History is replete with tales of evil people performing evil acts. Sadly they are so many in number that Listverse has been able to feature many top 10 lists of evil humans – men, women, and even children. This list looks at ten people from history who were especially cruel and who, in many cases, are remembered for that reason alone.
Wu Zetian was empress of China from October 690 to February 705. She is the only woman in Chinese history to rule in her own right. She was a ruthless, cruel, sadistic and sexually depraved murderess who drove her people into chaos. She ordered tortures, executions and forced suicides on a daily basis. She had all of her rivals exiled or executed including the ex empress Wang. She also had members of her family executed including her niece, nephews and killed her newly born daughter. Other family members were exiled including her sons, in which one was eventually ordered to commit suicide. Wu had thousands of her people poisoned, strangled, mutilated, burned and boiled alive. Others had their noses, ears, feet and legs cut off. She died in December 705 at age 81.
Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China from 221 BC to 210 BC. He was paranoid, brutal, cruel and sadistic. He improvised and massacred his people. In his first year in power, over 120,000 families were forced to relocate from their homes. He burned almost all books and writings in China and had hundreds of scholars beheaded and buried alive. He improvised his people, farmers in particular, by raising taxes. At one point, a million men were put to work as forced labor to build 4,700 miles of roads. He created walls and other architects that paved the way for the Great Wall of China, but hundreds of thousands were worked, starved to death and murdered. Qin was obsessed of trying to become immortal, when scientists and scholars failed to find a way, he had 480 of them buried alive. Even in death, he was afraid that he would be attacked. He ordered a 3 mile wide mausoleum to be built that required 700,000 people, most of them were killed in the process. It is possible that he killed over 1 million people. Qin died in September 210 BC.
Godfrey of Bouillon was a Frankish knight who was the leader of the First Crusade, a military expedition by Western Christianity to regain the Holy Lands in which tens of thousands of people were killed. He was determined to avenge the blood of Jesus on the Jewish people. In 1099, he and his army arrived at Jerusalem. They charged into the city and and killed anyone that didn’t leave the city. They destroyed Holy sights. Solders, citizens, Jews and Muslims alike were killed. Victims were either burned or had their stomachs sliced open. The surviving Jews fled to a synagogue, which Godfrey burned down. He ordered his men to hunt down and kill all of the survivors that left the city. It is believed that no one survived. Piles of hands, feet and heads were scattered throughout the city. Godfrey is said to have stripped to his undergarments and walked barefoot through piles of blood that reached up to his ankles. It is possible that 70,000 Muslims alone were killed there. He died from plague in July 1100, his goal was complete.
Herod was king of Jueda from 37 BC to 4 BC. He was a heartless, paranoid and bloodthirsty man who committed unimaginable atrocities. He is beast known for wanting to kill Jesus and for committing the Massacre of the Innocents. According to the Bible, Herod ordered every boy at the age 2 or younger to be killed in Bethlehem. There are estimates that 10,000 to 150,000 boys were murdered, but Bethlehem was only a village, so historians think only a few dozen boys were killed, but Herod would have done it, regardless of the number of boys there were. He ordered the deaths of thousands of people including the high priest, his rivals, grandfather-in law, mother-in law, brother-in law, uncle, wife, 3 sons (one of his sons was killed only a few days before Herod died) and anyone else who he distrusted and thought was a threat to him, but most of his victims were innocent and given false crimes. He would kill anyone to stay in power. Shortly before his death, Herod ordered that the foremost men in Jueda should be executed so that his funeral would be marked by a national outpouring of grief. Fortunately, this command was ignored. He died in 4 BC due to illness. His sons also became villains of the Bible. His son, Herod Antipas killed John the Baptist and was involved in the murder of Jesus. And James, son of Zebedee, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa.
