Dictatorship is one of the cruelest forms of government and has ruled many countries in the world throughout history, changing them into bloody battlefields where millions have died and millions more suffered under their rule. These dictators have been known to commit truly atrocious acts against their own people who have tried to stand up to them and put an end to their tyranny. The following are ten of the cruelest dictators in history.
10. Ivan the Terrible
- Number of People Killed: 60,000+
- Death: 28 March 1584
Although not known as a diplomat, he negotiated successfully for Russia. Ivan III was, nonetheless, highly aggressive and only prudent about warfare. The infamous Ivan IV (commonly known as Ivan the Terrible) was the first Grand Prince of Moscow to declare himself Tsar of all Russia and reigned for a period of nearly 37 years before his death. Born to Vasili III, Ivan found himself in a position of power at a young age as he was appointed to the position of grand prince by his third birthday (following the unexpected death of his father).
Leading a council of reformers known as the Chosen Council, Ivan the Terrible managed to take power by the age of 16. Under his rule, Moscow, a medieval city-state, became an empire as Ivan seized control of more and more power and consolidated his grip on the new land.
By the time of his death in 1584, however, Ivan’s mismanagement and cruel nature altered Russia’s governmental structure and led to the downfall of the Rurik Dynasty and the time of troubles which followed his death.
9. Vlad the Impaler
- Number of People Killed: 80,000+
- Death: January 1477
Vlad III, more commonly known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula, was a voivode of Wallachia for three separate periods of time. Eventually the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Vlad III became prince in the 1440s.
Confronted with the fractured state of his kingdom, Vlad became obsessed with pacifying his country, which had been disrupted by brutal violence for many years. To secure peace and stabilize his rule, Vlad resorted to heinous methods of terror and rule by fear, reestablishing order and allowing the common folk to go about their business, relatively unaffected.
Although his methods were absolutely brutal, he is currently lauded as a national hero of Romania due to his victory over the Ottoman Empire and his successes in the midst of all rivals. These successes were a big part of his victory, for it allowed him to gain total independence from Hungary and recapture the land that had been given to Transylvania.
8. Idi Amin
- Number of People Killed: 300,000 to 500,000 People
- Death: 16 August 2003
Born in 1925 to a Ugandan military officer and a Colonial African (Britain), Idi Amin is known for his achievements during his military service in the British army, to the point where he attained the rank of Lieutenant in the British Colonial Army. He led the British away to victory over Egyptian forces and upon Uganda’s independence, he became a commander in the Ugandan army, assuming the position of Minister of Defense.
After serving in the military for some time, Amin went on to be appointed Commander of the Uganda Military only three years later. Upon learning of a plot to arrest him, however, Amin launched a coup d’etat in 1971, forcibly removing President Milton Obote from power and declaring himself the leader of the Ugandan people.
Amin manipulated Uganda away from its Western ideology, shifting to become in-line with Soviet expansion in the region. With Soviet support, he mercilessly persecuted dissidents and tortured ethnic groups in order to maintain his regime. Despite that, his regime was short-lived and he was later overthrown in 1979 (following an invasion by Tanzania which forced him into exile).
7. Saddam Hussein
- Number of People Killed: 250,000 to 1-Million People
- Death: 30 December 2006
Saddam Hussein was an Iraqi dictator that served as the fifth president of Iraq between 1979 and 2003. Hussein became a member of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, which advocated for Arab socialism and nationalism, in 1968, eventually being able to take power in a coup d’état in 1979.
Initially serving as vice president under Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam Hussein quickly worked to consolidate power for himself through the creation of loyal security forces, the nationalization of Iraqi oil, and his seizure of independent banks. With al-Bakr out of the way on July 16th 1979, Saddam quickly took control of Iraq, plunging the country into turmoil, violence, and destruction in the decades that followed.
After disastrous wars with Iran and the United States (which left Iraq a mess), Saddam Hussein was forced from power by an American-led coalition in 2003. He was later captured, tried for his crimes against humanity, and executed in 2006.
6. Pol Pot
- Number of People Killed: 1.5 to 2 Million People
- Death: 15 April 1998
As a Cambodian revolutionary and politician, Pol Pot (birth name Nhem Doh) became the Cambodian Prime Minister in 1976 and served until 1979. As a communist and Khmer nationalist, Pol Pot was an influential figure in the Communist Party of Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) and even served as the General Secretary between 1963 and 1981.
He came to power shortly thereafter and undertook the near-decimation of Cambodia’s society in an effort to transform it into a one-party state. He ordered the forcible relocation of urban dwellers to the countryside, then tasked them with farm labor for the collective state.
