The Top 10: Greats (People)

From Ramesses, the original mighty pharaoh, to Catherine, the Russian tyrant, who was the greatest great? 

John Rentoul
Saturday 24 June 2017 10:29
A granite statue of Ramesses the Great at the British Museum
A granite statue of Ramesses the Great at the British Museum

Alex Goodall‏ was responsible for this list, by asking “Twitterstorians, whodja think's the greatest great? He named many of these, and the Great Soprendo (Geoffrey Durham, the magician).

1. Ramesses II, Pharaoh of Egypt, known as Ozymandias to the Greeks, 1279-1213 BC.

2. Darius I, King of Persia, Babylon and Pharaoh of Egypt, 522 to 486 BC.

3. Alexander, King of Macedonia and as above, but King of Asia instead of Babylon, 336-323 BC.

4. Ashoka, Mauryan emperor of India, c. 268-232 BC.

5. Charlemagne, which means Charles the Great. King of the Franks, Holy Roman Emperor, 768-814.

6. Alfred, King of Wessex, 871-899.

7. Canute, Cnut the Great. King of England, Denmark and Norway, 1016-35. Named by Labour Bastard.

8. Ghengis, first Great Khan (Khagan) of the Mongol Empire, 1206-27. Thanks to Philbo Bird.

9. Peter, Tsar and then Emperor of All Russia, 1682-1725.

10. Catherine, Empress and Autocrat of All the Russias, 1762-96. Nominated by Ian Reeve.

No room, therefore for Frederick, King of Prussia, Elector of Brandenburg, 1740-86, who I always thought too boring to merit the title Great. And I turned down the nomination from Remoaner Lisa (good name) of Napoleon the Great, the title of Andrew Roberts’s book, because he was not known as that at the time.

I really should have made it a top 12, however. We needed 11. Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay, 1942-2016, nominated by Mike Wood and Usahibs, and 12. Gonzo, the Great Gonzo or Gonzo the Great, from The Muppet Show, nominated by Alan Robertson and Patrick Andelic‏.

Next week: Greats (Things), such as Wall and Depression

Coming soon: Worst Prime Ministers We Have Never Had (ones who looked very likely at one stage, but who we were lucky to avoid), after Boris Johnson’s second near miss after the election

The e-book of Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop is just £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments