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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shah (Persian: شاه) is a Persian term for a king (leader) that has been adopted in many other languages.

Aryamehr of Iran
Former Monarchy
Imperial Arms of the Shahanshah of Iran.svg
Coat of arms of the Shah
Shah of iran.jpg
Last Monarch:
Mohammad Reza Shah

Style {{{his/her}}} Majesty
First monarch Cyrus the Great
Last monarch Mohammad Reza Shah
Style His Majesty
Official residence Sa'dabad Palace, Tehran, Iran
Appointer Parliament (from 1925 to 1979)
Monarchy started 550 BC
Monarchy ended 11 February 1979


Word history

"Shāh" (Persian: ) was the title of Iranian kings including the Achaemenid dynasty which unified Persia and created a vast intercontinental empire. The full title of the Achaemenid rulers was xšāyaθiya xšāyaθiyānām, "King of Kings", corresponding to Middle Persian šāhān šāh, literally "kings' king", and Modern Persian shāhanshāh (شاهنشاه). In Greek this phrase was translated as "βασιλεύς τῶν βασιλέων (basileus tōn basiléōn)", "king of kings", in rank rather equivalent to emperor. The Indian counterpart of shahanshah was rajadhiraja or kshetra-pati (more toward Padishah). Both were often shortened to their root, shah viz. basileus.

From the related word kshathra "realm, province" also descends kshathrapavan, literally "guardian of the realm", which in western languages became satrap 'governor' via the Greek and Latin satrapes.

In English its use as title for the king of Persia is recorded since 1564, as shaw (or shaugh), and for long it remained common to render it in European languages by kingly rather than imperial titles. Via its Arabic form (also shah) it was the root of the western words for chess and check (as in "check mate").

In western languages, the term shah is often used as an imprecise rendering of shāhanshāh (meaning king of kings). Usually shortened to shāh it is the term for an Iranian monarch and was used by most of the former rulers of the Iranian empires, many nationalities of Iranian origin, or under cultural influence.

The term shah or shahanshah has roughly corresponded to Persia since the Achaemenid Persian Empire (which had succeeded and absorbed the Mede state), or the properly Iranian Empire, after its conquest by Alexander the Great who translated it into Greek as basileus ton basileon, also often shortened to basileus.

The title is roughly equivalent in rank to the western emperor and is hence often translated as such in English or its equivalent in other languages. The monarch of Persia (internally always called Iran) was technically the emperor of the Persian Empire (later the Empire of Iran, as Iran was officially known until 1935). However until the Napoleonic era, when Persia was an enviable ally of the Western powers eager to make the Ottoman Sultan release his hold on various (mainly Christian) European parts of the Turkish Empire, and western (Christian) emperors had obtained the Ottoman acknowledgement that their western imperial styles were to be rendered in Turkish as padishah, the western practice was to consider 'king of kings' a particular but royal title.

The last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi officially adopted the title شاهنشاه shâhanshâh (literally king of kings) and in western languages the rendering as emperor, during his coronation. He also styled his wife شهبانو shahbânu (empress).

Some of the kings of Georgia called themselves shahanshah, for example Giorgi III; the last such monarch was Irakli I, although he adopted Russified titles in 1783, due to the influence of imperial Russia.

Related and subsidiary princely titles


Ruler styles

  • The title padishah 'great king' (see both articles) was also adopted from the Iranians (Persians) by the Ottomans, and by various other Islamic monarchs claiming imperial rank, such as the Indian mughal (among them only the Ottomans would also claim the caliphate, full sovereign authority over universal Islam.
  • The Turkish title hünkar is a contraction of the Middle Persian khudavendigar, originally an epithet of semi-divine status. It must have been highly respected not to be swept away by Islam before the Ottomans could adopt it as a subsidiary title in the full style of their Great Sultan (following directly after padishah).
  • Another subsidiary style of the Ottoman sultan khan was Shah-i-Alam Panah 'King, refuge of the world'.
  • Some Monarchs were known by a contraction of the kingdom's name with Shah, such as Khwarezmshah, ruler of the short-lived mighty Muslim realm of Khwarezmia, or the more modest Azeiri Shirvanshah of Shirvan (later a modest khanate).


