Little-known, but important rulers
November 21, 2011 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Who is the least-known ruler from antiquity who ruled over the greatest number of people?

We all know about Genghis Kahn, Alexander The Great, and Julius Cesar. Who ruled a large number of people, but is not well known today?
posted by candasartan to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How would you rank well-known-ness?
posted by box at 7:35 PM on November 21, 2011

I am going to guess any number of Chinese emperors. Or lesser-known Russian czars?
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:39 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a list of Roman emperors. The population was at its height in the early-mid second century CE (well after Caesar), but was pretty substantial before and after.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:40 PM on November 21, 2011

For that matter, how would you rank importance?

I'm guessing that, if we could somehow decide on a metric for well-known-ness, then set a minimum number of subjects or something, the least-known folks would largely be a bunch of relatively-inconsequential short-termers.

Can you be more precise about what you're asking?
posted by box at 7:42 PM on November 21, 2011

Who is the uneducated population? I would say that most Americans don't know most rulers of older cultures in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 7:43 PM on November 21, 2011

The question is difficult to answer, because a surprisingly large number of rulers fit those two need to narrow the question down. For starters, how about Ogedei Khan, son of Genghis?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:47 PM on November 21, 2011

How about importance is ranked by how many google hits the ruler gets?
posted by candasartan at 7:49 PM on November 21, 2011

And the number of people the ruler had influence over is an estimate.
posted by candasartan at 7:50 PM on November 21, 2011

Ogedei Khan gets 103,000 results. That's probably the answer.
posted by candasartan at 7:53 PM on November 21, 2011

How about Jayavarman II or really any of the other Khmer Rulers. The Khmer empire was huge and controlled vast amounts of Asia, but doesn't get a lot of mainstream discussion.

422,000 Google results.
posted by Arbac at 7:56 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'ma gonna go with Prester John. ;)

On the ipad, so can't see the number of hits, but fun medieval urban legend.
posted by likeso at 7:56 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or, larger population still, Temür Khan...on preview, if you're going by Google hits alone, Temür beats Ogedei, with only 59,000 hits.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:59 PM on November 21, 2011

So you want the person with the highest ratio of people ruled to Google hits?

Like, say, King Slender ruled over 300 million people, and has 150 million Google results (these are made-up numbers), for a ratio of 2:1, while King Hippo ruled over only 50 million people and has fifty million Google hits, for a ratio of 1:1. In that case, would King Hippo would be the winner, because the raw number of hits is lower, or would King Slender be the winner, because the number of people ruled is six times higher? If that's what you have in mind, how small does the empire need to be before the person is out of consideration?

(I only got 14k results for 'Ogedei Khan' as a phrase. This is complicated, of course, by the fact that his non-Western name has quite a few variant spellings.)
posted by box at 8:00 PM on November 21, 2011

(Further complicated by the fact that not all Google results which contain e.g. 'Valerian' are about the Roman emperor.)
posted by box at 8:03 PM on November 21, 2011

Well.. I found this info list:

1 - Roman Empire 100 CE: 70 million
2 - Han Empire 2 CE: 60 million
3 - Macedonian Empire 320 BCE: 40 million
4 - Achaemenid Empire 300 BCE: 35 million
4 - Eastern Roman Empire 550 CE: 35 million
6 - Mauryan Empire 250 BCE: 30 million
7 - Seleucid Empire 200 BCE: 25 million
8 - Neo-Assyrian Empire 700 BCE: 15 million
9 - Ptolemaic Empire 300 BCE: 10 million
10 - Sassanid Empire 500 CE: 8 million

Assuming it is even reasonably accurate, or at least internally-proportionally accurate how many rules can you name?

Guangwu is around that time for the Han Empire
Darius III - Achaemenid Empire
Mauryan Empire - Chandragupta Maurya
Selucus - Seleucid Empire
Sargon II - Neo-Assyrian Empire
Ptolemy I - Ptolemaic Empire
Kavadh I - Sassanid Empire

And you know? There might have been "more important" rulers, just before, or after the peak population densities

I'd actually argue most people don't know much about past rulers (heck, how many Americans can name the current president of Mexico?) and those we do know are arbitrarily picked to be taught about and perhaps have an inflated sense of importance.
posted by edgeways at 8:05 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can sort the Wikipedia list of the largest empires by population and then Google the rulers from the peak population year. It appears that the answer will probably be Yìzhǔ of the Qing Dynasty with somewhere around 3,000 Google hits (for his name spelled correctly. Remove the diacritical marks, and you get about 500k, but that includes numerous living people with similar names) and 432 million people ruled.
posted by decathecting at 8:08 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about Aurangzeb?

