AskDefine | Define emperor

Dictionary Definition



1 the male ruler of an empire
2 red table grape of California
3 large moth of temperate forests of Eurasia having heavily scaled transparent wings [syn: emperor moth, Saturnia pavonia]
4 large richly colored butterfly [syn: emperor butterfly]

User Contributed Dictionary



From French empereur, from Latin imperator, emperor or commander, from imperare, command.


  • (UK) /ˈɛmpəɹə/, /"Emp@r\@/
  • (US) /ˈɛmpəɹɚ/, /"Emp@r\@`/


  1. The male monarch or ruler of an empire.


  • Arabic: قيصر (qaysar)
  • Armenian: կայսր
  • Bosnian: car , imperator (of Russia, Bulgaria)
  • Breton: impalaer
  • Bulgarian: цар, император
  • Catalan: emperador
  • Chinese:
    Cantonese: 皇帝 (wong4 dai3)
    Mandarin: 皇帝 (huáng dì)
  • Czech: císař
  • Danish: kejser
  • Dutch: keizer
  • Esperanto: imperiestro
  • Estonian: keiser
  • Finnish: keisari
  • French: empereur
  • Galician: emperador
  • German: Kaiser
  • Greek: αυτοκράτωρ, αυτοκράτορας
  • Hebrew: קיסר
  • Hungarian: császár
  • Icelandic: keisari
  • Ido: cezaro
  • Indonesian: kaisar
  • Italian: imperatore
  • Japanese: 帝王 (general term for Emperor), 皇帝 (Emperor in general); 天皇 (Emperor of Japan)
  • Korean: 황제 (hwangje)
  • Latin: imperator
  • Lithuanian: imperatorius
  • Malayalam: സാമ്രാട്ട് (saamraattu)
  • Norwegian: keiser
  • Polish: imperator, cesarz
  • Portuguese: imperador
  • Russian: император
  • Scottish Gaelic: àrd-rìgh, Ceusair
  • Serbian:
  • Slovak: cisár, cár (of Russia, Bulgaria)
  • Slovene: cesar
  • Spanish: emperador
  • Swahili: kaisari
  • Swedish: kejsare
  • Turkish: imparator
  • Vietnamese: hoàng đế
  • Welsh: ymerawdwr

Usage notes

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

An emperor is a (male) monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress is the feminine form. As a title, "empress" may indicate the wife of an emperor (empress consort) or a woman who is a ruling monarch (empress regnant). Emperors are generally recognized to be above kings in honor and rank.
Today the Emperor of Japan is the only remaining emperor on throne in the world. The last year when there was more than one emperor on the throne was 1979 with three: Japan, Iran, and the Central African Empire. The latter two were overthrown that same year.

Distinction from other monarchs

Both kings and emperors are monarchs. Within the European context, "emperor" is considered the highest of monarchical titles, ironic in that it began as a military honorific in a staunchly anti-monarchical republic. Emperors were once given precedence over kings in international diplomatic relations; currently, precedence is decided by the length a head of state is continuously in office. Some emperors claimed inheritance (translatio imperii) of the political and religious authority of the Roman Emperors such as an important role in the state church; see Imperial cult and Caesaropapism. This inheritance has been claimed by, among others, the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Russian Empire; however, all types of monarchies have played religious roles; see divine right of kings and divine king. Territorial size was of no importance; the title was a conscious attempt by monarchs to link themselves to the institutions and traditions of the Romans as part of state ideology. In contrast, many republics have named a legislative chamber after the Roman Senate in remembrance of an era when assemblies still dominated.
Outside the European context, "emperor" is a translation given to holders of titles who are accorded the same precedence as European emperors in diplomatic terms. In reciprocity, these rulers may accredit equal titles in their native languages to their European peers. Due to centuries of international convention, this has become the dominant rule to identifying an emperor in the modern era.
Also, historians have liberally used "emperor" and "empire" anachronistically and out of its Roman and European context to describe any large state and its ruler in the past and present. "Empire" became identified with vast territorial holdings rather than the title of its ruler by the mid-18th century. Voltaire sardonically described the Holy Roman Empire as "neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire" since by his time it was little more than an informal association of German states and its "Emperor", though ruler of Austria and king of Hungary and Bohemia, had almost no authority within the non-Austrian parts of the territory.

Roman tradition

In the Roman tradition a large variety in the meaning and importance of the imperial form of monarchy developed: in intention it was always the highest office, but it could as well fall down to a redundant title for nobility that had never been near to the "Empire" they were supposed to be reigning. Also the name of the position split in several branches of Western tradition, see below.
Importance and meaning of Coronation ceremonies and regalia also varied within the tradition: for instance Holy Roman Emperors could only be crowned emperor by the pope, which meant the coronation ceremony usually took place in Rome, often several years after these emperors had ascended to the throne (as "king") in their home country. The first Latin Emperors of Constantinople on the other hand had to be present in the newly conquered capital of their Empire, because that was the only place where they could be granted to become Emperor.
Early Roman Emperors on the other hand avoided any type of ceremony or regalia different from what was already usual for republican offices in the Roman Republic: the most intrusive change had been changing the color of their robe to purple. Later new symbols of worldly and/or spiritual power, like the orb became an essential part of the Imperial accessories.
Rules for indicating successors also varied: there was a tendency towards male inheritance of the supreme office, but as well election by noblemen, as ruling Empresses (for empires not too strictly under salic law) are known. Ruling monarchs could additionally steer the succession by adoption, as often occurred in the two first centuries of Imperial Rome. Of course, intrigue, murder and military force could also mingle in for appointing successors, the Roman Imperial tradition made no exception to other monarchical traditions in this respect. Probably the epoch best known for this part of the Imperial tradition is Rome's third century

