5 Utterly Intense Acts Of Vengeance From History

Wendy Stokesby:


Today, we celebrate wrath! And what’s more wrathful than an elaborate revenge plot? Here are five of the most intense acts of revenge in history. Trigger warning for fires, beheadings, stabbings, assassinations and tiger mutilation. Because duh, this is revenge we’re talking about here, not a tea party at your mums.

St. Olga of Kiev

This is probably like, the most “Game of Thrones”-esque historical incident I can think of. Back in the 900s, a young Varangian (kinda like Vikings) named Olga married a fella named Igor–who ended up being the future King of Kievan Rus’–a loose federation of East Slavic tribes in Europe. Together, they had a son named Svyatoslav. All was going well until one day King Igor was killed by an East Slavic tribe called the Drevlians.

Now, the Drevlians–having just killed the king–thought it would be a swell idea for Olga to marry their Prince Mal, so that he could be King and rule over Kievan Rus’. But Olga was having none of that shit. She was going to rule herself, as regent, and preserve the title of King for young Svyatoslav, who was only three at the time.

The Drevlians sent 20 dudes up to her to try and persuade her to marry Prince Mal–she had them all buried alive. Then, she pretended like she had accepted, but would require all their best and wisest men to accompany her on her journey to see them. They sent them. Olga was like “Hey, why don’t you guys go over to the bath house and clean up! You’ve been on the road for so long!” and when they were in there, she set the whole thing on fire.

Yet, they continued to push–but with all their top dudes out of the way, it wasn’t easy. Olga invited them to a funeral feast for her father. They sent 5,000 more people. She got them drunk and then her soldiers killed all of them, Red Wedding style.

After that, there were not many Drevlians left. Those remaining begged for their freedom, and offered to give Olga any fancy things they had that she might want. But olga asked only for three pigeons and three sparrows from each house. The Drevlians were cool with that, and just happy for everything to be over.

But Olga wasn’t done yet.

She distributed the birds amongst her soldiers, and instructed them to tie bits of sulfur to their little bird legs with pieces of cloth, and then disperse them back to their nests. And when they got back to their nests, everything started catching on fire. All the houses burnt down at once, and her soldiers went after people as they fled the flames. Then, Olga just set the whole town on fire, and kept everyone who didn’t die as slaves.

By now, you are probably wondering how it was that this lady got to be a Saint. Well, she was the first ruler of Rus’ to convert to Christianity, and was really big on proselytizing. So that’s how. Not for like, using birds to burn everyone’s house to the ground.


Tomyris was a 6th century warrior queen ruling over Massagetae (a loose confederation of nomadic states comprised of modern-day Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, western Uzbekistan, and southern Kazakhstan) she was not someone to be messed with. Now, at that time Emperor Cyrus the Great of Persia was trouncing around everywhere conquering lands and generally beating the shit out of everyone that got in his way. One day, he decided he should perhaps settle down and get married, and decided to pick Tomyris–mostly because he wanted to get his hands on Massagetae.

Tomyris was not so into him, so she turned his ass down. Cyrus was like “fine, whatever, we’ll just take over your land anyway!” and so he invaded. However, he needed to cross a river to do this, and so he started construction on a big ass bridge.

But this whole bridge thing started taking way the fuck too long, and Tomyris was like “Uh, can we get on with this?” So, Cyrus agreed to meet her and her army on the Massagetae side of the river and have it out. But Cyrus was not into playing fair, so he hatched a devious plan for defeating Tomyris’s army.

He set up a massive feast at one camp–filled with food, wine and all kinds of nice things–and then left it pretty much unguarded. The Massagetae, naturally, invaded the camp, took it over and then pretty much ate and drank all the things. One problem though! The Massagetae were totally not used to booze. So when the time came to fight Cyrus’s army, they were fucking wasted and easily overcome. One of the soldiers captured was Tomyris’s son. Cyrus could not believe his luck! So, he sent word to Tomyris, telling her to just surrender and hand over all her land and she’d get her kid back and things would be all good.

Tomyris responded:

“Now listen to me and I will advise you for your good:  give me back my son and get out of my country with your forces intact, and be content with your triumph over one-third of the Massagetae.  If you refuse, I swear by the sun our master to give you more blood than you can drink, for all your gluttony.”

Cyrus did not listen. Too bad for him. Her army descended, full-force, and straight up massacred Cyrus’s army. Not only that, but Tomyris had a wine skin filled with human blood, and she demanded that her troops find Cyrus’s body and put his head in the wine skin. Later, she had his skull turned into a lovely chalice to drink wine out of, because she was a fucking bad ass.

Sadly, her son committed suicide while being held prisoner, so she never did see him again, but you can’t say she didn’t go all out to avenge him.

Pierre Picaud

Probably the most famous story of revenge is the story of “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. While it’s not exactly a historical novel, the character of Edmond Dantès was supposedly based on the life story of of a shoemaker named Pierre Picaud–the actual accounts of which tend to vary considerably depending on the source.

