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From Middle English suserente, from Old French suserenete, equivalent to suzerain +‎ -ty.


  • IPA(key): /ˈs(j)uz(ə)ɹənti/, /ˈs(j)uzəˌɹeɪ̯nti/
  • Hyphenation: su‧ze‧rain‧ty



suzerainty (countable and uncountable, plural suzerainties)

  1. A relation between states in which a subservient nation has its own government, but is unable to take international action independent of the superior state; a similar relationship between other entities.
    • 1871, Henry [James] Sumner Maine, “Lecture V. The Process of Feudalisation.”, in Village-communities in the East and West. Six Lectures Delivered at Oxford, London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, →OCLC, page 146:
      There were therefore, in the cultivating communities of the German and Scandinavian races, causes at work which were leading to inequality of property in land. There were causes at work which were leading to the establishment of superiorities and suzerainties of one township over another. There were causes at work which tended to place the benefits of an unequal proprietary system and the enjoyment of these suzerainties in the hands of particular families, and consequently of their chiefs for the time being.
    • 1920–1921, L[assa Francis Lawrence] Oppenheim, edited by Ronald F. Roxburgh, International Law: A Treatise, 3rd edition, volume I (Peace), London, New York, N.Y.: Longman, Green and Co., page 162:
      Suzerainty is a term which was originally used for the relation between the feudal lord and his vassal; the lord was said to be the suzerain of the vassal, and at that time suzerainty was a term of Constitutional Law only. With the disappearance of the feudal system, suzerainty of this kind likewise disappeared. Modern suzerainty involves only a few rights of the suzerain State over the vassal State which can be called constitutional rights. The rights of the suzerain State over the vassal are principally international rights, of whatever they may consist.
    • 1985, Edward N[icolae] Luttwak, Strategy and History: Collected Essays, volume 2, New Brunswick, N.J., Oxford: Transaction Publishers, →ISBN, page 116:
      Given this background, it is highly inaccurate to portray the Soviet presence in the Middle East as having "replaced" former Western suzerainties. The two phenomena are very different: the Western suzerainties had the fixed political meaning of subjection; the Soviet presence does not. Whereas the British and the French had a wide measure of control over the entire political life of the dependent countries, the Soviets have only a limited influence on external policy which is liable to wane abruptly (and then perhaps swiftly increase again).
    • 2002, Caroline Humphrey, “‘Icebergs,’ Barter, and the Mafia in Provincial Russia”, in The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, →ISBN, pages 5–6:
      [O]rganizations and enterprises in the regions, run in a personal way almost as local corporations, or what I call "suzerainties," by local bosses, have strengthened themselves and increased their social functions to protect their members.
    • 2008 December, Mehmet Sinan Birdal, From Imperial Suzerainty to Absolutist Sovereignty: The Transformation of the State System in the Holy Roman and Ottoman Empires [unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California], Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, →ISBN, page 222:
      As the rulers of the old Roman capital, the capital of the Caliphs, Baghdad, and the Holy Cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem they had ample support to convince a medieval audience of their claim to universal suzerainty. But even among Muslim states, their imperial claims did not go unchallenged. The Safavid and Mughal Empires raised similar claims to suzerainty.
    • 2012, Monique Skidmore, Karaoke Fascism: Burma and the Politics of Fear, Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, →ISBN, page 83:
      I give a short lecture on why it is possible for similar amoral areas to exist along Burma's fringes: about the way that Burma has never really been a "country," but has been more a series of suzerainties whose composition has changed enormously in the past 1,500 years.
  2. The status or power of a suzerain.
    • 2005, John W. Velz, “Adoxography as Mode of Discourse for Satan and His Underlings in Medieval Plays”, in Clifford Davidson, editor, The Dramatic Tradition of the Middle Ages [AMS Studies in the Middle Ages; 26], New York, N.Y.: AMS Press, →ISBN, page 102:
      In the N-Town Passion Play I, Lucifer is an implied presenter of the play and an implied controller of its events. He addresses the audience directly and confidentially in an extraordinary 124-line adoxograph which is part social satire and part seriocomic plea for our commitment to his suzerainty []