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Explore the Worst Humans in History: Unveiling Infamy

Adolf Hitler

Throughout history, billions of people have lived, and while many people have promoted societal good, not all people have been benevolent. Many people have chosen evil over good, leading to horrific acts that are unthinkable to most ordinary people.  

Murder, violence, abuse, genocide, war, and other terrible offenses have resulted because of some of the worst humans in history. Humans for thousands of years have done bad things, and while it’s hard to narrow down the list, 27 names stand out as being especially malevolent. Read on to discover who are the worst humans in history and how they have earned their places on the list.

How We Compiled the List

Creating a list that accurately dictates the worst humans in history is a challenge because there are many ways a person could define “worst.” Accordingly, as we embarked on making this list, we established some guidelines and rules for what our definition of worst is, allowing us to apply consistent measures despite the numerous unquantifiable factors involved in such an analysis.

Our important methods include:

  • We determined that the list only includes historical figures who are no longer actively committing atrocities. Thus, while some modern figures may be qualified for this list, we focused on deceased historical figures, whose full legacies can be understood more clearly.
  • Comparing people who lived at different times is often like comparing apples to oranges. Thus, cultural standards were considered, both based on the time the figures lived and where they lived.
  • The biggest factor in how figures were ranked was the amount of harm that they caused through their actions. However, these calculations did not consider the sheer number of deaths or other casualties alone. For instance, historically, there were not as many humans on Earth, so we looked at how many people were affected as well as the proportion of the population that was impacted.
  • It was also important to look at intent. While some historical figures may have inadvertently caused great damage, when looking for the worst people, it was important to look at their intent. We cannot fully know any person’s intent, but historical sources can help us gain understanding.
  • We also reflected on how technology can cause different results. Modern technology makes it easier for mass causalities, but being better equipped to commit atrocities does not necessarily correlate with more intent to kill.
  • While there were a lot of qualitative judgments we had to use, we tried to be as well-researched as possible. We used primary sources whenever possible and secondary sources as needed.  Historical books, data, and accounts were all valuable. Research and government resources were also of help. Whenever possible, we looked for quantitative data to determine the damage different figures have done, but in many cases, we had to compile estimates based on discrepancies in casualty numbers.

With a clear research process that focused on reliable information and quality analysis, we were able to compile a list that accurately suggests some of the worst people who have ever lived. Of course, there is much room for debate based on what each person thinks is worse, but within our guidelines, our results are as well-supported as possible.

The Worst Humans in History

None of the people on this list are likely people you’d ever want to meet. They have caused a lot of harm to humanity, and in many cases, they have shown a profound lack of empathy and ruthlessness. Factors like prejudice, self-centeredness, and geopolitical unrest commonly contributed to terrible outcomes. Many of these names you probably already know, but some of them may come as a surprise.

24. Empress Wu

  • Country: China
  • Time Period: 624 to 705 (Tang dynasty)
  • Atrocities:  Brutal murders and a ruthless rule
  • Impact: Became the only independent leader of China through brutality and a coup

Starting as a concubine, Empress Wu Zetian had to fight for her position as the only woman to rule China on her own. While in some ways Empress Wu could be seen as a feminist icon, her brutality gives her a deserved place on this list.

 Empress Wu needed to get the Emperor’s wife, Empress Wang out of the way, so it is said that she smothered Empress Wang’s daughter and then blamed Empress Wang for the crime to get Empress Wang imprisoned. She later had Empress Wang executed. Legend has it that Empress Wu chopped of her opponents’ hands and feet before throwing their bodies in a vat of wine.

Empress Wu would kill people who stood in her way, and while she’s far from the top of this list, the brutal way she earned her power will forever blacken her name. Nevertheless, many people still praise that she was able to stand on her own when women were subjugated intensely.

23. Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini

  • Country: Iran
  • Time Period: 1900-1989
  • Atrocities:  Executions without free trials
  • Impact: Khomeini is most known for being an Iranian Islamic revolutionary who used many harsh methods.