Ancient Roman and Byzantine emperors

Classical Antiquity

When Republican Rome turned into a monarchy again, in the second half of the 1st century BC, at first there was no name for the title of the new type of monarch: ancient Romans abhorred the name Rex ("king"), and after Julius Caesar also Dictator (which was an acknowledged office in Republican Rome, Julius Caesar not being the first to hold it).
Augustus, who can be considered the first Roman Emperor, avoided naming himself anything that could be reminiscent of "monarchy" or "dictatorship". Instead, these first Emperors constructed their office as a complicated collection of offices, titles, and honours, that were consolidated around a single person and his closest relatives (while in the republic the "taking of turns", often in shared offices, had been the principle for passing on power). These early Roman emperors didn't need a specific name for their monarchy: they had enough offices and powers accumulated so that in any field of power they were "unsurpassable", and besides: it was clear who had supreme power. The supreme power could poison, exile, or try for treason any who did not obey.
As the first Roman Emperors did not rule by virtue of any particular republican or senatorial office, the name given to the office of "head of state" in this new monarchical form of government became different depending on tradition, none of these traditions consolidated in the early days of the Roman Empire:
  • Caesar (as, for example, in Suetonius' Twelve Caesars). This tradition continued in many languages: in German it became "Kaiser"; in certain Slavic languages it became "Tsar"; in Hungarian it became "Császár", and several more variants. The name derived from Julius Caesar's cognomen "Caesar": this cognomen was adopted by all Roman emperors, exclusively by the ruling monarch after the Julio-Claudian dynasty had died out. In this tradition Julius Caesar is sometimes described as the first Caesar/emperor (following Suetonius). This is one of the most enduring titles, Caesar and its transliterations appeared in every year from the time of Caesar Augustus to Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria's removal from the throne in 1946.
  • Augustus was the honorific first bestowed on Emperor Augustus: after him all Roman emperors added it to their name. Although it had a high symbolical value, something like "akin to divinity", it was generally not used to indicate the office of Emperor itself. Exceptions include the title of the Augustan History, a half-mockumentary biography of the Emperors of the 2nd and 3rd century. Augustus had (by his last will) granted the feminine form of this honorific (Augusta) to his wife. Since there was no "title" of Empress(-consort) whatsoever, women of the reigning dynasty sought to be granted this honorific, as the highest attainable goal. Few were however granted the title, and certainly not as a rule all wives of reigning Emperors.
  • Imperator (as, for example, in Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia). In the Roman Republic Imperator meant "(military) commander". In the late Republic, as in the early years of the new monarchy, Imperator was a title granted to Roman generals by their troops and the Roman Senate after a great victory, roughly comparable to field marshal (head or commander of the entire army). For example, in 15 AD Germanicus was proclaimed Imperator during the reign of his adoptive father Tiberius. Soon thereafter "Imperator" became however a title reserved exclusively for the ruling monarch. This led to "Emperor" in English and, among other examples, "Empereur" in French. The Latin feminine form Imperatrix only developed after "Imperator" had gotten the connotation of "Emperor".
  • : although the Greeks used equivalents of "Caesar" (Καίσαρ) and "Augustus" (in two forms: or translated as "Sebastos") these were rather used as part of the name of the Emperor than as an indication of the office. Instead of developing a new name for the new type of monarchy, they used ("autokratōr", only partly overlapping with the modern understanding of "autocrat") or ("basileus", until then the usual name for "sovereign"). "Autokratōr" could be seen as a translation of the Latin "Imperator" (it was certainly used as its replacement in Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire), but also here there is only partial overlap between the meaning of the original Greek and Latin concepts. For the Greeks "Autokratōr" was not a military title, and was closer to the Latin dictator concept ("the one with unlimited power"), before it came to mean Emperor. Basileus appears not to have been used exclusively in the meaning of Emperor before the 7th century, although it was a standard informal designation of the emperor in the Greek-speaking East.
After the problematic year 69, the Flavian Dynasty reigned for about half a century. The succeeding Nervan-Antonian Dynasty, ruling for most of the 2nd century, stabilised the Empire. This epoch became known as the era of the Five Good Emperors, and was followed by the short-lived Severan Dynasty.
During the Crisis of the 3rd century, Barracks Emperors succeeded one another at short intervals. Three short lived secessionist attempts had their own emperors: the Gallic Empire, the Britannic Empire, and the Palmyrene Empire though the latter used rex more regularly. The next period, known as the Dominate, started with the Tetrarchy installed by Diocletian.
Through most of the 4th century, there were separate emperors for the Western and Eastern part of the Empire. Although there were several dynastic relations between the Emperors of both parts, they also often were adversaries. The last Emperor to rule a unified Roman Empire was Theodosius. Less than a century after his death in 395, the last Emperor of the Western half of the Empire was driven out.

