"Shāh" (Persian: شاه, [ʃɒː]) was the title of Iranian kings including the Achaemenid dynasty which unified Persia and created a vast intercontinental empire. The full title of the Achaemenid rulers was xšāyaθiya xšāyaθiyānām, "King of Kings", corresponding to Middle Persian šāhān šāh, literally "kings' king", and Modern Persian shāhanshāh (شاهنشاه). In Greek this phrase was translated as "βασιλεύς τῶν βασιλέων (basileus tōn basiléōn)", "king of kings", in rank rather equivalent to emperor. The Indian counterpart of shahanshah was rajadhiraja or kshetra-pati (more toward Padishah). Both were often shortened to their root, shah viz. basileus.
From the related word kshathra "realm, province" also descends kshathrapavan, literally "guardian of the realm", which in western languages became satrap 'governor' via the Greek and Latin satrapes.
In English its use as title for the king of Persia is recorded since 1564, as shaw (or shaugh), and for long it remained common to render it in European languages by kingly rather than imperial titles. Via its Arabic form (also shah) it was the root of the western words for chess and check (as in "check mate").
In western languages, the term shah is often used as an imprecise rendering of shāhanshāh (meaning king of kings). Usually shortened to shāh it is the term for an Iranian monarch and was used by most of the former rulers of the Iranian empires, many nationalities of Iranian origin, or under cultural influence.
The term shah or shahanshah has roughly corresponded to Persia since the Achaemenid Persian Empire (which had succeeded and absorbed the Mede state), or the properly Iranian Empire, after its conquest by Alexander the Great who translated it into Greek as basileus ton basileon, also often shortened to basileus.
The title is roughly equivalent in rank to the western emperor and is hence often translated as such in English or its equivalent in other languages. The monarch of Persia (internally always called Iran) was technically the emperor of the Persian Empire (later the Empire of Iran, as Iran was officially known until 1935). However until the Napoleonic era, when Persia was an enviable ally of the Western powers eager to make the Ottoman Sultan release his hold on various (mainly Christian) European parts of the Turkish Empire, and western (Christian) emperors had obtained the Ottoman acknowledgement that their western imperial styles were to be rendered in Turkish as padishah, the western practice was to consider 'king of kings' a particular but royal title.
The last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi officially adopted the title شاهنشاه shâhanshâh (literally king of kings) and in western languages the rendering as emperor, during his coronation. He also styled his wife شهبانو shahbânu (empress).
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