Pasha (Ottoman Turkish: پاشا; Turkish: paşa; Arabic: باشا, romanized: basha)[lower-alpha 1] was a higher rank in the Ottoman political and military system, typically granted to governors, generals, dignitaries, and others. As an honorary title, Pasha, in one of its various ranks, is similar to a British peerage or knighthood, and was also one of the highest titles in the 20th-century Kingdom of Egypt. The title was also used in Morocco in the 20th century, where it denoted a regional official or governor of a district.[3][4]


The English word "pasha" comes from Turkish pasha (pāşā; also basha (bāşā)).[5][6] The Oxford Dictionaries attributes the origin of the English borrowing to the mid-17th century.[6] The etymology of the Turkish word itself has been a matter of debate.[7] Contrary to titles like emir (amīr) and bey (beg), which were established in usage much earlier, the title pasha came into Ottoman usage right after the reign of the Osman I (d. 1324), though it had been used before the Ottomans by some Anatolian Turkish rulers of the same era.[7] Old Turkish had no fixed distinction between /b/ and /p/, and the word was spelled başa still in the 15th century.[8]

According to Online Etymology Dictionary, the Turkish pasha or basha was itself from Turkish baş/bash (باش, "head, chief"), itself from Old Persian pati- ("master", from Proto-Indo-European *poti) and the root of the Persian word shah, شاه.[5] According to Oxford Dictionaries, the Turkish word from which it was borrowed was formed as a result of the combination of the Pahlavi words pati- "lord", and shah (𐭬𐭫𐭪𐭠).[6] According to Josef W. Meri and Jere L. Bacharach, the word is "more than likely derived from the Persian Padishah" (پادشاه).[9] The same view is held by Nicholas Ostler, who mentions that the word was formed as a shortening of the Persian word padishah.[10] Jean Deny also attributed its origin to padishah, while repeating a suggestion by Gerhard Doerfer that it was influenced by Turkic baskak (bāsqāq), meaning "agent, tax collector".[11][7]

Some theories have posited a Turkish or Turkic origin of the word, claiming it derived from başağa (bāş āghā), which denoted a "principal elder brother" or "prince’s elder son" in the pre-Ottoman period.[7] According to etymologist Sevan Nişanyan, the word is derived from Turkish beşe (بچّه, "boy, prince"), which is cognate with Persian bačče (بچّه).[12] Some earlier Turkish lexicographers, such as Ahmed Vefik Paşa and Mehmed Salahi, argued it was most likely derived from Turkish başa or Turkish beşe, the latter meaning "elder brother" and being a title given to some Ottoman provincial officials and janissaries.[7]

As first used in western Europe, the title appeared in writing with the initial "b". The English forms bashaw, bassaw, bucha, etc., general in the 16th and 17th century, derive through the medieval Latin and Italian word bassa. Due to the Ottoman presence in the Arab world, the title became used frequently in Arabic, though pronounced basha due to the absence of the /p/ sound in Arabic.

Role in Ottoman and Egyptian political system

A pasha's Tugh with two horse tails

Within the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan had the right to bestow the title of Pasha. Lucy Mary Jane Garnett wrote in the 1904 work Turkish Life in Town and Country that it was the sole "Turkish title which carries with it any definite rank and precedence".[13]

It was through this custom that the title (Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [ˈbæːʃæ]) came to be used in Egypt, which was conquered by the Ottomans in 1517. The rise to power in Egypt in 1805 by Muhammad Ali, an Albanian military commander, effectively established Egypt as a de facto independent state, however, it still owed technical fealty to the Ottoman Sultan. Moreover, Muhammad Ali harboured ambitions of supplanting the Osman Dynasty in Constantinople (now Istanbul), and sought to style his Egyptian realm as a successor sultanate to the Ottoman Empire. As such, he bore the title of Pasha, in addition to the official title of Wāli, and the self-declared title of Khedive. His successors to the Egyptian and Sudanese throne, Ibrahim, Abbas, Sa'id, and Isma'il also inherited these titles, with Pasha, and Wāli ceasing to be used in 1867, when the Ottoman Sultan, Abdülaziz officially recognised Isma'il as Khedive.

