A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events

Khalid Elhassan - April 12, 2021

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Curved blade favored by the Sicarii. Medium

11. History’s First Terrorists

The Sicarii were a militant faction of the Zealots, a first century AD Judean political movement that agitated to spark a rebellion in order to free the Holy Lands from the Roman yoke. The result was the Jewish Revolt of 66 to 73 AD, whose course and consequences were terrible to all involved. While the Zealots were radical, their Sicarii splinter went to extremes that made them history’s earliest identifiable terrorists, with methods that meet modern definitions of the term.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Sicarii springing into action. Reading Acts

The Sicarii, meaning “dagger men” in Latin, earned their name from the knives known as sicae that they used to kill their victims. Their goal was to cleanse the Holy Lands of Romans and their Jewish collaborators, and their standard tactic was to blend into crowds at public gatherings. They would wait for an opportune moment, and when it presented itself, would suddenly charge their target, stab him, and escape during the resulting confusion and panic by blending into the crowd.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Sicarii waiting to spring into action. Pinterest

10. These Ancient Terrorists Pioneered Modern Methods of Provoking the Authorities Into Indiscriminate Retaliations

The Sicarii focused their wrath on the pro-Roman Jewish aristocracy, whom they targeted for killing. They also burned their estates and eventually turned to kidnap and take them hostage for ransom. Their prominent victims included a High Priest of the Jewish Temple, after whose killing the Sicarii went on an assassination spree that terrorized Judea’s Jewish and Roman elites. Their victims, particularly imperial officials, were targeted in a deliberate attempt to provoke the Romans. The Romans, who needed little provocation, responded with terrible massacres and collective punishment of the Hebrew population.

That heavy-handed response kept the embers of discontent smoldering. It also lit new flames of resentment, while providing a steady and steadily growing stream of new recruits and sympathizers from the families and friends of the Romans’ victims. Adopting a strategy common among terrorists today, the Sicarii engaged in sabotage to worsen the populace’s living conditions and keep them disgruntled. Faced with an occupier ready to resort to indiscriminate violence, the Sicarii committed atrocities that guaranteed massive Roman retaliation.

Related: Evolution of Historic Terrorist Organizations.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Rebels attacking Romans during the Great Jewish Revolt. Envision Bible World

9. History’s First Terrorists Presented the Populace With Terrible Choices

By provoking the Romans into massive and indiscriminate retaliation, the Sicarii forced many Jewish fence-sitters to pick from terrible choices. They could do nothing, and probably end up massacred or enslaved by angry Romans in no mood to distinguish “good” locals from bad. Or they could join the resistance in the hopes of gaining freedom, or at least the dignity of dying while fighting. That strategy was in evidence during the run-up to the Jewish Revolt. It began in 66 AD when the Roman governor responded to tax protests by arresting prominent Jews and looting Jerusalem’s Temple.

The protests escalated into a full-blown revolt that forced the Romans and their puppet king to flee Judea. While that was going on, the Sicarii attacked and seized the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea. They then fell upon nearby Roman enclaves, and slaughtered over 700 Romans, most of them women and children. That ensured that there could be no turning back and thus solidified the Sicarii ranks. It also confronted other Judeans with the prospect of massive retaliation and collective punishment of the innocent and guilty alike if the Romans won.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Romans looting the Temple of Jerusalem after they captured the city. Radu Oltean

8. These Radicals Were as Terrible as an Ancient ISIS

After seizing the Masada fortress and slaughtering hundreds of Romans, the Sicarii joined the Zealots and other rebels to attack and capture Jerusalem in 66 AD. Once in control of the city, the Sicarii went on a terrible rampage. They began killing known and suspected collaborators en masse, as well as any opponents, suspected opponents, and those who failed to express sufficient enthusiasm for the Sicarii cause. That extremism led to a backlash and uprising by the city’s population, and a falling out with the other rebels. It culminated in Sicarii defeat, the capture, torture, and execution of their leader, and the group’s expulsion from Jerusalem.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Romans attacking the besieged Sicarii remnants at the Masada. Pinterest

The surviving Sicarii retreated to the fortress of Masada, and contented themselves with plundering the surrounding countryside. In the meantime, the Zealots and other radicals managed to crush a popular backlash, and retained control of Jerusalem until it was besieged, conquered, and razed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Romans then began mopping up operations, and eventually reached the final holdouts, the Sicarii in Masada, whom they besieged. Realizing that all was lost and that their fate would be terrible if they were captured, the Sicarii committed mass suicide, killing their families and then themselves.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Francois L’Olonnais. Wikimedia

7. This Terrible Pirate Was a Terror on Sea and Land

Jean-David Nau, better known as Francois L’Olonnais (1630 – 1669), was one of history’s most ruthless and feared pirates. He earned a terrible reputation for brutality that stood out even in an age and within a profession where brutality was the norm. Born in dire poverty in France, L’Olonnais’s family sold him into indentured servitude as a child. In that capacity, he arrived in the Caribbean when he was fifteen-years-old, and spent the next ten years of his life toiling on Spanish plantations.

