Great Leaders in History

These are men and women who took up a cause, fought for it, and became examples of determination and decisiveness in their pursuit of improving themselves, their country, and the world. One thing you will notice about the list is that the majority of those on this list became great through the act of war, either against them or as the conquerors. This is not to say that great leaders are war-like, but that during war, great leaders become noticed, as in, they rise to the occasion.

Winston Churchill

Born in 1874, he would become known as one of the greatest leaders in British history through his sheer determination and will throughout the Second World War. Churchill served as Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and 1951 to 1955. He was an officer in the British Army, a writer, and an artist.

Having fought in the Second Boer War, he gained fame as a correspondent for the war as well. This helped forge the leadership qualities that he would become known for decades later. In the First World War, he would fight with on the Western Front before becoming President of the Board of Trade and Home Secretary during the war years. He was also First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State of War, and the Secretary of the State of Air during the First World War.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he became leader of the British people, and his speeches would often inspire the British people as well as the Allied forces in their efforts to launch counter-attacks against the Germans.

By the time he died, he was considered the "Greatest Briton" of the first part of the 20th century. Churchill was given a state funeral by the Queen which was one of the largest assemblies of statesmen in the world.

Julius Caesar

Born in 100 BC, Caesar is known as one of the greatest military commanders and political leaders in history, and is often considered to be one of the most influential men in world history. If not for him, the Roman Empire may never have existed.

As a military leader, he conquered huge swaths of Europe for the Romans, allowing them to extend their dominance all the way to the British Isles.

In 49 BC, after a standoff with the Senate, Caesar started a Roman civil war that would lead him to be the master of the Roman world. Upon taking control of the government, he launched massive changes to the Roman system, most notably making himself dictator for life, and he centralized the bureaucracy of the Republic to make it much more efficient. However, because of these changes he was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC. This launched another civil war that because of led to the establishment of the Roman Empire. Two years after his death, he was made a Roman deity by the Senate.

Abraham Lincoln

Born in 1809, Lincoln would become the 16th, and arguably the greatest, President of the United States. It was during his term that he kept the United States together by defeating the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. It was Lincoln who selected the top generals for the war, including Ulysses S. Grant. He also forced his party and the Republican Party to co-operate by bringing them both into his cabinet. In 1861, he diffused a war with Britain. With all this, he got reelected in 1864.

On top of essentially saving the United States of America, he also abolished slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Lincoln never compromised on the issue of slavery, and through his amazing speeches, including his Gettysburg Address, he rallied people to his causes.

In 1865, he became the first President of the United States to be assassinated.


Born in 1869, Gandhi is considered to be the father of India because of his non-violent resistance that helped to end the British occupation of India. He pioneered the concept of non-violent resistance, inspired civil right movements, and freedom across the planet. In India, he is known as The Great Soul because of his wisdom and efforts. His birthday, October 2, is a national holiday in India and the International Day of Non-Violence for the United Nations.

Gandhi organized poor farmers and workers to protest the taxation and the discrimination against his people. After taking over the leadership of the Indian National Congress, he helped alleviate poverty, helped the liberation of women, and pursued a brotherhood amongst the different religions and ethnic groups in India. He also ended caste discrimination in the country and helped it become economically self-sufficient.

In 1930, he walked 400 kilometers in the Dandi Salt March to protest the British salt tax. For this, and other protests, he was imprisoned many different times.

Living simply with just a cloth to cover himself, he practiced making his own clothes, practiced vegetarianism, and underwent long fasts both for purification and during protests. Tragically, he was assassinated in 1948. In 1999, Time Magazine picked him as the second greatest person of the 20th century, right behind Albert Einstein.

Alexander The Great

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Born in 356 BC, Alexander would become one of the greatest military commanders in history having never being defeated. By the time of his death in 323, he had conquered most of the known world.

During his time, he was able to conquer the Persian Empire, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Gaza, Egypt, Bactria, Mesopotamia, extending his empire all the way to Punjab, India.

Alexander died at the age of only 33, not on the battlefield, but due to either malaria, poisoning, or typhoid fever. He had already made plans to conquer the Arabian Peninsula, along with Rome and Carthage, and extending as far east as he could possibly go.

To accomplish his exploits, he fused foreigners into his army and encouraged marriage between soldiers and foreigners to create harmony and brotherhood between his army and those he conquered.

For centuries after his death, the cultural influence of the Greeks extended all over the Old World, creating the Hellenistic Age that featured an amazing combination of Greek, Middle Eastern, and Indian culture.

Alexander would live throughout history as a legendary warrior and one of the greatest leaders in the history of humanity.


Born in 341 BC, Epicurus was a Greek philosopher and the founder of Hellenistic philosophy, which spanned over 600 years of history. He wrote over 300 works, only a few of which survive to this day. Many of his works urged people to attain the happy and tranquil life they deserved, absent from pain and fear, with a self-sufficient life, and surrounded by those whom one loved. He stated that death should not be feared, the gods did not reward or punish humans, and the universe was infinite and eternal. Amazingly, he stated that the events of the world was based on the motions and interactions of atoms in empty space. This concept was literally thousands of years ahead of its time.

