10 of History’s Perverse Rulers

10 of History’s Perverse Rulers

Khalid Elhassan - June 15, 2018

10 of History’s Perverse Rulers
Detail from ‘Herod and Mariamne’, by Luca Ferrari. Magnolia Box

Herod the Great Spent Years Having Sex With His Dead Wife

Herod the Great (74 BC – circa 1 AD) was a Roman client king of Judea who built some massive projects during his reign, such as the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the fortress of Masada. However, he is best known from the Christian Gospels as the king who ordered the Massacre of the Innocents when Jesus was born. Less known is that he was also a royal pervert of the grossest kind.

Herod was not religiously observant. He was born to an Edomite father, from a people who had been forcibly converted to Judaism only a generation or two before Herod’s birth. However, he was raised as a nominal Jew, and he married into the ruling Jewish Hasmonean Dynasty, tying the knot with princess Mariamne, one of the last Hasmonean heirs. He then killed her relatives, removing contenders for the throne of Judea, and got the Romans to make him king of the Jews.

Mariamne was a stunning beauty, and Herod was crazy about her – but not in a good way. On the one hand, he was passionately in love with her. On the other hand, he was also crazy jealous. While Herod loved Mariamne, she did not return the feeling. It was probably understandable, considering that Herod had killed her brother and uncle, and that Herod’s father had killed Mariamne’s father, then embalmed him in a tub of honey. Nonetheless, Herod had five children with her – two girls and three boys.

Eventually, like Shakespeare’s Othello, the tensions got too much, and Herod ended up destroying the object of his affections and obsessions. Mariamne hated Herod, and his children grew up hating him as well. So Herod eventually had Mariamne executed, as well as his two older sons with her. That was bad enough, but things soon went from bad to monstrous.

Despite having ordered Mariamne’s execution, Herod exhibited intense grief for her death. He often broke into uncontrollable fits of weeping, went into a deep depression, and was unable to let her go. That his, he was literally unable to let her go. According to the Talmud, Herod had his dead wife’s body preserved, and he kept making love to the corpse for seven whole years. The Talmud described it as Herod “fulfilling his animalistic desires” with the cadaver. It wasn’t just icky, but also sticky: Herod had supposedly preserved Mariamne’s corpse with honey.

10 of History’s Perverse Rulers
Tiberius. The Getty

Tiberius Was History’s Most Perverted Ruler

Some notoriously depraved Roman emperors, such as Caligula, Nero, and Elagabalus, are known because of their ostentatiously bizarre behavior and public displays of sexual deviancy. The Roman emperor Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD), was not as out of control insane as the aforementioned trio, but he matched and probably exceeded them in sexual perversion. Tiberius just preferred to be a pervert in the privacy and seclusion of his isolated palace, rather than put it all out on public display. He was the dirtiest old man to have ever ruled Rome, and just might be history’s most perverted ruler, ever.

Caligula, Nero, and Elagabalus became emperors as teenagers or immature young men, then went crazy with the sudden power. By contrast, Tiberius ascended the throne as a mature middle-aged man nearing old age – he was in his mid-50s when he became emperor in 14 AD. So he had no youthful desire for ostentatious displays to shock and attract attention. Such behavior would have run against his personality, anyhow: even as a young man, Tiberius was a withdrawn and taciturn introvert.

What Tiberius did instead was to build himself a huge pleasure palace, secluded in the island of Capri. There, he wallowed in all kinds of deviant sexual behavior, most notably extreme pedophilia with children of both sexes. Among other things, Tiberius had toddlers trained to dive underwater while he was in a pool to “nibble” at him as he swam – he called them his “minnows”.

Tiberius also had pleasure gardens stocked with teenaged and prepubescent boys and girls, dressed in outfits from Greco-Roman myths and legends, or running around naked. He had them frolic, display themselves for his pleasure, and engage in sex on command with each other – as he aged, Tiberius grew increasingly impotent, so he was often reduced to being a spectator in the perversions acted out for his pleasure.

The walls of Tiberius’ palaces and villas were covered with erotic or explicitly pornographic paintings and murals of all kinds of sexual activity, from the normal to the shockingly depraved. The artwork served as a menu, and when Tiberius wanted to cut to the chase, he would simply point to a particular painting to communicate what he wanted done.

Tiberius even had anal experts on the imperial payroll: “On retiring to Capri he devised a pleasance for his secret orgies: teams of wantons of both sexes, selected as experts in deviant intercourse and dubbed analysts, copulated before him in triple unions to excite his flagging passions.” To top it off, he had suckling babes suck on his penis: “Unweaned babies he would put to his organ as though to the breast, being by both nature and age rather fond of this form of satisfaction.”

