Most Ruthless Dictators of all Time

Dictators rule countries or groups of people with total power, depriving their subjects of basic rights and subjecting them to inhumane treatments. They often take over or remain in power against the will of their people. Here are some of the greatest dictators of all time.


Top Dictators

Joseph Stalin was a Soviet politician and a revolutionary who led the Soviet Union from the 1920s to the early 1950s. From 1922 to 1952, Stalin served the Communist Party as its General Secretary. He slowly climbed the power ladder and became the country’s dictator in 1930. Joseph Stalin also developed communist ideologies which were known as Stalinism. This was an ideology associated with torture and totalitarian rule disguised as Marxist socialism.

Growing up from a destitute family, Stalin edited party newspapers (Pravda). He also engaged in robbery and kidnapping. It has been estimated that Stalin killed about 27 million people during the Second World War.

Read more: How Joseph Stalin Rose To Power


Most Ruthless Dictators of all Time

Mao Zedong was a Chinese dictator who ruled the Communist Party of China for 27 years until he died in 1976. Zedong was a co-founder of the one party state, the People’s Republic of China. His military strategies and ideologies became known as Maoism. His regime became an autocratic one marked by mass killings and destruction of religious and cultural artifacts.

Mao proposed a campaign called the Great Leap Forward. Following in the footsteps of fellow socialist dictator, Joseph Stalin of the USSR, Mao’s intention was to transform China from an agricultural-based economy to an industrialized nation. Unfortunately, his campaign resulted in a deadly famine which killed between 20 and 45 million people. This happened between the years 1958-1962. One would have thought that the devastating famine Ukrainians faced during Stalin’s regime would have served as a caution to Mao Zedong.


Most Ruthless Dictators of all Time

With absolute power came absolute brutality, inflicting unimaginable pain and misery to such an extent that it could not even pass off as fiction. It explains why a number of authors attained critical acclaim by simply writing the terrible things that Vlad III did during his interrupted reign from 1448 to 1477.

Born around c. 1431 in Sighişoara, the ruler of Wallachia (modern day Romania) Vlad III was so brutal that he infamously got the name Vlad the Impaler – because of how frequent he impaled scores of people, including several Wallachian boyars and Transylvanian Saxons.

Typically called “Vlad the Impaler” or “Vlad Dracula”, Vlad III was the Prince of Wallachia (a region located in Southern Romania). His father Vlad Dracul ruled Wallachia from 1436 but got murdered when a Hungarian regent invaded Wallachia in 1447.

Vlad III was known for meting out cruel punishments to criminals. He punished people who offended him by piercing their bodies with sharp objects from their anal regions through to their mouths. That is how he got his nickname “the Impaler”; he impaled people. Some stories about his inhumane nature include nailing men’s hats to their heads because they failed to remove them in his presence.


Most Ruthless Dictators of all Time

Kim was a North Korean dictator who was the Supreme leader of the D.P.R.K (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Ironically, his country doesn’t practice democracy. He led a rouge regime from 1994 to 2011. His reign came to an end when he died in 2011. Many were of the opinion he should be ranked ahead of Adolf Hitler whenever ranking people who committed acts of cruelty.

After succeeding his father Kim II-Sung, he violated human rights by starving people until they were weak and malnourished. He would then torture, drown, shoot, dissect or execute them in gas chambers. His successor is the current leader of North Korea, Chairman Kim Jong-Un.



Another maniacal despot that undoubtedly deserves a mention on this list is Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China. Born Ying Zheng in c.259 BCE, Qin Shi Huang was the oldest son of the Zhuangxiang, the ruler of the Qin state.  At the time of his birth, the Qin state was just one of seven warring states in ancient China. With many kings of those states failing in their attempt to unify China, Ying Zheng quickly set to the task of unifying China once he had consolidated his power within the Qin state. He appointed astute generals and advisers along the way and set out to conquer one state after the other. In the end, Ying Zheng crowned himself the First Emperor of China, thereby establishing the Qin dynasty.

What makes Qin Shi Huang’s reign very brutal is the manner in which he dispatched his enemies. Titled Qin Shihuangdi, China’s first emperor showed so much cruelty in order to keep his subjects in line.


Leopold II of Belgium

Although his territory in mainland Europe was small compared to other nations, his vast territories abroad made him a truly influential monarch at the time. And with that kind of access to vast resources in huge colony like that of the Congo, Leopold II of Belgium perhaps got drunk on power and decided to perpetrate the kind of atrocities that would make the most brutal modern day dictator stand in awe.

From his base in Brussels, Belgium, the Belgian king was responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese people. Wanting to profit from jump in the price of natural rubber, Leopold is believed to have increased the amount of rubber collected using forced labor. And when the laborers failed to meet his desired target, he punished them by cutting off either their arms or legs.


