Odd Ruler Dudes – WIF Into History

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History’s Strangest

Ancient Rulers

The word strange is barely adequate for some of the ancient leaders described here, if the tales told of them are true. The ancient world had no shortage of outright butchers who practiced patricide, matricide, fratricide, and mass murders to consolidate and secure their positions at the head of their societies. They used brutal, though inventive methods to kill their perceived enemies and rivals, and exhibited a lust for blood and inflicting pain. Some of them appear on this list, including Commodus and Caligula.

Others exhibited downright weird behavior, on their own and at the expense of others for their personal satisfaction and comfort. Alcohol was a common denominator for some, with excessive consumption of wine and other beverages featured. The pursuit of sexual satisfaction is another. Vanity to the point of narcissism is still another. Some though, were just plainly bizarre, in their beliefs, their activities, and their behaviors. Here are 10 of the strangest, with the possible omission  of a couple recent American leaders.

10. Pharaoh Pepi II used honey covered slaves as walking flytraps

Pepi II was a pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, reigning more than 2,000 years before the Common Era. He became pharaoh at the age of 6, following the death of Merenre I. Throughout his reign the power of the pharaoh declined; the dynastic Old Kingdom, also known as the Age of the Pyramid Builders, collapsed within decades of his death, after lasting five centuries. While still a child, Pepi sent an expedition to Nubia to trade ivory and other goods. When the leader of the expedition, Harkhuf, one of his governors, informed the young King he had captured a pygmy, the excited young man promised substantial rewards should the prisoner arrive at his court alive. The pharaoh wanted it as a plaything. The letter to Harkhuf survives, inscribed on the governor’s tomb.

Using a pygmy as a toy is strange enough, but not the only strange behavior attributed to Pepi II. The pharaoh detested flies. Using slaves to wave fans of feathers to shoo them away was not enough, in his estimation. Aware that flies were attracted to honey, Pepi covered slaves with the substance, and stationed them around him when he was at court and when walking or riding through his dominions. Flies swarmed to the honey-swathed slaves, and thus away from him. Some claim Pepi II held the longest reign of any ruler in human history, though that is debated among Egyptologists. His pyramid lies in ruins in Saqqara.

9. Caligula named a horse as a priest of Rome

The name of the third man to hold the title of Emperor of Rome is synonymous with corruption, cruelty, brutality, sadism, and unbridled sexual indulgence and depredation. His reign as Emperor was short, as was his life, dying through assassination at the age of 28. He held the throne from 37 – 41 AD. According to most scholars, the first few months of his reign were promising, though he soon embarked on a pattern of indulging his every whim, building luxurious residences for himself. An illness during the first year of his reign – some say poisoning – transformed his personality and his attitude towards his subjects and his perceived enemies.

Several ancient historians claimed Caligula falsely accused wealthy subjects of crimes, had them executed without benefit of trial, and claimed their estates. He claimed divinity, and frequently dressed in the costumes of several Roman gods, including Mercury, Apollo, and Venus. He had the heads of various gods removed from statues throughout the empire, and replaced them with likenesses of his own. Roman historians Suetonius and Cassius Dio claimed the emperor planned to name his favorite horse, Incitatus, a consul of Rome. He did not. Instead, he appointed the horse as a priest of Rome.

8. Emperor Zhou Xin of China created a lake of wine, and swam in it

Zhou Xin is a pejorative name given to Di Xin, following his death in 1046 BCE. The records of his life and reign were deliberately falsified and exaggerated by succeeding dynasties, according to most scholars, and separating fact from fiction regarding his extravagances is difficult. During his reign he abandoned any concept of morality, hosted massive orgies, and indulged heavily in his favorite beverage, wine. He was completely enamored with wine. To the point he created a lake filled with wine, surrounded by a forest of meat trees. Constructed on the palace grounds, the lake accommodated several boats.

The meat trees surrounding the lake were real trees, from which cooked meat suspended from the branches. Zhou Xin used the lake for canoeing, bathing, consorting with his concubines, and of course, drinking. Following his defeat at the hands of King Wu of Zhou, he retreated to a pavilion at the lake, with his jewelry and other symbols of his wealth, and had it set afire, killing himself in the flames. His death marked the end of the Shang dynasty in China, and introduced the Zhou Dynasty. Recent excavations confirm the existence of the lake, and nearby water wells established the lake was not built as a water reservoir as some argued, legitimizing the tales of the lake of wine.

