, pronounced [sʊlˈtˤɑːn, solˈtˤɑːn]
) is a position
with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic abstract noun
meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", derived from the verbal noun سلطة
, meaning "authority" or "power" (cognate
with the Hebrew
word "Shilton" שלטון which retained that meaning to the present). Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), albeit without claiming the overall caliphate
, or to refer to a powerful governor
of a province within the caliphate. The adjective form of the word is "sultanic",
and the dynasty
and lands ruled by a sultan are referred to as a sultanate
The term is distinct from king
), despite both referring to a sovereign ruler. The use of "sultan" is restricted to Muslim countries, where the title carries religious significance,
contrasting the more secular king
, which is used in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries.
In recent years, "sultan" has been gradually replaced by "king" by contemporary hereditary rulers who wish to emphasize their secular authority under the rule of law. A notable example is Morocco
, whose monarch changed his title from sultan to king in 1957.
History of the term
The word derives from the Arabic and Semitic root salaṭa
“to be hard, strong”. The noun sulṭān
initially designated a kind of moral authority or spiritual power (as opposed to political power), and it is used in this sense several times in the Qur'an
In the early Muslim world
, ultimate power and authority was theoretically held by the Caliph
, who was considered the leader of the entire (Sunni
) Muslim community. The increasing political fragmentation of the Muslim world after the 8th century, however, challenged this consensus. Local governors with administrative authority held the title of amir
(traditionally translated as "commander" or "prince") and were appointed by the Caliph, but in the 9th century some of these became de facto
independent rulers who founded their own dynasties, such as the Aghlabids
Towards the late 10th century, the term "sultan" begins to be used to denote an individual ruler with practically sovereign authority,
although the early evolution of the term is complicated and difficult to establish.
The first major figure to clearly grant himself this title was the Ghaznavid
(r. 998 – 1030 CE) who controlled an empire over present-day Afghanistan
and the surrounding region.
Soon after, the Great Seljuks
adopted this title after defeating the Ghaznavid Empire and taking control of an even larger territory which included Baghdad
, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphs
. The early Seljuk leader Tughril Bey
was the first leader to adopt the epithet "sultan" on his coinage
While the Seljuks acknowledged the caliphs in Baghdad formally as the universal leader of the Muslim community
, their own political power clearly overshadowed the latter. This led to various Muslim scholars – notably Al-Juwayni
– attempting to develop theoretical justifications for the political authority of the Seljuk sultans within the framework of the formal supreme authority of the recognized caliphs. In general, the theories maintained that all legitimate authority derived from the Caliph, but that it was delegated to sovereign rulers whom the Caliph recognized. Al-Ghazali, for example, argued that while the Caliph was the guarantor of Islamic law (shari'a
), coercive power was required to enforce the law in practice and the leader who exercised that power directly was the sultan.
The position of sultan continued to grow in importance during the period of the Crusades
, when leaders who held the title of "sultan" (such as Salah ad-Din
and the Ayyubid dynasty
) led the confrontation against the Crusader states
in the Levant
Views about the office of the sultan further developed during the crisis that followed the destruction of Baghdad
by the Mongols
in 1258, which eliminated the remnants of Abbasid political power. Thenceforth, the surviving descendants of the Abbasid caliphs lived in Cairo
under the protection of the Mamluks
and were still nominally recognized by the latter. However, from this time on they effectively had no authority and were not universally recognized across the Sunni Muslim world.
As protectors of the line of the Abbasid Caliphs, the Mamluks recognized themselves as sultans and the Muslim scholar Khalil al-Zahiri argued that only they could hold that title.
Nonetheless, in practice, many Muslim rulers of this period were now using the title as well. Mongol rulers (who had since converted to Islam) and other Turkish rulers were among those who did so.
The position of sultan and caliph began to blend together in the 16th century when the Ottoman Empire
conquered the Mamluk Empire and became the indisputable leading Sunni Muslim power across most of the Middle East
, North Africa
, and Eastern Europe
. The 16th-century Ottoman scholar and jurist, Ebüssuûd Mehmet Efendi
, recognized the Ottoman sultan
(Suleiman the Magnificent
at the time) as the Caliph and universal leader of all Muslims.
This conflation of sultan and caliph became more clearly emphasized in the 19th century during the Ottoman Empire's territorial decline, when Ottoman authorities sought to cast the sultan as the leader of the entire Muslim community in the face of European (Christian
) colonial expansion
As part of this narrative, it was claimed that when Sultan Selim I
captured Cairo in 1517, the last descendant of the Abbasids in Cairo formally passed on the position of caliph to him.
This combination thus elevated the sultan's religious or spiritual authority, in addition to his formal political authority.
During this later period, the title of sultan was still used outside the Ottoman Empire as well, as with the examples of the Somali aristocrats
, Malay nobles
and the sultans of Morocco
(such as the Alaouite dynasty
founded in the 17th century).