The young indentured servant performed back-breaking menial work in horrible conditions. He endured such mistreatment and sundry humiliations that, by the end of his term of indentured servitude in 1660, he had developed a burning hatred of Spain and all things Spanish. The result was a lifelong vendetta. For the remainder of his days, L’Olonnais had a bone to pick with the Spanish, and his relentless pursuit of that vendetta earned him the nickname “The Flail of Spain”.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
A buccaneer. Wikimedia

6. Francois L’Olonnais Once Escaped With a Gory Trick Straight Out of The Walking Dead

When his indentured servitude ended, Jean-David Nau changed his name to Francois L’Olonnais and moved to Tortuga, a French island north of Haiti. At the time, Tortuga was a nest of piracy and lawlessness, and L’Olonnais wasted no time in joining its buccaneers. He showed so much zeal that within a short time Tortuga’s French governor gave L’Olonnais his own ship, and a letter of marque authorizing him to prey on Spanish shipping as a privateer. He instantly set himself apart with a terrible reputation for viciousness and ferocious cruelty in the treatment of prisoners, particularly Spanish ones.

An expert torturer, L’Olonnais enjoyed tormenting his victims in a variety of fiendishly gruesome ways that were gory enough for a slasher film. Early in his career, he was shipwrecked off Yucatan. While most of the crew survived to reach shore, most were killed soon thereafter when Spanish soldiers found and attacked them. L’Olonnais survived by covering himself in blood and viscera, and hiding among the dead. Later, he snuck into a nearby town that was celebrating the killing of the pirates, and arranged for an escape back to Tortuga.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Francois L’Olonnais and his men at Maracaibo. Pintrest

5. The Terrible Ordeal of Maracaibo

Once he got back to Tortuga, Francois L’Olonnais resumed his depredations against Spain. In 1666, he assembled a fleet of 8 ships and 440 pirates to attack Maracaibo in modern Venezuela. En route, he came across and looted a Spanish treasure ship, which yielded 260,000 Spanish dollars, in addition to gemstones and cocoa beans. When he reached Maracaibo, he discovered that the citizens had fled. He tracked them down in the surrounding jungles, captured them, brought them back, and tortured them into revealing where they had hidden their valuables.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Death of L’Olonnais. Metropolitan Museum of Art

For the next two months, the people of Maracaibo were subjected to terrible depravities by L’Olonnais and his men, who murdered, pillaged, and violated both women and men. The pirates finally put the town to the torch and tore down its fortifications before leaving. The following year, L’Olonnais led an even bigger pirate expedition against Central America, but they stumbled into an ambush in Honduras and were massacred. L’Olonnais was one of the few survivors who managed to escape back to a ship, but it ran aground off the coast of Panama. Disembarking, he led his men inland in search of food, only to get captured, killed, and eaten by an indigenous tribe.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Rufus Buck, center, and his terrible gang. Harvard Magazine

4. The Wild West’s Wildest Teen Gang

Rufus Buck (1877 – 1896) was born in the Indian Territory in today’s Oklahoma to a Creek Indian father and an African American mother. In his teens, he formed a multiethnic gang of underage delinquents – all Indians, African Americans, or mixed race. Buck was a zealot with nebulous ideas of triggering a Native American uprising. He led his gang on a terrible rampage of robbery, assault, and murder, that terrorized white settlers, Indians, and African Americans alike. The teenagers started stockpiling weapons in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and on July 28th, 1895, began their rampage by shooting and killing a deputy US Marshal.

On the way back, Buck and his gang violated a middle-aged widow. They then robbed a man of his horse, and killed him when he resisted. A few days later, they robbed a salesman, stripped him naked, and offered him a chance to escape. When he unexpectedly succeeded in escaping, they killed his assistant in frustration. They then violated and murdered two women and a fourteen-year-old girl. On August 4th, they violated a woman in front of her husband, whom they held at bay with rifles. At least two of their female victims died of their injuries.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Judge Isaac Parker, and the Fort Smith gallows where the terrible Buck Gang met its end. Simple Site

3. This Gang Met Its End at the End of a Rope

The Buck Gang’s terrible depravities led to the formation of posses of Indian Police and white settlers to kill or capture them. However, while the posses combed the countryside, the teenaged outlaws brazenly rode into Okmulgee and robbed three stores. Whenever they encountered somebody riding a horse they liked, they offered to trade, and shot the rider if he declined. On the outskirts of Eufala, they came across a black child, and shot him just to see him twitch as he expired.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
‘Hanging Judge’ Isaac Parker. Owlcation

