The Top 10: Rulers who single-handedly changed a nation’s religion

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Emperor Hirohito, no longer divine, and family ( EPA/Imperial Household Agency )

This list was suggested by Cole Davis, who started with Constantine, who was rejected in favour of number three, and ended with Henry VIII, rejected in favour of number eight. Nevertheless, he struck a rich seam.

1. Tiridates III. He made Armenia the world’s first Christian state, in 301. Nominated by Andy McSmith, Laurence Emmett and James of Nazareth (not that one).


2. Ezana. King who converted Axum to Christianity overnight, in the 320s. “As a result, northern Ethiopia is home to one of the world’s richest Christian traditions; a history of it was written on the multilingual Ezana Stone, an east African analogue of the Rosetta Stone,” said Oliver Cooper.

3. Theodosius I. Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire permanently in 380, after some false starts. Thanks to Simon James George, James Harvey and David Sutherland. Several nominations of Constantine, who converted to Christianity on his deathbed in 337, were rejected in Theodosius’s favour.

4. Bulan, or Sabriel. The khan who converted the Khazars to Judaism in 860. According to Peter Frankopan in The Silk Roads, he summoned scholars to Constantinople and held an inquiry into the merits of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. He asked the Christians and Muslims which of the other two religions was less bad and both groups said Judaism. He doesn’t seem to have asked the Jews, but as they had already won it didn’t matter. “The truth of this story is questioned but Frankopan cites strong evidence,” said Steven Fogel.

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