1. a king or other ruler with absolute, unlimited power; autocrat.
  2. any tyrant or oppressor.
  3. History/Historical. an honorary title applied to a Byzantine emperor, afterward to members of his family, and later to Byzantine vassal rulers and governors.


  1. an absolute or tyrannical ruler; autocrat or tyrant
  2. any person in power who acts tyrannically
  3. a title borne by numerous persons of rank in the later Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empiresthe despot of Servia

1560s, “absolute ruler,” from Old French despot (14c.), from Medieval Latin despota, from Greek despotes “master of a household, lord, absolute ruler,” from PIE *dems-pota-; for first element see domestic (adj.); second element cognate with Latin potis, potens (see potent).

Faintly pejorative in Greek, progressively more so as used in various languages for Roman emperors, Christian rulers of Ottoman provinces, and Louis XVI during the French Revolution. The female equivalent was despoina “lady, queen, mistress,” source of the proper name Despina.

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