When we talk about the cruelest rulers in the known history, some of the first few names that come to our minds are Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan, Idi Amin Dada, and Pol Pot. Yes, they are among the cruelest rulers the world has ever seen. But people have seen much worse. Our history is filled with incidents of mass genocides, wars, killings, riots, and other forms of cruelty that we can’t even fathom. Here we take a look at the top 10 cruelest rulers the world has ever seen. No matter how historians try to spin the facts, they can’t deny that these people killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Top 10 cruelest rulers in history
10- Saddam Hussein
He has to be among the cruelest rulers the humanity has ever known. Saddam was the dictator of Iraq between 1979 and 2003. He destroyed the lives of millions of his own people for the sake of his evil deeds. The Marsh Arabs were forced to relocate as Saddam destroyed their villages. He also ordered the killing of hundreds of Shiites and Kurds. According to an estimate, Saddam Hussein was responsible for the genocide of about two million Iraqi citizens. Once he was in the town of Dujail when some militants attacked him. He escaped the attack and later ordered his men to arrest and punish the entire town including kids, elderly, and women. He was executed in 2006.
9- Joseph Stalin
Stalin ruled the Soviet Union between 1922 and 1953. Some describe him as the most ruthless dictator of all times. Anyone who opposed his decisions was brutally murdered. During his 29 years of rule, millions of farmers and workers were killed or forced to starve to death. He had created an “artificial famine” that killed 6-7 million people. Stalin once said, “Death is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem.” According to an estimate by historian Roy Aleksandrovich Medvedev, Stalin killed more than 20 million of his own people. Ironically, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice in 1945 and 1948.
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8- Mao Zedong
The Chinese dictator’s atrocities make even Joseph Stalin look like a child. Zedong ruled China between 1949 and 1976. He implemented a series of policies with the aim to make China a global superpower. He put agriculture and industry under the state control. Any opposing voices were silenced forever. Though he is credited with modernizing China, his policies resulted into the biggest famine and genocide in Chinese history. More than 40 million people died in China through forced labor, execution, and starvation during his rule.
7- Maximilien Robespierre
Some praise his virtues while others despite his cruelty. Maximilien Robespierre led the French Revolution and advocated universal suffrage and voiced against religious and racial discrimination. But soon after gaining power, he imprisoned more than 300,000 and butchered another hundreds of thousands. He suspected and killed even his closest friends and allies. He would guillotine entire families of commoners and aristocrats. Ironically, Robespierre himself was executed via guillotine in 1794.
6- King Leopold II of Belgium
The Belgian king is infamous for having exploited the Congo Free State in order to “protect” its inhabitants from Arab slavers and spread the message of the Christian God. The Congo Free State in Africa was created by Leopold II to extract ivory and rubber. The local population suffered forced labor, beatings, and famine for several decades. His men would kidnap the locals and force them to work in the jungle. King Leopold II had asked his colonizers to provide severed hands of locals as proof that the bullets were not “wasted” on animals or shooting strays. As per various estimates, the colonizers murdered 4-10 million locals under King Leopold II’s regime.
5- Genghis Khan
One of the most horrific and cruelest rulers in the history of the world. According to historians, the Mongol ruler killed 40 million people between 1206 and 1227. That was more than 11% of the world’s population at the time. In his single biggest massacre, more than 700,000 people are said to have been killed. His men would often drink blood from horses. Genghis Khan used creative methods to execute his enemies. Sometimes he would pile his enemies under a large board on which he and his soldiers would party until people beneath were crushed to death. He killed one enemy by pouring molten silver into his eyes and ears. Worse, he used hostages as human shields in wars.
4- Attila The Hun
Attila was the barbaric leader of the Hun tribe between 434 and 453. He is considered one of the cruelest rulers in history. Attila was the man the Roman Empire feared. He sacked cities, murdered tens of thousands, and looted to expand his empire. At one point, Attila had captured the modern day Russia, the Balkans, Ukraine, Germany, parts of Italy, and more. Despite his repeated attempts, he was unable to capture Rome. When the virgin Saint Ursula refused to marry him, he slaughtered her and 11,000 of her companions.
3- Vlad The ImpalerImage Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Vlad The Impaler had a troubled childhood. When he was a kid, he was held hostage by Ottoman Sultan Murad II in 1442. When he was freed, he learned that his father had been murdered. He became the Prince of Wallachia, and launched a massive campaign against the Ottoman overlords. He resorted to mass murder, skinning, burning, decapitating, burying people alive, disembowelment, and other cruel tactics to torture his enemies. But his favorite method of torture of impalement, which is how he got the nickname Vlad The Impaler. He is estimated to have impaled more than 40,000 people.
2- Adolph Hitler
Hitler was the Austrian-born leader of the Nazi Party and the dictator of Germany between 1933 and 1945. Hitler was at the center of the World War II and the Holocaust. By 1942, he had murdered millions of people, captured most of Europe and large parts of North Africa. He had devised a plan to create a “master race” of pure blood by eliminating his political opponents, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and slaves. His madness directly and indirectly caused the death of more than 50 million people. He would forcefully send Jews and homosexuals to concentration camps, where they were tortured to death.
1- Timur aka Tamerlane the GreatImage Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Could anyone be even worse than Adolph Hitler? Turkic conqueror Timur was even more evil than Hitler. He believed that he was the descendant of Genghis Khan, and tried to live up to his ancestor’s success. During his 40 years long rule, Timur expanded his empire from Russia to the Mediterranean region to India. Once he ordered the construction of a giant tower of living men stacked one on top of another and cemented together. Timur is known to have skinned alive thousands of people who refused to accept Islam. In modern day Iraq, he beheaded nearly 100,000 people and built more than 100 minarets out of their rotting skulls. When he attacked India, he would butcher hundreds of thousands of people at a time, even when some states had surrendered to him unconditionally.