Most Influential Political Leaders in Recorded World History

by Jonathan Hobratsch

The following are list of influential political leaders from world history. Everyone listed is a candidate for inclusion for my eventual list of top 100 most influential people of all time. Others could be added to this list at some point. 

I must first make some remarks about this list. As it is about worldwide influence, the majority of those listed will be from major world powers, especially those existing today, such as the United States, China, Russia, India, Germany, France and Great Britain. Additionally, those that contributed to the two major religions, Christianity and Islam, are included. As are people who helped spread the dominant languages of the world, which are English and Spanish (more people speak Mandarin Chinese, but it stays predominantly in its borders). Some leaders are mentioned for instituting well-known political theories. Lastly, leaders that have influenced the Middle East and Central Asia are somewhat prominent, since the major events of today are primarily focused in these area. 

To be considered one of the most influential people in world history, a person must obviously have done three things: a) done something to significantly and permanently alter the world, b) left an influence that is still greatly felt in 2016, and c) the influence must be directly or indirectly worldwide, and not just regional or national. 

Please let me know if I am missing someone from this list and/or if I am missing something from my criteria for inclusion. Here is the list below:


Huangdi (“Yellow Emperor”) (????bc-2598bc) created the first centralized state and initiated Chinese civilization.

Sargon of Akkad (????bc-2215bc) created the first multiethnic, centrally-ruled empire.

Hammurabi (c.1810bc-1750bc) for the earliest code of laws.

Ramesses II (c. 1303bc-1213bc) asserted Egyptian dominance in the region. Thus, influencing the histories of Northern Africa, the Middle East and Mediterranean Europe.

Solon (c.638-c.558) his reforms led to the foundation of Athenian democracy.

Cyrus the Great (c.600bc-530bc) conquered the Ancient Near East and created the first centralized government that aimed to work for to the advantages of its people through relative tolerance of a wide array of cultures within his empire’s borders.

Pericles (c.495bc-429bc) advocated and inspired the flowering of Athenian culture, especially in arts, literature and philosophy–all of which influenced Western culture and academia. Fostered Athenian Democracy.

Alexander the Great (356bc-323bc) His invasions spread Greek culture (Hellenism) to their greatest extent, which is considered the prime example of cultural diffusion. This would include the Hellenization of Judaism, which is why the New Testament is in Greek, and why many of the concepts of Christianity are Hellenistic, rather than Jewish. Founded Alexandria, Egypt.

Ashoka (304bc-232bc) conquered nearly all of the Indian subcontinent and converted to Buddhism, which inspired others to do the same, and led to the spread of Buddhism outside of India.

Qin Shi Huang (260bc-210bc) unified the several states of China, becoming the first Chinese emperor. Standardized Chinese institutions (w/ Prime Minister Li Si), arguably creating the first true bureaucracy. Ordered the construction of the Great Wall, the only man-made construction visible from space.

Hannibal (247bc-c.181bc) “The Father of Strategy.” His invasion of the Roman Republic and tactical victories are still studied today by military strategists. His enemy Rome, evolved by adopting his strategies in order to beat him.

Cicero (106bc-43bc) influenced European prose literature and ideas with his humanism and political oratory. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment were a return to his ideas. He was an influence on both the American and French Revolutions and the governments they created.

Julius Caesar (100bc-44bc) brought an end to the Roman Republic, allowing for the rise of the Roman Empire. Also, Julian calendar and the terms Caesar,  Czar and Kaiser.

Marcus Junius Brutus (85bc-42bc) took the lead role in assassinating Julius Caesar, a move which forever changed Roman and world history.

Cleopatra (69bc-30bc) the primary representative of a woman leader in the male-dominated ancient world. She continues to inspire literature, film and songs.

Augustus (63bc-14ad) founder of the Roman Empire.

Trajan (53-117) presided over the Roman Empire’s greatest territorial expanse.

Constantine the Great (c.272-337) his conversion to Christianity assured the survival of Christianity and for its dominance in the Western world. It led to the power and influence of the popes, who had very little power previously.

Theodosius I (c.347-395) issued a decreed that made Nicene Christianity (the creed of Orthodox Christianity, and later Catholic and protestant variants) the official Christianity of the Roman Empire. On his death, the Roman Empire split into two empires, one for each of his two sons. The Roman Empire was, more or less, effectively over.

