As we wrap up one of the most historic years of our lives, I know I could use a little bit of escapism. When shocking and traumatic events unfold before us in real time, feelings of fright and uncertainty can become overwhelming.
However, as the years go by, history becomes more of a learning lesson than a crippling stressor. One of my new favorite podcasts, Dictators, digs into infamous legends of history whose brutality and ruling policies were so world-changing, none of us can ever forget them.
Although some episodes offer a look at modern dictators, there are a plethora of stories about rulers who lived anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years ago. Such episodes offer us a chance to learn about the past without requiring too much personal investment. These tales are gruesome yet complicated, and anyone looking to learn more about history will love the beautifully detailed stories about these terrifying rulers of yore.
Dictators is part of the Parcast network, which specializes in genres like mystery, true crime, science fiction, and history. Each Tuesday, presenters Kate Leonard and Richard Rossner tell the stories of the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and other fearsome leaders you may not have heard about yet.
Here are three episodes and their Parcast synopses that I recommend to get you started.
Genghis Khan Parts I & II
A nomad exiled from his tribe as a child, Genghis Khan used populism and meritocracy to unite the tribes of the Mongolian Steppe and become the ruler of all of Mongolia from 1206-1227 CE. After uniting the Mongol tribes in 1206, Genghis Khan used his military prowess to assert dominance over the Ottoman Empire and the Chinese Jin Dynasty. By 1222, his empire spanned from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
Vlad the Impaler Parts I & II
Born between 1428-1431, Vlad the Impaler was abandoned by his father as a boy and betrayed by everyone he trusted. He channeled his resentment into an unquenchable lust for power and violence—eventually becoming the ruler of Wallachia. He purged Wallachia of enemies and retained an iron grip on power in the region. But as Vlad the Impaler’s power expanded, so did his violent, paranoid and psychotic behavior—until he alienated everyone around him and was violently deposed.
Ivan the Terrible Parts I & II
Ivan Vasilyevich the Fourth was crowned Grand Prince of Muscovy at 3 years old after his father died. After a traumatic childhood of chaos and coups, Ivan would crown himself the first Tsar of Russia and go on to create the Russian Empire. The first half of his reign would have made him a legend… if the second half did not turn into a waking nightmare that would earn him the name “Ivan the Terrible.” After the death of his beloved first wife, Tsar Ivan the Terrible descended into madness and paranoia. He turned his hatred and fear against his own people dragging the empire he had built with his own hands down into poverty and despair.