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What is a Sultanate?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 23, 2024
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A sultanate is a sultan's domain, the territory ruled by a sultan, just as a kingdom is a territory ruled by a king. Sultan is the name for an Islamic sovereign. Like a monarchy, a sultanate is a government in which supreme power resides in one person. Some sultans have absolute power, and others’ authority is constitutionally limited.

There are few sultanates in the world today, but historically, there were more. Historically, the rulers of Turkey were called Sultans. Seljuk was an 11th century khan who began the dynasty that bore his name. Tugrul Bey, a Seljuk leader, occupied Baghdad and demanded that the caliph there grant him recognition as a sultan. This recognition inaugurated the Seljuk sultanate. The Delhi Sultanate was the name used for a number of different Muslim dynasties in India, beginning in 1192 and lasting until 1398.

Some historic sultanates switched to other forms of government in the twentieth century. Wadai was a sultanate until it was taken over by the French over the period from 1903 to 1913. The Maldives was a sultanate until it became a republic in 1968.

Several sultanates have continued into the twenty-first century. Brunei, officially called the State of Brunei Darussalam, is one such sultanate. The sultanate was established here in the 15th century, survived a British protectorate established in 1888, and continued with Brunei’s independence in 1984, when the sultan became an absolute monarch, although a legislative council was re-established in 2004 after a hiatus. The leader combines the roles of sultan and prime minister, and the government type is classified as a constitutional sultanate.

Malaysia is officially divided into states with a constitutional monarchy as its government, but could be called a sultanate by virtue of the fact that its supreme leader, titled the Paramount Ruler, is a sultan. Oman, officially called the Sultanate of Oman, also has as its chief executive a leader who combines the titles of sultan and prime minister.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth , Writer
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for CulturalWorld.org, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

Discussion Comments

By anon342765 — On Jul 23, 2013

What is the culture of the sultanates? Their beliefs?

Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth


Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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