Notorious Rulers

An Overview Of The Most Notorious Rulers of the Ancient World

History highlights some iconic and notorious rulers to us. These rulers caused unimaginable horror in their quest for power and recognition. They governed with absolute power and ruthlessly suppressed all potential threats. The prospect of a crazy monarch wielding unlimited power and authority over their people may be terrifying and fascinating. However, practically every major civilization witnessed the accession to the throne of notorious kings and queens in ancient times, whose names would go down in history.

The following is a list of the top infamous and notorious rulers in history:


Credit: Wikipedia

Commodus was an infamous notorious rulers and a Roman emperor who his people detested during his reign for his outrageous behaviour. For example, he declared himself to be the reincarnation of Hercules and declared that he would fight gladiators publicly. Gladiators were famous among the common people at the time, but upper-class Romans saw their battles as a simple spectacle in which lower-class enslaved people took part. Therefore, many people were outraged when Commodus began openly participating in gladiator bouts. Furthermore, his bouts were never fair, and he would fight injured gladiators or maimed animals to demonstrate his abilities.

He became the Emperor of Rome. The Romans held Commodus’ father, Marcus Aurelius, in high regard, and history would happily forgive him for not being a good heir to his father. In every manner, though, he failed to become a great emperor. He also showed himself to be an arrogant monarch who had little regard for his people. His ludicrous displays of manliness infuriated the Roman Senate and the ordinary populace. He is remembered today for his enormous ego and horrible violence.

The Hun Attila

Hun Antilia Notorious Rulers
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From roughly the first century AD, the Huns were a powerful army with fierce soldiers that caused significant difficulties for the Roman Empire. When they first appeared in the fading centuries of the Roman Empire, they terrorized the common people. Attila the Hun inflicted more destruction on his own than all of his predecessors combined. In 434 AD, he became the Huns’ leader, and over the next ten years, he led multiple invasions and conquered lands that included modern-day Hungary, Spain, Greece, and Italy.

Attila was one of the notorious rulers and a talented horseman as well as a military tactician. Throughout his reign, his authority was unquestioned, and he transformed the Huns into a deadly combat force. He would frequently go on rampages across enemy colonies, burning down or conquering towns and slaughtering every last citizen. Attila wreaked such havoc in Italy that the city of Aquileia was thrown to its knees. He had taught his warriors to be ruthless against their foes to the point where they utterly destroyed the city. As such, it was utterly impossible to determine where Aquileia had formerly stood when they were finished.


Nero Notorious Rulers
Credit: British Museum Blog

If you’re familiar with ancient Roman history, you’ve probably anticipated that this list would include several Roman emperors. It is because Nero was one of Rome’s most notorious emperors. He is a crazed monarch and one of the notorious rulers with absolute power, a debaucherous ruler who despised Christians.

He is also notorious for murdering his mother Agrippina and his wife, Octavia and Poppaea Sabina, and being a thorn for the common people. Then there’s the tale of how he set fire to Rome to construct a new city centre with a brand-new palace for himself. When the monstrous fire finally died out after devouring much of the city, the first thing he did was construct a new palace for himself.

Fu Sheng

Fu Sheng Notorious Ruler
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Fu Sheng was an infamous and one of the notorious rulers Qin dynasty emperor who reigned for only two years during the Dong Jin dynasty (317-420 AD). But two years of insanity and unparalleled pride were enough to bring him to his death at the hands of his own family. According to mythology, he was blind in one eye, which he lost when an eagle savagely poked it out while attempting to take its eggs. When he took power, he made it illegal to use phrases like “without,” “devoid,” or “lacking,” and he sentenced people to death if they did.

He gained infamy when he began killing major government leaders because he felt like it. Fu Sheng was a strong opponent in battle since he possessed considerable physical strength and raw power in addition to his bloodlust. He was a big drinker noted for being perpetually drunk and making key state decisions when inebriated.

Sui’s Emperor Yang

Sui's Emperor Yang 
Credit: ChinaFetching

Yang of Sui was the Sui dynasty’s second emperor, ruling over mainland China. His ascent to the kingdom is also controversial, as many historians believe he murdered his father to take the throne. After gaining the throne, Yang directed many of the dynasty’s finances into building considerably large and needless architectural projects. He was one of history’s most self-indulgent and notorious rulers, with complete contempt for the plight of the poor peasants and common people.

To support his undertakings, including the restoration of the Great Wall of China, the construction of the Grand Canal, and the refurbishment of the entire eastern capital of Luoyang, he placed enormous levies on the common population. Such massive construction projects necessitated an unprecedented quantity of personnel, and Yang enlisted the help of approximately eight million workers to execute them. As a result, there were numerous uprisings against Yang’s government’s irresponsibility, and he eventually committed suicide by hanging himself.

The Impaler Vlad

The Impaler Vlad 
Credit: TIME

We’ve all heard of the film Dracula, but few people realize that his role was based on a real person. As the name suggests, Vlad the Impaler was infamous for impaling his adversaries’ bodies on blunt spikes. He spent much of his life seeking vengeance for the murders of his father and older brother, a quest he carried out mercilessly. He never let his foes die quickly. Instead, they would die slowly, with stakes piercing their abdomens and chests, inflicting great suffering. And here’s the catch: death by impalement was the only punishment, regardless of whether you committed murder or stole some bread.

The stories about his celebrity don’t stop there. There was a period when the people of Tirgoviste (then the capital of Vlad’s dominion, Wallachia) were plagued by illness. Vlad the Impaler decided to deal with the problem and clean up the slick streets. He invited all the ill and impoverished to a large feast at one of his castles. Vlad, one of the notorious rulers, calmly excused himself once everyone had finished, locked the entire place from the outside, and then torched it down while everyone was still inside. He did not suck the blood from his victims’ necks like Bram Stocker’s Dracula. He preferred to eat breadcrumbs dipped in their blood.

