Difference Between King and Emperor

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: September 09, 2023


Difference Between King and Emperor

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An Emperor and a King do the same thing – rule. So, what makes these titles different? After all, not everyone who rules acquires the title emperor, and no one used it merely because it sounds more regal. The Emperors rule over a vast region compared to Kings; therefore, they are much more powerful. Simply put, Emperors are akin to High King Peter Pevensie in Narnia, while Kings are similar to King Edmund Pevensie. However, Emperors ruled over multiple Kings and their kingdoms, unlike Peter who ruled only Narnia.

Kings and Emperors have God-like status among their subjects/people. The divine right of monarchs makes them answerable only to God and no other earthly power. As such, a monarch is not bound by his people’s will (that is wrong in so many ways). However, absolute monarchies began to decline, and American and French revolutions made people realize the importance of equality and liberty. Therefore, as the years went by, the consent of the people and not God’s will was considered the source of a king or an emperor’s power.

King Vs. Emperor

An Emperor rules over an empire consisting of multiple kingdoms, whereas a King rules a Kingdom, which may or may not be within an empire.

Difference Between King And Emperor In Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonKingEmpire
StatusA King has the second-highest status if his kingdom is a part of an empire and the highest status if his Kingdom is not part of an empire.‘Emperor’ is the highest title a ruler can acquire. Therefore, Emperors have the highest honorary status and rank.
TerritoryKings rule over a nation/kingdom. So, their territory is mostly homogeneous.Emperors rule multiple nations; therefore, their territory is heterogeneous.
IndependenceHe may be an independent or a dependent ruler (depending on whether he is under the rule of an Emperor).An Emperor is an independent ruler (hurray for him, not so much for others if he is not benevolent.).
Acquisition of powerA King rules because it is his birthright, meaning he inherits his power (hereditary rule).An Emperor gains power through inheritance (the son of an emperor ascends the throne) or conquest (a King conquers other kingdoms and their rulers).
Limitation on powerAn Emperor may override a king’s verdict or decision.He has absolute power, and no one can question it.
Influence on kingdomsA king has no influence over other kings or the matters of their kingdoms.An Emperor holds power over every kingdom that forms a part of his empire.
Female EquivalentsQueen Regnant is the title of a king’s female equivalent.Women who have the right to rule in their own name are referred to as Empress Regnant.

What Is A King?

A King is a ruler who is expected to protect his people and increase their prosperity. An Emperor is the only person who can overrule a king’s decision – that too, only if the king had sworn his allegiance to the emperor. Therefore, a king has considerable powers and knows what is best for his people. In a golden kingdom, everyone lives peacefully as each individual knows what their role in the kingdom is.

A king should be righteous, resolute, intellectual, honorable (that is, keep his word), and strong enough to fend off an attack by neighboring kingdoms. He must have the ability to listen, grasp, and retain the meaning of what he hears; moreover, he should be able to recognize and reject false views and knowledge (meaning he should not stray from the righteous path – applies to politicians of today’s world, too, right?).

A king should be a shining example of valor, military prowess, and dexterity. After all, the entire kingdom’s fate depends on the King’s competence (yikes! Too much pressure, but the ability to deal with such pressures is what makes a King so special.).

People want a just king who rewards and punishes individuals in proportion to their actions. A King will not rule successfully if he does not have foresight. He is expected to recognize the right opportunities and exploit them at the right time. Anger, greed, and fickleness are the bane of a King’s existence; therefore, the king must not fall into these pits and act in a dignified manner at all times (seriously, who is that perfect? Hats-off to those kings who pulled it off.).

Gaining knowledge is a continuous process. Therefore, a king must always be on the lookout for learning and experiencing new things. After all, no one knows everything (and acting like a know-it-all only irritates people). Only with knowledge comes wisdom, and a wise king will have a stable kingdom. Furthermore, a good king is wary of his associations. He cuts himself off from those who are a bad influence on him and only enjoys the company of those who wish the kingdom well. (Saying he made me do it just won’t cut it; a king should have known better.)

A kingdom is called petty (in the sense that it is small) to contrast it from a unified kingdom that succeeded or preceded it. For example, in the 16th century, the Gaelic kingdoms of Ireland unified to become the Kingdom of Ireland. The Gaelic kingdoms are the petty kingdoms in this example. The unification of Anglo-Saxon England into the Kingdom of England is another example.

The Kings of these unified petty kingdoms ruled over other kings even though they never gained the title emperor (they were not as powerful as the great emperors history taught people about). However, in some cases, the kings were able to resist this unification and wield their power with grace (a rare occurrence but something possible).

What Is An Emperor?

An Emperor bows to no one; he holds absolute power over his empire and rules as he sees fit. Who can question a ruler with so much power? That is why there have been numerous fantastic as well as worst emperors throughout history. A prime example of a great emperor is Augustus Caesar (the first Roman Emperor). His reign was mostly peaceful after he triumphed over Mark Antony and Cleopatra (that is one fantastic war to read about).

Augustus gained control over several territories and constructed roads to make communication easier between them (he knew what he was doing, didn’t he?). He was so influential that the month of August was named after him. Nero is an excellent example of one of the worst emperors of all time.

