5 Men Who Wanted to Rule the World

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A Brief History

On August 15, 1281, the army and navy forces of the Mongol/Chinese Emperor Kublai Khan were destroyed at the Battle of Kōan, an attempt to invade and conquer Japan.  Aided by a fortuitous weather situation called by the Japanese a “Divine Wind” (or “Kamikaze” in Japanese), the Mongol forces were defeated, and Kublai Khan never did get to conquer Japan.  In fact, the great Khan had previously made an attempt at conquering Japan to add to his vast empire, back in 1271, and that attempt was also failed by a “Divine Wind!”  Genghis Khan and his grandson, Kublai Khan, were some conquering sonofaguns, spreading the Mongol Empire across much of Asia and into Eastern Europe and the Middle East, creating the largest land empire in history.  Today we recognize 5 megalomaniacs that tried to conquer what they considered the known or worthwhile part of the world, or at least a big chunk of it.  Will such men (or women) ever again rise to power and make such an undertaking?  Only time will tell.

Digging Deeper

1. Alexander the Great

Alexander’s empire was the largest state of its time, covering approximately 5.2 million square km.  Map by Thomas Lessman (Contact!).

Also known as Alexander III of Macedon, this iconic figure is often discussed when the subject of greatest military commanders comes up.  He led his troops across Greece and much of the Mediterranean area including North Africa and across Asia minor all the way to India, where his initial victories made conquest a realistic proposition.  In fact, he wanted to continue on and conquer the entire semi-mythical land of India, but his troops were homesick, sick of war, and had apparently had enough.  Plus, Big Al was wounded and nearly killed at a battle against the Malli in India, allowing himself to be persuaded of a redirection back toward Persia and Arabia.  Of course, how many could share such lofty ambitions as to conquer until there was nothing left to conquer?  Alexander allowed 10,000 of his Macedonian troops to head for home in 324 BC, and died shortly afterwards at the age of 32, reportedly of a fever, on June 7, 323 BC.  As is often the case with great leaders and their deaths, conspiracy theories persist to this day that Alexander may have been poisoned.

2. Julius Caesar

Map of the Roman Republic in the mid-1st century BC.  Map by User:Historicair.

Gaius Julius Caesar, the guy all the other Caesars are named after, including the German Kaiser and Russian Czar, was a Roman soldier and politician of great ambition, eventually riding his conquering ways to the dictatorship of Rome in 48 BC.  He was an admirer of Alexander the Great and sought to replicate Alexander’s conquests and glory though Julius got a later start in life as a conqueror than did Alexander.  Under Caesar’s rule, Rome spread across much of Europe, the Northern coastal portion of Africa and Egypt, much of the Mediterranean, parts of Asia Minor and parts of the Middle East.  Killed by assassins in 44 BC at the age of 55, Julius undoubtedly wanted to continue to expand the reach of Rome, especially to Britain, which he never did conquer.  At the time of his death, he was planning an invasion of the Parthian Empire.  (Note: Caesar Salad is NOT named after Julius Caesar!)

3. Napoleon Bonaparte

The First French Empire in 1811

A great man we have written about numerous times in the past (please type in “Napoleon” in the search function of the web site to see such articles), as well as Dr. Zar writing 2 books about the Emperor of the French.  Napoleon, as we are fond of relating, has had more written about him than any other mortal human (eclipsed only by Jesus Christ, arguably not a mortal man).  For good reason Napoleon Bonaparte is often the personification of the guy that wants to conquer everything, as he certainly made the effort to seize all of Europe, Egypt, the Mediterranean, and unfortunately for his French and allied troops, Russia.  No doubt he would have been happy to invade and conquer Great Britain, though he never was able to muster the naval might needed for such an undertaking.  Also, no doubt, had his fortunes not gone downhill after the disaster in Russia, he may have had designs on taking India from Britain as well the Ottoman Empire and Persia.  Perhaps L’Empereur would have been better off consolidating his continental European empire and letting it go at that instead of overextending himself and his armies.  Reality seldom matches ambition.

4. Adolf Hitler

German and Japanese direct spheres of influence at their greatest extents in fall 1942. Arrows show planned movements to the proposed demarcation line at 70° E, which was, however, never even approximated.  Map by 36ophiuchi (talk).

Reviled as one of the worst monsters in history, Adolf Hitler was a disaffected veteran of World War I, and despite being Austrian by birth, was a German nationalist that sought to conquer as much of the world as he could to allow the German people to propagate and settle those lands that Adolf could provide them.  He saw himself as a messiah type of leader ordained by God (or somebody!) to be the chosen one to lead Germany to conquest and victory.  After taking over most of Europe (even Norway) and trying to seize North Africa, Hitler had designs on the Middle East and Russia, and ultimately planned on subduing America as well.  A tall order for a country the size of Germany, indeed.  As it turned out, he was unable to even conquer Britain, though that failure did not stop him from invading Russia.  Like Napoleon before him, Hitler allowed his forces to die en masse in the vast reaches of Russia.

5. Josef Stalin

Map showing greatest territorial extent of the Soviet Union and the states that it dominated politically, economically and militarily in 1960, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 but before the official Sino-Soviet split of 1961.  Map by User:MaGioZal.

Dictator of the USSR (Soviet Union) from the death of Lenin in 1924 until his own death in 1953, Stalin, born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, a Georgian and not a Russian, was a communist revolutionary and an absolute dictator autocrat while leading the largest country in the world.  Under Stalin, the USSR sought to annex or impose a sort of vassal state situation on as much of the world as possible, with the goal of spreading the Soviet (Stalinist) brand of communism across the planet.  After World War II, Stalin had consolidated much of Europe and the Eastern part of Asia as Soviet territory or countries controlled by Moscow, and supported the Chinese communist takeover of China and the communist takeover of North Korea.  One of the worst butchers in all of history, Stalin is responsible for millions of deaths, most of which were his own people!  Especially devastated by Stalin’s heavy had was the Ukraine, which suffered as many as 6 to 11 million deaths because of Stalin’s intentional famine inflicted on that country that had the temerity to yearn for its own independence from the Soviet sphere.  The thought of this megalomaniacal monster maintaining manipulation of the masses of the world (as we have told you, we love alliteration!) makes our skin crawl.  Lucky for the world, Stalin died in 1953 at the age of 74, before he could kill even more people.  Of course, rumors of his having been poisoned persist.

Question for students (and subscribers):  Who else can you think of that belongs on this list?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. Anchor, 2017.

Linton, Barry. History’s Greatest Military Commanders: The Brilliant Military Strategies Of Hannibal, Alexander The Great, Sun Tzu, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, And 30 Other Historical Commanders. Make Profits Easy, 2015.

Longerich, Peter. Hitler: A Biography. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Markham, J David and Matthew Zarzeczny. Simply Napoleon. Simply Charly, 2017.

Zarzeczny, Matthew. Meteors That Enlighten the Earth: Napoleon and the Cult of Great Men. Cambridge Scholars, 2013.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by A. Omer Karamollaoglu from Ankara, Turkey of a statue of Kublai Khan, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.  This image was originally posted to Flickr by A. Omer Karamollaoglu at https://www.flickr.com/photos/56128370@N08/8367820003. It was reviewed on  by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.