Part One of Three: What is a Dynasty?
The word dynasty is often used loosely.
a line of hereditary rulers of a country.
"the Tang dynasty"
synonyms: bloodline, line, ancestral line, lineage, house, family, ancestry, descent, succession, genealogy, family tree; More
a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics, or another field.
"the Ford dynasty"
synonyms: bloodline, line, ancestral line, lineage, house, family, ancestry, descent, succession, genealogy, family tree; More
Even that definition seems a bit loose to me. I tend to use the word dynasty to mean rulers descended in the male line from father to son to grandson to great grandson, etc. That is called agnatic descent.
That doesn't mean that there would be no legal way for the crown to pass from one dynasty to another. Who gets to inherit depends on the succession laws.
In medieval and modern times there were two main succession rules in Europe.
One was agnatic primogeniture. That means the succession passed from father to oldest son to oldest grandson to oldest great grandson, etc., or to the closest agnatic (male lineage) man related to the old ruler if the old ruler had no sons. Sometimes that meant the throne would be inherited by a distant cousin of the previous ruler, with a common agnatic ancestor centuries earlier. That law ensured that the throne would remain within the agnatic dynasty of the original family as long as the dynasty lasted or wasn't overthrown.
The second main rule was male preference primogeniture, in which the crown would preferably pass to the oldest son of the oldest son of the oldest son forever. If a ruler's oldest son died before his father but left sons the oldest of those grandsons would inherit. If a ruler or someone in line for the throne died without sons but with daughters the oldest daughter would inherit the right to the throne. The daughter of the previous ruler was preferred to the brother, cousin, or other relative of the previous ruler. That was the main succession rule in most of medieval and modern Europe.
The founder of a dynasty might prefer agnatic primogeniture because that would keep the throne within his male lineage family down through the ages. Each successive king might prefer male preference primogeniture to keep the crown within his own descendants instead of it possibly passing to descendants of his brothers or cousins.
Because male preference primogeniture was probably the most common succession rule in medieval Europe, the kingdoms, principalities, and fiefs which practiced it often passed legally and peacefully from one dynasty to another when the heiress married a member of another dynasty.
In the last 40 years or so, in the lifetimes of some people who read this, most remaining European monarchies have adopted a new succession law, absolute primogeniture, which means that the oldest child of the monarch will inherit the throne, whether male or female. Since there are about equal numbers of males and females born, about 50 percent of the time the crown will be inherited by a woman, and if she marries and has children the throne will pass legally to a new dynasty.
There are many, many other succession rules used in Europe and other regions. Some of them require that the crown will remain within the same agnatic dynasty while others permit the throne to pass from one agnatic dynasty to another. In some monarchies the crown can only pass from one man to another man through a woman, meaning the new monarch will usually be the sister's son of the previous one and thus a member of a new agnatic dynasty, though in those countries the family and dynasty is usually defined as passing through the female line.
And some dynasties pass the throne from one woman ruler to another, usually her daughter, and these usually pass from one agnatic dynasty to another whenever a new woman succeeds.
So the founder of the dynasty should decide what he means by his dynasty when he tries to come up with a plan for it to last for thousands of years.
One obvious way for a dynasty to last for thousands of years is for the dynasty to actually be as divine as many dynasties claimed to be. If the dynasty actually is descended from gods, angels, elves, etc., they might be different from those who are fully human. Maybe they live ten times as long as normal humans, maybe they are far more intelligent, maybe they look super humanly beautiful, maybe they are bigger or smaller than ordinary humans, maybe they have magical powers, maybe they glow in the dark, etc., etc., etc.
Some dynasties believed in marrying sisters, half sister, aunts, nieces etc. to keep their supposed divinity concentrated within the family. But that was dangerous because marriages with first cousins or closer relatives can concentrate harmful recessive genes within future descendants. But if a family actually is divine and doesn't have any harmful genes, brothers can marry sisters for generation after generation and their descendants can be obviously superior to normal humans, while those members of the dynasty who intermarry with normal humans may produce more average and ordinary children.
