I would like to understand how monarchs actually came about.

Who was the first ever monarch (king or queen) of any country, ever? What date did they become monarch and how was it even decided to take some people and start calling them 'royal', for some reason?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Semaphore Jan 24 '18 at 12:42

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Recorded history begins in the late fourth millenium with the invention of writing in Mesopotamia and Egypt. At the time, kings already existed. So "the first king ever" is from far back in prehistory. There are no records from whenever that was, and so it's impossible to know exactly what happened.

In the particular case of the Near East, kings were often considered gods, sons of gods, or became gods after they died. Just one example (from the Sumerian king list):

After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug. In Eridug, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years.

Of course, a historian would probably consider this account mythological, and not representative of what actually happened.

Other theories (a famous example is that of the social contract) are advanced in philosophy, but are not exactly in the realm of history.

A more practical question is how kingship started in a particular society. For example, if you were interested in how the monarchy started in ancient Israel, you could read about Saul, the first king. If you were interested in how the Roman Kingdom became the Roman Republic and then became the Roman Empire, you could read about how each regime changed. All of these beginnings happened after kings had long existed, and the societies involved in the changes would have been well aware of kings from other nations; there is no documentation for "the first monarch ever."

  • Thank you for your answer, it is a starting point for further research if nothing else, but it does make me consider that David Icke might be onto something... – Cloud Jan 24 '18 at 12:38
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    Titles we now translate as "king" or "queen" have applied to everything from a petty warlord running what we'd now call a moderate sized village (i.e. the original kings of Rome) to someone who ruled a quarter of the human population (Queen Victoria). Trying to cram both into the same category is not particularly worthwhile. This doesn't even get into monarchs that aren't called "king" (emperors in Rome, China, Japan) – Steven Burnap Jan 24 '18 at 16:52
  • @Cloud The "The world is secretly ruled by intelligent reptiles from outer space" guy? – Ray Jan 31 '18 at 19:20

The question, as asked, has no simple answer. The concept of monarchy evolved gradually from the pre-historic leadership of clans and tribes, and all of its trappings evolved along with it. There was no single invention of the modern version of monarchy, only a series of changes and re-inventions, stretching back before recorded history.


If the question is about the historical figures and events, then one would have to look at the history of the first kingdoms (Egypt, Mesopotamia, China). If it is about the origin of the institution, the answer can only be a matter of speculation because the origin of monarchy (as of other institutions) go far back to prehistorical times. A solution might be to renounce a chronological perspective in favor of a structural or genealogical one. The idea would be then to consider the oldest forms of monarchy that anthropologists and ethnographers have identified.

The "primitive" kings were religious figures just like the very recent ones, only even more so, given that "politics" were not yet there. The king was probably initially a sacred/sacrificial figure. That is, he was not only sacred, but also an object of a sacred action, a victim of sacrifice, and was put to death in a religious ritual. There are a lot of relics of this phenomena, some already analyzed in the 19th century by James Frazer in The Golden Bough (1890).

A more recent interpretation is that of Rene Girard, who in Violece and the Sacred (1972) further develops this perspective in more general terms.

The answer would be that monarchs came out of more primitive religious figures (shaman kings, magicians) before the development of what we call "politics". With the creation of larger communities and the interactions between them in military and political forms, this primitive monarchy suffered changes that brought it closer to what we know from historical times.

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