10 of History’s Perverse Rulers
Nero. Wikimedia

Nero Took Imperial Sexual Depravity to New Levels

The Roman emperor Nero (37 – 68 AD) was one of history’s oddest rulers. He became emperor as a teenager in 54 and was dominated by his mother, who reportedly controlled him with incest. As contemporaries described it: “whenever he rode in a litter with his mother, he had incestuous relations with her, which were betrayed by stains in his clothing“. That kind of upbringing sheds light on how Nero ended up so depraved. When he tried to assert his independence as he grew older, Nero’s mother refused to give up her power, and kept meddling in government. So he decided to murder her, resorting to elaborate means to make it look accidental. She survived each attempted “accidental death”, so Nero finally had his henchmen club her to death.

With his mother out of the way, Nero finally started living life his way. He fancied himself an avant garde artiste, and delighted in shocking public sensibilities. Public displays of deviant sexual practices were the easiest way to do that. So Nero reportedly “defiled every single part of his body“, and when he tired of run of the mill perversions, “he at last devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes, and when he had sated his mad lust, was dispatched by his freedman Doryphorus.”

At some point, Nero fell in love with a youth named Sporus, and married him in a public ceremony intended to shock: “He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife.

Nero put a lot of thought into his perversions and liked to organize and preplan them. So much that he set up sex rest stops in advance of his route during vacations. As described by contemporaries: “Whenever he drifted down the Tiber to Ostia, or sailed about the Gulf of Baiae, booths were set up at intervals along the banks and shores, fitted out for debauchery, while bartering matrons played the part of inn-keepers and from every hand solicited him to come ashore“.

Nero dedicated himself to his pleasures, and spent lavishly on gratifying his desires. In the meantime, he neglected the Roman Empire and entrusted its governance to corrupt subordinates, who wrecked it. Finally, in 68 AD, various generals and provincial governors rebelled, the Senate declared Nero a public enemy, and his Praetorian Guard abandoned him. Nero contemplated throwing himself upon the public’s mercy and begging forgiveness but changed his mind upon being informed that he would probably be torn apart by the first mob that came across him. So he had had a freedman stab him to death, and cried out with his dying breath: “Oh, what an artist dies in me!

10 of History’s Perverse Rulers
Poster from a movie about prince Sado. Online Korean News

Korea’s King Yeongjo Raised a Sex Fiend

Eighteenth-century Korean king Yeongjo had a problem with his son and heir, Crown Prince Sado (1735 – 1762). For years, the king’s wives and concubines had given him only daughters, and he despaired of ever getting a male heir, so when Sado arrived in 1735, his birth was cause for great joy. In accordance with royal tradition, the infant was set up in his own palace with an army of maids and governesses and servants. However, the king did not oversee his son’s upbringing, and Sado was spoiled rotten.

On the rare occasions when the king stopped by, he was highly irritable with even minor missteps by his son. Sado thus ended up fearing his father, while desperately trying to please him. It was not easy, and whenever the two met, the king was far more critical than affectionate. So Sado grew up feeling unloved and resentful. Between the lack of affection, lack of fatherly supervision, indulgence by courtiers, and other deep-seated neuroses, something went wrong with Sado, and he became a fiend.

Growing up, the prince was given to sudden and violent mood swings. One day, he would carry himself with decorum and dignity, the model of all that his father had ever wanted in his son and heir. The next day, he would explode into violence, and become a murderous rapist. Scholars are unsure what was wrong with him, but many today suspect that he was schizophrenic.

Sado became a raging alcoholic, even though alcohol was forbidden at court. When he became depressed nothing cheered him up like murdering servants, and on many a day, several of his victims’ bodies were carried out of the palace. The Crown Prince also liked raping court ladies, and after murdering his concubine, he started sexually harassing his own sister. He soon became feared throughout Korea as a serial rapist, serial killer, and all-around psychopath.

His father eventually decided that he could not, in good conscience, inflict his deranged son upon his subjects as their next king. So on July 4th, 1762, Sado was summoned by his father, who declared the Crown Prince deposed. Sado’s outright execution was prohibited by taboos, so he was locked inside a big wooden container for storing grain, where he starved to death.

10 of History’s Perverse Rulers
Caligula. Ancient Rome

Caligula Was Raised in a Palace of Perversions, and it Showed

Caligula’s (12 – 41 AD) epic perversions might be explained by his upbringing: he was raised by his uncle, the Roman emperor Tiberius – a seedy creep, as seen in a previous entry. Tiberius spent much of his reign as a recluse in a pedophilic pleasure palace, only surfacing every now and then to order the execution of enemies, real or imagined. His victims included Caligula’s mother and two brothers, whom Tiberius accused of plotting against him. He also probably had Caligula’s father poisoned.

