Icons of Influence, Leadership & Power

List of Leadership Heroes and Villains from History

“The search after the great man is the dream of youth and the most serious occupation of manhood. We travel into foreign parts to find his works, if possible, to get a glimpse of him.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—1882)
American Philosopher, Essayist, Lecturer,
Poet, Author of Self-Reliance

Learning from the Biographies of Heroic Historical Figures, Infamous Demagogues and Despots, and Other Famous People from the Pages of the Past

The ability to learn from and build on the lessons learned from the past, to accumulate the knowledge and wisdom gained from our predecessors, is one of the key factors that differentiates us from every other species on Earth. As Duke University professor of neuroscience Brian Hare explains, this is a critical part of what enabled homo sapiens to beat out the other species of humans (including Neanderthals and homo erectus), some of which were bigger, and had bigger brains.

In their book, Survival of the Friendliest, Hare and Woods write, “What allowed us to thrive while other humans went extinct was a kind of cognitive superpower: a particular type of friendliness called cooperative communication.” Not only does this allow us to “synchronize [our] behavior,” and “coordinate different roles,” but it also allows us to “pass on [our] innovations.” (p. xxv)

“We develop all of these skills before we can walk or talk, and,” Hare and Woods write, “they are the gateway to a sophisticated social and cultural world. They allow us to plug our minds into the minds of others and inherit the knowledge of generations.”(p. xxv)

Only a fool would fail to take advantage of this vast generational knowledge, the collected wisdom of history. As Harvard philosophy professor George Santayana reminds us, ‘to fail to know history is to doom yourself to repeat its mistakes.’

List of Famous Historical Leaders by Time Period

Leaders and Influencers from Ancient History

The span of recorded history (or written history) is only about 5,000 years. What we refer to as “ancient history” covers the history of people on all continents beginning from approximately 3000 B.C. until the Middle Ages. Ancient history can be further divided into the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, Classical Antiquity, and Late Antiquity.

Leaders and Influencers from the Bronze and Early Iron Age

Narmer (Menes) (c. 3200 B.C.)

King Narmer was the first known leader (pharaoh) of Ancient Egypt and is believed to be the founder of Egypt’s first dynasty. Some scholars credit Narmer with uniting the peoples of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.

Fu Hsi (c. 2900 B.C.)

Legend has it that Fu Hsi was the very first Chinese emperor, ruling in the 29th century B.C. Fu Hsi is believed to be the author of the I Ching, the oldest and most revered book of Chinese wisdom.

Yellow Emperor (2697–2597 B.C.)

The Yellow Emperor was an apocryphal figure in ancient China. He was first among the Five Emperors and is widely considered to be the earliest ancestor of the Chinese people. He is credited with a number of early inventions—including boats, clothing, medicine, math, law and writing. He is also believed to be the originator of a strong, centralized state. When he grew old and his empire began to falter he is reported to have said: “My fault is want of moderation. The misery I suffer comes from over-attention to my own self, and the troubles of the Empire from over-regulation in everything.”

Gilgamesh (c. 2500 B.C.)

Gilgamesh was the great legendary hero and king of Uruk. He is known primarily through the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest known works of Mesopotamian literature. Gilgamesh was also known as a great builder. He is often remembered for his friendship with a wild man from the woods and for his quest for immortality.

Sargon the Great (2270-2215 B.C.)

Sargon the Great was an ancient ruler of Mesopotamia most famous for conquering the Sumerian city-states. He was also known as a great military leader, tactician and strategist. Legend has it that Sargon was discovered as an infant floating in a basket on a river. From his humble beginnings, he came to build and lead one of ancient history’s greatest empires.

Abraham (1812-1637 B.C.)

Abraham was a great propphet, central to the Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—who is believed to be a forefather of both Jesus (through Isaac) and Muhammad (through Ishmael). Abraham is often remembered for being a “friend of God” and for his remarkable faith (he was prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, until God sent an angel to stop him).

Hammurabi (c.1792-1750 B.C.)

Hammurabi was the first king of the Babylonian Dynasty. He began as a successful military leader, but is most famous for establishing the first set of recorded laws, known as Hammurabi’s Code.

Moses (c. 1592 or 1391-1271 B.C.)

Moses was a great leader and prophet who was responsible for leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the “Promised Land.” He is a central figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to a number of sacred religious texts, God revealed His teachings to Moses on Mount Sinai as the Ten Commandments around 1200 B.C.

Hatsheput (1508-1458 B.C.)

Queen Hatsheput was the first great woman in recorded history and one of the most successful, longest reigning pharaohs in Egypt. She is remembered for her peaceful reign, numerous successful trade expeditions, and for her prolific building projects.

King Tutankhamun ("King Tut") 1342-1324 B.C.)

Tutankhamun ascended the throne in 1333 B.C. while still a youth (believed to be about 9 or 10 years old). His reign lasted only 10 years and was dominated by his powerful advisors. The most significant aspect of his reign was his rejection of his father’s (Akhenaten) worhsip of the god Aten and his restoration of the practice of worshipping the god Amun. Tutankhamun also initiated several building projects and worked to improve relations with neighboring kingdoms. He is believed to be the product of incest and likely died of related complications that led to his fall. His tomb was discovered nearly intact by Howard Carter in 1922. Today, Tutankhamun’s burial mask (see photo) remains a symbol of ancient Egyptian leadership.

