Do you know the differences between a king and emperor, or ruler and king, or president and king? Discover the main differences between common ruler titles by exploring their power.
A ruler is simply defined as “one who governs.” Different regions, time periods, and types of governments use different ruler titles to describe the people who hold the power. Ruler is a generic term used to describe the person who controls the government in a geographical area.
A chart comparing and contrasting ruler titles can help you see the main differences between each of these terms.
Source of Power
Type of Power
Reach of Power
clan, tribe, or group
absolute power of all covered territory
empire (large geographical area)
absolute power of kingdom
kingdom/nation (single country or similar sized area)
group, republic, or nation
a Muslim state/territory
Russia or a Slavic nation
A chief is defined as “the leader of a group,” can be male or female, and represents the highest rank or office in the group. A female who holds this position can also be called a chieftainess or chieftess.
A king is defined as “male monarch who rules a kingdom or the person who is considered most important [in that kingdom].” A king’s son is called a prince. The female equivalent of a king is a Queen.
A pharaoh is defined as “the king of ancient Egypt.” A pharaoh was a political and religious leader who could be male or female.
A president is defined as “the highest elected or appointed officer or position within an organization or society.” A president is usually only a political leader, but can be a man or a woman.
A sultan is defined as “a Muslim ruler.” Originally, a sultan was a spiritual authority, but the title was later used for political authority. Sultana is the female form of sultan.
A tsar, or czar, is defined as “any of the former emperors of Russia and, at various times, the sovereigns of other Slavic nations.” Tsars were political and religious leaders. Tsarina is the female version of Tsar and czarina is the female version of czar.
While king and emperor have been popular ruler titles throughout history, there are other ruler titles with similar meanings.
- An archduke is “a sovereign prince,” especially in reference to princes of the former Austrian imperial family.
- A caesar is “any of the Roman emperors.”
- An emir is “any of certain Muslim rulers, princes, or commanders.”
- A kaiser is “a ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 962-1806, of Austria from 1804-1918, or of Germany from 1871-1918.”
- A monarch is defined as “the single or sole ruler of a state.”
- A shah is “any of the former rulers of Iran.”
Understanding ruler titles is important when you’re learning about global history. When you know the subtle differences in things like the type of power a certain ruler had, you can better understand their actions. Continue learning about rulers by reading about different types of governments like democracies or totalitarian states.