Today the Emperor of Japan is the only remaining emperor on throne in the world.
Outside the European context, "emperor" is a translation given to holders of titles who are accorded the same precedence as European emperors in diplomatic terms. In reciprocity, these rulers may accredit equal titles in their native languages to their European peers. Due to centuries of international convention, this has become the dominant rule to identifying an emperor in the modern era.
Also, historians have liberally used "emperor" and "empire" anachronistically and out of its Roman and European context to describe any large state and its ruler in the past and present. "Empire" became identified with vast territorial holdings rather than the title of its ruler by the mid-18th century. Voltaire sardonically described the Holy Roman Empire as "neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire" since by his time it was little more than an informal association of German states and its "Emperor", though ruler of Austria and king of Hungary and Bohemia, had almost no authority within the non-Austrian parts of the territory.
In the Roman tradition a large variety in the meaning and importance of the imperial form of monarchy developed: in intention it was always the highest office, but it could as well fall down to a redundant title for nobility that had never been near to the "Empire" they were supposed to be reigning. Also the name of the position split in several branches of Western tradition, see below.
Importance and meaning of Coronation ceremonies and regalia also varied within the tradition: for instance Holy Roman Emperors could only be crowned emperor by the pope, which meant the coronation ceremony usually took place in Rome, often several years after these emperors had ascended to the throne (as "king") in their home country. The first Latin Emperors of Constantinople on the other hand had to be present in the newly conquered capital of their Empire, because that was the only place where they could be granted to become Emperor.
Early Roman Emperors avoided any type of ceremony or regalia different from what was already usual for 'republican' offices in the Roman Republic: the most intrusive change had been changing the color of their robe to 'purple'. Later new symbols of worldly and/or spiritual power, like the orb became an essential part of the Imperial accessories.
Rules for indicating successors also varied: there was a tendency towards male inheritance of the supreme office, but as well election by noblemen, as ruling Empresses (for empires not too strictly under salic law) are known. Ruling monarchs could additionally steer the succession by adoption, as often occurred in the two first centuries of Imperial Rome. Of course, intrigue, murder and military force could also mingle in for appointing successors, the Roman Imperial tradition made no exception to other monarchical traditions in this respect. Probably the epoch best known for this part of the Imperial tradition is Rome's third century rule.
When Republican Rome turned into a monarchy again, in the second half of the 1st century BC, at first there was no name for the title of the new type of monarch: ancient Romans abhorred the name Rex ("king"), and after Julius Caesar also Dictator (which was an acknowledged office in Republican Rome, Julius Caesar not being the first to hold it).
Augustus, who can be considered the first Roman Emperor, avoided naming himself anything that could be reminiscent of "monarchy" or "dictatorship". Instead, these first Emperors constructed their office as a complicated collection of offices, titles, and honours, that were consolidated around a single person and his closest relatives (while in the republic the "taking of turns", often in shared offices, had been the principle for passing on power). These early Roman emperors didn't need a specific name for their monarchy: they had enough offices and powers accumulated so that in any field of power they were "unsurpassable", and besides: it was clear who had supreme power. The supreme power could poison, exile, or try for treason any who did not obey.
As the first Roman Emperors did not rule by virtue of any particular republican or senatorial office, the name given to the office of "head of state" in this new monarchical form of government became different depending on tradition, none of these traditions consolidated in the early days of the Roman Empire:
After the problematic year 69, the Flavian Dynasty reigned for about half a century. The succeeding Nerva-Antonine Dynasty, ruling for most of the 2nd century, stabilised the Empire. This epoch became known as the era of the Five Good Emperors, and was followed by the short-lived Severan Dynasty.
During the Crisis of the 3rd century, Barracks Emperors succeeded one another at short intervals. Three short lived secessionist attempts had their own emperors: the Gallic Empire, the Britannic Empire, and the Palmyrene Empire though the latter used rex more regularly. The next period, known as the Dominate, started with the Tetrarchy installed by Diocletian.
Through most of the 4th century, there were separate emperors for the Western and Eastern part of the Empire. Although there were several dynastic relations between the Emperors of both parts, they also often were adversaries. The last Emperor to rule a unified Roman Empire was Theodosius. Less than a century after his death in 395, the last Emperor of the Western half of the Empire was driven out.
Historians generally call the eastern part of the Roman Empire the Byzantine Empire due to its capital Constantinople, whose ancient name was Byzantium (now Istanbul). After the fall of Rome to barbarian forces in 476, the title of "emperor" lived on in rulers of Constantinople (New Rome).
