Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks

Khalid Elhassan - November 17, 2019

It is pleasant when justice catches up with bad people – the corrupt, the criminal, and the otherwise horrid – and they get what is coming to them. Unfortunately, and more often than not, justice has a far easier time catching up with the small-fry bad folk than it does when it comes to the powerful, the rich, and the connected baddies. Too often, the mighty get away with it, leaving the rest of us to gnash our teeth and hope that there’s another tribunal in the afterlife where they’ll pay for what they got away with in this life. Sometimes, however, justice, vengeance, or karma do catch up with the powerful in this life. Following are forty things about times when powerful bad people ended up paying for it.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Turkish soldiers marching Armenians out of a town to their doom. NZ Herald

40. Most Perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide Escaped Punishment – But Not All

During World War I, the Ottoman Turk authorities sought to end to the restiveness of their oppressed Armenian citizens by putting an end to the Armenians via genocide. Under the guise of “relocating” them from border regions to the interior of their empire, the Ottomans subjected the Armenians to massacres and death marches, interrupted by widespread and horrendous abuses, that claimed the lives of 1 – 1.5 million victims.

Following Turkey’s defeat and surrender at war’s end, desultory efforts were made to bring those responsible to account. However, no international tribunal existed to try the criminals, and their prosecution in Turkish courts eventually petered out due to domestic political pressures. As a result, those who had orchestrated the genocide escaped formal justice, and were able to travel relatively freely throughout much of Europe and Central Asia. That is, until the Armenians decided to bring them to account, vigilante style.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Children during the Armenian Genocide. Wikimedia.

39. Operation Nemesis

At the end of WWI, an Ottoman military tribunal sentenced the principal leaders responsible for planning the Armenian Genocide to death. However, the condemned were freed at the end of the trial and fled to Europe, where they lived under assumed names. Disgusted at such a miscarriage of justice, some members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a nationalist party, decided to take matters into their own hands, and bring the guilty to account.

A secret ARF resolution called The Special Mission was passed, to punish the main perpetrators of the genocide. The result was Operation Nemesis, named after the ancient Greek goddess of divine retribution. Between 1920 – 1922, Armenian avengers stalked those responsible for the genocide throughout Europe and Asia, to deal them lethal justice.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Fatali Khan Khoyski. Pintrest

38. The First Sacrifice to Nemesis

The first target claimed by the avengers of Operation Nemesis was the first prime minister of independent Azerbaijan, Fatali Khan Khoyski. He was accused of having played a prominent role in the massacre of tens of thousands of Armenians in Baku in 1918.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Aram Yerganian. Wikimedia

Azerbaijan’s independence did not last for long, and the Bolsheviks overran and incorporated it into the Soviet Union in 1920. That April, Khoyski fled to Tiflis, Georgia, to escape the advancing Red Army. On June 19th, Armenian revolutionary Aram Yerganian opened fire on Khoyski in Tiflis’ Yerevan Square, killing him on the spot.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Talaat Pasha. Newcastle University

37. Landing a Big Fish

Next to fall to Operation Nemesis was Mehmed Talaat Pasha. One of a triumvirate known as the Three Pashas who had ruled the Ottoman Empire during WWI, Talaat had initiated the Armenian Genocide in 1915 while serving as Minister of Interior Affairs. He fled the Ottoman Empire in early November of 1918, aboard a German submarine, and settled in Berlin.

He was tried in absentia by a Turkish court-martial and sentenced to death. However, the Turks were not that eager to have him extradited, and the Germans denied knowledge of his whereabouts. In reality, Talaat’s presence in Germany was a semi-open secret, and he traveled throughout much of Central Europe and Scandinavia without hindrance. That state of affairs lasted until 1921, when Operation Nemesis caught up with him.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Soghomon Tehlirian. Wikimedia

36. Death on a Berlin Street

Talaat Pasha’s impunity ended in 1921. An Armenian revolutionary named Soghomon Tehlirian had discovered Talaat’s Berlin address, and rented an apartment nearby to study his every move. On March 15th, 1921, Tehlirian shadowed Talaat when he left his house. Upon confirming his target’s identity, Tehlirian pulled out a Luger pistol, shot Talaat dead in broad daylight, then waited over the corpse for the police to arrive and arrest him.