While some people may celebrate the useful things that Khomeini did, it is hard to justify many of his behaviors, such as executing people without fairly giving them a trial or knowing with certainty that they had committed crimes.

22. Nero

  • Country: Roman Empire
  • Time Period: 37 to 68
  • Atrocities:  Killing and violence
  • Impact: Nero has been included in history books as one of the most fascinating figures in all of history

Nero is known to history for being a monster, but compared to some people on this list, he was self-centered but relatively tame. Nevertheless, his bad behavior cannot be overlooked. He was willing to murder his family or strangers; if someone was in his way, he was ready to do whatever he needed to get him out of the way. He had huge sexual urges and liked to live a lavish life, and as a result, the needs of other people were never first under Nero’s rule.

21.  Jim Jones

  • Country: United States (born), Jonestown, Guyana (died)
  • Time Period: 1931 to 1978
  • Atrocities:  Led hundreds of followers to commit mass suicide
  • Impact: Jim Jones caused one of the biggest influencing events of the 70s and changed how people viewed radical movements and cults

Jim Jones is known as one of the most harmful religious leaders of all time as the leader of the cult, Peoples Temple. He eventually moved his cult to Guyana, where he established Jonestown. This location would be where Hones would eventually convince hundreds of followers to kill themselves by drinking poison.

Jones would eventually kill himself, but not before he did a lot of other damage, including hosting politicians to see Jonestown, which led to the murder of Congressman Ryan and four others, who had visited Jonestown after hearing concerning reports about what was happening there.

20. Emperor Tiberius

  • Country: Roman Empire
  • Time Period:  42 BC-37 AD
  • Atrocities:  Reckless killing
  • Impact: Emperor Tiberius was unable to ever get the legacy he wanted through his reckless, overly violent behaviors

Emperor Tiberius, also known as Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus, was known for being a good general, but he was obsessed with his legacy to the point that he shed blood unnecessarily. His paranoia made him a somewhat unstable leader, who would put people to death, often without good reason. While he did have diplomatic abilities and was great with finances, he stood in his own way.

19. Emperor Hirohito

  • Country: Japan
  • Time Period:  1901 to 1989
  • Atrocities:  Nanjing Massacre (Rape of Nanjing), war crimes
  • Impact: As a ruler of Japan for over 60 years, Emperor Hirohito, known as Emperor Showa, has a complex legacy

Although he was never formally convicted as a war criminal, many acknowledge that Hirohito committed war crimes as the long-time ruler of Japan. During the Second Sino-Japanse War, the Imperial Japanese Army set its sights on Nanjing, which was the capital of the Republic of China. Thousands of Chinese civilians were murdered and thousands of women or girls were raped over six weeks of attacks.

18.  Elizabeth Bathory

  • Country: Kingdom of Hungary (modern-day Slovakia)
  • Time Period: 1560-1614
  • Atrocities:  Torture and murder
  • Impact: Impacted countless lives by her hundreds of kills over two decades and lots of legend was created around her

As one of the most prolific serial killers in history, Elizabeth Bathory’s story is horrific and gained her notoriety as one of the most brutal women of all time. Bathory heartlessly murdered hundreds of young women. Not only that, but she also tortured them for her own benefit. It is rumored that she bathed in the blood of the girls she killed between 1590 and 1610. 300 people testified against Bathory, but it is unclear exactly how many people Bathory killed and tortured.

17. Maximillien Robespierre

  • Country: France
  • Time Period: 1758-1794
  • Atrocities:  Instituting the Reign of Terror and using violence as a tyrannical tactic
  • Impact:  Maximilien Robespierre will always be known for killing thousands of people, commonly using the guillotine.

While Robespierre might have gone down in history as an important figure of the French Revolution, his Reign of Terror has made him a detestable figure responsible for killing at least 17,000 people. Because of his tyranny, he was eventually arrested and met his end at the hands of a guillotine, which was the main weapon he used to execute his adversaries. He quickly went from a respected leader to a man notorious for the blood on his hands.

