The Emperor

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
When just ruling one country isn't enough.

The ruler of an Empire, usually but not always The Empire. Historically, Emperors outranked Kings, so when you need an authority figure to convey the highest possible power and rank, you can't get any higher than making them The Emperor (unless you go to The Pope, or into the speculative realms of Celestial Paragons and Archangels, Demon Lords and Archdevils, and Galactic Conqueror). The next steps down are God Save Us From the Queen, The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask, The High Queen, She Is the King, The Good King and President Evil.

If a ruler is known as The Emperor, it's almost a sure sign that he's an Evil Overlord. Kings, Lords, and Presidents are as likely to be good as they are to be bad, but somehow The Emperor is almost always the story's heavy. This is probably for the same reasons as Good Republic, Evil Empire.

The Emperor is often distinct from the Evil Overlord in that he's much more likely to be the ruler of the world, or at least the ruler of the largest and most influential country in it, instead of simply being a Sauron/Kim Jong-Il President Evil cackling it up over in Latveria/Mordorland. Besides being evil, you can often expect The Emperor to be the Big Bad, especially if you're in a Fantasy setting. They will frequently invoke Authority Equals Asskicking, which can often make them the most dangerous man on the planet.

In Western media, characters known as The Emperor will almost inevitably be Evil Overlord Big Bads. Only in historic plotlines involving the leaders of the real-life Roman Empire will they get any sympathetic depiction at all, and even then they're usually portrayed unflatteringly. In contrast, in China and Japan Emperors actually served as legitimate rulers for most of recorded history, and thus Eastern media (particularly Chinese wuxia films, but also occasionally anime) do have the occasional non-evil Emperor. However, if the Emperor is legitimate and non-malevolent, his role in the plot is usually purely as a background character; plot-significant Emperors usually serve in the role of Big Bad.

The Emperor can be divided into four main types:

This trope isn't necessarily related to God-Emperor, but it may.

See also Just the First Citizen. Do Not Confuse With the Black Metal band Emperor.

Of course, just because the trope is titled "The Emperor" doesn't preclude the existence of actual Empresses, as some of the examples in both fiction and Real Life illustrate.

Examples of The Emperor include:

