Can You Identify the Most Powerful Leaders in World History?

By: Gavin Thagard
Image: Wiki Commons by Pete Sousa

About This Quiz

"With great power comes great responsibility." - Spider-Man

To be a great world leader requires the acceptance of the power bestowed upon you. For the most influential world leaders in history, this power was part of their character, something they embraced and utilized to increase their influence over the subjects below them. How much do you know about the leaders who found themselves in this position? Find out in this quiz. 

The concept of a central authority is nothing new. People have been looking to leaders for guidance since ancient times, and even as democracy has developed, a leader's influence has remained an essential component of the human mindset. After all, we look to leaders to help us overcome that which we can't accomplish alone. They are the beacons that guide us through the alleyways that we dare not venture alone. 

If we show you an image, can you identify these leaders who served as beacons for their people? From rulers in ancient Babylon to the most important 20th-century statesmen, this quiz will cover an array of important authority figures. 

If you're prepared for the task, see if you can lead a charge through this quiz by getting a high score. 

After the American Revolution ended, George Washington had the opportunity to seize the new country for himself, as he was the most powerful man in America. However, the war took its toll on the general, and he acknowledged that democracy was the only way forward.

For hundreds of years, the Catholic Church held a tight grip over Europe, forcing states to submit to the authority of the pope. Corruption eventually infiltrated the ranks, though, and Martin Luther became one of the first powerful figures to point that out in his "Ninety-five Theses."

Before securing his power in Rome, Julius Caesar gained the respect of the Roman people, particularly the army, when he conquered Gaul by defeating several Germanic tribes. After Gaul was secured, Caesar launched an attack against his main political rival, Pompey.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a master of military strategy, which allowed him to sweep across much of Western Europe during his imperial conquest. His primary failure came when he led a march on Moscow, which turned disastrous when the harsh Russian winter set in, leaving every man for himself.

In his early life, Nelson Mandela worked as a lawyer, which led him to the African National Congress. During this time, Mandela sought to overthrow the National Party, which established the system of apartheid that dominated South Africa for nearly 50 years.

With the fear of nuclear destruction hanging over the world, President John F. Kennedy guided the United States through the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the most intense moments in world history. Luckily, no bombs went off, but the event did display just how close humanity was to destroying itself.

Unlike many Indians born into the caste system, Mahatma Gandhi had the privilege of attending school from a young age. He obtained his law degree and traveled to London to further his studies, but it was in South Africa, where he joined a law firm, that he started his fight against systems of segregation.

Ruler of the Hunnic Empire, Attila the Hun rarely lost a battle, even when it came to sacking Roman cities, the dominant power in Europe at the time. He finally clashed with a combined force of Romans and Germanic tribes at the Battle of Catalaunian Plains, which ended in his defeat.

Adolf Hitler relied on antisemitism and the devastation that had engulfed Germany after World War I to seize power in the country. Charismatic and assertive, Hitler used nationalism as his calling card, playing on the importance of the German identity to gain support.

After years of political radicalization, Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia in the middle of World War I to find a country engulfed with turmoil. Realizing there was no real central power, Lenin led a rebellion against the Provisional Government, leading to the establishment of the first communist nation.

Alfred the Great was more than just a military strategist who defeated the Danes to ensure an English kingdom survived. He was also an adamant seeker of knowledge, initiating the translation of books from Latin to Anglo-Saxon.

Elizabeth I ruled at the height of the European Renaissance that saw a vast increase in culture throughout the continent. She even employed William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights the world has ever known.

Though his father was the first emperor of the Tang dynasty, Taizong was instrumental in bringing an end to the Sui dynasty in China. Once in power, he staved off rebellious forces and even extended the empire through several campaigns across China and Central Asia.

After years of internal warfare, Augustus inherited an empire that was on the brink of destruction. Rather than returning to the ideologies of the Republic, Augustus solidified his power through state building and by eliminating any of his opposition, which brought about a period of peace in Rome.

The Mongol Empire started when Genghis Kahn united nomadic tribes living throughout the central Asian steppe. Though his tactics were often violent and bloody, Genghis provided freedoms to his subjects that were rarely seen elsewhere, like the freedom of religion.

Charlemagne rose to power as king of the Franks before uniting other Germanic tribes. Once a tribe was incorporated into his kingdom, Charlemagne forced Christianity on them, which earned him the favor of Pope Leo III.