Seriously, anyone who read the Trials of Apollo series knows how bad he is. After all, the main antagonist of the first book (Nero/the Beast) was based on the real-life Roman Emperor Nero. In short, an emperor has huge responsibilities and has enormous amounts of power to fulfill them. However, how the emperor uses that power depends on his personality.

Some rulers preferred the titles Caesar, Augustus, Autokrator, Tsar, Maharaja, Chhatrapati, or Chakravarti to the title Emperor. The title varied depending on the countries they ruled and the dominant language in the empire. An emperor rules over vast lands and oceans with dedication, honor, and righteousness.

Some Of The Greatest Emperors Of All Time

Besides Augustus Caesar/Octavian, several other emperors’ names prevailed in history as some of the greatest rulers. Alexander the Great would have definitely made the list; however, the title emperor came into existence at the time of Augustus Caesar, and Alexander was born 200 years before Julius Caesar. Some of the proficient rulers who held the title ‘emperor’ are as follows:


Constantine announced Byzantium as the New Rome, which is referred to in modern days as Constantinople (the imperial capital). Constantine is renowned for his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. However, he is still remembered for his acceptance of Christianity, which paved the way for it to spread to all corners of the world.


Hirohito reigned for 63 years as a Japanese Emperor (the longest period of reigning time in Japanese history). By 1979, he was the only ruler with the title ‘Emperor’. Initially revered as a god, he was forced to renounce his divinity after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II.


Emperor Vespasian established the Flavian dynasty after winning the civil war that broke out after Nero’s death. Vespasian is renowned for the majestic monuments that were built during his period (such as the Colosseum). His son Titus succeeded him, making him the first Roman Emperor to ascend his father’s throne; this paved the way for hereditary rule.

Marcus Aurelius

Can two emperors rule side-by-side? The immediate response of a rational person will be no. However, Marcus Aurelius ruled with Lucius Verus; this was the first time in history that an empire had two emperors. Marcus did not find the idea of being an emperor appealing (he was more interested in philosophy) but accepted the title and ruled as he considered it his duty (perhaps Shakespeare’s famous quote ‘others have greatness thrust upon them’ fits him well).

Though his reign was mostly peaceful, after the death of Lucius, he spent the rest of his ruling period fighting the Marcomanni Wars (poor man loses his co-emperor and still has to fight? Sheesh, talk about bad luck.). Aurelius promoted army officials and civilian administrators based on merit instead of class (this practice started during Hadrian’s reign but took off during Marcus’ rule).


Hadrian spent most of his reign traveling his sprawling empire, unlike the rulers before him who focused on ruling from Rome. His predecessor Trajan emerged victorious against the Parthian empire; however, Hadrian wisely chose to halt the armies and went defensive.

This decision established the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which remained unchanged during his rule (hey, not allowing the enemies to gain even an inch is much more challenging than it seems.). He considered himself an amateur architect and built the Pantheon and the Hadrian’s Villa – both were stunning pieces of work. He was lover of Greek Culture and helped spread it throughout his empire.

Chandragupta Maurya

Who does not love a story about a great duo? Chandragupta Maurya, trained by Chanakya, built the Maurya Dynasty. Together, they made a formidable pair, and the vast dynasty/empire lasted several centuries. Moreover, the Maurya dynasty was the first empire to advocate the protection of the forests and their flora and fauna (hmm, ancient rulers were wise enough to know the true value of nature and why it should be protected. Modern-day people can learn a thing or two from them.).


As the third emperor of the Mughal Dynasty, Akbar tripled its wealth and prosperity during his rule. He pacified the conquered kings using his diplomatic skills though he did not need to do so (one of the reasons his name stood the test of time). His habit of honoring non-Muslims equally earned him much respect, loyalty, and admiration. What more would an emperor want?

Main Difference Between King And Emperor (In Points)

  • Sometimes, a Kingdom may be vaster than an empire; however, the ruler’s title will still be King rather than an Emperor.
  • Emperors are the King of Kings. However, there have been very few emperors compared to kings.
  • At present, there are fifteen Kings in the world, whereas the Emperor of Japan is the only known Emperor.
  • A ruling emperor’s wife is known as an empress, specifically, an empress consort. A ruling king’s wife is known as the queen consort.
  • An emperor forms the rules governing the empire, whereas the kings together implement the rules in their kingdoms, which are a part of the empire.
  • A King may rise as an emperor; however, an emperor becomes a mere king when he falls.
  • Kings are allowed to rule only if they swear their allegiance to the emperor (if their kingdoms are a part of the empire). On the other hand, emperors do not have to swear allegiance to anyone.


Emperors and Kings do not have the same significance they had in the olden days. The modern era saw the rise of politicians in the place of monarchs. A few royal families still hold absolute power (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Brunei, etc.); however, some monarchs double as politicians (either presidents or prime ministers) to keep control of their nations. Therefore, there is little use in knowing about the kings and emperors of today. On the other hand, it is always exciting to know about the emperors and kings of ancient times who wielded incomparable power and ruled with integrity and dignity.


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  • https://www.yourdictionary.com/articles/ruler-title-differences
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  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor
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  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petty_king
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"Difference Between King and Emperor." Diffzy.com, 2024. Mon. 10 Jun. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-king-and-emperor>.

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