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Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, shah of Iran from 1941 to 1979, was the last ruler to hold the title of shah.

Shah (/ʃɑː/; Persian: شاه, Šāh [ʃɒːh], lit.'king') is a royal title that was historically used by the leading figures of Indian and Iranian monarchies.[1] It was also used by a variety of Persianate societies, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Kazakh Khanate, the Khanate of Bukhara, the Emirate of Bukhara, the Mughal Empire, the Bengal Sultanate, historical Afghan dynasties, and among Gurkhas.[2] Rather than regarding himself as simply a king of the concurrent dynasty (i.e. European-style monarchies), each Iranian ruler regarded himself as the Shahanshah (شاهنشاه, Šâhanšâh, lit.'King of Kings') or Padishah (پادشاه, Pâdešâh, lit.'Master King') in the sense of a continuation of the original Persian Empire.


The word descends from Old Persian xšāyaθiya "king", which used to be considered a borrowing from Median,[3] as it was compared to Avestan xšaθra-, "power" and "command", corresponding to Sanskrit kṣatra- (same meaning), from which kṣatriya-, "warrior", is derived. Most recently, the form xšāyaθiya has been analyzed as a genuine, inherited Persian formation with the meaning 'pertaining to reigning, ruling'. This formation with the "origin" suffix -iya is derived from a deverbal abstract noun *xšāy-aθa- 'rule, ruling, Herrschaft', from the (Old Persian) verb xšāy- 'to rule, reign'.[4] The full, Old Persian title of the Achaemenid rulers of the First Persian Empire was Xšāyaθiya Xšāyaθiyānām or (Middle Persian) Šâhân Šâh, "King of Kings"[5] or "Emperor". This title has ancient Near Eastern or Mesopotamian precedents. The earliest attestation of such a title dates back to the Middle Assyrian period as šar šarrāni, in reference to the Assyrian ruler Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243–1207 BC).


Xerxes I (Xšayār̥šā) the great Shah of Persia.

Šāh, or Šāhanšāh (King of Kings) to use the full-length term, was the title of the Persian emperors. It includes rulers of the first Persian Empire, the Achaemenid dynasty, who unified Persia in the sixth century BC, and created a vast intercontinental empire, as well as rulers of succeeding dynasties throughout history until the 20th century and the Imperial House of Pahlavi.

While in Western sources the Ottoman monarch is most often referred to as a Sultan, in Ottoman territory he was most often referred to as Padishah and several used the title Shah in their tughras. Their male offspring received the title of Şehzade, or prince (literally, "offspring of the Shah", from Persian shahzadeh).

The full title of the Achaemenid rulers was Xšāyaθiya Xšāyaθiyānām, literally "King of Kings" in Old Persian, corresponding to Middle Persian Šâhân Šâh, and Modern Persian شاهنشاه (Šâhanšâh).[6][7] In Greek, this phrase was translated as βασιλεὺς τῶν βασιλέων (basileus tōn basiléōn), "King of Kings", equivalent to "Emperor". Both terms were often shortened to their roots shah and basileus.

In Western languages, Shah is often used as an imprecise rendering of Šāhanšāh. The term was first recorded in English in 1564 as a title for the King of Persia and with the spelling Shaw. For a long time, Europeans thought of Shah as a particular royal title rather than an imperial one, although the monarchs of Persia regarded themselves as emperors of the Persian Empire (later the Empire of Iran). The European opinion changed in the Napoleonic era, when Persia was an ally of the Western powers eager to make the Ottoman Sultan release his hold on various (mainly Christian) European parts of the Ottoman Empire, and western (Christian) emperors had obtained the Ottoman acknowledgement that their western imperial styles were to be rendered in Turkish as padishah.

In the twentieth century, the Shah of Persia, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, officially adopted the title شاهنشاه Šâhanšâh and, in western languages, the rendering Emperor. He also styled his wife شهبانو Shahbânū ("Empress"). Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the last Shah, as the Iranian monarchy was abolished after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Shah in the Armenian language[edit]

Armenian compound personal names often contain the element "šah," meaning "king" in Middle Persian and New Persian. These names can be found in both masculine and feminine forms and may include native Armenian or foreign components. The element "šah" can appear as either the first or second component and is sometimes part of doublet forms with the components reversed. For example, masculine names include Šah-amir and Amir-šah, Šah-paron and Paron-šah, and Vahram-šah; feminine names include Šah-xat‘un and Xat‘un-šah, and Šah-tikin.

