One of the most popular shows on television is Game of Thrones, and while some of the elements of that show may not relevant in the world in which we live (dragons, White Walkers, magic), others aspects are actually not that far off. For example, Game of Thrones has featured some terrible, horrible rulers and, well, humankind has also seen its fair share of some seriously awful people acquiring power.
The people on this list are not only responsible for murdering people but have done so in sick ways that are truly what nightmares are made of. I guess when one has power, just simply executing someone is boring. It’s much more interesting to boil them to death, impale them with a stake, or have bees attack them to death. Yes, all of those things really happened.
These people of power vary in many, many ways. Some are men; some are women. Some rulers were straight up kings, while others were knights or countesses, who were noble enough to carry on their terror without being prosecuted. The time in which these people lived also varies greatly. Some ruled way back in 37 AD, like when the years were in double digits, while others ruled as recently as the 20th century.
It is disturbing that the people on this list would actually perform such gross acts on another human being but power can really mess with a person. Here are ten rulers from history who were basically psychopathic killers.
Phalaris ruled Acragas in Sicily and is best known for using the brazen bull as a torture device. The brazen bull (pictured above) was a hollow bull made of bronze, with a door to shove the poor victim inside. A fire would then be set under the brazen bull and the victim would roast inside. Phalaris even had the device tinkered with so that it converted the screams of the dying to sound like the sound of a bull.
This torture device was invented by a man named Perillos, who was then locked in the bull by Phalaris so he could test it out. How sadistic is it to enlist someone to create a torture device, only to torture them to death with it?
9 Gilles de Rais
Gilles de Rais was a knight and a lord best known for his companionship with Joan of Arc, and for the fact that he was a serial killer.
Rais would have his servants, who were apparently super loyal, go find victims. The victims tended to be young, unaccompanied children. Rais would then sodomize his victims and have his servants torture these kiddos until they died.
The children were often dismembered and it is said that Rais would often hold up handsome heads or limbs to admire them and sometimes even keep his favorites. Even worse, Rais is said to have sat on the stomach of the dying children, taking delight in the pain it caused them as they died.
Since there were apparently body parts of children just lying all around his estate, Rais was caught, found guilt and executed.
8 King Henry VIII of England
At this point, King Henry VIII is more or less a joke in pop culture - “Hey, remember that dude who chopped off his wives’ heads?”
Yeah, well, even if jokes can be made about that today, chopping your wives’ heads off is still kind of crazy. Of his six wives, only two were beheaded. Another two were divorced, one died and the final wife outlived the King.
Whether it was that he believe they had been cheating on him, they couldn’t produce a male heir or simply that another hotter thing came along, King Henry would get rid of his current wife with no concern about the consequences. The consequences included splitting from the Roman Catholic Church and creating a whole new church for England. What kind of egotistical playboy would do such a thing? King Henry VIII would.
7 Vlad The Impaler
Vlad III, ruler of Wallachia, is also known by his two nicknames: Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Yes, the dude was actually known as Dracula and inspired the modern day myth of Dracula because he was twisted as hell.
Supposedly, ol’ Vlad would roast children then feed said children to their mothers. After that, he cut the breasts of the mothers off and feed them to the husband. Finally, the husbands were impaled, a form of execution where the victim is penetrated by a spear or stake of some sort. Because of his love of impaling people, he earned his nickname “Vlad the Impaler”. Though, there isn’t an exactly body count, it is estimated that Vlad killed between 40,000 to 100,000 people. That’s a lot of roasted babies.
Oh, he also apparently liked to drink the blood of his victims and is said to have dipped his bread in their blood so there’s that.
6 Liu Pengli
Liu Pengli was the King of Jidong, a city in China, from 144 – 121 BC. He would apparently go out at night and pillage his own city, killing the common folk for fun as if every single night were his own personal version of The Purge. He was literally hunting the people he ruled just because he wanted to. It got to the point that people were too afraid to leave their homes at night, you know because their King might slaughter them for entertainment.
Word of Liu’s weird hobby got to the Emperor of China, who just so happened to be Liu’s cousin. It’s said that the court wanted to execute Liu but the Emperor swooped in to save his cousin and punished him by stripping him of his title and exiling him. There is no record of Liu following his exile so maybe he learned his lesson.
5 Elizabeth Báthory
Between the years 1585 and 1610, if you were a woman you probably wanted to steer clear of Elizabeth Báthory.
