King of Kings

This article is about the monarchic or divine title. For other uses, see King of Kings (disambiguation).

The genitive phrase King of Kings (Assyrian šar šarrāni, Hebrew מֶלֶךְ מְלָכִים melek mĕlakîm) is a superlative expression for "great king" or high king; it is probably originally of Semitic origins (compare the superlatives Lord of Lords, Song of Songs or Holy of Holies),[1] but from there was also adopted in Persian (Shahanshah), Hellenistic and Christian traditions.

Historical usage

Assyrian Empire

The first king known to use the title "king of kings" (šar šarrāni) was Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (13th century BC). The title used to be intended quite literally, as a šar or mlk was the title of a king of a city-state, and with the formation of an empire in the Late Bronze Age, the Assyrian rulers installed themselves as rulers over the existing structure of rulers (kings) of city-states.[2]

The title was adopted in Biblical Hebrew, as מלך מלכיא, in refence to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in Ezekiel 26:7. The same usage appears in Aramaic portions of the Book of Daniel 2:37, where Nebuchadnezzar is called מֶלֶךְ מַלְכַיָּא.

Ancient Persia

The first written record of consistent use of the title dates to the kings of the Achaemenid Empire. The title King of Kings (Old Persian: Xšâyathiya Xšâyathiyânâm) was one of the titles borne by Cyrus the Great, and later all other emperors of Achaemenid Persian Empire, who were in fact ruling over provincial governors (see satrap).

The Persian usage also appears in Ezra 7:12 in reference to Artaxerxes I.

The Old Persian title was evolved into Middle Persian shâhân shâh, and later into New Persian shâhanshâh (شاهنشاه, English /ˈʃɑːənˈʃɑː/)[3] by regular sound changes. The Middle Persian word was used by emperors of Sassanid Persian Empire. The New Persian word was later revived by some post-Islamic dynasties in Persia with the meaning "great king".

Hellenistic era

Alexander the Great had the title: "Basileus ton Basileon" meaning king of kings. This title was likely given to him to imply that he was a successor of the Persian kings who had the same title.

Tigranes II of Armenia (140 – 55 BC) used a title equivalent to "king of kings".[4]

The title was used in the Donations of Alexandria ceremony in 34BC, where Caesarion, son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra VII, was proclaimed as King of Kings, also as a status of a god and son of god.[5]

Religious usage


In Judaism, Melech Malchei HaMelachim ("the King of the King of Kings") came to be used as a name of God, using the double superlative to put the title one step above the royal title of the Babylonian and Persian kings referred to in the Bible.[6]


"Christ as King of Kings". A Russian icon from Murom (1690)
Further information: Christ the King

Jesus Christ is called the "king of kings" (βασιλευς των βασιλευοντων) once in the First Epistle to Timothy (6:15) and twice in the Book of Revelation (17:14, 19:16).

But "king of kings" has also been used as the title of a monarch in Christian tradition. Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλεύων Βασιλευόντων (Basileus Basileon, Basileuon Basileuonton) "King of Kings, Ruling over Those who Rule" was the motto of the Byzantine Palaiologos dynasty. The Emperors of Ethiopia had the title of "king of kings" (nəgusä nägäst).[7]


The (secular) title of "king of kings" is criticized in hadith (Sahih al-Bukhari): "Verily, the worst title is 'King of Kings'; there is no King that has absolute power except Allah". A related phrase is Malik Al-Mulk" ("King of the Realm"), one of the 99 names of Allah.

Modern usage

Monarchs and autocrats

The title shahanshah was revived by the Pahlavi dynasty of Persia in the 20th century. It was abolished when the Islamic Revolution toppled the monarchy in Iran.[8]

Muammar Gaddafi of Libya claimed to be 'King of Kings,' a title that he subsequently had a gathering of African tribal chiefs endorse in 2008.[9] More "than 200 African kings and traditional rulers...bestowed the title 'king of kings' on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi" during a meeting "in the Libyan town of Benghazi in what was billed as a first of its kind. Gaddafi urged the royals to join his campaign for African unity....'We want an African military to defend Africa, we want a single African currency, we want one African passport to travel within Africa,' Gaddafi told the assembled dignitaries, who come from countries such as Mozambique, South Africa, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Variations of the traditional title of the Ethiopian kings, "niguse negest", were held by the rulers of the imperial realms of Mali in West Africa, Asanteman, also in West Africa, and Zululand in Southern Africa.

Popular culture

Henrik Larsson[10]

WWE wrestler Triple H is also dubbed as "The King of Kings", and uses the Motörhead song "King of Kings" in his ring entrances.

In The Simpsons episode "A Star Is Burns", an actor starring in Mr. Burns' movie "A Burns for All Seasons" referred to him as being truly "The King of Kings".

In the movie 300, King Xerxes I referred to himself as King of Kings.

In Percy Shelley's sonnet, Ozymandias, Ozymandias refers to himself as "King of Kings" on line 10.

In Family Guy episode "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!", Jesus is referred as "King of Kings"

In The Transformers, the character Abdul Fakkadi is the self-professed Supreme Military Commander, President-for-Life, and King of Kings of the Socialist Democratic Federated Republic of Carbombya.

See also


  1. Keel, Othmar (1994). The Song of Songs: A Continental Commentary. Fortress Press. p. 38.
  2. Lowell K. Handy, Among the host of Heaven: the Syro-Palestinian pantheon as bureaucracy, 1994, ISBN 978-0-931464-84-3, p. 112.
  3. "Shahanshah, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 4 June 2011 <>.
  4. David Engels: Überlegungen zur Funktion der Titel "Großkönig" und "König der Könige" vom 3. zum 1. Jh. v.Chr.. In: Victor Cojocaru / Altay Coskun / Madalina Dana (eds.): Interconnectivity in the Mediterranean and Pontic World during the Hellenistic and the Roman Periods, Mega, Cluj-Napoca, 2014, p. 333-362.
  5. Meyer Reinhold, Studies in classical history and society, Oxford University Press US, 2002, p.58.
  6. Gluck, P. K. (2010). "The Sovereignty of Kings and the Rule of Scientists: A Paradigm Conflict (page 78)". The Narratives of Interfaith Parents Raising Their Children With Jewish Identities: An Emerging Discourse (PDF) (Doctoral dissertation). The University of Michigan. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  7. Haile Selassie's full title in office was "His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God" (Ge'ez: ግርማዊ፡ ቀዳማዊ፡ አፄ፡ ኃይለ፡ ሥላሴ፡ ሞዓ፡ አንበሳ፡ ዘእምነገደ፡ ይሁዳ፡ ንጉሠ፡ ነገሥት፡ ዘኢትዮጵያ፡ ሰዩመ፡ እግዚአብሔር; girmāwī ḳedāmāwī 'aṣē ḫayle śillāsē, mō'ā 'anbessā ze'imneggede yihudā niguse negest ze'ītyōṗṗyā, siyume 'igzī'a'bihēr).
  8. Iranian revolution
  9. the CNN Wire Staff, "As ruler, Gadhafi sought world stage," CNN (August 25, 2011).
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