Power in the wrong hands can have devastating consequences on opponents and civilians alike and throughout history we have seen copious examples of cruel dictators and mad tyrants causing havoc as they butcher their way through their reign.
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Adolf Hitler is often described as the worst dictator of all time with his regime that propagated the unprecedented horror of the Holocaust as he attempted to wipe out an entire people. But, besides the obvious, there are plenty of other merciless rulers who did some pretty despicable things and we’re going to look at ten of the most ruthless dictators that aren’t Hitler.
1. Tamerlane The Great
During the 14th Century, Tamerlane the Great better known as Timur, led military campaigns across western Asia until he had an empire that spanned from Russia to India and the Mediterranean.
Timur was relentless and showed no mercy; he would skin alive those who refused to accept Islam as their choice of religion. It is rumoured he killed hundreds of thousands and once built a minaret out of 70,000 rotting heads.
Most disturbing and callous was when Timur ordered a tower to be constructed in what is now present-day Afghanistan. This particular tower would not use traditional building materials but instead Timur opted for the construction of the tower to be made out of live men, stacked on top of each other and cemented together with bricks and mortar. Yikes.
If you’ve been lucky enough to see the bonkers movie starring Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren which contains a substantial amount of hardcore porn thanks to being produced by Penthouse, you’ll have had a glimpse as to the bizarre and ruthless nature of Caligula.
Caligula ruled as Roman emperor from 37 to 41 AD, during which the narcissist declared himself a god. He would spend money on lavish parties and possessions whilst his people starved and he was known for his sexual antics. He shagged anything that moved, including his own sisters and countless other men’s wives before bragging about his conquests.
He would kill whenever he fancied it and once enjoyed a meal whilst watching people being sawed in half for entertainment. Caligula is unsurprisingly known as an insane tyrant due to his sadism and sexual perversion.
3. Emperor Hirohito
Perhaps a lesser-known name on this list, emperor Hirohito was leader of Japan between December 1926 and May 1947. During this time, some of the worst war crime atrocities in human history were committed whilst Hirohito watched it all happen.
Of particular note was the Nanjing Massacre, involving mass murder and mass rape committed by Imperial Japanese troops against the residents of Nanjing. Depending on the source, between 50,000 – 300,000 people were murdered and 20,000 – 80,000 women were sexually assaulted or raped.
Hirohito approved the creation of Unit 731, the biological warfare facility that sounds like something straight out of a horror movie and which we wrote about a while back. Experiments were conducted on prisoners ranging from frostbite testing to forced pregnancy and live vivisection. It is estimated some 3,000-12,000 people perished in the facility including children and infants.
4. Genghis Khan
We couldn’t do a list like this and not mention Genghis Khan. Emperor of the Mongol Empire, Khan founded the largest contiguous empire in history and the methods he employed to do so remain some of the most creative to date.
At his death in 1227, Khan had sacked entire cities and ruthlessly executed some 40 million people, often using hostages as human shields. The key to his success is said to be that he bred absolute loyalty in his ranks. At its peak, the Mongol empire stretched from modern day Turkey to Shanghai, and from modern day Romania to Korea. That’s some crazy land mass.
Creatively callous, Khan once poured molten silver into an opposing leader’s ears and eyes. A contender for his most disturbingly innovative method of execution has to be the way nobles met their maker.
Khan believed he could not spill the blood of nobles and so his most popular way of killing these individuals involved them being piled under a large board before he and his warriors would party and rage out on top of the board until the unfortunate souls had all been slowly crushed. Proper savage way to go there.
5. Vlad The Impaler
Born in Sighișoara, Transylvania, Kingdom of Hungary, in 1431, Vlad was the Prince of Wallachia and ruled there three times in 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476. Ironically, Vlad the Impaler is remembered as a hero in Romanian folklore due to the fact he embarked on campaigns against the Ottoman overlords who had made him hostage and assassinated his father.
So far so noble, it is the tactics he used during these campaigns however which made Vlad quickly fall from favour. Known for night raids, massacres and torture, Vlad often disemboweled people as well as skinning and boiling them alive.
His favourite method of torture was impalement, hence his aptly assigned nickname. It is estimated he impaled around 43,000 unlucky people.
The technique for impalement is to insert a pole into the rectum or vagina and the weight of the person will pull them down the pole causing it to travel through them and out the top of their body. If done correctly and the pole goes straight out of the mouth, a victim could remain alive for days before they slowly succumb to their injuries. What an absolutely horrific way to go.
6. Idi Amin
Idi Amin was a Ugandan military officer who overthrew the elected government and declared himself president of Uganda and he remained as such between 1971 and 1979. During this time, Amin pretty much banished Uganda’s Asian population, forcing around 70,000 Indian and Pakistani citizens out of the country.
