Can You Identify the Most Powerful Leaders in World History?


By: Gavin Thagard

7 Min Quiz

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. 

When revolution hit the air in North America, this world leader answered the call. Who is he?

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.


Can you identify this world leader who changed the course of Christian history when he turned against the Catholic Church?

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."


The people loved this ruler even though he brought an end to the Roman Republic. What's his name?

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.


Do you know this world leader who almost conquered all of Europe in the name of France?

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.


Who is this revolutionary that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa after spending decades in prison?

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.


This former U.S. president asked what you can do for your country before his assassination. Can you name him?

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.


What's the name of this leader of independence and promoter of nonviolent civil disobedience?

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.


Are you familiar with this military genius who almost brought down the Roman Empire?

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.


The world wasn't safe until which dictator depicted here was defeated in WWII?

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.


Communism finally prevailed in Russia under this powerful leader. Is he a familiar face?

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.


Do you recognize this ruler who defended England against a Viking conquest?

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.


Can you identify this famous queen who was the last monarch under the Tudor dynasty?

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.


No Tang emperor held as much power as this guy, who was called by what name?

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.


Is this Roman ruler who avenged the death of Julius Caesar familiar to you?

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.


What's the name of this violent world leader who started one of the largest empires in history?

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.


After uniting most of Western Europe, this ruler became the first Holy Roman Emperor. Who is he?

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.


Can you name this leader whose death ended the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt?

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 ancient Greeks told stories about this king who defended Greece from a Persian invasion with only 300 soldiers. Do you know him?

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.


How familiar are you with this leader who stepped in to lift up African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement?

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.


Britain needed leadership during the early years of WWII, and which politician depicted here gave them just that?

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.


Have you read enough about ancient empires to know the name of this conquerer who led forces from Europe to Asia?

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.


Which famous French heroine do you see here?

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.


If you needed to unite a divided nation, you'd want which president depicted in this image?

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.


Who is this famous Viking settler that led expeditions further and further west?

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.


Can you identify this Muslim military leader who fought during the Crusades?

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.


Few Greeks were as influential as which Athenian general shown here?

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.


This communist leader founded the People's Republic of China. Do you know who he is?

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.


What's the name of this British Prime Minister who held the position longer than anyone else in the 20th century?

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.


Are you able to identify this German Chancellor who united the country when it was only 39 independent states?

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.


Do you recognize this West African ruler who was considered the wealthiest man in history?

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.


Is this Lakota leader a figure you are familiar with from American history?

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.


Can you remember the name of the only Chinese empress to be officially recognized during the Zhou dynasty?

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.


Americans lost support for the Vietnam War because this leader refused to surrender. Who is he?

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.


How familiar are you with this Roman ruler recognized as the last of the "Five Good Emperors"?

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."


Do you recognize this Indian leader who commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal?

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.


Russia saw its territory expand under which powerful ruler shown here?

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.


Which Babylonian leader do you see in this image?

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.


This British ruler brought about a period of military, industrial and cultural change. What's her name?

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.


Can you identify this Japanese warlord who came to power by uniting Japan during the Sengoku period?

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.


Are you familiar with this Soviet leader who held an iron grip over Russia during WWII?

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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