Shahzade (Persian شاهزاده Šāhzādé). In the realm of a shah (or a more lofty derived ruler style), a prince of the blood was logically called shahzada as the term is derived from shah using the Persian patronymic suffix -zāde or -zāda, "son, descendant"; see "Prince" article for other uses of the suffix.

However the precise full styles can differ 'creatively' in the court traditions of each shah's 'kingdom'.

  • 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 nominatim 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.

Furthermore the title was also used for princes of the blood of a ruler who used an alternative royal style, e.g., the Malik (Arabic for king, so equivalent) of Afghanistan. In the Ottoman dynasty of imperial Turkey, it was part of two styles:

  • male descendants of a sovereign in the male line: Daulatlu Najabatlu Shahzada Sultan (given name) Hazretleri Effendi; except the crown prince (style Daulatlu Najabatlu Vali Ahad-i-Sultanat (given name) Effendi Hazlatlari), who was however addressed as Shahzada Hazratlari (or Shahzade Hazretleri) 'imperial highness.'
  • sons of imperial princesses: Sultanzada (given name) Bey-Effendi.

This could even apply to non-Muslim dynasties, e.g., the younger sons of the ruling Sikh Maharaja of Punjab (in Lahore; a Maharajadhiraja): Shahzada (personal name) Singh Bahadur, while the heir apparent was styled Tika Sahib Bahadur

  • The corruption Shahajada 'Shah's son', taken from the Mughal title Shahzada, is the usual princely title borne by the grandsons and male descendants of a Nepalese sovereign (a Hindu Maharajadhiraja; but cfr. Shaha above), in the male line.
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.


Shahbanu (Persian شهبانو, Šahbānū): Persian term using the word Shah and the Perian suffix -banu ("lady"): Empress, in modern times, the official title of Empress Farah Pahlavi.


Shahdokht (Persian شاهدخت Šāhdoxt) is also another term derived from Shah using the Persian patronymic suffix -dokht "daughter, female descendant", to address the Princess of the imperial households (see: Princess).


Shahenshah (Persian: شهنشاه) means King of Kings or emperor.


Shakh (Russian: Шах}) means check, an attack on the king in a chess game

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SHAH, the title of the kings of Persia, the full title being padshah, i.e. " lord king," Pers. pati, lord, and shah, king (see Padishah, the Turkish form of the word). The word shah is a much shortened form of the O. Pers. khsayathiya, probably formed from khsayathi, might, power, khsi, to rule. The Sanskrit kshatram, dominion, is allied, cf. also "satrap." From the Pers. shah mat, the king is dead, is ultimately derived, through the Arab. pronunciation shag, " check-mate," then "check," "chess," "exchequer," &c.

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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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From Persian شاه (shâh).


Alternative spellings




shah (plural shahs)

  1. a king of Persia
  2. a supreme ruler in some Middle Eastern nations
  3. a common surname in India; that is spelled with a capital Shah
  4. (historical) a Ukrainian monetary unit.

Usage notes

The wife of the last shah of Iran used the title shahbanu, which was translated as empress into English.

Derived terms

  • shahmukhi





shah m.

  1. chess



From Persian


shah m. (plural shahs)

  1. Alternative spelling of schah.

Simple English

Shah is a Persian word which means the king or ruler of a country. This word is used in different countries in the world, including Iran, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Presently the term "Shah" is used as a surname commonly by many people in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan who are Hindu, Moslem and Jain. The reason as to how so many non-muslims have the surname "Shah" is unknown. Many Indian names which have Shah in them; the most famous of them is Shah Jahan, who as the Emperor of India ordered the creation of Taj Mahal. One possible etymology of the chess term checkmate is the Persian shah mat, meaning "the king cannot escape"[1]

The term "Shah" is also widely known to mean the male monarch (or king) of Iran, during the long-lasting Iranian monarchy. The Iranian monarchy was overthrown in 1951, and a country headed by a Prime Minister with a parliamentary legislative body, the Majlis, was established. Mohammad Mossadeq was the Prime Minister. However, in 1953, the US launched a coup, replacing Mossadeq with the Shah, who was in Rome.[2]


  1. Definition and origins of Checkmate
  2. Kinzer, Stephen. "Iran's Rage". Smithsonian Magazine. Published October 2008, Volume 39, Number 7.


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