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Heraldic royal crown

King or female Queen is the official designation for the highest monarchical dignitary in the hierarchy of a sovereign state . Only the emperor is hierarchically superior to the king, as in the case of the great historical empires . In Europe in the late Middle Ages and early modern times , the king was usually the highest sovereign of his country: head of government , chief judge and lawmaker rolled into one. In addition, in some states - for example in England - he performed the function of a spiritual leader. In modern monarchies, the king is usually head of state with exclusively representative and ceremonial tasks. The salutation of a king is " Majesty ".


Germanic languages

The precursors of the German word king and closely related words are not only in the older German language levels ( ahd.  Kuning , mhd.  Künic ) but also witnessed in most other Old Germanic languages ( Old English . Cyning , Old Norse . Konungr ) and Germanic from a Language of the 2nd / 3rd It was borrowed into Finnish in the 19th century ( Finnish , Estonian kuningas ). The underlying shape of the OHG kuning , ( protogermanisch ) * Kuninga-z , contains the suffix -ing / -ung , refers to the affiliation and descent. * kuninga-z originally meant “the one belonging to the kuni / kunja ” or “the one of a kuni / kunja descent”. However, the exact interpretation of this word derivation is controversial. A widely accepted interpretation sees the old Germanic word * kunja- "clan, gender" ( Got . Kuni , ahd . And old Saxon . Kunni , mhd . Künne , Engl. Kin , Swedish. Kön ) as the starting point of education. The * kuningaz would then have been “the one of a (noble) sex” (of noble origin).

The German word König does not come directly from the Proto- European kuningaz , but from the Proto- European kuniz, which is closely related in form and meaning . The German word is closely related to neuniederländischen koning , the New England king , the neuschwedischen konung and effect and the neuisländischen con (un) gur related.

The female form queen can not only denote a dignitary corresponding to the male king, but also the wife of a king (see titular queen ). The husband of a ruling queen, on the other hand, is usually not referred to as a king ( titular king ), but as a prince consort . The English word for queen, queen , actually means only wife , from Old English cwēn , “wife; Queen". This belongs to an Indo-European word stem that simply means "woman", like Norwegian kvinne , the word žena or жена for "woman" in the Slavic languages and the Greek γυνή (spoken ancient Greek gynḗ , modern Greek jini ).

Romance languages , Indo-Aryan languages , Celtic

The Latin royal title rēx (genitive rēgis ) includes the term regnum ( kingdom ) and the verb regere / regnare ( rule ). It is etymologically related to rājā , the Indian word for "king" (spoken raadschaa in Sanskrit and Hindi ). The German word Reich belongs to the same Indo-European word family and is probably an old Celtic loan word : Celtic probably * rīgjom to * rīgs = king (cf. the name of the Gallic chief Vercingetorix ). For this * Rigs , the guide Irish and Scottish Gaelic righ for "King" and the Welsh rhi for "Noble" from. “King” means brenin in Welsh .

Slavic languages

In Slavic languages was the original word for king of Knjaz , later the Slavic title of king of the proper name was Karl derived by the Great Karl (analogue of the derivation of the words Kaiser and Tsar from the name Caesar): Sorbian : kral , Czech král , Polish król [ krul], Slovenian , Croatian , Bosnian and Serbian kralj , Russian король korol ' .

Finno-Ugric languages

In the Hungarian language the word for king is probably of Slavic origin: király (cf. Croat. Bosn. Kralj ).

Non-European languages

For the term king in non-European countries, the term is often chosen arbitrarily in the translation to express the lifelong ruling function. In the case of small kingships and tribal kingships, the transition from chief to king is often fluid, and in the local language it is not uncommon for one and the same term.

The Chinese title of Wang was in the early dynasties (until the unification of China as an empire) the designation of the sovereign ruler, which is why it is equated with the king in the western translation. Later, however, the wang became the highest Chinese nobility title in the empire, usually translated into western languages ​​as prince.



In the Orient, kingship was the most widespread form of rule. Among the Persians , Hittites and Sumerians there were not only the great kings but also subordinate petty kings. Sumerian culture is a special case: later rule was taken over by Akkad in the north . In other kingdoms, too, for example with the Egyptians , previously dependent ethnic groups (the Nubians ) took over the government. But there was frequent change among the Sumerians, which eventually resulted in the formation of small empires, such as Der and Susa, and two larger empires, the Assyrian Empire and the Babylonian Empire . It is not certain which functions the king had in detail. It is also not known how the king came to office. Originally he must also have been a priest. In any case, unlike the early Scandinavian kings, he had a judicial function. He expressed his self-image with the formula “Shepherd of the Nations”, which is the first testimony for Lugalzagesi .