Getting raised in such an unwholesome environment was bound to mess up Caligula. He hid whatever resentments he might have harbored against his homicidal uncle, and succeeded to the throne – reportedly after smothering a bedridden Tiberius to death with a pillow. The combination of sudden freedom from the ever present threat of execution, coupled with unlimited power, warped Caligula’s mind, and he plunged into an orgy of extravagant spending and hedonistic living. A soothsayer had once predicted that Caligula had as much chance of becoming emperor, as he did of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae. So early in his reign, Caligula had a bridge built across the bay, then rode his horse across it while clad in the armor of Alexander the Great.

As to deviancy, among the sundry depravities attributed to Caligula was his habit of telling his wife, whenever he kissed her: “you know, I can have that lovely neck slit whenever I want“. He also had sex with his own sisters – as contemporaries put it: “He lived in habitual incest with all his sisters, and at a large banquet he placed each of them in turn below him, while his wife reclined above“. At dinner parties, Caligula would frequently order the wives of his guests to accompany him to his bedroom, where he would ravish them. Once he was done, Caligula would return to the party and rate his victim’s performance, berating the cuckolded husband if he thought the wife’s performance had been unsatisfactory.

He had utter contempt for Rome’s senatorial class and went out of his way to demonstrate just how much he loathed them. To humiliate Rome’s patricians, Caligula turned the imperial palace into a brothel, in which he compelled the wives of leading Roman senators and other high-ranking dignitaries to serve as prostitutes. To further show his contempt for the senators and the Roman Republic for which they pined, Caligula had his favorite horse made consul – the Republic’s highest magistracy.

Examples abounded of Caligula’s unhinged behavior, such as the time he started giggling uncontrollably at a party. When asked what was so funny, he replied that he thought it was hilarious that with just a signal, he could have anybody present executed on the spot. On another occasion, at an arena, Caligula was informed that there were no more criminals to throw to the beasts. So he ordered that a section of the stands – whom he indicated to his guards by pointing at two hairless spectators and saying “from baldhead to baldhead” – be thrown to the wild animals.

Caligula went on to declare himself a god, and had the heads removed from various deities’ statues, and replaced them with his own. He also once declared war on the sea god Neptune, marched his legions to the sea, and had them collect seashells to show the deity who was boss. Eventually, the weirdness got too much, and his Praetorian Guard murdered him in 41 AD. As an ancient writer put it: “On that day, Caligula finally learned he was not a god“.

10 of History’s Perverse Rulers
Elagabalus. Virilly

Emperor Elagabalus Shocked His Subjects

While not as vicious as some other perverted Roman emperors, Elagabalus (203 – 222), who ruled the Roman Empire from 218 until his death, could match any of them when it came to sexual deviancy. He was a religious zealot who followed eastern religious practices that weirded out the Romans, whom he shocked with sexual conduct viewed as unseemly in an emperor.

Nobody had expected that Elagabalus would ever become emperor, so he grew up training to become a priest of the Syrian sun god Heliogabalus. However, after the assassination of his cousin, the emperor Caracalla, Elagabalus was the nearest surviving male imperial relative. So his grandmother intrigued to have him succeed Caracalla as emperor at age 15. The teenaged priest-turned-emperor took his deity’s name as his own, and brought its worship to Rome, where he built Heliogabalus a great temple. Then he shocked the Romans by dancing around deity’s altar amidst a cacophony of cymbals and drums – not the kind of stuff that Roman emperors do.

That was bad, but what really sank Elagabalus was that he might have been history’s most flamboyantly gay ruler. He openly wore women’s clothing, and fawned upon and engaged in public displays of affection with his boyfriends. He frequently elevated his male lovers to high positions, such as an athlete whom he appointed to powerful government positions, and a charioteer whom he sought to have declared Caesar.

He also reportedly prostituted himself: “Finally, he set aside a room in the palace and there committed his indecencies, always standing nude at the door of the room, as the harlots do, and shaking the curtain which hung from gold rings, while in a soft and melting voice he solicited the passers-by. There were, of course, men who had been specially instructed to play their part. For, as in other matters, so in this business, too, he had numerous agents who sought out those who could best please him by their foulness. He would collect money from his patrons and give himself airs over his gains; he would also dispute with his associates in this shameful occupation, claiming that he had more lovers than they and took in more money.

The problem was not that he was homosexual, as homosexuality or bisexuality were not unusual in Rome. Respected previous emperors such as Trajan and Hadrian had male lovers, and Hadrian had created a religious cult for a lover who died young. The problem was that Elagabalus was the passive, or receptive partner in sexual relations with other men. Emperor were supposed to be dominant alpha males – tops. Elagabalus was a bottom. That, plus other instances of his perceived effeminacy, was unacceptable in a Roman emperor. It opened Elagabalus to ridicule and contempt, which led to his assassination in 222.