King David I (c.1035 - 972 B.C.)

David was the second king of the nation of Israel. He was an ancestor of Jesus through both Joseph and Mary. David is usually remembered for defeating Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior. He is also the man depicted in Michelangelo’s Renaissance masterpiece, the statue of David. He was a writer and philosopher (he wrote the Book of Psalms) and is remembered as a good and virtuous king (though certainly not without fault).

Leaders and Influencers from Classical Antiquity

Ashurnasirpal II (c. 9th cent.. B.C.)

Ashurnasirpal II was the third king and a brutal conqueror of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Along with his successful military conquests, he is also known for the consolidation of the Assyrian Empire. He is, however, also known for his unsuccessful siege of Tyre (unlike Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.). More than anything, however, Ashurnasirpal is remembered for the wickedly evil treatment of those he defeated. As he said himself,

“I built a pillar over against the city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes and others I bound to stakes round the pillar. I cut the limbs off the officers who had rebelled. Many captives I burned with fire and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I consumed with fire. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.”

Hoshea (732-721 B.C.)

Hoshea was the last of the 19 kings of the Israelite Kingdom of Israel.

Solon (638-558 B.C.)

Solon was an Athenian leader, statesman, lawmaker and poet. He is often credited as the founder of Athenian democracy. The name Solon means “wise lawmaker,” and Solon more than lived up to the name with his efforts to fight against the tyranny of Athenian leaders, and political and moral decline in ancient Athens.

Cyrus-the-Great_clean

Cyrus the Great (c. 600-530 B.C.)

Cyrus II was the founder of the Persian Empire. Cyrus was a great conquerer, but he is most remembered for uniting different tribes (the Medes and the Persians) and for his religious tolerance as well as his magnanimity and generosity toward those he conquered.

Cleisthenes (570-508 B.C.)

Cleisthenes was a leader in Ancient Athens. He is credited with bringing democracy to Athens through his reformations of the Athenian constitution. He is known by historians today as “the father of Athenian democracy.”

Sun Tzu (544-496 B.C.)

Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese military general. He is most known for his expertise as a strategist, as recorded in The Art of War; a book which continues to influence experts in the fields of leadership and strategy to this day.

Cimon (510-450 B.C.)

Cimon was an Athenian statesman and general in mid-5th century Greece. Cimon’s effort in helping to create the Athenian maritime empire following Xerxes I’s failed invasion of Greece in 480–479 B.C. was vital to their success. Cimon was commander of the Greek forces at the Battle of the Eurymedon which ended with the destruction of both the Persian army and their naval fleet in 466 B.C.

Pericles (495 - 429 B.C.)

Pericles was a prominent Greek statesman, orator, and general of ancient Athens during its Golden Age, who is often (though not universally) categorized by 20th century scholars as a populist. Plutarch writes that Pericles, to his own credit, given his aristocratic background, “…took his side, not with the rich and few, but with the many and poor…” Pericles is often remembered for his legendary oratory and for his influence on Athenian society, which earned him the title “the first citizen of Athens.” Pericles said: “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.”

Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.)

Beyond being a brilliant military tactician, Alexander the Great was a master of grand strategy. Always adopting a long-term perspective with an impressively broad scope, he was never thinking solely of how to outmaneuver an enemy on the battlefield. Along with the strategic use of military force, Alexander was also thinking of the relevant geopolitical and economic factors, the diplomatic means at his disposal, the intelligence assets he could exploit, how he would navigate the cultural differences and lead the people he conquered, what influence his actions would have on Greece, and how to maintain both the morale of his men, and the loyalty of his subjects back home. In essence, Alexander demonstrated a remarkable multi-dimensional grasp of grand strategy, which was essential to his vision of cultural exchange within his global, cosmopolitan empire. In the end, Alexander failed to achieve his dream; and, yet, across a wide array of different terrains, facing a range of diverse enemy forces, often two or three times the size of the Macedonian army, Alexander, not once defeated in battle, ultimately conquered the known world, and built an empire the likes of which no one had ever before seen. What’s more, he did all of this a long, long way from home. And he did it all before age 33.

Hannibal (c. 248-182 B.C.)

Hannibal was a great military general and political leader of ancient Carthage (a Mediterranean city located in Northern Africa in what is now Tunisia). He is most famous for his victories over the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War; including a daring, surprise march across the Alps, complete with a large army, cavalry and war elephants. As with many leaders, he was prepared to do whatever he had to do to succeed. When his generals declared it was impossible to cross the Alps with elephants, Hannibal famously said, “I will either find a way, or make one.”
Heroes and Villains from History Catiline

Catiline (108-62 B.C.)

Born to a patrician family in ancient Rome, Lucius Sergius Catilina was a soldier and senator in ancient Rome best known for attempting to overthrow the Roman Republic.

Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

Marcus Tullius Cicero was an ancient Roman statesman and philosopher. Cicero is remembered as one of Rome’s greatest orators. He fought hard but unsuccessfully to preserve the Roman Republic from slipping into empire. Cicero was also a prolific writer, covering topics such as rhetoric, oratory, philosophy, and politics. The ancient Roman educator Quintilian said that Cicero was “not the name of a man, but of eloquence itself.” The English word for eloquent is derived from Cicero’s name. Cicero is also remembered for suppressing an attempt to overthrow the government by a group of fellow aristocrats, known as the Catiline conspiracy.

Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.)

Named “Dictator for Life,” Julius Caesar was one of the most prominent leaders of ancient Rome and a significant agent of the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Mark Antony (83-30 B.C.)

Cleopatra VII Philopator (69-30 B.C.)

Frequently depicted as a sexy femme fatale, Cleopatra stands as one of the most famous female rulers in recorded history. Flying in the face of popular myth, however, Cleopatra was not the stunning beauty that most people think. In contrast, it was her charisma and cunning political instincts, her hustle, savvy and self-belief that enabled Cleopatra to make an indelible mark on the world.

Augustus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.)

Born Octavian, Augustus was the first emperor of Rome.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (c. 63-12 B.C.)

Agrippa was a Roman general, statesman, and architect. A friend and son-in-law to Emperor Augustus, Agrippa was the successful military commander who defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.

Tiberius Caesar Augustus (42 B.C.-37 A.D.)

Tiberius

Jesus Christ (0-33 A.D.)

Jesus of Nazareth.

Boudicca (c. 1st cent.-60 A.D.)

Boudicca was the queen of a British Celtic tribe. Boudicca is remembered for leading an uprising against the invading forces of the Roman Empire circa 60 A.D.

Caratacus (c. 10-50 A.D.)

Roman Emperor Caligula the Sadistic, Mad Emperor of Rome

Caligula (12-41 A.D.)

Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula (meaning “little soldier’s boot”), was the third emperor of Rome. He is best remembered for his sadistic cruelty and sexual perversions, including incest with his sisters. He reportedly killed for mere amusement. At one of the games, he had an entire section of the audience thrown into the pit with the wild beasts because no gladiators remained and he was bored. He was also widely believed to be insane. He sent his troops on nonsensical military missions to fight non-existent armies, claiming that they won important victories while they were away. Perhaps most famously, he once appointed his horse as a consul. He was assassinated by his own guards after ruling for less than 4 years (37-41 A.D.).

Nero (37-68 A.D.)

The Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar (37—68 A.D.) was one of the most monstrous, and universally despised emperors in Rome’s long history. He was known for his ruthless ambition and depraved self-indulgence. To learn more about the fascinating tale of the monstrous Roman madman, check out Classic Influence Podcast episode #22: Beware the Ambitions of the Beast: The Hubris of Emperor Nero, Rome’s Original Antichrist

Leaders and Influencers from Late Antiquity

Emperor Constantine the Great Roman Leader and Philosopher

Constantine (280-337 A.D.)

Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. He is widely remembered for issuing the Edict of Milan, which helped to promote religious tolerance for all religions throughout the Roman empire. Constantine was also a fierece military general. He founded the city, now known as Constantinople, when he moved the capital of Rome to the east.

Leaders from the Middle Ages
(circa 2nd to 15th century)

Leaders and Influencers from the Dark Ages or the Early Middle Ages

Alaric the Visigoth (c. 370-410 A.D.)

Alaric I was the first king of the Visigoths. Alaric is most famous for the sack of Rome in 410 A.D., a pivotal watershed in the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Pope Leo I (400-461 A.D.)

Known as Leo the Great, or Saint Leo, Pope Leo I is considered by many to be one of the most important leaders in the long history of the Catholic Church. Most famously, he persuaded Attila the Hun to abandon his plans to invade Italy. Rather than surrounding himself with intellectually inferior sycophants, Leo surrounded himself with learned men who were capable of informing his decisions and improving and strengthening his judgment. He is known as “the Great” because, as Catholic Exchange writes, Leo “took on just about every major heresy of his time, established the dogmas of Christ as being fully man and fully God, asserted the [primacy] of the papacy, and staved off a barbarian invasion of Rome.”

Attila the Hun (405-453 A.D.)

Attila was the king and military leader of the Huns, a group of Eurasian nomadic barbarians known for spreading terror throughout Europe and sacking Roman cities at will. To the Romans, Attila was the “Scourge of God;” a brutal, bloodthirsty and barbaric ruler who would stop at nothing to satisfy his lust for land, booty and power.

Odoacer the Ostrogoth (433-493)

Odacer is best known for deposing the child emperor Romulus Augustulus, becoming King of Italy, ruling from 476 to 493. Considered a barbarian by the Romans, he is believed to be of Germanic descent.

Justinian I "Justinian the Great" (482-565)

Justinian I “Justinian the Great”

Wu Zetian (624-705)

Wu Zetian

Khosrau II (c. 570-628)

Khosrau was the last Sasanian Shah (king) of Iran.

Charlemagne (742-814)

Charlemagne was King of the Franks and the Lombards and, in 800, he was crowned as the Emperor of Rome by Pope Leo III. He is often remembered for the size of his empire, which covered the majority of western Europe, and for enthusiastically promoting both Christianity and scholarship. He is also often remembered for his many wars alongside the revival of learning and culture. He could be magnanimous toward those he conquered. Today, he is often remembered as the Father of Europe.

Ragnar Lothbrok (circa 9th century)

Ragnar Lothbrok was a legendary Viking hero and Danish and Swedish king. According to legend, Ragnar Lothbrok was the most famous Viking of his age. And he remains one of the greatest heroes of Viking history. To learn more, listen to Classic Influence Podcast, CIP 023: Construct Your Own Heroic Life History: Ragnar Lothbrok, The Everlasting Legend of the Viking Leader.