7. Chinese Emperor Wu used goats to decide which of his more than 5,000 concubines he should visit

Emperor Wu of Jin was the first emperor of the Jin Dynasty, reigning from 266 to 290, CE. In 280 he defeated the forces of Eastern Wu, and became emperor of a unified China. The conquest of Eastern Wu increased his domains, his prestige, his personal wealth, and most importantly to him, the number of his concubines. Beginning in 273 he banned marriages until he had personally examined women, and either taken them for his own or rejected them. The conquest of Eastern Wu awarded him another 5,000 concubines from the palaces of his defeated enemies. From that point Wu focused his energies on gluttony, drinking, and visiting his concubines.

Decisive in battle, Wu was the opposite when selecting which concubine, or concubines, to visit. Or maybe the sheer number of women at his disposal intimidated him when it became time to choose. So, he left the decision to goats. He had a small cart fashioned, pulled by goats. He rode in the cart, and wherever the goats stopped when wandering the palace grounds occupied by the concubines, the lustful Emperor in tow, he went in. Some claim women desirous of the Emperor’s attentions placed bamboo and salt outside their rooms to entice the goats to stop. Wu died in 290 of an unknown illness, which one may surmise was exhaustion.

6. Byzantine Emperor Justin II liked to bite his courtiers and visitors

Justin II held the throne of the Eastern Roman Empire from 565 until he abdicated in 574, four years before his death. In 572 he exhibited growing signs of insanity, or at the least, strange behavior. John of Ephesus, a leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church and an historian, left written accounts of the Emperor’s increasingly strange actions in the last years of his reign. He demanded organ music played in his presence around the clock. Those who approached the Emperor found him likely to bite them. Not just a nip. Justin bit and held the bite, snarling like a wild animal, sometimes biting several times. At others he bit and chewed, organ music swirling in the background.

Which of his courtiers came up with the idea of amusing and distracting the biting Emperor with a wheeled throne is unreported. John of Ephesus recorded the Emperor’s chair had wheels installed, and Justin delighted in being rolled about in his chair. It often served to distract him sufficiently that he forgot to bite visitors or servants. In 574 he accepted the suggestion of his wife, Sophia and adopted Tiberius, a general, as his son and his designated heir, and abdicated the Byzantine throne. Sophia and Tiberius ruled as regents until Justin’s death, when Tiberius ascended to the throne as Tiberius II Constantine.

5. Korean Prince Sado required a presentation of 30 outfits to choose from before dressing

Prince Sado, the second son of Korean King Yeongjo, never served as the leader of his people, though he became the presumed heir to the throne following the death of his elder half-brother. Sado was not an ancient either, being born in 1735 CE, but in a pre-modern society and culture. Sado’s palace included eunuchs, concubines, and ladies-in-waiting, the latter of whom he frequently beat and raped. He once beheaded one of the eunuchs and carried the head to his wife and her ladies-in-waiting, forcing them to look at it as he held it in his bloodied hands.

Whenever His Highness desired to dress, which was several times per day as the mood struck him, servants were forced to display up to 30 different sets of clothing from which he chose. Those which displeased him he often burnt. He reported seeing ghosts in the palace, and outfits which he believed would upset the ghosts were similarly burnt. Servants required to dress him trembled as they did so, fearful of an act which would anger the prince and lead to their punishment, or even death. In 1762 his father had enough of his bizarre and violent son, and had him executed by placing him in a rice chest until he died.

4. Chinese Emperor Zhou Houshao had an invisible friend as an alter-ego

Born Zhou Houshao, he ascended to the throne as Emperor Zhengde at the age of 14. Zhengde meant “rectification of virtue.” When applied to his reign the term is very much a misnomer. The eleventh Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, his reign ended when he contracted an illness after falling into the Yellow River. Some say it was the Grand Canal. He was drunk, a common occurrence during his reign. During the fifteen years he held the throne he preferred the company of his eunuchs. He expressed interest in work only when preparing actions against those who displeased him, including against his own adoptive son, whom he had jailed. He was later executed.