Tehlirian’s subsequent trial for murder was a sensation, which he used as a platform to draw attention to the Armenian Genocide. His lawyers focused on the impact the genocide had on Tehlirian’s mental state, and he testified that he had acted after his mother – killed during the atrocity – had appeared to him in a dream, berating him for not having avenged her. It took a Berlin jury one hour to acquit him, returning a verdict of not guilty on grounds of temporary insanity.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Cemal Azmi. Pintrest

35. The Vilest of Murderers

Cemal Azmi, known as “The Butcher of Trebizond”, might have been the most abhorrent of Operation Nemesis’ targets. A founder of the Teskilat-i-Mahsusa (Special Organization), a unit created to suppress dissent and separatism in the Ottoman Empire, Azmi was serving as governor of Trebizond province when the Armenian Genocide commenced in 1915. An enthusiastic participant, he massacred Armenians by the tens of thousands.

Azmi was particularly vicious towards Armenian children and women, and had thousands of them drowned in the Black Sea. Witnesses testified that he had turned a local hospital into a “pleasure dome”, where he indulged in sexual orgies with young Armenian girls, before murdering them. Reminiscing about it, Azmi told an acquaintance: “Among the most pretty Armenian girls, 10 – 13 years old, I selected a number of them and handed them to my son as a gift; the others I had drowned in the sea“.


Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Arshavir Shirakian. Flickr

34. Justice on the Uhlandstrasse

After the war, Cemal Azmi fled to Germany, and the organizers of Operation Nemesis eventually tracked him down in Berlin. Aram Yerganian, who had already killed one of the retribution campaign’s targets, was tasked with bringing down Azmi, plus another genocide accomplice, Dr. Behaeddin Shakir. Partnering with Yerganian was another Armenian revolutionary, Arshavir Shirakian.

On April 17th, 1922, Yerganian and Shirakian came upon Cemal Azmi and Behaddin Shakir as the two murderers were strolling with their families on Berlin’s Uhlandstrasse. Shirakian opened fire, killing Azmi, but only wounding Behaddin, who took off running. Yerganian took off after the fleeing genocidier, caught up with him, and finished him with a bullet to the head. Neither shooter was apprehended.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Ahmed Djemal Pasha. Underwood & Underwood

33. Operation Nemesis’ Final Major Target

Ahmed Djemal Pasha was another of the Three Pashas who had ruled the Ottoman Empire during WWI. Also known as al Saffah, or the Blood-shedder, Djemal Pasha was one of the key participants in the Armenian Genocide. After the war, he fled to Germany, then to Switzerland. A Turkish court martial sentenced him to death in absentia.

In 1920, Djemal headed to Afghanistan, where he worked on modernizing its army. With the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War roiling the neighboring USSR, he headed to Tiflis, Georgia, to negotiate with the Soviets on behalf of Afghanistan. There, a trio of Armenian revolutionaries, Atrashes Gevorgyan, Stepan Dzaghigian, and Petros Ter Poghosyan, assassinated Djemal Pasha and his secretary on July 21st, 1922. He was the last major genocidier brought to account by Operation Nemesis.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Stede Bonnet. Wikimedia

32. Slumming With Pirates

Criminals suck. They suck even more when they’re rich folk who need to go criming, but do so simply for kicks and giggles and as a way of slumming. Few exemplify that better than Stede Bonnet (circa 1680 – 1718), a rich Barbados plantation owner and army major who turned to piracy for no rational reason.

Born into a wealthy family of landed gentry, Bonnet had led a peaceful life for years, living with his wife in a profitable Barbadian sugar plantation. Then, out of the blue in 1717, in some type of mid-life crisis, he decided to escape marital difficulties and boredom at home by purchasing a ship, naming it the Revenge and outfitting it with cannons. He hired a crew of 70 sailors, then sailed off into the deep blue to become a pirate.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Stede Bonnet. Missed in History

31. The Gentleman Pirate

Stede Bonnet was nicknamed “The Gentleman Pirate”, and swiftly gained fame – or infamy. Not because of his success as a pirate, but because of the astonishing incompetence he displayed after taking up a career he had no business pursuing. As it turned out, he probably should have left piracy to roughnecks better suited to its travails and vicissitudes.

