• kingdom
    A castle in the former kingdom of Bavaria.

    Photograph by Thomas Woolrych, My Shot

    Kingdom of Mali
    We know about the history of the African kingdom of Mali from a number of different sources. Arab traders and scholars who passed through the kingdom left written accounts that have survived the centuries. African storytellers, called griots, passed down the kingdom's history from generation to generation through stories. Archaeologists also have found artifacts like tools, housing remains, and even trash heaps called middens in Malian cities such as Timbuktu. These artifacts teach us how people lived.

    Wealth of a Monarch
    Queen Elizabeth I of England is ranked as the fifteenth wealthiest person in human history, when net worth is calculated in terms of contemporary U.S. dollars. Ranked first is American John D. Rockefeller, who founded Standard Oil.

    Kingdom of Hawaii
    The Kingdom of Hawaii was the last kingdom to exist on what is now American land. The kingdom was united by King Kamehameha I in 1810. The last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii was Queen Liliuokalani. Queen Liliuokalani was forced to abdicate, or resign, in 1893. The United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands in 1898, ending the kingdom. (Hawaii became a state in 1959.)

    United Kingdom
    The United Kingdom, with its capital in London, England, includes the kingdoms of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The flags of all four kingdoms are represented in the flag of the United Kingdom, nicknamed the "Union Jack."

    A kingdom is a piece of land that is ruled by a king or a queen. A kingdom is often called a monarchy, which means that one person, usually inheriting their position by birth or marriage, is the leader, or head of state.

    Kingdoms are one of the earliest types of societies on Earth, dating back thousands of years. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of different kingdoms throughout history. Kingdoms can be huge, such as the United Kingdom. During the nineteenth century, the United Kingdom, ruled from London, England, stretched over five continents. Kingdoms can also be small, such as the kingdom of Brunei, which is smaller than the U.S. state of Delaware.

    Kingdoms are rarely ruled by an absolute monarch, a single king or queen who makes all decisions for the entire state. Kingdoms are usually broken into smaller territories, such as city-states or provinces, that are governed by officials who report to the monarch. Most modern kings and queens do not control the government. Elected leaders and constitutions establish laws for most kingdoms today.

    Early Kingdoms

    The world’s earliest kingdoms developed thousands of years ago when leaders began conquering and controlling cities and settlements. Rulers of early kingdoms provided protection to their residents, or subjects. In return, subjects paid taxes or services to the monarch. Kingdoms also had the power to create and enforce laws.

    The first kingdoms were established about 3000 BCE in Sumer and Egypt. Sumer was a kingdom that existed between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern Iraq. The Sumerians had their own written language and undertook complicated construction projects, such as irrigation canals and large temples called ziggurats. There is also evidence that the Sumerian kingdom traded and fought with neighboring peoples.

    A few thousand years later, around 200 BCE, the kingdom of Teotihuacan developed in North America. The kingdom was centered in the city of Teotihuacan in modern Mexico City, Mexico. Teotihuacan probably had more than 100,000 inhabitants, making it among the largest ancient kingdoms in the world at that time.

    Many, but not all, ancient kingdoms were empires. Empires are geographically large political units made of many different cultural or ethnic groups. Empires were often headed by monarchs, making them kingdoms. The ancient Egyptian empire was a kingdom ruled by a monarch called a pharaoh, for instance. The Egyptian empire reached its height in the so-called “New Kingdom” period, under the leadership of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BCE). Egypt in the New Kingdom stretched from modern-day Egypt, along the Mediterranean coast to modern-day Turkey in the north, and modern-day Eritrea in the south.

    Many empires did not have monarchs, however, so empire and kingdom are not always the same thing.

    Medieval Kingdoms

    The Middle Ages was a period in history that lasted roughly from about 500 to 1500. It is also referred to as the medieval period. During the Middle Ages, countless kingdoms formed and collapsed throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.

    In Europe, many small kingdoms were formed and fought over by tribes following the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476. Tribes such as the Ostrogoths, from modern Romania, and the Franks, from modern Germany, were among those that formed small, unstable kingdoms in the early Middle Ages.

