Famous Leaders

Leadership can come in a variety of forms. From leading a group of people to something better to creating an idea that many people follow, being a leader takes character, intelligence, and other admirable traits. Below is a list of the most influential and famous leaders in the history of the world.

Famous Leaders of Antiquity

Moses Cyrus the Great buddha
Moses (c.1393 BC-c.1273 BC)
Nationality: Egyptian
Known for: Leading prophet of Judaism
Moses is one of the most recognized religious leaders in history by the world’s three major religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is known for leading the Israelites out of captivity and through the desert for 40 years throughout the biblical book of Exodus. Moses also received the Ten Commandments and presented them to his people.
Cyrus the Great (c.576 BC-530 BC)
Nationality: Persian
Known for: King of Persia and founder of the Achaemenid Empire
Cyrus the Great’s reign lasted for three decades from 559 BC to 530 BC. He began conquering other empires, including the Median Empire and the Lydian Empire, to add to his own empire. Cyrus died in battle while fighting against the Massagetae and his son – Cambyses II – took his place.
Buddha (563 BC-483 BC)
Nationality: Indian
Known for: Founded Buddhism
Gautama Buddha was a teacher who taught ideals and principles on which Buddhism was based. Much of his time was spent teaching in northeastern India, but he also taught throughout eastern India as well. One of his main teachings in the Nine Virtues, which are just part of his 40 meditation subjects.
Sun Tzu Socrates Alexander the Great
Sun Tzu (544 BC-496 BC)
Nationality: Chinese
Known for: Military general
Known as the author of The Art of War, Sun Tzu is considered one of the greatest military strategists in history. The book is often credited with helping to end the conflict during the era of the Warring States and it has been a guide for leaders ever since.
Socrates (469 BC-399 BC)
Nationality: Greek-Athenian
Known for: Co-founder and leader of Western philosophy
As one of the founders of Western philosophy thought, Socrates was a great leader and teacher in the field of thought, ethics and philosophy. He started a philosophical school which influenced other great thinkers who passed along his ideas and teachings.
Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC)
Nationality: Greek-Athenian
Known for: King of Macedon and leader of one of the largest empires in history
Alexander the Great took over the Macedonian empire after his father, Philip II, was assassinated. Before long, he invaded other regions and also ruled over Asia Minor. He overthrew King Darius III, the king of Persia. During his conquests, he founded about 20 cities that were named after him. He is considered one of the greatest military years in world history.
Julius Caesar Cleopatra Jesus Christ
Julius Caesar (100 BC-44 BC)
Nationality: Roman
Known for: Dictator of the Roman Republic from 49BC to 44BC
Julius Caesar was one of the leaders in the Roman Republic who helped bring that government down and replace it with the Roman Empire. He was the first Roman general to cross both the Rhine and the English Channel after building a bridge over the former. He was also responsible for conducting the first invasion of Britain ever.
Cleopatra VII (69 BC-30 BC)
Nationality: Egyptian
Known for: Last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt
After ruling alongside her father – Ptolemy XII Auletes – and her brothers, she became the only ruler. She had sexual relations with Julius Caesar to gain more power and eventually made their son – Caesarion – her co-ruler.
Jesus Christ (c. 3 BC-c. 32 AD)
Nationality: Jewish
Known for: Central figure and leader of Christianity
Jesus Christ, considered by most Christian doctrines to be the Son of God, is believed to have been born of a virgin and died for the sins of the world. While he was on earth, it is believed that he performed many miracles. To the Islam faith, Jesus is considered one of God’s most prominent prophets, but he carries no divinity and was not crucified.
Marcus Aurelius Constantine the Great Attila the Hun
Marcus Aurelius (121-180)
Nationality: Roman
Known for: 16th Emperor of the Roman Empire
Ruling from 161 to 180, Marcus Aurelius was the final emperor from the Five Good Emperors, which is a group of prominent emperors that includes Trajan, Hadrian, and others. Under the rule of Aurelius, the Roman Empire defeated the Parthian Empire and other important regions that helped increase the size of the territory and empire.
Constantine the Great (c. 272-337)
Nationality: Roman
Known for: 57th Emperor of the Roman Empire
Constantine the Great served as the Emperor of the Roman Empire from 306 to 337. He worked his way up to his position thorugh the military tribune and was successful in several wars once becoming emperor. This made him the only ruler of the eastern and western regions by 324.
Attila the Hun (c. 406-453)
Nationality: Mongolian
Known for: Ruled the Huns for nearly 20 years
Attila the Hun conquered places like Russia, Poland, Germany and southeastern Europe to amass a huge empire during the 5th century. He also attacked part of the Roman Empire and agreed to stop only in exchange for 660 pounds of gold each year. His attacks were so devastating that he was nicknamed “The Scourge of God.”
Muhammad Charlemagne
Muhammad (570-632)
Nationality: Arabian
Known for: Established Islam
Muhammad is credited with uniting Arabia and creating one religious state to be ruled by Islam. He is believed by Muslims to be the last prophet sent from Allah for the sake of mankind. He wrote the text of the Quran after receiving revelations from Allah. His work and preachings are credited with much of the Arabian Peninsula converting to Islam.
Charlemagne (742-814)
Nationality: Frankish
Known for: King of the Franks, King of Italy and the first emperor in western Europe
Charlemagne founded the Carolingian Empire and he was referred to as the “father of Europe” as he played a major role in uniting much of Western Europe many years after it was split apart by the Roman Empire. He was the Emperor for more than 13 years.

