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titles, terms used to designate degrees of sovereignty, nobility, and honor.


The highest-ranking title, that of emperor, derived from the Latin imperator, was originally a military title; the leader of a victorious army was saluted imperator by his soldiers. It was assumed by Augustus Caesar and the sovereigns of the Roman and Byzantine empires who followed him. The title received its modern meaning when it was conferred on Charlemagne in 800, and it was revived when Otto I was crowned (962) Holy Roman emperor. In Russia it was used from the time of Peter I until the dissolution of imperial Russia. It has also been the equivalent of the titles of the sovereigns of China, Japan, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Ethiopia, and India. Napoleon assumed the title of emperor of the French in 1804, and Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress of India in 1877. Caesar, the cognomen of Julius Caesar, was adopted by Augustus (44 BC), and his successors as emperor took the name until Hadrian, who designated Caesar as the title of the heir apparent; the imperial use of Caesar was continued with the German Kaiser and the Russian czar.

Titles of Nobility and Honor

Continental Titles

Continental titles of nobility have evolved since the time of feudalism, when knights came to be regarded as noble and titles became hereditary. Under the Holy Roman Empire a complex nobility, not confined to the territories of the empire, developed; titles were conferred upon many persons outside the imperial boundaries. Most modern titles of nobility in the Western world descended from these (see the table entitled Hereditary Western European Titles of Nobility for masculine and feminine forms of equivalent titles in Western Europe).

The title count [Fr. comte, Ger. Graf, Ital. conte] comes from the Latin comes, a noble attached to a kingly court and serving as an adviser to the king. The title Graf was taken over by the Holy Roman Empire from Carolingian and Merovingian terms for a noble appointed by the king and having military and legal authority over a certain territory. The creation of border territories (marches) gave rise to the title of Markgraf (in English, margrave); the corresponding French title is marquis, from which the English title marquess is derived. A Landgraf (in English, landgrave) was a count whose territory included a number of fiefs. There was also the title of Pfalzgraf (count palatine; see Palatinate). Herzog (duke) was a title denoting sovereignty over a large territory such as Bavaria or Saxony. After 1806 the title Grossherzog (grand duke) was also used. The title Fürst (prince) was below that of duke; there existed also the title Prinz, which was a courtesy title extended to various persons, notably the sons of a duke or king. Titles in descending order below emperor and king were Herzog; Pfalzgraf, Markgraf, and Landgraf, all of about equal rank; Graf; Baron, Freiherr or Freier (all baron in English); and Ritter (knight). The prefix Reichs- before any of these titles meant that the holder held the title directly from the emperor, i.e., he was not the vassal of any other lord.

At the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the German and Austrian nobility retained the titles they had held under the empire. In addition, the male members of the Austrian imperial family were called archdukes, i.e., dukes of the blood royal. This corresponded to the title in the Russian imperial family usually translated as grand duke and in Spain to infante. French titles of nobility in descending order are duc; prince (only a prince of the blood royal was above a duke; an ordinary prince was often the son of a duke and was below a duke), marquis, comte, vicomte, baron, seigneur or sire, and chevalier (knight). The heir to the throne was called the dauphin. Members of the French nobility have no privileges at all, but they retain their titles under the law. In Italy, titles of nobility, in descending order, are duca, principe, marchese, conte, visconte, and barone. In Spain they are duque, principe, marqués, conde, visconde, and barón.

English Titles

Titles in England are, in descending order, prince, duke, marquess, earl, viscount, baron, baronet, and knight. All have evolved since the Norman Conquest except earl, which is a title of the same descent as the continental titles translated as count. The title of earl was long the highest-ranking hereditary title under that of king, and English earls under the Norman kings enjoyed great power. The title of duke was in use on the Continent long before its introduction into England by Edward III, who created his son, the Black Prince, duke of Cornwall, a title now belonging automatically to the sovereign's eldest son from his birth. The Norman kings were themselves dukes of Normandy, a very high-ranking title, and may have been reluctant to confer similar titles upon their subjects. Originally, in fact, the only English dukes were dukes of the blood royal, and the sons of the sovereign are generally created dukes soon after coming of age. The title of marquess came into English use in 1385 as a title between those of earl and duke. The title of viscount, formerly that of a county sheriff, became a degree of honor and was made hereditary in the reign of Henry VI. Baron, originally a title denoting the chief tenants of the land, who were subject to summons to the king's court, is the most general title of nobility; since 1387 the title has usually been created by a legal notice (generally by letters patent, but occasionally by writ of summons), and it has nothing to do with land tenure. The existing baronetage (below the peerage) dates from 1611, when James I revived the title. The title of baronet is not in the peerage but is heritable; that of knight is a title of honor rather than nobility. The title of prince of Wales, at first the only prince in England, is reserved for the eldest son of the sovereign, although not invariably conferred upon him. In the reign of James I, all the sons of the sovereign came to be called prince. Queen Victoria extended the title, along with that of princess, to the royal grandchildren who are children of sons.