The Egyptians were a kind of god kingship or god emperorship, in which the pharaoh , in Egyptian Per-aa (big house), was also the spiritual head and divine reincarnation .

Almost all of these kingdoms were smashed by Alexander the Great's campaign of conquest . They were followed by the Diadochian empires when Alexander's generals founded their own empires ( Hellenism ). The Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemaic Empire lasted the longest (late 1st century BC). In the tradition of Alexander, they too invoked their divine descent, but primarily for legitimation; Duties as a religious leader were not primarily associated with this. After all, after conquering large parts of the Orient, the Romans transferred the idea of ​​the divinity of the ruler to the empire , which had been legitimized by Christianity since late antiquity .

See also: List of pharaohs , list of Nubian kings , List of Hittite kings , list of Babylonian kings , list of Assyrian kings , list of Seleucid ruler , list of the Ptolemies



The ancient Greece was a very loose, often split into conflicting alliances community. In the Greek states there were different, sometimes changing forms of government; the kingship was a rare exception in the Greek heartland in the archaic and classical times (approx. 800 to 336 BC). In Sparta , however, there was a double kingship. The meaning behind it was a mutual control, whereby the royal rule was restricted anyway. In the Hellenistic period , however, kingship was the common form of government in the successor realms of the Alexander Empire, with the power of the Hellenistic kings being largely unlimited in their respective empires.

The actual word for king, βασιλεύς [basileus], ​​was later applied to the Roman emperors. To be distinguished from royalty is tyranny .


In its early days since the (alleged) founding by Romulus and his brother Remus , the Roman state was ruled exclusively by kings, although much is veiled by legendary tales. After the overthrow of the seventh and last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, by the city's nobles (allegedly 509 BC), Rome was until the late 1st century BC. A republic. The title of king (rex) was so frowned upon that when Augustus transformed Caesar's dictatorship into a renewed permanent monarchy, the official title of imperator was changed and embellished with Caesar's proper name (actually his cognomen ). As an exception, Constantine the Great gave his nephew Hannibalianus the title rex around 335/36 , which, however, referred to separate Roman clientele.

Germanic peoples

The question of the kingship among the Teutons is controversially discussed in recent research. In older research, the ancient sources inferred that there was a Germanic kingship that existed in various forms (see sacred kingship and army kingship as well as minor kings ) with various tribes, whereby according to the ancient authors, with some tribes no kingship existed at all. More recently, however, reference has been made to methodological deficiencies in older papers. In this respect, leaders / rulers acted on the Germanic side, but the term rex (king) that appears in Latin texts was more of an auxiliary construction in order to be able to act on foreign policy on the Roman side with familiar terms. Whether the respective leaders are to be regarded as kings in the true sense of the word (with all the associated expectations) is questioned in recent research.



In the sources quite a few different types of kings are listed: Kings, petty kings , military kings and Sea Kings. The latter had no dominion.

The sources of the early period are silent about the position and function of the king. Nor do you know how you originally became king. However, there is much to suggest that there was an electoral monarchy in the beginning . It is likely that more people from the most distinguished families and finally the family of the predecessor to the election were so gradually become a hereditary monarchy developed. There are many indications that, at least in Sweden, there was initially a sacred kingship . In this context the king had the task of guaranteeing growth and prosperity in their area through his family relationship with the divine sphere (the kings were derived from gods as ancestors). In this process, in addition to the creation of a central kingdom by Harald Hårfagre, the church played a special role in that it declared King Olav Haraldsson a saint, who passed on his divinely legitimized royal salvation to his descendants.

Harald Hårfagre was descended from a small king, but could become an upper king. It is unknown whether these kings based their kingship on family lineage or on military strength. In any case, Harald relied primarily on his military power. Furthermore, it was laborious to maintain, which is why he expropriated farmers on a large scale.

Torbjørn Hornklove writes about Harald:

"I think you know the king / who lives on the ships / the lord of the Northmen / rulers of deep ships / with blood-splattered ribs / and red shields, / tarred oars / and a tent made of spray."

