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10 Evil Monarchs in History

The history of monarchy remains a subject of fascination. Throughout the centuries, the world has experienced a variety of monarchs, ranging from noble visionaries to bloodthirsty tyrants. There have also been several monarchs who struggled with bouts of madness during their reigns. Their unhinged minds led to extreme levels of paranoia and a series of disturbing practices.

1. Emperor Yangdi of Sui

Emperor Yangdi of Sui (隋煬帝, 569 – 11 April 618). Regarded as one of the worst tyrants in Chinese history. He murdered his father to take the throne. During his reign, he forced millions of peasants to work on his grand projects (the Grand Canal and the rebuilding of the Great Wall). Six million workers perished. Then he sent the Sui army on disastrous campaigns in Korea where thousands of Sui soldiers would die.

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Yangdi’s self-indulgence was enormous. He build massive palaces for himself to indulge in endless banquets, alcohol, and concubines. During one imperial tour, the emperor traveled down river on a massive floating palace pulled by an army of men. Bewildered starving peasants watched as their emperor moved passed them engorging himself with food, wine, and women. Finally in 618 AD the army rebelled and Yangdi was strangled to death by one of his own generals. The Sui Dynasty collapses soon after.

2. Emperor Caligula

Emperor Caligula became the new ruler of the Roman Empire in the wake of his uncle’s death in 37 AD, and he is now considered one of the most infamous rulers in human history.

Schizophrenia, paranoia, and insomnia took hold of the new emperor. Anyone suspected of disloyalty — including the emperor’s family members — was executed. The emperor also forced the relatives of the accused to watch these executions, which would often involve prolonged periods of torture.

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While his victims screamed in terror, Caligula enjoyed a life of luxury funded by high taxes. After his guards had forced people to give up their coins, the emperor would roll in piles of gold for his own amusement. He also enjoyed spending his money on extravagant feasts.

As for his sexual desires, Caligula forced prominent senators to give up their wives and daughters, who were then made to become prostitutes and take part in the emperor’s orgies.

Thankfully, Caligula’s twisted reign only lasted four years. He was assassinated in 41 AD, and the people of Rome rejoiced.

3. Genghis Khan

Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan, was the founder of the Mongol Empire, which would become the largest contiguous empire in history after his death. Although he is known as a great military commander, a revolutionary of trade, for encouraging religious tolerance, and as a hero to Mongolia, his conquests vilified him throughout most of history.

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Khan killed his brother when he was 10 for stealing a fish he caught. He is known for many wholesale massacres of civilian populations, one of which resulted in the deaths of over 1 million civilians in a single day. The sacking of Urgench, as it is known, was considered one of the bloodiest massacres in human history: He killed three quarters of the population in the Iranian Plateau (10 to 15 million people), destroyed most of the Middle East, and annihilated all of the major cities of Eastern Europe. It’s terrifying to think just what he would have been capable of if he had the killing technology we do today…

4. King Erik XIV

King Erik XIV became King of Sweden in 1560. He was a tall, elegant, and ambitious monarch who personified the tone of the Renaissance. Erik wanted to control the Baltic region in northeastern Europe, so he went to war with several countries, including Denmark and Estonia.

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But the most notorious aspect of his kingship took place within his own borders. As well as raising taxes to pay for his wars, Erik attempted to limit the power of the Swedish nobility. He even issued hundreds of death sentences in order to keep them in line.
Erik’s mental state was questionable from the earliest days of his reign, and he became increasingly paranoid as time went on because he was convinced the nobility were plotting to kill him.
His paranoia reached its peak in 1567.

With the help of his personal guards, Erik crept through Uppsala Castle and murdered several members of the Sture family, including Nils Svantesson Sture, who was stabbed directly by the king.
A year later, Erik was overthrown by a successful rebellion led by his half-brother, who became the new King of Sweden. Erik spent the rest of his life in prison and died in 1577.

5. Leopold II

Leopold II was the king of Belgium from 1865 until his death, and he is best known for creating the Congo Free State, which was a private project undertaken to extract ivory and rubber from the Congo region of central Africa. He claimed a land plot in the Congo 14 times the size of Belgium, and then ruled with an iron fist. The Congo Free State relied on forced labor, enslavement, and mutilation, and resulted in the deaths of approximately 3 to 15 million Congolese.