The title Pasha appears originally to have applied exclusively to military commanders and only high ranking family of the sultans, but subsequently it could distinguish any high official, and also unofficial persons whom the court desired to honour.

It was also part of the official style of the Kapudan Pasha (Grand Admiral of the Ottoman fleet). Pashas ranked above Beys and Aghas, but below Khedives and Viziers.

Three grades of Pasha existed, distinguished by the number of horse tails (three, two, and one respectively; a symbol of Turco-Mongol tradition) or peacock tails that the bearers were entitled to display on their standard as a symbol of military authority when on campaign. Only the sultan himself was entitled to four tails, as sovereign commander in chief.

The following military ranks entitled the holder to the style Pasha (lower ranks were styled Bey or merely Effendi):

  • The Vizier-i-Azam (Grand Vizier, the prime minister, but also often taking the field as Generalissimo instead of the Sultan)
  • Mushir (Field marshal)
  • Ferik (army lieutenant-general or navy vice-admiral)
  • Liva (major general or rear-admiral)
  • The Kizlar Agha (chief black eunuch, the highest officer in the Topkapı Palace; three tails, as commander of the baltadji corps of the halberdiers in the imperial army
  • Constantinople's Shaikh ul-Islam, the highest Muslim clergyman, of cabinet rank.

If a Pasha governed a provincial territory, it could be called a pashaluk after his military title, besides the administrative term for the type of jurisdiction, e.g. eyalet, vilayet/walayah. Both Beylerbeys (governors-general) and valis/wālis (the most common type of Governor) were entitled to the style of Pasha (typically with two tails). The word pashalik designated any province or other jurisdiction of a Pasha, such as the Pasha or Bashaw of Tripoli.

Ottoman and Egyptian authorities conferred the title upon both Muslims and Christians without distinction. They also frequently gave it to foreigners in the service of the Ottoman Empire, or of the Egyptian Khedivate (later Sultanate, and Kingdom in turn), e.g. Hobart Pasha.

In an Egyptian context, the Abaza Family is known as "the family of the pashas" for having produced the largest number of nobles holding this title under the Muhammad Ali dynasty and was noted in Egyptian media as one of the main "families that rule Egypt" to this day,[14][15] and as "deeply rooted in Egyptian society and… in the history of the country."[16]


As an honorific, the title Pasha was an aristocratic title and could be hereditary or non-hereditary, stipulated in the "Firman" (patent of nobility) issued by the Sultan carrying the imperial seal "Tughra". The title did not bestow rank or title to the wife nor was any religious leader elevated to the title. In contrast to western nobility titles, where the title normally is added before the given name, Ottoman titles followed the given name. In contacts with foreign emissaries and representatives, holders of the title Pasha were often referred to as "Your Excellency".

The sons of a Pasha were styled Pashazada or Pashazade, which means just that.

In modern Egyptian and (to a lesser extent) Levantine Arabic, it is used as an honorific closer to "Sir" than "Lord", especially by older people. Among Egyptians born since the Revolution of 1952 and the abolition of aristocratic titles, it is considered a highly formal way of addressing one's male peers.

The Republican Turkish authorities abolished the title circa the 1930s.[17] Although it is no longer an official title, high-ranking officers of the Turkish Armed Forces are often referred to as "pashas" by the Turkish public and media.

In the French Navy, "pasha" (pacha in French) is the nickname of the Commanding Officer, similar to the term "skipper" in the Anglophone navies.[18]

List of notable pashas

Donizetti Pasha
Stone Pasha Ben Schauma Pasha

The inclusion criterion is that the person held the rank of "pasha" in his society