    Perhaps the most famous European kingdom of the Middle Ages was that of Britain’s legendary King Arthur. Arthur may not have existed at all. Accounts of his kingdom were written hundreds of years after it supposedly existed. If there was a King Arthur, he probably lived during the fifth century, after the Romans left Britain and before the emergence of actual, historical British kings in the eighth century. King Arthur would have been one of dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of kings in Britain at the time. He would have ruled over a land the size of a county—maybe a hundred square miles. Even if King Arthur did not exist, his legend proves the importance of kingdoms in the Middle Ages.

    At around the same time tribes and small kingdoms were warring over parts of Europe, the African kingdoms of Ghana and Mali were among the strongest of the Middle Ages. The Ghana Empire, also known as the Wagadou Empire, formed about 790. It found success as a major trading center. The Ghana Empire, located in the modern countries of Mauritania and Mali, was a kingdom on the southwest edge of the Sahara Desert. Caravans with hundreds of camels would travel across the Sahara like ships crossing a sandy sea.

    The kingdom emerged as a trading center for gold and salt. (Salt, a valuable preservative for food, was nearly as valuable as gold.) The trade of ideas also flourished in the kingdom, as the religion of Islam spread westward from the Arabian Peninsula to the western coast of Africa. The Ghana Empire was weakened and eventually collapsed because of rapid growth, drought, and weakened trade.

    About 1200, the Mali Empire rose out of what was once Ghana. Mali became a strong kingdom under the leadership of King Sundiata, known as the “Lion Prince.” Sundiata’s kingdom stretched from the Atlantic coast of the modern countries of Senegal and Mauritania to the inland area of southeast Mali. Like Ghana, the Mali Empire depended on trade routes through the Sahara. Unlike Ghana, this kingdom actually had its own gold mines within its borders. One of the kingdom’s major cities was the trade hub of Timbuktu, in the modern nation of Mali. Timbuktu was the major trade city on the edge of the Sahara for hundreds of years, trading gold, ivory, salt, and slaves.

    Later Kingdoms

    After many centuries of war and turmoil, stronger and more sophisticated kingdoms began to develop throughout the world. In Europe, the kingdoms of Portugal, France, and England expanded across vast territories after the discovery of the Americas in the late fifteenth century.

    Kingdoms established stronger diplomatic ties with neighboring governments to reduce conflict. They relied on treaties and, often, marriages to create strong alliances. Many monarchs of Europe during this period were related to each other. The British Queen Victoria was as much German as British, for instance. Her mother was a German princess, and both sets of grandparents were monarchs of small German kingdoms.

    Kingdoms of this period increased trade with far-away kingdoms and built strong fleets for overseas exploration. The Portuguese Empire, for instance, established ties with the Kingdom of Siam, in the modern country of Thailand. Portugal’s fleet was able to travel around the continent of Africa and along the coast of Asia to reach Siam. Portugal, which dominated trade routes in the Indian Ocean, traded for valuable spices.

    The Kingdom of Siam was exposed to European technology and politics. While some Asian kingdoms, such as Japan, rejected the influence of European powers, Siam used European ideas to modernize the country. Siam reached its peak under King Mongkut, who ruled from 1851–1868. King Mongkut helped establish the first newspaper in the kingdom, and hired British soldiers to teach Siamese troops the latest in military technology. King Mongkut also introduced the idea of free trade. Subjects in the kingdom could manufacture their own trade goods, such as rice or tea, for trade with foreign businesses.

    Modern Kingdoms

    A few kingdoms are still ruled absolutely by a monarch. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, King Mswati III of Swaziland, and King Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei are absolute monarchs. All of these kingdoms have legislatures and sets of laws. The monarch remains the final authority.

    However, most of the kingdoms that exist today are constitutional monarchies. The king or queen acts as a ceremonial head of state, with public responsibilities such as promoting tourism and interest in the nation’s history and culture but no real political authority. Under a constitutional monarchy, the nation is governed by a constitution, or set of laws, executed by a president or prime minister elected by the country’s citizens. In England, for example, Queen Elizabeth II is the official head of state—but the nation is governed by a prime minister and parliament.

    The Kingdom of Thailand, formerly the Kingdom of Siam, is an example of a modern kingdom. The kingdom ended its absolute monarchy in 1932, and today it is a democracy with elected leaders and courts of law. However, the king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has reigned since 1946 and is the longest-serving king in Thai history. King Adulyadej has tremendous public support and has been known to intervene in politics. Unlike the subjects of King Mongkut, though, Thailand’s leaders are not pressured to obey him.