If the members of your dynasty aren't really divine, semi divine, supernatural, etc., they will often seem like normal, ordinary people to other people. Thus those other people might believe that they are as good as the monarch and might plot to usurp the throne from the rightful heir or abolish the monarchy.
As far as I know, no real dynasty has been divine or supernatural, which explains the problems which many real dynasties have had with keeping the throne for centuries without dying out, being usurped, or being overthrown in favor of a republic.
So unless your dynasty is very supernatural or divine, you should try to find out which dynasties lasted the longest in real history and why they lasted that long.
Part Two of Three: A List of the Longest Lasting Dynasties
Studying the histories of long-lasting dynasties may show why and how they lasted so long.
For fun, here is a list of the allegedly longest lasting dynasties in history. Note that some historians exaggerated the antiquity of their country's history, especially in medieval or ancient times when the history of those countries was much shorter than now.
1) The Dulo Dynasty supposed ruled the largely nomadic Bulgarians for 2,890 years, from 2137 BC to AD 753.
According to Wikipedia the historical rule of the Dulo clan was from 632-668 in Old Great Bulgaria and from 681-753 in the first Bulgarian Empire.
2) The Yamato Dynasty supposedly ruled Japan from 660 BC to the present, or about 2677 years.
But the early Japanese rulers are generally considered legendary and mythical, and the first fully historical ruler of the dynasty is often said to be Kinmei, who ruled from AD 539 to 571 - his reign was thus from about 1479 to about 1447 years ago if the dates are correct. Kinmei was a son of Keitai who reigned about AD 507-531 and was allegedly a distant cousin in the male line of the previous ruler Buretsu (reigned about 498-506).
Cynical historians believe Keitai may have been a usurper unrelated to Buretsu. So the Yamato dynasty either began in AD 507 1511 years ago when Keitai usurped the throne, or else was a continuation of a dynasty going back a few centuries further.
3) The Hong Bang or Lac Dynasty of Vietnam supposedly ruled for 2,639 years from 2897 BC to 258 BC.
According to Wikipedia there is no proof that the 18 lines of the Hong Bang Dynasty really existed. I note the 18 would have ruled for an average of about 146.6111 years.
4) The Gojosan Dynasty supposedly ruled Korea for 2,225 years from 2333 BC to 108 BC.
As may be guessed from the dates, the Gojosan realm is considered to be a lot younger than that. Chinese records mention Gojosan from the 7th century BC. Furthermore, legends claim that Gija, refugee from China, founded a new dynasty in Gojosan about 1122 BC. And a historical Chinese immigrant, Wi Man, founded new dynasty in Gojosan in 194 BC.
Thus Gojosan seems to have been a state, not a dynasty, and to have had three separate dynasties that allegedly reigned for about 1,211 years, 928 years, and 86 years, and only the third period is fully confirmed.
5) The Champa Dynasty supposedly ruled Vietnam for 1,640 years from 192 BC to AD 1832.
But Champa was a state ruled by non Vietnamese in southern Vietnam, and according to Wikipedia it had 17 dynasties from AD 192 to AD 1832, which ruled for an average of 96.47 years.
6) The Belle Dynasty or Balliol Dynasty of Flanders in Belgium has supposedly been in existence and reigning for 1,049 years from 960 to the present (thus "the present" should be 2009).
I don't know what this is supposed to be. A Balliol family were important Scottish nobles for centuries, and two members became kings of Scotland, but I know of no relationship of them with any dynasty reigning today that is close enough that someone would call them the same dynasty.
7) The Bagratuni Dynasty supposedly ruled Georgia for 997 years from AD 813 to 1810.
And that is pretty much accurate, for once in this list. Adarnase, a Bagratuni noble from Armenia, fled to Georgia and gained the fief of Tao-Klarjeti. His son Ashot I the Great became Presiding Prince of Georgia in 813. His descendant Adarnase IV became the first King of Georgia in 888, so the Bagratunis were actually only kings for a "mere" 922 years.
I also have to admit that Georgia's mightiest medieval ruler was Queen of Kings Tamar who reigned from 1184 to 1213. Thus her descendants are actually descended from her second husband King Consort David Soslan in the male line. He was a prince from Alania who later chroniclers claimed was actually also a Bagratuni, the 4th Cousin of Tamar's father. Thus it is unknown whether the Georgian Bagratuni were one dynasty or two dynasties.
