Good Rulers

Throughout history, there have been good rulers who were able to provide an improvement in the lives of their subjects. A ‘good’ ruler is subjective, and some of the ‘good’ rulers had personal flaws and even individual acts of cruelty by modern standards. However, the criteria for a good ruler is somebody willing to consider the best interests of their subjects, creating a state that allowed peace, progress and prosperity.

David King David. (c. 1030-970 BC) David is a key figure in the Old Testament. He rises from a young shepherd who killed the powerful enemy Goliath to becoming King of Israel. He captures Jerusalem and takes the Ark of the Covenant into the city. Despite personal sins, he was regarded as a wise and noble king – the ideal ruler of Biblical times.

soloman King Soloman (990- 931 BC) King of Israel from 970 to 931 BC who succeeded his father, King David. Soloman was renowned as a wise and just king. He is regarded as a prophet and man of God, who ruled according to divine justice.

augustus-caesar-100 Augustus Caesar  (63 BC-AD 14) – First Emperor of Rome. Caesar (born Octavian) was one of the most influential leaders in world history. After plotting a ruthless path to power, Augustus proved a conciliatory leader seeking pardon rather than conflict. His magnanimity  ended the Roman civil wars and led to two centuries of relative peace known as  ‘Pax Romana.’

royalty King Alfred (849 – 899) (King 871 – 899) Alfred was King of Wessex, and during his reign, he was able to unite different areas of England and move the country towards greater unity. He had a rare combination of being a formidable warrior – defeating the Vikings, and also being a scholarly and educated man. After defeating the Vikings, he brokered a fair resolution to promote more peaceful co-existence.

cnut-the-great-100 King Canute (995 – 1035) King of England and Denmark. Canute was widely regarded as a wise ruler who succeeded in ending Viking invasions to England bringing a degree of peace and stability to England. He was generous to the Christian church and re-instigated old Anglo-Saxon laws which helped provide greater fairness and justice in the kingdom. He made public apologies for past crimes of the Vikings.

A kbar (1542 – 1605) The Great Moghul Emperor who united India and became a beacon for religious tolerance. Akbar took great interest in all aspects of his government and introduced laws which were very enlightened and progressive for his time.

charlemagne Charlemagne (742 – 814) King of the Franks. Crowned Emperor of the Romans in 800 by Pope Leo III. Charlemagne ruled over much of western Europe. He advocated literacy and was an active supporter of the church. Helped to unify Christian Europe.

catherine-great Catherine the Great (1729–1796) One of the greatest political leaders of the Eighteenth Century. Catherine the Great was said to have played an important role in improving the welfare of Russian serfs. She placed great emphasis on the arts and helped to cement Russia as one of the dominant countries in Europe.

Duke Wen of Zhou (11th Century BC) The Duke of Zhou was a member of the royal family of the Zhou dynasty. He served as ruler, while his nephew was coming of age. He suppressed a rebellion in the east of China and peacefully handed over power when his nephew came of age. Later emperors referred to the Duke of Zhou as a paragon of virtue and model ruler. He combined strength with compassion and putting the welfare of subjects above his own. He is also credited with writing a mystical text the I Ching.

Ashoka ashoka (c 269 BCE to 232 BCE) – One of the greatest Indian rulers of all time. Ashoka the Great ruled from 269 BC to 232 BC. After a series of military conquests, he forsook his former violent ways and embraced Buddhism. He became known for his philanthropism, and adherence to the principles of non-violence, love, truth and tolerance. It was one of the greatest changes in a powerful ruler in history.

CyrusTheGreat Cyrus the Great (600 – 530 BC) was the founder of the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire. Cyrus conquered the empires of Media, Lydia and Babylonia, creating the first multi-ethnic state. He was admired for his tolerance of different customs and efficient and fair administration.

Saladin (1138–1193) led the United Arab armies in Islamic opposition to Christian crusades. In 1187, he defeated the Crusader army and led the Muslim reconquest of Palestine. For his nobility and fairness to his opponents, he earned the respect of even his Christain enemies, such as King Richard I.

Antoninus_Pius Antonius Pius ( 86 – 7 March 161) Antonius was considered a good Roman Emperor. His reign was marked by relative peace, with no major incursions or foreign campaigns. He was willing to offer clemency to those accused of treason and this compassion endeared him to Senators. He invested in extending access to drinking water across the Empire and left the Roman state in a good financial state.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), Roman emperor and philosopher. For many generations, Aurelius symbolized the Golden Age of the Roman Empire. He was both a great statesman and also stoic philosopher.


Good rulers of the Democratic age

George_Washington George Washington (1732–1799) Regarded as one of the principal ‘Founding Fathers’ of the United States. Washington served as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army (1775-83), during which he often outmanoeuvred the British army, despite a frequent numerical disadvantage. After securing victory on the battlefield, he resigned as Commander in Chief but was elected the first President of the United States in 1788, serving for eight years.

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) Lincoln was president of the US during the American civil war. His leadership was critical in holding the Union of US states together. Towards the end of the civil war, he also pushed for the end of slavery. His speeches, such as The Gettysburg Address are still seen as some of the finest expositions of American principles.

Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) Churchill led British and allied resistance to Nazi Germany and contributed to the liberation of Europe. In 1940, there was a chance Britain may have sued for peace with Hitler, but Churchill refused to compromise and was willing to fight on against very difficult odds.

nehru Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) – The first Prime Minister of an Independent India from 1947 to 1964. Nehru became a very well respected international statesman who steered his country to a democratic, multi-party state

Mikhail Gorbachev (1931 – ) President of the Soviet Union (1985-91) Gorbachev initiated a policy of Glasnost and Perestroika. These policies of reform and openness led to the ending of Communist party rule in the Soviet Union, and the fall of the Berlin wall. In a short space of time, Eastern European countries attained freedom and democracy.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Good Rulers”, Oxford, UK Published 21 July 2019. Last updated 11 November 2020.

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