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6. Sultan Ibrahim

Sultan Ibrahim, who was also known as Ibrahim the Mad, became the ruler of the Ottoman Empire in 1640 after his older brother died of cirrhosis.
Throughout his brother’s reign, Ibrahim had been isolated from the outside world. He even spent four years inside the Kafes, an area of the Ottoman Palace where heirs to the throne were locked away.

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Ibrahim’s prolonged isolation affected his mental well-being. After ascending to the throne, he developed an excessive taste for luxury. In addition to decorating his beard with diamonds, he also liked to drench his curtains in rare perfumes and cover his cats with expensive furs.

But Ibrahim’s lust was his greatest vice. He slept with countless women and developed a penchant for virgins. However, Ibrahim didn’t treat his lovers with any respect. He even executed 280 of his concubines (mistresses) by tying them in sacks and throwing them underwater.

After executing several Grand Viziers and imposing high taxes upon his subjects, Ibrahim was eventually captured and executed in 1648.

7. Vlad Tepes

Vlad III was the Prince of Wallachia and known as Vlad the Impaler (can you guess why?). He ruled from 1456 to 1462 and was highly feared during his tenure. He was also the inspiration behind the vampire Dracula. His exceedingly cruel punishments included disemboweling, rectal and facial impalement, skinning, burying alive, and cutting off the sexual organs of people he didn’t like.

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One popular story tells of when Vlad refused to pay taxes to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II. Legend has it that Vlad invaded Bulgaria and impaled 23,000 Turks. Mehmed raised an army to conquer Wallachia, but Vlad’s forces killed many Ottomans during night attacks, angering Mehmed. The Sultan marched to the Wallachian capital of Târgovişte, only to discover a forest of 20,000 impaled Turkish skeletons. Horrified, the Sultan and his troops fled. It’s estimated that 40,000 to 100,000 people were tortured by Vlad the Impaler.

8. Ivan IV

Ivan the Terrible was the Grand Duke of Muscovy from 1533 to 1547, and the first ruler and proclaimed tsar of Russia. He was described as intelligent, yet given to bouts of rage and mental illness. He is known to have burned thousands of people in frying pans, impaled people, and he actually built walls around his city to keep people from leaving.

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He launched Russia into the 24-year-long Livonian War against Sweden, Lithuania, and Poland. After drought, famine, and a plague epidemic, he became mentally unstable and violent. He persecuted the nobility and peasantry. One story says that Ivan would gather between 500 and 1,000 peasants everyday and then torture and kill them while he and his son watched. He also later killed that same son.

9. Tamerlane

Tamerlane (aka Timur) was a Turko-Mongol leader who ruled Central Asia from 1411 to 1449. He aligned his vision with that of Genghis Khan (who he believed he was a descendent of), and wanted to restore the Mongol Empire to its former glory. While he was a patron of the arts, he is best known as being the most powerful and feared ruler in the Muslim world after defeating the Mamluks, the Ottoman Empire, and the Sultanate of Delhi.

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Massive parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe were laid to waste during his military campaigns. He would kill surrendered soldiers and civilians, decapitate thousands, and even force entire cities to jump from very high walls to their deaths. Scholars estimate that he caused the deaths of around 17 million people, about 5% of the world population at that time.

10. Attila the Hun

Attila the Hun is considered the epitome of a cruel and ruthless leader. He was the ruler of the Hunnic Empire from 434 to 453, and he was known to be bloodthirsty and barbaric. He is best known for his attacks on Rome, where he was known as the Scourge of God, but he really ravaged the provinces of almost all of Europe, creating an empire that stretched from Central Europe to the Black Sea and from the Danube River to the Baltic.

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It is speculated that he killed his brother Bleda to keep the throne for himself, as well as his son. He marched through France and Italy and killed hundreds of thousands, and he invaded the Balkans twice. It is said that he would tear people limb from limb and would drink people’s blood. When Attila found the perpetual Virgin, Saint Ursula, and wanted to marry her, she refused, and he proceeded to kill her and her 11,000 companions.


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