Because this is written in English, I have presumed to model social titles in my database on the English, now the United Kingdom, peerage. As you will see below, this is awkward, as most countries developed their titles independently. Additionally, I have dealt with an historical past and use some titles no longer current. The de-facto European reference was undoubtedly Rome, but that was not true for Greece, Egypt, Persia, or Mongolia. I have limited my interest to titles in my genealogical database, which is far from comprehensive. As a minor deviation there is a considerable difference between older and newer titles, since languages, nations, and laws have all changed. I have attempted to use the appropriate language to reflect titles, this was often not the same as the parent national language for the names.
Spelling is difficult. Transliterating from other alphabets and languages is notoriously hard and prone to dispute. Nonetheless, I have referred to the best authorities available to me and have used best guesses to resolve variations.
The basic function of a title was to indicate responsibility for leadership and that often related to security, or military warfare. Dukes led in battle, marquesses secured the kingdom's borders, and counts commanded smaller armies. In fact, usually all these positions had both military and administrative functions for duchies, border marches, and counties. Some princes (notably Ukrainians and Russians) acted in similar sovereign ways within their principalities. The foregoing explanation becomes complicated amongst other, for example Arab peoples were virtually all Muslims and their caliphs, and Sharifs had simultaneous religious, family, and command functions.
Another even earlier title function was to designate legal responsibility for allocating scarce resources like food and shelter. These types of responsibilities led to the concept of sovereignty and tribal chiefs became kings in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China. Inevitably warfare required delegation of command to deputies and a variety of titles were developed including prince to designate the king's first heirs, and later the Roman comes.
The twin notions of responsibility and priviledge underlie most titles. The Roman princeps was the 'first' amongst equals ...in their senate. Caesar's name was used as a title to denote kingly responsibility, but the term imperator was created by the Roman army to designate Augustus, the first Roman emperor. The Roman comes was an 'imperial companion'. Amongst others, the German people created the title fürst to convey the concept of their first leaders after their king. There is a considerable difference amongst the European definitions of prince and the title does not carry the same implications as in Britain. Some languages distinguish between their own princes and others' princes. You can see the concepts in the various national titles.
I have not directly addressed compound titles - such as Großherzog, which seem self-evident; or the junior title of viscount, which was usually accepted as a deputy territorial manager or sheriff. I have not included barons here, since that is complicated in some languages - in Germany: Freiherr and Freifrau, in addition to barons and Signors.
The titles shown here were intended to mark an individual, to indicate publicly some level of responsibility - often territorial, or military security. In the mediaeval European world land and titles were transferred by marriage from a wife to a husband. Wives of kings were usually identified as queens, perhaps by a formal investiture in their own right, and I have shown that title where appropriate in my database. I have also usually reflected a husband's courtesy title gained by marriage into a senior-ranking family. I have not usually identified royal heirs by their specific titles, (such as infante, or tsarevich), since status often changed during individual's lives.
There was the further issue of how to identify the primary title-holder's family, since the granting of a title was intended to create respect and priviledge. Many of the female-equivalents shown in the chart below are known as consort courtesy titles. Each nation developed its own rules for the award and level of courtesy titles and these are often confusing. Generally the family courtesy titles are one rank lower than the title-holder. An Austrian emperor's son was an Erzherzog, and a Dauphin was a French king's heir and usually his eldest son. However, all the children of both the Austrian emperor and the French king were also princes and princesses, and many were created as dukes, or duchesses. A ruling grand duke would normally outrank the child of a Russian tsar. I have generally given the titles held by individuals, but I have also named senior courtesy titles gained by marriage.
After some dithering, I have decided not to indicate the full title for consorts, nor to include endless consort designations. I have attempted to distinguish title holders from consorts by the abbreviation of the title itself. Sadly, rank designation was not always so simple as increasingly powerful, or democratic bodies did not always formally designate the consorts by the titular rank. I have sometimes veered from this simple procedure when obscure, or unfamiliar areas were involved.
