Great Kings and Queens of Africa
Documentary depicting the 30 pieces of original art that comprise the complete collection of the Great Kings and Queens of Africa along with highlights of the accomplishments of each king and queen.
King of Kings (Akkadian: šar šarrāni; Old Persian: Xšâyathiya Xšâyathiyânâm; Middle Persian: šāhān šāh; Modern Persian: شاهنشاه, Šâhanšâh; Greek: Βασιλεὺς Βασιλέων, Basileùs Basiléōn; Armenian: արքայից արքա, Arkhajich Arkha; Georgian: მეფეთ მეფე, Mepet mepe; Ge'ez: ንጉሠ ነገሥት, Nəgusä Nägäst) was a ruling title employed primarily by monarchs based in the Middle East. Though most commonly associated with Iran (historically known as Persia in the West), especially the Achaemenid and Sasanian Empires, the title was originally introduced during the Middle Assyrian Empire by king Tukulti-Ninurta I (reigned 1233–1197 BC) and was subsequently used in a number of different kingdoms and empires, including the aforementioned Persia, various Hellenic kingdoms, Armenia, Georgia and Ethiopia.
The title is commonly seen as equivalent to that of Emperor, both titles outranking that of king in prestige, stemming from the medieval Byzantine Emperors who saw the Shahanshahs of the Sasanian Empire as their equals. The last reigning monarchs to use the title of Shahanshah, those of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran (1925–1979), also equated the title with "Emperor". The rulers of the Ethiopian Empire used the title of Nəgusä Nägäst (literally "King of Kings"), which was officially translated into "Emperor". The female variant of the title, as used by the Ethiopian Zewditu, was Queen of Kings (Ge'ez: Nəgəstä Nägäst). In the Sasanian Empire, the female variant used was Queen of Queens (Middle Persian: bānbishnān bānbishn).
The title King of Kings was first introduced by the Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I (who reigned between 1233 and 1197 BC) as šar šarrāni. The title carried a literal meaning in that a šar was traditionally simply the ruler of a city-state. With the formation of the Middle Assyrian Empire, the Assyrian rulers installed themselves as kings over an already present system of kingship in these city-states, becoming literal "kings of kings". Following Tukulti-Ninurta's reign, the title was occasionally used by monarchs of Assyria and Babylon. Later Assyrian rulers to use šar šarrāni include Esarhaddon (r. 681–669 BC) and Ashurbanipal (r. 669–627 BC).
"King of Kings", as šar šarrāni, was among the many titles of the last Neo-Babylonian king, Nabonidus (r. 556–539 BC). He also used more boastful titles such as "king of the gods" (šar ilāni) and "king of the gods of the heavens and the underworld" (šar ilāni ša šamê u erṣetim).
Boastful titles claiming ownership of various things were common throughout ancient Mesopotamian history. For instance, Ashurbanipal's great-grandfather Sargon II used the full titulature of Great King, Mighty King, King of the Universe, King of Assyria, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad.
Urartu and Media
The title of King of Kings occasionally appears in inscriptions of kings of Urartu. Although no evidence exists, it is possible that the title was also used by the rulers of the Median Empire, since its rulers borrowed much of their royal symbolism and protocol from Urartu and elsewhere in Mesopotamia. The Achaemenid Persian variant of the title, Xšâyathiya Xšâyathiyânâm, is Median in form which suggests that the Achaemenids may have taken it from the Medes rather than from the Mesopotamians.
This is the inscription of king Sarduri, son of the great king Lutipri, the powerful king who does not fear to fight, the amazing shepherd, the king who ruled the rebels. I am Sarduri, son of Lutipri, the king of kings and the king who received the tribute of all the kings. Sarduri, son of Lutipri, says: I brought these stone blocks from the city of Alniunu. I built this wall.— Sarduri I of Urartu
The Achaemenid Empire, established in 550 BC after the fall of the Median Empire, rapidly expanded over the course of the sixth century BC. Asia Minor and the Lydian kingdom was conquered in 546 BC, the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, Egypt in 525 BC and the Indus region in 513 BC. The Achaemenids employed satrapal administration, which became a guarantee of success due to its flexibility and the tolerance of the Achaemenid kings for the more-or-less autonomous vassals. The system also had its problems; though some regions became nearly completely autonomous without any fighting (such as Lycia and Cilicia), other regions saw repeated attempts at rebellion and secession. Egypt was a particularly prominent example, frequently rebelling against Achaemenid authority and attempting to crown their own Pharaohs. Though it was eventually defeated, the Great Satraps' Revolt of 366–360 BC showed the growing structural problems within the Empire.
The Achaemenid Kings used a variety of different titles, prominently Great King and King of Countries, but perhaps the most prominent title was that of King of Kings (rendered Xšâyathiya Xšâyathiyânâm in Old Persian), recorded for every Achaemenid king. The full titulature of the king Darius I was "great king, king of kings, king in Fārs, king of the countries, Hystaspes’ son, Arsames’ grandson, an Achaemenid". An inscription in the Armenian city of Van by Xerxes I reads;
I am Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, the king of the provinces with many tongues, the king of this great earth far and near, son of king Darius the Achaemenian.— Xerxes I of Persia
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