8) The Silla Dynasty ruled the kingdom of Silla in Korea for 992 years, from 57 BC to AD 935.
This is another case where this list is not so Silla. However, members of three different dynasties, the Pak, Seok, and Kim families, ruled the kingdom of Silla, so it wasn't ruled by one dynasty straight for 992 years.
9) Tonga was supposedly under the Tu'i Dynasty from AD 900 to 1865, or 965 years.
As near as I can tell rulers with the title of Tu'i Tonga ruled Tonga from about 900 to about 1500 and reigned as priest kings from then until 1865 while other leaders ruled.
And they seem to have been a single dynasty as far as I can tell.
10) The Zhou Dynasty is said to have ruled China for 790 years from 1046 BC to 256 BC.
And this is pretty accurate. However, certain historical dates in Chinese history begin in 841 BC. Earlier dates are uncertain. Many different dates have been suggested for the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty by the Zhou Dynasty.
I may have more to write later about long lasting dynasties which may serve as model for fictional long lasting dynasties.
Added Sept 11-2018.
Part Three of Three: A Fairly Accurate List of 20 Long Lasting Dynasties
Here is a more plausible list of long lasting dynasties. Figuring out how they managed to keep their thrones for so long may influence someone wanting to write about fictional long lasting dynasties. Note that there is considerable uncertainty about the length of many of those dynasties. I expect that there are a few other dynasties that should be on this list, for example Irish dynasties whose legendary history goes back for thousands of years, and which ruled for about a thousand years in more or less accurate history.
For a brief discussion of Irish dynasties see post # 18 at:
Note that many dynasties still exist as families decades, centuries, or millennia after losing their kingdoms.
For example, the "House of Aberffraw" ruled the Kingdom of Gwynedd and claimed to be kings of the Britons from about 825 to the conquest of Gwynedd by Edward I in 1282/83. Merfyn Frych became king of Gwynedd through descent through his mother from the "House of Cunedda" that ruled Gwynedd from the time of Cunedda about 400 AD. Merfyn's father Gwriad was descended from Coel the Old, who lived about 400 AD. The ancestry of both Cunedda and Coel is traced back to Beli Mawr who would have lived about 100 BC.
A few Welsh families trace their descent back to Cunedda or Coel or other 5th century rulers and to Beli Mawr. Evan Vaughn Anwyll of Tywyn (b. 1943) is considered the heir of the "House of Aberffraw" and the "House of Cunedda".
Similarly there is a Kung clan in China tracing their ancestry back over 2,500 years to Confucius, whose ancestry is traced in turn to the Shang Dynasty that was overthrown over 3,000 years ago.
Dynasties listed in ascending order of maximum real or alleged duration:
20) 650 years and counting. Sultanate of Brunei, 1368 to present.
19) 677 years. Shirvanshahs of Shirvan. The longest lasting Islamic dynasty ruled Shirvan as a sometimes vassal and sometimes independent realm for 677 years from 861 to 1538. Note they sometimes claimed to be descended from the Sassanid dynasty that ruled Iran from 224 to 651.
18) 850 or 805 years. The Capetian Dynasty. Various branches of the Capetian Dynasty ruled France for 805 years straight from 987 to 1792. Also for 10 years from 888 to 898, 1 year from 922 to 923, and 34 years from 1814-1815, and 1815-1848, for a total of 850 years during a span of 960 years. They are sometimes divided into separate dynasties like direct Capetians, Valois, Bourbon, and Orleans.
17) 866 or 790 Years. The Zhou Dynasty. Many different dates for the Zhou Dynasty overthrow of the Shang Dynasty have been proposed. Liu Xin about 1 AD calculated that the Shang Dynasty ruled 644 years from 1766 BC to 1122 BC, the "Bamboo Annals" indicate the Shang ruled for 520 years from 1566 to 1046 BC, and the Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project calculated that the Shang Dynasty ruled for about 554 years from c. 1600 to 1046 BC, among other calculations.