It is estimated up to 300,000 civilians were slaughtered under his rule and Amin is known as ‘The Butcher of Uganda’ and considered one of the cruelest rulers in history. Heavily military focussed, Amin spent a lot of money on the military which contributed to the country’s economic decline.
Rumoured to be a cannibal, Amin allegedly boasted about decapitated heads of political enemies stored in his freezer and once said human flesh was generally ‘too salty’ for his taste. Just to give an idea as to how nuts this guy was, after the United Kingdom broke off diplomatic relations with his regime in 1977, he declared that he had defeated the British and gave himself the title ‘Conqueror of the British Empire’, lol.
His full title ultimately became: “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”. Just wow, this sounds like something you come up with whilst buzzing off your tits. The VC stands for ‘Victorious Cross’ which he completely made up to sound like the British Victoria Cross. Amin is almost entertaining if it wasn’t for all the murder.
The frustrating thing with Amin is that he was overthrown in 1979 but was never held accountable for his crimes and just chilled out in Saudi Arabia until he kicked it in 2003.
7. Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang united China in 221 BC and was the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. This is the dude who built the mausoleum which contained the famous 8,000-strong terra cotta army that was discovered in 1974. He thought so highly of himself that he ordered the terra cotta soldiers and horses be built to go forth with him to the afterlife. Oh, and anyone involved with building the mausoleum was slain to preserve the secrecy of the tomb.
Huang’s behaviour was erratic and paranoid and he would jump at the chance to order the killing of scholars and the burning of valuable books simply because he disagreed with their ideas. Huang supposedly killed 460 scholars in a year after they failed to make him immortal. Just imagine Boris Johnson trying to make himself immortal.
As well as establishing a peasant class and introducing heavy taxes, thousands of overworked and starving people perished as a result of being forced to build roads and buildings for Huang. Huang built a wall to keep out enemies (the prequel to the modern Great Wall of China) and in doing so, relocated around 120,000 families. Building walls never goes out of style.
8. Ivan The Terrible
During the 15th Century, Ivan IV of Russia, aka Ivan the Terrible, named himself the first tsar of Russia in 1547. After the death of his first wife, Ivan began a ‘reign of terror’ and eliminated top boyar (member of the highest rank) families.
Ivan became increasingly erratic over the years and at one point gave his heir brain damage after bashing him over the head during an argument. He also caused his daughter-in-law to miscarry after beating her.
Perhaps most twisted of all, after invading Novgorod, Ivan had the archbishop dressed in bear skin before setting bloodthirsty dogs on him to be hunted and torn to pieces. Shudders.
9. Pol Pot
Pol Pot was responsible for the communicist movement in Cambodia and reigned from 1975 to 1979. His aim was to create an agrarian utopia and stomp out any remnants of capitalism.
More than two million Cambodians were forced out of their homes in cities and put to work in fields. Intellect was deemed useless for Pol Pot’s new order as he aimed to create a peasant class.
Anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort was put to work in the fields to ‘reeducate’ themselves or they would simply be killed. Others found themselves in ‘special centers’ where they were tortured and murdered.
Amongst these executions, it is estimated around 1.5 million perished due to starvation, disease and overwork in the new peasant class.
In one of the detention centers holding 20,000, only seven people are known to have survived. Another frustrating ending as after the Vietnamese army seized power in 1979, Pot Pot evaded capture and died in 1998 having never answered for his crimes.
10. Empress Wu Zetian
Not all dictators are male and we end this list with empress Wu Zetian who is one of the very few female leaders in ancient history and has been the sole female ruler of China. Wu was once described as hated by ‘gods and men alike’ as she ruthlessly developed her legacy.
Wu ruled China from 690-705 AD and used brutal tactics to expand the Chinese empire during her reign. Wu was pretty ruthless with her opponents and would often exile and execute them, including some of her own family members. Part of this brutality can be attributed to the fact Wu was a female ruler in a male world and was forced to rule like a man to be successful.
It is tricky to know how much of the rumours are true but it is alleged Wu murdered her husband, smothered her newborn baby girl and engaged in vile sex acts as well as once ordering the decapitated heads of two rebellious princes to be presented to her.
It’s safe to say Wu had a fearsome reputation and you would not want to find yourself in her way during her rule.
It’s awful to think how many innocent people have suffered because of heartless, twisted leaders and I will forever question how they actually got/get away with committing such cruel acts.
The scary thing is, this is not all ancient history and right now people are living in oppressed countries and trying to survive in a world ruled by violence and control from their own government. I guess it just goes to show how powerful these people and groups are as they manage to evade intervention.
Speaking of leaders, did you see that ISIS leader who was so overweight he had to be loaded onto a truck once captured?