The Byzantine Emperors completed the transition from the idea of the Emperor as a semi-republican official to the Emperor as a traditional monarch when Emperor Heraclius retained the title of Basileus, already a synonym for "Emperor" (but which had earlier designated "King" in Greek) in the first half of the seventh century. A specifically Byzantine development of emperor's position was cesaropapism, position as leader of Christians.
In general usage, the Byzantine imperial title evolved from simply "emperor" (basileus), to "emperor of the Romans" (basileus tōn Rōmaiōn) in the 9th century, to "emperor and autocrat of the Romans" (basileus kai autokratōr tōn Rōmaiōn) in the 10th. In fact, none of these (and other) additional epithets and titles had ever been completely discarded.
Eventually, the Nicaean Emperors were successful in reclaiming the Byzantine imperial title. They managed to force Epirus into submission and retake Constantinople by 1261, but Trebizond remained independent. The restored Byzantine empire finally fell due to Ottoman invasion in 1453. The Trapezuntines produced three reigning empresses before they too were defeated by the Ottomans in 1461.
After the discontinuation of the title of Emperor in Western Europe in 476, it was revived in the Middle Ages. What connected these Emperors to "Rome" was that they were supposed to be crowned by the Pope, usually in Rome. So in this branch of Roman Emperors, Roman had an implied connotation of Roman Catholic, hence the epithet Holy.
On 25 December, 800, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, was crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome. This was seen both as a reaction to the supposed vacancy of the Eastern Empire, due to the presence of a woman, Irene on the throne in Constantinople, and as a revival of the Western Roman Empire, and descendants of Charlemagne continued to be crowned in Rome until the late 9th century. After the death of Charles the Fat in 888, the Popes intermittently bestowed the imperial title upon whomever was momentarily the most powerful lord in northern Italy, and after Berengar of Friuli was deposed in 922, the title lay vacant for decades.
In 962, Otto I, King of the Eastern Franks was crowned Emperor by the Pope. The Holy Roman Empire, such as it was, consisted of the German Kingdoms, Italy, and Burgundy (including most of the Low Countries), but it continued to have theoretical claims of universal suzerainty over the Latin west.
After the 13th century and the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty which led to a 62 year interregnum, the universalistic aspirations of the Emperors became increasingly theoretical, and their control over Italy, still seen as the locus of the proper empire, became increasingly tenuous. Rather than being hereditary, emperors were chosen by the prince-electors, in a process codified by the Golden Bull of 1356.
Coronations in Rome became rarer and rarer, until in 1508, King Maximilian I, after receiving permission from the pope, declared himself Emperor-Elect without having been crowned in Rome. Although Maximilian's grandson and successor, Charles V, was crowned in Bologna in 1530 by the Pope, he was the last, and thereafter the position of Holy Roman Emperor was a wholly German post until the Empire's dissolution in August 6, 1806.
Even in Germany itself, real control was increasingly tenuous, as various local princes increased their power, so that the Habsburg emperors who ruled almost continuously from 1438 until the end of the empire derived their power much more from their hereditary lands in the south-eastern part of the monarchy than from their position as emperor. As religious differences added to the tensions, compromise was needed (Peace of Augsburg, 1555). The Habsburg dynasty attempted to reassert authority over the Empire in the Thirty Years' War, which ended with the Peace of Westphalia (1648) that recognized princes sort of sovereign instead of dependents.
The impotence of the Emperors' position became most nakedly apparent during the brief reign of Charles VII from 1742 to 1745. As Duke of Bavaria, Charles was the only non-Habsburg emperor for the last three hundred fifty years of the empire's existence, and his utter inability even to protect his own hereditary lands from the forces of his enemy, Maria Theresa, the Habsburg heiress, showed how empty the position of Holy Roman Emperor had become.
On 11 August, 1804 anticipating the eventual collapse of the Holy Roman Empire at the behest of Napoleon I, Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor 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.
When the Empire was formed, there was much debate about how to precisely phrase the title of the monarch. One of the contributions to this debate was Kaiser von Deutschland ("Emperor of Germany"), another one being Kaiser der Deutschen ("Emperor of the Germans"). Finally, Deutscher Kaiser ("German Emperor"), the version expressing the least degree of superiority to the rulers of the other principalities, was agreed upon.
