by German troops. While trying to escape to Switzerland in 1945, he was captured by Italian partisan troops and shot. His body (and the bodies of other Fascists) was dumped on the ground of the Piazza Loreto in Milan where it was shot, kicked and spat upon before being hung from meat hooks at a gas station and stoned by civilians.
7. Mao Zedong
Commonly referred to as Chairman Moa, he began his career as a soldier during the 1911 Revolution, after which he returned to school. In 1921 he attended the National Congress of the Communist Party of China and in 1923 he was elected as a commissar of the Central Committee. In 1931 he was elected as chairman of the Soviet Republic of China and in 1934 he led the Red Army on the long march which pushed him to the forefront as the most important Communist leader. After the second Sino-Japanese War and a civil war, he continued his leadership of the new People’s Republic of China. In an attempt to revive the Chinese economy, Mao established the Great Leap Forward, a program that favored industry over agriculture. The result was a famine that killed between20 and 30 million people. The failure of the Great Leap Forward led to Mao being replaced as chairman of the central government council in 1959 by Liu Shaogi, however he remained chairman of the Communist part. He reasserted his power in his last years with the Cultural Revolution which purged all capitalist and elitist culture.
6. Idi Amin
Beginning his military career as a private of the British Army in Uganda in 1946, Amin quickly rose through the ranks. After charges of brutality, the British tried to get Prime Minister Obote to prosecute him to no avail, and when Uganda became an independent nation, Amin helped Obote to create army training camps. In 1971 he staged a coup and became President of Uganda. He was a charismatic man that immediately gained popularity with the common people, but this didn’t last. He ordered the execution of 600 troops who were loyal to Obote and purged entire ethnic groups from within his army. With three separate security organizations (the military police, the Public Safety Unit (PSU) and the State Research Center.) He consolidated power by giving them the power to arrest and execute citizens and seize properties at will. During his rule he killed between 100,000 and 500,000 mostly innocent citizens, tortured thousands more and looted Uganda’s treasury. After a war with Tanzania, he was forced into exile first in Libya then in Saudi Arabia where he died of hypertension and kidney failure in 2003.
5. Leopold II of Belgium
Born in 1835 to King Leopold I, he grew up as heir to the Belgian throne. He became a member of the senate in 1855 and instantly began to push for colonization in Africa and Asia. When he became king, and with the help of explorer Henry Morgan Stanley, he organized the International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo and at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, the Congo Free State was established with Leopold as its ruler. He amassed a huge personal fortune by exploiting the Congolese people through forced labor, especially in the rubber industry. Enslavement and mutilation ran rampant with an estimated death toll between two and 30 million. When news broke of his atrocities in 1905, British and American pressure forced Leopold to hand over the Congo to the Belgian government and thus became the Belgian Congo.
4. Joseph Stalin
Born in 1894, he first turned his attention to theological study before converting to Marxism and joining the Social Democratic party. He fought his was to power by pushing out his rivals and former allies, eventually becoming the dictator of the USSR. In 1928 he began his Five Year Plans, aggressive industrial and agricultural programs which left thousands of peasants dead as well as getting rid of his political opposition through purge trial and secret execution. This was a part of the Great Purge that was aimed at members of the Communist party who were accused of sabotage, terrorism and treachery and at this time he was also deporting ethnic minorities. He began WWII allied with Nazi Germany but when Hitler turned on him, he took control of the military and sided with Britain and the United States. After the war, he consolidated his power in the Soviet Union against capitalist threats. He became paranoid in his later years which led him to persecute his closest collaborators. Stalin died in 1953 of a cerebral hemorrhage, and after his death, Nikita Khrushchev and other Soviet leaders accused him of tyranny, terror, falsification of history and self-glorification, in a period called de-Stalinization.
3. Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar
Also known as the Mad Queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona I seized power in 1828 after her husband Radama’s death (and some even say she poisoned him). At the beginning of her reign, she promised to restore customary rites and old beliefs as well as giving control back to priests, judges and slave merchants. Paranoid of European colonization, she persecuted and expelled all foreigners. This led to her violently persecuting native Christians and when it didn’t eradicate Christianity, she had everyone who owned a Bible executed. The executions were less than successful and she retaliated by dangling 15 Christian leaders 150 feet above a rock-filled ravine and when they refused to denounce Christ and pray to her idols, and when they refused, their ropes were cut and they fell to their deaths. Slaves were completely disposable to Ranavalona and more than one million were killed in ritual executions, including ten thousand in a single week during her buffalo hunt. And they weren’t just killed they were tortured, usually by throwing them repeatedly from hilltops, boiling them alive or sewing them up to the neck in a freshly slaughtered buffalo hide and either left to rot or fed to wild dogs. She died peacefully in her sleep in 1861 after a terrifying 33-year rule.
2. Vlad Dracula
Also known as Vlad the Impaler, the Prince of Wallachia was born in 1431 at a time when his lands were under the control of the Ottoman Empire and as his father’s second he was held hostage as a boy with his younger brother Radu. After the deaths of his father and older brother he took the throne at the age of 17. The beginning of his rule was spent ridding Wallachia of those who were threats to his power. His favorite means of execution was impalement in which a stake is inserted into the body and left upright until the stake makes its way through the body, a slow and painful death that could last for days. While accounts vary, the amount of people who suffered by his hand range between 40,000 and 100,000 (most were tortured in some form) and it is said that when an invading Ottoman army found the forest of corpses outside Targoviste they turned and fled. Vlad died in a battle near Bucharest in 1476 and was buried at Snagov Monastery, although archeologists have been unable to find his burial site. A strict defender against Turkish rule, even today Vlad is considered a hero to the people of Romania. In 1897 he was immortalized as a blood sucking vampire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
1. Adolph Hitler
Born in Austria in 1889, in his early years he worked as a painter before becoming a Bavarian soldier in 1914. After World War I, he became a member of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) party and in 1921 he became the chairman. With hyperinflation, political chaos and the possibility of a Communist takeover that happened afer the war, Hitler offered solutions and he took control of a coalition government in 1933 and later was given dictatorial powers. At the beginning of his Third Reich, he murdered political opposition and bullied smaller nations into giving him land. He began World War II when he aligned with the USSR and invaded Poland. His need for the expansionism of Germany drove him to attack or bully Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and eventually his ally, Russia. Driven by his Anti- Semitic views, Hitler sought to create a perfect Aryan race by eliminating Jews. He stripped the Jews of the right to be a part of society and set up concentration camps where they were either brutally used as slave labor, gassed or shot. The Holocaust is one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind and it killed more than six million Jews and millions of Roma (Gypsies), communists, political leaders and intellectuals. Facing defeat, Hitler and his wife Eva Braun committed suicide on April 30, 1945.