Courage, tolerance, ruthlessness: which factors define an inspiring, effective figurehead? BBC World Histories Magazine asked historians to nominate the greatest leader – someone who exercised power and had a positive impact on humanity – and to explore their achievements and legacy. So who has topped the poll?
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, leader of the Sikh empire in the early 19th century, has topped a poll of the greatest leaders in world history. Taking more than 38 per cent of the vote, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was described by nominating historian Matthew Lockwood as a modernising and uniting force, whose reign “marked a golden age for Punjab and north-west India”.
In second place, with 25 per cent of the vote, is African independence fighter Amílcar Cabral (nominated by Hakim Adi), who united more than one million Guineans to free themselves from Portuguese occupation and in turn propelled many other colonised African countries to rise and fight for independence. British prime minister Winston Churchill (nominated by Andrew Roberts) is in third position with 7 per cent of the vote for his sharp political manoeuvring that kept Britain in the war.
Further down the list, American president Abraham Lincoln (nominated by Adam I P Smith) is in fourth place and British monarch Elizabeth I (nominated by Tracy Borman) is the highest-ranked female leader in fifth position, with 4 per cent of the vote.