There have been cruel leaders at all times and ages, but the ruthlessness of these leaders surpass all in human history.
One man’s hero is another man’s tyrant, a popular maxim goes. No matter how a historian tries to spin it, ordering a tower to be constructed out of live men stacked and cemented together with bricks and mortar is downright brutal.
1. Attila the Hun
Reign: AD 434-453
After killing his brother, Attila became the leader of the Hunnic Empire, centred in present-day Hungary. He expanded the empire to present-day Germany, Russia, Ukraine and the Balkans. “There, where I have passed, the grass will never grow gain,” he remarked on his reign
2. Genghis Khan
Khan spent time as a slave during his teenage years before he united the Mongol tribes and went on to conquer a huge part of Central Asia and China. His style is characterised as brutal, and historians say he slaughtered civilians en masse.
Timur led military campaigns through a large part of western Asia, including modern Iran, to Syria. In present-day Afghanistan, he ordered the construction of a tower made out of living men, one stacked on top of another and cemented together. He also ordered a massacre to punish a rebellion and had 70,000 heads built up into minarets.
4. Queen Mary I (aka Bloody Mary)
The only child of the King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary I became queen of England in 1553 and soon reinstalled Catholicism (after previous rulers championed Protestantism) as the main religion and married Philip II of Spain — a Catholic. Over the next few years, hundreds of Protestants were burned at the stake, and for that she earned the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’.
5. Vladimir Lenin
In 1917, Lenin led the October Revolution to overturn the provisional government that had overthrown the czar. “During this period of revolution, war and famine, Lenin demonstrated a chilling disregard for the sufferings of his fellow countrymen and mercilessly crushed any opposition,” the BBC reported.
6. Joseph Stalin
Stalin forced quick industrialisation and collectivisation in the 1930s that coincided with mass starvation, the imprisonment of millions of people in labour camps, and the ‘Great Purge’ of the intelligentsia, the government and the armed forces.
7. Adolf Hitler
By the end of 1941, Hitler’s German Third Reich empire (and Axis) included almost every country in Europe plus a large part of North Africa. He devised a plan to create his ideal ‘master race’ by eliminating Jews, Slavs, gypsies, homosexuals and political opponents by forcefully sending them to concentration camps, where they were tortured to death. According to reports, the Nazis killed about 11 million people under Hitler’s regime.
8. Mao Zedong
Under the communist leader, industry and agriculture was put under state control in China. Any opposition was swiftly suppressed. Mao’s supporters point out that he modernised China. Others point out that his policies led to the deaths of 40 million people through starvation, forced labour and executions.
9. Idi Amin
General Amin overthrew an elected government in Uganda via a military coup and declared himself president. He then ruthlessly ruled for eight years, during which an estimated 3,00,000 civilians were massacred. He also drove out Uganda’s Asian population (mostly Indian and Pakistani citizens), and spent large amounts on the military, both of which led to the country’s economic decline.
10. Augusto Pinochet
Pinochet overthrew Chile’s government in 1973 with the help of a US-backed coup. Reports say numerous people ‘disappeared’ under the regime and 35,000 were tortured. Pinochet died before he could stand trial on accusations of human-rights abuses. Note: All people on the list ruled prior to 1980. No living figures were included on the list.
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