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Famous leaders

Kublai Khan

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great (ruled 336–323 BC) was a Greek Emperor. He came from Macedonia, a mountainous area on the northern borders of Greece. His father Philip became king of Macedonia in 359 BC and united all of Greece under his rule. When Philip died, Alexander became king at the age of 20. In 334 BC, he set out with an army to march on the Greeks’ old enemy, the Persians. Alexander defeated the armies of Darius III, the king of Persia, at Granicus. By 326 BC, he had all of the Persian Empire under his control, as far as the Indus River in modern Pakistan. He then marched his troops into India, but, exhausted by eight years of fighting, his men refused to go any further. In 323 BC, on the long journey back to Greece, Alexander died of a fever in Babylon.

A carving of Ashoka the Great


Ashoka (ruled 269–232 BC) was Mauryan Emperor of India. He conquered Kalinga on the east coast of India, but caused so much bloodshed that he was overcome by guilt. He converted to Buddhism and set about governing his empire in a more peaceful manner. When Ashoka came to the throne, there were several different religions in India, including Hinduism, which later became India’s main religion. Ashoka set up trading links with neighbouring lands and built a network of roads. His beliefs about how people should behave and the laws he made were engraved on rocks and pillars throughout the empire.
Atatürk attending a class at the Law School of the Istanbul Darülfünunu in 1930.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (lived 1881–1938) was founder and first president of the republic of Turkey. In the years after World War I, Atatürk organized resistance to the peace settlement imposed on Turkey by the victorious Allies. In 1923, Turkey became a republic with Atatürk as its president. He launched a programme of reform to modernize Turkey and make it a secular (non-religious) state. Women were granted equal civil and political rights, education was made free and compulsory, Western dress was introduced and the Arabic script was replaced with a Latin one. He was given the name "Atatürk", meaning "Father of the Turks", in 1935.
Emperor Augustus


Augustus (ruled 27 BC–AD 14) was a Roman Emperor. After Julius Caesar’s death, two prominent Romans began to struggle for power. One was a fellow consul of Caesar’s, Mark Antony, who became the lover of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. The other was Caesar’s great-nephew, Octavian. Octavian declared war on Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC and defeated them at the Battle of Actium. In 27 BC Octavian became the first imperator, or emperor, of Rome, under the name of Augustus, which means “deeply respected”. He ruled wisely and brought peace to the empire.

Julius Caesar, in a portrait painted by Clara Grosch in 1892

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar (lived 100–44 BC) was a Roman general and statesman. Julius Caesar led his Roman soldiers in a successful campaign (58–51 BC) to conquer all of Gaul (modern-day France), and emerged as the victor in a bitter civil war (49–45 BC) with his rival for power in Rome, Pompey. In the short time that he ruled the Roman world as dictator he proved himself to be a brilliant political and social reformer. Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC; it was one of the most famous murders in history.

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great (ruled 1762–1796) was Empress of Russia. During her rule, Russia’s empire expanded further, including in the south and Crimea following victories over the Ottoman Empire. Catherine's reign is often described as the Golden Age of Russia and was marked by the construction of many new buildings in an elegant classical style. However, most ordinary Russians were serfs (peasants) living in terrible poverty. An uprising in the 1770s was put down by the government with great severity.

Charlemagne (742–814)


Charlemagne (ruled AD 768–814) became king of the Franks in 768. At the time, his kingdom covered most of modern-day France. His name means "Charles the Great", and he is remembered for his military conquests, his reforms, and his love of scholarship and learning. Charlemagne was the son of Pepin III, also known as Pepin the Short, the first of the Carolingian dynasty (ruling family) to be elected king of the Franks. When Pepin died in 768, his kingdom was divided between his two sons, Charles and Carloman. Carloman died three years later, leaving Charles as sole ruler of the Frankish kingdom.

Churchill gives his famous "V for Victory" sign outside 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister's London residence) in June 1943.

Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill (lived 1874–1965) was a soldier, politician, statesman and writer who served in World War I, and then, as prime minster in World War II, led Britain to victory over Nazi Germany. Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain. His government introduced sweeping emergency powers, placing all "persons, their services and their property at the disposal of the Crown" in the effort to defeat Nazi Germany. Having led his country through the Battle of Britain, in which British air forces successfully repelled the German Luftwaffe, Churchill’s aim was to construct a "grand alliance" between Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union. Eventually, the Allies secured victory over Germany and Japan in 1945. 

This traditional Egyptian papyrus painting is said to be of Cleopatra VII (69–30 BC).

Cleopatra VII

Cleopatra VII (ruled 51–30 BC) Queen of Egypt. Cleopatra was the last pharaoh before Egypt was conquered by the Romans. Descended from a family of Greek origin, known as the Ptolemies, she formed a relationship with Julius Caesar which enabled her to become sole ruler of Egypt. After Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, she and her new lover Mark Antony made an alliance against Octavian (later Augustus), but their forces were defeated at the Battle of Actium. Both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide—she, it was said, by means of the bite of an asp, a venomous snake—in 30 BC.
Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great (ruled 559–530 BC) expanded the Achaemenid Empire of Persia by conquering the neighbouring kingdoms of Media (550 BC) and Lydia (around 547 BC), then the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC. A wise and compassionate ruler, Cyrus respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. He abolished forced labour in Babylon and brought peace to the city. He also allowed the Jews, who had been captured and brought to Babylon, to be allowed to return to Israel after 70 years of exile. He actively assisted them in rebuilding their temple in Jerusalem. 

Elizabeth I, painted at around the age of 42

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I (ruled 1558–1603) Queen of England. Elizabeth I was a strong and very popular monarch. She chose highly able ministers carefully, including William Cecil, Lord Burghley, her closest adviser. During her reign, trade expanded overseas and England became rich. It was a Golden Age in art , theatre and music. After Elizabeth sent help to Dutch rebels fighting for independence from Spain, and executed her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, for treason, Philip II of Spain send a huge Armada (fleet) to invade England in 1588, but it was successfully repelled in a great victory for the English navy. Elizabeth never married; when she died in 1603 without any children, the English throne passed to James VI of Scotland.

Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (lived 1869–1948) was a leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule, and an advocate of non-violent protest. Considered the "father" of India, Gandhi is a spiritual leader to Hindus—their Mahatma ("Great Soul"). His life and work had a huge influence in the fight against colonialism, racism and violence. He provided inspiration for the work of the black civil rights leaders in the United States, notably Martin Luther King, who also employed the strategies of non-violent direct action. Gandhi's concern for the poor still has great relevance in today’s world.

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan (ruled 1206–1227) Mongol Emperor. Originally named Temüjin, he brought all the Mongol tribes together as one nation under his control. The name, Genghis Khan, meant "Ruler of All". Under Genghis's rule the Mongol army defeated the Jin Empire of northern China as well as the Muslim lands that lay to the west. The Mongol armies rampaged across Russia and came within reach of Constantinople. Everywhere they went, the Mongols inspired terror, as they looted, destroyed and slaughtered without mercy.

Hammurabi (standing), receiving his royal insignia from the god, Shamash.


Hammurabi (ruled 1792–1750 BC) King of Babylon. Hammurabi was a wise king who set out a new code of laws. These gave status to women, protected poor people and punished wrongdoers. Unlike previous rulers, Hammurabi did not regard himself as a god. During his reign, Babylon became a rich city, the capital of a kingdom known as Babylonia. He built a great ziggurat (stepped pyramid temple) there, which was later known as the Tower of Babel.

A limestone sculpture of Hatshepsut


Hatshepsut (ruled 1479–1458 BC) Queen of Egypt. Her name means "Foremost of Noble Ladies". When her husband Thutmose II died, she took power and was made pharaoh. She wore the traditional clothing of a male pharaoh, including even a false beard. Her reign began a long, peaceful era in Egyptian history. She re-established trade with other kingdoms and brought great wealth to Egypt. That wealth enabled her to fund many building projects in a classical architectural style, including Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri.

