The 25 most ruthless leaders of all time

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One man's hero is another man's tyrant, a popular aphorism goes.

But while we can argue the validity and virtue of certain political agendas, the callous methods by which some leaders attain their goals are less up to interpretation.

After all, no matter how a historian tries to spin it, ordering a tower to be constructed out of live men stacked and cemented together with bricks and mortar is pretty brutal.

Business Insider put together a list of the most ruthless leaders of all time featuring men and women who employed merciless tactics to achieve their political and military agendas.

Note: All people on the list ruled prior to 1980, and no living figures were included. People are arranged in chronological order.

Qin Shi Huang

Reign: 247-210 B.C.

QinShi Huang

Qin, also called Qin Shihuangdi, united China in 221 B.C. and ruled as the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. He was known to order the killing of scholars whose ideas he disagreed with and the burning of "critical" books.

During his reign, he ordered the construction of a great wall (roughly speaking, the prequel to the modern Great Wall of China), and an enormous mausoleum featuring more than 6,000 life-size terra-cotta soldier figures. Large numbers of conscripts working on the wall died, and those working on the mausoleum were killed to preserve the secrecy of the tomb.

"Every time he captured people from another country, he castrated them in order to mark them and made them into slaves," Hong Kong University's Xun Zhou told the BBC.

 

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (aka Caligula)

Reign: A.D. 37-41

GaiusJulius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (aka Caligula)

Caligula was quite popular at first because he freed citizens who were unjustly imprisoned and got rid of a stiff sales tax. But then he became ill, and he was never quite the same again.

He eliminated political rivals (forcing their parents to watch the execution), and declared himself a living god. According to Roman historian Suetonius, Caligula had sex with his sisters and sold their services to other men, raped and killed people, and made his horse a priest.

He was eventually attacked by a group of guardsman and stabbed 30 times.

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Source: businessinsider

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