Atilla (c.406-453) his invasions of Europe, Persia and Central Asia greatly influenced the gene pools in these areas and launched migrations of populations.

Justinian I (c.482-527) for Justinian’s Code, which is still the basis for civil law in many countries.

Umar ibn al-Khattab (c.583-644) expanded his Islamic caliphate into an Empire, ensuring the survival and expansion of Islam.

Charlemagne (c.742-814) laid the foundation for modern France and Germany.

Harun al-Rashid (c.763-809) oversaw the peak of the Islamic Golden Age, which saw the dominance of Islamic culture and science over a less evolved European culture and technologies.

Saladin (1137-1193) blocked a European Christian invasion of the Middle East, created a comparatively unified Arab World. Inspires Arab Leaders wishing to rest free from overt Western Influence.

Genghis Khan (c.1162-1227) founded the Mongol Empire, which would eventually spread across Asia, displacing populations, altering the continental gene pool and increased global trade from Europe to China.

Mehmed the Conqueror (1432-1481) destroyed the Eastern Roman Empire by conquering Constantinople, and laid the foundation for the achievements of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Isabella I (1451-1504) funded and supported Columbus’s voyage to the New World, which ultimately would lead to further Spanish influence in the Western Hemisphere. Also, completed the Reconquista, which threw out or converted Muslim and Jewish subjects.

Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566) inspired the growth of Ottoman culture and law, including Islam, which expanded into the areas that he conquered. He helped establish Islam as the second major religion in Europe and fixed Ottoman Turkish presence as the pivot between Europe and Asia cultures.

Elizabeth I (1533-1603) inspired the flowering of English literature and language, especially drama. Set the foundation for English colonialism, and the concept of the British Empire. Reestablished England as a protestant state.

Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) centralized France, developed France into a colonial power, and created the Academie Francaise.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) his protectorate gave Europe a clear example that a monarchy wasn’t necessary for a stable government. He inspired future revolutionaries desiring a Republic.

Peter the Great (1672-1725) expanded and modernized Russia into a European power, laying the foundation for a dominant Russia in Europe and Asia.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) secured the alliance with France that made American Independence possible. Used his international popularity to gain European support against the British. Invented the lightning rod.

Catherine the Great (1729-1796) saw Russia’s expansion of Russia and its emergence into a major power.

George Washington (1732-1799) first president of the United States, setting the precedents for the most powerful influential position in history. Presided over the Constitutional Convention, which created the oldest active constitution.

Maximilian Robespierre (1758-1794) was the primary advocate for the successful abolition of slavery, making France the first major country to end slavery. He pushed for the equality of rights and universal male suffrage, but was defeated and executed when the violence of the French Revolution spun out of control.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) Ended the French Revolution and initiated the Napoleonic Wars, which culminated in the European balance of powers. Also, sold the Louisiana territory to the United States, was the inspiration of two of the most important military strategy books (one by Clausewitz and the other by Jomini), initiated modern Egyptology (resulting in the founding of the Rosetta Stone), indirectly sparked the Age of Nationalism, inspired the “Great Man Theory” of German philosophers.

Simon Bolivar (1783-1840) established several South American countries as independent of Spanish rule. This inspired the rest of the Spanish-speaking New World to seek their own countries.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) prevented the breakup of the United States. Laid the foundation for the abolition of slavery in the most powerful republic. Centralized the United States, which made America’s dominance in the 20th century possible.

Otto von Bismark (1815-1898) unified Germany and created a German empire, shifting the balance of power, allowing for the foundation for both World War I and World War II to occur. Created the first welfare state.

Wilhelm II (1859-1941) was the primary aggressor in creating World War I. His defeat led to the overthrow of the monarchy in exchange for a Republican form of government, which would ultimately fall to the Nazis.

Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was the leading force in overthrowing the ancient Chinese monarchy and sparking Democratic reform in China, paving the way for a both the Chinese Republic and Communist China.

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) converted Russia from an absolute monarchy to a totalitarian Communist country very loosely based on Marxism, which is known as Leninism. While the Soviet Union no longer exists, Russia and Russia’s sphere of influence is still greatly impacted by Lenin. Leninism is often used as an example to misrepresent Socialism.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) the earliest and leading advocate against Nazi Germany and Cold War Soviet Russia, ensuring the containment of both expanding powers.

Vallabhbhai Patel (1875-1950) the primary figure in creating a unified, independent modern India. which soon became the world’s largest Democracy.

Ibn Saud (1875-1953) founded Saudi Arabia and presided over the discovery of petroleum in that country, which lead to Saudi Arabia’s regional influence and global importance.

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) rapidly industrialized Russia into a superpower that both helped end World War II and became one of two major powers during the Cold War. Stalinism has often been used as an example to misrepresent Socialism. Russia’s relative strength today is due in part to Stalin’s regime.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) founded the Republic of Turkey, which replaced the long-lasting Ottoman Empire. Created a modern, secular government, that was free and independent from the European colonial powers.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) facilitated America’s transition from world power to one of two superpowers, authorized the creation of the atomic bomb, and helped defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) The founder of fascism. His system of government inspired many similar governments such as Nazism in Germany. Fascism is now a common label applied to politicians with radical totalitarian views.

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) dropped the atomic bombs, which ended World War II in the pacific. He led the US into the Cold War against the Soviets. He authorized the Marshall Plan and NATO, which established American influence and presence in Europe. He also turned American into a national security state with the authorization of the National Security Act, which laid the foundation for the Patriot Act several decades later.

David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) was the primary founder of the state of Israel.

Jean Monnet (1888-1979) The chief founding father of the European Union by laying the groundwork for the eventual EU.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) initiated World War II and created the holocaust. WWII led to a weaker, more peaceful Europe. The holocaust led to the creation Israel. Hitler’s Nazism is often used as an example to misrepresent both nationalistic conservatives ideologies and Socialism.

B. R. Ambedkar (1891-1956) The principal architect for the constitution of India, which is the world’s largest Democracy.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976) founding father of the People’s Republic of China, the most populated Communist government in history. He laid the foundations for China as a world power through modernization policies. His form of communism, known as Maoism, is often an example to misrepresent Socialism.

Gavrilo Princep (1894-1918) his assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to World War I.

Hayato Ikeda (1899-1965) was the prime minister responsible for turning Japan into a major post-war economy.

Hirohito (1901-1989) ruled during Japan’s imperial expansion, involvement in World War II, and during his emergence as a leading economy in the post-war era.

Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) made China into a leading economy by opening the country up to embrace global market capitalism.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was the first Democratically elected Black president of South Africa, where he dismantled the remnants of European colonialism. South Africa is the most industrialized Sub-Saharan African nation.

Mikhail Gorbachev (1931) instituted reforms, which slowly broke down the Soviet Union, allowing for the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States as the world’s first hyperpower state.

Vladimir Putin (1952) was able to build Russia back into a major power and influence in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Osama bin Laden (1957-2011) his attack on the World Trade Center led to ongoing War on Terror, and indirectly led to increased US involvement in the Middle East and in the creation of ISIS, an unrecognized terrorist state. Bin Laden’s organization can also be credited with the growing misrepresentation of Islam.

Barack Obama (1961) is the first elected US president of African-descent, despite the country’s long history of slavery and inequality for its black citizens. He also presided over the nationwide legality of same-sex marriage. All of these major accomplishments for a the world’s sole hyperpower.



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post, however the continuous caveats regarding socialists (that they misrepresented Marx or socialism) begs a question: has socialism’s major contribution to world history been misrepresentation?

    I don’t see any other economic theory similarly represented on this list. In other words, it seems socialism has provided the opportunity for unchecked power more often than not.

    If no world leader has been an exemplar of socialisms virtues by now, it makes me wonder whether there is an organizational flaw inherent in the approach.

    I suppose Mussolini and Hiter would be at the other end of the spectrum, but there is no caveat qualifying fascism as a misrepresentation of capitalism.

    Likewise, Hitler’s national socialist party (though vehemently opposed to communists) seems to once again expose a flaw in socialism (necessitating yet another caveat).

    Deng Xiaopeng seems to be the only unqualified assessment of either economic system. As his case illustrates a success of capitalism, it appears that the functionality of that system has won out (based on the narrow selection of personages you listed).

    I might prefer socialism to capitalism, but making a rational argument for it in light of rather horrific debacles seeks to present one with an uphill battle which might be insurmountable. How will the next great socialist leader sell their program to those who know this systematic historical trend you have presented?



