While Europe today has 12 monarchies out of a total of 44 countries, the European continent has seen dozens, if not hundreds of kingdoms come and go over the centuries. And if some lasted close to 1,000 years others couldn’t even make it an entire decade. Here are 10 such European kingdoms that most people have all but forgotten.
10. The Odrysian Kingdom (c. 480 BC – 30 BC)
In the aftermath of their failed invasion of Greece in 480 BC, the mighty Persian Empire under Xerxes I was forced out of Europe. Taking advantage of the power vacuum left behind, the Thracians under King Teres I would go on to found the Odrysian Kingdom. Together with his son, Sitalces, Teres I created the largest independent political entity in the Eastern Balkans up until that point. At its greatest extent, the Odrysian Kingdom encompassed present-day Bulgaria, parts of northern Greece, most of European Turkey, and southeastern Romania.
In their early history, the Odrysians were able to stop the Scythian advance south of the Danube River. They were also allies of Athens, taking part in the Peloponnesian War on their side. Although probably exaggerated, the Odrysian Kingdom mustered an impressive force of around 150,000 men to attack and easily conquer Macedonia, which was a Spartan ally at the time. Their golden age would come to an end with the assassination of King Kotys in 359 BC. The plot was masterminded by none other than their long-time allies, the Athenians, who rightfully feared the Thracians would soon conquer the Greek colony cities dotting the southern Thracian coast.
Over the following years and centuries, the Odrysian Kingdom would split into three smaller kingdoms, be conquered by the Macedonians under Philip II, and reemerge as a smaller Odrysian state under King Seuthes III. They would later become vassalized and eventually absorbed by the Romans during the second half of the 1st century BC.
9. The Kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus (5th century BC – c. 527 AD)
The present-day Strait of Kerch between the Black and Azov Seas was known in Antiquity as the Cimmerian Bosporus. The kingdom that existed in this area for nearly 1,000 years would also bear the name. It was centered around several Greek colonies established on both sides of the strait during the 6th and 7th centuries BC. Located on the outskirts of the present-day city of Kerch, Panticapaeum was the largest and would become the kingdom’s capital.
Likely pressured by the Scythian unification and expansion in the area, these Greek colonies came together under the Archaeanactidae dynasty, which ruled until 438 BC. They were usurped by a mercenary of probable Thracian origin named Spartocus (not Spartacus – also a Thracian) who would go on to found the Spartocid dynasty that lasted until 110 BC. Under this new dynasty, the Kingdom of Bosporus would see a rapid economic expansion, quickly becoming the main trade center on the Black Sea.
During the 1st century BC, the Cimmerian Bosporus Kingdom came under the control of Mithradates the Great, King of Pontus, and was ruled over by his son King Machares. After his defeat against the Romans under Pompey in 66 BC, Mithradates retreated to Bosporus to raise another army but Machares refused to help and Mithradates likely had him killed. In 63 BC, his other son, Pharnaces II led a successful rebellion against his father who ended up committing suicide at Panticapaeum.
Aside from several brief interruptions, the Kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus remained a client state under Roman protection from that point onwards. In fact, it was the longest-lived Roman vassal kingdom without ever being annexed. Its downfall, however, came after the fall of Rome. During a somewhat long period of instability, the kingdom fell under the hands of both the Goths and the Huns and was eventually taken over by the Byzantine Empire, which instituted complete imperial control.
8. The Dacian Kingdom (c. 80-44 BC and c. 87-106 AD)
The Dacians were a group living north of the Lower Danube River and around the Carpathian Mountains in present-day Romania. For much of their existence, they lived as culturally-similar independent tribes but came together on two occasions to form the Dacian Kingdom. The first time was under King Burebistas around the year 80 BC. This growing threat also drew the attention of Rome, particularly Julius Caesar who was also eyeing the rich gold and silver mines in Dacian territory. In the end, Caesar went into Gaul and was later assassinated in 44 BC. That was the same year King Burebistas was killed and the Dacian Kingdom disintegrated into smaller factions.
It would reemerge under King Decebalus around 87 AD who would conduct several raids into the Roman province of Moesia. This again drew the attention of the Romans who would send five legions into Dacia but were soundly defeated. Emperor Domitian was forced to agree to an unfavorable truce, giving the Dacians a yearly payment of gold and technical support. Eager to right his predecessor’s wrong and prove himself a capable general, Roman Emperor Trajan initiated two successive wars against Dacia, in 101-102 AD and again in 105-106 AD, finally defeating the threat and annexing much of the kingdom into the Empire.