Anime & Manga

  • Souther from Fist of the North Star follows the Evil Overlord template to a tee. He calls himself the "Saint Emperor" and has his minions kidnap children to use as slave labor in the construction of a giant pyramid dedicated to his dead master, and he is one of the few villains in the series to hand Kenshiro an outright defeat.
  • The Big Bad Emperor Charles di Britannia in Code Geass presides over a World Half Empty, and does everything in his power to keep it that way. This appearance is actually a front for his plans to cause Instrumentality.
  • The Big Bad of Vision of Escaflowne is the Zaibach Empire's Emperor Dornkirk, who is actually Sir Isaac Newton, and is currently a 200-year-old man inside a pickle jar with a telescope attached.
  • Samurai 7 has the unnamed Emperor who kidnaps women from peasant villages and implants clones of himself within them to create a perfect line of successors. He apparently had a lot of such clones: Ukyo, the series' true Big Bad, is revealed to be his 49th clone. He promptly kills the old Emperor and takes his throne for the purpose of world domination.
  • In Digimon, Ken's villain persona "the Digimon Emperor" fits this trope as well as his name would suggest. A whip-wielding Evil Overlord with a Floating Base of Doom and a costume which includes gold shoulder pads and a cape, his goal is to enslave all Digimon and take over their world. All at the tender age of eleven, too.
  • Azusa Masaki Jurai, the Juraian Emperor in Tenchi Muyo!, is an interesting case. In the anime he is somewhat of a jerk, but actually leans to the Benevolent Emperor category, and is a kind of a ditz, easily controlled by his mother-in-law, for whom he still keeps an immense crush, despite being Happily Married (twice). You see, Juraian royalty are indeed one Big Screwed-Up Family.
    • His mother-in-law can control him more than because he has a crush on her. She's one of the most dangerous people in the universe to anyone: to her enemies because she is an expert tactician and leader; to her allies because she loves to use them for humor, often causing sheer chaos.
  • Shi Ryuuki from Saiunkoku Monogatari is a rare benevolent emperor and a main character of his show.
  • Emperor Hotohori or Saihitei from Fushigi Yuugi is another example of a Benevolent Emperor who genuinely cares and works for the improvement of his nation. When he first visited Tamahome's house, he was surprised by the poverty he found there and is seen making a mental resolution to do something about the problem, although Tamahome was his rival in love. He also went to war for his country and died fighting.
  • Grenadier gives us a benevolent Empress, though she is imprisoned and impersonated by her identical (villainous) bodyguard for the most of the story, so her other identical bodyguard has to free her.
  • Crest of the Stars has the Humankind Empire Abh as it's series focus and at the top is none other than Empress Ramaj. A relatively benevolent figure considering she responded to provocation by plunging half of humanity into war with the other half.
  • The Empire in Legend of Galactic Heroes is, naturally, ruled by The Emperor, an inherited title of the ruling Goldenbaum family, whose dynasty has continued unbroken since the Empire's foundation. The emperor at the beginning of the series is Friedrich IV, an old peaceful man who never aspired to the throne due to being far down on the list of claimants in his youth. He's uninterested in ruling or the ongoing war with The Federation and content with living in peace and enjoying the finer things in life, like his private rose garden, and lets his chief of staff and admirals run things. He's consequently quite impotent as an actual ruler, but reasonable and harmless and quite fond of main character Reinhart von Lohengramm.
    • His natural death of old age one third through the series kicks off an imperial civil war between the old noble houses who seek to keep the status quo, and a reformist faction of the military and lesser houses led by Reinhard. Reinhard wins a crushing victory and takes effective control of the empire, eventually disposing of the Goldenbaum dynasty nonviolently and establishing the Lohengramm dynasty in its stead. Reinhard becomes a democratic reformer and rules as an enlightened and quite benevolent emperor, though he thinks nothing of using his imperial authority to force reforms through.
  • And here's a fascinating absence. Japan, home of anime, is ruled by an emperor. Yet in any anime set in the "real" Japan, modern, historical, or future, the actual emperor of Japan never makes an appearance. Ever. Go on, try to think of any remotely successful anime where a real Emperor of Japan has so much as a cameo.
    • It should probably be pointed out, though, that for much of its history, the Emperor of Japan had very little power. For many centuries, Japan was ruled by the Shoguns, and nowadays the country is ruled by the democratically elected government led by the Prime Minister.

Comic Books

  • Ming the Merciless of Flash Gordon, Emperor of Planet Mongo. Decadently evil, magical powers (in some adaptations), the works.
  • Star Wars Legacy is a comic that takes place a hundred and fifty years after the movies. The Sith are all over the place, the Empire is back in power, there is an Emperor - but the Sith and the Empire aren't on the same side. Emperor Fel(confirmed as the descendant of Soontir Fel and the sister of Wedge Antilles, possibly also Leia and Han) isn't quite evil, though in that setting there's not a whole lot of difference.
    • Big Bad Darth Krayt also uses the title Emperor (of the Sith and Sith-aligned Imperials). So the series has two emperors, one unambigiously evil, and the other ruthless but well-meaning. In fact, Roan Fel's empire not only lets women and aliens serve as stormtroopers, but also has more reasonable economic solutions and foreign policy. The remnants of Fel's empire even join the Jedi to fight Krayt's resurgent Sith.
  • Tsar Vladimir the Conqueror in Nikolai Dante is somewhere between the evil overlord and shadow emperor.
  • Fables seems to have been written by someone taking notes from this page. The Emperor: Spikes of evil and shoulders of doom, check. Nigh Invulnerable in battle, check. Built like a tank, check. (He's maybe 30–50 feet tall.) Abuses and executes subjects, check. Secretly controlled by an unassuming ordinary man hiding in the shadows, check.


  • Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars is probably the archetypical example, being an Evil Overlord, the series' main Big Bad, and an incredibly powerful Sith Lord famous for blasting people with lightning.
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor features the Emperor of China (who knows Kung Fu and has superpowers) as the main villain.
  • In Hero, the Emperor of China fills an ambivalently antagonistic role. The heroes of the story want to kill him due to the losses they suffered in his war to unify the five kingdoms into a single country (they were from the four losing kingdoms), but ultimately the main character decides to spare the Emperor's life since unifying the kingdoms is the only way to stop them from constantly fighting each other and thus bring peace. Regardless, midway through the film a failed assassination fight scene shows the Emperor is perfectly capable of matching a master swordsman blow-for-blow.
  • The Chinese Emperor in Mulan is depicted as noble and wise, even grandfatherly.
  • Gladiator shows Marcus Aurelius as a Benevolent Emperor, and his son and successor Commodus, not so benevolent.
  • The Emperor of the Galaxy from Starcrash. An interesting subversion is that the Emperor is one of the Good Guys.
  • Shen from Kung Fu Panda 2, who is the tyrannical peacock ruler of China who actually wants to threaten his subjects with a barrage of cannons and destroy kung fu.


  • Emperor Jagang is a communist Evil Overlord and the Big Bad of the Sword of Truth series, especially the later books in the series. Protagonist Richard Rahl also rules an Empire, although he doesn't use the title himself.
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan's father was known as the Emperor-Across-the-Sea. Also, when the Pevensie children are made rulers of Narnia, one of Peter's titles as High King is Emperor of the Lone Islands.
  • The Neverending Story (and the films based on the same) featured the benevolent Childlike Empress.
  • Leto Atriedes II, the God Emperor of Dune. And before him, Shaddam IV.
    • All Padishah-Emperors and Paul and Leto II can be traced back to the ruling dynasty of the Old Empire. The Corrino line was founded by Faykan Butler (who took the name Faykan Corrino at crowning) and his wife, who is descended from the Old Emperors. Paul Atreides also has Corrino lineage through his grandmother Helena.
  • Emperor Gregor Vorbarra of The Vorkosigan Saga matures over the series into a noble, good-hearted, and just ruler. If you didn't frequently get to see him in non-Emperor mode he'd be too good to be true. Contrasted (sort of) with Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja of Cetaganda, who isn't precisely evil per se, but is definitely not someone you'd trust further than you could comfortably spit a dead rat.
    • Contrasted much more directly with his grandfather, the late Emperor Ezar Vorbarra, who was such a scheming bastard that he died praying there was no such thing as an afterlife, because he knew the kind of welcome he'd get if there actually was one. But all his machinations ended up getting Barrayar more or less on the right track, as well as putting grandson Gregor on the throne as opposed to his son Prince Serg, so it was definitely a case of doing what he had to do.
  • In David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, each of the Seven T'ang, or kings, rules a part of the world-city Chung Kuo, and together they exercise a sort of collegial emperorship.
  • Emperor Mage Ozorne of 'The Immortals' series by Tamora Pierce.
  • In David Eddings' Belgariad Emperor Zakath of Mallorea is depicted as being effective, ruthless and icily insane. In the Malloreon his insanity is revealed to be a major plot point and we get to know all the whats and whys and he becomes a full fledged member of the good side.
  • David Eddings likes this trope. In the Tamuli, Emperor Sarabian is personally charming, intelligent and one of the few people at court who isn't corrupt. Bizarrely, his eventual coup which overthrows the quasi-democratic government and institutes an absolute monarchy under martial law is something of a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • In Belisarius Series Byzantine Emperor Justinian is on the whole a Reasonable Authority Figure but he is paranoid and power hungry. He turns out to be a good emperor but Good Is Not Nice. His enemy the Malwan Emperor Skandagupta by contrast is something of a Caligula which indeed is standard operating procedure for Malwan nobility.
  • In N. Perumov's "Diamond Sword, Wooden Sword", we have a good emperor, fighting against the evil Magocracy, which turns out not so evil (and by fighting them he actually helps the true baddies, though he understands this in time to help ruin their plans). He is ruthless enough (when needed), however, to be a realistic emperor portrayal.
  • In the Sten series (Bunch, C and Cole, A), the Immortal Emperor starts out as a pretty nice guy, devoted to laissez-faire capitalism, and long-forgotten recipes and skills, who only sends in the troops when the realm is genuinely threatened with instability. It helps that he has a nigh-unbreakable monopoly on AM2, the fuel that the Empire runs on, and it is worth noting that someone developing/finding another source of AM2 counts as a threat of destabilising the Empire. And then a successful assassination attempt and a random bit of meteor damage to his resurrection ship turn him into a megalomaniacal despot who is not only ridiculously tyrannical, but no longer capable of supplying AM2 and, more importantly, no longer immortal.
  • In The Song of Roland, there are the good and the bad kind, Charlemagne (Type D) and Baligant (Type A). Naturally, they end up in a personal life-and-death clash of civilizations.
  • Emperor Titus from the two Dark Lord of Derkholm books by Diana Wynn Jones is a case of a benevolent emperor being surrounded by corruption. He was shown in a very positive light, in sharp contrast to the corrupt politicians of the senate trying to undermine his authority and kill his sister for being of marsh-woman blood.
  • Emperor Mornhaven of the Green Rider series. He's the heir to the Emperire of Arcosia, although after sailing to Sacoridia and losing contact with the Empire he declares himself Emperor of a new empire, Mornhavia.
  • Empress Lionstone XIV of the early Deathstalker series was the original Big Bad and after her death she stayed a boogey-man. Not even the Recreated could truly supplant her.
  • King Gorice of Witchland in E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, Evil Overlord type and Big Bad of the book.
  • The Lord Ruler in Mistborn is somewhere between the Evil Overlord and Shadow Emperor types until he's killed off. In the last book Elend becomes Emperor, and though he tries his hardest to be a Benevolent Emperor he's very worried about following in the Lord Ruler's footseps.