It was, however, not used as a sovereign title by Shi'a
Muslim rulers. The Safavid dynasty
, who controlled the largest Shi'a Muslim state of this era, mainly used the Persian
, a tradition which continued under subsequent dynasties. The term sultan
, by contrast, was mainly given to provincial governors within their realm.
As a feminine form of sultan
, used by Westerners, is Sultana
and this title has been used legally for some (not all) Muslim women
monarchs and sultan's mothers and chief consorts. However, Turkish
and Ottoman Turkish
also uses sultan
for imperial lady, as Turkish grammar
—which is influenced by Persian grammar
—uses the same words for both women and men. However, this styling misconstrues the roles of wives of sultans. In a similar usage, the wife of a German field marshal
might be styled Frau Feldmarschall
(similarly, in French, constructions of the type madame la maréchale
were historically used for the wives of office-holders). The female leaders in Muslim history
are correctly known as "sultanas". However, the wife of the sultan in the Sultanate of Sulu
is styled as the "panguian" while the sultan's chief wife in many sultanates of Indonesia
are known as "permaisuri", "Tunku Ampuan", "Raja Perempuan", or "Tengku Ampuan". The queen consort
especially is known as Raja Isteri
with the title of Pengiran Anak
suffixed, should the queen consort also be a royal princess.
Compound ruler titles
Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV
attended by a eunuch and two pages.
These are generally secondary titles, either lofty 'poetry' or with a message, e.g.:
- Mani Sultan = Manney Sultan (meaning the "Pearl of Rulers" or "Honoured Monarch") - a subsidiary title, part of the full style of the Maharaja of Travancore
- Sultan of Sultans - the sultanic equivalent of the style King of Kings
- Certain secondary titles have a devout Islamic connotation; e.g., Sultan ul-Mujahidin as champion of jihad (to strive and to struggle in the name of Allah).
- Sultanic Highness - a rare, hybrid western-Islamic honorific style exclusively used by the son, daughter-in-law and daughters of Sultan Hussein Kamel of Egypt (a British protectorate since 1914), who bore it with their primary titles of Prince (Amir; Turkish: Prens) or Princess, after 11 October 1917. They enjoyed these titles for life, even after the Royal Rescript regulating the styles and titles of the Royal House following Egypt's independence in 1922, when the sons and daughters of the newly styled king (malik Misr, considered a promotion) were granted the title Sahib(at) us-Sumuw al-Malaki, or Royal Highness.
Former sultans and sultanates
Sultanates in Anatolia and Central Asia
Levant and Arabian peninsula
- in Syria:
- in present-day Yemen, various small sultanates of the defunct Aden Protectorate and South Arabia:
, Lower Aulaqi
, Lower Yafa
, Upper Aulaqi
, Upper Yafa
and the Wahidi
- in present-day Saudi Arabia :
- Oman – Sultan of Oman (authentically referred to as Hami), on the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula, still an independent sultanate, since 1744 (assumed the formal title of Sultan in 1861)
Horn of Africa
- Ajuran Sultanate, in southern Somalia and eastern Ethiopia
- Adal Sultanate, in western Somaliland, southern Djibouti, and the Somali, Harari and Afar regions of Ethiopia
- Majeerteen Sultanate (Migiurtinia), in northern Somalia
- Isaaq Sultanate, in Somaliland and the Somali of Ethiopia.
- Habr Yunis Sultanate, in Somaliland and Somali of Ethiopia.
- Sultanate of the Geledi, in southern Somalia
- Sultanate of Aussa, in northeastern Ethiopia
- Sultanate of Harar, in eastern Ethiopia
- Sultanate of Hobyo, in central Somalia
- Sultanate of Ifat, in Somaliland, Djibouti and eastern Ethiopia
- Sultanate of Mogadishu, in south-central Somalia
- Sultanate of Showa, in central Ethiopia
- Bimaal Sultanate, in south eastern Somalia centred in Merka
Southeast Africa and Indian Ocean
Apparently derived from the Arabic malik
, this was the alternative native style of the sultans of the Kilwa Sultanate
(presently the continental part of Tanzania).
Sultanate of Zanzibar
: two incumbents (from the Omani dynasty) since the de facto separation from Oman in 1806, the last assumed the title Sultan in 1861 at the formal separation under British auspices;
since 1964 union with Tanganyika (part of Tanzania
is the (Ki)Swahili
title of various native Muslim rulers, generally rendered in Arabic and in western languages as Sultan:
This was the native ruler's title in the Tanzanian state of Uhehe.
West and Central Africa
- In Cameroon:
- Bamoun (Bamun, 17th century, founded uniting 17 chieftaincies) 1918 becomes a sultanate, but in 1923 re-divided into the 17 original chieftaincies.