Byzantine period

Prior to the 4th Crusade

Historians generally call the eastern part of the Roman Empire the Byzantine Empire due to its capital Constantinople, whose ancient name was Byzantium (now Istanbul). After the fall of Rome to barbarian forces in 476, the title of "emperor" lived on in rulers of Constantinople (New Rome).
The Byzantine Emperors completed the transition from the idea of the Emperor as a semi-republican official to the Emperor as a traditional monarch when Emperor Heraclius retained the title of Basileus, already a synonym for "Emperor" (but which had earlier designated "King" in Greek) in the first half of the seventh century. A specifically Byzantine development of emperor's position was cesaropapism, position as leader of Christians.
In general usage, the Byzantine imperial title evolved from simply "emperor" (basileus), to "emperor of the Romans" (basileus tōn Rōmaiōn) in the 9th century, to "emperor and autocrat of the Romans" (basileus kai autokratōr tōn Rōmaiōn) in the 10th. In fact, none of these (and other) additional epithets and titles had ever been completely discarded.
The Byzantine empire produced also three reigning empresses: Irene, Zoe, and Theodora.

Latin emperors

In 1204, the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople, and soon established a Latin Empire of Constantinople under one of the Crusader leaders. The Latin Empire was, however, unable to consolidate control of the whole of the former territories of the Byzantine Empire. Driven out of Constantinople in 1261, some territories in Greece still recognized their authority for some time. Eventually, the Imperial title became redundant and did not even contribute any longer to the prestige of the noblemen in their own country: it remained dormant after 1383. It produced three reigning empresses, two of which reigned outside of the city in the remnants of their empire.

After the 4th Crusade

In Asia Minor, after being driven out of Constantinople, relations of the last pre-Crusader emperors established the Empire of Nicaea and the Empire of Trebizond. Similarly, the Despotate of Epirus was founded in the Western Balkans (the rulers of the latter took the title of Emperor for a short time following their conquest of Thessalonica in 1224).
Eventually, the Nicaean Emperors were successful in reclaiming the Byzantine imperial title. They managed to force Epirus into submission and retake Constantinople by 1261, but Trebizond remained independent. The restored Byzantine empire finally fell due to Ottoman invasion in 1453. The Trapezuntines produced three reigning empresses before they too were defeated by the Ottomans in 1461.

Holy Roman emperors

After the discontinuation of the title of Emperor in Western Europe in 476, it was revived in the Middle Ages. What connected these Emperors to "Rome" was that they were supposed to be crowned by the Pope, usually in Rome. So in this branch of Roman Emperors, Roman had an implied connotation of Roman Catholic, hence the epithet Holy.
On 25 December, 800, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, was crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome. This was seen both as a reaction to the supposed vacancy of the Eastern Empire, due to the presence of a woman, Irene on the throne in Constantinople, and as a revival of the Western Roman Empire, and descendants of Charlemagne continued to be crowned in Rome until the late 9th century. After the death of Charles the Fat in 888, the Popes intermittently bestowed the imperial title upon whomever was momentarily the most powerful lord in northern Italy, and after Berengar of Friuli was deposed in 922, the title lay vacant for decades.
In 962, Otto I, King of the Eastern Franks was crowned Emperor by the Pope. The Holy Roman Empire, such as it was, consisted of the German Kingdoms, Italy, and Burgundy (including most of the Low Countries), but it continued to have theoretical claims of universal suzerainty over the Latin west.
After the 13th century and the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty which led to a 62 year interregnum, the universalistic aspirations of the Emperors became increasingly theoretical, and their control over Italy, still seen as the locus of the proper empire, became increasingly tenuous. Rather than being hereditary, emperors were chosen by the prince-electors, in a process codified by the Golden Bull of 1356.
Coronations in Rome became rarer and rarer, until in 1508, King Maximilian I, after receiving permission from the pope, declared himself Emperor-Elect without having been crowned in Rome. Although Maximilian's grandson and successor, Charles V, was crowned in Bologna in 1530 by the Pope, he was the last, and thereafter the position of Holy Roman Emperor was a wholly German post until the Empire's dissolution in August 6, 1806.
Even in Germany itself, real control was increasingly tenuous, as various local princes increased their power, so that the Habsburg emperors who ruled almost continuously from 1438 until the end of the empire derived their power much more from their hereditary lands in the south-eastern part of the monarchy than from their position as emperor. As religious differences added to the tensions, compromise was needed (Peace of Augsburg, 1555). The Habsburg dynasty attempted to reassert authority over the Empire in the Thirty Years' War, which ended with the Peace of Westphalia (1648) that recognized princes sort of sovereign instead of dependents.
The impotence of the Emperors' position became most nakedly apparent during the brief reign of Charles VII from 1742 to 1745. As Duke of Bavaria, Charles was the only non-Habsburg emperor for the last three hundred fifty years of the empire's existence, and his utter inability even to protect his own hereditary lands from the forces of his enemy, Maria Theresa, the Habsburg heiress, showed how empty the position of Holy Roman Emperor had become.