King Alfred the Great (849-899)

Alfred the Great was king of the Anglo-Saxons from 886 to 899. When he first acceded to the throne of Wessex in April of 1871 he struggled against Viking invasions for several years.

Rollo, Count of Rouen (c. 860-930)

Rollo was a great Viking leader who became the first ruler of Normandy, a region in northern France. Following the Siege of Chartres in 911, Charles the Simple, the king of West Francia, signed a treaty with Rollo, which included the gifting of large tracts of land. In exchange, Rollo had to convert to Christianity swear allegiance to Charles, and pledge to defend West Francia from Viking raiders. Rollo became the Count of Rouen, and his offspring and that of his followers became known as Normans.

Cnut the Great (c. 990-1035)

Cnut (or Canute) was the King of the North Sea Empire, which included England, Denmark and Norway. Cnut won the English throne following centuries of Viking activities across England and Europe, including trading, but also large-scale raiding, colonizing, and conquest. Where scores of others had failed, Cnut succeeded by bringing the Vikings (Danes) and English together under cultural bonds of wealth and custom, rather than sheer brutality alone. In the 12th century, the following story of Cnut and the waves was recorded by Henry of Huntingdon in his Historia Anglorum:

“When he was at the height of his ascendancy, he ordered his chair to be placed on the sea-shore as the tide was coming in. Then he said to the rising tide, ‘You are subject to me, as the land on which I am sitting is mine, and no one has resisted my overlordship with impunity. I command you, therefore, not to rise on to my land, nor to presume to wet the clothing or limbs of your master.’ But the sea came up as usual, and disrespectfully drenched the king’s feet and shins. So jumping back, the king cried, ‘Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless, and there is no king worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven, earth and the sea obey eternal laws.'”

Leaders and Influencers from the High Middle Ages

Macbeth, King of Scotland (c.1005-1057)

King Macbeth of Scotland is remembered in part thanks to William Shakespeare and his tragedy, Macbeth. The real Macbeth did not ascend the throne of Scotland by murdering his cousin, King Duncan I, in his bed, but by killing him on the battlefield near Elgin. With the exception of an English invasion in 1054, at the behest of Edward the Confessor, Macbeth ruled in relative peace from 1040 to 1057.

Edward the Confessor (c.1005-1066)

Edward the Confessor was the last king of the House of Wessex and one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Edward was the son of Æthelred the Unready.

William the Conqueror (1027-1087)

William I was the first Norman king of England, reigning from 1066, when he defeated Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings, until his death in 1087. The Normans (or House of Normandy) originates from the Duchy of Normandy, which grew out of the 911 A.D. treaty between Charles the Simple of West Francia and the Viking leader Rollo.

Lady Godiva's Bold, Nude Ride

Lady Godiva (circa 1066-1086)

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who is remembered for riding naked across town, covered only by her long hair, in order to persuade her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce the oppressive taxation that he was imposing on his people. The people all agreed to go inside while Lady Godiva rode nude through the streets. According to legend, however, a certain Thomas refused to look away, which earned him the derision of the town and the nickname “Peeping Tom.”

David I of Scotland (1083-1153)

David I of Scotland was the son of Malcolm III and Margaret of Wessex, also known as Saint Margaret of Scotland.

Zhu Xi (1130-1200)

Zhu Xi was a Chinese historian, writer, philosopher, and politician of the Song dynasty. He was also a Confucian scholar who helped shape Chinese culture with a lasting influence.

Richard I "Richard the Lionheart" (1157-1199)

“Richard the Lionheart”

Genghis Khan (1162-1227)

One of the great conquerors in human history. Through his brutal conquests, Genghis Khan first unified the rivaling nomadic tribes of Mongolia becoming the 1st Great Khan of the Mongolian Empire in 1206 A.D. With his Mongolian horde of ferocious warriors, Genghis then took the world by storm, first by conquering Asia, and then most of Eurasia, building what eventually became the largest contiguous empire in history.

William Wallace (1270-1305)

Sir William Wallace was a knight and revolutionary leader in the Kingdom of Scotland who attempted to prevent Scotland from losing her independence to England. Wallace led an uprising against the English on September 11, 1297 and defeated a much larger, superior English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Wallace soon emerged as the Guardian of Scotland. Wallace was later defeated and eventually captured by the English. Condemned of treason and acts of war, Wallace was hanged, disemboweled and quartered. Undeterred by England’s victory, the memory of Wallace continued to inspire the Scottish people who kept fighting and eventually won back their independence.

Leaders and Influencers from the Late Middle Ages (Renaissance)

John Wycliffe (1328-1384)

Wycliffe was an Oxford professor and and influential critic within the Roman Catholic Church. He is considered an important figure in the lead up to the Protestant Reformation. Wycliffe supported the translation of the Bible into common vernacular so that it would be accessible to the masses. In 1415, decades after his death, the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic and banned his writings.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431)

Joan of Arc, a heroine of France, was a young French peasant who led the French army against the English, securing many key triumphs during the Hundred Years’ War. After being burned at the stake for heresy, Joan of Arc was eventually declared a saint by the Roman Catholic church in 1920.