As might be expected from a rich dilettante who became a pirate on a whim, Bonnet was not very good at it. He was soon exposed as an incompetent sailor and poor leader, and managed to capture only a few small and trifling prizes off the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia. The only reason Bonnet’s crew did not depose him and elect another in his stead to command the Revenge was that he paid them regular and generous wages – the only pirate captain to do so.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Stede Bonnet hanging. The Way of Pirates

30. The End of the Road at the End of a Noose

Bonnet came across Blackbeard in Florida, who befriended and persuaded him to give up command of the Revenge because of his utter incompetence at piracy. Bonnet transferred to Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, where he remained as a guest, while his own ship, the Revenge, was taken over by one of Blackbeard’s lieutenants. Soon thereafter, Bonnet accepted a royal pardon but returned to piracy in July, 1718.

Hapless as ever, Bonnet thought that adopting the alias “Captain Thomas” and changing the name of his ship to Royal James would mask his identity. It did not. The following month, a British naval expedition came across Bonnet at anchor in the Cape Fear River estuary, and after a fight, captured him and his crew. Bonnet escaped, but was recaptured after a few weeks on the lam, and taken to Charleston. There, he was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and hanged on December 10th, 1718.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Jonathan Wilde. National Portrait Gallery

29. The Thief Catcher Who Was Also a Crime Boss

Eighteenth-century English crime boss Jonathan Wilde (1682 – 1725) ruled an underground kingdom of thieves and highwaymen, ran far-flung extortion racked, and was Britain’s biggest fence for stolen goods. After he feigned reform, the authorities turned to Wilde, gave him the title “Thief Taker”, and set him loose on the criminals running amok and terrorizing London.

Wilde took to his new job and title with a passion, forming highly effective teams of thief catchers who fell upon the criminals with a will, breaking up gangs and sending criminals to the gallows by the dozen. During his thief-catching career, at least 120 were executed based on Wilde’s testimony and information he furnished the authorities. However, far from having gone legit, Wilde had hoodwinked everybody. The Thief Catcher became an even bigger criminal kingpin, ridding himself of competitors by delivering them to the authorities.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Executions at Tyburn. Blue Plaques Guide

28. The Thief Catcher Gets Caught

Jonathan Wilde also set up a side business as a private detective, recovering stolen goods for a fee. He failed to inform his clients that it was his thieves who had stolen their goods in the first place, and “recovery” simply amounted to Wilde sifting through his warehouses of stolen property.

He was finally brought down when a criminal double-crossed by Wilde accused him of fencing stolen goods. An investigation confirmed the accusation, and Wilde was arrested. That was when many of his underlings took the opportunity to turn crown evidence against him until his whole scheme of simultaneously being England’s greatest crime fighter and greatest criminal came out. He was swiftly tried, convicted, and hanged at Tyburn, where he had sent so many others to their doom.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Sigurd the Mighty. Ranker

27. The Viking Who Devastated Scotland

Sigurd the Mighty (died 892), was a Viking Earl who ruled the Orkney and Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. Allied with other Vikings chieftains, he launched an invasion of the Scottish mainland which devastated and conquered northern Scotland, overran Sutherland and Caithness, and asserted Viking control as far south as Moray. Sigurd’s exploits during that conquest earned him the epithet “the Mighty” from fellow Vikings.

He gained his earldom after the Viking king of a recently unified Norway sent Sigurd’s brother, Rognvald Eysteinsson, to conquer the Shetland and Orkney islands after they became a refuge for Norwegian exiles, from which they raided their homeland. During the conquest, Rognvald lost a son, so the king of Norway compensated him by giving him the islands and making him an earl. Having interests elsewhere, Rognvald gave the islands, and the title, to his younger brother Sigurd.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Sigurd the Mighty. An Exploring South African

26. Cheating Pays – Until It Doesn’t

Sigurd the Mighty got his just deserts when, during the course of his conquest and devastation of northern Scotland, he challenged a local chieftain, Mael Brigte the Bucktoothed, head of the kingdom of Moray, to a 40-man-per-side battle. However, Sigurd cheated and showed up with 80 men. Outnumbered, the Scots were defeated and massacred, and Sigurd personally beheaded Mael Brigte.