To entertain himself, the Zhengde Emperor invented invisible friends, and his own fictional alter-ego, which he forced his ministers to accept. He spent much of his time playing outside of the palace, frustrating his ministers and advisors. He preferred the company of Muslim men and women in his sexual trysts as an adult, and enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. His banning the slaughter of pigs and preference for Muslim company led to speculation that he converted to Islam, though he did not adopt that religion’s views on the consumption of alcohol. Throughout his life he continued to act like a child, with imaginary friends, and a penchant for playing childish games.

3. Herod the Great kept his wife’s body preserved in honey

King Herod the Great achieved infamy in the New Testament, after the visitation of the Magi informed him of the birth of a Jewish King. Most of the details of his life appear in The Antiquities of the Jews, by the historian Josephus. His reign as King of Judea as a client of Rome is debated due to differences in religious sources and those of historians. It is known that Herod executed numerous members of his immediate family during his reign, including his wife Mariamne I. Even that event is disputed, the Talmud claims she committed suicide, while Josephus reports her execution after trial in 29 BCE.

The Talmud is also the source of the story of Herod’s expansive grief over the death of his wife, and that he ordered her body preserved by placing it in a casket filled with honey. The Talmud refers to the implied saving of the body for sexual gratification one of the “deeds of Herod.” Josephus is silent on the honey story, and recounts Herod tried to overcome his grief through manly pursuits such as hunting, and through feasting and drinking copiously.

2. Commodus declared himself the reincarnation of Hercules

Commodus became one of the better-known Roman Emperors through the release of the film Gladiator in 2000. Joaquin Phoenix portrayed the corrupt and amoral son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius memorably, though in truth the real Commodus makes the fictional depiction an Eagle Scout in comparison. Commodus served as co-Emperor with his father for three years, became sole Emperor when Aurelius died in 180 CE, and reigned for another 12 years. Throughout his reign, his government became more chaotic. He suspected everyone, fought in the arena with “gladiators” who were in fact partially disabled men, their disabilities disguised, and did the same with wild beasts.

He had statues placed around the empire depicting him in the guise of Hercules, and later announced he was the reincarnation of the Roman god. His claim to be Hercules allowed him to claim direct descent from Jupiter, the head of the Roman hierarchy of gods. As a god he claimed immortality, a fact proved untrue when his wrestling partner, Narcissus, strangled him to death in his bath, at the behest of conspirators which included his mistress, Marcia. Following his death, the statues of the god-Emperor across the empire were destroyed.

1. Mithridates VI took poison daily to build up tolerance against assassination attempts

Mithridates VI of Pontus ruled Pontus and Armenia Minor as King from sometime in the second century BCE until 63 BCE. His father Mithridates V, was murdered via poison during a banquet. The death of his father gave the son a lifelong fear of suffering the same fate. Mithridates, at some point in his youth, began to immunize himself from poisons by taking them, in increasing doses. He did so while in hiding in the years immediately following the death of his father. During the time in hiding his mother, Laodice, and his brother, Chrestus, ruled the kingdom. When Mithridates returned he overthrew his mother and brother, assumed the throne, and had both imprisoned, where they died (some say executed). He gave them both royal funerals, after which he married his sixteen year-old sister, also named Laodice.

The Mithridatic Wars against the Romans and their puppet states did not go well for the king for whom they were named. After his final defeat at the hands of the Romans under Pompey, Mithridates fled to the region of the Black Sea, at first hoping to raise another army and continue the war. When the local populace rebelled against him, he opted for suicide over capture and execution by Pompey. He tried to kill himself with poison, but his efforts to build up a tolerance for poisons had been too successful. The poison didn’t kill him. Nor could be bring himself to use a sword to end his own life. It took some of his followers to kill him with swords and spears. Pompey had him buried in his ancestral grounds.

Odd Ruler Dudes

WIF Into History

Bad People – Too Powerful

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Top 10 Worst Abuses

of Power in History

Being in a position of power is awesome, and we’re not going to lie: given nigh unlimited god-like power over millions of people, we’d probably abuse it just a little. However, here’s a list of 10 people who went way too far, because they were in charge and because they could.

