Emperor is also a Norwegian black metal band: see Emperor (band). See also The Emperor disambiguation page.

An emperor is the male head of state of an empire who reigns for life. Empress is the feminine form. The term "emperor" is in many cases interchangeable with "dictator" or "king", but there are subtle differences.

  • An emperor always adopts royal ceremony and regalia, and thus acts as a monarch, though he may not be from an established royal family. In some cases, this is the only thing making a "dictator" into an "emperor" See the Central African Empire below.
  • An emperor, in theory at least, reigns over several ethnicities or nationalities, as opposed to a king, who rules a single nation. However, the only reigning emperor in the World today, the emperor of Japan, rules over one of the most homogenous nations in the World, which undermines this distinction.
  • Emperors are always recognised to be above kings in precedence when both titles are used in a single system. While a king is subject to the conventions of a state church, an emperor often ranks above the church, answering to no one but himself.

Derivation of emperor

The English term for emperor is derived from the Latin imperator (literally, "one who prepares against"; loosely, "commander"). Imperator was originally a title used by the highest-ranking Roman commanders, roughly comparable to field marshal or commander-in-chief. The term was later used by Roman monarchs specifically in place of the Latin word for "king", which had negative historical connotations for the Romans.

What we now call the "emperors" of Rome in fact had a long list of honorifics and titles, of which the dynastic name Caesar also played an important part. Successive emperors took the name Caesar regardless of whether they had any dynastic tie to Julius and Augustus Caesar, founders of the imperial system. Thus, in German the title Kaiser is equivalent to "emperor". Csszr was used in both the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German Empire. In some Slavic languages tsar was used. All of these are derived from Caesar rather than "imperator". Another honorific of the Roman emperors was "princeps", meaning "first citizen", from which we derive "prince".

Historical development

After the fall of Rome to barbarian forces, the title of "emperor" lived on in rulers of the Byzantine Empire until at least the mid-14th century. Following the final fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Turkish sultan sometimes designated himself as successor to the Roman Emperors, and used the title of Emperor in addition to that of Sultan. The tsars of Russia also claimed to be the carriers of the "Eastern Roman Empire" flame since one of them had taken a niece of a Byzantine emperor as consort.

Holy Roman Empire

On December 25, 800, Charles I, King of the Franks, was crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome. This was seen as a revival of the Western Empire, and descendants of Charlemagne continued to be crowned in Rome through the 9th century. The increasing divisions within the Frankish lands, however, led to a suspension of the office. In 962, Otto I, King of Eastern Francis (or Germany) was again crowned Emperor by the Pope. His successors became known as Holy Roman Emperors. The Holy Roman Empire, such as it was, consisted of the Kingdoms of Germany, Italy, and Burgundy. After the 13th century and the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, 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 elected by the great German magnates, in a process codified by the Golden Bull of 1356. Coronations in Rome became rarer and rarer, until in 1508, King Maximilian I declared himself Emperor-Elect without having been crowned in Rome. Although Maximilian's grandson and successor, Charles V, was crowned in Bologna 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 put increasing amounts of power into his own hands, 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 eastern part of the monarchy than from their position as emperor. This became even more true after the defeat of Habsburg attempts to reassert authority over the Empire in the Thirty Years War, which ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. 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. The conquests of the French revolutionary armies in the 1790s made the Empire itself untenable, so that Emperor Francis II in 1804 took the title of Emperor of Austria as Francis I, and ultimately, allowed (perhaps illegally) the dissolution of the Empire two years later.


The exclusivity of the title Emperor in Europe was lost on October 31, 1721 when, at the request of his jubilant Senate and the Holy Synod, the recent victor of the 21-year-long Great Northern War Peter I ("Peter the Great") proclaimed the establishment of the Russian Empire and accepted the title Emperor of Russia in addition to the traditional (since 1547) title of Tsar of several diverse nationalities in their specific lands. He based his claim partially upon a letter discovered in 1717 written in 1514 from Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor to Vasili III, Grand Duke of Moscow, in which the Holy Roman Emperor used the term in referring to Vasily. The title has not been used in Russia since the consecutive abdications of Emperor Saint Nicholas II and his brother Grand Duke Michael on March 15 and 16, 1917.


Napoleon I declared himself Emperor of the French on May 18, 1804. He relinquished the title of Emperor of the French on April 6 and again on April 11, 1814, but was allowed to style himself Emperor of Elba, the island of his first exile. After his attempted restoration and defeat in 1815 he was stripped of even that usage during his second exile. His nephew Napoleon III resurrected the title on December 2, 1852 after establishing the Second French Empire in a Coup d'tat, and lost it when he was deposed on September 4, 1870 by the Third Republic. It has not been used in France since then.


Upon the formation of the Second Reich the Prussian king had himself crowned German Emperor as Wilhelm I on January 18 1871, as part of the competition with the Emperor of Austria for dominance in the German-speaking lands. The Prussian Crown Prince was married to a daughter of Queen Victoria, and when he came to the throne his wife would naturally carry the title of Empress, outranking her more-powerful mother whose title was merely Queen. The title was no longer used in Germany after the announcement of the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II on November 9 1918.

