Asia has seen thousands of kings and emperors over the past five thousand years, but fewer than thirty are usually honored with the title "the Great." Learn more about Timur, Sejong, Akbar and the other great leaders of medieval Asian history.
Raja Raja Chola I, The Great, ruled 985-1014 CE
Raja Raja Chola I, also known as Raja Raja the Great, founded the Chola Empire. A Tamil leader, he conquered not only southern India but also most of the east coast of the subcontinent, as well as northern Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Raja Raja Chola also ordered the construction of India's largest Hindu temple, the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.
Anawrahta the Great, r. 1044-1077
In the history of Burma / Myanmar, the name of Anawrahta the Great truly stands out. He not only unified the country for the first time, but also converted the country to Theravada Buddhism, its current official religion. His Pagan Dynasty would continue to rule Burma until 1287, when it fell to the invading Mongols.
Parakramabahu I, the Great, r. 1153-1186
Parakramabahu the Great united the island of Sri Lanka under his rule, always a challenging task. An all-around administrator and statesman, he also vastly improved the infrastructure of Sri Lanka with roads and massive irrigation projects, reformed the army, and sponsored artworks of all kinds. No slouch militarily, he invaded both southern India and Burma, as well.
Mengrai the Great, r. 1261-1296
Starting life as a minor Tai prince, Mengrai the Great went on to unify northern Thailand against the encroaching Mongol threat, establish the cities of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, and found the Lanna Kingdom. Interestingly, he is said to have died from a lightning strike at the age of 72.
Ramkhamhaeng the Great, r. 1279-1298
A crafty statesman as well as a battle-hardened warrior, Ramkhamhaeng the Great ruled the Sukhothai Kingdom in central Thailand. He allied with both Mengrai the Great of Lanna and with the Mongol Yuan Dynasty of China. According to legend, Ramkhamhaeng also declared Theravada Buddhism the official religion of the Sukhothai Kingdom and invented the Thai alphabet.
Also called Timur the Lame due to an old battle injury, this Chagatai ruler and founder of the Timurid Empire brought all of Central Asia under his control. He also took Baghdad, Azerbaijan, Damascus, Aleppo, Ankara and Delhi. Along the way, he made a name for himself as a perpetrator of massacres and builder of pyramids made of human skulls. Timur was on his way to invade Ming China when he suddenly died in what is now Kazakhstan.
King Sejong the Great of Korea's Joseon Dynasty came to the throne in a very unusual manner. He was the previous king's third son, but recognizing his wisdom and leadership potential, his two older brothers conspired to make Sejong the king. Although he is famed mostly for his sponsorship of scientific and technological advances, the arts, and Buddhist study, as well as the invention of the hangul alphabet, Sejong also employed military force to good effect. He wiped out a Japanese pirate fortress on Tsushima Island, and pushed the encroaching Manchus back behind the Yalu River.
Akbar was the third and greatest emperor of India's Mughal Dynasty. He consolidated power over northern and central India, using not only military might but also religious and ethnic tolerance as a key tool of statecraft. Curious and intelligent, Akbar sponsored literature, music, painting and jewel work, technological inventions, and scholarly religious debates among adherents of many different faiths. Although the Mughal Empire grew weaker after his death, it continued to rule India until the British Raj took over in 1858.
Bayinnaung the Great, r. 1551-1581
The third ruler of Burma's Toungoo Kingdom, Bayinnaung conquered most of Southeast Asia in just three decades. He took control of most of today's Myanmar, as well as China's Yunnan Province, Thailand and Laos. More than just a military leader, though, Bayinnaung established an efficient merit-based administrative system that persisted until the British conquest of Burma in 1885.