What is a monarchy? Definition

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Narmer Palette: a slate stone with a carved man beating up his enemy

Narmer Palette, Ancient Egypt (about 3100 BC)

The first states were mostly monarchies. They were ruled by kings or queens. The earliest monarchies that we know about are the ones in Sumer and Egypt. These both began around 3000 BC. But it was not only the early states which had kings and queens. Many countries still have kings and queens today.

Some other examples of places that were ruled by kings or queens are Greece in the Late Bronze Age, as described in Homer’s Iliad, the Etruscan cities in northern Italy, including Rome between about 700 and 500 BC, China in the Warring States period, the Early Medieval kingdoms of Western Europe and Africa like the Visigoths, the Vandals, the FranksEthiopia and Mali, the Chola and Rajput kingdoms in India, the Maya and Aztec in Central America, the later medieval kingdoms of France, England, and Spain, and the Inca in South America.

Empress Wu - a Chinese woman with a fancy hat on

Empress Wu of the T’ang Dynasty

There have been many more men in power than women, but women have always been rulers too. Some women ruled Egypt, like Hatshepsut and Cleopatra, and other women ruled the Byzantine Empire, like Irene. There were women who ruled in Castile in Spain, like Isabelle, and the many queens of Kush in Africa, Queen Elizabeth of England, Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary, and the Empresses Lu, Wu Chao, and the Empress Cixi in China. Women like Catherine the Great ruled Russia for many years.

Many other women ruled their countries without having the official title, often as regents for their sons or grandsons, like Agrippina and Julia Maesa in Rome, Pulcheria in Constantinople, or Brunhilde, Blanche of Castile, Catherine de Medici, or Anne of Austria in France. In the Ottoman Empire, Nurbanu Sultan, Sofia Baffo, Kosem Sultan, and Mihrisah Valide Sultan all ruled either as regents or behind the scenes. In India, Hamida Banu ruled with her son, and after her, her grandson’s wife Nur Jahan.

Today, there are still many women in power – Angela Merkel in Germany, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, Park Geun-hye in South Korea, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil – though there has never been a woman President in the United States.

Learn by doing: write a biography of one of these queens
More about states and empires

Bibliography and further reading about governments:

More about States
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By | 2017-06-29T23:13:36+00:00 June 29th, 2017|Government|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. What is a monarchy? Definition. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 29, 2017. Web. March 22, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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