Vlad the Impaler "Dracula" (1431-1476)

Vlad the Impaler was an important ruler in the history of Wallachia (“the Romanian Country”) and is still considered a national hero in Romania. As a young teen, he and his younger brother were held as hostages by the Ottoman Empire to secure the loyalty of his father. He grew to be a successful ruler, but he was exceedingly cruel toward his enemies. In fact, so notorious was his cruelty that it led to the first bestselling books in the German language. Vlad later became the inspiration for the fictional vampire Count Dracula.

Alexander VI (1431-1503)

Born Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI was one of the most corrupt and controversial popes of Renaissance popes, a period marked by a number of less than virtuous church leaders. Nevertheless, Alexander VI was a master strategist and through his foreign policy he gained a number of advantages for his family and allies.

Leaders from the Early Modern Period
(circa 16th to 17th century)

Leaders and Influencers from the Age of Discovery, Age of Exploration

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

Explorer. Governor. Oppressor.

Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504)

Isabella I was the queen of Castile and León. Through her marriage to Ferdinand II, she became the queen of Aragon as well. Her marriage to Ferdinand brought the kingdoms together into what became known as Spain. Isabella is often remembered for being the key sponsor of Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the Americas. She and Ferdinand are also remembered as “The Catholic Monarchs” for their role in defeating the Moors. Queen Isabella’s broad, sweeping vision and strategic maneuverability led to her becoming the inspiration behind the most powerful piece in the game of chess: The Queen.

Ferdinand II (1452-1516)

Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521)

Leaders and Influencers from the Reformation

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

MARTIN LUTHER TAKES A STAND: On October 31, 1517, a humble, scholarly, and deeply religious Augustinian monk and theology professor changed the course of human history when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church. Challenging the authority and railing against the corruption of the Church, all while undermining important sources of revenue, particularly the sale of indulgences (selling the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of dead relatives), Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses put him on a collision course with the mighty Roman Catholic Church. The idea that believers are justified by faith alone was an epic blow to the power and authority of the Church, a radical challenge that would trigger a crisis of faith in Christianity. “The church was everywhere with her claim to rule over men’s daily lives and over their souls. All progress was conditioned on breaking her claims, and probably nothing could have done it so thoroughly as this idea of justification by faith only.”1490 The fallout was sweeping, profound and immediate.1491 And it included a revolutionary rethinking of authority and leadership that went well beyond the church. Martin Luther had landed “…a mortal blow at the great hierarchy of privilege and…tyranny built up by the Middle Ages.”1492 With Gutenberg’s printing press running at full speed by this time, Pope Leo X was determined to quickly silence this dangerous critic and force him to recant his Theses before any more damage could be done. But when Luther was ordered to retract his arguments he refused. Instead, he began to give public talks, debating the need for church reforms.Orta66 By 1521, Luther was declared a heretic and excommunicated. He was later forced to attend a formal Imperial hearing before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, as well as princes, imperial electors, and other dignitaries. The Archbishop of Trier again urged Luther to recant his Theses. Fearing that he might be burned at the stake, Luther asked for time for further consideration. After a night of prayer and reflection, he returned to the hearing inside the palace and once again refused, telling the assembly that he could not recant, “for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”Orta66 He then concluded with the now famous words, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”Orta66 Condemned as an outlaw with his life now in peril, Luther escaped to Wartburg Castle where he was granted sanctuary by a political ally, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. But his work was essentially done. Indeed, Martin Luther’s bold stand for his beliefs sparked the Protestant Reformation and forever changed the face of Christianity and relationships of power and authority across the Western World.

Henry VIII of England (1491-1547)

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Ivan IV "Ivan the Terrible" (1530-1584)

Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1533-1603)

Given the tumultuous shifting powers in England at the time, and the barriers against her, both as a woman and a Protestant, it was shrewd strategic maneuvering that enabled Queen Elizabeth I of England to ascend to the throne in the first place. Once in power, rather than succumbing to the internal conflicts of a nation torn by religious division, she looked to her people’s common interests and focused the nation on increasing prosperity instead. Overcoming domestic rebellions, she exploited the threat of foreign invaders to further unify her people, including the threat posed by Pope Pius V, who decreed that anyone who murdered the “heretical” Queen would be forgiven. Further, rather than attempting to skirt the issue of sex, Elizabeth embraced her femininity, openly acknowledged the differences between her, as a woman, and the typical monarch, and, ultimately, created a new model for female leadership. Known as “The Virgin Queen,” she cleverly exploited the empty throne beside her to achieve certain diplomatic aims, at last insisting that she was married to her realm and her people. The cunning Elizabeth also created a network of spies—the 16th century predecessor of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service—to achieve her strategic goals. Under her leadership, England become a major European power, an empire which would dominate the world for the next three centuries. Her influence was, in fact, so complete that the latter half of England’s 16th century became known as England’s “Golden Age,” and the “Elizabethan Era.”

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)

Mary I of Scotland reigned in Scotland for nearly a quarter of a century until she was forced to abdicate in July of 1567. She was the cousin, and later the enemy of Queen Elizabeth I of England

Pocahontas (1596-1617)

Pocahontas was a Native American, born to the Powhatan People and the daughter of Powhatan, the chief of her people. She is known for her association with Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)

Oliver Cromwell was an English general and statesman who led armies of the Parliament of England against King Charles I during the English Civil War.

Charles I of England (1600-1649)

Charles I was King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until he was executed by beheading after a show trial in 1649, at the end of the Second English Civil War.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (1621-1683)

Cooper was a prominent English politician during and following the English Civil War.