On August 10th, 1895, US Marshals came across the gang in a hideout near Muskogee. After a furious firefight, the teenagers were forced to surrender when they ran out of ammunition. Taken into Muskogee, the gang barely escaped a lynching by a Creek mob. They dispersed only after a tribal chief pleaded with them, and the US Marshals vowed to shoot the first man who tried to seize their prisoners. Taken to Fort Smith for trial, the gang were found guilty of a long list of violent offenses, and were sentenced to death by “hanging judge” Isaac Parker. After appeals were exhausted, they were hanged on July 1st, 1896.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Jean-Bedel Bokassa in 1970 with Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Romanian Communism Online Photo Collection

2. The Delusional Napoleon Fanboy Who Appointed Himself Emperor of the Central African Republic

Jean-Bedel Bokassa (1921 – 1996) of the Central African Republic was a captain in the French colonial army when the country gained its independence. The new country’s president, a distant cousin, appointed Bokassa to head its armed forces. Bokassa showed his gratitude by staging a coup in 1966, and ousting his cousin from power. He appointed himself president and ruled as dictator until 1979. Bokassa was a huge fan of Napoleon Bonaparte. Erratic and prone to delusions of grandeur, he emulated his idol by declaring his small landlocked country an empire and anointed himself Bokassa I, Emperor of the Central African Empire.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
The coronation of Emperor Bokassa I. Wikimedia

He then bankrupted his impoverished country with a lavish coronation that cost about 80 million dollars, and featured a diamond-encrusted crown worth 20 million. Bokassa’s rule was marked by a terrible reign of terror, during which he personally oversaw judicial beatings of criminal suspects. He also decreed that thieves were to lose an ear for the first two offenses, and a hand for the third. Additionally, Bokassa supervised the torture of suspected political opponents, then fed their corpses to lions and crocodiles kept in a private menagerie. He was also into cannibalism, as shown in a Paris-Match magazine expose, which ran photos of a deep freezer in Bokassa’s palace that contained the bodies of children.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Emperor Bokassa. Jeremy Hunter

1. This Tyrant Might Have Been a Clown, But He Was Also a Terrible Monster

Jean-Bedel Bokassa’s rule featured many terrible atrocities. The best known was the arrest of hundreds of schoolchildren in 1979 for refusing to buy school uniforms from a company owned by one of his wives. Bokassa personally oversaw the murder of more than 100 children by his imperial guard. That caused an uproar, and soon thereafter, the self-styled Emperor Bokassa I was deposed by French paratroopers. He had a soft landing, however, and went into a comfortable exile in France, financed by millions of dollars embezzled and stashed in Swiss bank accounts.

A Definitive List of Some of History’s Most Awful People and Events
Bokassa and his family in exile. Rebel Circus

Bokassa’s exile did not stay comfortable for long: he blew through his millions within a few years, and was reduced to poverty. Things got so bad that he made a brief reappearance in international news in the 1980s, when one of his children was arrested for shoplifting food. Bokassa returned to Central Africa in 1986, where he was tried and convicted of murder and treason, and sentenced to death. However, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was released in 1993. He lived another three years, before dying in 1996.


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

John Fiske, James Grant Wilson – Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography (2002)

Atkin, Nicholas – Petain (1997)

Biography – Idi Amin

Cordingly, David – Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates (1996)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Jean-Bedel Bokassa

Encyclopedia Britannica – Sicarii

Heritage Daily – Matthew Hopkins, the Real Witch Hunter

History Collection – Lesser-Known Horrible Criminals

Indiana Genealogy Trail – Jackson County Indiana: The Legend of the Reno Gang

Johnson, Captain Charles – A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (1998)

Josephus – Wars of the Jews

Klaits, Joseph – Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts (1985)

Lane, Kris E. – Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500-1750 (1998)

Legends of America – Reno Gang & the 1st Big Train Robbery

National Park Service, Fort Smith Historic Site – Rufus Buck Gang: A Time to Die

History Collection – Most Corrupt African Dictators in Modern History

Parkinson, Cyril Northcote – Gunpowder Treason and Plot (1977)

Pirates and Privateers – The History of Maritime Piracy: Flail of the Spaniards

Smallwood, Edith Mary – The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian (2014)

Spartacus Educational – Frank Reno

Thurston, Robert W. – The Witch Hunts: A History of the Witch Persecutions in Europe and North America (2007)

Wikipedia – Guy Fawkes

Wikipedia – Muammar Gaddafi

Wikipedia – Reno Gang

Wired – Tambora 1815: Just How Big Was The Eruption?