During the later Middle Ages life peerages (i.e., nonhereditary titles) were sometimes given as a further honor to one already holding a title. Legislation in 1887 conferred life peerages on all present and former lords of appeal. The Life Peerages Act of 1958 allowed for the creation of life peerages, with the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords, for both men and women. Since 1964 life peerages have been the only kind conferred.

Non-Western Titles

In the Muslim world the temporal successors of Muhammad received the title caliph (literally, "successor" ). Later titles for Muslim rulers were emir and sultan. Other Muslim titles include sherif, a hereditary title; pasha and bey, originally military titles but later given as a civilian nonhereditary honor; and sheikh, a title of respect variously given to tribal chiefs, heads of religious orders and colleges, and town mayors.

Titles in India derive from three sources—Hindu, Muslim, and European—and illustrate the rather tumultuous history of the subcontinent. Raja (ruler or king; maharaja means "great king" ), rani (queen), and rajput (king's son, or prince) are of Hindu origin. Nawab is a Muslim title of Hindustani derivation for a nobleman, while nizam is of Arabic origin.

Imperial China made use of over 600 titles beginning with Huang Ti (emperor), Huang How (empress), Huang T'ai How (dowager empress), and so on. Titles of the hereditary imperial nobility conferred on members of the imperial house were of 12 degrees, or lines of descent. These titles were also conferred on the princes and rulers of the Mongol tribes. They were hereditary for a period up to 26 generations. Lesser hereditary ranks of nobility and honorary titles were derived from the feudal order that existed in the 6th cent. BC Although they loosely resembled the European scheme—Kung, How, Peh, Tsze, and Nan, corresponding to duke, marquis, earl, viscount, and baron, they were not aristocratic titles in the European sense, as they were granted purely for military services. Titles of honor known as Feng Tseng were conferred as rewards for service or great merit.

The Japanese emperor is sometimes called the Mikado, but this is a term used exclusively by Europeans, except for its use in Japanese poetry. The Japanese have called him the Tenshi (Son of Heaven), Tenno (Heavenly King), Arehito Tenno (God Walking Among Men), Kamigoichinin (Upper Exalted Foremost Being), Aramikami (Incarnate God), and other titles that reflect the traditional belief in his divinity. Through much of Japanese history, the real power rested in the shogun, the commander of the imperial armies. The great feudal vassals were the daimyos, who led retinues of samurai, members of the knightly class. The shogunate came to an end in 1868, giving the real power to the emperor. In 1884, with the feudal order disbanded and all loyalty pledged to the emperor, the holders of ancient titles were given new designations based upon the European system of baron, count, marquess, and so on.


See W. F. Mayers, The Chinese Government (3d ed. 1897, repr. 1966); J. McMillan, The Honours Game (1969); L. G. Pine, The Story of Titles (1969).

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In the Talmud

The many titles appearing in talmudic literature may be roughly classed into two (sometimes overlapping) categories: titles of respect and titles of office. Almost all these titles make their first appearance not earlier than in the middle or late part of the first century c.e. Thus all "pre-tannaitic" personalities, with the exception of Simeon the Just, bore no titles, unless the term ish (lit. "man [of]") in Avot 1:4 designates some high office rather than merely meaning "native of." Other titles of the Temple period refer mainly to the priestly hierarchy, e.g., Kohen gadol, segan ha-kohanim, among others.

titles of respect

The most important in this category is a group of three related terms: rabban, rabbi, and rav.

According to the Tosefta (Eduy. end) "he who has disciples, and his disciples have disciples, is called rabbi. If his disciples are forgotten (but his statements are handed down) he is called rabban. If both are forgotten he is quoted by his name." No such use of rabban, however, occurs in rabbinic literature, and Allon suggests that this baraita refers to the manner in which a disciple referred to the teachings of his teacher which he had heard or which had been transmitted to him, but not to the titles accorded them by the people as a whole. In point of fact, the only sages upon whom the title rabban was conferred were heads of the central academy, or the Sanhedrin after Hillel, including Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai and Hillel's descendants, Gamaliel i, ii, iii, and Simeon b. Gamaliel iii (cf. Iggeret Sherira Ga'on, ed. by B.M. Lewin (1921), 125f.). It was then a title of supreme distinction granted to the head of the academy. The term rabbi was granted to all Palestinian scholars from the late first century onward who had received *semikhah ("ordination"). Its use in Matthew 23:7, 8 is generally regarded as anachronistic. (Rabbi, without a proper name, refers to Judah ha-Nasi i.) The Ashkenazim vocalize the name as rabbi (רַבִּי), which may mean "my master." The Sephardim, however, vocalize it ribbi (רִבִּי) with no suggestion that it is the first person suffix of "master." Some of the talmudic sages, in fact, have the cognomen be-ribbi added to their name; cf. Yose b. Ḥalafta (Suk. 26a), Judah b. Ilai (Men. 34b), Eleazar ha-Kappar (Av. Zar. 43a), and Joshua b. Levi (Kid. 80). Rashi explains be-ribbi as "a scholar of outstanding acumen" (Suk. 26a) and Samuel b. Meir as "a leading scholar of his generation" (Pes. 100a). Ezekiel Landau (Noda bi-Yhudah, mahadura tinyana, oḤ no. 113) differentiates between be-ribbi as a title added to a name, which means a leading scholar, and biribbi unattached to a name, which refers to an individual. In Babylon, however, where scholars were not ordained, they were only called rav ("master"; see Arukh, s.v. אביי, but cf. Tosef., Eduy. ad. fin.).