Chinese and other ruling classes sometimes created complex, extensive grades of titles. I have ignored such a detailed focus in favour of a less structured identification.
The table below is not authoritive and deliberately includes many historical titles no longer in use. I have shown transliterated titles, and divided male and female equivalents by commas. I have divided separate terms for (approximately) the same rank by semicolon. I have divided alternate terms, or spellings, for alternate titles by an oblique stroke. Spelling, of course, is variable as there were then endless variations and I have not insisted upon English presumptions. Historical appointments cloud titles as some appointments were assumed by various title holders.
Care should be taken in using the various titles below as modern translations do not necessarily capture the nuances of earlier languages. Even current titles may have experienced spelling changes over time.
The Romans created a nobility of power by their selection to the post of Consul. To be a consul was to legitimise not only oneself, but one's descendants. To be a consul was to be a patrician, or to be a noble and to rank above the knightly equestrians and, of course, the plebeians. These Roman classes were closely defined and the Roman class system was absorbed into European thinking. The Roman concept of nobility has been defined into modern concepts of nobility: to be a noble is still to be a member of a family headed by someone with a title in the peerage. This concept is taken to extreme in France and Italy, where family members use the title, which is held by some family member. Although kings no longer hold absolute power they were once considered sovereign in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Europe, and Asia and their families were all given titles by association.
I have used the titles shown here in our associated database for people who were given such honours. I have tried to capture the spirit of their time by using the titles appropriate to the nationalities. Since I have dealt with historical figures, many of their titles have since become extinct. In particular the Anglo-Saxon ealdorman (now reflected as alderman) indicated a position of honour and military responsibility in c200 AD. Eventually, ealdorman was contracted to eorl, from which we derive the title earl. A lower Anglo-Saxon title was thane. While an eorl was a true member of the nobility I believe that a thane would approximate a mediaeval baron. The Scandinavians also used yarl (Danish), jarl (Norwegian and Swedish) to indicate the same rank as ealdorman. You will find these and other such titles in the database. You will also find barons, baronets, and knights; since they are junior levels, and translation is easier I have not dealt with them here, although barons usually form peerage entry-levels.
The Germans are quite particular about their titles and the correlation to British titles is only approximate. Some German titles were held by election. The German office of the Holy Roman Emperor (Kaiser von Rom) was elected by a group of 'Electors'. The electors were themselves titled as Kurfürst, (feminine Kurfürstin) were often bribed for their votes. The electors varied, but included the Margrave of Brandenburg; Duke of Bavaria; King of Bohemia; King of Hanover; Prince of Hesse; Count Palatine of the Rhine; Duke of Saxony; and the archbishops of Cologne; Mainz; and Trier. The Germans also indicated an heir to a title by prefixing the title by 'erb'. An example might be an Erb-Prinz, or alternatively an Erbprinz.
The term palatine prefixed to a title indicated that the noble had sovereign powers, perhaps limited to judicial administration.
1 The above is primarily based on the work of François R. Velde, Nobility at, http://www.heraldica.org/topics/nobility/; Alexander Krischnig, A Glossary of Titles in 35 Languages at, http://www.heraldica.org/faqs/titel.htm; King at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King; Nobility at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobility; Regnal chronologies at http://my.raex.com/~obsidian/regindex.html; and Mark Odegard, A Glossary of European Noble, Princely, Royal, and Imperial Titles at, http://www.heraldica.org/faqs/titlefaq.htm. I also referred to India, Select Glossary at, http://www.royalark.net/India/glossary.htm; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_nobility#Tang_dynasty_and_after; Byzantine aristocracy and bureaucracy at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_court_title#Court_titles; and Ottoman titles at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_titles. See also The List of Alternate Titles at: http://heraldry.sca.org/titles.html. Hebrew (Sephardic) transliteration via Google and http://stevemorse.org/hebrew/h2ebatch.html.
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