A glance at history for the cruelest rulers ever reveals that cruelty isn’t a new trait of humanity — the annals of rulership from a thousand years back and beyond reek of cruel savages. Hopelessly cruel men and women who delight in causing immense pain or suffering to others have probably been around since the start of the human race. They abound on every corner of the world in different shades and magnitude. It becomes a very concerning matter, however, when the notoriously cruel individual is also a mighty ruler. Some of whose power is so great, they could end a thousand lives by a tap of the fingers. And they did.
History has time and again shown that human beings are capable of the most heinous acts in their pursuit of power, wealth, and fame. Some of the cruelest rulers featured on this list have gone above and beyond to prove that absolute power indeed corrupts absolutely. They were vicious killers with no heart. To put it lightly, these bloodthirsty queens and kings gleefully and indiscriminately used the figurative loaded guns on innocent people, whose only offense was being unfortunate to have lived at the same time as them in history. During their reign of wickedness, they unleashed evil of epic proportions on people, and nothing could stop them because they had so much power. Here, we have brought you the top ten of the cruelest rulers the world has ever known.
Idi Amin Dada ‘Butcher of Uganda’
Born between 1923–1928, Idi Amin Dada became known as the “Butcher of Uganda,” and he was a brutal dictator. He launched a military coup and overthrew the elected government of Milton Obote in 1971. Idi Amin who ruled Uganda from 1971–1979 after declaring himself president, was a murderous and erratic ruler who was perhaps the most notorious of all African cruelest rulers. It was a very dark age for Ugandans. In his ruthless eight-year regime, an estimated 300,000 civilians were massacred and countless other innocent citizens were brutally tortured during his presidency. He suppressed all political positions and other ethnic groups. In 1972, he plunged the nation into complete economic chaos when he ordered the expulsion of Ugandans of Asian extraction. He even personally hijacked a French airliner to Entebbe in July 1976. Very corrupt and reckless, Idi Amin looted the nation’s treasury and pushed inflation to about 1,000 percent.
Some even claimed that Amin ripped out human organs, eat them raw and drank their blood. He was a wild beast, and he unleashed great terror on his own people. Eventually, one of his arch enemies, Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere joined forces with exiled Ugandans and forced Amin out of Uganda on April 11, 1979. He fled into exile, first to Lybia and later to Saudi Arabia where he lived until he died of multiple organs failures in 2003. He never faced justice for his gross abuse of human rights.
Attila the Hun
Considered as one of the history’s greatest villains and one of the cruelest rulers of his days, Attila the Hun was the leader of the Huns (now known as Hungary) from 434 to 453 who killed his brother, Bleda, and seize absolute power for himself. He is remembered in much of Western Europe for the cruelty he epitomized. He was a much-feared adversary who relentlessly attacked the Roman Empires, but was unable to take Rome. He invaded the southern Balkan provinces, Greece, Gaul and devastated the northern regions of Italy. Attila reportedly remarked,
There, where I have passed, the grass will never grow gain.
He collected large payment in gold in exchange for immunity, but he attacked anyway. Although he had several wives, decided to add Ildico to the list in 453. The morning following the elaborate wedding, he was found dead, drowned in his blood. Some believe it was an accidental alcohol poisoning while others suggest a murderous conspiracy, that possibly involved his new bride, Ildico.
King Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold’s is a sad tale of human greed, exploitation, and brutality that seems to be carefully hidden away from the world’s annals of tyranny. During the 1880s when Europe was busy dividing up the continent of Africa for its resources, King Leopold II of Belgium claimed Congo Free State (76 times the size of Belgium) in Africa, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, as his possession with the help of Henry Stanley. In 1887, under the guise of “missionary work” and “westernization of Africa,” Leopold formed a “philanthropic” organization called the International African Association and became its single shareholder to perpetuate his exploitative and genocidal agenda.
Congo Free State was the only colony in the world solely owned by just one man. He turned it into the biggest forced labor camps in history and squeezed a fortune out of its wild rubber for his enrichment. As for the Congolese, he would flog them, rape them, starve them to death and burn down their villages while holding their children to ransom.
Of all the cruelest rulers in history, this genocidal King of Belgium ranks closest to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. For 23 years (1885-1908), he massacred more than 15 million Africans in the Congo and maimed others, reducing the populate into half by the end of his tyrannical reign. Reports of his abuse led to a significant international scandal in the early 20th century and 1908, Leopold was forced to relinquish his ownership of the Congo to Belgian civil administration. Leopold was never physically in the Congo.
Vlad Tepes the Impaler
Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad III, and Vlad Dracula was a 15th century Prince of Wallachia (now comprises the southern half of Romania) born in 1431. He earned the title “Tepes” which is a Romanian translation for “the Impaler” posthumously because of his preferred method of punishing his many enemies. History remembers him a controversial and vicious character who was a cruel ruler best known for killing his enemies by impalement.
Some rulers may have killed more people, but Vlad the Impaler belongs to the list of the cruelest rulers in history because his method of execution was most brutal and inhuman. A German pamphlet had this to say about him:
He roasted children, whom he fed to their mothers. And (he) cut off the breasts of women, and forced their husbands to eat them. After that, he had them all impaled.
He typically commanded cruel punishments like burying people alive, burning, boiling, decapitating, rectal and facial implement, etc. during his reign. Sometimes he ordered the mass execution of thousands of his victims through impalement — many of who lived for several days more, in excruciating agony. Vlad the Impaler was murdered sometime around January 1477 at the age of 45.