Byzantine recognition of Simeon's imperial title was revoked by the succeeding Byzantine government. The decade 914–924 was spent in destructive warfare between Byzantium and Bulgaria over this and other matters of conflict. The Bulgarian monarch, who had further irritated his Byzantine counterpart by claiming the title "Emperor of the Romans" (basileus tōn Rōmaiōn), was eventually recognized, as "Emperor of the Bulgarians" (basileus tōn Boulgarōn) by the Byzantine Emperor Romanos I Lakapenos in 924. Byzantine recognition of the imperial dignity of the Bulgarian monarch and the patriarchal dignity of the Bulgarian patriarch was again confirmed at the conclusion of permanent peace and a Bulgarian-Byzantine dynastic marriage in 927. In the meantime, the Bulgarian imperial title may have been also confirmed by the Pope. The Bulgarian imperial title "Tsar" was adopted by all Bulgarian monarchs up to the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule. 14th century Bulgarian literary compositions clearly denote the Bulgarian capital (Tărnovo) as a successor of Rome and Constantinople, in effect, the "Third Rome".
It should be noted that after Bulgaria obtained full independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1908, its monarch, who was previously styled "Knyaz", i.e Prince, took the traditional title of "Tsar", but was recognized internationally only as a King.
On 31 October, 1721 Peter I was proclaimed Emperor by the Senate-the title used was Latin "Imperator", which is a westernizing form equivalent to the traditional Slavic title "Tsar". He based his claim partially upon a letter discovered in 1717 written in 1514 from Maximilian I to Vasili III, Sophia's son and Ivan IV's father, in which the Holy Roman Emperor used the term in referring to Vasili. The title has not been used in Russia since the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II on 15 March, 1917.
Imperial Russia produced four reigning Empresses, all in the eighteenth century.
Napoleon Bonaparte who was already First Consul of the French Republic (Premier Consul de la République française) for life, declared himself Emperor of the French (Empereur des Français) on May 18, 1804. Despite being ruled by an emperor, it continued to be the French Republic (République Française) until 1808, when it was renamed the French Empire (Empire Français).
Napoleon relinquished the title of Emperor of the French on 6 April and again on April 11, 1814. Napoleon's infant son, Napoleon II, was recognized by the Council of Peers, as Emperor from the moment of his father's abdication, and theoretically reigned as "Emperor" for fifteen days, June 22 to July 7 of 1815.
On 26 February 1815, Napoleon abandoned Elba for France, reviving the French Empire for Hundred Days; as this broke the terms of his parole, the Allies declared an end to Napoleon's sovereignty over Elba on 25 March 1815, and on 31 March 1815 Elba was ceded to the restored Grand Duchy of Tuscany by the Congress of Vienna. After his final defeat, Bonaparte was stripped of every imperial privilege during his second exile to Atlantic Isle of St. Helena.
King Sancho III of Navarre conquered Leon in 1034 and began using it. His son, Ferdinand I of Castile also took the title in 1039. Ferdinand's son, Alfonso VI of Castile took the title in 1077. It then passed to his son-in-law, Alfonso I of Aragon in 1109. His stepson and Alfonso VI's grandson, Alfonso VII was the only one who actually had an imperial coronation in 1135.
The title was not exactly hereditary but self proclaimed by those who had, wholly or partially, united the Christian northern part of the Iberian peninsula, often at the expense of killing rival siblings. The popes and Holy Roman emperors protested at the usage of the imperial title as a usurpation of leadership in western Christendom. After Alfonso VII's death in 1157, the title was abandoned.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the legitimate heir to the throne, Andreas Palaiologos, willed away his claim to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1503. This claim seems to have been forgotten or abandoned quietly for the last 300 years.
Two decades earlier the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 had stated that the United Kingdom and the dominions were "equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations". Along with the Statute of Westminster, 1931 this changed the way the British parliamentary monarchy ruled the overseas dominions, moving from a colonial British Empire towards a new structure for the interaction between the Commonwealth Realms and the Crown.
In 1808, under a British naval escort, the fleet arrived in Brazil. Later, in 1815, the Portuguese Prince Regent (since 1816 king John VI) proclaimed the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve, as a union of three kingdoms, lifting Brazil from its colonial status.
After the fall of Napolean I and the Liberal revolution in Portugal, the Portuguese Royals returned to Europe (1820). Prince Peter of Braganza (King John’s older son) stayed in South America acting as regent of the local kingdom, but, two years later in 1822, he proclaimed himself Peter I, first Emperor of Brazil. He did, however, recognize his father, John VI, as Titular Emperor of Brazil - a purely honorific title - until John VI's death in 1826.
