- 1: a succession of rulers of the same line of descent
- 2: a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time
Historians traditionally consider a state's history within a framework of successive dynasties, particularly with such nations as China, Ancient Egypt and the Persian Empire. Much of European political history was dominated, successively and together, by dynasties such as the Carolingians, the Capetians, the Habsburgs, the Stuarts, the Hohenzollerns and the Romanovs. Until the 19th century, it was taken for granted that a legitimate function of a monarch was to aggrandize his dynasty, that is, to increase the territory, wealth and power of family members.
A ruling or territorial dynasty is also often called a "house" (e.g. "House of Saud", "House of Windsor)". The term is also used to describe the era during which a family reigned, as well as events, trends and artifacts of that period (e.g. "Ming dynasty vase"). In such cases, often the "dynasty" is dropped, but the name may be used adjectively, e.g. "Tudor style", "Ottoman expansion", "Romanov decadence", etc. In much of the world, dynasties have been defined patrilineally, with inheritance and kinship being predominantly viewed and legally calculated through descent from a common ancestor in the male line. However, men who were descended from extinct dynasties through their mothers or grandmothers have sometimes adopted the name of the extinct dynasty in order to claim inheritance (e.g. House of Orange, Bagrationi dynasty, House of Habsburg-Lorraine).