Louis XIV (1638-1715)

Known as the Sun King and Louis the Great, Louis XIV was King of France from 1643 until 1715. With a reign of more than 72 years, Louis XIV is the longest serving monarch in the history of the world.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722)

Leaders and Influencers from the Late Modern Period
(circa 17th to 20th century)

Leaders and Influencers from the Age of Reason (Enlightenment)

Peter the Great (1672–1725)

Peter I of Russia is remembered for being a relatively enlightened leader, for expanding the Tsardom of Russia, instituting a number of cultural reforms, and building Russia into a major power in Europe. He is also remembered for developing the city of Saint Petersburg (, which he made the capital of Russia.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Benjamin Franklin was one of America’s Founding Fathers and he remains a leading legend in U.S. history and an iconic figure in popular culture. Old Ben was a true Renaissance man; he was a diplomat, a politician, an author, a scientist, an inventor, a musician, and a leading revolutionary. Ben Franklin is rememberd for many things, including discovering electricity and helping to spawn the American Revolution.

Frederick the Great (1712-1786)

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

Adam Smith (1723-1790)

Robert Clive (1725-1774)

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Catherine the Great (1729-1796)

Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great remains the country’s longest-ruling female leader. She seized power through a coup d’état, overthrowing her husband and second cousin, Peter III. Today her reign is considered the “Golden Age of Russia” as a result of the increasing size and strength and the revitalization of Russia’s culture. Under her leadership, Russia came to be recognized as one of the great powers of Europe.

George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington was the first President of the United States. After twice being unanimously elected president—the only president to have been elected with 100% of the electoral votes in both his 1st and 2nd term—despite the protests of his exceptionally broad base of supporters, the “American Cincinnatus” again relinquished power at the end of his second term as the first President of the United States, refusing a 3rd term for the good of the American experiment—the bold idea of a government of, by and for the people. To learn more about Washington, check out Classic Influence podcast episode #17: Leverage the Paradox of Self-Reliance: General George Washington Wins the War By First Building Belief and Rapport

John Adams (1735-1826)

Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

John Hancock ( 1737-1793)

Leaders and Influencers from the Age of Revolution

King George III (1738-1820)

King George William Frederick III was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 until his death in 1820.

George Clinton (1739-1812)

Joseph II (1741-1790)

Samuel Chase (1741-1811)

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

John Jay (1745-1829)

James Madison (1751-1836)

Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755-1804)

Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794)

Maximilien Robespierre was one of the most influential political leaders during the French Revoluton. Robespierre began as a fierce advocate for the common people, supporting universal suffrage and the establishment of a republican (representative democracy) form of government. His vicious hatred for his enemies, however, eventually lead to the Reign of Terror, a period of violence which included the beheading of tens of thousands of his enemies at the guillotine. Robespierre was eventually beheaded himself (“He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”).

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

Henry Clay (1777-1852)

Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831)

Clausewitz was a Prussian military general and one of the greatest military theorists in history. His writings, most famously On War, are still studied at leading military academies around the world.

Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850)

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862)

Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)

Davy Crockett (1786-1836)

Known as the “King of the Wild Frontier,” Davy Crockett was an American folk hero, frontiersman, a colonel in the local militia, and a politician from Tennessee. Crockett was a gifted storyteller and his exploits became the subject of numerous plays during his lifetime. He died defending the Alamo during the Texas Revolution.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

James Polk (1795-1849)

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

Sojourner Truth was an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

Lord Macaulay (1800-1859)

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

British Prime Minister

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States. He is best remembered for ending slavery and leading the nation through the Civil War.

William Gladstone (1809-1898)

British Prime Minister

Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898)

Genius German statesman

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

Stanton was one of the leading women’s rights advocates in the U.S. during the mid-to late-1800s. Working closely together with Susan B. Anthony for decades, the two were a force to be reckoned with and played a pivotal role in winning for women the right to vote. Stanton also fought against slavery.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)

Leading American abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman, Frederick Douglass was the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti from 1889 to 1891. Demonstrating an early sense of self-reliance and a willingness to defy authority, Frederick Douglass first began to set himself apart at age 12 when he began teaching himself to read. Initially, his master’s wife was teaching him the alphabet, but after she was reprimanded for teaching a slave to read, Douglass was on his own. He soon found other ways to teach himself to both read and write; including interacting with white children, observing the writing of the men he worked with, and struggling through any reading materials he could get his hands on. Through reading, Douglass became well aware of the world around him and, in 1838, now about 20, he escaped the shackles of slavery, landing in Massachusetts. In time, the spoken and written word enabled Frederick Douglass to gain considerable renown. Along with his work as a prominent abolitionist, he became an outstanding orator, a bestselling author, and a newspaper publisher. He later became the President of the Freedman’s Savings Bank and marshal of the District of Columbia. In 1888, Douglass became the first African American to receive a vote at the Republican National Convention as a nominee for the President of the United States.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Leading American philosopher and poet, author of the book Walden and the celebrated essay “Civil Disobedience.”

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

Serving as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901, Alexandrina Victoria was the longest reigning monarch in British history at the time, known today as the Victorian Era.

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)

Susan B. Anthony was one of the leading women’s rights activists who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement and the anti-slavery movement in the U.S. in the mid-to-late-1800s.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)

A military general and one of the greatest heroes of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States.

