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Pahlavi Crown of Imperial Iran (heraldry) "Shahanshah" redirects here. For other uses, see Shah (disambiguation) and Shahanshah (disambiguation).

Shah is a royal title that was historically used by the leading figures of Iranian monarchies. 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. 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 (???????, Shansh, lit. 'King of Kings') or Padishah (??????, Pdesh, lit. 'Master King') in the sense of a continuation of the original Persian Empire.

Table of contents
  1. Etymology
  2. History
  3. Ruler styles
  4. Shahzade
  5. Other styles
  6. Related terms
  7. See also


The word descends from Old Persian xsaya?iya "king", which used to be considered a borrowing from Median, as it was compared to Avestan xsa?ra-, "power" and "command", corresponding to Sanskrit (Old Indic) ksatra- (same meaning), from which ksatriya-, "warrior", is derived. Most recently, the form xsaya?iya 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 *xsay-a?a- 'rule, ruling, Herrschaft', from the (Old Persian) verb xsay- 'to rule, reign'. The full, Old Persian title of the Achaemenid rulers of the First Persian Empire was Xsaya?iya Xsaya?iyanam or (Modern Persian) Sahe Sahan, "King of Kings" 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 sar sarrani, in reference to the Assyrian ruler Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243-1207 BC).


Sah, or Sahansah (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 twentieth 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 Sehzade, or prince (literally, "offspring of the Shah", from Persian shahzadeh).

The full title of the Achaemenid rulers was Xsaya?iya Xsaya?iyanam, literally "King of Kings" in Old Persian, corresponding to Middle Persian Shn Sh, and Modern Persian ??????? (Shansh). In Greek, this phrase was translated as B??????? ??? B??????? (basileus ton basilon), "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 Sahansah. 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 ??????? Shansh and, in western languages, the rendering Emperor. He also styled his wife ?????? Shahbnu ("Empress"). Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the last Shah, as the Iranian monarchy was abolished after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Ruler styles


Shahzade (Persian: ???????, transliterated as Shzde). 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 -zde or -zdeh, "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 (Sehzade, Ottoman Turkish: ??????) and was used by the princes of Islamic India (Shahzada, Urdu: ??????, Bengali: ???????, romanized:Shahozada) such as in the Mughal Empire. The Mughals and the Sultans of Delhi were not of Indian origin but of Mongol-Turkic origin and were heavily influenced by Persian culture, a continuation of traditions and habits ever since Persian language was first introduced into the region by Persianised Turkic and Afghan dynasties centuries earlier.

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.

Other styles

Related terms

See also

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