Live Action TV

  • The Dalek Emperors from Doctor Who. Davros, their Kaled creator, held the title of Dalek Emperor for some time, sparking a civil war between Imperial (Davros) and Renegade factions. The most recent one showed up at the end of the 2005 series, having narrowly survived the Time War and developed a god complex after saving its followers from extinction.
  • I, Claudius, across its truly epic span, takes in Augustus (who only avoids looking evil by comparison to what comes after him), his scheming Magnificent Bastard of a wife Livia, her son Tiberius (a colossal pervert and largely useless as a ruler), the original Caligua (for more detail, consult his page), the titular Claudius (unwillingly thrust onto the throne, but proves rather good at it - except for his complete blindness to the machinations of his own scheming first wife), and, in its last moments, Nero. Anyone who comes away from a complete viewing without at least some republican (in the original sense) sentiment brewing in their breast should be barred from ever holding any kind of political office.
  • The emperor of the Centauri Republic in Babylon 5 was a rather benevolent ruler at the start of the series, even apologizing to the Narn for his predecessor's atrocities. Unfortunately he died early in the second season and was replaced by Cartagia, who was assassinated by Vir Cotto and Londo Mollari and succeeded by Londo who was in turn succeeded by Vir.
  • Lord Zedd, with Rita Repulsa as his Empress.

