There have been many great leaders in history who strove hard to make the world a better place to live in. Here are brief synopses of some of the most significant leaders of the world.
Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.
– Harry S. Truman
There have been many great men and women whose ambitions, contributions, and hard work have made history or changed the course of it. Whether leaders are born or made, they have definitely put their mark on the world history. They will be remembered for their achievements and their dedication to the people.
Most Popular Leaders in History
They may have ruled empires or nations or even small clans; but they are respected for their remarkable leadership qualities. Historyplex provides you a list and brief information on some of the most famous leaders of the world.
*The list mentioned below is according to chronological order of the year of birth of the leader.
Ramesses II (c. 1303 BC – 1213 BC)
Ramesses the Great (Ramesses II or Ramses II) was one of the most famous and longest ruling pharaohs of the Egyptian Empire. He became a ruler in his teens, undertook several campaigns and battles, and expanded his kingdom.
Ramesses II is known for his victory in the Battle of Kadesh and the peace treaty with the Hittites (being the first peace treaty in the world). He built many monuments, temples, and noteworthy buildings in Egypt (the most significant being Ramesseum, Abu Simbel).
Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC)
Alexander the Great, or Alexander III of Macedon, is one of the most famous rulers in history who conquered nearly half of the world. His empire extended from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. Alexander discovered around 20 cities.
Did you know that Alexander had very peculiar eyes? One of his eye was blue and the other brown. He was widely known for his decisive, stubborn, and calculating nature. He died in Babylon in 323 BC at the young age of 32. Although short-lived and short reigned, he is known as the greatest military geniuses of all times.
Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC)
Gaius Julius Caesar, a politician, orator, general, and an author, was one of the greatest leaders of Rome. He played an important role in expanding the Roman empire, making it one of the most powerful empires in his times. Julius Caesar paved way for an imperial system, and his heir Augustus was crowned the first Roman emperor.
Caesar is also popular for his love affair with Cleopatra VII of Egypt. He introduced the Julian calendar, and was also the first ruler to have coinage issued with his name. Similar to Alexander, Julius Caesar has also inspired many other generals all over the world.
Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD)
Born Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Divi Filius Augustus, he was the founder and the first Emperor of the Roman Empire. He succeeded Gaius Julius Caesar, defeated Antony and Cleopatra, and became the ruler of Rome. His was the golden reign of the Roman empire, as there was an end of ongoing civil wars and peace (Pax Romana) at last.
Augustus expanded his empire, rebuilt the city, and strengthened the army. His last words were “Behold, I found Rome of clay, and leave her to you of marble.”
Genghis Khan (c. 1162 – 1227)
Genghis Khan formed Mongol empire which was to become one of the greatest empires in the history of the world. Born Temujin, he slowly rose to power by uniting Mongol tribes. He annexed nearly all of Central Asia and China.
He formed an invincible army and is noted for his tactics. Although his campaigns led to large-scale massacres, he is noted for religious tolerance. He is regarded as the father of Mongolia.
Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (1542 – 1605)
Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, simply known as Akbar or Akbar the Great, was the greatest and most popular rulers of the Mughal Empire in India. His military tactics, that helped him extend his empire, occupying the northern and central India, are well-known.
He ascended the throne at the age of 13, and was one of the most successful rulers because of his policies. His religious tolerance, promotion of art, literature, and culture, and benevolence are particularly noted.
Elizabeth I of England (1533 – 1603)
Queen Elizabeth I, the last ruler of the Tudor dynasty, was the queen regnant of England and Ireland. Her reign (known as the Elizabethan era) is termed as the golden era as arts and culture flourished during her time. The fall of the Spanish Armada helped mark her an able ruler in the history of England.
Many overseas explorations, notable by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were encouraged by the Queen. Elizabeth I did not marry, and is credited for single-handedly ruling England.
George Washington (1732 – 1799)
George Washington is one of the greatest leaders in American history. He was one of the founding fathers and the first President of the United States of America. He was the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army which overthrew the British rule in the American Revolutionary War.
After the war, he helped in drafting the Constitution. His remarkable achievement in war and statecraft made him an inspiring leader all over the world.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)
Napoleon Bonaparte, or Napoleon I of France, is a popular figure in history. He was a general in the French army who rose to power after the French revolution. Ironically, the French revolution which had overthrown monarchy, crowned Napoleon as the new emperor.
Napoleon is noted for his success in the Napoleonic Wars with every major European power. He broadened the French empire to great extent, and is well-known for his war strategies and tactics. However, his army was defeated in the Peninsular War, and also during the invasion of Russia. Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865)
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the USA, is one of the greatest leaders in American history. He is among the 3 greatest Presidents of USA. Lincoln headed the country in the American Civil War to abolish slavery and apartheid. The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln freed nearly 3 million slaves in different states of America.
He was assassinated in 1865 by a Confederate sympathizer, John Booth. Lincoln was the first President of USA ever to be assassinated.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi, was a prominent political leader in the Indian Independence struggle. His ideology of ‘Satyagraha’ or non-violence led to freedom of India from the British rule. Gandhi was assassinated in 1948.
The Gandhian ideology or doctrine of non-violence inspired many other leaders all over the world; most notable being Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. In India, Mahatma Gandhi is known as the Father of the Nation and is pictured on all paper currency.
His birthday, 2nd October, is celebrated as a National or public holiday in India.
Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924)
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was one of the most popular and influential figures of the early 20th century. It was under the leadership of Lenin, a Bolshevik leader, that the Russian revolution took place in 1917. The Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government and Lenin became Head of the Soviet State.
Lenin’s philosophy is well-known as Leninism or Marxism-Leninism, which was a guiding doctrine for the formation of USSR. Several radical and social reforms took place in the Soviet State under the leadership of Lenin. The embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin is on public display at Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square, Moscow.
Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)
One of the greatest leaders of the 20th century, Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Belonging to an aristocratic family, Churchill devoted his life to public service, army, and then as a statesman.
He boosted the morale of this nation when it was on the brink of losing the war. What is relatively unknown about this leader is that he was also a renowned writer and artist (The Nobel Prize winner in Literature, 1953).
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938)
Atatürk means Father of the Turks. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was rightly called so. Being a revolutionary who led the national movement in the Turkish War of Independence, he was also the founder of the Republic of Turkey. He was the first President of Turkey.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is prominently known for his role in reforming Turkey (the former Ottoman Empire) into a modern nation. He brought cultural, social, and political reforms, and modernized Turkey.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 – 1964)
Jawaharlal Nehru, or Pandit Nehru, was the first and the longest-serving (16 years) Prime Minister of Independent India. He was one of the most popular leaders of the Indian Independence Movement.
Jawaharlal Nehru is particularly praised all over the world for his neutral policies and statesmanship. He was a prolific writer and orator. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, and grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, were also Prime Ministers of India.
Ho Chi Minh (1890 – 1969)
Ho Chi Minh (born Nguyễn Sinh Cung) founded and led the Vietnamese Communist Party. He struggled for the independence of the Vietnam (leading the Việt Minh independence movement), fighting against Japan, France, and the United States.
He was the Prime Minister and President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He strove to unite the North and South Vietnam into a single communist nation. The country was united after his death.
Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)
Mao Zedong (also Mao Tse-tung) was the father of the People’s Republic of China. He was a leader of the communist party. He united China into a single socialist state. Such is his influence that his theories, teachings, and thoughts are known as Maoism, and are followed in some parts of the world till date.
Although Mao Zedong was an influential leader, his policies of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution had adverse effects and remain controversial.
John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was one of the most popular American leaders in the world. He was the second-youngest President elected to the office after Theodore Roosevelt. He is known for this role in the Cuban missile crisis, and for negotiating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Kennedy supported the space program that made it possible for man to land on the moon. The short tenure of Kennedy is referred to as the Camelot Era for his popularity, charisma, and courage.
Indira Gandhi (1917 – 1984)
Indira Gandhi was the first woman Prime Minister of India. She was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India. She was a shrewd politician, and is noted for her accomplishments like promoting Green Revolution, supporting nuclear program, nationalizing banks, creating the independent nation of Bangladesh, and abolishing privy purses to erstwhile rulers. However, her declaration of Emergency, and operation Blue Star remain controversial.
Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 – 1970)
Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, the President of Egypt, was one of the most important and influential political leaders of the 20th century. He was the leader of the Egyptian Revolution which overthrew the monarchy in 1952. He nationalized the Suez Canal Company in 1956 which led to international Suez Crisis.
Nasser was successful in stopping Britain, France, and Israel from occupying the canal with support from the USA and USSR. Nasser emerged as a successful and powerful leader after the crisis. He is also credited for bringing about several social reforms in Egypt.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968)
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist and leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He protested against racial segregation and discrimination in the United States of America, through non-violent means. Dr. King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and adopted his non-violent means to end discrimination.
He was awarded the The Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His famous speech “I Have a Dream” is one of the most famous speeches in the world, and continues to inspire people.
Apart from those mentioned above, history has witnessed many more capable leaders and rulers all over the world. The following is an alphabetic list of world’s greatest leaders, inclusive of all those who enjoyed great power, and also those who strived hard for the betterment of their countrymen.
- Ashoka the Great (India)
- Alfred the Great (Wessex)
- Ruhollah Khomeini, or Ayatollah Khomeini (Iran)
- Cyrus the Great (Persia)
- Cleopatra (Egypt)
- Charlemagne (Europe)
- Douglas MacArthur (USA)
- Eleanor Roosevelt (USA)
- Frederick the Great (Prussia)
- Franklin Roosevelt (USA)
- Golda Meir (Israel)
- General Dwight Eisenhower (USA)
- Joseph Stalin (Russia)
- Kim Dae-Jung (South Korea)
- Mikhail Gorbachev (Russia)
- Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Pakistan)
- Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom)
- Nicolae Ceaușescu (Romania)
- Oliver Cromwell (England)
- Rosa Parks (USA)
- Ronald Reagan (USA)
- Sun Yat-sen (China)
- Thomas Jefferson (USA)
- Theodore Roosevelt (USA)
- Yasser Arafat (Palestine)
- Yitzhak Rabin (Israel)
Interestingly, Adolf Hitler, although very notorious and hated for his actions, was one of the most successful leaders witnessed in history. He succeeded in uniting his nation, and formed one of the biggest (seemingly) invincible armies in the world. He is not included in the list as today he is remembered as a ruthless dictator.
The deeds of the aforementioned leaders will never be forgotten. As time goes on, the world will witness the rise of many more gifted leaders who will make history. Ciao!