- Bibemi, founded in 1770 - initially styled lamido
- Mandara Sultanate, since 1715 (replacing Wandala kingdom); 1902 Part of Cameroon
- Rey Bouba Sultanate founded 1804
- in the Central African Republic:
- Bangassou created c.1878; 14 June 1890 under Congo Free State protectorate, 1894 under French protectorate; 1917 Sultanate suppressed by the French.
- Dar al-Kuti - French protectorate since December 12, 1897
- Rafai c.1875 Sultanate, 8 April 1892 under Congo Free State protectorate, March 31, 1909 under French protectorate; 1939 Sultanate suppressed
- Zemio c.1872 established; December 11, 1894 under Congo Free State protectorate, April 12, 1909 under French protectorate; 1923 Sultanate suppressed
- in Niger: Arabic alternative title of the following autochthonous rulers:
- in Nigeria most monarchies previously had native titles, but when most in the north converted to Islam, Muslim titles were adopted, such as emir and sometimes sultan.
Southeast and East Asia
- Dali, Yunnan, capital of the short-lived Panthay Rebellion
Furthermore, the Qa´id Jami al-Muslimin
(Leader of the Community of Muslims) of Pingnan Guo
("Pacified South State", a major Islamic rebellious polity in western Yunnan province) is usually referred to in foreign sources as Sultan.
- Ili Sultanate [zh]
Sultans of sovereign states
Sultans in Federal Monarchies
- Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Malaysian State of Johor, The Abode of Dignity and its occupied territories
- Sultan Sallehuddin, Sultan and Yang-di Pertuan of Malaysian State of Kedah,the Abode of Safety
- Sultan Muhammad V, Al-Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Malaysian State of Kelantan, the Abode of Bliss and its dependencies
- Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, Sultan and Ruler of Malaysian State of Pahang, the Abode of Tranquility
- Sultan Nazrin Shah, Sultan, Yang di-Pertuan and the Ruler of Malaysian State of Perak, the Abode of Grace and its dependencies
- Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Malaysian State of Selangor, the Abode of Sincerity
- Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Malaysian State of Terengganu, the Abode of Faith
Sultan with power within Republic
Princely and aristocratic titles
By the beginning of the 16th century, the title sultan was carried by both men and women of the Ottoman dynasty and was replacing other titles by which prominent members of the imperial family had been known (notably khatun for women and bey for men). This usage underlines the Ottoman conception of sovereign power as family prerogative.
Western tradition knows the Ottoman ruler as "sultan", but Ottomans themselves used "padişah" (emperor) or "hünkar" to refer to their ruler. The emperor's formal title consisted of "sultan" together with "khan" (for example, Sultan Suleiman Khan). In formal address, the sultan's children were also entitled "sultan", with imperial princes (Şehzade) carrying the title before their given name, with imperial princesses carrying it after. Example, Şehzade Sultan Mehmed
and Mihrimah Sultan
, son and daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent. Like imperial princesses, living mother and main consort of reigning sultan also carried the title after their given names, for example, Hafsa Sultan
, Suleiman's mother and first valide sultan
, and Hürrem Sultan
, Suleiman's chief consort and first haseki sultan
. The evolving usage of this title reflected power shifts among imperial women, especially between Sultanate of Women
, as the position of main consort eroded over the course of 17th century, the main consort lost the title "sultan", which replaced by "kadin", a title related to the earlier "khatun". Henceforth, the mother of the reigning sultan was the only person of non imperial blood to carry the title "sultan".
In a number of post-caliphal states under Mongol
rule, there was a feudal
type of military hierarchy. These administrations were often decimal (mainly in larger empires), using originally princely titles such as khan
as mere rank denominations.
In the Persian empire
, the rank of sultan was roughly equivalent to that of a modern-day captain
in the West; socially in the fifth-rank class, styled 'Ali Jah
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sultans
- ^ Sultanic - Define sultan at dictionary.com
- ^ James Edward Montgomery (2004). ʻAbbasid Studies: Occasional Papers of the School of ʻAbbasid Studies, Cambridge, 6-10 July 2002. Peeters Publishers. p. 83. ISBN 978-90-429-1433-9.
- ^ Riad Aziz Kassis (1999). The Book of Proverbs and Arabic Proverbial Works. BRILL. p. 65. ISBN 90-04-11305-3.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i Kramers, J.H.; Bosworth, C.E.; Schumann, O.; Kane, Ousmane (2012). "Sulṭān". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill.
- ^ Duri, A.A. (2012). "Amīr". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill.
- ^ a b c Esposito, John L., ed. (2003). "Sultan". The Islamic World: Past and Present. Oxford University Press.
- ^ a b c d Turan, Ebru (2009). "Sultan". In Esposito, John L. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford University Press.
- ^ a b c Finkel, Caroline (2012). Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300-1923. John Murray Press. ISBN 9781848547858.
- ^ Peirce, Leslie P. (1993). The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507673-7.
Last edited on 1 June 2021, at 20:12
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