    Other modern kingdoms ruled by a constitutional monarchy include Sweden, Belgium, Japan, and Morocco.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    annex Verb

    to add or incorporate land into an existing parcel, state, or nation.

    archaeologist Noun

    person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.

    caravan Noun

    group of people who travel together for safety and companionship through difficult territory.

    ceremonial Adjective

    used for a ritual or formal occasion.

    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    collapse Verb

    to fall apart completely.

    constitutional Adjective

    having to do with a country or government's constitution or leading set of laws.

    democracy Noun

    system of organization or government where the people decide policies or elect representatives to do so.

    diplomatic relations Noun

    the formal ties between nations.

    dominate Verb

    to overpower or control.

    dozen Noun

    a group of 12.

    drought Noun

    period of greatly reduced precipitation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: drought
    empire Noun

    group of nations, territories or other groups of people controlled by a single, more powerful authority.

    fleet Noun

    group of ships, usually organized for military purposes.

    flourish Verb

    to thrive or be successful.

    Franks Noun

    (250-850) kingdom in modern France and Germany.

    free trade Noun

    international exchange of goods and services without taxes or other fees.

    Ghana Empire Noun

    (790-1080) kingdom in Northwest Africa. Also called the Wagadou Empire.

    gold Noun

    valuable chemical element with the symbol Au.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    griot Noun

    storyteller and oral historian common to cultures of West Africa.

    head of state Noun

    official leader of a country's government.

    hub Noun

    center.

    inland Adjective

    area not near the ocean.

    intervene Verb

    to come between two things.

    introduce Verb

    to create, begin, or make an idea known for the first time.

    irrigation canal Noun

    channel dug between a source of water and crops. Also called an irrigation ditch.

    ivory Noun

    hard, white substance that forms the teeth or tusks of some animals.

    king Noun

    male monarch.

    kingdom Noun

    type of government with a king or queen as its leader, or the land ruled by that king or queen.

    Encyclopedic Entry: kingdom
    legislature Noun

    group of people, usually elected, who make and change laws.

    Mali Empire Noun

    (1200-1600) kingdom in Northwest Africa.

    medieval Adjective

    having to do with the Middle Ages (500-1400) in Europe.

    midden Noun

    ancient trash pile, usually of kitchen waste, studied by archaeologists.

    Middle Ages Noun

    (500-1500) period in European history between the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

    mine Verb

    to extract minerals from the Earth.

    monarchy Noun

    system of government in which national power is invested in one person, usually a king or queen.

    New Kingdom Noun

    (1550-1070 BCE) period in ancient Egypt. Also called New Empire.

    Ostrogoths Noun

    (493-555) kingdom centered in modern Romania.

    parliament Noun

    legislature or group of representatives.

    pharaoh Noun

    ruler of ancient Egypt.

    politics Noun

    art and science of public policy.

    preservation Noun

    protection from use.

    province Noun

    division of a country larger than a town or county.

    Encyclopedic Entry: province
    queen Noun

    female monarch.

    religion Noun

    a system of spiritual or supernatural belief.

    Roman Empire Noun

    (27 BCE-476 CE) period in the history of ancient Rome when the state was ruled by an emperor.

    salt Noun

    mineral often used as a preservative or flavoring.

    scholar Noun

    educated person.

    slave Noun

    person who is owned by another person or group of people.

    sophisticated Adjective

    knowledgeable or complex.

    subject Noun

    person under the authority of a monarch or other powerful ruler.

    Sumer Noun

    (5000 BCE-2000 BCE) ancient civilization in what is now southern Iraq.

    tax Noun

    money or goods citizens provide to government in return for public services such as military protection.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    temple Noun

    building used for worship.

    Teotihuacan Noun

    (200-750) ancient civilization in what is now central Mexico.

    territory Noun

    land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.

    tourism Noun

    the industry (including food, hotels, and entertainment) of traveling for pleasure.

    trade route Noun

    path followed by merchants or explorers to exchange goods and services.

    turmoil Noun

    conflict.

    Union Jack Noun

    the flag of the United Kingdom, combining the flags of Ireland, England, and Scotland. Also called the Union flag.

    vast Adjective

    huge and spread out.

    ziggurat Noun

    pyramid-shaped temple common in ancient Mesopotamia.

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