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10 of the Most Notorious Traitors in History

6. A native woman, La Malinche, played a key role in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.  She helped the conquistador Hernan Cortes by acting as an interpreter, advisor, and intermediary. Now in Mexico, the word “malinchista” refers to a disloyal compatriot.

La Malinche
La Malinche. Image credit: Internet Archive via, Shutterstock

La Malinche’s original name was Dona Marina, and she was born in 1500 as a daughter in a noble family. After her father’s death, her mother married another man who sold her to slave traders. In 1519, the traders sent her to Tabasco, a Mayan city.

During the Spaniard’s conquest of the Aztec Empire, Marina worked with a Spanish priest who knew the Mayan language. She convinced people from multiple Mayan towns to join hands with Spaniards in their fight against the Aztec Empire.

She translated the Aztec Language Nahuatl along with the priest into Spanish for Cortes. Later, she learned Spanish and became the conquistador’s direct interpreter. It is said that she was more than just an interpreter to Cortes. They lived a married life and had a son together.

Surely, she helped the Spaniards to win over the Aztec Empire, but her character as a traitor is subjected to historical debate. (1, 2)


7. Shortly before the First World War, Alfred Redl, the chief of intelligence in the Austrian military, sold sensitive information about Austria and its army to Czarist Russia. Moreover, the traitor also fed false information to his own people about the enemy’s military strength.

Alfred Redl
Alfred Redl. Image credit: via

Redl served in the Austrian Army from 1907 to 1912 as the chief of intelligence. In 1900, he was appointed as the chief of counterintelligence. A couple of years later, he also started working as a Russian spy.

For the next 11 years, the traitor delivered information on codes, ciphers, letters, maps, photographs, army orders, mobilization plans, and even the conditions of Austrian roads and railways. To build an excelling reputation in his counterintelligence work, he used to provide false information about the enemies and expose lower-level Russian spies.  

In 1913, two envelopes containing just cash were traced back to French and Russian Intelligence in another country. The gifts were under observation, and when Redl claimed them, his treachery was unraveled.  

The imposter confessed his crimes as a traitor and committed suicide after writing notes to his brother and senior officer. (Source)


8. In the greed of receiving some rewards from the Persians, Ephialtes betrayed his Greek homeland. In 480 BCE during the Battle of Thermopylae, he showed the enemies a narrow path around the Greek Army, after which the Greeks were simply slaughtered.

Leonidas and his men
Depiction of Leonidas and his men. Image credit: H.M. Herget/National Geographic via

In the battle of Thermopylae, the Greeks were defenders against the ferocious Persian Army. There were multiple secret paths that the Greeks were using to resist the enemy’s attacks. The battle started, and for the initial two days, the Persian King Xerxes saw no progress.

Then he encountered a visitor, Ephialtes, who revealed him the track which led over the hills to Thermopylae. In the dark, Xerxes sent his best men, called the “Immortals,” around the narrow path to surround the soldiers of Leonidas, the Greek leader.

On the third morning, the Greek leader and his men learned that they had been betrayed. Even if the Spartans were trapped and helpless, the 300 courageously fought to the end.

One of the two Xerxes brothers and Leonidas died in the battle. The winners celebrated the Greek leader’s death and proceeded in their invasion.

Ephialtes could rightly be claimed as the biggest Greek traitor in history. Without his help, it would have been much more difficult or perhaps impossible for Persians to win over the brave Spartans. (1, 2)

9. Harold Cole is considered the worst traitor of the Second World War. He was a British soldier, a Pat O’Leary escape line operator, and a Nazi agent at the same time. He deceived both sides, British and Germans, and also escaped prison multiple times.

Harold Cole
Harold Cole. Image credit:

Cole had recently been released from prison and was recruited in the British Army in September 1939. During his service in France, he was promoted to sergeant but was captured by the Germans during the Fall of France in the mid-1940s. He escaped and helped in operating lines with the French Resistance.

In 1941, Cole was captured again by the Germans, this time it was the Gestapo. They convinced him to betray the French escape lines, so he did and denounced 150 members of the French Resistance including some of the most significant names. At least 50 of 150 French soldiers were executed by the Gestapo.

After this, Cole was pursued by M19 and was captured in June 1945. He escaped again in November the same year but was killed on 8 January the following year. He was shot by French police. (1, 2)


10. A famous Soviet general, Andrey Vlasov, betrayed the Soviets by creating the Russian Liberation Army. This was a troop of hundreds of soldiers who had defected from the Soviets and later fought for the Nazis against their own people.

Andrey Vlasov
Andrey Vlasov. Image credit: via, German Federal Archive via

Vlasov was Stalin’s favorite general who saved Moscow in the winter of 1941-42 and also participated in the War of Leningrad.

The Nazis captured the general and convinced him to defect to the Third Reich. In 1944, Nazi authorities allowed Vlasov to create his own force of soldiers to liberate the people of Russia and overthrow Stalin’s regime. Vlasov then created the Russian Liberation Army by recruiting the Russian soldiers who were captured by the Germans.

Towards the end of the Second World War, this Liberation Army of 50,000 men was fighting against their own Red Army. Most of these traitors surrendered to American troops advancing on Czechoslovakia and were left with the Soviets to deal with.

Vlasov, too, was handed over to the Soviets in May 1945 and was executed by them for obvious reasons on 1 August 1946. (1, 2)

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