Tying the defeated leader’s head to his saddle as a trophy, Sigurd rounded up his men and rode back home to celebrate the victory. However, on the way back, as the severed head tied to the saddle bounced around, the bucktooth which gave Mael Brigte his nickname cut Sigurd’s leg. The cut became inflamed and infected, and Sigurd died of the infection before he got back home.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Charles the Bad. Gallica Digital Library

25. Charles the Bad Was Well Named

King Charles II of Navarre, also known as Charles the Bad (1332 – 1387), was a powerful French magnate with extensive holdings in Normandy and other parts of France. From 1349, he was also the king of Navarre, a small kingdom on the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain.

Charles earned the nickname “the Bad” because of his propensity for intrigues, bad faith dealings, betrayals, dishonesty, and double-crosses as he attempted to expand his kingdom at the expense of France and Spain.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
King John the Good of France ordering the arrest of Charles the Bad. Wikimedia

24. Treason Upon Treason

Charles the Bad plotted with the English to betray his native France during the Hundred Years War, and was arrested and locked up by the French king John II when his treachery came to light. Charles escaped from prison and 1357, and began a series of intrigues with a variety of French parties, betraying nearly all, one after the other. After John II’s death, his successor forced Charles to hand over most of his holdings in France.

In 1378, Charles was forced to cede nearly all of his remaining French holding when evidence of new treachery was discovered, proving that Charles not only planned to again betray France to the English, but plotted to go one better this time and poison the French king.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Pedro the Cruel. Wikimedia

23. Charles the Bad’s Badness Goes International

To the south, Charles the Bad’s poor reputation was no better in Spain than it was in his native France. He allied with Peter the Cruel of Castile against Peter IV of Aragon in 1362, only to turn around and betray Castile the following year, by allying with Peter IV against Peter the Cruel.

Crossing somebody whose epithet was “the Cruel” was risky, and in 1378, Castilian armies invaded Navarre, forcing Charles to flee post haste. Out of allies, having betrayed them all, Charles was forced to agree to a humiliating treaty that defanged his kingdom and reduced him and his realm to Castilian clients.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
The fiery end of Charles the Bad. Morphosis

22. Karma Finally Catches Up With Charles the Bad

Charles the Bad’s karmic end came in 1387, when he came down with an illness that impeded the use of his limbs. A doctor prescribed that he be swaddled from head to foot in linen cloth, steeped in brandy or other spirits of wine. One of the palace maids, tasked with securing the swaddling cloth snugly around the king’s body by sewing it in place with yarn, realized when she was done that she had no scissors with which to snip the excess thread.

Resorting to a common alternate method for thread cutting, she reached for a candle to use its flame to burn off a section of yarn. The alcohol-infused cloth caught on fire, and Charles the Bad, tightly swaddled in the burning linen, was unable to escape. He suffered horrific burns all over his body, and lingered for two weeks in extreme agony before death finally released him from his suffering.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Ptolemaic Alexandria. Pintrest

21. The King Who Murdered His Sister/ Wife/ Cousin

Egypt’s Ptolemaic Dynasty was probably history’s most dysfunctional and perverse ruling family, in which intra-familial murder and incest were so common that their absence from a reign was more shocking than their practice. Perhaps none of the Ptolemies illustrates how tangled things had gotten after generations of incest than Ptolemy XI Alexander II, who ruled the kingdom for a few days in 80 BC.

