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Top 10 Emperors in History

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by Clayton Martino

Whether they created the empire or ruled over it, these names will always be remembered. From Nicholas II of Russia, to Marcus Aurelius, to Moctezuma II, these names have shaped history. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Emperors in History.

Special thanks to our user MHVinco for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Emperors+in+History.


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Script written by Clayton Martino

Top 10 Emperors in History

Whether they created the empire or ruled over it, these names will always be remembered. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Emperors in History.

For this list, we are not necessarily looking at the greatest emperors in history, but rather the most famous ones.

#10: Nicholas II of Russia

The Russian Empire, which lasted for nearly 200 years, had several famous emperors, including Alexander II, who emancipated Russia’s serfs and sold Alaska to the United States. It’s their last emperor, Nicholas II, who makes our list, however. Nicknamed Nicholas the Bloody, he reigned during a period of several Russian military defeats. The ruler was also blamed for the poor management during the First World War, which resulted in the loss of more than 3 million Russian lives. He was eventually forced to abdicate following the February Revolution, and was executed along with his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

#9: Marcus Aurelius

The last of the five good emperors, Marcus Aurelius ruled over Rome for 19 years during the mid-second century AD. He led Rome to multiple military victories, including a large victory over the Parthian Empire. He was best known for his stoicism, however, and as such has been nicknamed “The Philosopher” by biographers. Aurelius’ writings, titled “Meditations,” are still held in high esteem to this day, although his assumed role in persecuting Christians is not. Many historians believe that his death in 180 ended the long era of peace in Rome, and marked the beginning of Rome’s end.

#8: Moctezuma II

Evaluating Moctezuma’s legacy is slightly tricky. On one hand, he led the Aztec Empire to its greatest size thanks in part to several key military victories. On the other hand, it was his decision to appease Cortes and the Spanish that ultimately brought the Empire to ruin. The Aztec emperor invited them to live as guests, before he was eventually imprisoned by the Spanish inside his own palace. Not long after conflict broke out between the Aztecs and Spanish, Moctezuma was killed, with both sides claiming the other delivered the fatal blow.

#7: Constantine the Great

Today, Rome is known as one of the Christian hubs of the world. It wasn’t always like that, however, as Christians were persecuted in Rome for centuries. It was Constantine that ended the persecutions and instituted the beginning of Christianity’s influence in Rome. Some reports say that he even saw a sign of Christ in the sky before a major battle. He also established the city of Constantinople, which would eventually become the new capital of the Empire and survive long after the fall of Western Rome. Equally important, he led Rome in reclaiming former territories that the Empire had abandoned in previous years.

#6: Hirohito

Referred to as Emperor Shōwa within Japan, Hirohito reigned for over 62 years. He is most famous for his role, or lack thereof, in Japan’s military operations in the 1930s and 40s. Some historians have claimed that he was opposed to bombing Pearl Harbor and did not want an alliance with the Axis Powers. Others state that he was actively involved in the decision-making process and his blame should not be minimized. Whichever is the case, he avoided prosecution for war crimes after the war. Hirohito is notable for helping lead Japan’s post-war recovery and assisting in the country’s transition into a constitutional monarchy.

#5: Peter I

Another Russian emperor to make our list, Peter I, or Peter the Great as he’s better known, helped guide Russia into becoming a major power. He did so, of course, by engaging in several successful wars, including the Great Northern War against Sweden. He also helped improve the cultural side of Russia. Influenced by the Enlightenment, he adapted the Russian political and social systems and made them more modern. For example, he sought to end arranged marriages and also issued a decree for all children of noble birth to receive an education.

#4: Qin Shi Huang

The founder of the Qin dynasty, the first dynasty of Imperial China, Qin Shi Huang was the country’s first ever emperor, a title he actually invented. The Emperor helped expand and unify China’s territory significantly through a number of military conquests. However, he is perhaps best remembered for combining several different walls into one massive wall, also known as The Great Wall of China. While there’s no doubting his many impressive feats, his death is a tad embarrassing: The Emperor allegedly died of mercury poisoning after drinking an elixir that was supposed to make him immortal.

#3: Napoleon Bonaparte

You had to know a list of the most famous emperors in history would include Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon rose to power following the French Revolution and built a massive empire that ruled over most of Europe in the early 19th century. In fact, his defeat of the Third Coalition ultimately resulted in the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite being an outstanding general, his invasion of Russia resulted in disaster, thanks in large part to the harsh Russian winter. Napoleon’s political and social influence can still be felt today, as he was a strong supporter of equality inregards to the law, and religious toleration.

#2: Augustus

The first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus’ reign initiated an extended period of peace for Rome following multiple bloody civil wars, the last of which saw Augustus defeat Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Augustus annexed several territories, including Egypt, to help expand the Empire’s frontiers. He also commissioned the construction of a series of roads to help make communication across the Empire easier and even established police and fire-fighting organizations. He was such an influential emperor that we even have a month named after him in our calendar.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:



Justinian I

#1: Genghis Khan

Although it doesn’t quite receive the publicity that the British and Roman Empires get, the Mongol Empire was one of the greatest in history. Eventually, it was the biggest contiguous empire ever. And Genghis Khan was the one who started it all. He bought the nomadic tribes of Northeast Asia together, and used them to conquer almost all of Eurasia, including China. Although known for his brutality, Genghis Khan did encourage religious tolerance across the Empire, and even founded a writing system based on the Uyghur script. As such, he has been revered for years by the Mongols and remains a respected figure in Mongolian history.

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