    1. historymonocle says:

      Very good points. Much of this can be explained by me racing to get the list done before the end of the day. I spent all day on it. The brief bios were the party I hurried on. I’ll try to answer your questions the best I can below:

      “has socialism’s major contribution to world history been misrepresentation?”

      Obviously not, but I can see how it comes off that way. It started with me just saying that Leninism was a misrepresentation, but then I realized that Maoism and Stalinism were as well. Really, it’s just Communism (which all of these are) are a gross misrepresentation of Socialism. Marx and his allies would not have approved.

      “If no world leader has been an exemplar of socialisms virtues by now, it makes me wonder whether there is an organizational flaw inherent in the approach.”

      Socialism has been highly successful in Europe, predominately in Scandinavia, but also in its strong use in the UK, France and Canada. The thing is, the heavy-Socialist countries seem to make no pretense to greatness. Thus, I don’t think Socialism is flawed. However, I do think that pure socialism, just as pure capitalism, are going to be flawed if they don’t have attributes of the other. In my opinion, the Democratic Socialist government of Scandinavia have been the most successful governments in world history, as far as providing for a high quality of life for its citizens.

      “I suppose Mussolini and Hiter would be at the other end of the spectrum, but there is no caveat qualifying fascism as a misrepresentation of capitalism.”

      I do mention Fascism or Nazism as a misrepresentation of nationalistic conservative governments. I didn’t mention capitalism, because its usually used as an insult for extreme nationalism, over extreme capitalism, or at least that’s what I’ve noticed.

      “Likewise, Hitler’s national socialist party (though vehemently opposed to communists) seems to once again expose a flaw in socialism (necessitating yet another caveat).”

      He was primarily opposed to socialists, more than communists. The socialists were his primary opposition, arguably. He attempted to destroy both the socialist and communist parties. However, Germany had a history of adopting socialist policies to prevent the Socialist Party from gaining adherents. For example, Bismark’s embracing of the welfare state.

      “Deng Xiaopeng seems to be the only unqualified assessment of either economic system. As his case illustrates a success of capitalism, it appears that the functionality of that system has won out (based on the narrow selection of personages you listed).”

      For the most part, yeah. I think both systems need each other. Some may not agree, but I think the injection of Socialism into our capitalism from the Progressive Era through FDR, has been mostly beneficial to both the American people and our capitalistic government. That is not to say, that everything we’ve done in balancing the two has been successful or even done honestly and with the people’s welfare in mind.

      “I might prefer socialism to capitalism, but making a rational argument for it in light of rather horrific debacles seeks to present one with an uphill battle which might be insurmountable. How will the next great socialist leader sell their program to those who know this systematic historical trend you have presented?”

      It might take take an influential leader that doesn’t try to tie in Socialism with totalitarianism. True Socialism is supposed to be the near opposite of totalitarianism. If you notice, the totalitarian socialists (communists) have all occurred in countries with extreme poverty, low literacy rates, and in countries with a history of authoritarian rule and little to no representation. Karl Marx believed that Socialism would work best in the US or England, because, in part, the countries were not poor, were literate and educated, and had a history of representative government. Karl Marx would have been horrified at the USSR, North Korea, Cuba, China, etc.

      I think another reason I subconsciously defended Socialism over Capitalism in regards to failed ideologies is that capitalism is generally favored by everyone (to some degree) and so doesn’t really need anyone coming to its defense. Whereas, Socialism, especially in US politics, is almost always tied to the USSR, Latin America, North Korea or China by people that oppose Socialism. There are more Americans that oppose Socialism than Capitalism. I have a lot of Libertarian friends that post really misleading “anti-Socialist” things on the internet–generally something like a photo of hungry people in front of a dilapidated building, and on the photo, something like, “Think Socialism is great now?” or something like that. I’ll generally express how its misleading, or post a picture of Sweden, and stats about the high quality of life. I think the most telling part is what I said about education, having a strong middle class, and a history of representative government, which may be requirements for Socialism to work well. Capitalism may not be so picky as this. Populations that are impoverished, hungry, are under-educated and aren’t used to having a say in political affairs are probably going to be easy prey for a totalitarian government, be it under the garb of socialism, capitalism or something else.

      Hope this answered your questions at least a little sufficiently.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Great answers! I just got thinking about it. I suppose I am leaning towards socialism. Lots to learn. –Paul

        Liked by 1 person

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