On 11 August, 1804 anticipating the eventual collapse of the Holy Roman Empire at the behest of Napoleon I, Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor assumed the additional title of Emperor of Austria (as Francis I thereof). The precaution was a wise one, because two years later on August 6 1806 he was obliged to proclaim the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.
Emperor Karl of Austria, the last ruling hereditary monarch in that country, "relinquished every participation in the administration of the State" on November 11 1918.


Following victory after the Franco-Prussian war and the founding of the German Empire, the Prussian king had himself crowned German Emperor or Kaiser as Wilhelm I on January 18 1871, as part of the competition with the Emperor of Austria (whose Habsburg dynasty was the heir of the Holy Roman Empire) for dominance in the German-speaking lands.
When the Empire was formed, there was much debate about how to precisely phrase the title of the monarch. One of the contributions to this debate was Kaiser von Deutschland ("Emperor of Germany"), another one being Kaiser der Deutschen ("Emperor of the Germans"). Finally, Deutscher Kaiser ("German Emperor"), the version expressing the least degree of superiority to the rulers of the other principalities, was agreed upon.
With defeats in World War I and revolution breaking out, Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated on 9 November 1918 and a republic was established.

Emperors of Eastern Europe

Byzantium's close cultural and political interaction with its Balkan neighbors Bulgaria and Serbia, and with Russia (Kievan Rus', then Muscovy) led to the adoption of Byzantine imperial traditions in all of these countries.


In 913 Simeon I of Bulgaria was crowned Emperor (Tsar) by the Patriarch of Constantinople and imperial regent Nicholas Mystikos outside of the Byzantine capital. In its final simplified form, the title read "Emperor and Autocrat of all Bulgarians and Romans" (Tsar i samodăržec na vsički bălgari i gărci in the modern vernacular). The "Roman" component in the Bulgarian imperial title indicateed both rulership over Greek speakers and the derivation of the imperial tradition from the Romans (represented by the "Roman" Byzantines).
Byzantine recognition of Simeon's imperial title was revoked by the succeeding Byzantine government. The decade 914–924 was spent in destructive warfare between Byzantium and Bulgaria over this and other matters of conflict. The Bulgarian monarch, who had further irritated his Byzantine counterpart by claiming the title "Emperor of the Romans" (basileus tōn Rōmaiōn), was eventually recognized, as "Emperor of the Bulgarians" (basileus tōn Boulgarōn) by the Byzantine Emperor Romanos I Lakapenos in 924. Byzantine recognition of the imperial dignity of the Bulgarian monarch and the patriarchal dignity of the Bulgarian patriarch was again confirmed at the conclusion of permanent peace and a Bulgarian-Byzantine dynastic marriage in 927. In the meantime, the Bulgarian imperial title may have been also confirmed by the Pope. The Bulgarian imperial title "Tsar" was adopted by all Bulgarian monarchs up to the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule. 14th century Bulgarian literary compositions clearly denote the Bulgarian capital (Tărnovo) as a successor of Rome and Constantinople, in effect, the "Third Rome".
It should be noted that after Bulgaria obtained full independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1908, its monarch, who was previously styled "Knyaz", i.e Prince, took the traditional title of "Tsar", but was recognized internationally only as a King.


In 1345 the Serbian King Stefan Uroš IV Dušan proclaimed himself Emperor (Tsar) and was crowned as such at Skopje on Easter 1346 by the newly created Patriarch of Serbia, and by the Patriarch of Bulgaria and the autocephalous Archbishop of Ohrid. His imperial title was recognized by Bulgaria and various other neighbors and trading partners but not by the Byzantine Empire. In its final simplified form, the Serbian imperial title read "Emperor of Serbians and Greeks" (car srbljem i grkom in the modern vernacular). It was only employed by Stefan Uroš IV Dušan and his son Stefan Uroš V in Serbia (until his death in 1371), after which it became extinct. A half-brother of Dušan, Simeon Uroš, and then his son Jovan Uroš, claimed the same title, until the latter's abdication in 1373, while ruling as dynasts in Thessaly. The "Greek" component in the Serbian imperial title indicates both rulership over Greeks and the derivation of the imperial tradition from the Romans (represented by the "Greek" Byzantines).


In 1472, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, Sophia Palaiologina, married Ivan III, grand prince of Moscow, who began championing the idea of Russia being the successor to the Byzantine Empire. This idea was represented more emphatically in the composition of the monk Filofej addressed their son Vasili III. After ending Muscovy's dependence on its Mongol overlords in 1480, Ivan III began the usage of the titles Emperor (Tsar) and Autocrat (samoderžec' ). His insistence on recognition as such by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire since 1489 resulted in the granting of this recognition in 1514 by Emperor Maximilian I to Vasili III. His son Ivan IV emphatically crowned himself Emperor (Tsar) on 16 January, 1547.
On 31 October, 1721 Peter I was crowned Emperor with a new style, "Imperator", which is a westernizing form equivalent to the traditional Slavic title "Tsar". He based his claim partially upon a letter discovered in 1717 written in 1514 from Maximilian I to Vasili III, Sophia's son and Ivan IV's father, in which the Holy Roman Emperor used the term in referring to Vasili. The title has not been used in Russia since the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II on 15 March, 1917. The apparent distinction between the titles of "Tsar" and "Imperator" in post-1721 usage have led to the false impression that the title of "Tsar" is an intermediate rank between those of "Emperor" and "King", or else equivalent to the latter.
Imperial Russia produced four reigning Empresses, all in the eighteenth century.