Despite being a co-regent in Egypt, Cleopatra held most of the power when her reign began through when it ended with her death. She was particularly good at gaining military alliances, which were fostered by relationships with Roman leaders like Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

The Spartan king Leonidas I and his 300 soldiers (though there were actually more) are credited with halting the Persian invasion of Greece long enough for other Greek forces to unite and develop a strategy to combat the invaders. The Spartans, however, lost their king in the battle.

Martin Luther King Jr. preached for a non-violent approach to combat a racist system that dominated various fabrics of American life. He achieved many victories with this approach, but it would ultimately cost him his life when he was assassinated in 1968.

As Germany continued pressing forward on the European mainland, British leadership proved weak in negotiating with these adversaries. Promising a firmer approach, Winston Churchill was granted the role of prime minister after Neville Chamberlain stepped down.

As his victories racked up, Alexander the Great began to look at himself less like a king and more as a god. To better represent this new view of himself, Alexander had his image plastered across conquered lands, particularly on gold coins, for the masses to see.

Believing God chose her, Joan of Arc led French forces against England during the Hundred Years' War. Her most significant victory came at the city of Orleans, which was besieged by an English army.

Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 proved to be the last straw in a growing conflict that divided free states from slave states in the U.S. Less than two months after the election, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.

Leif Erikson is widely believed to be the first European to reach North America when he was blown off course on his way to Greenland. He later returned to this new land and established the settlement of Vinland.

Early in his political career, Saladin secured influence throughout the Middle East by defeating several Muslim forces who opposed him. His desire to expand his empire even led to treaties with crusaders, who freed his soldiers so they could continue fighting beside him.

Pericles was more than just a military genius; he was also a statesman and a patron of the arts. He used the treasury of Athens to fund multiple building projects like the temple of Athena Nike and the Parthenon.

After securing power for the Communist Party in China, Mao Zedong launched an economic program known as the Great Leap Forward. The program sought to build agricultural communes and bring about collective ownership of resources, but it led to one of the worst famines in Chinese history.

Sharing the ideology of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher pushed forward many right-leaning policies during her time as prime minister. In particular, she took on trade unions and pulled back on many government-funded programs.

Known as the "Iron Chancellor," Otto von Bismarck believed in the necessity of power for Germany to regain its full strength. He discussed this course of action in his famous speech from 1862 known as the "Blood and Iron" speech.

One of the most famous events during Mansa Musa's reign was his pilgrimage to Mecca, which he undertook in 1324. On the trip, Musa carried along thousands of soldiers, slaves and more gold than one could spend in a lifetime.

The height of Sitting Bull's rebellion came to an end when he surrendered to U.S. forces in 1881 and was sent to Standing Rock Reservation two years later. However, after his influence continued to spark talks of further violence, police went to arrest him, but instead, they killed him outside his cabin.

Wu Zetian was recognized from a young age for her beauty and wit, and her political career started as a concubine under Emperor Tai Tsung. However, it was under his son, Kao Tsung, that she was able to position herself as the future empress.

Seeking independence for the people of Vietnam held under colonial rule, Ho Chi Minh traveled to Europe, where he eventually found himself in Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution. He brought communist ideals he learned back to Asia when he founded the Viet Minh.

Despite his lack of a royal lineage, Marcus Aurelius proved to be a competent and just ruler when he came to power in the year 161. His reign was influenced by Stoic philosophy, which he both studied and wrote about in his "Meditations."

Like his ancestors, Shah Jahan was enamored by art of all kinds, and under his rule, the Mughals' culture flourished unlike any other time in its history. Aside from the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan engaged in several commissions, which included rebuilding parts of the Red Fort as well as the city of Delhi.

To better compete against Western Europe, Peter the Great initiated several programs that brought Russia more in line with their European contemporaries. One of the strangest practices was placing a tax on beards, as most Western Europeans did not have them at the time.

To better govern his kingdom, Hammurabi initiated one of the first written law codes known as the Code of Hammurabi. The code consisted of 282 rules that helped define both fines and punishments for breaking the law.

Victoria received the crown of England at the young age of 18, which she inherited after the death of her uncle, William IV. As queen, she increased the power of the crown after its influence took a hit with the establishment of the constitutional monarchy in England.

The warring states of the Sengoku period in Japan had taken its toll on the country, providing Toyotomi Hideyoshi with the opportunity to seize control. Under his rule as imperial regent, the daimyo formed a federation that largely remained independent since Hideyoshi never established himself as shogun.

As the ruler of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin managed to transform the nation into a superpower that competed directly with the United States following WWII. However, the costs were substantial, as citizens were pulled from their homes and forced into various jobs while a famine devastated the population.

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