Hey, remember that Dick Cheney guy? You know, the shadowy old man lurking behind George W. Bush and tugging on the strings that jerkily moved Bush's limbs? He still turns up on Fox News sometimes?
Well, it turns out that history is full of those guys, the power behind the power whose names don't come up in history class, but who were happy to change history from the shadows.
Alexander the Great was, well, great (there was very little tendency towards sarcastic monikers in ancient times). By the time he died, he was the proclaimed king of Asia, with a kingdom which stretched from Greece and Egypt to modern India--comprising one of the largest and most culturally diverse empires the world has ever seen. Intelligent, courageous and a leader of men; Alexander the Great was a man's man.
The Woman Behind the Scenes
He was also a momma's boy. You may already be tangentially aware of the existence of Alexander's mother thanks to the frighteningly boner-inducing depiction of Olympias by Angelina Jolie. Never has an audience been given so much reason to forgive an Oedipus Complex than the movie Alexander.
Beautiful, powerful and heavily involved in a snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus, Olympias is regularly depicted as sleeping with snakes. Hell, Olympias was the Angelina Jolie of 4th century B.C.
When questions came up about Alexander's claim to the throne, she claimed that the god Zeus himself impregnated her under an oak tree, a legitimate claim to any damn throne Alex could point a finger at. Knowing Olympias, that is strangely plausible.
When her husband, Phillip, took a new wife and divorced Olympias, she had him assassinated. Well, we don't know for sure she was behind it, but let's just say she is said to have placed a golden crown on the murderer, dedicated a memorial to him and hung the sword he used to kill Phillip in a temple of Apollo, elevating it to the status of a legendary weapon. She then forced her replacement wife to hang herself and had the two children she had with Phillip killed, assuring Alexander's claim to the throne was unrivaled.
When the now-king Alexander was gone (read: the entire time he was king), Olympias wielded great influence and power, often contradicting the efforts of the guy who was supposed to do that, the regent Antipater. Antipater's many official complaints on the matter went unnoticed by Alexander, who was happy to let his mother do as she wished. Hell, between wanting to fuck her and being scared to death of her, who wouldn't?
"Mom I gotta be honest, I am, like, six different kinds of uncomfortable right now."
The Final Bitchslap
After Alexander's death, Olympias remained a prominent world figure, waging wars on behalf of her grandson's failed claim to the throne. Most telling is the last message from Antipater to his beloved Macedonian people. On his deathbed, with Olympias eager for the opportunity his vacant seat would provide, Antipater coughed out a warning to the Macedonians to never let a woman rule over them. Not a hot one, anyway.
Napoleon was short, had a tiny penis and a made up for it in a highly aggressive and confrontational manner. He was also arguably the most brilliant general the world has ever seen, staking claim to nearly the entire European continent with a series of dazzling and brilliant military campaigns.
The Man Behind The Scenes
While Napoleon was out declaring war on everyone he saw, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord was back home acting as Napoleon's Minister of Foreign Relations, a position we can only assume was given sarcastically, like Canada's Minister of War. Talleyrand-Perigord outsmarted and out-strategized Napoleon at every turn, going behind his back to work out deals with Austria and Russia to try and keep Napoleon in check. He made treason cool again by the sheer balls of doing it to the shortest, most overcompensating man the world has ever seen.
The guy who owns Napoleon's penis assures us it looks like "a maltreated shoelace, or shriveled eel."
Talleyrand-Perigord always happened to be on the right side during some of France's most politically turbulent times; generally the side whose guys weren't being beheaded. He knew the game of politics like none other. So, when Napoleon discovered that the man was heading a plot to betray him and called all his ministers to his palace to surprise him with the charges, Talleyrand-Perigord just sat there looking bored.
This infuriated Napoleon who had more been expecting something along the lines of quivering and trembling. So he threw a tantrum, complete with stomping feet and threats, calling Charles, "shit in a silk stocking" and saying that he "deserved to be broken like glass." When he was done, Talleyrand-Perigord said in a disappointed tone of voice, "What a pity that so great a man should have such bad manners."
Such tiny, tiny manners.
Though Talleyrand-Perigord was fired, Napoleon came out looking like the bad guy. As Charles himself put it, it was "the beginning of the end" for Napoleon.
The Final Bitchslap:
After Napoleon was exiled, France went through some pretty rough times. Talleyrand-Perigord engineered for Napoleon to escape exile and, with the help of England and Austria, he even made it possible for Napoleon to return to power, knowing that he would just lead France into war once more. He also knew that given France's decrepit state that this would lead to a resounding defeat from which Napoleon's swelling reputation would not recover.
After 100 days in power, Napoleon was famously defeated in the battle of Waterloo and exiled once again, this time for good. One final time, Talleyrand-Perigord played Napoleon like a bitch. In his own words, "Regimes may fall and fail, but I do not."
Besides being the world's greatest conqueror, Genghis Khan is the common ancestor of about one percent of the entire human population, thanks to the sheer amount of boning he did. Genghis organized the Mongol clans into the kind of brutal force that later inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's orcish horde.
Yet for all his seemingly mindless razing and pillaging, Khan was a man with a plan: show no mercy, run a strict rule of law and annihilate your enemies. It wasn't a terribly nuanced plan, but goddamn did it work.
The Man Behind The Scenes:
Among Genghis's circle of advisers was Yelu Chucai, a clever outsider who found himself in the unique position of an intellectual among rapists (tell us about it!).
Nicknamed "Long Beard" by Genghis for his... long beard, Yelu was a tempering voice during Mongol rule. For instance, Genghis saw nothing in China but a place that lacked pasturing for his horses and had said that "It would be better to exterminate the Chinese and let the grass grow." Yelu, himself a foreigner, appealed to Genghis's self-interest to save many Chinese cities.
Given that Genghis had just three motivations--pasture for ponies, women for raping and gold for pillaging--and given that two of those would be most easily attained by utterly destroying every Chinese city he came upon, Yelu's job wasn't easy. But he convinced Genghis that a whole lot more gold could be had from China by merely taxing them.
Mongolopoly. Quite possibly the simplest game ever invented.
Time and again, Yelu used this strategy to convince Genghis to show mercy (a concept previously unknown to the Mongols) to many Chinese cities--the capital city of Kaifeng among them--to the spitting rage of his bloodthirsty generals.
The Final Bitchslap:
Yelu's system of taxation and governance proved too profitable to ignore. So much so that even Genghis's successor, Ogedei, kept him on staff to run the bureaucracy of Northern China. This from a man who once openly mocked Yelu's insistence to tax cities rather than raze them, saying, "Are you going to weep for the people again?" Yelu's response to Ogedei was that empires could sure be conquered on horseback, but not ruled from them. He's been proven right for about eight consecutive centuries now.