- Emperor is also a Norwegian black metal band; see Emperor (band).
An emperor is a monarch and sovereign ruler of an empire or any other imperial realm. Emperors are generally recognised to be above kings in honour. They may obtain their position hereditarily, or by force, such as a coup d'état.
Derivation of emperor
The English term for emperor is derived from the Latin imperator (literally, "one who prepares against"; loosely, "commander"). In German the title Kaiser was used in both the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German Empire and in some Slavic languages tsar was used, both of which are derived from Caesar.
Imperator was originally a title used by the highest-ranking Roman commanders, roughly comparable to field marshal or commander-in-chief. Caesar was a traditional family cognomen (nickname) of Gaius Julius Caesar (100 BC-44 BC), who never was an emperor himself but rather the last dictator of the Roman Republic. The name of Caesar lived on by adoption in the first Roman Emperor, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (better known as Caesar Augustus). This was not a constitutional office but rather a complicated collection of offices, titles, and honours, however the Emperors did not rule by the virtue of any republican or senatorial office, rather they derived their power from the title Princeps ("First Citizen").
In Persia from the time of the Cyrus the Great, Persian emperors used the title "Shahanshah" which is translated as emperor and is literally "King of Kings". In Ethiopia, Emperors claiming decent 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. In China the designation "Emperor" was first introduced when Qin Shi Huang named himself the First Emperor. In Japan a ruler in Yamato court was called "Tenno" (usually translated as emperor), 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.
Sometimes a retired emperor has actual power instead of the ruling emperor.
Today there is only one remaining emperor, the Emperor of Japan¹.
Use of the title in western Europe
The title was used in western Europe by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from December 25, 800 until August 6, 1806.
The exclusivity of the title Emperor in western 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 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'état, and lost it when he was deposed on September 4, 1870 by the Third Republic. It has not been used in France since then.
On August 11, 1804 anticipating the eventual collapse of the Holy Roman Empire (the "First Reich") at the behest of Napoleon I, Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire 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. The title has not been used in Austria since Emperor Karl of Austria "relinquished every participation in the administration of the State" on November 11, 1918.
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.
It being intolerable to the British that their mighty Queen be outranked by her own daughter, and encouraged by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1876, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom followed suit and 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.
List of empires
- Austrian Empire, 1804–1867 and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1867–1918 (both under the Habsburgs)
- Empire of Brazil (Peter I, 1822–1831 and Peter II, 1831–1889)
- French Empire (Napoleon I, 1804–1814 and Napoleon III, 1852–1870)
- German Empire (under the Hohenzollerns, 1871–1918)
- India (under the British Raj with British Monarch as Emperor of India, 1876–1947)
- Russian Empire (under the Romanovs, 1721–1917)
- Korean Empire (Gojong, 1897–1907 and Sunjong, 1907–1910)
Emperors of short-lived 'empires'
- The dubiously clothed Emperor (a fictional emperor who is a victim of his own overconfidence and denial of fallibility)
- 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.
- 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.