Ivan The Terrible
Ivan the Terrible didn’t come about that name for no reason. He was crowned the first tsar of all Russia who acquired vast amounts of land and created a centrally controlled Russian state. It was the largest nation on earth. Although through ruthless means and at an immense cost to its people, he imposed by military dominance during his reign from 1533 to1584.
Ivan had a complex personality and ruled with deep-seated paranoia. Intelligent but extremely cruel given to rage. He was prone to episodic outbreaks of mental instability that grew with his age. He was said to have killed Ivan Ivanovich, his son, and heir to his throne in a fit of rage. His paranoia and cruel treatment of the Russian nobility grew, especially during Oprichnina and he became even more erratic. About a thousand people were brought to him daily, and he would order them executed or tortured while he watched. He was indeed terrible. Like Vlad the Impaler, he was known to impale or burn people alive. Ivan who believed, “We are free to admire our slaves, and we are free to execute them,” died of a stroke on March 18, 1584.
On March 19, 1906, Adolf Eichmann was born into a middle-classes Protestant family in Solingen. But his evil propensities wouldn’t stay hidden for long. At the age of 13, he was named by a local newspaper as a part of the youth gang member who had tormented a Jewish classmate. He grew up to be a loyal member of the Austrian Nazi party where he rose to become the head of the Austrian office for Jewish emigration in 1938. His assignment was to implement the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ which involved eradicating all the Jews from Europe, making him one of the cruelest rulers ever.
Adolf Eichmann had become one of the most feared Nazi leaders and was in charge of the Holocaust. He was responsible for systematic oppression, banishment to infamous concentration camps, and gruesome slaughter of about 6 million Jews in Europe especially by the use of gas chambers. He remarked proudly;
The death of five million Jews on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction.
After the war, Eichmann escaped but was finally captured by the Israeli agents in 1960 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was taken to Israel where he was sentenced to death and hanged at Ramleh Prison on May 31, 1962.
Going by the number of deaths on his account, Genghis Khan (1162 – 1227) is undisputedly the king of all the cruelest rulers to ever walk this earth. His murderous exploits started at the age of 14 when he had murdered his half-brother over a hunting argument. His reign of terror halved the 12th-century population of China killing nearly 40 million people in the cradle of Chinese civilization. That is hitherto the deadliest genocide in human history! He was notoriously famous for murdering anyone that opposes him, stealing their possessions and raping their women. He established the vast Mongol Empire on so much bloodshed.
Feared by all foes, his army would often use captured enemies as body shields during a war. The Mongols destroyed everything in their paths like a swarm of locusts on farmlands. They were the pre-industrial equivalence of atomic war. They ravaged territories and brought down previously flourishing cities and regions, leaving nothing but famine and genocide behind. How he died remains a mystery.
Pol Pot was Cambodian head of state the leader of the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979. In just four years, his radical communist rule of terror displaced millions of innocent people and caused the deaths of nearly 25 percent of Cambodia’s seven million population from starvation, diseases, execution or overwork. Some estimates believe the death toll is higher than the widely accepted 1.5 million. The Khmer Rouge created a downtrodden society by targeting the minority ethnic groups, intellectuals, religious leaders, civil servants, city dwellers and ethnic Vietnamese and forced them into rural farms. They were brutalized into forced labor and made to work on collectivized agricultural projects under the most dehumanizing conditions imaginable.
It was so bad that only seven of about 20,000 people imprisoned in a notorious detention center, S-21, only 7 made it out alive. Their bodies were dumped into mass graves also called “killing fields.” In 1997 a Khmer Rouge splinter group captured Pol Pot. He was placed under house arrest and died of heart failure in 1998. Like Idi Amin, he was never brought to justice for all his atrocities.
Our list of the cruelest rulers in history is never complete without including one other infamous Adolf, Adolf Hitler. He was an Austrian-born German leader of National Socialist German Workers Party, who became the chancellor of Germany in 1933. He had his evil idea of an ideal ‘master race’ and pursued this agenda by establishing Nazism, starting World War II, and the Holocaust. His grand plan involved eliminating Jews — who he believed was the reason for all humanity’s problems, homosexuals, gypsies, Slavs, and political oppositions by banishing them into concentration camps where they have tortured them to death.
By the end of World War II in 1945, Hitler’s genocidal regime of extreme hostility and racial subjugation was responsible for the deaths and destruction of more than 40 million lives, including the mass slaughter of six million Jews in what is now known as the Holocaust. On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide shortly before the defeat of Germany.
Just like Hitler, Stalin was equally cruel. Believed to be the most dangerous dictator in history, he also used more political power than any of the most inhuman rulers at any time in history. In the 1930s Joseph Stalin forced collectivization to achieve quick industrialization of the Soviet Union resulting in the worse man-made mass starvation in history. During the 29 years (1922-1953) of his rule of terror as the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, he was responsible for the deaths of millions of his people. Stalin ordered the “Great Purge,” in which he ordered millions of his potential enemies forced into labor camps of the Gulag or executed during his murderous reign. There were more than 40 million deaths in his account — the death of his people.
Joseph Stalin was a genocidal dictator who walked on both his rivals and associates dead bodies on his way to power. The Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany was won under his rule in 1945, making him one of the most significant figures of the 20th century despite the terror he unleashed. Stalin died of a stroke on March 5, 1953, and his successor initiated the