The Mughal Empire reached the zenith of its territorial expansion during the reign of Aurangzeb, who may have been the richest and most powerful man alive. During his lifetime, victories in the south expanded the Mughal Empire to more than 1.25 million square miles, ruling over more than 150 million subjects, nearly 1/4th of the world's population.[8][1]

It would help to clarify a) era and b) define lesser known as in the context of each nation's history, they are bound to know the names of their larger empires - viz., there's a lot of Chinese people who may know the name of an emperor as would say a lot of Indians know about the Mughals etc

[Google hits numbers also change from country site to country site]
posted by infini at 8:15 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

With the Google approach, wouldn't you need to be searching in other languages?
posted by XMLicious at 8:16 PM on November 21, 2011

These are some great answers

As to making the question more precise, if each ruler was on a graph with the x axis representing the number of google search results and the y axis representing the number of people ruled the answer would be the highest point on the upper-left-hand corner of the graph. This approach puts more emphasis on the population ruled.
posted by candasartan at 8:33 PM on November 21, 2011

In that case, and presuming I understand what you mean, I have a feeling it'd be somebody from the Qing Dynasty. That empire is more than double the size of anybody on the Wikipedia list except the British, and the British rulers are, in the Western world at least, a lot better known.
posted by box at 9:04 PM on November 21, 2011

I don't know who to pick, but I'll help you spitball. What you want is a peacetime ruler of a large empire who ruled for a fairly short time without doing anything interesting.

For example, Emperor Houshao of the Han Dynasty seems like he might be a good candidate ("Very little about Emperor Houshao's life and personality is known. There are only a few major important events in his life that are documented (which does not even include the year of his birth" says wiki) though I guess it is debatable that he was the ruler of the state. But that's what you're aiming for I think.

On preview: the Qing aren't from "antiquity" as such. Unless you mean the Qin.
posted by furiousthought at 9:12 PM on November 21, 2011

Oh, heck, you're right. I just started looking at lists of Chinese emperors and got caught up in the excitement.
posted by box at 9:17 PM on November 21, 2011

There's a good example - if you Google "Houshao of Han" you get 38,000 results, if you Google his given name "Liu Long" you get 643,000 hits, but then if you grab "劉弘", the title of the equivalent Chinese Wikipedia article (which does appear to be about the same guy if you look at the dates mentioned) and Google it you get an additional 381,000 hits. Then if you take "劉弘" and do a search on Baidu (the primary Chinese search engine) for it you get more than a million hits.

But of course "Liu Long" is probably the name of many contemporary Chinese people and historical figures that would produce hits... but some of those people might have been named after the emperor... or named after an ancestor who was named after the emperor, so doesn't that still count in being well-known in some sense?

Ergo, your approach is beset on all sides by possibilities of incomplete or misleading data. It's fraught with peril, I say. Simply fraught.
posted by XMLicious at 10:31 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't want google hits, you want wiki article length.
posted by cromagnon at 12:27 AM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Emperor Norton only gets about 600,000 hits and he ruled over 50 million people. I use him not so much as a good example, but to suggest that there ought to be a quality of rule criterion factored into this somehow. Otherwise, I'm betting on an infant monarch who died of a childhood disease just on the nobody's heard of them side of the equation.

Playing the game seriously, Narasimhagupta Baladitya ruled over a pretty prosperous empire (Northern India, ≈500 ce) but his Wikipedia entry is two or three lines and he only gets 4430 Google hits. (If you put Narasimha Gupta into Google, you get a ton, but the first hit lets you know that there are seven Narasimha Guptas Linkedin and I'm pretty certain none of them is the same guy.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:29 AM on November 22, 2011

The other thing to consider is global population at the time - a ruler may rule a larger proportion of the world's population but a smaller number. Great question!
posted by smoke at 3:01 AM on November 22, 2011

No nominations yet in the African or American continents, so after a bit of googling, may I suggest Sonni Ali of the Songhai Empire? Wikipedia, another page.

83,000 Google hits, but I couldn't find population figures. Through warfare and adept administration Sonni Ali united the empire and brought it to its height; it covered 1.4 million km2 and is described as the "largest state in African history."
posted by kprincehouse at 4:53 AM on November 22, 2011

Mayan or Olmec rulers would probably be high on the list. Not necessarily because they ruled the biggest populations, but because we don't know their names.

(I don't know if it is as a result of Google's new algorithms but the search results that show up for me for these topics are horrible)
posted by hydrobatidae at 5:21 AM on November 22, 2011

Augusto Tasso Fragoso — 313K hits, ruled over ˜35 million people
posted by Tom-B at 8:40 AM on November 22, 2011

> Augusto Tasso Fragoso

Did you miss the "antiquity" part?
posted by languagehat at 11:15 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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