A Vizier (- wazīr) (sometimes also spelled Vazir, Vizir, Vasir, Wazir, Vesir, or Vezir - grammatical vowel changes are common in many western Asian languages), literally "burden-bearer" or "helper", is a term, originally Persian, for a high-ranking political (and sometimes religious) advisor or minister, often to a Muslim monarch such as a Caliph, Amir, Malik (king) or Sultan.
In modern usage the term has been used in the Western Asia generally for certain important officials under the sovereign. It is also used anachronistically in a modern Islamic republic's cabinet, and to describe pre-Islamic offices.
The Middle Persian
ancestor of this word in Pahlavi
, which in turn originated from Avestan vichira
, meaning decreer or arbitrator. Linguistically, it is related to the Latin
. The word entered English in 1562, from the Turkish vezir
("counsellor"), from the Arabic wazir
, literally "one who bears (the burden of office)", whose root word is wazara
"he carried", and itself a derivation from the Persian vazier
Historical ministerial titles
The Muslim office of vizier, which spread from the Persians to the Arabs, Turks, Mongols and neighbouring peoples (regardless of the style of the ruler), arose under the first Abbasid
caliphs and took shape during its tenure by the Barmecides
as the chief minister or representative of the caliph
. The vizier stood between sovereign and subjects, representing the former in all matters touching the latter. This withdrawal of the head of the state from direct contact with his people was unknown to the Omayyads
, and was certainly an imitation of Persian usage. It has even been plausibly conjectured that the name is simply the Arabic adaptation of a pre-Islamic Persian
for Vizier), who was a minister to the Shah
. According to Klein, the Arabic word wazir
is derived from Avestan vicira
"arbitrator, judge" and replaced the Arabic kātib
, "writer" in the sense of "secretary of state". On account of Egypt
's later association with Arab civilization, the term "vizier" is also retronymically
applied to advisors and ministers of the Pharaoh
However, the term has been used in two very different ways: either for a unique position, the prime minister at the head of the monarch's government (the term Grand Vizier always refers to such a post), or as a shared 'cabinet rank', rather like a British secretary of state. If one such vizier is the prime minister, he may hold the title of Grand Vizier or another title.
In some Muslim societies, unsuccessful viziers were commonly eliminated — justifiably or as scapegoats. This was particularly common during much of Ottoman history; for example, one of the most brutal sultans, Selim I, had seven viziers executed during his eight-year rule; others were not deposed but merely demoted; and some even returned to office.
In Islamic states
- In Al-Andalus (the Iberian peninsula under the Arabo-Barbaresque Moors) appointed by the Caliph of Cordoba
- Similarly in many of the emirates and sultanates of the taifa which the caliphate was broken up into (for example the Abbadids in Seville)
- In Muslim Egypt, the most populous Arab country:
- Under the Fatimid Caliphs
- Again since the effective end of Ottoman rule, remarkably since 1857 (i.e. before the last Wali (governor), Isma`il Pasha, was raised Khedive (circa Viceroy, on 8 June 1867), exchanged for the western Prime ministers on 28 August 1878 (before the formally independent sultanate was proclaimed)
- During the days of the Ottoman Empire, the Grand Vizier was the — often de facto ruling — prime minister, second only to the Sultan (many of whom left politics to him, indulging in court pleasures) and was the leader of the Divan, the Imperial Council.
- In Muslim Iran, the Prime Minister under the political authority of the Shahanshah was commonly styled Vazīr-e Azam ('Supreme -, i.e. Grand Vizier'; alternative titles include Atabeg-e Azam and Sardār-e Azam), and various Ministers held cabinet rank as vazir, including a Vazir-i-Daftar (minister for finance) and a Vazir-i-Lashkar (war portfolio).
- In the Sherifan kingdom of Morocco (historically a sultanate till the incumbent assumed the higher royal style of Malik on 14 August 1957, shortly after the end of the simultaneous French and Spanish protectorates; the additional Islamic title Amir al-Mu´minin "Commander of the Faithful" stayed in use), a Sadr al-A'zam (Grand Vizier) was in office until 22 November 1955, replaced since 7 December 1955 a (part-political) Prime Minister; Vizier was the style of a minister of state (other titles for various portfolios).
- In the Hashemite Kingdom of the Hejaz (later merged into present Saudi Arabia), the sole Vizier was (10 June 1916 - 3 October 1924) the future second king Ali ibn Hussein al-Hashimi, under his father Hussein ibn Ali al-Hashimi (the first to assume the title Malik, i.e. King, instead of Grand Sharif), maintained after the assumption of the Caliphal style (only 11 March 1924 - 3 October 1924)
- In the 'regency' of Tunisia, under the Husainid Dynasty, various ministers of the Bey, including
- Wazir al-Akbar (or El Ouzir El Kébir): 'Great Minister', i.e. Grand Vizier, Chief Minister or Prime Minister.
- Wazir al-'Amala (or El Ouzir El Amala): Minister for the Interior.
- Wazir al-Bahr (or El Ouzir El Bahr): Minister 'of the Sea', i.e. for the Navy/ Marine.
- Wazir al-Harb (or El Ouzir El Harb): Minister for the Army or Minister for War.
