Counted amongst the greatest military commanders of all times, Alexander the Great successfully created one of the largest empires—from Macedonia to Persia and India—of the ancient world. The son of King of Macedonia, Philip II, he ascended the throne at the age of 20 and achieved unprecedented success before he died at the age of 33.
Julius Caesar is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history and played an important role in the events that led to the downfall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. He assumed control of the government after a civil war. He was assassinated by rebel senators on the Ides of March, 44 BC.
The founder and first Great Khan and Emperor of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan is often considered to be the greatest conqueror of all time. A brutal ruler, he enjoyed exceptional military successes and occupied a substantial portion of Central Asia and China. Besides his military accomplishments, he is also credited with revitalizing the Mongol Empire's writing system.
Augustus, the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, ruled from 27 BC to 14 AD. He transformed Rome from a republic to an empire after Julius Caesar’s assassination. He annexed new territories, brought about peace and prosperity and laid the foundation of an empire that lasted for nearly 1500 years. Historians regard him as an effective but controversial leader.
Also known as Charles the Great, Charlemagne ruled as the king of the Franks, king of the Lombards, and emperor of the Romans at different time periods. Not surprisingly, he had a major impact during the Early Middle Ages as he went about uniting the majority of central and western Europe, for which he is called the Father of Europe.
Marcus Aurelius played an important role in the Roman Empire. A Stoic philosopher, Marcus was part of the Five Good Emperors and the last emperor of the Pax Romana—a 200-year-long period of relative peace in the Roman Empire. Also a writer, his work Meditations is regarded by many as one of the greatest works of philosophy.
William the Conqueror was the first Norman King of England who ruled from 1066 to 1087. William's conquest had a profound impact on England; his government merged elements of the Norman and English systems that laid the foundations of the medieval English kingdom. He is credited with building castles, mottes, and keeps, including the White Tower and Tower of London.
Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, cemented his place in history as a legendary ruler who led his kingdom to victory in wars that seemed hopeless. He is known for his brilliant strategies and defensive measures. He prevented England from falling to the Danes during his rule from circa 871 to 886. He’s also credited with promoting learning and literacy and curbing corruption.
11 Charles II
Chandragupta Maurya established the Maurya Empire in India. He was mostly advised by philosopher Chanakya. He conquered the Nanda Empire and fought the Seleucid-Mauryan War, too. His reign was marked by religious tolerance, and cultural and economic prosperity. He later relinquished his throne and became a Jain monk.
Constantine the Great served as the Roman emperor between 306 and 337. During his reign, he enacted financial, administrative, military, and social reforms to strengthen the empire. Constantine the Great is also credited with introducing the solidus, a gold coin which became the standard for European and Byzantine currencies for over a thousand years.
Cyrus II, or Cyrus the Great, founded the first Persian empire, the Achaemenid Empire. His kingdom extended from Western Asia to Central Asia. He advocated centralized administration, with the help of local governors. The biblical Edict of Cyrus, named after him, talks about the return of the Jews to Israel.
Henry VIII, the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, ruled England from 1509 to 1547. He married six times, leading to differences with the Roman Catholic Church, which prohibited divorce, thus forming the Anglican Church. The "father of the Royal Navy," he was known for his tyranny and extravagance.
17 Wilhelm II
Wilhelm II reigned as the King of Prussia and German emperor from 1888 to 1918. He is credited with promoting scientific innovation and building a blue-water navy, which strengthened Germany’s position as a great power. However, he was also responsible for getting his country involved in World War I, which eventually brought an end to the Hohenzollern dynasty’s rule.
Qin Shi Huang is credited with founding the Qin dynasty, the first dynasty of Imperial China. He reigned as the first emperor of a unified China from 221 BC to 210 BC. Under his rule, the Chinese state expanded greatly and he also enacted major political and economic reforms. His life and work inspired several films like The Emperor's Shadow.
Edward I of England ruled England as its king from 1272 to 1307. During his reign, Edward I reformed common law and royal administration. He is also credited with setting up Parliament as a permanent institution. He is also criticized for issuing the Edict of Expulsion, which expelled Jews from England. The Edict was not overturned for almost 350 years.
Claudius was made the Roman emperor by the Praetorian Guard after the assassination of Caligula, his nephew and predecessor, and ruled from 41 to 54 A.D. He was slightly limp and deaf since childhood, but his reign was marked by financial stability. He was succeeded by his grand-nephew, tyrant Nero.
Louis XIV of France reigned as the King of France from 1643 to 1715. Louis XIV is the longest-reigning monarch of a sovereign country in the history of Europe. Under his rule, France often asserted its military prowess and emerged as the most dominant European monarchy. His life inspired several films, such as The Taking of Power by Louis XIV.
Widely considered one of the greatest tacticians and military leaders in history, Timur is credited with founding the Timurid Empire, which attained its greatest extent under the leadership of Timur. His empire laid the foundation for the rise of the more prominent Islamic gunpowder empires, such as the Mughal Empire, which then ruled the Indian subcontinent for almost 330 years.
26 King James I
King James I of England and Ireland was also the king of Scotland as James VI. Son of Mary, Queen of Scots, he believed in royal absolutism. He had major conflicts with the Parliament and its ever-growing powers, which eventually led to revolts against his successor, Charles I.
Henry VII of England played an important role in popularizing the House of Tudor by becoming the first monarch of the house; he ruled as the king of England from 1485 until his death in 1509. He is credited with several economic, diplomatic, and administrative initiatives.
28 George V
George V became the King of Great Britain and the British Dominions in 1910. During the World War I, he played an active role in supporting the troops. The rise of socialism, communism, fascism and the Indian independence movement was witnessed during his rule. His reign also saw the supremacy of the elected British House of Commons established by the Parliament.
Often considered a national hero of Romania, Vlad the Impaler was an important ruler in Wallachian history. Also known as Vlad Dracula, his reputation for cruelty inspired the name of the famous fictitious vampire Count Dracula. Books describing his cruelty were among the first-known bestsellers in the German-speaking territories.
Nero was the fifth Roman emperor whose rule was associated with tyranny. Five years into his reign, he had his mother Agrippina killed. The Great Fire of Rome, which occurred during his reign, is believed to have been instigated by him for political reasons. He was also responsible for eliminating many Christians from the empire.
31 Kublai Khan
Also known as the Emperor Shizu of Yuan, Kublai Khan served as the fifth khagan of the famous Mongol Empire. After the division of the empire, Kublai Khan founded the Yuan dynasty in China and ruled as the first Yuan emperor from 1271 until his death in 1294. Hence, he played an important role in re-creating a militarily powerful China.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi served as the last king of Iran from 1941 to 1979. During his reign, Iran witnessed rapid military and industrial modernization and several social and economic reforms. During his rule, Iran also enjoyed a spike in economic growth, surpassing France, England, and the US. However, the Iranian Revolution, which was unusual in many ways, overthrew the king.
34 Ramesses II
Ramesses II, son of Seti I, was the third Egyptian pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Also known as the “Great Ancestor,” he is remembered for his aggressive military expeditions to Nubia and Canaan. The second longest-reigning ruler of Egypt, he is credited for building monuments and cities such as the Pi-Ramesses.
The King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for almost six decades, George III had a reign that was longer than those of any of his predecessors. His reign was marked by a series of military conflicts. He suffered from mental illness in his later years.
38 King David
King David of Israel remains a significant figure not just in Christianity, but also in Judaism and Islam. The Books of Samuel describe him as a shepherd. Legends also mention how he killed the giant Goliath and had an affair with Bathsheba. He was also a poet and a psalmist.
Haile Selassie, served his country, Ethiopia, as its regent from 1916 to 1930 and as its emperor from 1930 to 1974. He introduced the first Ethiopian constitution, abolished slavery, chaired the Organisation of African Unity, and helped Ethiopia enter the UN. He inspired the Rastafari movement, too.
Charles V served as the Holy Roman Emperor, King of Italy, and King of Germany from 1519 to 1556. From 1516 to 1556, he ruled as the King of Spain. His personal union of the American and European territories was the first collection of kingdoms that were described the empire on which the Sun never sets.
Richard III was King of England from 1483 to 1485. His defeat and subsequent death marked the demise of the Middle Ages in England. He is the subject of William Shakespeare's famous play Richard III. He has also been an inspiration for several other works of literature and films.
Henry IV of France reigned as the King of France from 2 August 1589 until his death on 14 May 1610. Remembered for his concern about the welfare of the people of France, Henry worked to eliminate corruption, promote agriculture, encourage education, and regularize state finance. The character of Ferdinand in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost was loosely based on Henry.
One of the most renowned kings in English history, Henry V ascended the throne at the age of 26 in 1413 and ruled England till his death in 1422. Though his reign was short, it was marked by great successes in the Hundred Years' War against France which established England as one of the strongest kingdoms in entire Europe.
Caligula, the third Roman emperor, is often described as a cruel man who forced his subjects to worship him as their god. Considered an insane tyrant, Caligula is accused of incest and forcing the audience to enter a sporting arena to be eaten alive by wild beasts during the intermission. His stories are famous in popular culture.
Henry II of England reigned as the king of England from 1154 to 1189. During his long rule, Henry introduced many changes that had severe long-term consequences. Some of his legal changes are believed to have laid the foundation for English Common Law. Henry is often portrayed in films and plays; he has been played by actors like Peter O'Toole.
49 Xerxes I
Xerxes I ruled the Achaemenid Empire from 486 to 465 BC as the fourth King of Kings. During his reign, Xerxes I supervised the completion of several construction projects at Persepolis and Susa. A popular ruler, his life has been adapted into several plays and films; in the 1960 movie Esther and the King, Xerxes is played by Richard Egan.
Darius the Great was a Persian ruler. He served as the third King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire from 522 BCE until he died in 486 BCE. The empire was at the peak of its glory under his reign and included much of Western Asia and parts of the Balkans. He invested a lot in construction projects.