Some examples of these compound names include masculine Šah-aziz and feminine Aziz-šah, masculine Sult‘an-šah and feminine Šah-sult‘an, and masculine Melik‘-šah and feminine Šah-melē/ik‘. These names, particularly the feminine forms, sometimes vary in gender depending on the source.

The name Artamšin, for instance, is based on *Artam from Old Iranian *R̥tāma-, interpreted as "having power of/from R̥ta." The auslaut of the Armenian name suggests a connection to the Iranian word for "king," šāh, found in various languages including Middle Persian and New Persian.

In another example, the name Šaštʻi is interpreted as "Šah-Lady," with the second component reflecting the Arabic term sittī, meaning "My lady, lady." This name is found in a colophon from the Kołbay monastery as the name of a sister of Dawitʻ and priest Vardan.

Overall, Armenian compound names containing the element "šah" provide insight into the linguistic and cultural interactions between Armenian and Iranian languages and cultures.[8]

Ruler styles[edit]

  • From the reign of Ashot II, the Bagratid kings of Armenia used the title shahanshah, meaning "king of kings".[9]
  • The title Padishah (Great King) was adopted from the Iranians by the Ottomans and by various other monarchs claiming imperial rank, such as the Mughals that established their dynasty in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Another subsidiary style of the Ottoman and Mughal rulers was Shah-i Alam Panah, meaning "the king that is the refuge of the world."
  • The Shah-Armens ("Kings of Armenia", sometimes known as Ahlahshahs), used the title Shāh-i Arman (lit. "Shah of Armenians").[10]
  • Some monarchs were known by a contraction of the kingdom's name with shah, such as Khwarezmshah, ruler of the realm of Khwarezmia in the Central Asia, or the Shirvanshah of the historical region of Shirvan in Caucasia (present-day Republic of Azerbaijan)
  • The kings of Georgia called themselves shahanshah alongside their other titles. The Georgian title mepetmepe (also meaning King of Kings [Mepe-king in Georgian]) was also inspired by the shahanshah title.


Shahzade (Persian: شاهزاده, transliterated as Šâhzâde). In the realm of a shah (or a loftier derived ruler style), a prince or princess of the royal blood was logically called shahzada as the term is derived from shah using the Persian patronymic suffix -zâde or -zâdeh, "born from" or "descendant of". However the precise full styles can differ in the court traditions of each shah's kingdom. This title was given to the princes of the Ottoman Empire (Şehzade, Ottoman Turkish: شهزاده) and was used by the princes of Islamic India (Shahzāda, Urdu: شہزاده, Bengali: শাহজাদা, romanizedShāhozāda) such as in the Mughal Empire. The Mughals and the Sultans of Delhi were of Indian origin and Mongol-Turkic origin but were heavily influenced by Persian culture,[11][12][13] a continuation of traditions and habits ever since Persian language was first introduced into the region by Persianised Turkic dynasties centuries earlier.[14][15]

Thus, in Oudh, only sons of the sovereign shah bahadur (see above) were by birth-right styled "Shahzada [personal title] Mirza [personal name] Bahadur", though this style could also be extended to individual grandsons and even further relatives. Other male descendants of the sovereign in the male line were merely styled "Mirza [personal name]" or "[personal name] Mirza". This could even apply to non-Muslim dynasties. For example, the younger sons of the ruling Sikh maharaja of Punjab were styled "Shahzada [personal name] Singh Bahadur".

The borrowing shahajada, "Shah's son", taken from the Mughal title Shahzada, was the usual princely title borne by the grandsons and male descendants of a Nepalese sovereign in the male line of the Shah dynasty until its abolition in 2008.

For the heir to a "Persian-style" shah's royal throne, more specific titles were used, containing the key element Vali Ahad, usually in addition to shahzada, where his junior siblings enjoyed this style.[16]

Other styles[edit]

  • Shahbanu (Persian شهبانو, Šahbânū): Persian term using the word shah and the Persian suffix -banu ("lady"): Empress, in modern times, the official title of Empress Farah Pahlavi.
  • Shahpur (Persian شاهپور Šâhpur) also been derived from shah using the archaic Persian suffix -pur "son, male descendant", to address the Prince.
  • Shahdokht (Persian شاهدخت Šâhdoxt) is also another term derived from shah using the Persian patronymic suffix -dokht "daughter, female descendant", to address the Princess of the imperial households.
  • Shahzade (Persian شاهزاده Šâhzâde): Persian termination for prince (lit; offspring of the Shah); used by Ottoman Turks in the form Şehzade.
  • Malek ol-Moluk (Persian: ملک الملوک) "king of kings", an Arabic title used by the Iranian Buyids, a Persianized form of the Abbasid amir al-umara