His uncle Ptolemy IX Lathryos had died in 80 BC, leaving the throne to his daughter Cleopatra Bernice, who briefly reigned alone as Bernice III. The Roman dictator Sulla however wanted a more pliant ruler, so he sent a young Ptolemy XI to Egypt. There, the new arrival married Bernice III – his cousin as well as his half-sister – and ruled jointly with her. The joint rule would last only a few weeks, before Berenice’s brother-husband did her in.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Head of a statue believed to be of Berenice III. Wikimedia

20. The Royal Who Got Himself Lynched

Bernice, aside from being Ptolemy’s XI’s cousin as the daughter of his uncle Ptolemy IX, was also his half-sister, step-mother by dint of having been married to Ptolemy XI’s father, and might even have been his actual mother – sources are confused on this point. Despite the close family ties – or perhaps precisely because of those ties – Ptolemy XI did not like his new wife.

Nineteen days into the marriage, he murdered Berenice. That proved to be a mistake, because he was little known to the locals, while Bernice had been a popular ruler. Soon thereafter, Ptolemy XI was seized by an enraged Alexandrian mob, and publicly lynched.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
The Mad Sultan, Ibrahim I. Factinate

19. Turkey’s Craziest Ruler

Ottoman sultan Ibrahim I (1615 – 1648), also known as the Mad Sultan and Ibrahim the Mad, ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1640 to 1648. He might have been more crazy than evil, but put a nut in a position of power, and bad stuff is bound to happen, regardless of – or especially if – the powerful loon is unable to tell right from wrong.

When his older brother Murad IV ascended the throne, he had the then-8-year-old Ibrahim confined to the Kafes, or “Cage” – a secluded part of the Harem where possible successors to the throne were kept under house arrest, watched by palace guards and isolated from the outside world to prevent intrigues and plots. Murad, executed his other brothers, one by one, until Ibrahim was the only one left, quaking in fear that he might be next.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
The Kafes, or Cage, in the Topkapi Palace. Wikimedia

18. Early Warning Signs

Ibrahim remained in the Cage until he was suddenly dragged out to ascend the throne after his brother’s death in 1640. He refused at first, and rushed back into the Cage to barricade himself inside, suspecting it was a cruel trick to entrap him into saying something that his fratricidal brother would take as treasonous. Only after his brother’s dead body was brought to the door for him to examine, and the intercession of his mother “who had to coax him out like a kitten with food“, was Ibrahim convinced to accept the throne.

By then, the years of isolation and the constant terror that he might get executed at any moment, had unhinged Ibrahim and left him unfit to rule. Already unstable, his condition was worsened by depression over the death of his brother the Sultan, whom he apparently loved in a Stockholm Syndrome type of way.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Still from a movie, depicting the Mad Sultan and his mother. Factinate

17. From Crazy to Crazy Evil

People worried when Ibrahim began feeding pet fish with coins. As it became clear that he was crazy, Ibrahim’s mother ruled in his stead, encouraging him to spend as much time as possible in the Harem with his nearly 300 concubines. She wanted him out of her hair and out of trouble, and to father male heirs since, by then, he was the last surviving Ottoman male.

For years, Ibrahim took to the Harem with relish, fathering three future Sultans and a number of daughters. As a contemporary put it “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”. Until he woke up one morning, and in a fit of madness ordered his entire Harem tied in weighted sacks and drowned in the Bosporus.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Ottoman Harem. YouTube

16. Kinky Crazy As Well

Ibrahim had a fetish for fat women, and one time he got turned on by a cow’s vagina, so he ordered copies made of gold and sent them around the empire, with inquiries to find a similarly endowed woman. A 350-pound woman with matching parts was found in Armenia and taken to his Harem, she became one of his favorite concubines. Ibrahim also had a fetish for fur, decorating his clothes, curtains, walls, and furniture with it. He also stuffed his pillows with it and preferred to have sex on sable furs.

When he saw the beautiful daughter of the Grand Mufti, the empire’s highest religious authority, he asked for her hand in marriage. Aware of Ibrahim’s depravities, he urged his daughter to decline. When she did, Ibrahim ordered her kidnapped and carried her to his palace, where he ravished her for days, before sending her back to her father.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
The execution of an Ottoman royal by strangulation. Quora

15. The Mad Sultan’s Downfall

Eventually, Ibrahim exiled his mother and assumed personal control of the government. The results were disastrous: after ordering the execution of his most capable ministers, Ibrahim spent profligately until he emptied the treasury, even as he got himself into a series of wars and managed them poorly. By 1647, between heavy taxes to pay for his extravagant lifestyle and for the bungled wars, and with a Venetian blockade of the Dardanelles that brought the Ottoman capital to the brink of starvation, discontent boiled over.