- Wazir al-Istishara (or El Ouzir El Istichara): Minister-Counsellor.
- Wazir al-Qalam: Minister of the Pen.
- Wazir ud-Daula (or El Ouzir El Dawla): Minister of State.
- Wazir us-Shura (or El Ouzir Ech Choura): Privy Counsellor.
- In Oman the Hami/Sultan's Chief minister was styled Wazir till 1966, but in 1925-1932 there was also or in stead a Chairman of the council of Ministers; since 1970 the style is Prime Minister
- Viziers to the Sultans of Zanzibar (a brnach of the Omani dynasty); since 1890 filled by British, also known as First ministers, even systematically 1 July 1913 - 23 February 1961 the British Resident (Minister)s, an extremely direct form of indirect rule (before and after Chief - or Prime Ministers, generally native)
- Grand Viziers to the Sultan of Sokoto - this is however disputed
- In pre- and colonial (notably British) India many rulers, even some Hindu princes, had a vizier as chief minister – compare Diwan, Nawab wasir, Pradhan, etcetera.
- In the (former) sultanate of the Maldives (Divehi language), the Prime Minister was styled Bodu Vizier, and various Ministers held cabinet rank as vazierin (plural), including Hakura'a (portfolio of Public Works), Shahbandar (Navy portfolio, also Admiral in chief), Vela'ana'a (Foreign Affairs).
- In Afghanistan, under the Durrani dynasty, the Chief minister was styled Vazīr-e Azam or Wazir-i-azam (1801-1880); the Vazīr-e Darbār or Wazir al-durbar was the ('House') Minister of the Royal Court.
Modern post-monarchy use
, the Prime Minister (de facto ruling politician, formally under the President) is called Vazīr-e Azam
(Persian for Grand vizier
), other Ministers are styled vazir
s. In Iran the term Vazīr
is equivalent to minister, e.g. foreign/health Vazīr
Furthermore, wazīr is the standard Arabic word for a minister (itself a Latin word for 'servant', originally of the monarch, later of the state eitherway); Prime Ministers are usually termed Ra'īs al-Wuzara (Head of the Ministers) or Wazīr al-Kabīr (Great Minister). Thus, for example, the Prime Minister of Egypt is in Arabic a wazīr.
In the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan is sometimes given the honorific of Wazir.
Anachronistic historical use
It is common, even among historians, to apply 'modern' terms to cultures whose own authentic titles are (or were when the habit took root) insufficiently known, in this case to pre-Islamic Antiquity.
- In ancient Egypt the highest ranking government official, appointed by the pharaoh and acting as his chancellor (chief administrator; Egyptian: taty), is called vizier by modern researchers. The term is also used for the chief administrators of Upper and Lower Egypt during the times when the administration of the country was headed by two officials, thus there was a vizier for the North (Lower Egypt, the Nile Delta), and a vizier for the South (Upper Egypt). However at times the viceroy of Nubia (a military governor general, sometimes a prince of the Pharaoh's blood) and/or the High Priest of Amun (the temple complex at Thebes gradually amassed sufficient possessions and income to rival the crown) rose to equal or even superior power; some pharaohs are even believed to have lost real political preeminence to the 'kingmakers'.
Thus in modern language-translations of the Bible, in Genesis chapter 41, Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, is called Vizier to Pharaoh. In this same chapter of Genesis, Pharaoh changed his newly appointed Vizier's name to Zaphenath-paneah.
- Among the Huns, the 'vizier' (Attila the Hun's was called Onegesius) was the second officer in rank after the great king; no formal status is known, just a class of royal councilors, representatives etc. known by the Greek term logades.
In the rare case of the Indian princely state of Jafarabad
(Jafrabad, founded c.1650), ruled by Thanadar
s, in 1702 a state called Janjira
was founded, with rulers (six incumbents) styled wazir
; when, in 1762, Jafarabad and Janjira states entered into personal union, both titles were maintained until (after 1825) the higher style of Nawab
In contemporary literature and pantomime
, the "Grand Vizier" is a character stereotype
and is usually portrayed as a scheming backroom plotter and the clear power behind the throne
of a usually bumbling or incompetent monarch. A well-known example of this is the sinister character of Jafar
in the Disney
animated film Aladdin
, who plots and uses magic to take over the entire Kingdom of Agrabah under the nose of the nation's naïve sultan, just as Jaffar in the 1940 movie The Thief of Bagdad
dethroned his master, caliph Ahmad. Others include Zigzag from The Thief and the Cobbler
(the original inspiration for the character of Jafar in Disney's Aladdin
), the comic book character Iznogoud
, Prince Sinbad's advisor Yusuf in the DC Vertigo
, and the villains of the video games Prince of Persia
and King's Quest VI
Perhaps the origin of this character archetype is the biblical account of Esther. The book details the rise of a Jewish woman to Queen of Persia, and her role in stopping the plot of Haman, chief advisor to the Persian king, to wipe out all Jews living in Persia.
Throughout history the notion of the sinister Grand Vizier has often been invoked when a political leader appears to be developing a cozy relationship with a spiritual advisor of questionable scruples or talents. This stereotype is frequently mentioned in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, as for example in both Sourcery and Interesting Times.
Fictional Grand Viziers
Some famous viziers in history
Sources and references