Related terms[edit]

  • Satrap, the term in Western languages for a governor of a Persian province, is a distortion of xšaθrapāvan, literally "guardian of the realm", which derives from the word xšaθra, an Old Persian word meaning "realm, province" and related etymologically to shah.
  • Deeply revered among both the Hindus and Muslims, 1st Guru of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev was referred to as 'Shah' by the Muslims and as' Fakir' by the Hindus, the highest honour in both the religions, and hence came to known as "Nanak Shah Fakir".
  • Maq'ad-è-Šâh (Persian: مقعد شاه Maq'ad-è-Šâh), the phrase from which the name of Mogadishu is believed to be derived, which means "seat of the Shah", a reflection of the city's early Persian influence.[17]
  • The English word "check-mate" is in fact derived from "shah" (from Persian via Arabic, Latin and French). Related terms such as "chess" and "exchequer" likewise originate from the Persian word, their modern senses having developed from the original meaning of the king piece.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yarshater, Ehsan Persia or Iran, Persian or Farsi Archived 2010-10-24 at the Wayback Machine, Iranian Studies, vol. XXII, no. 1 (1989)
  2. ^ Siddiq, Mohammad Yusuf (Spring–Summer 2015). "Titles and Islamic Culture as Reflected in the Islamic Architectural Inscriptions of Bengal (1205–1707)". Islamic Studies. 54 (1/2): 50–51. JSTOR 44629923. Shāh ... [a] Persian title, ... sometimes in different compound forms, such as Bādshāh or Pādshāh ... stands for monarch, which has become part of the popular vocabulary over years in a number of South Asian languages including Bengali, Urdu and Hindi, in addition to the languages of neighbouring regions. The last Afghan king Zāhīr Shāh, for instance, used to be called "Bādshāh" until his dethronement in 1973. Used by all the Mughal emperors in India, the title appeared in a few [Bengal] Sultanate inscriptions as well.
  3. ^ An introduction to Old Persian (p. 149). Prods Oktor Skjærvø. Harvard University. 2003.
  4. ^ Schmitt, Rüdiger (2014). Wörterbuch der altpersischen Königsinschriften. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag. pp. 286–287. ISBN 978-3954900176.
  5. ^ Old Persian. Appendices, Glossaries, Indices & Transcriptions. Prods Oktor Skjærvø. Harvard University. 2003.
  6. ^ D. N. MacKenzie. A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. Routledge Curzon, 2005. ISBN 0197135595
  7. ^ M. Mo’in. An Intermediate Persian Dictionary. Six Volumes. Amir Kabir Publications, Teheran, 1992.
  8. ^ Martirosyan, Hrach. Two Armenian Personal Names with Šah ‘King’.
  9. ^ Tim Greenwood, Emergence of the Bagratuni Kingdoms, p. 52, in Armenian Kars and Ani, Richard Hovannisian, ed.
  10. ^ Clifford Edmund Bosworth "The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual". "The Shāh-i Armanids", p. 197.
  11. ^ Richards, John F. (1995), The Mughal Empire, Cambridge University Press, p. 2, ISBN 978-0-521-56603-2, archived from the original on 22 September 2023, retrieved 9 August 2017 Quote: "Although the first two Timurid emperors and many of their noblemen were recent migrants to the subcontinent, the dynasty and the empire itself became indisputably Indian. The interests and futures of all concerned were in India, not in ancestral homelands in the Middle East or Central Asia. Furthermore, the Mughal Empire emerged from the Indian historical experience. It was the end product of a millennium of Muslim conquest, colonization, and state-building in the Indian subcontinent."
  12. ^ Schimmel, Annemarie (2004), The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture, Reaktion Books, p. 22, ISBN 978-1861891853
  13. ^ Balabanlilar, Lisa (2012), Imperial Identity in Mughal Empire: Memory and Dynastic Politics in Early Modern Central Asia, I.B. Tauris, p. 2, ISBN 978-1848857261
  14. ^ Sigfried J. de Laet. History of Humanity: From the seventh to the sixteenth century UNESCO, 1994. ISBN 9231028138 p. 734
  15. ^ Bennett, Clinton; Ramsey, Charles M. (2012). South Asian Sufis: Devotion, Deviation, and Destiny. ISBN 978-1441151278. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
  16. ^ Shahzada son of shah, Newsvine.com
  17. ^ David D. Laitin, Said S. Samatar, Somalia: Nation in Search of a State, (Westview Press: 1987), p. 12.
  18. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Shah" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 769.

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