In 1648, the population revolted, urged on by religious scholars, and were joined by the army. An angry mob seized Ibrahim’s Grand Vizier and tore him to pieces, and the Sultan was deposed in favor of his six-year-old son. A fatwa was then issued for Ibrahim’s execution, which was carried out by strangulation on August 18th, 1648.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Caligula. Ancient Rome

14. Little Boots Grew Into a Big Monster

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (12 – 41 AD) earned the nickname Caligula (“little boots”) because of the miniature legionary outfits he wore as a child while accompanying his father on military campaigns. He grew to become emperor of Rome from 37 to 41 AD, and is probably the gold standard for crazy rulers.

He was raised by his uncle, the Roman emperor Tiberius, a paranoid odd fish who spent much of his reign as a recluse in a pedophilic pleasure palace in Capri. Tiberius did surface on occasion to order the execution of relatives accused of treason, including Caligula’s mother and two brothers, and had probably poisoned Caligula’s father as well. A great natural actor, Caligula hid any resentment felt towards his uncle and survived the bitter Tiberius, who named him heir, quipping “I am rearing a viper for the Roman people“.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Living it up, Caligula style. New York Times

13. Cutting Loose

The years of repressed living left their mark on Caligula, and once freed of the ever-present threat of execution by his paranoid uncle, he cut loose in an orgy of lavish spending and hedonistic living, as the combination of sudden freedom and sudden unlimited power went to his head. He kicked off the weirdness early, when, to demonstrate his contempt for a soothsayer’s prediction that he had no more chance of becoming emperor than riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae, Caligula ordered a two-mile bridge built across the bay, then rode his horse across it while wearing the breastplate and armor of Alexander the Great.

He once started cackling uncontrollably at a party, and when asked what was funny, replied that he found it hilarious that with a mere gesture of his finger, he could have anybody present beheaded right then and there.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Neptune. Pinterest.

12. Turning Into a Full-Blown Monster

Displeased by an unruly crowd at the Circus Maximus, Caligula pointed out a section to his guards, and ordered them to execute everybody “from baldhead to baldhead”. On another occasion, bored at an arena when told that there were no more criminals to throw to the beasts, he ordered a section of the crowd thrown to the wild animals.

His depravities included incest with his sisters. At dinner parties, he frequently ordered guests’ wives to his bedroom, and after bedding them, returned to the party to rate the quality of their performance, berating the cuckolded husbands if Caligula thought their wives were lacking. He also turned the imperial palace into a whorehouse, staffed with the wives of leading senators and other high-ranking dignitaries. To further show his contempt for the senatorial class and the Roman Republic for which they pined, Caligula had his beloved horse made consul – the Republic’s highest magistracy.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Death of Caligula. AKG Images

11. Trolling the Wrong Guy

On one occasion, Caligula 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. He eventually declared himself a god, removed the heads from various deities’ statues, and replaced them with his own, also had his beloved horse made consul. However, it was not the preceding craziness that doomed Caligula, but his grievous error in offending his own bodyguards.

His security detail’s commander, Chaerea, had a high-pitched voice, and Caligula got a kick out of mocking him as effeminate. He thought it hilarious to come up with derogatory daily passwords that had to do with homosexuality, and whenever Chaerea was due to kiss the imperial ring, Caligula made sure it was on his middle finger, and waggled it obscenely. Chaerea finally had enough, and in 41 AD, he hatched an assassination plot with other Praetorian Guards, and hacked Caligula to death.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Pierre Laval. Encyclopedia Britannica

10. The Treasonous Prime Minister

Pierre Jean Marie Laval (1883 – 1945) was twice Prime Minister of France during the Third Republic, first in 1931 – 1932, and again in 1935 – 1936. He started off as a socialist but steadily drifted into conservatism until he became an extreme right-winger. When the Germans defeated France in 1940, Laval became an eager collaborator and went on to serve prominently in the German-aligned Vichy Regime.

