What Is a Shah?

Photo of Ahmad Shah Qajar from the Bains Collection.
Photograph of Ahmad Shah Qajar, who ruled Iran (Persia) from 1897 to 1929. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection

A shah is a hereditary monarch of Persia or Iran.

The word "shah" was first used during the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.), and continued to be used until the fall of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979.  Thus, the Iranian Revolution brought to an end more than 2,500 years of rule by the shahs.

A number of other languages have adopted the word "shah," and it is used as a last name in India.

"Shah" is a short version of the Old Persian word khshayathiya, meaning "king."  A shahanshah was a "king of kings" or an emperor.

Pronunciation: "shah" or "shaw"


"The word shahbanu, meaning 'lady,' has been used as the title for the wives of the shahs."

Glossary Entries: A - E | F - J | K - O | P - S | T - Z