10. Lavrentiy Beria


Lavrentiy Beria was not a nice man; operating just under Stalin during WWII, his power and reach were effectively absolute. So what did he choose to do with it? He’d rape any woman he took his fancy to. Using his vast reach and virtually unopposed power over Russian life and death, Beria would drive around Russia in his armored limousine (because power comes with all the best perks,) pick out any woman who took his fancy, and have his men bring them back to his mansion. When there, Beria would rape the woman in a soundproofed room and then give her a bunch of flowers. This last act was a token gesture that Beria did as to make the sex seem consensual. Women who didn’t accept the flowers would be arrested and sent to the Gulags, because Beria was an ass like that.

Speaking of Gulags, most of Beria’s victims were women with family members already imprisoned in them, and they only accepted his advances under the promise they’d be freed. Most of the time, the women’s family were either dead already, or forced to be in the room as Beria had his way with them. Again, he was an ass.

His sexual appetite was such that even Stalin himself feared for his daughter’s life and innocence when she was alone with him. Then again, when a guy has a soundproof rape room in his house, anyone would be uncomfortable leaving their children there.

9. Ivan the Terrible


With a name like Ivan the Terrible, you’re probably not holding out much hope for this one. So what are we going to talk about? His abuse of the nobility? The executions he’d hand out seemingly at random whenever he felt like it? Nope, we’re going to talk about what Ivan did to dogs and cats, because the Internet loves them more than people.

It’s noted that in his youth, because he wanted to hear their anguished screams, and also because he could and no one could stop him, Ivan would throw cats and dogs off of the walls of the Kremlin. Again we could go into much, much more detail about the horrific acts this man committed because of the power he held, but lets be honest here — after reading that you already know he was pure evil.

8. Emperor Commodus


You may remember Emperor Commodus from the Gladiator movie. Though that film went out of its way to represent Commodus as an unlikable, power-mad dictator, the movie didn’t even approach how insane he truly was.

Commodus openly believed that he was a direct descendant of Hercules, and as such fought in the arena as much as he could — fought being a word we use in the loosest possible sense of the word. As Emperor, no opponent would ever dare strike Commodus in open combat, meaning all of his gladiatorial fights were him simply beating unarmed men to death. He also stabbed animals to death from a high wall to prove how great he was.

But it gets worse! Simply murdering unarmed men and slaughtering hundreds of wild animals for fun wasn’t enough for Commodus; he had the audacity to charge the city of Rome for every appearance in the arena he made. That’d be like Obama challenging you to a game of one-on-one basketball, having his secret service shoot your family at halftime, and then charging you for it. Only Commodus would have probably stabbed your dog too.

7. Emperor Caligula


We could have probably written this entire list about Roman emperors, but we only wanted to include thereally insane ones, and Caligula was likely the most insane of them all.

Though many of the stories about him have been blown out of proportion as time has marches on, a lot of them are grounded in fact. For example, it’s widely accepted that Caligula once had an entire section of a crowd gathered at the Coliseum thrown to the animals because he was bored, but an important part most miss out on is that he had their tongues cut out first so they couldn’t complain about it.

That’s just the kind of man he was; he didn’t just kill people on a whim, he made sure they suffered too. Because who was going to argue with him?

6. Christian VII


Christian VII was the kind of King you could have a beer with, as long as you were always, always on your guard. Why? Because Christian had a rather unusual habit of slapping people as hard as he could across the face whenever he damn well felt like it.

Slapping someone across the face may seem like small potatoes compared to the other things on this list, but you have to realize Christian saw no difference between slapping a peasant and a freaking lord. All were equal, and all were slappable in his eyes.

Think of this as more of a glimpse into the mind of someone with absolute power than us saying the slapping thing is in line with cutting people’s tongues out. It’s an example of total disregard for even the most simple human courtesy, an example of someone so safe in the knowledge they can do whatever they want, so without empathy for the feelings of others, that physically assaulting them is little more than something to pass the time.

5. Emperor Heliogabalus


Emperor Heliogabalus, sometimes spelled Elagabalus, was another Roman Emperor who let total control over what was virtually the entire known world go to his head. Whereas other Roman emperors enjoyed murdering people, Elagabalus just really liked eating. However, he had really peculiar tastes. For example, he loved him some eel, but to make it tastier he fattened them up by feeding them live slaves. Because what’s a little human suffering when you’ve got dinner to make?