Adolf Hitler giving a public speech

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler (lived 1889–1945) was leader of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, and führer (leader) of Germany. At the core of his beliefs was that the "Aryan" race, typified by the German people, was superior to all others. Hitler's aim was the reunification of the Germanic peoples and the expansion of territory in order to provide lebensraum ("living space") for these "chosen" people. Alongside this went his extreme hatred of the Jews. In 1939 Hitler plunged the world into a war that would leave millions of people dead, including the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

Ivan the Terrible

Ivan IV "the Terrible"

Ivan IV "the Terrible" (ruled 1533–1584) was the first Russian ruler to be crowned czar, in 1547. During his reign of terror, he ordered the murder of anyone he considered a threat (he even killed his own son in a fit of rage). From his palace in the state of Muscovy, Ivan set about expanding the Russian Empire. In 1552, his armies attacked and defeated the Tatars who ruled from their capital of Kazan in the east, and, four years later, he also conquered Astrakhan in the south. Ivan’s forces drove on into Siberia in the northeast. To help him take control of his new lands, Ivan relied on the skills of Cossack soldiers, who were from Ukraine and southern Russia.
Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc (lived 1412–1431), also known as the Maid of Orleans, was a peasant girl who inspired the French army to win a great victory against the English at Orleans, in 1429. She was later captured by the English, and eventually burned to death at the stake at the age of only 19. In 1920, centuries after her death, Joan was made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. She has inspired writers, artists and composers down the centuries, and remains one of the most popular of all the Catholic saints today.

John F. Kennedy in the White House

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy (lived 1917–1963) became the youngest person ever to be sworn in as president of the United States, at the age of 43. Amongst other things his time as president is remembered for the Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban missile crisis, for the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, for the start of the US Apollo space programme, and for the creation of the Peace Corps. His presidency was brought to an abrupt end when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on 22nd November 1963. Kennedy is particularly remembered for his speeches, and for his belief that people could solve their problems if they were willing to work together as citizens of their country.


Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan (ruled 1260–1294) became undisputed leader of the Mongol Empire in 1264. He conquered China in 1279, establishing the Yuan dynasty with its capital at Cambaluc (Beijing). His summer palace at Shangdu (Xanadu) was the height of splendour. A wise and tolerant ruler, Kublai Khan permitted the existence of various religions in China, including Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. He organized food stores for times of famine, and he improved the road system. He also tried to invade Japan, but his fleets were defeated in 1274 and 1281.

Martin Luther King in 1964

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. (lived 1929–1968) was a Baptist minister who became a leader of the civil rights movement in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. He used methods of non-violent civil disobedience to fight for equal rights for African-Americans. His powerful speeches spurred millions of people to protest against racial discrimination and poverty. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated in 1968. Martin Luther King changed the course of history in the USA. He showed that non-violence was an extremely powerful weapon. Every year, his birthday, 15th January, is remembered in the USA by a national holiday, and his example still inspires people all over the world to stand up for justice and equality.

Abraham Lincoln, just before his death

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (lived 1809–1865) was the 16th president of the United States (1861–1865), and one of the country’s greatest leaders. He is celebrated for his tolerance and moderation, and for guiding the country through one of the most difficult periods in its history. He became president at a time of crisis in the USA, as civil war threatened to split the North and South. Lincoln led the federal armies to victory to preserve the Union, and abolished slavery in the USA.

Nelson Mandela at the age of 90, in 2008

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (lived 1918–2013) was a leader in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, from the 1940s until 1994. During that time he was held as a political prisoner for 27 years. In 1994, he became the first black president of South Africa—the first president to be elected in a fully representative, multi-racial election in that country. Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to millions of people of all ethnic origins across the world. His death on 5th December 2013 was mourned around the globe.

An official portrait of Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong (also Mao Tse-tung; lived 1893–1976), sometimes called Chairman Mao, was a Chinese Communist revolutionary and leader. He was leader of the Chinese Communist Party, and founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949. He was also responsible for the disastrous policies of the "Great Leap Forward" and the "Cultural Revolution", which resulted in the deaths of millions of people.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte (lived 1769–1821) was a French military and political leader who rose to power at the end of the French Revolution. He became emperor of France in 1804, and introduced many reforms. As a brilliant military commander, Napoleon fought a series of wars in Europe, ending finally in defeat and exile. He is remembered as a hero of France, a great reformer and a military genius.