Ottoman Empire

Ottoman rulers held the title padishah, equivalent to the Persian shahanshah. The Ottomans frequently adopted styles from conquered peoples, presenting themselves as successors in law, such as Hakan, as well as loftier styles like Sultan of Sultans. After conquering the last vestige of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, Mehmed II also took the title of Roman Emperor (Kayser-i-Rûm). The monarchy fell in 1922.

Emperors in Western Europe


The kings of the Ancien Régime and the July Monarchy used the title Empereur de France in diplomatic correspondence and treaties with the Ottoman emperor from at least 1673 onwards. The Ottomans insisted on this elevated style while refusing to recognize the Holy Roman Emperors or the Russian tsars due to their rival claims of the Roman crown. In short, it was an indirect insult by the Ottomans to the HRE and the Russians. The French kings also used it for Morocco (1682) and Persia (1715).

First French Empire

See also: First French Empire
Napoleon Bonaparte who was already First Consul of the French Republic (Premier Consul de la République française) for life, declared himself Emperor of the French (Empereur des Français) on May 18, 1804. Despite being ruled by an emperor, it continued to be the French Republic (République Française) until 1808, when it was renamed the French Empire (Empire Français).
Napoleon relinquished the title of Emperor of the French on 6 April and again on April 11, 1814. Napoleon's infant son, Napoleon II, was recognized by the Council of Peers, as Emperor from the moment of his father's abdication, and theoretically reigned as "Emperor" for fifteen days, June 22 to July 7 of 1815.


Since 3 May 1814, the Sovereign Principality of Elba was created a miniature non-hereditary Monarchy under the exiled French Emperor Napoleon I. Napoleon I was allowed, by the treaty of Fontainebleau with (27 April), to enjoy, for life, the imperial title. The islands were not restyled an empire.
On 26 February 1815, Napoleon abandoned Elba for France, reviving the French Empire for Hundred Days; as this broke the terms of his parole, the Allies declared an end to Napoleon's sovereignty over Elba on 25 March 1815, and on 31 March 1815 Elba was ceded to the restored Grand Duchy of Tuscany by the Congress of Vienna. After his final defeat, Bonaparte was stripped of every imperial privilege during his second exile to Atlantic Isle of St. Helena.

Second French Empire

See also: Second French Empire
Napoleon I's nephew Napoleon III resurrected the title on December 2, 1852 after establishing the Second French Empire in a presidential coup. He reigned as a constitutional Monarch. His endeavours to return to France its imperial status included setting up a Habsburg Archduke as vassal emperor in Mexico, but failed. He lost the throne when he was deposed on September 4, 1870 by the Third Republic in the aftermath of the defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

Iberian Peninsula

The origins of the title Imperator totius Hispaniae (Latin for Emperor of All the Spains) is murky. It was associated with the Leonese monarchy perhaps as far back as Alfonso the Great (r. 866-910). The last two kings of its Pérez Dynasty were called emperors in a contemporary source.
King Sancho III of Navarre conquered Leon in 1034 and began using it. His son, Ferdinand I of Castile also took the title in 1039. Ferdinand's son, Alfonso VI of Castile took the title in 1077. It then passed to his son-in-law, Alfonso I of Aragon in 1109. His stepson and Alfonso VI's grandson, Alfonso VII was the only one who actually had an imperial coronation in 1135.
The title was not exactly hereditary but self proclaimed by those who had, wholly or partially, united the Christian northern part of the Iberian peninsula, often at the expense of killing rival siblings. The popes and Holy Roman emperors protested at the usage of the imperial title as a usurpation of leadership in western Christendom. After Alfonso VII's death in 1157, the title was abandoned.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the legitimate heir to the throne, Andreas Palaiologos, willed away his claim to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1503. This claim seems to have been forgotten or abandoned quietly for the last 300 years.


In the late 3rd century, by the end of the epoch of the barracks emperors in Rome, there were two Britannic Emperors, reigning for about a decade. After the Roman departure from Britain, the Imperator Cunedda forged the Kingdom of Gwynedd in northern Wales however all his successors were titled kings and princes.


There was no set title for the king of England before 1066 and monarchs chose to style themselves as they pleased. Imperial titles were used inconsistently beginning with Athelstan in 930 and ended with the Norman conquest of England.
Henry VIII began claiming his crown was an Imperial Crown during the Reformation; however, this did not lead to the creation of the title of Emperor in England.

United Kingdom

In 1801, George III rejected the title of Emperor when offered. The only period when British monarchs were given the title of Emperor in a dynastic succession started when the title Empress of India was created for Queen Victoria. When a royal marriage made it obvious to the British in 1877 that their Queen Victoria would be outranked by her own daughter who would someday become German Empress, the British government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, conferred the additional title Empress of India by an Act of Parliament; it was also formally justified as the expression of Britain succeeding as paramount ruler of the subcontinent the former Mughal 'Padishah of Hind', using indirect rule through hundreds of princely states formally under protection, not colonies, but accepting the British Sovereign as their 'feudal' suzerain. That title was relinquished by the last Kaisar-i-Hind George VI when India was granted independence on August 15 1947.
Two decades earlier the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 had stated that the United Kingdom and the dominions were "equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations". Along with the Statute of Westminster, 1931 this changed the way the British parliamentary monarchy ruled the overseas dominions, moving from a colonial British Empire towards a new structure for the interaction between the Commonwealth Realms and the Crown.

