What Is The Definition Of A Dynasty?

A bronze cup used by the Tang dynasty.
A bronze cup used by the Tang dynasty.

What is a Dynasty?

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a dynasty is defined as “a series of rulers or leaders who are all from the same family, or a period when a country is ruled by them”. The word ‘dynasty’ had originally been derived from the Greek dynastéia, meaning 'power' and 'rule' itself. A dynastic family may be known as a ‘royal, princely or comital house’, depending on the titles inherited by the members of the family. Though most dynasties of the world are patrilineal in nature, a few, such as the Modjadji (or Rain Queen) tribal dynasty of the Balobedu people in South Africa, is matrilineal in nature.

World’s Longest Surviving Dynasty

The Imperial House of Japan (or the Yamato Dynasty) is the world’s longest surviving dynasty. The dynasty formally started on February 11th, 660 BC with the reign of the legendary Emperor Jimmu, who was believed to be a descendent of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and the Storm God Takehaya Susanoo-no-Mikoto. Since then, 125 monarchs have occupied the throne of the kingdom in a continuous succession. This line is inclusive of the current reigning Emperor of Japan, Akihito, who acceded to the throne on January 7, 1989. Naruhito, the elder son of Emperor Akihito who was born on February 23, 1960, is the next heir to the Japanese Chrysanthemum Throne. After Japan's defeat in World War II, however, the title became ceremonial, rather than authoritative.

World’s Most Powerful Dynasties

The Roman Empire was not just the world’s greatest dynasty in terms of its 2,214 year long rule or the vastness of the kingdom under this rule, but also because the Empire helped shape and nurture the sophisticated and classical Roman urban culture which continues to influence and inspire global cultures of modern times . The Roman Dynasty’s adoption of Christianity allowed for the growth of this religion into a major world religion, and the Romans also spread Greek philosophy and knowledge to the rest of the world. Today, many of the modern legal and government systems of the current times have been inspired by the Roman Dynasty. Besides the Romans, the Persian Empire, the Caliphates of the Arabian Empires, and the Mongol Empire are among the other powerful dynasties of ancient history. The British Dynasty was perhaps the most powerful dynasty of recent times. The rule of this dynasty was at its peak in the early 20th Century, when its occupied territory spread across almost a quarter of the world's surface area. The British rule was different from the past empires in that, instead of taking such measures as resorting to use a huge army to claim lands, the British Empire used its organizational skills and financial prowess as weapons to topple monarchies in kingdoms worldwide, and subsequently occupy their lands in remote destinations.

The Decline of Monarchial Dynasties

The growth of parliamentary authority and communism in the 19th Century ended most of the monarchies of the world. Currently, only 43 or 44 countries of the world have a monarch as either their ceremonial or absolute head of state. Among these, only 7 countries, the Vatican City, Brunei, Swaziland, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the various Emirates comprising the United Arab Emirates, have an absolute monarchial rule still in place.

Modern Dynasties: Political, Influential, & Wealthy Families

Currently, though most elected governments of the modern world do not recognize inheritance as the way to succession of presidential or ministerial positions, influence, genetics, eminence, and nepotism often accelerate the succession of political power between members of a single powerful family. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of India, the Bhutto family of Pakistan, the Kennedy family of the USA, and the Aung San Suu Kyi’ family of Burma (Myanmar) are all examples of political dynasties of the modern political world. Besides politics, a number of other powerful families have shaped and influenced the politics, cultures, traditions, and ways of life of people of their respective countries (or even of the world as a whole) with their knowledge or with their abundance of wealth. These important families are thus given the status of individual dynasties. Examples of such powerful families include the Guinness family of Ireland, the Tata family of India, the Forbes family of United States, and several notable others.


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