Nebuchadnezzar II

Nebuchadnezzar II

Nebuchadnezzar II (ruled 604–562 BC) The son of King Nabopolassar, conqueror of the Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was a warlike king who fought the Egyptians and expanded the Babylonian Empire. Under Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon became one of the richest cities in the world. He used wealth from his conquests to rebuild the city, including constructing a huge ziggurat to the god Marduk and building a new city wall to make it more secure.

One of four statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel

Ramesses II

Ramesses II (ruled 1279–1213 BC) A pharaoh of the New Kingdom, Ramesses II was probably the most powerful ruler in ancient Egyptian history. His reign was extremely long, 67 years, and he lived to around the age of 90. He vowed to recapture the territories of Palestine and Syria, then ruled by a people called the Hittites, for the Egyptian Empire. Ramesses’s forces engaged in a battle with the Hittites at Kadesh, which he claimed as an Egyptian victory. He built many magnificent monuments to commemorate his rule, including the temples at Abu Simbel.

Franklin D. Roosevelt as president in 1933

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt (lived 1882–1945) was the 32nd president of the United States, and the only US president to be elected to office four times. Roosevelt—often known by his initials FDR—led the United States through the crisis of the Great Depression with his reforms and programmes (called programs in the US) known as the New Deal. He took the United States into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and was an active and skilful military commander. He also played an important role in setting up the United Nations. A central figure in world events of the 20th century, Roosevelt is considered by many historians to be one of the greatest US presidents.

Shi Huangdi

Shi Huangdi

Shi Huangdi (ruled 221–210 BC) The “first emperor of the Qin”, Qin Shi Huangdi was China’s first emperor. He ruled over a vast empire from his capital city, Xianyang. He was a very powerful man: under his command were a million armoured soldiers. He ended years of war in China and kept order by executing anyone who opposed him. Despite Shi Huangdi’s power and his army, his new empire was under constant threat from tribes such as the Huns, who lived to the north. In 214 BC he decided to build a massive wall across China’s northern border to keep them out: the first Great Wall of China. When he died, thousands of statues of soldiers made of terracotta (baked clay) were buried alongside him in his tomb.

Stalin in 1918, during the defence of Tsaritsyn

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin (lived 1879–1953) was one of the most ruthless leaders of modern times.  As secretary-general of the Soviet Communist Party he ruled the Soviet Union as a dictator. Stalin transformed the country into a world power, but he also presided over a regime of terror that saw the deaths of millions of people. Despite his achievements in modernizing the Soviet Union, his record as a mass murderer will never be forgotten.

Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleiman I "the Magnificent"

Suleiman I "the Magnificent" (ruled 1520–1566). Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He personally led Ottoman armies in conquering parts of southeastern and central Europe, before their advance was checked at the Siege of Vienna in 1529. During his reign, the Ottoman Empire took over much of the Middle East from the Safavid rulers of Persia, along with substantial parts of North Africa as far west as Algeria. Suleiman made his empire a power to be feared and respected. Craftwork, literature, education and architecture flourished during his reign.

Tamerlane (Timur)


Tamerlane (ruled 1369–1405) Mongol Emperor. A descendant of Genghis Khan, Tamerlane (also known as Timur the Lame) seized the Mongol throne in 1369. From his capital, the Central Asian city of Samarkand, Tamerlane created an empire that reached from Turkey in the west to the borders of China in the east. He invaded India in 1398, sacking Delhi. But after his death in 1405, Tamerlane’s empire quickly fell apart. 

Gaius Julius Caesar (100–44 BC)was a Roman general and statesman. He led his Roman soldiers in a successful campaign (58–50 BC) to conquer all of Gaul (modern-day France), and emerged as the victor in a bitter civil war (49–45 BC) with his rival for power in Rome, Pompey. In the short time that he ruled the Roman world as dictator he proved himself to be a brilliant political and social reformer. Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC; it was one of the most famous murders in history. - See more at:


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