The President of the United States is often called the most powerful person in the world. This rings true, given the size of the U.S. military and the scope of its ideological and economic influence. But there are several other world leaders who can claim similar power given the population, wealth, and relative might of their nations, as well as political setups that allow them to enact their agenda more easily.
Even the most powerful leaders of today may not exert anywhere near the relative influence of some ancient rulers. In past centuries, a few dozen people came to control huge swaths of the globe and rule over huge percentages of the world’s total population.
24/7 Wall St. created a list of 50 of the most powerful leaders of all time. An argument can be made that every American president since 1945, as well as every leader of the former Soviet Union since the end of World War II, should be on the list. Some of those men do appear on the list. But in the interest of diversity and the understanding that power is relative to the era in which it is exercised, we have included leaders from the distant past as well as other figures such as religious, inspirational, and civil rights leaders.
The most powerful leaders in history have held many different titles — president, dictator, king, emperor, and pharaoh, as well as religious and other titles. These leaders have earned their power through free elections, charisma, philosophies, and brute force. Some of the most powerful leaders have been dead for millennia, while others were in power as of 2021.
A handful of leaders on the list achieved their power by amassing and maintaining followers with nothing more than ideals and philosophies. However, the vast majority of history’s most powerful leaders owe much of their power to their military strength. For much of human history, the only way to achieve power was to defeat your enemies in combat. More contemporary leaders, even in democratic nations, at least have the backing of a large military force. These are the countries with the world’s largest militaries.