John was king of England from April 1199 to October 1216. He impoverished England, caused the creation of the Magna Carta and inspired the Robin Hood legend. He was a greedy, violent, malicious, cruel, ruthless, lecherous, self-indulgent and callous. He betrayed his friends, father, brothers, wife, and country. He seduced the wives and daughters of his friends and enemies (in which he would produce 12 illegitimate children) and exiled their relatives and parents. He imprisoned and killed anyone who threatened or rivaled him, including his nephew, Arthur. When his men disobeyed him, he would throw them in prison, on a sheet of lead, and starve them to death. He plundered the revenues of the Church and ordered every priest, bishop and abbot to leave England, those that did not suffered the consequences. He declared wars against France and the Barons, in which tens of thousands may have died in. John often killed or exiled relatives of his enemies. He tortured, hanged, beheaded, stabbed, blinded and starved thousands to death. He waged a campaign on every Jew in England, to take all their money, imprison and torture them. John tried to steal as much money as possible from his people. He implemented a huge increase in taxation and merciless exploitations of his feudal prerogatives. He lost almost all of his empire. In fact when Normandy, England’s last possession of France was seized, John reportedly stayed in bed with his wife as his solders were being killed. Some taxes were raised up to 300%. These taxes ruined the lives of tens of thousands of people. After he signed the Magna Carta, John shamelessly fought back against his enemies, but if he lost the fight, the kingdom of England would have fallen into the French hands. However, John died before he could in start a full-scale war in October 1216 from eating too many peaches and drinking too much ale.
Tamerlane (a.k.a. Timur) was a fourteenth-century conqueror of Western, Central and South Asia and the founder of the Timurid Empire and Timurid dynasty. He believed that he was descended from Genghis Khan. He was a cruel, ruthless, heartless and bloodthirsty conqueror who brought terror and destruction to millions. At some places thousands were forced to jump from very high heights. 200,000 surrendered solders and civilians were killed in India. There were decapitations of 20,000 citizens in Aleppo, 70,000 in Ifshan, the beheading of 70,000 in Tikrit and 90,000 in Baghdad. On some occasions, he ordered thousands of people to die of slow suffocation. Huge towers made from his enemies’ skulls were built for him to look at with satisfaction. People were often decapitated, burned, stabbed, dismembered and buried alive. He killed 15 to 20 million people. Tamerlane died on February 1405 from natural causes.
Nero was Rome’s 5th emperor from AD 54 to AD 68. He brought the Roman Empire to ruin. He burned entire cities. He murdered thousands of people including his aunt, stepsister, ex-wife, mother, wife and stepbrother. He systematically murdered every member in his family. Some were killed in searing hot baths. He poisoned, beheaded, stabbed, burned, boiled, crucified and impaled people. He often raped women and cut off the veins and private parts of both men and women. He is said to have fiddled while Rome was burning. The great fire killed many of Rome’s citizens and left hundreds of thousands destitute. Though Nero probably started the fire, he blamed it on the Christians. Thousands of Christians were starved to death, burned, torn by dogs, fed to lions, crucified, used as torches and nailed to crosses. He was so bad that many of the Christians thought he was the Antichrist. He even tortured and killed the apostle Paul and the disciple Peter. Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down. Nero committed suicide when he realized he was losing the rebellion and his life was in danger.
He was Rome’s 3rd emperor from AD 37 to AD 41. He was wild, sadistic, extravagant, with a penchant for sexual adventures. In the first 3 months in his reign of terror, over 160,000 animals were sacrificed in his honor. He later got a brain fever that made him mentally ill. He then believed he was a god. Under Caligula, the law became an instrument of torture. He believed prisoners should feel a painful death. He began to brutally murder for fun. He would kill his opponents slowly and painfully over hours or days. He decapitated and strangled children. People were beaten with heavy chains. He forced families to attend their children’s execution. Many people had their tongues cut off. He fed prisoners to a lions, panthers and bears and often killed gladiators. One gladiator alone was beaten up for 2 days full days. He sometimes ordered people to be killed by elephants. His cruelty caused people to commit suicide. He demanded sex with a lot of women including his 3 sisters. He would force husbands to give up their wives. He exiled his sisters and had his brother in law put to death. He caused many to die of starvation. Sawing people was one of his favorite things to do, which filleted the spine and spinal cord from crotch down to the chest. He liked to chew up the testicles of victims. He killed some of his most important friends and his father-in-law. One time Caligula said “I wish Rome had but one neck, so that I could cut off all their heads with one blow!” In AD 41, Caligula was killed by Casius Chaerea, a man whom Caligula had mocked at court for his effeminacy.