The empire came to an end in 1889, with the overthrow of Emperor Pedro II (Pedro I's son and successor), when the Brazilian republic was proclaimed.
In Mexico, the First Mexican Empire was the first of two empires created. Agustín de Iturbide, the general who helped secure Mexican independence from Spanish rule, was proclaimed Emperor Agustín I in 12 July, 1822, but was overthrown the next year.
In 1863, the invading French, under Napoleon III (see above), in alliance with Mexican conservatives, helped create the Second Mexican Empire, and invited Archduke Maximilian, of the house of Habsburg-Lorraine, younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I, to become emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. The childless Maximilian and his consort Empress Carlota of Mexico, daughter of Leopold I of Belgium, adopted Agustín's grandson as his heir to bolster his claim to the throne of Mexico. Maximilian and Carlota made Chapultepec Castle their home, which was the only palace in North America to house soveriegns. After the withdrawal of French protection in 1867, Maximilian was captured and executed by liberal forces. This empire led to French influence in the Mexican culture and also immigration from France, Belgium, and Switzerland to Mexico.
In Persia, from the time of Darius the Great, Persian rulers used the title "King of Kings" (Shahanshah in modern Iranian) since they had dominion over peoples from India to Greece. Alexander the Great probably crowned himself shahanshah after conquering Persia, bringing the phrase basileus toon basileoon to Greek. It is also known that Tigranes the Great, king of Armenia, was named as the king of kings when he made his empire after defeating the Parthians.
The last shahanshah was ousted in 1979 following the Iranian Revolution. Shahanshah is usually translated as king of kings or simply king for ancient rulers of the Achaemenid, Arsacid, and Sassanid dynasties, and often shortened to shah for rulers since the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century.
Typically, in the later Vedic age, a Hindu king (Maharajah) was only called Samrāṭ after performing the Vedic Rājasūya sacrifice, enabling him by religious tradition to claim superiority over the other kings and princes. Another word for emperor is sārvabhaumā. The title of Samrāṭ has been used by many rulers of the Indian subcontinent as claimed by the Hindu mythologies. In proper history, most historians call Chandragupta Maurya the first samrāṭ (emperor) of the Indian subcontinent, because of the huge empire he ruled. The most famous Hindu emperor was his grandson Ashoka the Great. Other dynasties that are considered imperial by historians are the Kushanas, Guptas, Vijayanagara, Hoysala and the Cholas.
After India was invaded by the Mongol Khans and Turkic Muslims, the rulers of their major states on the subcontinent were titled Sultān, In this manner, the only empress-regnant ever to have actually sat on the throne of Delhi was Razia Sultan. For the episode from 1877 to 1947 when British Emperors ruled colonial India as the pearl in the crown of the British Empire, see above.
"Itegue" translates as Empress, and was also used by the only female reigning Empress, Zauditu, along with the official title Negiste Negest (Queen of Kings).
In 1936, the Italian king Victor Emmanuel III claimed the title of Emperor of Ethiopia after Ethiopia was occupied by Italy during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. After the defeat of the Italians by the British in 1941, Haile Selassie was restored to the throne but Victor Emmanuel did not relinquish his claim to the title until 1943.
The Rastafari claimed Selassie as God incarnate before and even more so after the Second World War (see Rastafari movement) which he did not endorse, though he was sympathetic. He was deposed in 1974, the imperial title ending the next year when his son, who had succeeded him, was deposed and exiled.
In 221 BC, Ying Zheng, who was king of Qin at the time, proclaimed himself shi huangdi (始皇帝), which translates as "first emperor". Huangdi is composed of huang ("august one", 皇) and di ("sage-king", 帝), and referred to legendary/mythological sage-emperors living several millennia earlier, of which three were huang and five were di. Thus Zheng became Qin Shi Huang, abolishing the system where the huang/di titles were reserved to dead and/or mythological rulers. Although not as popular, the title 王 wang (king or prince) was still used by many monarchs and dynasties in China up to the Taipings in the 19th century. 王 is pronounced vuong in Vietnamese, ō in Japanese, and wang in Korean.
The imperial title continued in China until the Qing dynasty was overthrown in 1912. The title was briefly revived from December 12, 1915 to March 22, 1916 by President Yuan Shikai and again in early July, 1917 when General Zhang Xun attempted to restore last Qing emperor Puyi to the throne. Puyi retained the title and attributes of a foreign emperor, as a personal status, until 1924. After the Japanese occupied Manchuria in 1931, they proclaimed it to be the Empire of Manchukuo, and Puyi became emperor of Manchukuo. This Empire ceased to be when it was occupied by Soviet troops in 1945.