Post-colonial emperors modeled on Europe

Post-Columbian Americas


Napoleon ordered the invasion of Portugal in 1807 because the country openly refused to join the Continental System.
To avoid the same that happened to the Spanish Bourbons (they were arrested and Napoleon imposed his brother as King), the Portuguese Braganças decided to transferred the capital to Rio de Janeiro. When Junot arrived in Lisbon, the Portuguese fleet had just left with all the local elite.
In 1808, with British escort, the fleet arrived in Brazil. Later, in 1815, the portuguese Prince Regent (since 1816 king John VI) proclaimed the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve, as an union of three kingdoms. Brazil had just left its colony status.
After the Napolean fall and the Liberal revolution in Portugal, the Portuguese Royals had to turn back to Europe (1820). Prince Peter of Braganza (King John’s older son) stayed in South America acting as regent of the local kingdom, but two years later, in 1822, he proclaimed himself as Peter I, first Emperor of Brazil. To his father John VI, however, was recognise the use, until his death (1826), of the honorific title of Titular Emperor of Brazil.
The empire came to an end in 1889, with the overthrow of Emperor Pedro II (Pedro I son and successor), when the republic was proclaimed.


Haiti was declared an empire by its ruler, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who made himself Jacques I, in 20 May, 1805. He was assassinated the next year. Haiti again became an empire from 1849 to 1859 under Faustin Soulouque.


In Mexico, there were two short-lived attempts to create an Empire. Agustín de Iturbide, the general who helped secure Mexican independence from Spanish rule, was proclaimed Emperor Agustín I in 12 July, 1822, but was overthrown the next year.
In 1863, the invading French under Napoleon III (see above), in alliance with Mexican conservatives, proclaimed an empire and invited Archduke Maximilian, younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I, to become emperor as Maximilian I. The childless Maximilian and his consort Empress Carlota of Mexico, born a Belgian princess, also adopted Agustín's grandson as his heir to bolster his claim. After the withdrawal of French protection in 1867, Maximilian was captured and executed by liberal forces.

Central African Empire

In 1976, President Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic, proclaimed the country to be the Central African Empire, and made himself Emperor as Bokassa I. The expenses of his coronation ceremony actually bankrupted the country. He was overthrown three years later and the republic was restored.

East Asian tradition

The East Asian tradition is different from the Roman tradition, having arisen separately. What links them together is the use of the Chinese logographs 皇 (huáng) and 帝 (dì) which together or individually are imperial. Due to the cultural influence of China, China's neighbors adopted these titles or had their native titles conform in hanzi.
In 221 BC, Ying Zheng, who was king of Qin at the time, proclaimed himself shi huangdi (始皇帝), which translates as "first emperor". Huangdi is composed of huang ("august one", 皇) and di ("sage-king", 帝), and referred to legendary/mythological sage-emperors living several millennia earlier, of which three were huang and five were di. Thus Zheng became Qin Shi Huang, abolishing the system where the huang/di titles were reserved to dead and/or mythological rulers. Although not as popular, the title 王 wang (king or prince) was still used by many monarchs and dynasties in China up to the Taipings in the 19th century. 王 is pronounced vuong in Vietnamese, ō in Japanese, and wang in Korean.
The imperial title continued in China until the Qing dynasty was overthrown in 1912. The title was briefly revived from December 12, 1915 to March 22, 1916 by President Yuan Shikai and again in early July, 1917 when General Zhang Xun attempted to restore last Qing emperor Puyi to the throne. Puyi retained the title and attributes of a foreign emperor, as a personal status, until 1924. After the Japanese occupied Manchuria in 1931, they proclaimed it to be the Empire of Manchukuo, and Puyi became emperor of Manchukuo. This Empire ceased to be when it was occupied by Soviet troops in 1945.
In general, an emperor would have one empress (Huanghou, 皇后) at one time, although posthumous entitlement to empress for a concubine was not uncommon. The earliest known usage of huanghou was in the Han Dynasty. The emperor would generally select the empress from his harem. In subsequent dynasties, when the distinction between wife and concubine became more accentuated, the crown prince would have chosen an empress-designate before his reign. Imperial China produced only one reigning empress, Wu Zetian, and she used the same Chinese title as an emperor (Huangdi, 皇帝). Wu Zetian then reigned for about 15 years.


