Five Strangest Epithets of All Time

Alan Cai

September 9, 2022

Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, and Ramses the Great are all notable historical figures with well-deserved epithets. Each truly changed the course of their respective histories and accomplished many things within their reigns. However, not every famous historical figure has “the Great” as an epithet. Below are some interesting exceptions.

Æthelred the Unready was an English King who ruled between 966 and 1016. Æthelred ordered St. Brice's Day massacre of Danish Settlers and waged a continuous conflict with the Danes. His strange epithet actually referred to his poor decision-making rather than his “unreadiness” although it should be noted that he ascended to the throne at the age of 12, not unusual for ancient monarchs.

Ivan the Terrible, also known as Ivan the IV, was the first Tsar of Russia and ruled from 1530 to 1584. His long reign saw a brutal consolidation of power, the Massacre of Novgorod, and the burning of Moscow. His hot temper, rage, and paranoia resulted in many unfortunate incidents including the murder of his son.

Unlike the other historical figures mentioned on this list, Edmund II had a cognomen, which is not entirely the same as an epithet. For the purposes of this article, consider this son and heir of Æthelred the Unready as possessing a strange nickname as his father had. Edmund earned his nickname from his ferocious battles with the Danish. Like his father, Edmund was eventually defeated and forced to surrender his kingdom, this time with the exception of Wessex. Edmond also had a son named Edward the Exiled, named for his exile following the former’s death.

Vlad III, more often remembered as the inspiration for Count Dracula, was a monarch in modern-day Romania who ruled from 1448 to 1476. He was widely known for his cruelty, the details of which are beyond the scope of this article. Vlad the Impaler would often exercise brutality upon the citizens he conquered, foreign envoys, and others. However, it should be noted that many accounts of these occurrences were first found in German bestsellers and later told in Russia, with varying levels of veracity. Regardless, Vlad the Impaler was undoubted a ruthless ruler who terrorized his enemies and made a lasting impact on global culture centuries after his death.

Perhaps the most peculiar of all the aforementioned epithets, Archibald the Loser also stands out as the only one without a crown. Archibald’s official occupation was “Guardian of Scotland” which effectively gave him commanding authority over the kingdom’s government and military without being in any connection to the throne. Archibald the Loser obtained his title as Guardian following the death of the Scottish king and his sons. He fought during the Second Scottish War for Independence but was killed in battle after personally commanding troops in battle. Historians have not reached a consensus on the origin of the epithet.

Whether given before or after the ruler’s demise, these five notable figures certainly cast an interesting mark on history for their unusual attributes. If given the opportunity, all heads of state past and present would be happy to accept an epithet. However, if given a look at this list, many of them may have to think twice.