See also


  1. In older works it is sometimes anglicized as bashaw.[1][2]


  1. Edward Gibbon. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 68, etal
  2. Twain, Mark (1869). The Innocents Abroad. pp. Chapter 42."Pacha" used as spelling in this text
  3. Benzakour, Fouzia; Gaadi, Driss; Queffélec, Ambroise (2000). Le Français au Maroc: Lexique et contacts de langues. De Boeck Supérieur. ISBN 9782801112601.
  4. Belghazi, Taieb (2006). "Festivalization of Urban Space in Morocco". Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies. 15 (1): 97–107. doi:10.1080/10669920500515168. S2CID 145764601.
  5. "pasha". Online Etymology Dictionary. Archived from the original on 6 October 2013.
  6. "Pasha". Oxford Dictionaries (English). Archived from the original on 16 April 2017. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  7. Bouquet, Olivier (2014). "Paşa". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Three. Brill. ISBN 9789004161658. The use of paşa (pāşā) as an Ottoman title emerged immediately after the reign of Osman I (ʿOthmān I, d. c. 724/1324), contrary to previous honorific designations used for upper dignitaries, such as emir (emīr), bey (beg), mirimiran (mīrimīrān), and vezir (vezīr, vizier). This is probably one of the reasons why its etymology has been a matter of debate. According to Jean Deny, it probably derived from padişah (pādishāh, emperor), with the possible influence of baskak (bāsqāq, agent, tax collector), as suggested by Gerhard Doerfer. Alternative theories claim that it is a modification of the word başağa (bāş āghā), which was used to designate the "principal elder brother" or "the prince's elder son" in pre-Ottoman times. Some Turkish lexicographers, including Ahmed Vefik (Aḥmed Vefīḳ) Paşa and Mehmed Salahi (Meḥmed Salāhī), assert that it most likely originated from başa (bāşa) or beşe (elder brother), which was a title generally attributed to provincial notables and janissaries. This theory rests on a double hypothesis: 1) the first Ottoman honoured with the title was probably Alaeddin (ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn), the brother of Orhan (Orkhān, r. c. 724–63/1324–62), and 2) it was also conferred on his designated successors in the second half of the eighth/fourteenth century. In any case, two facts are indisputable. Some Anatolian emirs made use of this honorific distinction before the Ottomans, such as Aydınlı Umur (Umūr) Paşa (d. 748/1348). Moreover, outside of members of the Ottoman family circle, the first dignitaries awarded the title were the sultan's most prominent lieutenants, such as Çandarlı Kara Halil (Qara Khalīl, d. 789/1387), chief of the administration and commander of the army in the reign of Murad (Murād) I (r. 763–91/1362–89).
  8. Tietze, Andreas (2002). "başa". Tarihi ve Etimolojik Türkiye Türkçesi Lugatı (in Turkish). Simurg Kitapçılık. p. 290. ISBN 978-975-7172-56-7.
  9. Meri, Josef W.; Jere L. Bacharach (2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization: L–Z, index. Taylor & Francis. p. 814. ISBN 978-0415966924.
  10. Ostler, Nicholas (2010). The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel. Penguin UK. pp. 1–352. ISBN 978-0141922218. Even in Ottoman Turkish much military vocabulary is borrowed from Persian. The highest rank, paşa, was a shortening of Persian padišāh 'emperor'.
  11. Deny, Jean (1995). "Pas̲h̲a". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Vol. 8. Brill. ISBN 9789004161214.
  12. Nişanyan, Sevan. paşa. Sözlerin Soyağaçı: Çağdaş Türkçenin Etimolojik Sözlüğü [Family trees of words: Etymologicial Dictionary of Contemporary Turkish]. Archived from the original on 20 November 2012.
  13. Garnett, Lucy Mary Jane. Turkish Life in Town and Country. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1904. p. 5.
  14. "عائلات تحكم مصر.. 1 ـ 'الأباظية' عائلة الباشوات". 26 March 2014. Archived from the original on 2015-11-28.
  15. "عرب أم شركس أم خليط منهما ؟. عائلات الأباظية في مصر تتكيف نموذجياً مع المتغيرات الاجتماعية والتقلبات السياسية". Archived from the original on 2016-12-27. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  16. "Rushdi Abaza, AlexCinema". Retrieved 2012-08-23.
  17. Shaw, Stanford J. and Ezel Kural Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Volume II). Cambridge University Press, 27 May 1977. ISBN 0521291666, 9780521291668. p. 386.
  18. (in French) Archived 2016-12-03 at the Wayback Machine
  19. "جريدة الدستور البصرية". Archived from the original on 8 September 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
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