Attila ruled the Huns from 434 to 453. He was the leader of the Hunnic, Empire which stretched from the Ural River to Germany and from the Baltic Sea to the Danube River. He was a bloodthirsty, cruel and ruthless barbarian that was a lover of battle. He wanted to destroy the Roman Empire and everyone in his way. If you were a citizen in Rome and begged for mercy, he would kill you. He was as great a menace to the Teutonic tribes people as he was to the Romans. He was so destructive that people believed he was a punishment from Heaven. His nickname was Attila the Scourge of God. Attila and the other Huns thought that other people’s lives were meaningless. He would torture and destroy his enemies, his own people and entire population of cities. He rampaged Roman cities and may have killed up to hundreds of thousands. People were sometimes torn limb by limb. One time Attila found Saint Ursula, the perpetual Virgin, and wanted to marry her. She refused which made Attila angry and had her killed along with 11,000 of her companions. It is said that he might have drunk a women’s blood. He eat 2 of his sons and killed his brother. Attila coughed up blood and died in 453.
He was Khan of the Mongolian Empire from 1206 to 1227. In that time he conquered most of China and all the land through the Caspian Sea. He was ruthless, vengeful, cruel, and bloodthirsty. He and his army destroyed countless numbers of cities, solders, civilians and children. People were killed by having molten metal and silver poured into their eyes and ears. In one massacre alone, 700,000 people were killed. At another place, the poor were decapitated and the rich were tortured to find out where their treasure was. Women were sometimes raped in front of their families. Hundreds of thousands had their lives ruined. It is said that if his army of men had no water they would cut a horse’s vein and drink its blood. He would use people as human shields. Hundreds of thousands became slaves. He would order you to be killed immediately if you were an enemy, if you betrayed him or if you were disloyal to him. Genghis and his army killed 20 to 60 million people. He killed three-fourths of the population of the Iranian Plateau, which was 10 to 15 million. He also killed his brother at age 13 just because his brother had stolen a fish from him. Genghis Khan once said “The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.” Genghis Khan died of natural causes in 1227.
Basil II was emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 976 to 1025. He has been described as hero-monster because he was a powerful and successful ruler, but also one of the most cruel, ruthless and merciless rulers in history. He ruined the lives of all of those who challenged his rule. This included rebels, Arabs and political rivals (both real and imagined). They would be forced to pay higher taxes, confiscating their lands, imprisoned for life, exiled, tortured, or executed. He started many wars, particularly the one with the Bulgarians that lasted for 30 years. Throughout the war, Basil would normally slaughter all of his enemies and prisoners. Basil won the war in the Battle of Kleidon, in which he killed 15,000 Bulgarian soldiers and took another 15,000 as prisoners. As punishment, Basil had all of them blinded, using red-hot pokers and daggers. He left every 100th man with one eye so they could lead the rest back home. Thousands of them might have died during the journey, and the Bulgarian leader is reported to have died of a stroke upon seeing them. Undaunted by his cruelty, Basil used the same tactic 2 years later in Macedonia, blinding every Bulgarian his army captured, including women and children, and this time he left no one sighted. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed by Basil. He died in December 1025.
10. Empress Wu
9. Qin Shi Huang
8. Godfrey of Bouillon
7. Herod The Great
6. King John
5. Tamerlane the Great
2. Attila The Hun
1. Genghis Khan
+ Basil The Bulgar Slayer