2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Politics and government

Sultan (Arabic: سلطان) is an Islamic title, with several historical meanings. Originally it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", or "rulership". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain Muslim rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), without claiming the overall Caliphate, or it was used to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate. It then developed some further meanings in certain contexts. The dynasty and lands ruled by the Sultan is called Sultanate (Arabic: سلطنة). In Hebrew, "shilton" or "shaltan" (Hebrew:שלטן, based on the root ש-ל-ט to control, rule) means "dominion" or "regime".

Sultan Beyazit: Ottoman Empire - Oil on Canvas by Haydar Hatemi-1999
Sultan Beyazit: Ottoman Empire - Oil on Canvas by Haydar Hatemi-1999

Muslim governor ruling under the terms of shariah

The title carried moral weight and religious authority, as the ruler's role was defined in the Qur'an. The Sultan however was not a religious teacher himself.

The first to carry the title of 'Sultan' was the Turkmen chief Mahmud of Ghazni (ruled 998 - 1030). Later, 'Sultan' became the usual title of rulers of Seljuk and Ottoman Turks and Ayyubid and Mamluk rulers in Egypt. In the later stages Sultan was used mostly for the wives of the emperor. The religious validation of the title was illustrated by the fact that it was the shadow Caliph in Cairo that bestowed the title "Sultan" on Murad I, the third ruler of the emerging Ottoman Empire in 1383; its earlier leaders had been Beys or Emirs. It was hence also used to refer to governors of provinces, or federated nations within the Caliphate.

At later stages, lesser rulers assumed the style "sultan", as was the case for the earlier leaders of today's royal family of Morocco. Today, only the Sultan of Oman, the Sultan of Brunei, the Sultans of Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Selangor, and Terengganu in Malaysia, and some titular sultans in the southern Philippines and Java still use the title. The sultan's domain is properly called a sultanate. A feminine form, used by Westerners, is Sultana or Sultanah; the very styling misconstrues the roles of wives of sultans. In a similar usage, the wife of a German Field-Marshal might be styled Feldmarschallin (in French, similar constructions of the type madame la maréchalle are quite common).

Among those modern hereditary rulers who wish to emphasize their secular authority under the rule of law, the term is gradually being replaced by 'king'.

Compound ruler titles

These are generally secondary titles, either lofty 'poetry' or with a message; e.g.:

  • Mani Sultan = Manney Sultan, meaning 'the Pearl or rulers', or less poetically Honoured Monarch, was a subsidiary title, part of the full style of the Maharaja of Travancore
  • Sultan of Sultans is the 'sultanic equivalent' of King of Kings
  • certain secondary titles have a devout Islamic connotation, e.g. Sultan ul-Mujahidin as champion of jihad bis saif (Holy war to establish Islamic rule)

Former Sultans and Sultanates

Middle East & Central Asia

  • Ghaznavid Sultanate
  • Sultans of Great Seljuk
  • Seljuk Sultanate of Rum
  • Sultans (becoming Padishahs) of the Ottoman Empire, the Osmanli
  • Ayyubid Sultans of Damascus (in Syria)
  • in present-day Yemen, various small sultanates of the former British Aden Protectorate and South Arabia:
Audhali, Fadhli, Haushabi, Kathiri, Lahej, Lower Aulaqi, Lower Yafa, Mahra, Qu'aiti, Subeihi, Upper Aulaqi, Upper Yafa, and the Wahidi sultanates
  • in present-day Saudi Arabia :
    • Sultans of Nejd
    • Sultans of the Hejaz


This was the authentical style, commonly rendered as sultan, of the Islamic monarchs of the ruling house of Oman, in both its realms:

  • Oman Sultan of Oman, on the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula, still an independent sultanate, since 1784, two years before the imamate lost temporal power in 1786 (assumed the formal style of Sultan in 1861)
  • Sultanate of Zanzibar two incumbents (from the Omani dynasty) since the de faco separation from Oman in 1806, the last assumed the style Sultan in 1861 at the formal separation under British auspices; since 1964 union with Tanganyika part of Tanzania)

North Africa

  • in Algeria: sultanate of Tuggurt
  • in (greater) Egypt:
    • Ayyubid Sultans
    • Mamluk Sultans
  • in Morocco
  • in Sudan:
    • Darfur
    • Dar al-Masalit
    • Dar Qimr
    • Funj Sultanate of Sinnar (Sennar)
    • Kordofan
  • in Chad:
    • Bag(u)irmi (main native title: Mbang)
    • Wada'i (main native title: Kolak), successor state to Birgu
    • Dar Sila (actually a wandering group of tribes),