Tabletop Games

  • The Emperor protects!... Ok, well, The God-Emperor of Man in Warhammer 40,000 is both Emperor and God of the Imperium of Man, the series' human faction. The GEOM is an immortal being with superhuman abilities and genuinely god-like psionic powers, whose desire for humanity to expand and conquer is the direct cause of the Imperium's current status as a Complete Monster of an Empire.
    • The fluff suggests that the Emperor was actually a pretty decent guy, and the Imperium's current Moral Event Horizon-crossing policies (i.e. galactic genocide against all non-humans) are misinterpreted perversions of the Emperor's original intent.
      • Just to make this more complicated...the more we have seen about him, especially in the Horus Heresy series, the more he seems to be a morally ambiguous figure straddling the line between Messianic Archetype and Well-Intentioned Extremist. He definitely wants the best for humanity, but in the interests of this he ruthlessly suppresses religion in an attempt to starve the Chaos Gods, and, while not as xenocidal as his later "regents", offers human colonies influenced by alien socities the stark choice of abandoning their prior ways and alliances or complete destruction. He is also quite the dick to his clone-sons, out of an insufficiently justified belief that his intelligence and psychic powers grant him an Omniscient Morality License.
  • The Other Warhammer Fantasy Battle has tons, all of them run on Authority Equals Asskicking. Here's a list
    • Emperor Karl Franz of The Empire, one of the few half-decent people in the setting. He rides a griffin into battle.
    • Lord Settra of the Tomb Kings, bosses around other Tomb Kings.
    • Witch King Malekith, of the Dark Elves. Somewhat less impressive since he's a momma's boy (In the creepiest was possible).
  • The Empress in Exalted cultivates an appearance of moral ambivalence: while responsible for saving the world, and running one of the most stable nations she also ruthlessly pursued war, and deliberately made her government so that it would fall apart with out her and raised her children to fight among themselves for her favor. In actuality, she originally gained control of the Imperial Defense Grid via human sacrifice, and just recently sacrificed her youngest daughter (just 12 years old!) to one of the rulers of Hell in a failed attempt to gain immortality...and at least in the first case, saved Creation by doing so. The setting goes out of its way to make the Empress' morality as grey as possible.
  • Empress Kiova in Heroscape started out evil, but turned good. Also, oddly enough, her husband bears the title of "General."
  • Legend of the Five Rings has had several emperors over three dynasties. As the game is based on East Asian myths, the emperors are usually the benevolent variety, but at least one was the Evil Overlord variety, and another was a mix of that and the Shadow Emperor style after a Demonic Possession.
  • Emperor Strephon in the Traveller default time of the gurps version is a Reasonable Authority Figure.
  • Queen Abrogail II of Cheliax in Pathfinder. Though she doesn't bear the title of empress, she still rules over not just Cheliax but also the neighboring lands of Nidal and Isger, who follow her edicts through puppet governments.
  • First the Giovanni dinasty and later the Barbados dinasty in Anima: Beyond Fantasy. Not only Emperors (Empress in the case of the current one), but also the head of the Church of Abel.

