A petty kingdom is one of a number of small kingdoms, described as minor or "petty" by contrast to an empire or unified kingdom that either preceded or succeeded it (e.g. the numerous kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England unified into the Kingdom of England in the 10th century, or the numerous Gaelic kingdoms of Ireland unified under the Kingdom of England as the Kingdom of Ireland in the 16th). Alternatively, a petty kingdom would be a minor kingdom in the immediate vicinity of larger kingdoms, such as the medieval Kingdom of Mann and the Isles relative to the kingdoms of Scotland or England or the Viking kingdoms of Scandinavia.
In the context of the Dark Ages or the prehistoric Iron Age such minor kingdoms are also known as tribal kingdoms. In the parallel Southeast Asian political model, petty kingdoms were known as Mueang.
By the European High Middle Ages, many post-Roman Early Middle Ages petty kingdoms had evolved into principalities, grand duchies, or duchies. By the European Early Modern era many of these principalities had been mediatized into larger monarchies, but the ruling families were considered morganatic for marriage considerations, and ranked equal to royal families in society. The various small states of the Holy Roman Empire are generally not considered to be petty kingdoms since they were at least nominally subject to the Holy Roman Emperor and not fully independent.
Beyliks were small Turkish principalities (or petty kingdoms) governed by Beys, which were founded across Anatolia at the end of the 11th century in a first period, and more extensively during the decline of the Seljuq Sultanate of Rum during the second half of the 13th century.
The Ottoman Empire quickly collected itself under Mehmed I and his son Murad II re-incorporated most of these beyliks into Ottoman territory in a space of around 25 years. The final blow for the Karamanids was struck by Mehmed II who conquered their lands and re-assured a homogeneous rule in Anatolia. The further steps towards a single rule by the Ottomans were taken by Selim I who conquered territories of Ramadanids and Dulkadirids in 1515 during his campaign against the Mamluks, and his son Süleyman the Magnificent who more or less completely united the present territories of Turkey (and much more) in his 1534 campaign. Many of the former Anatolian beyliks became the basis for administrative subdivisions in the Ottoman Empire.
Before the Kingdom of England was established as a united entity, there were various kingdoms in the area—of which the main seven were known as the heptarchy. These were Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria (also extended into present-day Scotland), East Anglia, Sussex, Kent, and Essex.
The earliest known kingdoms or tribes in Ireland are referred to in Ptolemy's Geography, written in the 2nd century. He names the Vennicni, Rhobogdi, Erdini, Magnatae, Autini, Gangani, Vellabori, Darini, Voluntii (identified as the Ulaidh nation or Uluti tribe), Eblani, Cauci, Menapii, Coriondi and Brigantes tribes and kingdoms.
Irish medieval pseudohistory gives a seemingly idealized division of kingdoms. The island is divided into "fifths" (Old Irish cóiceda, Modern Irish cúige). There is Ulaidh (Ulster) in the north, Cóiced Ol nEchmacht (Connacht) in the west, Mumha or Mhumhain (Munster) in the south, and Laighin (Leinster) in the east. They all surround the central kingdom of Míde (whose name has survived in the modern counties Meath and Westmeath). Each of the outer four fifths had their own king, with the High King of Ireland ruling over them from Tara in Míde.
In historical times Míde disappeared as a province. The four remaining fifths contained large numbers of tuatha or sub-kingdoms, constantly shifting as old dynasties died and new ones formed.
Before the unification of Nepal by the Shah Dynasty there were dozens of petty kingdoms. The Karnali region was called the Baise Rajya (Nepali: बाइसे राज्य, i.e. 22 Kingdoms and the Gandaki region to the east was called Chaubisi rajya (Nepali: चौबिसी राज्य), i.e. 24 Kingdoms.
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In the early Viking Age, there were several different petty kingdoms. Spurred by the unification of several of these kingdoms under Halfdan the Black and his son Harald Fairhair, the country unified around year 872.
Some of the kingdoms:
Medieval Serbia comprised, at various time periods, smaller kingdoms of Rascia, Zeta (Dioclea, corresponding to portions of contemporary Montenegro), Syrmia and the duchy of Hum (roughly corresponding to present-day Herzegovina and some of its surroundings).
There were many petty kingdoms in Scotland before its unification. They can be grouped by language:
- Cumbric (see Hen Ogledd):
According to the Norse sagas, and modern history, Sweden was divided into more-or-less independent units in some areas corresponding to the folklands and the modern traditional provinces. According to the sagas, the folklands and provinces of eastern Svealand were united under the Swedish king at Gamla Uppsala. Moreover, the domains of this king could also include parts of Götaland and even southern Norway. This probably reflects the volatile politics of Iron Age Scandinavia. The province of Småland once consisted of several petty kingdoms as also the meaning of the word Småland reveals (Små land = Small Lands/countries).
Rarely has the country of Wales formed one cohesive kingdom. For the greater part of its history, Wales evolved into four petty kingdoms, or principalities, following the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century. Mountainous geography, forested glens, river valleys, and upland moors contributed to a strong sense of localism and autonomy, though the Welsh people shared a deeply felt sentiment of nationality, as reflected in Welsh law codified in the 10th century. According to historian Professor John Davies, there are four geographic regions more or less equal in terms of resources and population, from which four principalities emerged: Ynys Môn for Gwynedd, the Severn river valley for Powys, the Vale for Glamorgan and the lands up to the Wye (Morgannwg), and the Ystrad Tywi (Valley of the Tywi) for Deheubarth. Rhodri the Great inherited Gwynedd from his father and Powys through his mother, and married Angharad of Seisyllwg (Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire) and ruling there by right of his wife. Rhodri exerted great influence in the rest of Wales as well, and after his death his realms were divided amongst his sons. Nevertheless, the House of Aberffraw of Gwynedd, as the senior line descendants of Rhodri the Great, claimed overlordship over the whole of Wales, though they would encounter resistance by junior dynasts of Dinefwr. It would not be until the 1216 Council of Aberdyfi that the Aberffraw line under Llywelyn the Great would be able to secure their position as Prince of the Welsh.
- Gwynedd 5th century–1282 (conquest by Edward I of England)
- Deheubarth 920-1116 (Merged with Gwynedd to form the de facto Principality of Wales)
- Seisyllwg, a petty kingdom from 680–920, comprising Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi. In 871, Princess Angharad inherited Seisyllwg, and her husband Rhodri of Gwynedd-Powys administered it by right of his wife on her behalf, and incorporated it into his kingdom. Later, Angharad and Rhodri gave Seisyllwg to their second son Cadell ap Rhodri to rule as a vassal and appendage of Gwynedd. Cadell founded the Dinefwr dynasty of Deheubarth.
- Kingdom of Morgannwg
- Forsyth, "Lost Pictish Source", Watson, Celtic Place Names, pp. 108–109.
- Bruford, "What happened to the Caledonians", Watson, Celtic Place Names, pp. 108–113.