United Kingdom

In the late 19th Century it was intolerable to the British that their mighty Queen be outranked by her own daughter, the Empress of . Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1876 thus encouraged Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom to followed suit, and as a result the Queen was given the additional title Empress of India by an Act of Parliament. That title was relinquished by George VI with effect from August 15 1947, when India was granted independence.

(In 1801 when Great Britain was united with the Kingdom of Ireland, it was proposed that George III become Emperor of the British and Hanoverian Dominions, and therefore Emperor of the British Empire. George III however rejected the idea, favouring the traditional title of king.)

Other traditions

Persia (Iran)

In Persia (or Iran), from the time of the Cyrus the Great, Persian rulers used the title "Shahanshah" which is sometimes translated as emperor and is literally "King of Kings". Persians were founders of one of the earliest and largest empires of the world, extending from India to Greece and Lybia. The last Shah abdicated in 1979, when Iran became a republic. See also: List of kings of Persia


In Ethiopia, EmperorsTemplate:Ref claiming descent from the ancient King Solomon of the Israelites, and the Queen of Sheba, used the title of "Niguse Negest" which also translates to Emperor and is literally "King of Kings" as well. This title ended following revolution in 1975. From 1936 to 1941, the Kings of Italy, which had conquered Ethiopia, took the title of Emperor of Ethiopia.


In 221 BC, Zheng, who was king of Qin at the time, proclaimed himself shi huangdi, where huangdi is generally translated as "emperor", and shi as "first (generation)" or "commencing". huangdi is composed of huang ("august one") and di ("sage-king"), and referred to some sort of legendary/mythological sage-emperors (supposed to be) living several millenia earlier, of which three were huang and five were di (the sānhung wǔd, see: The Three August Ones and the Five Emperors). Thus Zheng became Qin Shi Huang, abolishing the system where the huang/di titles were reserved to dead and/or mythological rulers. The shi indicated he was the first to wear it, and so started the Qin Dynasty.

The imperial title continued in China until the Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1912. The title was briefly revived in 1916 and again in 1917.


In Japan a ruler in Yamato court was called "Tenno" (usually translated as emperorTemplate:Ref), although Japan is usually not considered an "empire" in the traditional sense of the word except during the brief period of the Meiji, Taisho and early Showa emperors. In the Japanese language, tenno is strictly distinguished from koutei who rules an empire — both are translated as emperor. Often in Japan, retired emperors would wield effective power over a child-emperor. At other times, a Shogun or Regent would wield effective power. By the end of the 20th century Japan was the only (real) country with an Emperor on the throne.


Haiti was declared an empire by its ruler, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who made himself Jacques I, in 1804. He was assassinated two years later. Haiti again became an empire from 1847 to 1859.


Brazil declared independence from Portugal in 1822, and made Dom Pedro, eldest son of the then-King of Portugal, who was acting as Regent, Emperor as Pedro I. The empire came to an end with the overthrow of Emperor Pedro II in 1889.


In Mexico, there were two short-lived attempts to create an Empire. Agustn de Iturbide, the general who helped secure Mexican independence from Spanish rule, was proclaimed Emperor Agustn I in 1822, but was overthrown the next year. In 1863, the invading French, in alliance with Mexican conservatives, proclaimed an empire and invited Archduke Maximilian, younger brother of the Austrian Emperor, to become emperor as Maximilian I. After the withdrawal of French protection in 1867, Maximilian was captured and executed by liberal forces.


Following the Chinese defeat by Japan in 1895, Korea declared total independence from China, and its King took the title of Taehan Hwangje, translated as Emperor. The empire came to an end with Japanese annexation in 1910.


After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, they proclaimed it to be the Empire of Manchukuo, and Pu Yi, the last Qing emperor of China, became puppet emperor. This puppet state came to an end with the Japanese defeat in 1945.


Although the Vietnamese rulers acknowledged the supremacy of China, and were known to the Chinese emperors as simply Kings of Annam, domestically they took on a full Chinese-style imperial regalia in 1806, and are usually referred to as Emperors in English. The line of Emperors came to an end with Bao Dai, who was deposed in 1945, although he later served as head of state of South Vietnam from 1949 to 1955.

Central African Empire

In 1976, president Jean-Bdel 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, and he was overthrown three years later, and the republic restored.

Lists of emperors

Emperors of traditional empires

Ancient empires

Medieval empires

Newer empires

Emperors of short-lived 'empires'

Self-proclaimed emperors

Fictional emperors

see list of fictional rulers

Fictional emperors by empire

Fictional emperors without named empire


  1. Template:Note Although not an Empire in the traditional sense of a large state with a large culturally diverse population, the Ethiopian monarchy (abolished in 1974) referred to its monarchs as Emperors.
  2. Template:Note Although the Emperor of Japan (born 1945) is classified as constitutional Monarch Emperor among political scientists, the constitution of Japan defines him only as a symbol of the nation and no law states his status as a political monarch or otherwise.

See also

no:Keiser da:Kejser de:Kaiser eo:Imperiestro es:Emperador et:Keiser fr:Empereur ko:황제 ja:皇帝 la:imperator nl:Keizer pl:Cesarz fi:Keisari pt:Imperador sl:Imperator sv:Kejsare vi:Hoàng đế zh:皇帝


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