So influential in his teachings was Epicurus, that even John Locke used Epicurus' beliefs of life, liberty, and property during the French Revolution. The beliefs of Epicurus were also used in the Declaration of Independence in the words all men are created equal and inalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Karl Marx, the founder of socialism even wrote his doctoral thesis on Epicurus.

Epicurus would die at the age of 71, as one of the most respected thinkers and philosophical leaders in the history of humanity.

Horatio Nelson

Born in 1758, Horatio Nelson is also remembered as possibly the greatest leader in human history. As a British admiral during the Napoleonic Wars, Nelson was known for his ability to inspire and bring out the best in his men. So much so that he was remembered greatly for The Nelson Touch. During this war, the image of the one-armed and one-eyed admiral spread through the British Empire and he became a legendary figure unlike anything the British, or the world, had ever seen.

Nelson was able to inspire officers of the highest rank and seamen of the lowest rank with his victories. He had the amazing ability to plan his campaigns and shift his forces while in the midst of battle. For this, and his ability to inspire men like no other, he is remembered as one of the greatest field commanders in history, and the greatest warrior of the sea.

During his final battle on October 21, 1805, Nelson fought in the Battle of Trafalgar, a decisive victory for the British in the Napoleonic Wars. However, during the battle he was shot by a sniper from a French ship only 50 feet away. The bullet entered his left shoulder, went through his lung and came to rest in his spine. He stayed conscious for four hours before dying only minutes after the battle ended with a victory for the British.

Nelson's final words are believed to be Thank God, I have done my duty. He repeated the words until he could no longer speak. He was given a state funeral, one of only five non-royals to receive the honor, and was laid to rest at St. Paul's Cathedral.

Queen Elizabeth I

Born in 1533, Queen Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII, is often cited as the greatest monarch in the history of England. Using trusted advisors, she is credited with helping create the Church of England in its present form. Due to her refusal to marry, a cult of portraits, pageants, and literature grew around her as a celebration of her life.

With Elizabeth as the monarch, the Spanish armada of 1588 was defeated, helping her become a part of the greatest victory in British History. Under her rule, Britain entered a golden age, often called the Elizabethan era, where the arts flourished under William Shakespeare, and the seafaring ability of the British became legendary under Francis Drake.

She is now remembered as a charismatic leader and a dogged survivor who kept her country together and safe through 45 years of stability. This helped the British forge an identity.


Born a few decades after 1 AD, Boudicca (Boadicea) was queen of the Iceni people. Under her leadership, the Iceni people rose up against the Roman Empire which had occupied their lands.

After her husband died, despite leaving his kingdom to their daughters, the Romans took over her lands, flogged her, and demanded that she pay the loans owed to the Roman Empire by her husband.

In 60 AD, she launched a revolt and destroyed Camulodunum (now Colchester), a Roman settlement and the site of a temple honoring Emperor Claudius. She destroyed the legion that occupied the settlement.

Upon news of the spreading revolt, the Roman Empire scrambled to determine how to defend those territories. Boadicea (Boudicca) led rebels to take over what is now London. The Romans did not have the manpower to defend it, so they abandoned it. Upon reaching the settlement, Boadicea burned it to the ground.

After she had been defeated at the Battle of Watling Street, Emperor Nero considered leaving the British Isles because of the heavy resistance, inspired by Boadicea, against the rule of the Roman Empire.

Nearly 1,800 years later, Queen Victoria would portray Boadicea as her namesake. Even today, Boadicea is an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom.


These are just a few of the men and women who have inspired those around them, and millions of others around the world, with their exploits and ability to lead people in a common cause.

These people serve as shining examples of what a leader is, and what they often have to do. Several defined themselves in times of war, while others defined themselves as peacemakers and philosophers.

This is a very important point because it shows that a leader does not have to be a fighter. Epicurus was not a warrior, but he was a leader that helped spawn centuries of thought because of his ability to convince individuals of his way of thinking.

On that note, there is also something that tends to unite these leaders featured here: many of them died young -- Alexander (33 years old), Boadicea (mid-40s), Horatio Nelson (47 years old) and Julius Caesar (51 years old). Another interesting fact is that Alexander, Boadicea, Horatio Nelson, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, and Gandhi all met violent ends at the hands of someone else, or of their own vices, as in the case of Alexander.

This does not mean that all leaders are destined to die young or by violent means. It simply means that for these leaders in world history, they simply died living as they had lived, as leaders, or died for their beliefs, as in the case for Caesar, Lincoln, and Gandhi.

The ability to lead with conviction and die for your cause, country, or belief. For many, the sign of a true leader is the individual who will give their life for their people or for their cause.

These men and women are shining examples of the best, and the worst, of humanity. They are also examples of what makes our species great. Our determination, ability to conquer the odds, and our drive to go as far as we can for our own legacy, beliefs, and causes.

An individual would not be making a bad decision by following the examples of these fine individuals.