The term aristocracy refers to a form of government where power is held by a social elite of noble families. The transmission of power is usually hereditary; and the term is often a synonym for the mainly hereditary nobility of Europe, and other parts of the world, regardless of how much political power they have. It is derived from two Ancient Greek words: "aristos" meaning the "best" and "kratein" "to rule" and so aristocracy originally meant "rule by the best". Aristocracies usually include a monarch who although a member of the aristocracy rules over the aristocracy as well as the rest of society. Aristocracy can also refer to the highest social class even if they no longer rule directly.
In an aristocratic government, power is therefore confined to an elite drawn from a single social class, usually carrying titles awarded them by the monarch.
The term "aristocracy" was first given in Athens to young citizens (the men of the ruling class) who led armies from the front line with their swords up. Since military bravery was such a highly regarded virtue in ancient Greece, the armies were being led by "the best". From the ancient Greeks, the term passed on to the European Middle Ages for a similar hereditary class of military leaders who were usually members of the nobility.
In India, these men are usually of the martial or Kshatriya caste such as Rajputs and their sub-divisions. In the Islamic world, the aristocratic caste of Sayyid belongs exclusively to the descendants of Muhammad and extends to all classes of society. This is usually distinguished from the ordinary use of "Sayyid" to mean 'Sir' or 'Lord'. In this sense, the Sayyid is a born aristocrat on account of his/her blood lineage to the person of the Muhammad and is usually synonymous with high morality, integrity, cleanliness, impeccable manners and deep courtesy.
In European nations aristocracy became synonymous with people who had a range of privileges as a birth-right. In the United Kingdom and other countries "aristocrat" still refers to the descendants of one of those families with hereditary titles, often still in possession of considerable wealth, (though not necessarily so).
The French Revolution attacked aristocrats as people who had achieved their status by birth rather than by merit, such unearned status being considered unjust by the Jacobins.
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