Mehmed Talaat

In the eyes of many Turkish nationalists and revisionist, the Armenian Genocide never happened. However, the millions of ethnic Armenians, who were then living in what was once the great Ottoman Empire, beg to differ. At the center of it all was the de facto leader of the Ottoman Emperor Talaat Pasha. As the head of the Interior Ministry, Talaat was responsible for the killings of close to two million Armenians during World War I.

It all began when Talat decided to round up Armenian community leaders, academics and intellectuals that were a bit critical of the Pasha. The lucky ones found themselves abused and then deported. However, the leader took it a step further by carrying out what many historian believe was the first genocide of the 20th century.


Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq from July 1979 to April 2003. He unconstitutionally ruled Iraq for 24 years. Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and Kuwait killing thousands of innocent people. The United States led a coalition which invaded Iraq in 2003 and deposed Hussein. The interim Iraqi government tried him and he was found guilty of crimes against humanity. Saddam was sentenced to death by hanging on 30th December 2006. America believed Hussein had nuclear weapons and links to Al-Qaeda.


Muammar Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011. Gaddafi refused to give up his autocratic leadership position after several warnings and threats from international military forces.

Gaddafi initiated good projects on shelter, water, health and education. After taking office, he forcefully introduced Sharia Law in Libya. Muammar Gaddafi was considered an enemy by the West. He was accused of shooting down a Libyan airliner with 157 people aboard. His government was overthrown by militants with assistance from NATO. He was shot dead by militants in October 2011.



Having had a hand in the deaths of between 1.6 and 2 million Cambodians, Pol Pot comfortably makes the list of most brutal dictators of all time. Not only was the former Prime Minister of Cambodia (known back then as the Democratic Kampuchea) a brutal Marxist-Leninist, he was also a violent Khmer nationalist.

Between 1963 and 1997, Pol Pot successfully silenced all government critics in the Southeast Asian country that he had turned into a one-party communist state. As part of his vision to create a communist society that was completely egalitarian, he forced the urban folks to relocate to the villages where they were placed on collective farms. He discontinued the use of money and micromanaged his citizens, forcing all of them to don the same clothes. As the leader of the Khmer Rouge, his close to two decades in power resulted in the deaths of millions of his countrymen and countrywomen.


Kim Jong-Un

Our list of great dictators won’t be complete without the mention of Kim Jong-Un. Kim rose to power in 2011 after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il. He is internationally known for possessing and testing nuclear missiles haphazardly. After a series of talks with the US President, Donald Trump, Kim Jong-Un halted development and launch of missiles.

Kim has a degree in physics. He was also an army officer. There have been speculations that Kim authorized the assassination of his uncle, Jang Song and Kim Jong-Nam; his half-brother.


King Herod

Herod the Great was a king of the tribe of Judea. Biblical stories will get anyone convinced about how ruthless he was. Herod was a serial killer. Biblical texts accuse Herod of trying to kill the baby Jesus.

Even though Herod built the Roman Empire, he also had his Achilles heels. He felt insecure and asked all newly born babies to be killed in a quest to kill the baby Jesus who he felt was a threat to him.



From a mildly tyrannical king in the person of Louis XVI of France to Maximilien Robespierre, the years between 1775 and 1799 were extremely turbulent and violent for the French people. The atrocities perpetrated by Maximilien Robespierre, one of the most influential leaders of the French Revolution and later the head of the Committee of Public Safety, the reign of Louis XVI looks like a walk in the park.

Born in 1758 in Arras, France, Robespierre was an astute lawyer and an important member of the radical group, the Jacobins. Although he had some pretty good ideologies – such as the abolition of slavery, equality before the law and the end of prerogatives in France – it was the manner in which he tried to attain his goals. After getting appointed to the extremely powerful Committee of Public Safety, he strategically placed himself properly among members of the National Convention.

And with that new found power, the radical politician unleashed horrors never seen been before. Plagued by grandiose delusions, he eliminated anyone he considered a critic of the ideal republic that he was trying to create. France breathed a sigh of relief when he and his like-minded radical revolutionaries were arrested and subsequently executed by the guillotine in 1794.



Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe was born in February 1924. He became the second president of Zimbabwe and governed from 1987 to 2017 spending 30 years in office. He was forced out of power by the Zimbabwean military after it was discovered his was secretly planning to hand over power to his wife Grace Mugabe.

Mugabe was a revolutionary who led the ZANU-PF party to win an election in the 1980s. He was generally regarded as Pan-Africanist, often dishing out criticism to the West for their neo-colonial type of interference in the affairs of Africa.


Shiek Hasina

Sheik Hasina was a female Prime Minister of Bangladesh who came to office in January 2006. In the history of Bangladeshi politics, no one ever held a government office for as long as she did. She was a daughter of the first President of Bangladesh (Sheik Majibur). Political analysts, think her political career lasted more than 4 decades.

Sheik Hasina’s tenure was characterized by a lot of scandals which earned her a tag as an autocratic leader. Some popular scandals which marred her office were the Share Market Scandal and Padma Bridge Scandal.

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