ASIANS HAVE ALWAYS done a good line in grandiloquent titles. Maharajah Ranjit Singh of the Five Rivers, the nineteenth-century Sikh princeling, could also demand to be addressed as Lion of Lahore, Highly Stationed One equipped with Ardour and Might, or Paragon of the Magnificent Grandees when he really wanted to impress. Dost Mohammed Khan, his Afghan neighbour to the north, preferred to be known as Pearl of the Ages and Commander of the Faithful, a title later used by Mullah Omar, the delusional leader of the Taliban. Genghis Khan was known, among other names, as Mighty Manslayer, Master of Thrones and Crowns. The Tartar warlord Tamerlane was Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction, Emperor of the Age, Conqueror of the World. All of which makes our own Queen Victoria's title of Regina et Imperatrix sound rather modest by comparison, particularly when you consider the superior sweep of her empire.
The otherworldly aspect of these Asian honorifics, however, did not conceal the reality that the sovereignty on which they were based was always up for grabs. For any determined adventurer with a desire to carve out a kingdom for himself and rejoice in magnificent titles, nineteenth-century Central Asia was auspicious