1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Despot

DESPOT (Gr. δεσπότης, lord or master; the origin of the first part of the Gr. word is unknown, the second part is cognate with πόσις, husband, Lat. potens, powerful), in Greek usage the master of a household, hence the ruler of slaves. It was also used by the Greeks of their gods, as was the feminine form δέσποινα. It was, however, principally applied by the Greeks to the absolute monarchs of the eastern empires with which they came in contact; and it is in this sense that the word, like its equivalent “tyrant,” is in current usage for an absolute sovereign whose rule is not restricted by any constitution. In the Roman empire of the East “despot” was early used as a title of honour or address of the emperor, and was given by Alexius I. (1081–1118) to the sons, brothers and sons-in-law of the emperor (Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ed. Bury, vol. vi. 80). It does not seem that the title was confined to the heir-apparent by Alexius II. (see Selden, Titles of Honour, part ii. chap. i. s. vi.). Later still it was adopted by the vassal princes of the empire. This gave rise to the name “despotats” as applied to these tributary states, which survived the break-up of the empire in the independent “despotats” of Epirus, Cyprus, Trebizond, &c. Under Ottoman rule the title was preserved by the despots of Servia and of the Morea, &c. The early use of the term as a title of address for ecclesiastical dignitaries survives in its use in the Greek Church as the formal mode of addressing a bishop.