In Japan, the earliest titles for the sovereign were either ヤマト大王/大君 (yamato ōkimi, Grand King of Yamato), 倭王/倭国王 (waō/wakokuō, King of Wa, used externally), or 治天下大王 (amenoshita shiroshimesu ōkimi, Grand King who rules all under heaven, used internally). As early as the 7th century the word 天皇 (which can be read either as sumera no mikoto, divine order, or as tennō, Heavenly Emperor, the latter being derived from a Tang Chinese term referring to the Pole star around which all other stars revolve) began to be used. The earliest attested use of this term is on a wooden slat, or mokkan, that was unearthed in Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture in 1998 and dated back to the reign of Emperor Temmu and Empress Jitō. The reading 'Tennō' has become the standard title for the sovereign of Japan up to and including the present age. The term 帝 (mikado, Emperor) is also found in literary sources.
Japanese monarchs placed themselves from 607 on equal footing with Chinese emperors in titulary terms, but rarely was the Chinese-style "Son of Heaven" term used. In the Japanese language, the word tennō is restricted to Japan's own monarch; kōtei (皇帝) is used for foreign emperors. Historically, retired emperors have kept power over a child-emperor as de facto Regent. For a fairly long time, a shōgun (formally the imperial generalissimo, but made hereditary) or regent wielded actual political power. In fact, through much of Japanese history, the emperor has been little more than a figurehead.
After World War II, all claims of divinity were dropped (see Ningen-sengen). Parliamentary government has wielded the power, reducing the office of emperor again to a mere ceremonial function. By the end of the 20th century, Japan was the only country with an emperor on the throne.
As of the early 21st century, Japan's succession law prohibits a female from ascending the throne. However, with the birth of a daughter as the first child of the current Crown Prince, Naruhito, Japan is considering abandoning that rule. Princess Kiko gave birth to a son on 6 September 2006, although it is still uncertain if the young prince or Aiko will ascend the throne; however many believe the new prince of Japan will. Historically, Japan has had eight reigning empresses who used the genderless title Tennō, rather than the female consort title kōgō (皇后) or chūgū (中宮). There is ongoing discussion of the Japanese Imperial succession controversy. Although current Japanese law prohibits female succession, all Japanese emperors claim to trace their lineage to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess of the Shintō religion.


Although the Vietnamese rulers acknowledged the supremacy of China, and were known to the Chinese emperors as simply King of Annam, domestically they took on a full Chinese-style imperial regalia in 1806 and have inconsistently used the title hoang de for a century though many were raised to that status posthumously so as not to antagonize relations with China. Axis-occupied Vietnam was declared an empire by the Japanese in March 1945. The line of emperors came to an end with Bao Dai, who was deposed after the war, although he later served as head of state of South Vietnam from 1949 to 1955.


Some early dynasties of Korea, often considered to be legendary, used the title Dangun (단군, 檀君: Dan meaning "birch", gun meaning "emperor"). The rulers of Goguryeo and Silla used the title of Taewang (태왕, 太王), literally translated as the Greatest of the Kings but often to signify emperor.
Rulers of the Goryeo Dynasty (from Gwangjong onward) took the title of emperor as a means of enhancing the prestige of the monarchy. The title was relinquished in the 13th century, however, after the agreement of peace with the Mongols, when the Korean rulers were pressured into use the title of Kings and as such tributary ally of Kublai Khan's China-based Mongol Yuan Dynasty.
The full style of the ruler of the Joseon Dynasty called Jusang Jeonha("His Majesty") and Joseon Guk-wang ("King of the Realm of Joseon") until 1895.
Following the Chinese defeat by Japan in 1895, Korea declared its total independence from China (see Treaty of Shimonoseki) and King Gojong took the title of Daehan Hwangje, translated as 'Emperor of the Great Han'. also Emperor Gojong used the Yeonho (era names, a very strong indication of sovereignty), were adopted on 1 January 1896. The full style of the ruler (7 January 1895 - 12 October 1897) called Daegunju Pyeha ("His Majesty the Great Monarch"), Joseon Guk-wang ("King of the Joseon State"). In the Korean Empire, since 12 October 1897, the full imperial style was Daehan Hwangje ("Emperor of Great Korean").

Indian subcontinent

The Sanskrit word for emperor is Samrāṭ or Chakravarti(word stem: samrāj). This word has been used as an epithet of various Vedic deities, like Varuna, and has been attested in the Holy Rig Veda, possibly the oldest compiled book among the Indo-Europeans. Chakravarti refers to the king of kings. A Chakravarti is not only a sovereign ruler but also has feudatories.
Typically, in the later Vedic age, a Hindu king (Maharajah) was only called Samrāṭ after performing the Vedic Rājasūya sacrifice, enabling him by religious tradition to claim superiority over the other kings and princes. Another word for emperor is sārvabhaumā. The title of Samrāṭ has been used by many rulers of the Indian subcontinent as claimed by the Hindu mythologies. In proper history, most historians call Chandragupta Maurya the first samrāṭ (emperor) of the Indian subcontinent, because of the huge empire he ruled. The most famous Hindu emperor was his grandson Ashoka the Great. Other dynasties that are considered imperial by the historians are the Kushanas, Guptas, Vijayanagara, Hoysala and the Cholas.
After India was invaded by the Mongol Khans and Turkic Muslims, the rulers of their major states on the subcontinent were titled Sultān, In this manner, the only empress-regnant ever to have actually sat on the throne of Delhi was Razia Sultan. For the episode from 1877 to 1947 when British Emperors ruled colonial India as the pearl in the crown of the British Empire, see above.