16.  Osama bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden
  • Country: Saudi Arabia (born), Afghanistan (died)
  • Time Period: 1957-2011
  • Atrocities:  bin Laden is responsible for terrorist acts perpetrated by his terrorist group, al-Qaeda, including the September 11 attacks.
  • Impact: Thousands of people have died directly as a result of bin Laden’s acts, but countless lives have been lost as a result of the chain reaction that the 9/11 attacks caused across the world

One of the most notable modern adversaries of the United States government is Osama bin Laden, whose terrorist plans led to the War on Terror after more than 3,000 lives were lost on September 11, 2001. It would take nearly ten years before the United States would complete its manhunt for Osama bin Laden and execute him.

Though bin Laden is most notorious for the 9/11 attacks, he was also responsible for other high-profile attacks around the world, such as the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. The world was forever changed by bin Laden’s actions.

15. Jiang Qing

  • Country: China
  • Time Period: 1914-1991
  • Atrocities:  Human rights abuses and death of millions
  • Impact: While Jiang Qing, known as Madame Mao, may not have had the same impact as her husband, she certainly had plenty of power of her own that she abused

Jiang Qing was known as one of Mao Zedong’s “Gang of Four,” which was known for being responsible for much of the social upheaval during Mao’s Great Leap Forward that led to the death of millions. In 1991, Madame Mao, committed suicide after serving several years of her life sentence, which had been commuted from a life sentence.

14. Vlad the Impaler

  • Country: Romania
  • Time Period: 1431 to 1476
  • Atrocities:  Violently killing thousands of people
  • Impact: Vlad the Impaler killed up to 100,000 people and became associated as an inspiration for Dracula.

Vlad Tepes, known as Vlad the Impaler, was considered in his time to be a Romanian hero; however, he was a ruthless warrior who didn’t just kill people and would use brutal methods. He is nicknamed based on his preferred method, which is to use a sharp stake to impale people while watching them slowly bleed out. He would use other terrible methods as well like roasting people over a fire, burning them with sulfur, or boiling them in oil.

13. Oliver Cromwell

  • Country: England
  • Time Period: 1599-1658
  • Atrocities:  Massacres, treatment leading to starvation and disease
  • Impact: Oliver Cromwell violently conquered Ireland, which would lead to decades of strife.

Oliver Cromwell is known for being a controversial figure, who caused a lot of destruction as England tried to gain control over Ireland. He was both a politician and a soldier and under his command, one-fifth of the Irish population died. These deaths were attributed to not just violence but also disease and starvation which were associated with the English’s repressive behaviors.

12. Ivan the Terrible

  • Country: Russia
  • Time Period: 1530-1584
  • Atrocities:  Massacres, draining his nation’s wealth, and violent attacks
  • Impact: Ivan the Terrible Lived up to his title and treated thousands of people terribly.

The first tsar of Russia is certainly a historical name, but he did a lot of damage during his rule. In Poland, he would have 1000 prisoners executed- daily. If someone went against what Ivan wanted, he had no problem killing them. He was also a known warmonger. Even if he didn’t kill someone, he wasn’t afraid to use cruel torture to unleash some terror.

11. Talat Pasha

  • Country: Ottoman Empire (Turkey)
  • Time Period: 1874-1921
  • Atrocities:  Organizing the Armenian genocide
  • Impact: As a ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Pasha had a world stage, but his name will forever be linked with the atrocities he caused during his rule.

Talat Pasha is known as the “Father of Modern Turkey,” and while that title may sound nice, it doesn’t highlight that Pasha is a convicted war criminal who caused a massive genocide. This genocide would kill more than a million Armenians. While a brilliant man, his merciless behavior makes him one of the worst people in history.