Video Games

  • Final Fantasy II was the first JRPG to play with this trope in detail, though it's since become genre standard fare. Emperor Mateus starts out as a typical Big Bad who commands monsters from hell and wants to conquer the world, well, just because. Then the heroes kill him, which has unforeseen consequences: his spirit goes to Hell, takes over, and comes back stronger than before. The GBA remake adds a sidestory where we learn that his soul was actually split in half at death, and his 'good' side has not only gone to Heaven, but taken over there as well. Light Is Not Good, indeed.
  • Final Fantasy VI likewise features The Empire as the main enemy, led by Emperor Gestahl. Until one of his lieutenants, Kefka Palazzo, already a messed-up-in-the-head Psycho for Hire, decides to go Omnicidal Maniac...
  • Ganondorf from The Legend of Zelda series is arguably this, considering that he repeatedly is shown as ruler of the whole Dark World, a shadow mirror of the game's world.
    • He would become one whenever he takes over Hyrule on top of whatever dark realm he had control of at the beginning of the game, otherwise, he's referred to as "The King of Evil" (or "Thieves", before the evil).
  • Suikoden I features the Scarlet Moon Emperor as the Big Bad and Final Boss, although the real villain is the (Wo)man Behind the Man, Lady Windy.
  • Breath of Fire 1 features as antagonists the Dark Dragons, who are led by Emperor Zog (who, oddly, is the only Dark Dragon who is actually, you know, a dragon. All the other Dark Dragons are insectile monster thingys). Furthermore, while Zog is the Emperor, the Dark Dragons' organization never seems to be referred to as an Empire.
    • Breath of Fire IV features Fou Lu, the founder and first emperor of the Fou Empire, being persecuted by the very empire he founded under the orders of incumbent Emperor Soniel.
  • In Ninja Gaiden, the enemies are all members of the demonic Vigoor Empire, and naturally the game's Big Bad is a superdemon known only as the Vigoor Emperor.
  • Jade Empire features the Emperor as the Big Bad. He's also a kungfu-fighting undead ghost... thingy...
  • The Elder Scrolls series features the rare Western example of a benevolent (albeit Roman-like) Emperor, who also happens to be 1) your boss in all of the games (in one way or another), and 2) Patrick Stewart.
  • An alien Emperor is the Big Bad and final boss of MDK 2. He's so big that part of the fight involves him eating you, and you fighting his internal organs.
  • Emperor Percival Tachyon, the Big Bad of Ratchet and Clank Future Tools of Destruction. "Emperor" is likely a self-imposed title, but he has conquered a galaxy, so not many folk are in a position to object.
  • Tales of the Abyss has Emperor Peony IX, a Benevolent Emperor—this is the man that commissions battle costumes for the party and goes incognito to fight crime. Despite his goofy tendencies and extreme informality, he's the most reliable Reasonable Authority Figure in the game.
  • Since Avernum features The Empire, it makes sense that it features emperors as well. Emperor Hawthorne was a Big Bad in Avernum 1. After your adventuring party assassinates him, Empress Prazac takes charge and is definitely benevolent. She gets assassinated in turn at the start of Avernum 5 and the choices your adventuring party makes decides who becomes the next emperor.
  • The Emperor of Cantha in Guild Wars is shown to be a decent and well-meaning man, but one who's hopelessly out of touch with the people he rules.
  • One player in each galaxy plays the emperor in Imperium Nova. Because an actual player plays the emperor, the style of rulership in the game is quite varied. Every one of them is inevitably labeled an Evil Overlord by his or her opponents.
  • Emperor Solarius of Overlord II is of the Shadow Emperor variety, having risen from power by taking advantage of the people's fear of magic due to the plague which he himself unintentionally caused by presenting himself as something of a Dark Messiah out to exterminate magical beings. He's never seen personally addressing his people, a duty he leaves for his Professional Butt-Kisser Marius and constantly hides behind a mask to hid the fact that he's an Elf. His true plan however is to collect all the magic from the lands to prepare for his ascension to Godhood.
  • Emperor Geldoblame of Baten Kaitos is an obvious Evil Overlord. He eventually gets deceived and betrayed by Melodia, but that's not to say he didn't have it coming.99
  • The Emperor is the Big Bad in Secret of Mana, sending out his Dragons to undo seals on the Mana Seeds in order to unleash a Forgotten Superweapon in order to rule the world! But gets taken out by the Man Behind the Man Thanatos, who wishes to destry it.
  • The usual Big Bad of Mortal Kombat, Shao Kahn. In storyline, Onaga came before him, though.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 has Emperor Yoshiro, who also believes in Authority Equals Asskicking.
  • Emperor Strada from Asura's Wrath, a Rare good guy example. He gets killed off by Lord Deus in the second episode of the game
  • StarCraft when Mengsk overthrew the Confederacy, he immediately makes himself as the Emperor of the new Terran Dominion.
  • In a figurative sense we have Street Fighter's Sagat, whose Red Baron title is "Emperor of Muay Thai". He has no political power, but is one of the most Badass fighters in the whole series.
  • Out of all the rulers seen in Fire Emblem, the ones that hold the Emperor/Empress title are few:
    • Fire Emblem Akaneia: Hardin;
    • Fire Emblem Jugdral: Second Generation's Alvis, formerly the Duke of Velthomer, who becomes Emperor after marrying the Princess of Grandbell and unifying a good part of the continent under his leadership. Also, Celice at the end of the game.
    • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: "Silent Emperor" Vigarde from Grado.
    • Fire Emblem Tellius: Sanaki, Empress of Begnion. Though technically speaking, the true Empress should be her long-lost older sister, Micaiah; she becomes the Queen of Daein instead.

