The lesser-known villains who carried out despicable acts of evil
Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Chairman Mao are top of the list when it comes to evil tyrants. Even if you’ve never studied the past in any detail, you probably know something about these three men and the atrocities they committed.
But they weren’t the only ones. Every period of human history has its fair share of twisted villains. And though the men discussed in this article aren’t particularly well-known, their heinous crimes will prey on your mind long after you’ve read about them.
Domitian was the last Roman emperor of the Flavian dynasty, and he ruled the empire for fifteen years following the death of his brother Titus in 81 AD.
Far from taking care of his citizens, Domitian was a self-indulgent man with a thirst for violence. He spent much of his time committing adultery with prostitutes, and he was also addicted to watching gladiatorial fights between women and dwarfs.
But Domitian is best known for his reign of terror. After taking power away from the Senate, he became increasingly paranoid about the upper classes of Rome, as he suspected them of plotting against him.
Domitian oversaw the execution of philosophers, senators, imperial officers, and intellectuals. He even executed his own cousin at one point. The methods used by Domitian’s spies were particularly brutal. Under the emperor’s instructions, they would chop off hands and burn genitalia in order to extract as much information as possible from their prisoners.
After three years of slaughter, this bloodthirsty tyrant was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard, and the senators of Rome did their utmost to erase his name from history.
Though Nader Shah grew up to be one of the most powerful rulers in Iranian history, he didn’t have the easiest start in life.
Nader was born in the late seventeenth century and lost both his parents at a young age. He later found work as a musketeer, and as time went on, he steadily rose through the military ranks and earned himself a prestigious reputation.
In 1736, Nader crushed the last remnants of the Safavid dynasty before proclaiming himself to be the Shah of Iran. But despite a series of successful military campaigns, the final years of Nader’s rule were far from honorable.
Following an unsuccessful assassination attempt in 1741, Nader became irrational and bloodthirsty. Beatings, torture, mutilations, and murder were commonplace, as Nader was determined to stamp out anyone who opposed his rule, including his own family members. Thousands lost their lives, and to make matters worse, Nader also constructed towers made out of skulls to frighten his opponents.
Even Nader’s personal bodyguards were sick of their leader’s behavior. So, in the summer of 1747, they sneaked into Nader’s tent one night and butchered him to death.
Leopold II was the King of Belgium from 1865 to 1909. During this time, colonization was rife, and Leopold was keen to get involved.
He set his sights on the river basin of the Congo, which was perfect for exploitation due to the dense forests and natural resources. Leopold imposed his will using the Public Force, a group of mercenaries with a brutal reputation.
The Public Force moved from village to village and forced the locals to collect valuable resources, especially ivory and rubber. If the people refused to cooperate, the mercenaries would torture, murder, and burn their way through the village. They also chopped off the hands of the villagers and collected them in baskets to frighten others into compliance.
Years of terror and forced labor led to a death toll of ten million, around half of the Congo’s population. But Leopold didn’t care. He had what he wanted: an abundance of natural resources and a vast amount of wealth. Leopold used his money to fund building projects in Belgium and France, including a luxurious beach resort in Ostend.
Christian missionaries and foreign journalists exposed the horrors of this twisted regime. Leopold, however, refused to take accountability. He lied about his actions in the Congo and portrayed himself as a generous humanitarian.
François Duvalier was President of Haiti from 1957 to 1971, and from the moment he gained power, he ruled his country with an iron fist.
Racism was at the core of Duvalier’s regime. He stressed Haiti’s African heritage and wanted to create a black ethnostate. In order to silence his opponents, he shut down newspapers, arrested leading politicians, and seized control of the labor unions.
Duvalier’s volunteer militia, the Tonton Macoute, then conducted their operations across the country, doing their utmost to wipe out the mulatto (mixed-race) population, including mulatto children. The Tonton Macoute also targeted anyone who supported communism, many of whom were tortured and killed at the infamous Fort Dimanche.
The regime was made still more sinister by the use of voodoo-inspired imagery. Duvalier associated himself with Baron Samedi, the spirit of death with a skull-like face who wore a top hat and a tuxedo. And bizarrely enough, he also associated himself with Jesus Christ, as he believed he was ruling by divine right.
When Duvalier died in 1971, he left behind an infamous legacy. Though estimates vary, some believe he may have murdered 60,000 Haitian citizens.
Pol Pot was the Prime Minister of Cambodia in the late 1970s. Inspired by Chairman Mao, he carried out countless acts of evil in the name of communism. His radical vision involved a complete overhaul of his native country, which he renamed the Democratic Kampuchea.
But there was nothing democratic about Pol Pot’s regime. As the leader of the Khmer Rouge (also known as the Communist Party of Kampuchea), he forced his citizens away from the cities and into the countryside. Here, the Cambodian people were made to work on collective farms and grow crops for the revolution. Those who refused were shot dead by the Khmer Rouge.
Pol Pot, like most political radicals, hated religion. The Khmer Rouge rampaged through the country, destroying anything associated with Buddhism, the main religion in Cambodia. They demolished the temples and slaughtered the Buddist monks.
And it wasn’t just religion. Certain ethnic groups — regardless of their political beliefs — were targeted as well. Pol Pot thought there was only one race that mattered: the Khmer, who came from the lower regions of Cambodia. Various ethnic groups were slaughtered, but the Chinese and the Vietnamese were the most affected.
Youth indoctrination was also fundamental. Children as young as six were encouraged to spy on their parents and report them if they spoke out against the revolution. At the age of twelve, many were forced to become mobile troops for the Khmer Rouge and were unable to see their parents again.
Pol Pot’s twisted dictatorship came to an end in January 1979 when Vietnamese troops stormed into the country. Pol Pot ran for his life and remained in hiding for almost twenty years before he was eventually put on trial in the summer of 1997.
Historians believe Pol Pot murdered around two million people during his time as Prime Minister. But this is only an estimate. The real death toll could be higher than three million.