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Kings and Emperors Called "The Great"



Asia has seen thousands of kings and emperors over the past five thousand years, but fewer than thirty are usually honored with the title "the Great." Learn more about Abbas, Narai, Chulalongkorn and the other great leaders of early modern and modern Asian history.

Naresuan the Great, ruled 1590-1605

Under Naresuan the Great, King of Ayutthaya, Siam threw off Burmese control, with help from the Mon people. He then united a number of other former tributary peoples of Burma, including the Mon and Shan, against the Burese. Naresuan also fended off Cambodian attempts to take territory in the east.

Ironically, Naresuan learned the basic tactics of war from the Burmese. He was a royal hostage in the Burmese court as a child, held to ensure his father's loyalty.

Abbas the Great, r. 1587-1629

Shah Abbas the Great ruled the Safavid empire in Persia. Originally placed on the throne as a teenager by Uzbek coup leaders who overthrew his father, Abbas quickly took control in his own right. He reformed the government, regained control of the military, and expanded Safavid borders.

Not only did Abbas regain land in the north and northwest that the Ottoman Turks and the Uzbeks had conquered from his father, he also took land from the Mughal Empire of India. His conquests included what are now Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iraq (Mesopotamia) and the Kandahar region of Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, in his later years Shah Abbas became paranoid. He had his three sons murdered or blinded to prevent them taking his throne.

Narai the Great, r. 1656-1688

Somdet Phra Narai was the king of Ayutthaya, in what is now Thailand. During his reign, Ayutthaya established extensive diplomatic and military relations with western powers, including Louis XIV's France, Persia, Holland and England. Relations were not without friction, however - Ayutthaya fought minor wars against both France and England during his reign, when those countries tried to exert too much influence.

Narai is known as "the Great" for his skillful balancing of all these competing foreign powers, as well as for the domestic peace and prosperity of his reign.

Karim Khan Zand the Great, r. 1749-1779

Karim Khan Zand was the de facto ruler of Persia, but he called himself "Advocate of the People" rather than Shah. He was a general of Nader Shah Afshar, and took control after the Shah's death.

Karim Khan Zand is remembered as one of the most compassionate and just rulers in Persian history. Under his reign, the country recovered from decades of civil war and made peace with foreign powers. Karim Khan Zand promoted people based on merit rather than birth, and truly cared about the welfare of his subjects.

Taksin the Great, r. 1768-1782

Somdet Phra Chao Taksin Maharat was the king of Thonburi, in Siam. He freed Siam from Burmese control after the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, and reunified much of the territory that is now Thailand.

Taksin the great was of somewhat humble origins. His father was a Chinese immigrant who married a Thai noblewoman. Taksin rose to become governor and a military general, before eventually being crowned king.

Although constant warfare and the balancing of foreign powers against one another occupied much of his time, Taksin still promoted the arts and handicrafts, religion, education and major infrastructure projects.

Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke the Great, r. 1782-1809

Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke the Great served under King Taksin the Great as a military leader and noble. When Taksin was deposed in a coup, Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke avenged him and took control of the reunified country.

Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke founded the Chakri Dynasty, which still rules Thailand today. His posthumous name is Rama I.

Rama I built the new capital at Bangkok, and ordered the construction of many of the magnificent buildings and shrines in that city. He reformed Thai Buddhism, and encouraged the growth of a national literature.

Chulalongkorn the Great, r. 1868-1910

Chulalongkorn the Great, also known as Rama V, managed to modernize Siam and hold off the western colonizing powers during his long reign. Although he had to cede some territory to both the French and the British, Chulalongkorn was able to retain Siamese sovereignty in the face of European expansionism.

Chulalongkorn traveled extensively, visiting India, Java, Singapore, Russia and other parts of Europe, learning about different governmental systems. He combined the tributary regions and cities of Siam into a European-style state. Chulalongkorn also abolished slavery and brought modern amenities such as the railroad and central plumbing to Siam.

Mubarak al-Sabah the Great, r. 1896-1915

Sheikh Mubarak bin Sabah al-Sabah was the ruler of Kuwait. He founded the modern state of Kuwait in 1899, via an agreement with the British.

Mubarak al-Sabah served with distinction in the Ottoman Turkish military, and later became a diplomat. He came to power after the suspicious deaths of two of his half-brothers, both of whom died on May 8, 1896. Although many people assume that Mubarak was responsible, no proof exists that he ordered the assassinations.

Mubarak slowly drew away from Ottoman control as that empire crumbled, openly coming in on the British side against his former rulers in Istanbul when World War I broke out. He died of malaria before the end of the war, but his descendants have continued to rule the Kingdom of Kuwait down to the present day.

Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, 1946-present

The only living monarch in Asia to be styled "the Great," Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand is also called Rama IX. He is the longest-reigning monarch in the world.

Bhumibol's older brother King Ananda Mahidol, died mysteriously in 1946, allowing Bhumibol's rise to the throne. Technically, he is a constitutional monarch, but he is very influential in Thai politics and daily life due to the reverence accorded him by the Thai people. He has ridden the waves of a number of coups and riots over the years, usually staying above the fray.

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