Today, to show just how endemic to the human condition is the condition of people being asshats, we are going to take it back even farther still. Today we look at ancient asshats.
The technical definition of the term “asshat,” by the way, is:
- noun – One who exudes the qualities of having an ass for a hat; a total jerk.
- pronoun – Term used as a substitute for a proper noun. Ex: Tom stole my lunch again! I hate that asshat, I brought beluga caviar today!
5 Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great seemed to conquer people just because he really liked conquering people. By the time of his death in 323 B.C. – a death that came from a booze binge, by the way – his empire stretched from the Indian Ocean to Greece, and from Egypt to Armenia. But unlike the Romans, who usually developed the land they took and incorporated it into their empire, Alexander and his Macedonians usually killed a bunch of people, took a little break, had a feast or two, then got out of dodge, heading off for more conquering. His empire was something of a paper tiger, a house of cards. While his campaigns managed to bring some cultural contact between distant peoples, even more so they served to destroy a variety of cultures. Also, he executed a lot of people he thought might have been out to get him, and quite a few more who just kind of pissed him off.
4 Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang had the dual “honor” of being the first emperor of a unified China, and its first assfaced tyrant. In the third century B.C., Qin Shi Huang came to rule over a united group of territories, ending what had been called the “Warring States era.” It was also the end to hundreds of schools and the start of massive book burnings thanks to the emperor’s proclamations. This was largely because of his paranoia about people plotting against him, which he usually dealt with by having dozens of suspected conspirators slaughtered, along with anyone guilty of having been in loose physical proximity to the conspirators. The other reason he executed people was when they failed to produce an “elixer of life,” something the emperor was obsessed with finding. He was a jerk, see? He killed people who couldn’t help him live forever! And what killed him? The legend goes that he died after taking pills, likely filled with mercury, that were meant to prolong his life.
3 Herod the Great
Next on our list of historical bastards is Herod the Great. That’s a funny name (the “Great” part) but not funny “ha-ha.” Why? Well, homeboy killed a whole lot of people, including much of his own family and his wife. Not cool. He also issued that whole “kill all the newborn children” decree after hearing a legend about the birth of a kid who would become “King of the Jews” – a title the Romans bestowed upon Herod, knowing he’d gladly keep the peace for them in Jerusalem, namely by killing anyone who got in his way. Maybe that’s all just legend, just Bible stories and not history, or maybe it’s all fact. But as far as we’re concerned, he was an asshat.
Atilla the Hun; Atilla the Scourge of God; Atilla the Asshat. Take your pick – a rose by any other name still killed the hell out of tens of thousands of folks in the fifth century. Atilla presided over the Hunnic empire, which at its peak, around the year 450, reached from what is today Central Russian all the way west across modern Germany. Atilla and his superb horsemen used feint attacks to confuse and finally overwhelm their foes. And like the asshats they were, they often didn’t even plunder their enemy’s lands and property, as the Huns lived on the move, and instead just killed lots of people and rode on.
Our first ancient asshat is the jerk-wad whose name you surely know, the Roman emperor Nero. The stories say that Nero “fiddled while Rome burned,” and that he himself may have ordered the great fire that ravaged his empire’s capital in 64 A.D. in order to clear out some living space. That stuff is all likely fallacy. What is certain, though, is that Nero assassinated and executed scores of people, including his own mother and step brother in order to ensure his succession to the throne. He bankrupted his country by ordering lavish palaces and theaters built, and he purportedly had Christians regularly burned in his courtyard for his own amusement. By the year 68, Nero could sense his welcome was worn thin, and offed himself in order to avoid what would likely not have been a painless execution at the order of the Roman senate itself.