Harriet Tubman (c. 1822-1913)

Harriet Tubman was born into bondage circa 1822 in the slave state of Maryland, which bordered the free state of Pennsylvania. After decades of enduring the evil institution and the back-breaking work on a plantation, she was determined to make her escape. “There was one of two things I had a right to,” she remembered thinking at the time, “liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.” And, so, late one cool evening in September 1849, Harriet Tubman set out to attain her freedom, trudging 90 miles alone, through thick woods, and across rocky streams, along the Choptank River, all under the cover of darkness. Given the rewards that were offered for slaves that had escaped, Tubman knew that she could not risk letting anyone unfriendly to her cause catch even a glimpse of her as she made her way through the unknown territory, and clandestine network of freedom trails and safe houses that were part of the Underground Railroad. After over a week’s journey, when she finally arrived in Philadelphia she was euphoric. “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person,” she said. “There was such a glory over everything. The sun came like gold through the trees and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.” But once she arrived and was set up at a place where she could stay, a place that was at least somewhat safe from the treacherous efforts of slave catchers, rather than staying and making a new life for herself, Harriet Tubman, like a heroic fire fighter who had just tunneled her way out of a ferocious conflagration, turned straight back around to help her family and friends find their way safely through. She desperately wanted them to find the freedom that she had found. And, yet, once she made it safely back to Philadelphia once again, even while she knew she was being hunted by armed slave hunters, she knew she had to return. Harriet Tubman eventually returned another dozen or more times, rescuing some 300 slaves, and risking her life with every trip. The takeaway lesson from Tubman herself: “Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

Leaders and Influencers from the World War I and World War II Era

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941)

William Howard Taft (1857-1930)

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925)

Jane Addams (1860-1935)

David Lloyd George (1863-1945)

The Wright Brothers—
Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948)

Orville and Wilbur Wright were two American aviation pioneers who are today credited with the first successful piloted, powered, “heavier than air” airplane flight in history. In competition with some of the greatest minds in science and technology at the time, few could have expected that the Wright brothers would emerge as such successful, pioneering aviators. They lacked education, formal training, and financial support and, yet, they had everything they needed to succeed. To learn more check out Classic Influence episode #37: Escalate the Intensity, Increase the Stakes: Orville and Wilbur Wright’s Extraordinary Obsession with Flight.

Mary Parker Follet (1868-1933)

Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940)

Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi (1869–1948)

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922)

Ernest Shackleton was an Irish-born Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic.  Shackleton is remembered as one of the key figures in the Heroic Age of Exploration. The story of Shackleton and his crew’s quest to cross the South Pole is one of the greatest sagas of survival in history. It is also a astounding reminder of the power of optimism, endurance, and hope. To learn more, check out Classic Influence Podcast episode #28: Hammer Optimism into Your Plans: Ernest Shackleton’s Miracle Trip from Elephant Island.

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964)

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953)

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)

George Marshall (1880-1959)

Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)

Consistently ranked as one of America’s top three greatest presidents, Franklin Roosevelt was elected an unprecedented four times. Learn more about how FDR used framing to influence, persuade, and win.

Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882-1947)

Fiorello La Guardia was the mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945. Prior to becoming mayor, La Guardia was a Congressman from New York’s 20th district. Historians widely consider La Guardia to be one of New York’s best mayors. In addition to La Guardia airport, a number of other institutions and streets are named in his honor. Standing 5 feet 2 inches tall, La Guardia is remembered as a force to be reckoned with. The New York Times wrote in his obituary: “Dynamite and aggressive, he appeared to be everywhere at once, rushing to fires at times and at other times flying all over the country by airplane. A fighter by nature he was always ready to take on all comers, big or little, from Hitler to the man in the street.” Obituary (1947, September 21). “La Guardia is Dead; City Pays Homage to 3-Time Mayor.” New York Times. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s Obituatry

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945)

Clement Attlee (1883-1967)

Harry Truman (1884-1972)

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

Eleanor Roosevelt was an American political leader and social activist, U.S. diplomat, and the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. She was also the 1st U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

George Patton (1885-1945)

A charismatic, courageous, and flamboyant hero of World War II, General George Patton possessed a relentless will to win. He was also a man who struggled with self-doubt and fear. Check out Classic Influence episode #039 to learn how his willingness to accept the distinct likelihood of death forever changed the arc of his destiny: Find Courage Under Fire—Count the Costs, Then Forge Ahead: General George S. Patton’s Greatest Nightmare and Moment of Truth.

Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975)

James Farley (1888-1976)

American politician and key figure in the rise of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Farley was also known as a political kingmaker, and an early expert in the use of polling data.

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

Dale Carnegie was an American writer and lecturer and, ultimately, a successful businessman. He was the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the best-selling books in publishing history. Born in poverty on a small farm in Missouri, Carnegie was nearly 50 before he finally figured out the key to his blockbuster success. To learn more about how Carnegie became “The Father of Self-Help,” and, in time, the head of a thriving personal development empire the likes of which the world had never before seen, listen to this episode of Classic Influence: CIP 038. Make Your First Dollar, Profit from the Power of Proof: Dale Carnegie’s Baby Steps Rise to Blockbuster Success.