In general, an emperor would have one empress (Huanghou, 皇后) at one time, although posthumous entitlement to empress for a concubine was not uncommon. The earliest known usage of huanghou was in the Han Dynasty. The emperor would generally select the empress from his harem. In subsequent dynasties, when the distinction between wife and concubine became more accentuated, the crown prince would have chosen an empress-designate before his reign. Imperial China produced only one reigning empress, Wu Zetian, and she used the same Chinese title as an emperor (Huangdi, 皇帝). Wu Zetian then reigned for about 15 years.
In some countries in the Ancient Japan, the earliest titles for the sovereign were either ヤマト大王/大君 (yamato ōkimi, Grand King of Yamato), 倭王/倭国王 (waō/wakokuō, King of Wa, used externally), or 治天下大王 (amenoshita shiroshimesu ōkimi, Grand King who rules all under heaven, used internally). As early as the 7th century the word 天皇 (which can be read either as sumera no mikoto, divine order, or as tennō, Heavenly Emperor, the latter being derived from a Tang Chinese term referring to the Pole star around which all other stars revolve) began to be used. The earliest attested use of this term is on a wooden slat, or mokkan, that was unearthed in Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture in 1998 and dated back to the reign of Emperor Temmu and Empress Jitō. The reading 'Tennō' has become the standard title for the sovereign of Japan up to and including the present age. The term 帝 (mikado, Emperor) is also found in literary sources.
Japanese monarchs placed themselves from 607 on equal footing with Chinese emperors in titulary terms, but rarely was the Chinese-style "Son of Heaven" term used. In the Japanese language, the word tennō is restricted to Japan's own monarch; kōtei (皇帝) is used for foreign emperors. Historically, retired emperors have kept power over a child-emperor as de facto Regent. For a fairly long time, a shōgun (formally the imperial generalissimo, but made hereditary) or regent wielded actual political power. In fact, through much of Japanese history, the emperor has been little more than a figurehead.
After World War II, all claims of divinity were dropped (see Ningen-sengen). Parliamentary government has wielded the power, reducing the office of emperor again to a mere ceremonial function. By the end of the 20th century, Japan was the only country with an emperor on the throne.
As of the early 21st century, Japan's succession law prohibits a female from ascending the throne. However, with the birth of a daughter as the first child of the current Crown Prince, Naruhito, Japan is considering abandoning that rule. Princess Kiko gave birth to a son on 6 September 2006, although it is still uncertain if the young prince or Aiko will ascend the throne; however many believe the new prince of Japan will. Historically, Japan has had eight reigning empresses who used the genderless title Tennō, rather than the female consort title kōgō (皇后) or chūgū (中宮). There is ongoing discussion of the Japanese Imperial succession controversy. Although current Japanese law prohibits female succession, all Japanese emperors claim to trace their lineage to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess of the Shintō religion.
Some early dynasties of Korea, often considered to be legendary, used the title Dangun (단군, 檀君: Dan meaning "birch", gun meaning "emperor"). The rulers of Goguryeo and Silla used the title of Taewang (태왕, 太王), literally translated as the Greatest of the Kings but often to signify emperor.
Rulers of the Goryeo Dynasty (from Gwangjong onward) took the title of emperor as a means of enhancing the prestige of the monarchy. The title was relinquished in the 13th century, however, after the agreement of peace with the Mongols, when the Korean rulers were pressured into use the title of Kings and as such tributary ally of Kublai Khan's China-based Mongol Yuan Dynasty.
Following the Chinese defeat by Japan in 1895, Korea declared its total independence from China (see Treaty of Shimonoseki) and King Gojong took the title of Daehan Hwangje, translated as 'Emperor of the Great Han'. also Emperor Gojong used the Yeonho (era names, a very strong indication of sovereignty), were adopted on 1 January 1896.
The full style of the ruler (7 January 1895 - 12 October 1897) called Daegunju Pyeha ("His Majesty the Great Monarch"), Joseon Guk-wang ("King of the Joseon State"). In the Korean Empire, since 12 October 1897, the full imperial style was Daehan Hwangje ("Emperor of Great Korean").
There have been many fictional emperors in movies and books. To see a list of these emperors, see Fictional_emperors_and_empresses.