The Zhou Dynasty traditionally ended in 256 BC when King Nan of Zhou was killed and his state conquered by Qin. The last Zhou holdouts were defeated 7 years later in 249 BC. The Sui Dynasty that ruled from AD 581 to 618 and reunited China claimed to be descended from the Zhou Dynasty.
16) 997 years or 922 years, or 802 years or 400 years or 325 years or 205 years. The Bagrationi Dynasty of Georgia was founded by a Bagratuni noble from Armenia. His son Ashot I the Great became Presiding Prince of Georgia in 813, Adarnase IV became King of Iberia in 888, and Bagrat III united all Georgia in 1008. King Solomon II of Imereti was deposed by Russia in 1810.
Thus the Bagrationi Dynasty ruled Georgia for 802 years since 1008, or 922 years since 888, or 997 years since 813.
But Queen of Kings Tamar (reigned 1184-1213) was followed by her son King of Kings George IV Lasha (1213-1223) whose father was Tamar's second husband David Soslan from the royal family of Alania. It has been claimed that David Soslan was himself a Bagrationi, being the 4th cousin of Tamar's father George III. If so, the Bagrationi Dynasty ruled Georgia for 802, or 922, or 977 years. If David Soslan was not a Bagrationi the Bagrationi Dynasty only ruled George for 205, or 325, or 400 years until 1213, and a new dynasty descended from David Soslan ruled for 597 years from 1213 to 1810.
There was also a branch of the Bagrationi who were descended in the male line from the Seljuk Sultans of Rum. See post number 20 at:
15) 1,029 or 764 or 508 years. The Abbasid Caliphs at Baghdad reigned, and sometimes ruled, their usually shrinking realm for 508 years from 750 to 1258. A branch of the Quraysh tribe. A line of nominal Abbasid Caliphs with nominal authority reigned at Cairo during the time of the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt for 256 years from 1261 to 1517. The Nawabs of Bahawalpur ruled as vassals of various rulers for 265 years from 1690 to 1955, and their Abbasi tribe claimed descent from the Abbasid Caliphs. Thus various branches of the Abbasids may have ruled various places for a total of 1,029 years.
[added Mar. 06 2019. Years ago surfing the internet I landed on a page describing a family vacation which seemed pretty ordinary and boring except that the two young sons had the title of "Emir". Reading further, I found that the family claims be be descended from the Abbasids.]
14) 1,050 or 957 or 817 or 724 years. Various Sharifs, descendants of the prophet Muhammed, were Emirs of Mecca, usually under various overlords, from about 964, when Jaafar al-Musawi was appointed. His descendants were appointed to rule Mecca until about 1201 when Qatada ibn Idris, another Sharif, became the founder of a dynasty that ruled Mecca for 724 years until 1925 and continue to rule in Jordan for a total of 817 years. I don't know if Qatada ibn Idris was descended from Jaafar al-Musawi or was a very distant cousin.
Sharif Hussein ibn Ali proclaimed himself King of the Hejaz in 1916, but the kingdom was conquered by Nejid in 1925. His descendants were kings of Iraq for 35 years from 1923 to 1958 and emirs and kings of Jordan for 97 years from 1921 to the present.
13) 1,065 years. The Rassid dynasty of Imans ruled parts of Yemen for about 1,065 years from 897 to 1962. Since they claimed descent from Muhammed they are part of the Qurash. They were divided into various clans that competed and fought for the imanship, though.
12) 1,118 years or up to 950 years. The Tu'i Tonga Dynasty of Tonga. The first Tu'i Tonga monarch could have ruled as early as 900. Tonga was very powerful from about 1200 to 1500. From around 1470 the Tu'i Tonga Kau'ulufonua ceded political power to the first Tu'i Ha'atakalaua, his brother. The last Tu'i Ha'atakalaua ruled about 1800 or so.
The line of Tu'i Tonga continued until the death of Lafilitonga in 1865. The 6th Tu'i Ha'atakalaua, Mu'ongatonga, created the position of Tu'i Kanokupolu for one of his sons, Ngata.
The 19th Tu'i Kanokupolu (from 1845) eventually conquered and united all the warring states of Tonga in 1852 and was crowned King George Tupou I of Tonga in 1875, the ancestor of the kings and queens to the present.
As far as I can tell the various leaders are all one dynasty, the line of Tu'i Tonga for possibly as long as 965 years, the Tu'i Ha'atakalaua, the Tu'i Kanokupolu, and the Kings from 1875 to the present all seem to be branches of one dynasty which may have ruled for as long as 1,118 years.
11) 1,130, or 1,009 or 944 years. Various branches of the Capetian Dynasty ruled France for 805 years straight from 987 to 1792. Also for 10 years from 888 to 898, 1 year from 922 to 923, and 34 years from 1814-1815, and 1815-1848, for a total of 850 years during a span of 960 years. Other branches of the Capetians ruled other Kingdoms like Spain from 1700-1808, 1813-1868, 1874-1931, and since 1975, Portugal from 1139-1910, and the grand duchy of Luxembourg from 1964 to the present. So various branches of the Capetians have ruled various monarchies for 944 straight years from 987 to 1931, and for a total of 1,009 years spread over a span of 1,130 years. They are sometimes divided into separate dynasties like direct Capetians, Valois, Bourbon, Orleans, Avis, & Braganza.
10) 1,411 or 1,211 years. The Shang Dynasty. Many different dates for the Zhou Dynasty overthrow of the Shang Dynasty have been proposed. Liu Xin about 1 AD calculated that the Shang Dynasty ruled 644 years from 1766 BC to 1122 BC, the "Bamboo Annals" indicate the Shang ruled for 520 years from 1566 to 1046 BC, and the Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project calculated that the Shang Dynasty ruled for about 554 years from c. 1600 to 1046 BC, among other calculations.
Shang descendants ruled the vassal state of Song until Dai Tcheng usurped the throne in 355 BC. Dai Tcheng was a "distant relative" of the ruler but I don't know if he was descended from the Shang Dynasty. The State of Song was conquered by the state of Qi in 286 BC.
9) 1,417 or 1,213 years. The Dynasty of Mewar or Udaipur. The state of Mewar was said to have been founded about 530 or 734, and was ruled by the Guhilot clan and then the Sisodia branch of the Guhilot clan until 1947.
8) 1,422 or 1,302 years. The Chera Dynasty of southern India. The Chera dynasty supposedly ruled various parts of south India for 1,422 or 1,302 years from some time during the 3rd century BC to AD 1102 or 1122.
One source claims the Chera Dynasty ruled for 1,500 years from 300 BC to 1200 AD.
I am not very familiar with the dynasties of south India and I am not certain about how much the Cheras were a single dynasty.
7) 1,538 years. The Quraysh tribe of Mecca could be considered to be a dynasty that has ruled for at least about 1,538 years.
Among long lasting dynasties the Quraysh tribe of Mecca could be considered one of the longest ruling. The members are supposedly descended from Fihr ibn Malik, whose 6th generation descendant Qusayy united the Quraysh and took control of Mecca and the Kaaba. From that time to the present at least one member or alleged member of the Quraysh, and often many at the same time, has been a prominent leader in Meccan, Arabian, and/or Islamic society.
The prophet Muhammed is believed to have lived from about 570 to 632. He was the son of Abullah (born c. 530-550), son of Abdul-Mattalib (b. c.490-530), son of Hashim (founder of the Hashimite branch) (b.c.450-510), son of Abd Manaf (b.c.410-490), son of Quasyy (b. 370-470) - Wikipedia says Quasyy lived from about 400 to about 480. So various members have the Quraysh have been more or less hereditary leaders of various societies for at least about 1,538 years since about 480.
Some people may consider the Quraysh more like a bunch of related and shorter lived dynasties than like one single dynasty ruling for all those 1,538 years.
6) 1,579 or 1479 years. The Chola Dynasty is said to have ruled in parts of south India for 1,479 to 1,579 years between some time in the 3rd century BC to AD 1279.
It has been claimed the Cholas ruled for 1,557 years from 278 BC to AD 1279.
I am not very familiar with the dynasties of south India and I am not certain about how much the Cholas were a single dynasty.
5) 1,876 years. The Celestial Masters of the Zhengyi Dao branch of Daoism or Taoism claim to be descended from Zhang Daoling who founded the Daoist religion about AD 142, 1,876 years ago. That is not a political dynasty but it is a dynasty of religious leaders alleged to be 1,876 years old.
4) 1,938 or 1,914 years. The Ningthouja Dynasty of Manipur in south India. The Ningthouja Dynasty is said to have ruled for 1,914 years from AD 33 to 1947 when Manipur became part of India, or according to some for 1,938 years until 1971 when India abolished the privileges of the royal families.
I am not very familiar with the dynasties of south India and I am not certain about how much the Ningthouja Dynasty was a single dynasty.
3) 2,250 or 1,950 pr 1,945 or 1,545 years. The Pandyan Dynasty reigned in southern India for a very long time. Apparently they reigned on and off in various parts of south India for about 1,545 to 1,950 years from the 3rd century BC to 1345 and 1650 in various regions. Some sources say the Pandya Dynasty reigned for 1,945 years from 600 BC to 1345 or about 2,250 years from about 600 BC to 1650.
I am not very familiar with the dynasties of south India and I am not certain about how much the Pandyas were a single dynasty.
2) 2,678 years, or 1,511 years, or 1,479 years, or 1,447 years. The Yamato Dynasty of Japan.
The traditional start of the Yamato Dynasty of Japan was in 660 BC. But Kinmei, the earliest ruler considered totally historical, reigned from about 539 to 571 AD, from about 1,479 to 1,447 years ago. Kinmei was the son of Keitai who supposedly reigned from AD 507 to 531, beginning 1,511 years ago.
Keitai was allegedly a 4th cousin of the previous ruler Buretsu (reigned c. 498-507), both being descended in 5 generations from the legendary Ojin who supposedly reigned from about AD 270 to 310. But skeptical historians wonder if Keitai was an usurper unrelated to Buretsu. If so, that would make the Yamato dynasty only 1,511 years old since 507. If Buretsu and Keitai were actually members of the same dynasty then it's history would go back generations before AD 507, but probably would begin centuries after 660 BC.
1) 2,880 years, or 2,544 years, or 1,830 years, or 1,494 years, or 1,421 years, or 660 years, or 654 years or 581 straight years. The Solomonic Dynasty.
The Solomonic Dynasty ruled and/or reigned as Kings of Kings of Ethiopia for 581 years from AD 1270 to 1851 when Yohannes III (c. 1797-1873) was deposed at the end of his third reign. Tewodros II (1855-1868) claimed, very doubtfully, to be a member of the Solomonic Dynasty. Tekle Giyorgis II (1868-1871) claimed to be descended from the Zagwe Dynasty that ruled from about 900 to 1270. Yohannes IV (1871-1889) claimed to be descended from the Solomonic Dynasty. Menelik II (1889-1913) was a member of the Solomonic Dynasty. All later monarchs until 1975 were descended from the Solomonic Dynasty only through female lines except for Zewditu (1916-1930) who was Meneleik's daughter. So if all claimed membership of the Solomonic Dynasty was true it would have ruled for 598 years from 1270-1868 and for 42 years from 1871 to 1913 and for 14 years from 1916-1930, for a total of 654 years spread over a span of 660 years.
But the Solomonic Dynasty claimed to be a restoration of the dynasty that ruled the Auxumite Kingdom from about AD 100 to about 940 when it was overthrown. So that adds about another 840 years to the claimed duration of the Solomonic Dynasty, extending it to 1,421, or 1,494 years spread over about 1,830 years.
But there's more! The Solomonic Dynasty claimed to be descended in the male line from King Solomon, who traditionally reigned from c. 970 BC to 931 BC, and the Queen of Sheba, through their son Menelik I who became the first monarch of Ethiopia. Therefore the claim of the Solomonic Dynasty is that it ruled Ethiopia for about 1,890 years since about 950 BC to about 940 AD, and again for 598 years from 1270 to 1868 AD, and for 42 years from 1871 to 1913, and for 14 years from 1916 to 1930, for a total of about 2,544 years spread over a span of about 2,880 years.
Believe it or not.