10. Heinrich Himmler

  • Country: Germany
  • Time Period: 1900-1945
  • Atrocities: Being an architect of the Holocaust
  • Impact: Himmler will always go down in history as one of the people who designed the Holocaust and caused mass murders and generational trauma among Jewish people and other victimized groups

While Adolf Hitler may be the main man associated with the Holocaust, Himmler was another powerful figure who had a lot of responsibility for the genocide. He was responsible for many of the acts of terror, such as concentration camps and the Gestapo.

9. Idi Amin

  • Country: Uganda
  • Time Period: 1935-2003
  • Atrocities:  Genocide in Uganda
  • Impact: Amin is responsible for thousands of deaths along with additional torture of Ugandan citizens during his time as president.

Idi Amin earned the nickname “Butcher of Uganda” because he was such a brutal leader. He was a rigid dictator whose efforts led to more than 300,000 deaths. Initially, he seemed like a charming leader, but quickly it became apparent that his true nature was a violent one. In many ways, he was a mystery because he would publicly champion women’s rights while also furthering gendered expectations, showing the complex nature of this terrifying figure.

8. Caligula

  • Country: Roman Empire
  • Time Period: 12-41
  • Atrocities:  Torture, murder, brutality
  • Impact:  Caligula was one of the most feared leaders of all time for his extensive and sadistic methods

Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, also known as Caligula, was a renowned Roman Emperor, who had a relatively short but impactful life that ended when he was assassinated by his own bodyguards.  

The reason that he’s so high on this list is not just because he was a killer, but he was a sadistic and perverse killer. He would go to extreme lengths to hurt people, such as beating people with a chain, cutting out tongues, killing with many small injuries, or throwing people to beasts. He must’ve gotten some level of pleasure from his torture methods and the extent of his power.

7. Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin
  • Country: Soviet Union (Modern-day Russia and parts of Europe)
  • Time Period: 1878-1953
  • Atrocities:  Genocide, war crimes, brutality, dictatorship
  • Impact: Stalin became one of the most notorious figures of the 20th century and remains one of the worst men to have ever lived.

Stalin is one of the long list of dictatorial figures who promised a communist revolution that would help the people. However, what he accomplished was the opposite of his promises and he uses many of the same oppressive and genocidal techniques as his contemporaries like Mao Zedong or Adolf Hitler.

Millions died because of his strict, controlling policies, and he offered little leniency. Many people starved while others were intentionally killed. While it’s known many people died, many of his practices, like execution or labor camps, were secretive, so the extent of his actions can only be estimated.

6.  Attila the Hun

  • Country: Empire of the Huns (modern Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Caucasus)
  • Time Period: 406-434
  • Atrocities:  Ordering massacres, killing anyone in his path, genocide
  • Impact: Attila the Hun is known for being a powerful military figure, but his methods were highly violent and destructive

Attila the Hun murdered his own brother, so he wasn’t shy about killing anyone who stood in his path of military conquest. It should come as no surprise that he was nicknamed the “Scourge of God.” Even the Roman Empire feared the Huns because they knew how powerful the Huns were under Attila the Hun’s leadership.

Throughout his career, Attila the Hun was only defeated once in 451 at the Battle of Catalaunian. If you saw his army coming, you knew you were in trouble because he had craved as much power as possible. While he was a renowned warrior, he died on his wedding night, and it’s still a mystery how he died. Some think his wife might’ve been the culprit, but it could be that he just had too much to drink!

5. Leopold II of Belgium

  • Country: Belgium
  • Time Period: 1835-1909
  • Atrocities:  Tyrannical rule, genocide, enslavement
  • Impact: Leopold II will always be remembered for his pursuit of the ivory trade, which led to the killing of millions of people and the cruel treatment of African people

Leopold II was the ruler of Belgium, but he was not content with just what Belgium had to offer, so he looked towards Africa, a place that he saw not for its rich culture and people, but for its potential for colonization.

 He targeted what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he was so interested in this area because of resources, such as ivory. To get results, Leopold II used slavery. He is also responsible for around 3 million people being killed, which was a significant proportion of the population.

Although decades have passed, Congolese people still have to leave with the lingering impacts of Leopold’s rule.

4. Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong
  • Country: China
  • Time Period: 1893-1976
  • Atrocities:  Mass killing and imprisoning people, causing widespread starvation, and exploiting labor
  • Impact: Mao Zedong caused some of the largest numbers of deaths in human history, leading to around 80 million deaths of Chinese people

Mao  Zedong took Marxist theory and used it as a justification for many cruel and devastating decisions. He is known for founding the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and leading the country until he died in 1976. While he promised to help China move beyond its agrarian society, his efforts caused harm to his own people.

He is best known for his “Great Leap Forward,” which was an initiative meant to propel China to become an industrial power that could rival other great countries. Unfortunately, these efforts led to mass starvation and repression, causing millions of deaths.

3. Pol Pot

  • Country: Cambodia
  • Time Period: 1925-1998
  • Atrocities:  Dictatorial rule and genocide
  • Impact: Pol Pot will forever be remembered for terrifying genocide in Cambodia, and Cambodians still face memories of the horrors of his rule.

Pol Pot became the communist ruler of Cambodia, but his utopian promises became a nightmare as he began his reign of terror. He targeted many people for arbitrary reasons, such as wearing glasses because he wanted to eliminate intellectuals from society. Foreigners or anyone who didn’t meet his baseless standard were killed as well.

He would kill people for minor offenses, and of the thousands of people who were put into his interrogation center, only a handful came out. Under his rule, children were beat against trees to their death and thousands more who didn’t die by active execution died from starvation. Some estimates suggest that up to 25% of the population died.

2. Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler
  • Country: Germany, born in Austria
  • Time Period: 1889- 1945
  • Atrocities:  Genocide, war crimes, and dictatorships
  • Impact: He is responsible for around 60 million lives lost during the Holocaust and associated World War II

Few names conjure as much horror as Adolf Hitler, and as the leader of the Nazi Party and dictator of Germany, he instilled a lot of terror around the world and will always be remembered for the horrors his genocide caused. Not only did his genocidal actions cause the death of 6 million Jews, but he had tortured many more and had millions of non-Jewish victims. Anti-Semitic practices and beliefs drove much of his thinking, but he was also prejudiced against other groups, including people who were disabled, black, Roma, gay, or had non-aligned political values.

Hitler rightfully remains one of history’s top villains for the damage he did to millions of people. He not only led terrible killings, but he also caused deep trauma and displacement. He promoted dangerous thought processes that still permeate the modern world.

1. Genghis Khan

Genghis Kahn
  • Country: Mongol Empire (modern East Asia, Mongolia, and beyond)
  • Time Period: 1162 to 1227
  • Atrocities:  Killing millions of people to expand his empire
  • Impact: Genghis Khan’s name is still enough to invoke fear, and he remains as one of the most keen and brutal military figures of all time.

If you’re looking for one of the most brutal killers of all, Genghis Khan no doubt shows how to be a fearful leader, which is how he was able to create the biggest empire in the world. Genghis Kahn is not his name at all, but it actually means “Supreme Ruler,” which is what this figure continues to go by. While there are some praises to give Kha for being a transformative military leader, nothing can change the fact that he mercilessly killed millions to reach his goals.

It is estimated that he killed around 40 million people, and while that is not the most kills on this list, that was around 10% of the world’s population at the time, which is a horrifying statistic. With the great numbers he killed and the many genocidal acts he used to conquer so much land, there’s no doubt that he is arguably the worst person in history, even if many of his feats are quite impressive.

Allen Lee

Written by Allen Lee

Allen Lee is a Toronto-based freelance writer who studied business in school but has since turned to other pursuits. He spends more time than is perhaps wise with his eyes fixed on a screen either reading history books, keeping up with international news, or playing the latest releases on the Steam platform, which serve as the subject matter for much of his writing output. Currently, Lee is practicing the smidgen of Chinese that he picked up while visiting the Chinese mainland in hopes of someday being able to read certain historical texts in their original language.

Read more posts by Allen Lee

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