Both historical and archeological evidence point to the Romans making significant changes to their armor, particularly for these military campaigns against the Dacian Kingdom. They introduced the manica (segmented metal armguards) for the first time, reverted to and improved upon two types of body armor (the lorica hamata and lorica squamata), and reinforced their helmets. Historians believe these changes were made in response to the Dacian falx. This was a devastatingly powerful, inward-pointed sword, somewhat similar to a sickle, capable of striking soldiers around or above shields or slicing their arms clean off.
7. Kingdom of Dumnonia (late 4th century AD – 9th century AD)
Located on the British South West Peninsula, the Kingdom of Dumnonia got its start during the Sub-Roman Britain period between the end of Roman rule in Britain and the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. The kingdom’s name comes from the Dumnonii; a tribe that can draw its origins in the area at least as early as the Bronze Age (3300 BC to 1200 BC). They likely predated the Celts on the island and were known to rarely intermarry with other tribes.
Given their resilience in the face of the Roman invasion, the Dumnonii enjoyed a certain type of de facto independence, being more of a Roman vassal than an occupied people like most others. It’s no surprise that immediately after the Roman departure, they began forging their fully independent kingdom.
At its largest, the kingdom centered around present-day Devon County (a name derived from Dumnonia), but also included Cornwall to the west and parts of Somerset to the east. The initial capital was at Isca Dumnoniorum (present-day Exeter) but later moved to Tintagel in Cornwall. Incidentally, this is also where the legendary King Arthur was said to have been born.
The demise of the Dumnonian Kingdom was a slow one. One after the other, their settlements fell to the Saxons, particularly those of West Seaxe (Wessex). By the 750s, they are completely pushed out of Somerset and Devon. Their remaining territories in Cornwall began being known as the Kingdom of Corniu. The last of the Dumnonian kings was Dunyarth who drowned in 875, effectively putting an end to the kingdom.
6. The Visigothic Kingdom (418 AD – c. 721 AD)
The Visigoths were a Romanized Germanic people of diverse backgrounds who would go on to found one of the most important, yet nearly forgotten Western European kingdoms in the early Middle Ages. Under the leadership of Alaric I, they would sack Rome in 410 AD. Over the next several decades, the Visigoths with their new capital at Toulouse would expand their territories into Gaul against the Romans, fight with the Romans against the invading Huns, and conquer large parts of Hispania.
In 466, King Euric ascended to the throne by assassinating his elder brother King Theodoric II, who himself murdered his elder brother Thorismund. By the year 500, they controlled much of present-day southern and southwestern France and most of the Iberian Peninsula. With the arrival of the Franks, they would lose the majority of Gaul by 508 AD, including their capital, save a narrow strip of coast known as Septimania.
Up until that point, the kingdom was sometimes referred to as Regnum Tolosae (Kingdom of Toulouse). For the next two centuries, it would be mostly known as the Kingdom of Toledo, having taken complete control of Hispania. The Visigoths are accredited for building the only new cities in Western Europe throughout this period.
Their downfall began in 711 with the Moorish conquest of the region. In only five years, most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic control, and in 721 they lost Septimania too. The only remnants left were in the mountainous regions of Northern Spain. Here, a certain Visigoth refugee by the name of Pelayo founded the Kingdom of Asturias, led a fierce resistance against the Moors, and spearheaded the infamous centuries-long Reconquista (Reconquering) of the peninsula.
5. Kingdom of Powys (5th century AD – 1160 AD)
When the Romans began retreating from Britain in around 383 AD, several kingdoms in Wales, such as Gwynedd, Dyfed, Powys, and Gwent, among a few others emerged as independent successor states. The Kingdom of Powys was located in what is now present-day east-central Wales, bordering England. Its name, Powys, is believed to derive from the Latin pagenses, which means “dwellers in the countryside.” Another possible source could be referencing paganism.
During the early Middle Ages, Powys played an important role in keeping the Anglo-Saxons out of Wales. Although they suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Chester in 616 fighting the Northumbrians under Æthelfrith, they would defeat the English in several battles during the 7th and early 8th centuries. These successes even pushed the Merican King Æthelbald to build Wat’s Dyke; a 40-mile-long earthwork separating the Britons in Powys from the Anglo-Saxons in Mercia. The same thing happened under King Offa of Mercia who built the 169-mile-long Offa’s Dyke, running roughly parallel to the first.
During the Norse invasions of the 9th century, King Merfyn Frych of Gwynedd married Princess Nest of Powys, joining their forces and preventing the Vikings from taking Wales. Their son, Rhodri ap Merfyn became king of both, defeating the Danes in a battle in 856 and earning the title of “Mawr” or “The Great.” Powys’ eventual downfall came with the Normans, who, by the late 11th century, already established a firm foothold in their lands.
4. The Kingdom of the Isles (mid-9th century AD – 1265 AD)
The Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, simply known as the Kingdom of the Isles, was a successor state of the Gaelic Kingdom of Dalriada. Its exact extent has never been clear but it centered around the island archipelago off the western coast of Scotland, known as the Hebrides, and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Throughout its roughly four-century existence, the kingdom was either fully independent or under the influence of other kingdoms in Norway, Ireland, Scotland, England, or the Orkney Islands.
Even its beginnings are shrouded in mystery. If the region had relatively good record-keeping between the 5th and early 9th centuries, the Norse incursions in the area effectively put a stop to it for nearly three centuries. What is certain, however, is that its early history was largely dominated by the Uí Ímair dynasty (the descendants of Ivar the Boneless).
The most noteworthy ruler of the Kingdom of the Isles was the Viking warrior Godfrey “the White Hand” Crovan, a survivor of the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. After their defeat in battle, Godfrey took the Isle of Man with an army from the Hebrides archipelago, becoming King of the Isles in 1079. His descendants would rule the kingdom for the next 200 years until it was absorbed by Scotland in 1265. Today, the title of Lord of the Isles is held by Prince William, who inherited it from his father King Charles III upon his ascension to the British throne on September 8, 2022.
3. The Eastern Hungarian Kingdom (1526 – 1570)
With the death of King Louis II of Hungary after the defeat of the Hungarian Kingdom against the Ottomans at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, Hungary was left without an apparent heir. Ferdinand of Austria and the future Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire claimed the throne of Hungary on account of his marriage to Louis’ sister. However, many Hungarian noblemen supported the popular voivode (governor) of Transylvania, John Zápolya, and elected him king on November 10, 1526. Ferdinand sent an army and drove John out but the latter called upon the help of the Ottomans under Suleiman the Magnificent.
With the Turks’ backing, John Zápolya controlled Transylvania and the eastern half of the Hungarian plain, while Ferdinand controlled the western half. This became known as the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom, which was an Ottoman vassal. In 1538, the two sides signed a treaty formalizing the division, but making Ferdinand heir since John was childless. Nevertheless, John remarried and had a son in 1540, nine days before he died. The infant John II Sigismund Zápolya was quickly crowned king and Ferdinand sent another army to enforce his claim. The Ottomans intervened, driving out Ferdinand and taking much of central Hungary in the process.
The next several decades would see a period of strife with John II having to abdicate for several years and flee to Poland. He was reinstated as king in 1556 and in 1570 he would sign a new treaty with Ferdinand’s successor, Maximilian. John II Sigismund was made the Prince of Transylvania under Maximilian and a reunited Hungary.
2. The Kingdom of Etruria (1801–1807)
Being one of the shortest-lived kingdoms in European history, the Kingdom of Etruria was the first time Emperor Napoleon tried his hand at nation-building. Located in central Italy around Tuscany, the Kingdom of Etruria was created as a means of repaying the Bourbons in Spain in return for France annexing the northern-Italian Dutchy of Parma. The Bourbons also agreed to retrocede Louisiana back to France in exchange for six warships and secure the Kingdom of Etruria as a vassal to Spain.
Forced out of his ancestral home, the former Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand III, was not pleased. When the new rulers (King Louis I and Queen Maria Luisa of Etruria) moved into Pitti Palace in Florence, they discovered that the Grand Duke had taken everything with him. Strapped for cash, the new royals had to borrow furniture and even kitchen utensils from the local noblemen.
King Louis died quickly and suddenly after an epileptic fit in 1803 at the age of 30. His infant son Charles Louis become king and his mother Maria Luisa became queen regent. She managed to make some rather significant reforms in Etruria, given both her young age of 20 and the short time she had at her disposal. Nevertheless, Napoleon put an end to the kingdom in 1807 and annexed it to France.
1. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1734 or 1816 – 1860)
The name of this particular kingdom can be somewhat confusing given the fact that there are not two Sicilies. To add further confusion to the issue, some consider the start of this kingdom in 1816, while others in 1734. To put it simply, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies draws its roots in the Kingdom of Sicily (singular). This initial kingdom was founded by the Normans in the 12th century, had its capital at Palermo, and was comprised of the island of Sicily and the southern Italian Peninsula bordering the Papal States to the north.
In 1282, an uprising broke the kingdom apart in which the King of Sicily maintained control of the mainland while losing the island. The kingdom moved its capital to Naples (sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Naples) but still kept the official title of Kingdom of Sicily. The island, on the other hand, was taken over by the Spanish Crown of Aragon, which also kept the name. In 1734, the two kingdoms were taken over by, the Duke of Parma and the future King of Spain, Charles III. In 1816, the two kingdoms were officially merged into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
The next few decades saw a period of significant strife and political clashes. This socio-political instability coupled with a poor economy made it relatively easy for Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Garibaldi, to invade in May 1860, conquer the Two Sicilies within the year, and help establish the Kingdom of Italy.