Voices: The Top 10 most powerful people ever

·2-min read
Jesus, nominated by Bill Bennett, ‘with hindsight’  (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Jesus, nominated by Bill Bennett, ‘with hindsight’ (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

This one started when Janan Ganesh wrote in the Financial Times that President Harry Truman in mid-1945 was “the most powerful human being who has ever lived”, because of the US’s nuclear monopoly and its vast share of world economic output. Here are 10 other claimants to that title.

1. Ramesses II, 1213BC. The most powerful pharaoh, known by the Greeks as Ozymandias.

2. Cyrus the Great of Persia, 530BC. Nominated by Richard K, Stewart Slater.

3. Alexander the Great, 323BC. Thanks to Elliot Kane. Also featured in Top 10 Greats (People). “At the time China had descended into the Warring States period, removing the obvious competitors for the title,” added Stewart Slater, although Wu of Han united China under a strong central state by 87BC.

4. Jesus. Nominated by Bill Bennett, “with hindsight”.

5. Trajan, AD117. Roman emperor at the greatest extent of the empire.

6. Constantine the Great, AD324-337. Reunited the Roman empire and started its adoption of Christianity (although that was actually done by Theodosius I). Nominated by Dan Kelly.

7. Li Shimin, Taizong of Tang, emperor of China, AD649. Strong ruler who extended Chinese rule over Korea, Vietnam and central Asia. “Ruler of all under heaven, after all,” said James Hannam.

8. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, 1554. Abdicated from all his possessions across Europe by 1556. Rob Redmond.

9. David Lloyd George, 1919-22. Prime minister when the British empire was at its greatest extent after the First World War. Although Lord Palmerston, prime minister 1859-65, nominated by Paul T Horgan, might have a better claim.

10. Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google, 2022. Nominated by Sean Rogers.

This list triggered all manner of debate. Truman may have had the exclusive potential to annihilate humanity, but what actual leverage did that give him? What about Stalin, asked David Herdson. “His word and whim was law on a scale that was unmatched.” Paul T Horgan nominated Levrenty Beria, Stalin’s security chief and spymaster, who “held ultimate sway over the USSR and its slave states, but also subverted numerous Western power structures, as well as stealing American atomic secrets that quickly turned the US monopoly on nuclear weapons into a duopoly”.

Next week: Extinct first names, after I came across the work of Algernon Newton, the artist.

Coming soon: People who broke the thing they were in charge of for the greater good, starting with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk