Do you know who the leader of your country is? If you live in the United States, you can probably name the current President of the United States. In some countries around the world, power may be shared between a president and a prime minister.
Still other countries may have monarchs from a royal family. Some monarchs still wield power, while others only hold positions that are symbolic.
Royal families that rule over a country for many years, passing power from one family member to another have a long history around the world. We call these sequences of rulers from the same family dynasties.
The word dynasty comes from ancient Latin (dynastia) and Greek (dynastèia) words. These words have various connotations, including power, dominion, rule, and ability.
Dynasties usually existed within feudal or monarchical political systems, although occasionally they could be found in republics that elected their leaders. The members of a dynastic family are usually considered royalty. The particular royal titles they might use vary by culture.
The histories of some countries are divided into periods based upon the successive dynasties that ruled over time. This is particularly true of ancient Egypt and China, for example.
In fact, some of the oldest dynasties in the world can be traced back to ancient China and Egypt. China's first dynasty, the Xia Dynasty, dates back to the 21st century B.C.
Egypt's first dynasty goes back even further. The First Dynasty (Dynasty I) of ancient Egypt is thought to have begun after the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt sometime between the 34th and 30th centuries B.C.
To people living in modern societies where leaders are elected by popular vote, the idea of dynasties might seem like a thing of the distant past. However, dynasties still exist today in many areas around the world.
For example, the current Japanese monarchy, known as the Imperial Family or Yamato Dynasty, is considered by many experts to be the oldest continuous dynasty in the world. Recently, however, researchers have suggested that the oldest royal dynasty in the world might be the Katoch Dynasty that has historically ruled territories spanning areas of modern Pakistan and India for over 11,000 years.
Of course, even modern countries without royalty might still have unofficial dynasties. The word has come to be used in various other situations unrelated to rulers. For example, you might find families with powerful influence, successive owners of a major company, or even sports teams that have won multiple championships referred to as dynasties.