Elagabalus would also force his guests to eat rocks, and play awesome practical jokes like trapping them in rooms with live lions. No guest ever complained, because they enjoyed living. When he wasn’t annoying his friends, Elagabalus also held a lottery for the people of Rome. You may think this sounds like a nice gesture, until you realize the prizes included boxes of angry bees, and he launched the tickets out of catapults along with hundreds of snakes. Why? Because it was funny.

4. Emperor Nero


Okay, one more Roman Emperor, then we promise we’ll stop. So what did Nero do, you ask? Well, he mugged people. Again, this may seem tame compared to launching deadly snakes into a crowd of innocent people or slapping people across the face really, really hard. But you have to remember, Nero had virtually no need for money; anything he couldn’t afford, he could just take. He didn’t mug people because he needed money, he did it because he liked stabbing random people, and he enjoyed the power he felt when his victims realized he was the Emperor and that there was literally nothing they could do to stop him from punching their lungs full of speed holes, without risking being tortured to death for treason.

Man, that’s cold.

3. Josef Mengele


If you’ve never heard of this guy, read his Wikipedia entry, and then quietly hug your children and cry. If you don’t have any children of your own, take a leaf out of Josef’s book and borrow some.

Basically, during WWII Josef was given unlimited and unfettered access to the thousands of inmates passing through Auschwitz. Josef had free reign to perform any experiment his sick mind could concoct. He was completely safe in the knowledge that anything he did could be passed off as legitimate medical experimentation, and that no one would stop him unless they wanted an angry letter from Hitler.

We’ll likely never know the true extents of what Josef did at Auschwitz. However, from what little information has been gathered about him, it was almost certainly horrific. Experimentation without anesthesia was incredibly commonplace; he once removed a young boy’s kidney just to see what would happen, and injected chemicals into people’s eyes to see if he could change their color. He’d remove limbs, castrate and sterilize his victims (who again, were mostly children) and meticulously note what happened. Usually, the scientific conclusion was “whatever I did caused horrible, painful death.”

Unbelievably, virtually nothing of any medical significance was ever discovered in post-war research into his work, aside from “poison and mutilation are bad for you.” If you’re looking for some closure here, Josef died many years later in Brazil, as a free man.

2. Samurai


Yes, we’re making this entry about all samurai, because they were all, as far as we could tell, buttholes of the highest degree. Now, the Internet has a huge chubby for samurai and feudal Japan in general, but this is almost certainly because the Internet has learned everything it knows about Japan from Dragon Ball Z and Jackie Chan movies (even though he’s Chinese.)

In reality, samurai were huge douchewads who cut people down for fun, because samurai were one of the ruling classes of Japan. As a ruling class, they were entitled to a few privileges, one of which was Kiri-sute gomen, which was literally the right to cut down anyone of a lower class for any reason whatsoever, without reprieve.

Though this wasn’t a practice likely followed by all samurai all the time, just realize that they had free reign to kill anyone they felt like, for any reason, and no one could do anything about it unless they too wanted a brutal neck-stabbing. You have to admit, that’s kind of harsh.

1. Kim Jong-Il


Kim Jong-Il literally lived the dream of being a billionaire playboy who owned his own country. He was like that one person we all have on Facebook who does nothing but brag about how awesome their life is, only people actually believed everything he said because he was Kim Jong-Freaking-Il.

The list of all the crazy stuff Kim claimed to have done or invented is massive: he invented the hamburger, the weather was directly linked to his mood, and the first time he ever played golf he got 11 holes-in-one. How do we know that last one? A bunch of his guards signed sworn documents that they’d seen him do it.

We could go into the atrocities Kim committed, but there are enough of those on this list already. We think it’s far more amazing that he used his power and reach to basically write fan fiction about how awesome he was, then convinced his entire country to believe it. He was basically a rich spoiled child everyone was too afraid to scold. When he was travelling by armored train across North Korea, he had lobster airlifted to him every single day. When he wanted North Korea to have a film industry, he kidnapped a famous South Korean director, presumably single-handedly while fighting off a group of capitalist ninjas because at this point, why the hell not?

And that, ladies and gentlemen is the image we want to leave you with. Not people being tortured, not animal cruelty, but an elderly Korean man sitting in his giant mansion full of naked women, alcohol, and gold, wondering how he can make his life sound more interesting to people whose minds would be blown if you showed them an iPhone.

Bad People

– Too Powerful