A Disturbing Collection of History’s Most Brutal Rulers

A Disturbing Collection of History’s Most Brutal Rulers

Khalid Elhassan - April 30, 2022

A Disturbing Collection of History’s Most Brutal Rulers
A nineteenth-century painting depicts Tamerlane gloating over a captive Bayezid. Wikimedia

1. “When I Rise From the Dead the World Shall Tremble

Tamerlane’s most dramatic victory came at the expense of the Ottoman Turks. A rising power in their own right, the Ottomans were as exuberantly confident in their prowess as was Tamerlane. For years, heated letters were exchanged between Tamerlane and the Ottoman Sultan, Bayezid, until Tamerlane finally showed up with his army in 1402, crushed Bayezid, and took him captive. In one of history’s greatest acts of ownage, Tamerlane humiliated his prisoner by keeping him in a cage at court, while Bayezid’s favorite wife was made to serve the victor and his courtiers, naked.

A Disturbing Collection of History’s Most Brutal Rulers
Facial reconstruction of Tamerlane, based on his unearthed skull. Wikimedia

Tamerlane’s decades-long rampage finally ended in 1405. As he prepared to invade China, he took ill, and died before he could launch the campaign. His grave was reportedly cursed. His body was exhumed by Soviet anthropologists on June 19th, 1941. Carved inside his tomb were the words “When I rise from the dead, the word shall tremble“. Two days later, the Nazis launched the largest military operation of all-time against the USSR, and the Soviets survived only by the skin of their teeth. Just to be on the safe side, in November 1942, shortly before Operation Uranus which led to the first major Soviet victory at Stalingrad, Tamerlane was reburied with full Islamic rituals.


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

Badass of the Week – Ranavalona the Cruel

Biography – Pol Pot

Bobrick, Benson – Ivan the Terrible (1990)

Burkhardt, Jacob – The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1878)

Clements, Jonathan – The First Emperor of China (2006)

Cojean, Annick – Gaddafi’s Harem: The Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya (2014)

Daily Sabah, August 6th, 2015 – The History of Fratricide in the Ottoman Empire, Part I

Daily Sabah, August 8th, 2015 – The History of Fratricide in the Ottoman Empire, Part II

Davis, Brian Lee – Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the US Attack on Libya (1990)

Drees, Clayton J. – The Late Medieval Age of Crisis and Renewal, 1300-1500: A Biographical Dictionary (2001)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Hulegu, Mongol Ruler of Iran

Encyclopedia Britannica – Ivan the Terrible

Encyclopedia Britannica – Muammar al Qaddafi

Encyclopedia Britannica – Ranavalona I

Encyclopedia Britannica – Timur

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe, Part II (1994)

Guardian, The, March 31st, 2011 – Dictator Lit: Saddam Hussein Tortured Metaphors, Too

Hildinger, Erik – Warriors of the Steppe: Military History of Central Asia, 500 BC to 1700 AD (1997)

Hinton, Alexander Laban – Why Did They : Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide (2005)

History Collection – Savage or Sophisticated? 6 Things You Must Know About the Incas

Inalcik, Halil – The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300-1600 (1969)

Jackson, Peter – The Mongols and the West: 1221-1410 (2014)

Kim, Hyun Jin – The Huns, Rome, and the Birth of Europe (2013)

Laidler, Keith – Female Caligula: Ranavalona, the Mad Queen of Madagascar (2005)

Lamb, Harold – Tamerlane: The Earth Shaker (1929)

Lewis, Mark – The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han (2009)

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

Maenken-Helfin, Otto – The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture (1973)

Man, John – Attila: The Barbarian King Who Challenged Rome (2009)

Manz, Beatrice Forbes – The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (1999)

Marozzi, Justin – Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World (2006)

Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2002, Volume 9, Number 1 – Saddam Husayn’s Novel of Fear

Ranker – The Most Brutal Medieval Monarchs

Taylor, Benjamin – Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay (2012)

Twitchett, Denis, et alThe Cambridge History of China: The Chin and Han Empires, 221 BC – AD 220, 3rd Edition (1986)

Woods, John E. – The Timurid Dynasty (1990)

World History Encyclopedia – Attila the Hun