That is the description of a typical Viking king. Apparently strange role models had made him want to be a different kind of king. A judicial kingship could also have been thought of. In the Glymdrápa, Torbjørn Hornklove describes Harald's opponent as hlennar = thieves, which could be interpreted as an indication of the attempt to enforce law and order. The expression will rather only mean a degradation of the enemy.

The king had a large number of ships and men to maintain. To do this, he needed different types of income. One of them were the royal courts, which were lined up on the coast and came from expropriations. These bodies paid their “tax” by housing the king and his crew for a certain period of time with board and lodging. So it was a travel royalty. This corresponds exactly to the way the other Viking kings z. B. in Ireland. The advantage for the farmers was that the king kept other robbers away, so that the burden on many farmers was manageable.

For a long time, the king's function was limited to representing the entire state externally (the king had to decide whether to go to war), to the army and administration, insofar as it was required for the whole. Another main function was the distribution of spoils of war.

Other types of kings

The petty king was a tribal leader who only ruled over a limited area and only part of a larger tribal union.

The lower king , also known as the Skattkönig (tax king), was a mediatized king, who possessed extensive sovereignty in his sphere of influence, but had to recognize an upper king to whom he was liable and who maintained the unity of the empire and was responsible for the overall defense.

The King of the Army and the King of the Sea were actually generals in our sense. They gathered ships and crew around them and went on raids. But they were bound by certain rules in their authority. In particular, there were unwritten laws about the distribution of the booty to which they were bound. Incidentally, this also applied to the Frankish kings in the early days. In the Ynglinga saga, Snorri defines the sea king as follows:

“There were many kings of the sea who commanded large armies but owned no land. He alone was recognized as a real sea king who never slept under the sooty roof and never sat in the corner of the stove drinking. "

They are even said to have wintered on the ships. Because in a meeting between King Olav the Holy and the Swedish King Önund, Olav says: “We have a very strong army and good ships, and we can very well stay on board our ships all winter long, just like the old Viking kings . “ The king of the army on the mainland was also a figure of identification during the migration period . According to today's view, the Germanic gentes were thoroughly multiethnic. They received their identity from belonging to a certain army king and his family, at whose side they fought and whose traditions they adopted. The early medieval ethnic terminology is not cultural, linguistic, or geographical, but military and political. So ethnicity was not an objective category with a precise definition, but a subjective process by which individuals defined themselves and others, in certain situations, particularly in connection with conflict and war. The ethnic groups therefore changed quickly and redefined themselves with astonishing speed.

All these names of kings are likely to have originated in the Viking Age , i.e. in the 8th century. The term “king” for a ruler in an area is apparently older. It is probable that the sons of kings who went out to become Vikings assumed the title of kings for their military expedition.

Succession arrangements

As soon as the royal title had become hereditary , his male descendants were evidently called equally to succeed him, either by ruling together or dividing the empire, or by one taking over government alone, the other being compensated with property. The age of majority to rule is generally set at the age of 12. The kingship was the property and inheritance of the ruling house. In Norway during the Christian Middle Ages it was 15 years of age. In 1280, Erik Magnusson was still under the tutelage of the Imperial Council at the age of 12.

For women there was a "latent" entitlement to succession to the throne. They could not become rulers themselves, but they could pass on their claim to rule to their husband or son. The Heimskringla (no historiography, but a mirror of the authors' knowledge of certain social structures) reports that King Eysteinn Halfdánarson inherited Vestfold when his father-in-law, King Eiríkur Agnarsson, died childless. King Halvdan Svarte , the father Harald Hårfagres is said to have inherited part of Agdir from King Haraldur granrauði , his maternal grandfather and then also Sogn via his son Harald from his maternal grandfather Harald gullskegg . That was also compatible with normal inheritance law. Thereafter, women could inherit a manorial rule, but not exercise the rule personally.