However, the general deal is that–in 1807– Picaud was supposed to get married to a very wealthy heiress named Marguerite and was super excited about that because they were madly in love. He goes over to the local café to tell the owner, Loupian all about it, because they were friends. But Loupian is a super jealous dude who feels like he should be marrying Marguerite instead.

Loupian rounds up all the regulars–save for one dude named Antoine Allut, who remained loyal–to spread a rumor that Picaud was an English spy. Which he was not. Picaud is arrested on his wedding day and sent off to jail. In prison, he becomes friends with an Italian priest, and when that dude dies, he bequeaths Picauld a buried treasure in Milan.

Upon his release in 1814, Picaud goes to Milan and collects the treasure, and disguises himself as a clergyman named Baldini. He returns to Paris and bribes Allut, the dude who didn’t participate, with a diamond for telling him the identities of those who betrayed him.

So, first, he stabbed one guy with a knife that had “Number One” carved into it. Then, he burned down Loupian’s café–and gets a job in his house as a servant, this time calling himself “Prosper.” Somehow, even Marguerite didn’t recognize him. He poisons another one of the conspirators, and later carves the words “Number Two” on his coffin. He then convinced Loupian’s son to participate in a robbery–for which he is caught and sent to prison. Then, he gets some guy to pretend he is a prince, and that dude gets Loupian’s daughter pregnant and then asks her to marry him. On the day of their wedding, however, he tells all 150 guests that he is actually a convict, and the family is disgraced.

Finally, he sets his plan in motion to finally kill Loupian. However, by that time, Allut had gotten into a huge thing with the dude he sold the diamond to, has gone to jail, and is now back and quite pissed off. Allut witnesses Picaud stabbing Loupian, and then attempts to blackmail him for more money. However, Picaud refuses to give him anymore money, and Allut kills him. The whole thing, however, remains a mystery until Allut finally confesses all of it on his death bed.

Charles J. Guiteau

I could probably go on for days about good ol’ Charlie Guiteau–but we’re only talking about revenge here today, so I will stick with his assassination of President Garfield and what came before that.

Originally, Guiteau–a complete and total nutter–had wanted Chester A. Arthur to be president. He stood on street corners delivering speeches, hoping that Arthur would get the Republican nomination. However, he didn’t. Garfield did–but he picked Arthur as his running mate. So, optimist that he was, Guiteau just changed all the Arthurs in his speeches to Garfields–and Garfield, as we know, was elected.

Back in the day it was sort of customary, after a President was elected, for people who had campaigned for ask for a job in the cabinet. Guiteau sends like, a bajillion letters demanding to be made Ambassador to Austria and/or France. Of course, all of his letters were ignored, and when he went up to the Secretary of State and introduced himself as the crazy letter writer, the dude freaked out and demanded that he never contact anyone at the White House again.

Guiteau was pissed. He took this rejection as a sign from God that God did not want Garfield to be President. Because obviously, any God-approved president would be thrilled to have ol’ Charlie as his Ambassador to Austria and/or France. So, he stalks Garfield for a hot minute–waiting for the perfect time to shoot him without hurting anyone else. Which is about as thoughtful as an assassin can get, I suppose. When he does finally shoot him, he yells “I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! Arthur is President now!” and totally expected everyone to cheer for him, which they did not. He was put on trial and eventually sentenced to death–and it took Garfield several months to actually die from an infection from the bullet wound. That particular revenge scenario did not work out well for anybody.

The Trung Sisters

I totally meant to write about the Trung Sisters during March for Women’s History Month, but I forgot, so let’s do this now.

The Trung Sisters–Trung Trac and Trung Nhi–were the daughters of a powerful Vietnamese lord, back in 40AD. Oddly, at this point in history, Vietnamese women had a pretty good amount of human rights and could pretty much do anything a man could do. Still, they were currently occupied by the Chinese and an especially harsh Chinese governor was making life miserable for pretty much everyone.

So, Trac and Nhi decided to mobilize the Vietnamese people–and they motivated them by killing a tiger and then writing a proclamation on its skin. People were way impressed by all that badassery, and 80,000 of them got it together to start fighting the Chinese. The Trung sisters put women in charge as generals–one of which was their own mother–and drove them out.

Trac was named queen, and she did her best to restore Vietnamese traditions and abolished the taxes the Chinese had imposed upon them. However, for three years, they still had to keep up the fighting, because the Chinese were not about to just like, let them go and do their own thing (see Tibet). They were eventually defeated, and both sisters committed suicide, which was considered the honorable thing to do at the time.

Vice Week is our seven-day exploration of all the indulgences that surely will ruin us sooner than we can imagine. But hey, what a way to go. You can check out all of our Vice Week coverage here.

[Fordham University]
[Stories of the East From Herodotus]
[The Diamond and The Vengeance]
[Unknown Wars of Asia, Africa and The America’s That Changed History]

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