The Hungarian Countess apparently had some pretty sinister family members, as one of her uncles taught her about Satanism and one of her aunts taught her about sadomasochism at a very young age. Then, when she married at the age of 15, her hubby built her her very own torture chamber. So, basically everyone around her was just feeding into her being a psycho.
Báthory didn’t just kill young girls but she would do so in disturbingly inventive ways, including smearing them down with honey and letting bees and ants attack them. She also liked stripping her victim, dunking her in water then forcing her to stand in the cold outside until she literally froze to death.
Báthory herself would often eat chunks of her victim’s flesh, believing the blood would keep her looking young. Since she came from a noble family, Báthory’s crimes were long ignored until she started kidnapped and killing daughters of noble families. Báthory was found guilt of 80 counts of murder but instead of being executed, she was banished to a room in her castle that only had slits for air and food. Essentially, she was put under house arrest for her 80 counts of murder.
The highest cited count of her victims is 650, which is why Guinness World Records has crowned her as the most prolific female murderer.
4 Almost Every Pope
When it comes to Popes who were not necessarily all that good (weird considering they’re the Pope) there are quite a few to pick from. Pope Damasus I actually sold women and children as sex slaves to raise money for the church.
Pope Benedict IX murdered people and committed adultery among other crimes and was eventually pushed out of the position. When Damasus II took over the title of Pope, Benedict IX poisoned him and took the title back. Pope Benedict IX sounds like he’s right out of Game of Thrones.
Apparently on Halloween of 1501, Pope Alexander VI hosted the largest orgy ever in the Vatican, and supposedly the Vatican had seen quite a few orgies. The lusty Pope also fornicated with his sisters and his daughter so there’s that.
There’s also Pope Pius IX, who has been linked to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
While none of these popes may have singularly killed as many people as say Elizabeth Báthory, as a whole they are most certainly responsible for many, many deaths through thousands of years.
3 Emperor Caligula
Caligula ruled the Roman Empire back in 37 AD – 41 AD. So, this was about 2,000 years ago.
Caligula not only liked to be worshiped in the way one would their ruler but he even went as far as to tell his people that he was a god and had them worship him as so. It is said that Caligula self-absorbed and sadistic, which kind of fits the profile of some dude who is walking around calling himself a god.
Caligula would sleep with married women and kill people for amusement. He also wasted all of Rome’s money on a bridge he wanted to build, which resulted in the common folk starving to death.
Unfortunately for Caligula, he wasn’t a real god and when a group of guardsmen attacked him, stabbing him 30 times, he died like one does when he's not an actual god.
2 Adolf Hitler
There is no ruler in recent history more notorious for his cruelty than Adolf Hitler. Hitler was an ambitious man, with dreams to take over the world and wiping out the Jewish population. During the Holocaust, Hitler succeeded in killing somewhere between five to six million Jews who were living in Europe. While some Jews were worked to death and starved to death, others were put into gas chambers, designed for mass executions.
Hitler was the head of these awful acts but perhaps more disturbing are the people who actually carried out these acts. Karl-Otto Koch was the first commander of several concentration camps. During his command, he could steal valuables and money from the murdered, making quite a little fortune while participating in a mass genocide.
Karl's wife, Ilse Koch, was even worse. She was known to ride a horse through the camp, whipping prisoners. She also had a particular fondness for skin. If she ever saw a prisoner with interesting skin, she’d have them killed then their skin tanned in order to make a lampshade or other household item. Ilse even had a handbag made of prisoners’ skin and would wield it around the camp with pride in front of the other prisoners.
What a sadistic, evil crew.
1 Empress Wu Zetian
Empress Wu Zetian is the only woman to have ever ruled China in her own right. Since Wu ruled some 2,000 years ago, historical documents about her are kind of a shit show. Some say that she was basically the Beyonce of ruling China, but those documents may have been paid for by her because apparently people have been paying for good press for thousands of years now.
Other documents make her out to be a cold-hearted ruler, willing to do whatever it took to keep herself the throne. Supposedly, she executed anyone who may have the slightest claim to the throne, destroying fifteen family lines. Oh, she also didn’t always execute people. Sometimes, she summoned people to stand in front of her and kill themselves in front her. Forcing someone to take their own life may actually be the most sadistic form of torture.
Okay, the being attacked to death by bees is probably worse but still, that shit is messed up.