A lawyer, Laval was a member of the Socialist Party from 1903 to 1920, and early in his career, made a name for himself defending leftists and trade unions. He became more conservative after WWI, and rising steadily through political ranks, twice became French Prime Minister for brief periods in the 1930s, along with longer stints as Foreign Minister.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Pierre Laval, left, with SS Obergruppenfuhrer Carl Oberg, head of the German police in France. Wikimedia

9. Turning Traitor

When France fell to the Germans in 1940, Pierre Laval persuaded the French Assembly to dissolve itself and cede all powers to Marshall Petain, thus ending the Third Republic and inaugurating the Vichy Regime. Convinced of ultimate German victory in WWII, Laval eagerly collaborated with the Nazis.

During the Vichy Regime, he served as vice president of the Council of Ministers for five months in 1940, until dismissed by Petain, and as head of the Vichy government from 1942 until the liberation of France in 1944. In an infamous 1942 speech, he avowed his desire that Germany win the war, and throughout, he avidly persecuted the French Resistance.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Pierre Laval on trial for treason after the war. Encyclopedia Britannica

8. Laval Gets His Just Deserts

The collaborationist Laval rounded up Frenchmen for labor in Germany and the German war effort, and assisted in deporting French Jews to the concentration and extermination camps. Arrested by the Free French after the liberation of France, he was tried alongside Petain after the war on charges of high treason.

Laval attempted to justify his treason on grounds that he had France’s best interests in mind all along, but to no avail. He was convicted and sentenced to death. After a failed suicide attempt by poison, he was executed by firing squad on October, 15th, 1945.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Chin Shi Huangdi, as portrayed in an 18th-century album of Chinese emperors. Wikimedia

7. China’s Greatest – and Battiest – Ruler

Chin Shi Huangdi’s (259 – 210 BC) upside was that he was the first to conquer and unify the core of China into a single realm. His downside was that he was a megalomaniacal monster. To unify his newly conquered empire, he standardized the currency, weights and measures, and introduced a system of government known as Legalism, based on strict laws and harsh punishments.

He ended feudalism, which had produced centuries of warfare, and replaced it with a centralized, bureaucratic and meritocratic government. To keep the nobility in check, Shi Huangdi kept those he favored in the capital, and controlling them with pensions and fancy titles, transformed them from an uncontrollable warrior class into dependents and tame courtiers. Then, abolishing all aristocratic titles and ranks, except for those created and bestowed by him, he had the rest of the nobility killed or put to work.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Part of Chin Shi Huangdi’s tomb, with thousands of life sized terracotta warriors. New York Times

6. Order – But At What Price?

Shi Huangdi put everybody to work. With unchecked power and the resources of an entire empire to draw upon, he grew megalomaniacal. He launched huge projects with massive amounts of forced labor, such as 700,000 laborers working on his tomb for 30 years. The famous Terracotta Warriors site, discovered in the 1970s and now open to tourism with its thousands of life-size statues, is but a fraction of Shi Huangdi’s gigantic tomb complex, the bulk of which is yet to be unearthed.

Millions more labored to dig canals, level hills, make roads, and build over 700 palaces. The biggest project of all was the Great Wall of China, which did double duty: keeping the northern barbarians out, and Chinese seeking to flee Shi Huangdi’s heavy taxation and oppressive rule, in.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Expedition sent by Chin Shi Huangdi in search of the Elixir of Life. Wikimedia

5. Fame! I Wanna Live Forever

Another manifestation of Shi Huangdi’s megalomania – which eventually did him in – was his pursuit of immortality drugs. He lavishly funded searches for a “Life Elixir” that would keep him alive forever, including an expedition with hundreds of ships that sailed off into the Pacific in search of a mythical “Land of the Immortals”. It was never heard from again.

He also patronized alchemists who claimed that they were close to inventing the Life Elixir, but that their R&D was hobbled by a lack of funding – a problem which Shi Huangdi generously put to rights.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
China Shi Huangdi. Citaty

4. Poisoning Oneself In Pursuit of Immortality

One of the charlatans who flocked to Shi Huangdi’s court gave the emperor daily mercury pills. He claimed that they were a life-prolonging intermediate step in his research for immortality drugs, which should tidy Shi Huangdi over until the Life Elixir was ready.