Famous Leaders – 1000 to 1700

William the Conqueror Saladin Genghis Khan
William the Conqueror (c. 1028-1087)
Nationality: Norman
Known for: First Norman King of England
Ruled England for more than 20 years from 1066 to 1087 when he died. He also served as Duke of Normandy previous to being king. It was during this time – in 1060 – when he launched his conquest of England. His last years were full of worry due to potential invasions from other countries and problems throughout his land.
Saladin (1138-1193)
Nationality: Kurdish
Known for: Sultan of Syria and Egypt from 1174 to 1193
Saladin was the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, which was a Muslim dynasty in Egypt. This dynasty ruled a large portion of the Middle East for a couple centuries. He also led the Muslims during the European crusades. When his power and influence were at their height, he ruled over Mesopotamia, Hejaz, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and also parts of Northern Africa.
Genghis Khan (c. 1162-1227)
Nationality: Mongolian
Known for: Emperor of the Mongol Empire
Started the Mongol invasions throughout Europe and Asia which led to becoming the largest contiguous empire of all time after his death. He also founded the Mongol Empier and advanced it by creating a unique writing system and promoting religious tolerance throughout the empire.
Joan of Arc Martin Luther King Henry VIII
Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431)
Nationality: French
Known for: Heroine and saint of the Roman Catholic church
Although she only lived to be 19 years old, Joan of Arc displayed great leadership in several battles in her young age. The victory at Orleans helped bring her fame which launched her into leading a battle into Loire and defeating the English. One of her best moments was standing near the dauphin at his coronation.
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Nationality: German
Known for: Leader of the reform movement in the 16th century
With his 95 Theses, Martin Luther was one of the main leaders during the Protestant Reformation during the 1500s. He was angered at the sales of indulgences and since he refused to retract his writings against the Catholic church, he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X and considered an outlaw by the emperor.
King Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Nationality: English
Known for: 2nd Monarch of the Tudor Dynasty
King Henry VIII is credited with separating the Roman Catholic Church from the Church of England. He was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and he aligned himself with the Holy Roman Emperor in 1513. He is often described as a truly charismatic ruler, but he is probably best known for the English Reformation and having six marriages during his reign.
Queen Elizabeth I Akbar Oliver Cromwell
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
Nationality: English
Known for: Served as the queen of England and Ireland in the 16th century
Queen Elizabeth I was the last monarch to serve during the Tudor Dynasty. She ascended to the throne following a complicated story of those before her being either executed or declared illegitimate. She established the English Protestant Church, but when the pope declared her illegitimate, there were many plots to kill her.
Akbar (1542-1605)
Nationality: Indian
Known for: Served as the queen of England and Ireland in the 16th century
Akbar was a highly influential leader who increased his rule and helped unify the Mughal Empire. He established a center for his empire and adopted policies that won over his non-Muslim subjects. His leadership helped stabilize the economy throughout Mughal India and establish the region as a center of culture.
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
Nationality: English
Known for: Lord Protector of Ireland, Scotland and England
Some consider Cromwell to be a dictator while others considered him a hero. He was voted as one of the 10 greatest Britons in history during a BBC poll in 2002. He was given the nickname of “Old Ironsides” when he fought in the English Civil War in the early 1600s and he played a major part in defeating the enemies of the Parlimentarians.