10 of History’s Perverse Rulers
Ibrahim the Mad. Wikimedia

Ibrahim the Mad Was Crazy In and Out of His Harem

Ibrahim I (1615 – 1648), or Ibrahim the Mad, reigned as sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1640 to 1648, and seems to have been destined by his upbringing to end up as a weirdo. At age 8, Ibrahim’s older brother became sultan Murad IV, and one of his first edicts was to confine Ibrahim to the Kafes, or “Cage” – a secluded part of the Royal Harem, where possible successors to the throne were kept. There, they were placed under house arrest, under surveillance, and isolated from the outside world to prevent intrigues and plots.

As Ibrahim grew up in the Cage, sultan Murad executed his other brothers, one by one. Finally, Ibrahim was the last surviving brother, constantly terrified that he might be executed at any moment. He stayed in the Cage, quaking in fear, until Murad died in 1640 without issue. When Ibrahim was taken out of the Cage and informed that he had inherited the throne as the last male Ottoman, he declined. More accurately, he fled back to the Cage in terror, and barricaded himself inside. He thought it was a cruel trick to entrap him into saying something that his fratricidal brother would take as treasonous.

So courtiers brought Murad’s corpse to Ibrahim’s door so he could see for himself. Even then, it still took the pleas of his mother, “who had to coax him out like a kitten with food“, for Ibrahim to come out and accept the throne. By then, the years of isolation, fearing a visit from the execution at any moment, had driven Ibrahim around the bend.

An early worrying sign was the new Sultan’s habit of feeding of fish in the palace pool, with coins instead of food. When it became clear that Ibrahim was unhinged, his mother acted as de facto regent and ruled in his name. To keep her crazy son busy, she encouraged him to spend as much time as possible in the Harem with his roughly 280 concubines. It was not just to keep him out of his mother’s hair and out of trouble: the Mad Sultan was the last male Ottoman, and it was vital that he sire some heirs lest the dynasty goes extinct.

Ibrahim took to the Harem with relish, fathering three future sultans and a number of daughters. He was a weirdo when it came to sex, and a contemporary described how: “In the palace gardens he frequently assembled all the virgins, made them strip themselves naked, and neighing like a stallion ran amongst them and as it were ravished one or the other”. It wasn’t just the fun and games type of crazy: one day, out of the blue, the Mad Sultan woke up and ordered his entire Harem of 280 women tied in weighted sacks, and drowned in the sea.

He also had a fetish for fat women. One time he saw a cow’s vagina that turned him on, so he had an artist make golden copies of the heifer’s hoo-ha. He then sent the gold copies around his empire, with instructions to find a woman with a similar-looking vagina. A 350-pound woman with matching parts was eventually found, and she became his favorite concubine. Ibrahim also had a fur fetish, decorating his clothes, curtains, walls, and furniture with it. His pillows were stuffed with fur, and he liked having sex on sable furs.

One time the Mad Sultan saw the beautiful daughter of the Grand Mufti, the empire’s highest religious authority, and asked for her hand in marriage. Her father, aware of Ibrahim’s depravities, urged his daughter to decline. So the Mad Sultan ordered her kidnapped and carried to his palace, where he ravished her for days, before returning her to her father.

Ibrahim eventually exiled his mother and started running the government himself, with disastrous results. After executing his most capable ministers, the Mad Sultan began spending like a madman. He eventually emptied the treasury and got himself into a series of disastrous wars. Between heavy taxes, the mismanaged wars, and a Venetian blockade reducing the Ottoman capital to starvation, discontent boiled over. In 1648, a popular revolt broke out, and an angry mob tore Ibrahim’s Grand Vizier to pieces. Ibrahim was deposed in favor of his 6-year-old son, and a fatwa was then issued for the Mad Sultan’s execution, which was carried out by strangulation.

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

Aggrawal, Anil – Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects (2010)

BBC History – Charlemagne

Biography – Caligula

Encyclopedia Britannica – Elagabalus, Roman Emperor

Encyclopedia Britannica – Mariamne, Wife of Herod

Gulik, Robert Hans Van – Sexual Life in Ancient China: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society From ca. 1500 BC Till 1644 AD (2003)

Jewish Encyclopedia – Mariamne

Pilloledistoria – Tiberius Was A Pedophile?

Ranker – Facts About Ibrahim I, The Man Who Lived In A Cage

Kinross, Lord – The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire (1979)

Live Science – Emperor Nero: Facts & Biography

Naked History – Prince Sado of Korea, The Coffin King

PBS – Tiberius

Suetonius – The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Wikipedia – Dona Joanna the Mad

History Collection – The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures

History Collection – 12 Historically Important Perverts and How They Changed the World

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