The normal inheritance law was modeled on the succession to the throne. The closer degree of relationship completely excluded the further one. However, the calculations were not based on the deceased king, but on the progenitor, from whom the kingship was derived. So the son excluded the grandson. But if the late king had a son and a daughter, the son's sons and their sons were equal. In the case of the succession to an estate, the following applied: the male descendants excluded the female, but did not deprive them of the latent right of succession. With two sisters, the one who had a son ousted the sister who had only one daughter from the court. If in the next generation the son only had one daughter and the sister-daughter had one son, the latter, conversely, displaced the daughter. This is all regulated in Gulathingslov . How far these rules were applied to the line of succession cannot be determined. In any case, there was a difference: while according to the civil succession regulation, illegitimate sons could only inherit after the siblings, illegitimate children were entitled to succession without further ado. Håkon the Good was the illegitimate son of Harald Hårfagri , Magnus the Good was the illegitimate son of Olav the Holy . Most kings at that time were illegitimate.

In the case of the joint government of several brothers, the son of a dying king did not succeed his father, but his kingship grew to the remaining kings.

Harald Hårfagre tried to regulate the succession differently through house law for the first time by stating that his sons should share the kingdom, but one should hold the upper kingship. Everyone should inherit his kingship in the male line. The sons of daughters should - also hereditary - receive the dignity of Jarl, which denotes a smaller rule subordinate to the king. With the help of the upper kingship, a unity of the empire was to be preserved to the outside world despite the division of power.

Scandinavia in the Christian Middle Ages

The function of kingship gradually changed in the Christian Middle Ages, especially around 1300. Under Erik II, and especially under his successor Håkon Magnusson , the king assumed a role as the highest legislator and chief judge, unknown in early Scandinavia. Around this time the king's mirror was written in the old Norwegian language, which justifies the position of the king exclusively biblically. This is where the continental currents of law and political science come into play.

Holy Roman Empire

After the East Franconian line of the Carolingians died out, an electoral kingship arose in the East Franconian Empire , from which the Holy Roman Empire emerged . The king was elected from a certain group of the greats of the empire (not all princes were involved in the election act or could claim the right), there was no hereditary monarchy. The royal power was never absolute, rather the Roman-German kings were dependent on the cooperation of the great ( consensual rule ). The kings could ask the Pope to crown them emperor , for which now only the Roman-German kings came into question. Their empire and their kingship were (as was common in the Middle Ages) connected with the divine right and were now also connected with the universal idea of ​​the empire . Roman-German kings without imperial dignity bore the title Rex Francorum , from the 11th century Rex Romanorum (see Roman-German King ). The circle of eligible voters became more and more narrow, because under the conditions at the time only a fraction of them were practically involved in the election. Since the Hohenstaufen-Welf throne dispute of 1198, a king's election was only valid if the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier as well as the Rhineland Count Palatine were involved. From this group emerged the electors (from küren = to choose) in the late Middle Ages , who had been the sole voters since 1273 at the latest, which was made binding in the Golden Bull in 1356 .

After 1530 the elected king was automatically emperor. The imperial coronation now took place in Aachen without the participation of the Pope. Nevertheless, the emperor was still the Roman-German king. In addition to the German royal dignity, there was only the royal dignity of Burgundy (last assumed by Charles IV ) and that of Bohemia in the Holy Roman Empire .

Under these conditions, German territorial rulers striving for splendor during the period of absolutism chose the way out to become king outside the empire: August the Strong , Elector of Saxony, was elected King of Poland in 1697 . Elector Friedrich III. von Brandenburg was sovereign in the Duchy of Prussia outside the empire . In 1701, after negotiations with Emperor Leopold I , he achieved recognition of his self-coronation as king in Prussia . The Welf electors of Hanover had been kings of England in personal union from 1714 .

Bavaria , Württemberg and Saxony only became kingdoms after the end of the Holy Roman Empire , and Hanover after the Congress of Vienna . The Hanoverian Welfen then wore the crowns of England and Hanover until the end of the personal union with England in 1837.

Modern times

In most European countries the title of king is transferred by inheritance after the death or resignation (abdication) of the predecessor. In the hereditary monarchies , the male birthright almost always applied . The successor was always the oldest male heir of the late king. Most European monarchies have in recent years changed the line of succession in favor of the oldest natural heir - regardless of whether they are male or female.

On the other hand, some kingdoms, such as Poland and today Malaysia and the Vatican State (Pope), were electoral monarchies . In them, a fixed circle of voters - in Germany these were the electors - determined the successor to a deceased or deposed king.

The formal assumption of office of a king takes place in the context of a solemn coronation , as in the United Kingdom or in an homage ceremony , as in the Netherlands .

