The Rise of Catherine I of Russia

Peter the Great was Tzar of Russia, and ruler of an enormous and powerful empire.  After an unsuccessful first marriage, he had had his first wife forced into a convent in order to rid himself of her.  Even then, it was almost impossible to imagine royalty marrying a commoner, yet that is exactly what Peter did with his second wife.

It is said that he came across the future Catherine I, Marta Elena Skavronska, while visiting the household of Prince Alexander Menshikov, where she labored.  He fell in love with this peasant woman, and raised her to royalty.  They secretly married in 1707, and it was her children who continued the royal line of Russia.  In 1724, a year before Peter’s death, he even named her co-ruler of the Russian Empire, making her the first female ruler of Russia.

Rise of Agathocles

Agathocles, tyrant and later king of Syracuse, went from being the son of a potter to one of the most powerful men in the Mediterranean world.  As a youth, he was a prostitute, to men as a boy and to women as a man.  He then joined the army and became a bandit captain.  He attempted twice to seize the tyranny of Syracuse, but failed, only to succeed with Carthaginian help.  He slaughtered the senate at a stroke and held supreme power for the rest of his life, securely enough that he even left a besieged Syracuse for Africa in order to attack Carthage directly, with no attempts made against him at home.  He died surrounded by his weeping family, still secure in his power until the end.