The term abba ("father"), originally an address of esteem and affection, came to mean something less than rabbi (Abba Saul, Judah, etc.). The term mar (or mari, "my lord") seems to have had a similar semantic history, though when used in Babylon (Mar Samuel, Ukba, Zutra) probably meant more than just rav. Other appellations of respect are he-ḥasid ("the righteous"; cf. Suk. 52b), and the more technical ḥakham, talmid ḥakham ("scholar") and others.

titles of office

The biblical nasi ("prince") was used in tannaitic times to designate the president of the Palestinian community. In Babylon, the exilarch was called resh galuta (lit. "head of the Diaspora"). The head of the Sanhedrin was entitled av bet din, and members of the court zekenim ("elders"). There were also the following Palestinian titles: rosh keneset ("head of a synagogue"?); *parnas ("communal administrator"); and gabbai ẓedakah ("public collector and distributor of charity"). A ḥazzan was a synagogue sexton (Suk. 51b), a school superintendent (Shab. 1:3) or, in collegiate debates, a chairman (tj, Ber. 4:1, 7d). In Babylon, the president of the students assembled to study in Adar and Elul was called resh kallah, and was second only to the resh sidra; an assistant teacher was called resh dukhan (bb 21a), a college janitor maftir keneset, and the town guard ḥazzan mata.

Finally, "a member of the order for the observance of levitical purity in daily intercourse" was known as a *ḥaver. However, in amoraic times, both in Palestine (tj, Ta'an. 1:6, 64c: "fellow of the rabbis") and Babylon (Beẓ. 25a), it could simply mean a fellow student. Often honorific epithets were assigned to outstanding personalities, but these are descriptive rather than titles proper.

[Daniel Sperber]

In the Middle Ages

Among Jews in the Middle Ages, titles stemmed from community leadership, from scholarship, or from a pious way of life. Titles would be transferred from one of those spheres to express admiration for an individual. Among titles designating both scholarship and office was the *archipherecites or resh pirka, head of the academy, mentioned in the sixth century. From the academies of Babylonia, as well as from participation in the leadership functions of the geonic period, come the titles *gaon, *av bet din (abad), *alluf or *resh kallah, as well as the leadership titles resh golah ("*exilarch") in Babylonia, nasi in other lands, and *nagid in Egypt, Kairouan, and Spain. The community leaders held a variety of titles in many languages. Some of the Hebrew ones are *parnas, kahal, rosh, ne'eman, manhig, tuv, ikkor, *alluf, and *gabbai. The communal functionaries were shoḥet u-vodek, moreh ẓedek, *dayyan, *shammash, *ḥazzan, *rav, rosh yeshivah, and *maggid. Since the 15th century, among Ashkenazi Jewry the titles ḥaver, morenu, and rav appear in connection with the Ashkenazi *semikhah. The rabbi of the local community is defined as the mara de-atra. In the 15th century the title manhig ("leader") for rabbis appeared, only to disappear in the 16th, and for a short period rosh golah reappeared as an honorific title. Appellations denoting special attributes were ha-navi, he-ḥasid, ha-sar ha-gadol, ha-go'el ha-malakh, ha-kadosh ("martyr"). For Sephardi Jewry *ḥakham and marbiẓ torah are the main functional titles for scholars. Among the ḥasidic appellations are *admor (adonenu morenu ve-rabbenu), and ba'al shem tov. Among the Sephardi Jews *ḥakham bashi was in use for the Turkish chief rabbi. In modern times the appellation rav rashi ("chief rabbi") appears.

[Isaac Levitats]


A. Orenstein, Enẓiklopedyah le-To'orei Kavod be-Yisrael (1958– ); Allon, Meḥk, 1 (1957), 253–5. in the middle ages: Baron, Community, 3 (1942), index; Eisenstein, Yisrael, s.v.To'orei Kavod.

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titles Formerly hereditary designations corresponding to rank within a well-defined social hierarchy under an emperor or monarch. Modern-day hereditary titles may still be passed on, but most titles are conferred by a head of state for the lifetime of the recipient only. In the English-speaking world, formal hereditary titles are (in descending order of consequence): king, prince, duke, earl, viscount, baron.

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ti·tled / ˈtītld/ • adj. (of a person) having a title indicating high social or official rank.