Pre-Columbian traditions

The Aztec and Inca traditions are unrelated to one another. Both were conquered under the reign of King Charles I of Spain who was simultaneously emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire during the fall of the Aztecs and fully emperor during the fall of the Incas. Incidentally by being king of Spain, he was also Roman (Byzantine) emperor in pretence through Andreas Palaiologos. The translations of their titles were provided by the Spanish.

Aztec Empire

The only pre-Columbian North American rulers to be commonly called emperors were the Hueyi Tlatoani of the Aztec Empire (1375–1521). It was an elected monarchy chosen by the elite. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés slew Emperor Cuauhtémoc and installed puppet rulers who became vassals for Spain. Mexican Emperor Maximilian built his palace, Chapultepec Castle, over the ruins of an Aztec one.

Inca Empire

The only pre-Columbian South American rulers to be commonly called emperors were the Sapa Inca of the Inca Empire (1438–1533). Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, conquered the Inca for Spain, killed Emperor Atahualpa, and installed puppets as well. Atahualpa may actually be considered a usurper as he had achieved power by killing his half-brother and he did not perform the required coronation with the imperial crown mascaipacha by the Huillaq Uma (high priest).

Other traditions


In Ethiopia, the Solomonic dynasty used, beginning in 1270, the title of "[nəgusä nägäst]" which is literally "King of Kings". The use of the king of kings style began a millennium earlier in this region, however, with the title being used by the Kings of Aksum, beginning with Sembrouthes in the 3rd century. Another title used by this dynasty was "Itegue Zetopia".
"Itegue" translates as Empress, and was also used by the only female reigning Empress, Zauditu, along with the official title Negiste Negest (Queen of Kings).
In 1936, the Italian king Victor Emmanuel III claimed the title of Emperor of Ethiopia after Ethiopia was occupied by Italy during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. After the defeat of the Italians by the British in 1941, Haile Selassie was restored to the throne but Victor Emmanuel did not relinquish his claim to the title until 1943.
The Rastafari claimed Selassie as God incarnate before and even more so after the Second World War (see Rastafari movement) which he did not endorse, though he was sympathetic. He was deposed in 1974, the imperial title ending the next year when his son, who had succeeded him, was deposed and exiled.


The title Khagan (khan of khans or grand khan) was held by Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire in 1206. When the empire fragmented, the emperors of the Yuan dynasty in China (who also took the Chinese title huangdi) continued to be nominal Great Khans of the whole Mongol empire. Only the Khagans from Genghis Khan to the fall of the Yuan dynasty in China in 1368 are normally referred to as Emperors in English.


In Persia, from the time of Darius the Great, Persian rulers used the title "King of Kings" (Shahanshah in modern Iranian) since they had dominion over peoples from India to Greece. Alexander the Great probably crowned himself shahanshah after conquering Persia, bringing the phrase basileus toon basileoon to Greek. It is also known that Tigranes the Great, king of Armenia, was named as the king of kings when he made his empire after defeating the Parthians.
The last shahanshah was ousted in 1979 following the Iranian Revolution. Shahanshah is usually translated as king of kings or simply king for ancient rulers of the Achaemenid, Arsacid, and Sassanid dynasties, and often shortened to shah for rulers since the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century.

Fictional uses

There have been many fictional emperors in movies and books. To see a list of these emperors, see Category of fictional emperors and empresses.
emperor in Afrikaans: Keiser
emperor in Arabic: إمبراطور
emperor in Belarusian: Імператар
emperor in Bosnian: Imperator
emperor in Breton: Impalaer
emperor in Bulgarian: Кайзер
emperor in Catalan: Emperador
emperor in Czech: Císař
emperor in Danish: Kejser
emperor in German: Kaiser
emperor in Estonian: Keiser
emperor in Spanish: Emperador
emperor in Esperanto: Imperiestro
emperor in French: Empereur
emperor in Scottish Gaelic: Ceusair
emperor in Galician: Emperador
emperor in Korean: 황제
emperor in Indonesian: Kaisar
emperor in Italian: Imperatore
emperor in Hebrew: קיסר (תואר)
emperor in Georgian: იმპერატორი
emperor in Swahili (macrolanguage): Kaizari
emperor in Latin: Imperator
emperor in Latvian: Imperators
emperor in Hungarian: Császár
emperor in Dutch: Keizer
emperor in Japanese: 皇帝
emperor in Norwegian: Keiser
emperor in Polish: Cesarz
emperor in Portuguese: Imperador
emperor in Romanian: Împărat
emperor in Russian: Император
emperor in Simple English: Emperor
emperor in Slovenian: Imperator
emperor in Finnish: Keisari
emperor in Swedish: Kejsare
emperor in Tagalog: Emperador
emperor in Thai: จักรพรรดิ
emperor in Vietnamese: Hoàng đế
emperor in Ukrainian: Імператор
emperor in Contenese: 皇帝
emperor in Chinese: 皇帝

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

anointed king, chief, chieftain, crowned head, dynast, grand duke, high chief, imperator, king, king-emperor, kinglet, lord paramount, majesty, monarch, overlord, paramount, petty king, potentate, prince, prince consort, royal, royal personage, royalty, ruler, sovereign, suzerain, tetrarch
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