Famous Leaders – 1700 to 1900

George Washington Napoleon Bonaparte Robert E. Lee
George Washington (1732-1799)
Nationality: American
Known for: Founding Father and 1st President of the USA
Washington was the first president of the United States, but he was the leader of many things before the nation officially formed. He led the Continental Army during the American Revolution and he also led the meetings that resulted in the US Constitution. As president, he helped create a strong national government and became known as the “Father of his country.”
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
Nationality: French
Known for: Emperor of France from 1804 to 1815
One of the most prominent political leaders and military figures in French history, Napoleon Bonaparte came to power during the French Revolution. Bonaparte became the Emperor of France and served in that position from 1804 to 1815. He was the first to have the title of “emperor” in France since 887.
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)
Nationality: American
Known for: Leader of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War
As a distinguished graduate from the US Military Academy, Lee is one of the more prominent leaders in US history. He served in the US armed forces for more than three decades and made a name for himself during the Mexican-American War. But he rose to prominence by commanding the Confederate forces during the American Civil War and winning several important battles.
Abraham_Lincoln Karl_Marx Queen_Victoria
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Nationality: American
Known for: 16th President of the USA
Lincoln is often credited with bringing the United States through the Civil War and creating conditions that led to the end of slavery in the nation. He helped reunite the nation after several states seceded and begin the Reconstruction process while the war was still going on.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Nationality: German
Known for: Leader of the anticapitalist movement and formulated Marxism
Marx was a German philosopher who published The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, two works which helped lay the foundation for Communism. He became a prominent person in the International Workingmen’s Association
Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
Nationality: British
Known for: Monarch of the UK and Ireland
At age 18, Queen Victoria inherited the throne due to King George III and the Duke of Kent dying in 1820. She ruled from 1837 until 1876, which is longer than any other female monarch ever. As a result, her reign is known as the Victorian era. During her reign, which lasted until 1901, the British Empire experienced a large expansion of territory.