Web Comics

  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, Princess Voluptua's dad is the Emperor of the local space empire (which includes Earth, though humanity is unaware of it). She clearly has some issues with him, as do his subjects the dragons of planet Butane, but there have been no indications that he is actually evil.
  • Drive: The current Emperor killed his uncle for the position, and framed one of the protagonists. He fits the President Charisma description above.
  • Karate Bears have a very SMALL empire.

Web Original

  • In The Gamers Alliance, Takeshi Ofuchi is the Emperor of Yamato at the beginning of the Unification of Yamato arc in the Third Age. He's very much a selfish tyrant and a Sorcerous Overlord, but he's eventually betrayed by one of his trusted generals, Shogun Masamori Hyuga, who assassinates him and takes his place as the leader of Yamato (albeit Masamori never cornws himself empror and instead keeps using the title shogun).

Western Animation

  • Averted in Avatar: The Last Airbender. When the Big Bad, Fire Nation's Fire Lord Ozai decides to promote himself to ruler of the entire world, the title he comes up with is simply "Phoenix King", even though there is already an "Earth King" (and several lesser Earth Kingdom Kings, like King Bumi). This was probably done because "Phoenix Emperor" is way too many syllables to be practical.
  • Emperor Kuzco, the antihero of The Emperors New Groove, is a rare example of an Emperor who is neither old, evil, powerful, or particularly impressive at all. At the end, after he's learned his lesson, he starts edging into Benevolent Emperor territory.
  • In Transformers, the Decepticon leader commonly carries the title of Emperor of Destruction.

Real Life

  • Western tradition of this can all be traced back to the Emperor of Rome, who during their reigns ruled one of the greatest empires in the world. There were rulers from earlier eras (e.g. Alexander the Great, the High Kings of Persia) who had a similar level of power and authority as the Roman Emperors, but the title originated with Caesar Augustus from Imperator, or "commander", as Rome had historical reasons to oppose anyone who claimed the title of King.[1] Similarly, the German and Russian words "Kaiser" and "Czar" are both derived from "Caesar".

In the Dark and Middle ages, European rulers calling themselves "emperor" were specifically invoking The Roman Empire. The 'Byzantines' were a continuation of the Roman state so their claim was obvious, the 'Holy Roman Empire' laid claim to the former Roman empire in the West which (initially) they contested with Constantinople, the Russian Czars and Ottoman Sultans both claimed to be Byzantinian continuations, and Serbia and Bulgaria both based it on Roman/Greek traditions. It was only later, probably after Napoleon Bonaparte's self-appointment to the post, that "emperor" became a title in aristocracy removed from ancient Rome.

Even then, the title was usually only claimed when either (a) the country was really frickin' big or powerful (Mexico, Brazil, and Napoleonic France being prime examples) and/or (b) if the new monarch wanted to make some kind of political point: the Kings of Prussia declared themselves German Emperors to make themselves higher-ranked than other German kings (like the one of Bavaria) without having to demote them; Napoleon III did it to link his regime to that of his uncle; the rulers of Austria needed a new title after the Holy Roman Empire disappeared and didn't want to step down in rank; Queen Victoria had herself declared Empress of India to make it clear that Britain was more powerful than Germany (and because she didn't want to be outranked by her daughter, who had married the heir to the German throne); and a couple others besides. However, Jean-Bédel Bokassa's short-lived Empire was little short of a farce.

  1. Augusts didn't invent the term; it had already used for some time for successful military commanders - notably, it could not be bestowed by authority, only proclaimed by a general's own soldiers - and was considered one of the highest honours in republican society. In that respect, Augustus was simply the latest of many imperatores. Even he himself didn't personally attach the current sense to it, since he always claimed to be Just the First Citizen, preferring the less formal title of "princeps" or "chief" if he had to be singled out for special status. Nevertheless, it was thanks to Augusts and the tradition he established that it did acquire its modern usage, so in that sense, it did indeed originate with him.