Swallowing mercury every day, the emperor gradually poisoned himself, and gradually grew insane. He turned into a recluse who concealed himself from all but his closest courtiers, listened constantly to songs about “Pure Beings”, ordered 400 scholars buried alive, burned all history books and had his son and heir banished. Rather than prolong his life, Shi Huangdi shortened it in his pursuit of immortality, and died of mercury poisoning at the relatively young age of 49.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Attila the Hun. Encyclopedia Britannica

3. The Scourge of God

Before Hitler, and before Genghis Khan, history’s most hated ruler was probably Attila the Hun (406 – 453), who ruled a multi-tribal empire that spanned Eastern and Central Europe. Born in the Hungarian Steppe into the Hun royal family, he inherited the crown jointly with his brother Bleda in 434.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Huns cutting loose. History

During his reign, 434 – 453, Attila earned the moniker “The Scourge of God”, as he savaged the civilized world. He invaded Persia, terrorized the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, plundered the Balkans, extorted vast sums of gold from Constantinople, invaded Gaul and was beaten back, recoiled, then struck into Italy the following year, before meeting his gratifyingly karmic end.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
Bleda. Sutori

2. Brotherly Love

The brothers’ Attila and Bleda were challenged early on, but crushed the opposition. When their surviving enemies fled to the Roman Empire, the brothers invaded and forced the Romans to surrender the fugitives and agree to an annual tribute of 230 kilograms of gold. Attila and Bleda then turned their attention to the Persian Empire, which they invaded and plundered for years before they were beaten, at which point they returned to Europe.

Crossing the Danube in 440, the brothers plundered the Balkans and destroyed two Roman armies. The Roman emperor admitted defeat, and the brothers extorted from him a new treaty that paid 2000 gold kilograms up front, plus an annual tribute of 700 gold kilograms. Soon thereafter, Attila consolidated power by murdering his brother and becoming the sole ruler.

Operation Nemesis and Other Historic Paybacks
The Huns approaching Rome. Wikimedia

1. Choking to Death on His Own Blood

In 447, Attila returned to the Balkans, which he ravaged until he reached the walls of Constantinople. In 450, the Western Roman Emperor’s sister sought to escape a betrothal by begging Attila’s help, and sent him her engagement ring. He interpreted that as a marriage proposal, accepted, and asked for half of the Western Roman Empire as dowry. When the Romans balked, Attila invaded, visiting his customary depredations, before he was finally stopped at Chalons in 451.

The following year, he invaded Italy, sacking and burning as he advanced down the peninsula, before he was persuaded by the Pope to withdraw. He planned to attack Constantinople again in 453, but his rampage finally ended that year, when he drank himself into a stupor while celebrating his wedding to a new wife. In a fittingly poetic ending, blood-thirsty Attila got a nosebleed, and choked to death on his own blood.


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

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Attila the Hun

Armenian National Institute – Genocide Research

Bingen, Jean – Hellenistic Egypt: Monarchy, Society, Economy, Culture (2007)

Bogosian, Eric – Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot That Avenged the Armenian Genocide (2015)

Gábor Ágoston, Bruce Masters – Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire (2008)

Bowman, Alan – Egypt After the Pharaohs: 332 BC – AD 64, From Alexander to the Arab Conquest (1996)

Clements, Jonathan – The First Emperor of China (2007)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Charles II, King of Navarre

Encyclopedia Britannica – Jonathan Wild, English Criminal

Encyclopedia Britannica – Pierre Laval

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

Barrett, Anthony A. – Caligula: The Corruption of Power (1989)

New York Times, Times Topics – Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview

Orkneyjar – Earl Sigurd the Mighty, the First Earl of Orkeny

Suetonius – The Lives of the Twelve Caesars (2013)

Way of the Pirates – Stede Bonnet

Wikipedia – Cassius Chaerea

Wikipedia – Operation Nemesis