Weird History
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Sadistic Rulers From Ancient History

Updated September 23, 2021 19.2k votes 4.4k voters 385.3k views16 items

List RulesVote up the ancient rulers who were so crazy they shouldn't have even been allowed to choose their own lunch, let alone rule an entire nation.

Today's elections aren't the only political events with their fair share of nutty candidates. There were plenty of weird ancient rulers who pretty much had a monopoly on odd behavior, ranging from endearing quirks to more unfortunate personality problems, and often, simply being insane. Whether that meant sleeping with one’s own mother and then assassinating her after a series of unsuccessful attempts or reinventing an entire country’s millennia-old religious system, these crazy ancient rulers weren’t afraid to indulge their whims.

Perhaps the most eccentric bunch of them all was the Roman emperors. There’s the uber-creepy Tiberius, a decent soldier turned weird pedophile who built a sex grotto on the island of Capri. Caligula (or, as he was properly known, Gaius - “Caligula” was a childhood nickname meaning “little boots”) planned on making his horse, Incitatus, a consul and gave him an ivory manger; he also seduced his sister, Drusilla. And then there’s dear old Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, who loved prancing about the arena and slaying people.

Whatever your form of crazy, vote up the most insane ancient rulers here!

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    • Royal Title: Emperor of Rome (14-37 CE)
    • Crazy Cred: The second emperor to ever rule Rome, Tiberius didn't improve the Julio-Claudians' reputation. Tiberius "trained little boys (whom he termed tiddlers) to crawl between his thighs when he went swimming and tease him with their licks and nibbles," said Suetonius. Tiberius even ordered babies to give him oral sex. He organized secret orgies at his private residence on the island of Capri, arranging teams of "experts in deviant intercourse and dubbed analists" to have sex in front of him, according to Suetonius.

    There, Tiberius built an erotic library so that visiting sex slaves could learn more positions. He also built a garden with little nooks where boys dressed as Pan and girls dressed as nymphs could get it on. Once when he was attending a sacrifice, Tiberius got really hot from staring at the sexy young flute player. After the ceremony, he raped both the musician and his brother. Then, when they complained about it, he broke their legs!

    Tiberius also didn't mind murdering a few rivals, especially when aided by his lackey Sejanus. Among his victims were Priscus, a fellow who liked writing poems about the imperial family, and perhaps even his stepson Postumus, his chief rival for the imperial throne.

    Totally crazy?

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    • Royal Title: Tyrant of Acragas in Sicily (570-554 BCE)
    • Crazy Cred: In the sixth century BCE, Phalaris, a citizen of Acragas on the island of Sicily, seized power and made himself tyrant of that city. He crucified his rivals, but his most famous torture technique came by roasting his enemies alive in a bronze bull.

    Phalaris stuck the smith who built the animal into his own creation, which the craftsman had given Phalaris as a gift. Unwisely, the coppersmith told Phalaris he could torture enemies by sticking someone in the bull, putting it over a fire, and telling everyone the victim's groans were those of the animated bull. By putting tiny tubes in the bull's nostrils, air would shoot out and sound like flutes were playing. Of course, Phalaris took him up on his advice and made the smith the first test subject.

    Totally crazy?
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    Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    • Royal Title: Emperor of Rome (180-192 CE)
    • Crazy Cred: Best known as the insane young emperor from Gladiator, Commodus was truly nuts and loved killing people. He once faked a plot against his own life so he could have an excuse to kill a bunch of his enemies, according to the Historia Augusta. Commodus loved pretending to be a gladiator and killing wild beasts in the amphitheater, even desiring to be a charioteer. Once, Commodus said he was going to war in Africa so he'd get a lot of funds; then, he used them on games.

    In terms of religion and dealing with others, Commodus didn't stick to the traditional rites. He shaved his head like an Egyptian priest, ordered priests of the Roman goddess Bellona to chop off one of their arms, and carried around a club to smack people with. But he was also impious when it came to basic manners: He stuck a bird on a balding guy's head, and the critter pecked the man's scalp bloody, thinking the few remaining hairs were worms. Commodus cut a fat guy open so his intestines would spill out, made a guy with a giant penis a prominent priest, and made one of his premier officials dance naked in public.

    Totally crazy?

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  • Photo: Louis le Grand / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
    • Royal Title: Emperor of Rome (37-41 CE)
    • Crazy Cred: Where to start? Perhaps with the childhood sicknesses or love potion that supposedly drove him mad? Or with the most famous rumor of all: Caligula didn't make his horse a consul, but rumor has it he promised to do so. He invited his steed Incitatus to dinner regularly, too, and gave him tons of servants to muck out his stall and comb his forelock. Oh, and an ivory manger, along with tons of other goodies. He even built a floating bridge across the Bay of Baiae and rode across it in a chariot. 

    Already ugly, Caligula forbade any mention of goats in his presence because he was so hairy. But he did fall in love with handsome actors; when his favorite pantomime, Mnester, was performing, Caligula would smack anyone who interrupted. Yet when he didn't like a slightly wounded gladiator, "he had the place rubbed with a poison which he henceforth called 'Columbinum'; at least that name was found included in his list of poisons."

    Some ancient accounts claim Caligula committed incest with his sister Drusilla, Suetonius noted. No evidence suggested, though, that he got Drusilla pregnant (though Caligula's only child by a later wife, aptly named Julia Drusilla, bit her little friends: just like Dad!) He eventually turned on all his surviving female relatives, putting his sisters on an isolated island. Cassius Dio reported, "Many who were guilty of great crimes he neglected to punish, and many who had not even incurred any suspicion of wrong-doing he slew." 

    Totally crazy?

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