Lists of former rulers

See also

Commons : King  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: King  - Quotes
Wiktionary: König  - Explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  • Aschehougs Norges history. Volume 2, Oslo 1995, ISBN 82-03-22013-4 .
  • Martina Hartmann : The queen in the early Middle Ages. Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 3-17-018473-3 .
  • Lotte Hedeager: "Scandza", Folkevandingstidens nordiske oprindelsesmyte. In: Nordsjøen - Commerce, Religion and Politikk. Karmøyseminaret 94/95. Edited by Jens Flemming Krøger, Helge-Rolf Naley, Karmøy Kommune. Karmøy 1996, ISBN 82-7859-000-1 , p. 9.
  • Erich Hoffmann: The current state of research into the history of Scandinavia during the migration period in the context of medieval historical research. In: Karl Hauck (Ed.) The historical horizon of the amulets of the image of the gods from the transition period from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages. Göttingen 1992, ISBN 3-525-82587-0 .
  • Bernhard Jussen (ed.): The power of the king. Rule in Europe from the early Middle Ages to modern times. Munich 2005.
  • Henrik and Fredrik Lindström: Svitjods undergang och sveriges födelse. Albert Bonniers Forlag, 2006, ISBN 91-0-010789-1 .
  • Konrad Maurer : Lectures on Old Norse Legal History, Vol. I: Old Norwegian Constitutional Law and the Judiciary. Deichert'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Leipzig 1907.
  • Hans K. Schulze : Basic structures of the constitution in the Middle Ages. Vol. 4 (The Kingship). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2011.


  1. King. In: Digital dictionary of the German language . In:, accessed on August 19, 2018.
  2. Manfred Clauss: The Pharaoh. Stuttgart 2012.
  3. ^ Overview in Pierre Carlier: Basileus I. In: Der Neue Pauly . 2 (1997), col. 462 ff.
  4. See Karl-Ludwig Elvers: Rex. In: Der Neue Pauly 10 (2001), Col. 935 f.
  5. ^ Critical overview in Walter Pohl : Die Germanen. 2nd Edition. Munich 2004, p. 65 ff.
  6. Stefanie Dick: The myth of the "Germanic" kingship. Studies on the organization of rule among the Germanic barbarians up to the beginning of the migration period. Berlin 2008. See also Matthias Becher : “Dominion” in the transition from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages. From Rome to the Franks. In: Theo Kölzer , Rudolf Schieffer (ed.): From late antiquity to the early Middle Ages. Continuities and breaks, conceptions and findings. Ostfildern 2009, pp. 163–188.
  7. Stefanie Dick: The myth of the "Germanic" kingship. Studies on the organization of rule among the Germanic barbarians up to the beginning of the migration period. Berlin 2008, p. 211 ff.
  8. Hoffmann: The current state of research into the history of Scandinavia in the migration period in the context of medieval historical research. 1992, p. 145.
  9. Lindström: Svitjods undergang och sveriges födelse. 2006, p. 64.
  10. chap. 30 about Hrólf Krakes death: Í þann tíma herjuðu konungar mjök í Svíaveldi, bæði Danir ok Norðmenn. Váru margir sækonungar, þeir er réðu liði miklu ok áttu engi lönd. Þótti sá an með fullu heita mega sækonungr, he hann svaf aldri undir sótkum ási, ok drakk aldri at arinshorni.
  11. Heimskringla. Ólaf's saga helga. Cape. 151
  12. Franz-Reiner Erkens: King. In: Concise dictionary on German legal history . 2nd Edition. Vol. 3 (2016), Col. 3-18.
  13. Maximilian was elected and crowned Rex Romanorum in Frankfurt am Main while his father, Emperor Friedrich III was still alive . The planned coronation by the Pope in Rome could not be carried out. Maximilian had himself anointed (not crowned) by Prince Bishop Matthäus Lang in Trento on February 4, 1508. Only afterwards, on February 8th, did the papal confirmation of the imperial title arrive. From then on Maximilian called himself the Elected Roman Emperor . His grandson Charles V was elected to the Rex Romanorum in absentia on June 20, 1519 by the German electors . At the Congress of Bologna in 1529/30 he negotiated a reorganization of Italy with Pope Clement VII and received the iron crown of the Lombard kings on February 22, 1530 and two days later the crown as Emperor Charles V.