West & Central Africa

  • in Cameroon:
    • Bamoun (Bamun, 17th cent. founded uniting 17 chieftancies) 1918 becomes a Sultanate, but 1923 re-divided into the 17 original chieftancies.
    • Bibemi 1770 founded- Rulers first style Lamido to ...., then Sultan
    • Mandara Sultanate since 1715 (replacing Wandala kingdom); 1902 Part of Cameroon
    • Rey Bouba Sultanate founded 1804
  • in the Central African Republic:
    • Bangassou created c.1878; 14 June 1890 under Congo Free State protectorate, 1894 under French protectorate; 1917 Sultanate suppressed by the French.
    • Dar al-Kuti - French protectorate since December 12, 1897
    • Rafai c.1875 Sultanate, 8 April 8, 1892 under Congo Free State protectorate, March 31 1909 under French protectorate; 1939 Sultanate suppressed
    • Zemio c.1872 established; December 11 1894 under Congo Free State protectorate, April 12 1909 under French protectorate; 1923 Sultanate suppressed
  • in Niger: Arabic alternative title of the following autochthonous rulers:
    • the amenokal of the Aïr confederation of Tuareg
    • the Sarkin Damagaram since the 1731 founding of the Damagaram state (later capital Zinder)
  • in Nigeria most monarchies has a native title; when most in the north converted to Islam, Muslim titles were generally adopted, such as Emir- Sultan has been used in
    • Borno (alongside the native title Mai)
    • since 1817 in Sokoto, the suzerain (also styled Amir al-Mu´minin and Sarkin Musulmi) of all Fulbe jihad states and premier traditiobal Muslim leader in the Sahel (according to some once a caliph)

East Africa

title Sultan

  • Northern Somali sultanates
  • Angoche Sultanate on the Mozambiquan coast (also several neighbouring sheikdoms)
  • Afar Sultanate of Awsa in northeastern Ethiopia


This was the alternative native style (apparently derived from Malik, the Arabic word for King) of the Sultans of Kilwa Kisiwani, in Tanganyika (presently part of Tanzania)

Swahili sultan

Mfalume is the (Ki)Swahili title of various native Muslim rulers, generally rendered in Arabic and in western languages as Sultan:

  • in Kenya:
    • Pate island, in the Lamu archipel
    • Witu, came under German, then British protectorate
  • in Tanganyika (presently part of Tanzania): of Hadimu, on the island of that name; also styled Jembe

In Comoros, the terme used is mfaumé or Jambé


This was the native ruler's title in the Tanzanian state of Uhehe

Indian Ocean island sultanates

See Sultans on the Comoros; several alternative native titles occur, including Mfalme, Phany and the 'hegemonic' title Sultani tibe

Far East

In China:

  • Dali, Yunnan province, capital of the short-lived Panthay Rebellion

Most are however in the ethnically predominantly Malay countries:

  • Sultan of Brunei, Brunei

In Malaysia:

  • Sultanate of Malacca, Malaysia
  • Sultanate of Johor
  • Sultan of Kelantan
  • Sultan of Pahang
  • Sultan of Perak
  • Sultan of Selangor
  • Sultan of Terengganu

In Indonesia:

  • Sultanate of Aceh, one of many on Sumatra
  • Sultanate of Ternate, in North Maluku
  • Sultanate of Tidore, in North Maluku
  • Sultanate of Mataram, Java, Indonesia

In the Philippines:

  • Sultanate of Maguindanao,
  • Sultanate of Sulu,

In Thailand

  • Sultanate of Pattani

South Asia

In India:

  • Bahmani Sultanate
  • Sultanate of Bengal
  • the Deccan sultanates: Berar, Bidar, Bijapur, Golconda and Ahmednagar
  • Sultanate of Delhi several dynasties, the last (Mughal) became imperial Padshah-i Hind
  • Sultanate of Gujarat
  • Sultanate of Jaunpur
  • Sultanate of Kandesh
  • Sultanate of Malwa
  • Sultanate of Mysore

Contemporary sultanates

  • Brunei
  • Indonesia — Sultan of Yogyakarta Special Region is governor of that province
  • Malaysia
    • Note: Sultan is the title of seven ( Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Selangor and Terengganu) of the nine rulers of the Malay states. The head of state for all Malaysia, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is selected from among the Rulers, but is usually styled "King" in foreign countries. Political power, however, lies with Prime Minister. See also: Malay titles
  • Oman, an Arabian nation, formerly sultanate of Mascat (and Oman)

Princely and aristocratic titles

In the Ottoman dynastic system, male descendants of the ruling Padishah (in the West also known as Great Sultan), enjoyed a style including Sultan, so this normally Monarchic title is used equivalent to a western prince of the blood: Daulatlu Najabatlu Shahzada Sultan (given name) Hazretleri Effendi; for the Heir Apparent however, the style was Daulatlu Najabatlu Vali Ahad-i-Sultanat' (given name) Effendi Hazlatlari, i.e. Crown Prince of the sultanate.

  • The sons of Imperial Princesses, excluded from the Ottoman imperial succession, were only styled Sultanzada (given name) Bey-Effendi, i.e. Son of a Prince[ss] of the dynasty.

In certain Muslim states, Sultan was also an aristocratic title, as in the Tartar Astrakhan Khanate

Military rank

In a number of post-caliphal states under Mongol of Turkic rule, there was a feudal type of military hierarchy, often decimal (mainly in larger empires), using originally princely titles ( Khan, Malik, Amir) as mere rank denominations.

In the Persian empire, the rank of Sultan was roughly equivalent to a western Captain, socially in the fifth rank class, styled 'Ali Jah

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