John Foster Dulles (1888-1959)

Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969)

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)

Charles De Gaulle (1890-1970)

Charles De Gaulle was a French general who helped to fight against Nazi Germany during World War II. After the war, de Gaulle formed his own political party (Rally of the French People). He was later elected the first president of the Fifth (and current) Republic of France. To this day, Charles de Gaulle is widely seen as a great hero of France’s modern era.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969)

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969)

Earl Warren (1891-1974)

Francisco Franco (1892-1975)

Wendell Wilkie (1892-1944)

Huey Long (1893-1935)

A populist champion of the downtrodden, the oppressed, and the poor, Huey Long grew up in Louisiana during the Gilded Age and became involved in politics in the years leading up to the Great Depression. Despite the financial hardships he faced during his upbringing in Louisiana, and the fierce political opposition he faced throughout his rise to the pinnacle of power in the Pelican State, Huey Long rose to become one of America’s greatest political stars. To learn more about how Huey overcame his humble origins and built a reputation for himself as a political force to be reckoned with, check out this episode of Classic Influence: Dare to Defy the Established Order, Risk to Skip Ahead: Huey Long Cuts a Barrier-Breaking Path to the Top.

Leaders and Influencers from the Atomic Age and the Cold War Era

Mao Zedong (1893-1976)

Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971)

Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier (1907-1971)

Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (1908-1972)

Joseph R. McCarthy (1908-1957)

Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973)

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States. He was President John F. Kennedy’s Vice President until Kennedy was assassinated, whereupon LBJ was sworn in. Johnson could be very persuasive and, contrary to his presence before large audiences, he had a personal charisma that helped him to build relationships and power in Washington. Known as “The Johnson Treatment,” in this photo we see LBJ using his physical confidence and imposing stature to emphasize his point.

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993)

Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in the history of the United States. He was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson.

Nelson Rockfeller (1908-1979)

Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)

Thomas Philip O'Neill Jr. (1912-1994)

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

Richard Nixon (1913-1994)

Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006)

Chilean general, politician and ruthless military dictator.

Robert McNamara (1916-2009)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963)

John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States. He is remembered for a number of notable crisis that occurred during his administration, including the Bay of Pigs Fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis. By assuming full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs Fiasco, President John F. Kennedy forced himself to examine the conditions and context that led to the fatal decision. This set in motion a series of changes to his decision making apparatus (i.e. ExComm)—including the following specific changes, all of which worked together to greatly improve the quality of his decisions (as discussed in Irving Janis celebrated book, Groupthink): (1.) establishing new role definitions, (2.) assigning a rotating devil’s advocate, (3.) having periodic leaderless meetings, (4.) mixing up the group participants at different times, (5.) seeking out reports that offered conflicting or alternative views, (6.) holding meetings of subgroups, (7.) encouraging debate, and (8.) scheduling changes in the group atmosphere.

Indira Gandhi (1917-1984)

Indira Gandhi was the first and, so far, only woman to be prime minister of India. She was the daughter of the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. She also served as prime minister twice, first from 1966 to 1977, and then from 1980 until 1984 when she was struck down by the bullets two of her own bodyguards.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

After spending 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela emerged as the leader of the nation, becoming South Africa’s first black president on May 10, 1994. Only a year prior, Mandela shared the Noble Peace Prize with Frederik Willem de Klerk for helping to lead a peaceful transition to a multi-cultural democracy. As president, Mandela continued his masterful work at easing racial tensions and providing assistance to those who suffered under apartheid.

Eva Peron (1919-1952)

María Eva Duarte de Perón, often known simply as Evita, was the First Lady of Argentina from June 1946 until her death in July 1952. Evita was the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón (1895–1974). She fought for women’s rights, labor rights, and the poor before her untimely death to cancer at age 33.

Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)

Jackie Robinson was an American professional baseball player who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB), effectively cracking the color line to devastating effect in 1947. Jackie Robinson was a fighter who was not afraid to stand up against racial injustice. When Branch Rickey—club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers—began looking to bring Robinson, a former student at UCLA, onto the team as the first black player (both for his superb athletic ability and his high moral character), he had one overriding concern: Could Robinson keep his emotions in check when it mattered most? Robinson’s ability to perform at the plate while being loudly ridiculed by racist spectators was a testament to his nerves of steel. In 1947, the same year he joined the Major Leagues, Jackie Robinson was named Rookie of the Year. In 1949, he was voted Most Valuable Player. And in 1962, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jackie Robinson mastered more than the game of baseball. He mastered the inner game, and his example of remaining cool under pressure continues to inspire to this day.

McGeorge Bundy (1919-1996)

6th United States National Security Advisor, serving under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Bundy is most notorious for helping to escalate the Vietnam War. Prior to joining the Kennedy administration in 1961, Bundy was a professor of government at Harvard.

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)

As Bishop of Rome from 1978 to 2005, John Paul II was the second longest serving pope.

Henry Kissinger (1923- )

As the 56th United States Secretary of State, serving under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger was and remains a highly polarizing figure in U.S. politics.

Jimmy Carter (1924- )

Jimmy Carter was the 39th U.S. President, and the 76th Governor of Georgia. In 2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Malcolm Little "Malcolm X" (1925-1965)

A fierce advocate of Black empowerment and a charismatic spokesman for the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X is also remembered for his criticism of the civil rights movement and the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968)

Robert F. Kennedy was the 64th United States Attorney General, serving under his brother, President John F. Kennedy. RFK was subsequently elected as U.S. Senator from New York. Kennedy was running for President in 1968 when he was shot down in the kitchen of The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Leaders and Influencers from the Postmodern Period
(circa late 20th century)