Famous Leaders – 1900 to Today

mahatma-gandhi Winston Churchill with Cigar Joseph Stalin
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Nationality: Indian
Known for: Leader of Indian nationalism in India and helped the nation become independent
In British-controlled India, Gandhi led the people of his nation to involve themselves in non-violent civil disobedience in order to obtain independence. He led the people to challenge the salt tax, which was imposed by Britain by organizing the Dandi Salt March in 1930.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Nationality: British
Known for: Prime Minister of the UK from 1940 to 1945, during WWII
Churchill is often regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders in history. He has received numerous awards for his leadership, including the Nobel Prize in Literature and he was also the first person to become an honorary US citizen. When WWII broke out, he became Prime Minister to replace Neville Chamberlain.
Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)
Nationality: Russian
Known for: Leader of the Soviet Union from 1920s to 1953
Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union for 30 years from 1922 until he died in 1953. During his leadership years, he moved the country from Lenin’s New Economic Policy to a centralized economy which led to several years of collectivization and industrialization. This led to the USSR becoming an industrial power in the world.
Ataturk Franklin D. Roosevelt Eleanor Roosevelt
Ataturk (1881-1938)
Nationality: Turkish
Known for: First President of Turkey
As one of the leaders in the Ottoman military, Ataturk rose to prominence during World War I. After the Ottoman Empire was defeated, he was the main person credited with beginning and establishing the Republic of Turkey. He was the nation’s first president and his ideas and strategies helped his forces win the Turkish War of Independence.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)
Nationality: American
Known for: 32nd President of the USA, served four terms
The only US president to serve four terms – FDR – was the nation’s leader through some tough times, including the Great Depression and through a time of war. He worked alongside Stalin and Churchill to lead the Allied forces to defeat Nazi Germany and Japan during WWII. He also established the New Deal, which was a series of social programs designed for reform and relief.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Nationality: American
Known for: Served four terms as First Lady to FDR
Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the leaders in convincing the US to join the United Nations. She served as the organization’s first chair on its Commission on Human Rights. As such, she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
General Patton Adolf Hitler Jawaharlal Nehru
General George S. Patton (1885-1945)
Nationality: American
Known for: General during WWII
General Patton is best known for his effective leadership of US troops during World War II. He successfully led an invasion of Casablanca in North Africa in 1942 and he also led his men to defeat the British during a battle called the Invasion of Sicily. By the end of WWII, he had advanced his troops into Nazi Germany.
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
Nationality: Austrian-German
Known for: Dictator of Germany from 1934 to 1945
As the leader of Germany’s Third Reich, Hitler was the dictator that was most responsible for instigating WWII throughout Europe. He also called for the execution of millions of Jews and others in the nation who were not of the Aryan race. He also ordered German forces to invade Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other countries.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)
Nationality: Indian
Known for: First Prime Minister of India
Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru ruled the nation of India from the 1947 when it first became an independent nation until 1964, when he died. He is credited with establishing the Indian nation-state as it is today – secular, socialist, and sovereign. Gandhi named Nehru as his successor in 1941 and he was a popular leader throughout the nation.
Ho Chi Minh Charles De Gaulle Ronald Reagan
Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969)
Nationality: Vietnamese
Known for: Prime Minister and President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
Leading the Viet Minh Independence movement, Ho Chi Minh established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He helped defeat the French Union in 1954 before stepping down from his position in 1965. Following the Vietnam War, the city of Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City. He also served as Prime Minister and President of North Vietnam.
Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970)
Nationality: French
Known for: Leader of the Free French Forces during WWII
Charles de Gaulle was a military leader during WWII. He became a brigadier general, a rank that he kept for life, and led an excursion during the Battle of France. De Gaulle also served in France’s government and he was the highest French office to reject Nazi Germany’s armistice in June of 1940.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
Nationality: American
Known for: 40th President of the USA
Reagan had several significant achievements as a leader. One of his first leadership positions was serving as the governor of California. Before that, he served as the Screen Actors Guild president in Hollywood. He is remembered for several actions and ideas, including invading Grenada, the Warn on Drugs, and Reaganomics.
Indira Gahndi John F Kennedy Nelson Mandela
Indira Gandhi (1917-1984)
Nationality: Indian
Known for: 3rd Prime Minister of India
Indira Gandhi was one of the more prominent figures in the Indian National Congress Party and she also served as Chief of Staff from 1947 to 1964 within her father’s administration. She is the only woman to have held the office of India’s Prime Minister and she is considered by many to be the greatest person to hold that office, according to a 2001 poll in India Today.
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)
Nationality: John F. Kennedy
Known for: 35th President of the USA
Before being elected to the office of President of the USA in 1960, JFK was a commander during WWII and he also served as a Massachusetts Representative in the US House of Representatives. He also served for seven years in the US Senate. At the time he was elected president, he was the youngest person to serve in that office.
Nelson Mandela (1918- )
Nationality: South African
Known for: Former president of South Africa and anti-apartheid activist
Mandela was the first black South African president. At the time, apartheid was a major problem in the country. He was one of the main leaders against this type of institutionalized racism. During his presidency and before, he fought against poverty and he has strived toward racial reconciliation in the country.
Pope John Paul II Margaret Thatcher Malcolm X
Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)
Nationality: Polish
Known for: Second longest-running Pope of the Catholic Church
Considered to be one of the more prominent leaders in the 20th century, Pope John Paul II helped bring an end to Communism in Poland, his home nation, which led to the end of Communism in other parts of Europe. He is also credited with improving relations between the Catholic Church and other religions, including Judaism and Islam.
Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)
Nationality: British
Known for: Prime Minister of the UK for 11 years
Thatcher served as Prime Minister of the UK longer than any other PM in the 20th century. She is also the only female to hold that office. She was often referred to as the “Iron Lady” because of her hardnosed approach and uncompromising style. Her policies have been named “Thatcherism.”
Malcolm X (1925-1965)
Nationality: African-American
Known for: Muslim leader and activist for human rights
A leader in the area of human rights, Malcolm X has been hailed as one of the more influential African Americans throughout history. His assassination was one of the events that sparked the start of the Black Panther Party.
Fidel Castro Martin Luther King Jr Pope Francis
Fidel Castro (1926- )
Nationality: Cuban
Known for: Prime Minister and President of Cuba from 1959 to 2008
Castro has served as the Commander in Chief of Cuba’s armed forces, the First Secretary of the nation’s Communist Party, and as a lawyer for the rights of the poor in Cuba. He was also Cuba’s president until 2008. Cuba became a single-party socialist state during his administration.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
Nationality: African-American
Known for: Leader during the African-American Civil Rights Movement
An advocate for non-violent civil disobedience, King became the best-known activist during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. He was one of the co-founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and he helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama in 1955 which helped begin the Civil Rights Movement.
Pope Francis (1936- )
Nationality: Argentinian
Known for: 266th Pope of the Catholic Church
Pope Francis has served in the roles of priest, Argentina’s Provincial superior of the Society of Jesus, cardinal and the Archbishop of Buenos Aires prior to becoming pope in March of 2013 following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. He is the first pope to come from the Southern Hemisphere and the first Jesuit pope, too.
Kofi Annan Aung San Suu Kyi Angela Merkel
Kofi Annan
Nationality: Ghanaian
Known for: Former Secretary-General of the United Nations
Annan served as the seventh Secretary-General of the UN for nine years. During that time, he was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. He has also held several other prominent positions, including being the head of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities, leading the new Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and several more.
Aung San Suu Kyi (1945- )
Nationality: Burmese
Known for: Leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma
Suu Kyi served as the chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma from 1989 to 2010 even though she was on house arrest for 15 of those years. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and a year later, she won the Nawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. In 2012, she was elected to the Pyithu Hluttaw, which is the lower house of the parliament in Burma.
Angela Merkel (1954- )
Nationality: German
Known for: Chancellor of Germany from 2005-
Serving as the Chancellor of Germany since 2005, Merkel is also the leader of the CDU, or Christian Democratic Union, since 2000. Due to her leadership, she has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Vision for Europe Award and an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2007, just to name a few.
Barack Obama (1961- )
Nationality: American
Known for: 44th President of the USA
Barack Obama graduated from Columbia University and served as a community organizer in Chicago, IL before he completed his law degree at Harvard. He also served as a civil rights attorney, a senator in the IL Senate, and a US Senator before being elected twice to the US presidency.