The Terrible Ivan IV

The Terrible Ivan IV
Credit: Sky History

Several Russian tsars may have made a list, but Ivan the Fourth, the first of them all, receives a spot in the top five due to his fame. Yes, he was instrumental in establishing a more central and stable Russia, but he is also infamous for his frequent violent outbursts, which have resulted in numerous deaths. When his first wife died in 1560, everything began to fall apart. He became depressed, and his paranoia worsened. He was sure that the aristocratic boyars had murdered his loving wife.

One of the notorious rulers, he ruled with absolute control for the following 24 years, putting his adversaries to death in gruesome ways and regularly terrorizing the general populace. His eldest son’s seeming insolence irritated him at one point. So he killed him instantly in a fit of rage by striking him in the skull with a 30-pound iron bar. His other boys’ lives did not end well, either. The third kid died inexplicably at an early age, and the middle one was mentally challenged. This chilly region of Russia did expand into a formidable empire during Ivan’s reign, but his only legacy is the moniker he got from his heinous crimes.


Herod Notorious Ruler

Herod is depicted as one of the notorious rulers and crazed megalomaniac with severe paranoia. He always intended to kill Jesus and other innocent people in the Bible. Herod did perpetrate several well-known atrocities, but this portrayal is unjustly biased towards him, especially given his pagan faith. During the 37 BC- 4 BC reign, he regarded himself as a saviour of pagan clients and a guardian of Jews in Palestine and abroad. As he grew older, though, the evil aspect of his nature became more visible.

His mental instability was exacerbated by his family’s escalating dishonesty and mistrust. Salome, in particular, took advantage of his predicament, poisoning his mind against his own family. He killed Mariamne, his loving wife, her two boys and other family members. Things got even worse in his later years after getting insane and ordering the wholesale murder of babies in Bethlehem. Among his many disorders, he attempted suicide unsuccessfully and died in 4 BC after a long illness.


Credit: Britannica

Caligula as one of the notorious rulers, went beyond the known bounds of notoriety by causing unprecedented bloodshed in barely four years of rule, just when you thought Nero was as horrible as it could go. The Romans exhaled with relief when he became emperor in 37 AD, for Tiberius’ reign had ended. The first six months of his presidency could not have gone any better. He instituted popular reforms and released individuals who Tiberius had wrongfully imprisoned. Unfortunately, he became very ill around the six-month mark, and when he recovered in October of 37 AD, he wasn’t the same person.

His bizarre behaviour became increasingly bizarre. He began by donning feminine clothing such as silken robes instead of traditional togas. In his insanity, he declared himself a living god and had a bridge built between his palace and Jupiter’s temple so that he might consult the god daily. He even attempted to appoint his horse Incitatus to the Senate as a consul. Those who spoke out against this nonsense were punished severely. He was ruthless in dispatching his opponents, even forcing parents to watch their children be executed. Finally, Rome’s patience had run out. On the 24th of January, 41 AD, he was stabbed to death by a squad of guardsmen.

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan
Credit: Discovery Place Science

Genghis Khan, also known as Temujin, was a Mongolian warrior and king and one of the notorious rulers who established the Mongol Empire, the world’s greatest empire. His forces marauded through northeast Asia for 21 years. They annihilated any tribes that stood in his way and conquered over 12 million square miles of land. In his expansion, Genghis Khan was brutal. He unleashed a massacre that spanned Asia and Europe, killing millions. Yet, despite how gruesome this unprecedented growth was, he was able to modernize Mongolian culture. He was popular for tolerating various religions, allowing everyone in his empire full religious freedom as long as they paid him taxes.

He was generous to every one of his friends but intimidating to his foes. If someone betrayed him or were unfaithful, he would kill them and anyone associated with them as well. The precise number of individuals slain by Genghis Khan throughout his extensive conquests in Asia and Europe is unknown, although historians estimate it to be between 38 and 40 million.

In reality, data reveals that the native Chinese population in mainland China decreased by millions throughout his invasion. During the conflict between the Mongols and the Khwarezmid Empire, historians believe he may have killed three-quarters of the inhabitants of modern-day Iran. The Mongol expansion may have resulted in an 11% reduction in the global population.


Credit: Ancient Origins

Augustus did not want Tiberius to succeed him, and it was only the emperor’s grandsons Gaius and Lucius’ untimely deaths, as well as Augustus’ decision to exile the younger brother, Agrippa Postumus. It put Tiberius in line for the imperial throne.

Tiberius was a capable military commander who respected the Senate’s authority. He did, however, have a bleak and distrustful view. It earned him few friends and led to a violent feud with Agrippina, the widow of nephew Germanicus. Tiberius, one of the notorious rulers of history, was fatally reliant on the ambitious. He was vicious to Aelius Sejanus, who imposed a reign of terror until Tiberius, learning of Sejanus’ plans to seize power, had him arrested and executed.

Tiberius became morbidly suspicious of everyone around him. He retreated to the island of Capri and resurrected the ancient accusation of maiestas (treason). There he used to execute anybody he accused. Suetonius and Tacitus paint a picture of Tiberius as a filthy sexual predator residing on Capri. Tiberius was not the monster that some of his predecessors were. However, he did set the tone for what was to come.


Human history has seen both the bright and ugly sides of human nature since the dawn of civilization. Unfortunately, many well-known personalities have a reputation for being the physical embodiment of evil. At present day, we remember them not for their good but for the heinous acts they committed to maintaining power and being notorious rulers. They had no qualms about torturing and killing innocent individuals if it served their selfish agenda.

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