Though often regarded for his disdain for human life, Pol Pot eventually began purging large sections of the Cambodian population. The Vietnam-installed Marxist-Leninist government of the country kicked him out of power in 1978, and although he forces continued to fight against the government for several decades, Pol Pot eventually lost his battle with poor health. He passed away later in 1998.
5. Leopold II
- Number of People Killed: 10+ Million People
- Death: 17 December 1909
Leopold II, who reigned as King of the Belgians from 1865 to 1909, was the second king in Belgian history and ruled for 44 years. Leopold II was born in Brussels to Leopold I and Louise of Orleans and ascended to the throne at the age of 30 (following his father’s death).
After seizing control of Belgium, Leopold sought to keep pace with other European nations by seizing control of and establishing the Congo Free State (present-day Democratic-Republic of the Congo). Claiming approximately 770,000 square miles of territory for himself, Leopold hoped establishing a colony there would boost Belgium’s prestige and wealth on the world stage (in the name of humanitarianism and alleged philanthropy).
Nevertheless, the trip soon became a brutal and exploitative process because Leopold II used some of the most inhumane practices against the Congolese people that has ever been recorded in human history. At the time of his death in 1909, his impact on the Congo was both devastating and heartbreaking because of the sheer amount of damage he had inflicted.
4. Adolf Hitler
- Number of People Killed: 19+ Million People
- Death: 30 April 1945
German dictator Adolf Hitler was born in Austria. Rising to power in the 1920s, he mobilized the German people’s bitterness and frustration about their country’s humiliating defeat in World War I in order to win the people’s support. Fueled by his skills as a charismatic orator and his success at creating powerful propaganda, Hitler became the German Chancellor in 1933 and leader in 1934.
Adolf Hitler went to work right away on a rearmament program and an aggressive foreign policy, actions that led to the outbreak of the Second World War, which had global consequences. By the time of his death in 1945, his ideologically-driven aversion to non-Aryan individuals and focus on one race over all others had devastated most of Europe.
3. Joseph Stalin
- Number of People Killed: 40+ Million People
- Death: 5 March 1953
Joseph Stalin was a Georgian communist who rose to power in the Soviet Union between 1924 and 1953. Born into a poor family in the town of Gori, his eventual attraction to Marxism caused him to join the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party where he met Vladimir Lenin. Following his acceptance into the Bolsheviks, Stalin played a key role in dethroning Tsar Nicholas II and helped Lenin establish a one-party state in 1917.
Stalin participated in the Russian Civil War following, with his purported loyalty securing him a number of promotions. In the years following Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin took control of the Soviet Union and rapidly instituted a variety of social, economic, and political policies to make himself into a national symbol.
While becoming a very popular leader in spite of himself and the state he created, he is remembered as initiating repressions, deportations, purges, and mass killings.
2. Genghis Khan
- Number of People Killed: 40+ Million People
- Death: 18 August 1227
The incomparable Genghis Khan, who was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, came to power during the early Thirteenth Century, having united the nomadic tribes in Northeast Asia and having been declared the universal ruler over all the Mongols. Shortly after ascending to power, Genghis Khan initiated the Mongol Invasions into Asian and European countries, conquering the vast majority of Eurasia and parts of Africa.
Upon his death in 1227, Genghis Khan had succeeded in bringing about substantial social, economic, and political changes across the regions he had conquered (an area the size of 23-million square kilometers). As well as being accompanied by unprecedented levels of death and destruction wrought by his mounted soldiers, this secured Genghis Khan’s reputation as one of the greatest conquerors in history, while simultaneously making him one of the world’s most brutal leaders.
1. Mao Zedong
- Number of People Killed: 55 to 70 Million People
- Death: 9 September 1976
There are some dictators in the world that have made a huge mark in history. One of the most well-known dictators is Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong was a Chinese communist revolutionary and the founder of the People’s Republic of China. Essentially espousing the tenets of Marxism-Leninism (or at least highly influenced by it), Mao came out of the Chinese Civil War (as well as the Second World War) with the most power, single-handedly creating a one-party state thereafter.
Determined to catapult China from an agrarian to industrial society, Mao mounted his Great Leap Forward, Socialist Education Movement, and Cultural Revolution campaigns to rapidly pave the way for him to gain power and stabilize the future for communism.
Though later on he was praised by various individuals and groups for leading China to become a dominant world power, his oppressive actions, to some degree, resulted in devastating consequences such as both human death and persecution.