Greatest Leaders In History

Who – we ask in the face of wicked counterexamples – are some of the greatest leaders in history?

BBC World Histories Magazine asked a panel of historians to nominate particularly great leaders from the past, leaders who had real power and/yet had a positive impact on humanity.

The BBC then put their leader list – along with a summary of their challenges, achievements, and legacies – to 5,000 readers for a vote. The resulting Top 5, with their nomination summary statements, were:


BBC Greatest Leaders Poll

i. Maharaja Ranjit Singh. 1780-1839
‘Ruler of the Sikh Empire 1801-39
Great because he forged a modern empire of toleration.’

ii. Amílcar Cabral. 1924-73
’20th-century African independence fighter.
Great because his struggle for independence in Africa also transformed Portugal.’

iii. Winston Churchill. 1874-1965
‘UK prime minister 1940–45 & 1951–55
Great because he refused to accept capitulation to Hitler.’

iv. Abraham Lincoln. 1809-65
‘US President 1861–65
Great because he championed working people and the emancipation of slaves.’

v. Queen Elizabeth I. 1533-1603
‘Queen of England and Ireland 1558–1603
Great because she reestablished peace and built national power after tumult.’


Lin Manuel Miranda. Hamilton.
History has its eyes on you …


Header Photo: Amelie and Niklas Ohlrogge


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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton