Dune's noble ranks and titles, notes and musings

NOTE: Trying to avoid overt spoilers in case there are people who haven’t read all the books. But can’t guarantee it.

NOTE: I’m uncertain about the exact difference between the terms title and rank. In some ways these seem to be used synonymously but not entirely. As far as i can tell, two titles might not be equal in rank even if they’re called the same thing.

Dune’s noble ranks and titles can be confusing, and indeed they are weird in some senses compared to real noble ranks and titles.

This is primarily in the context of Frank Herbert books, with some notes on Dune prequels etc. and Dune Encyclopedia later.

Dune has titles of Baron, Count, Duke and Emperor (ascending order of importance per current definitions), with one mention of “earldom”, implying Earl is a title as well. If i recall correctly other original books do not deviate from these, but don’t mention title of Earl at all.
There’s also Prince/Princess, used for the Emperor’s children. Should be noted that Farad’n Corrino was styled Prince but technically he probably should not be called one as Corrinos were no longer Emperors at that point. Prince doesn’t seem to have been used outside Corrinos though. It seems this is purely a title for members of a Royal family, Great Houses seem to use prefix na- to indicate heir apparent, though then again Paul is never called na-Duke whereas Feyd is a na-Baron.

Interestingly Dune’s appendix IV says the Baron Harkonnen’s official title is Siridar-Baron, meaning Planetary Governor. Perhaps this means technically Baron and Siridar-Baron are different titles. If so, the former could be a House Minor title.

Earl is a weird one. Historically, it was essentially equal rank to a Count, but Count was mostly used on continental Europe while Earl was used in England and Scotland (but female Earl was called Countess, probably because “Earless” would sound so wrong).
I do wonder if Dune doesn’t call Count’s domain county but instead refers to these as earldom while naming the rank Count. This would at least simplify the rank system by omitting what is apparently a duplicate rank.
Another possibility is that there are variations on names of ranks, though why this would be is uncertain.

I also wonder if this earldom bit something of a joke by Herbert, as Caladan might be derived from Caledonia, as the Roman Empire called Scotland and as Earls were a rank there… But this is unlikely, see “Dune Gazetteer” for well researched stuff about Dune’s astronomy and origins of names: http://www.projectrho.com/DuneGazetteer.txt. This possible if unlikely Scotland connection is amusing in light of Villeneuve’s Dune.

Dune doesn’t seem to have any clear mechanism for defining exact rankings though. It certainly doesn’t directly correlate to apparent power, as the Harkonnens are more powerful than the Atreides on paper in number of holdings and finances, yet the Harkonnens are just Barons while the Atreides are Dukes.
Baron is implied to be essentially “bought” title (not unlike it was historically in some places), as the Harkonnen fortunes are said to be what gave them their status. There’s also that major mechanism of moving between classes in faufreluches system seems to be essentially financial status, someone getting rich enough could move into nobility as a Baron perhaps.
Atreides status as Dukes may have something to do with their relation to the Imperial house but this is uncertain. The Atreides are noted as having been Dukes for 20 generations on Caladan, and lived there for 26, so they haven’t always been Dukes (unless the appendix IV of Dune is inaccurate, its given years for Shaddam are contradicting the book) though their association with the Corrinos goes back to the founding of the Imperium. Additional notes: Duke Leto is “Imperial chevalier” though what this isn’t clarified, and the Corrinos call the Atreides “Red Dukes”, think these do imply certain level of respect from the Corrinos.
Count seems to be a subservient rank to someone else. The Counts Fenring are apparently underlings of the Emperor, while the Counts Rabban serve the Harkonnen. If we take the note about “earldom” as meaning a rank of Count and consider that Paul wanted to give Gurney an earldom, he might have been giving him a title that serves him directly. There is a possibility Counts are Minor Houses who hold a noble rank, the Count Fenring seems to be doing important assignments for the Emperor but not directly ruling any one place except Caladan, perhaps as a placeholder (“Siridar-Absentia”), but it is quite plausible Fenring holdings are simply not mentioned.

I suspect Herbert picked the titles for how they sound, what kind of impression they give, more so than what they actually were historically. Baron sounds evil and unpleasant (contrast “robber baron”), while Duke is noble and honorable, and Count seems to be neutral or otherwise subservient to others.

If Dukes are related to the Imperial House and Barons are just rich, this causes some issues when you start thinking about Houses that aren’t related to the Corrinos, nor are lesser houses or simply those rich enough (nouveau riche essentially) to become a Great Houses. Which rank and title do they hold? Assuming Count is a “neutral” title rather than just a subservient one it seems to be, it would be the most typical one probably.

Richece (not to be confused with Richese the planet), the Houses Minor, further complicate the rank system. By Dune’s dictionary, Houses Minor are defined as being planet-bound entrepreneur-class. In Dune’s dinner scene, most of the guests are explicitly richece, being local manufacturers, bankers or the like (and Paul was mentioned being “surrounded by younger Arrakeen richece” at one point). Yet none of them have apparent noble titles (it would be incredibly odd not to use their titles or at very least something like “my lord” in a formal situation though i grant the dinner may have been somewhat more informal). At the same time they may have sufficient social rank to challenge an heir of a Duke to a duel.

Confusingly, the Counts Rabbans, who hold Lankiveil as “subdistrict governorship” for the House Harkonnen might be a House Minor. Or perhaps they are a House Major but one of lesser status than Harkonnen and Atreides, as Dune’s dictionary says Houses Major are “holders of planetary fiefs, interplanetary entrepreneurs”, the Rabbans could be either type without being the other.

Dune’s dictionary does say that idiomatically House means ruling clan of a planet or system, eg the Rabbans clearly count here, while the Arrakeen richece don’t. Perhaps richece covers both nobles and non-nobles. While the Rabbans have Lankiveil, they could still be planet-bound, reliant on Harkonnens for interplanetary trade (ie the Rabbans lack Guild shipping privileges for whatever reason), thus limiting them to House Minor status.
It might be that a “House Minor” is essentially a courtesy status for non-noble richece. An Arrakisian stillsuit manufacturer is richece, being a planetary entrepreneur, but they don’t seem to be a House in the idiomatic sense as the said manufacturer isn’t a ruler, ie not a House.

Incidentally, the term Great House is not defined, though from context it seems to refer to a House that is part of the Landsraad. The Rabbans might not be a Great House (as they rule under the Harkonnens) even if they count as a House Major, and the same might apply to Fenrings.

Expanded Dune also complicates the question by adding titles but without any apparent thought behind actual ranks. There’s at least Earl Vernius, Count Richese*, Archduke Ecaz* and Viscount Moritani. But the titles don’t seem to correspond to importance or closeness to the Imperial House though i grant i might not recall correctly here. It is possible Moritani’s title of Viscount (In real world a rank lower than a Count) denotes his status as a ruler of a poor quality planet Grumman is mentioned to be, nearly exhausted of resources. But this causes issues with the fact holding Arrakis fiefdom doesn’t seem to alter one’s title.
I don’t recall House Minor being mentioned or named in the Dune prequels or so except for the Rabbans, though the Ixian Ambassador Pilru might be a Minor House in service of Vernius. But the Pilrus don’t seem to hold a noble rank themselves.

*These two are also weird because those are mentioned as places in Dune, it seems odd they would be Houses too though i grant that historically noble Houses have occasionally taken name of the place they originate from, such as the House Habsburg.

Dune Encyclopedia is more realistic in some sense (though that might be just because of additional detail), but also somewhat weird about this.
It does stick to Baron-Count-Duke system (with that clearly being ascending order of importance in principle). Both Harkonnen and Atreides are noted as having held various titles over the years, though the apparent rank difference and its implications aren’t noted, nor is it really explained how come the Harkonnens have held titles of Duke at times but not anymore. In some ways it seems the title is tied to a planet or place, but at the same time this cannot be true as Arrakis doesn’t bring a title of Duke with it, nor did the Atreides exchange their title for something else.
They also have junior titles, something that seems absent from original Dune and expanded Dune but is common in real world where, say, a Duke may hold several other titles such as Earl/Count of X or Baron of Y, and their children usually hold these lower titles or at least can use of these.
It also seems Houses Minor could have noble ranks in Dune Encyclopedia and i’ve feeling i saw something about them getting sub-fiefs from Great Houses but i can’t find the particular section again right now.

No hard conclusions here, just stuff to consider when making Dune RPG campaigns and stories.
Quick note that this Dune RPG does note various titles such as Marquis and Graf but doesn’t elaborate upon their rank.


My take on Dune titles has been that they’re a collection of various ancient honorifics that long ago ceased to have any real-world significance in and of themselves. How old the title is and how many times someone holding it was mentioned in the history books are more significant than what the title originally meant.

I developed a headcanon that on the Imperium’s founding there was some great ledger of Noble Houses listing who was granted Noble status and what their titles were. Titles granted later on would have lesser prestige even if in theory the title was a greater one- a Baron mentioned as a founder will have more prestige than a Duke elevated a century ago. Perhaps the titles evolve and now modern titles like “Siridar” are granted but “Baron” is only usable if inherited and never granted.

Nobles dynasties frequently gather a large number of titles and I can’t see the Great Houses of Dune being different. It’s therefore possible that the Harkonnens have a long list of titles but that Baron is the one they use as default because their house has always been led by a Baron Harkonnen and that’s what the rest of the Imperium recognises.

This is of course just my own attempt to rationalise the mess that is titles in the original novels.

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Regarding long lists of titles, Dune Encyclopedia managed that in a sense, or at least it lists the titles they have held though evidently, per its text, they lost some of these titles over time.
Here’s what DE had for Harkonnens:

Successively Colonel Bashars of the Sardaukar, Dukes of Eluzai, Emperors of the known universe, Counts of Hirtius, Lords Tupelo, Dukes Chamizai, Barons Saugus, Stride-Counts (sic*) of Touro, Barons Plynimon, and Siridar-Barons of Arrakis; distaff titles include Lords Rabban, Counts of Lankiveil, Barons Rautha, Lords Feyd, and Lords Montilla.

*This should be Siridar-Counts judging by the actual history. Interestingly they were Counts before Touro, and there’s no explanation why they became Barons later on, though i suppose a branch of the family could’ve died out.

DE history has the Harkonnens get exiled a few times from the Imperium early in its history, hence apparent reductions in rank. They were a House Minor until made Barons Saugus, so most of their early ranks are probably lesser titles.
It should be noted that Giedi Prime is not mentioned. Since these are in chronological order, i suspect Giedi Prime is covered in “Barons Plynimon”, though there’s no elaboration what this means exactly. Perhaps “Plynimon sector” or some such. Or they got the title earlier and then moved to Giedi.

The Atreides list:

Successively Lords of Tantalos, Counts of Thuestes, Counts of Aramanli, Counts Chalcedony, Siridar Counts of Hoosak Norn, in the Cleo System*, Siridar Counts of Hestia, Dukes of Atreus, Siridar Dukes of Gallatin, Siridar Dukes of Caladan, Siridar Dukes of Arrakis, and Emperors of the Known Universe; junior titles include Barons Pelops, Barons Menelaus, Barons Aigisthos, Counts Atreides**, Counts Gamnonides; distaff titles include Barons Mukenai, Lords Theseides, and Counts Delos.

*Not sure if this part means “Counts of Hoosak Norn”, or if it refers to “Siridar Counts of Hestia” because there’s a comma before and after “in the Cleo System”.
**Yeah. Counts Atreides. Duh. Maybe some place got dubbed Atreides after them?

The Atreides history says “Barons Tantalos” instead of “Lords of” on planet Esnkog. Guess Tantalos is a place on the planet, as they weren’t a Great House at that point. (Incidentally DE treats House Major and Great House completely interchangeable, preferring Great House though.)
Interestingly the Atreides list goes from Barons to Counts to Dukes, a clear progression in rank. There is an apparent contradiction to Dune which implies the Atreides lived on Caladan before becoming Dukes, but DE’s complicated history sorta justifies it.
The Atreides list also omits the fact they used to be Emperors for a while as “House of Atreus-Corrino” though i suppose this might have been a branch of family that got wiped out.

Both lists also gives an impression Siridar-[title] is a higher rank than a title without Siridar-prefix, but a higher title outranks a lower title with Siridar-.

I suppose it is possible there are rank differences between titles in Dune but it isn’t important for the story on hand. Forgot to put more consideration for this option when i typed my OP.
Herbert did put a lot of thought to even quite minor things in Dune (as seen in the star names like Dune Gazetteer outlines) so it seems weird he would not have done proper research on noble titles and ranks.


A comprehensive coverage, you brought up most of the points I was thinking about as you went along. (Always loved the Earl/Countess issue in British nobility).
Love these discussions. Even if at times it feels like we are trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

This is part of the territorial designation in the British system, it is confusing.
All British titles have a territory as part of them. Some have specific territorial designations as well. In this case they are the Siridar Counts of Hoosak Norn (A region or Planet), in the Cleo System (general territory).
This can be further complicated by the addition of a family name as part of this. So you could have it referred to as Siridar Counts Atreides of Hoosak Norn, in the Cleo System for example.

The junior titles sound more like branch families of the main house. So ideally they would be rendered as Barons Pelops of XYZ. That is supposition though as they don’t obey the territorial rule.
One thing to remember is that without an act of parliament (Landsraad?) you can’t get rid of hereditary titles, they just pile up with whoever is the relevant heir (or the monarchy in total absence).
You would often have secondary heirs being awarded a minor title that was lying around when they set up on their own.

Technically my username should be Earl Ellingham of Thalim, but I didn’t understand the Count/Earl split when I was young and Count Thalim sounds cooler anyway. :smiley:

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Turns out there’s another mention of earldoms in Children of Dune. A Sardaukar thinks of how he might get rewarded, nothing that surely there will be baronies and earldoms to be granted afterwards.

Yet still no Earls, nor counties. This does make seem like a Count rules an earldom in Duniverse. But i will need to finish my re-read of Children of Dune off the chance it actually mentions other ranks.


Yup, there are a lot of titles and the like in Dune, and I’d add that you might have non-European titles as well, such as Sultan, Caliph or Daimyo.

For the most part the title for the older Houses shows not how powerful they are but how well they did at the Battle of Corrin. After all, Duke Atreides has a less powerful House than Baron Harkonnen, but the Atriedes were known to be stalwarts at Corrin where the Harkonnen decidedly less so.
So I think a lot of titles are just used as either a mark of pride in the past or a mark of how far a House has come.
So Count Richese running a small House shows they have fallen somewhat. Baron Harkonnen running a huge House shows how much he has built. This pride in the past/benchmark or gains/losses is why Houses don’t change their titles as they grow or shrink.

But for the most part any title in Dune really means whatever you can back it up with.
Any title makes you a noble House, then its up to you to prove what you are worth.
This is the reason we didn’t assign specific levels of title to go with the tiers of Houses in House creation.


Off-hand, no such titles are mentioned in Frank Herbert’s Dune books. Certainly not in Dune or Dune Messiah.
I did consider the possibility that some planets might use other terms, as fits their culture or language. But i didn’t mention this, as Dune doesn’t really have any cultures that are, how to say it, directly lifted from real world as many works of fiction do (the Fremen are the closest one, but even then they manage to be their own thing, i think).

Some thoughts that occurred to me about this:
I’m doubtful there’s a planet that emulates, for example, feudal Japan and calls its ruler Shogun rather than Duke.
Consider the the House Atreides, it has some apparent Greek roots, while Caladan itself produces a type of rice (the Dune Gazetteer i linked in my OP notes Caladan is probably based on Myanmar/Burma to some extent), and Dune’s Appendix II indicates Caladan has at least two religions (“Zen Hekiganshu” and “Muadh Quran” though i suppose this latter might be a holy book) plus probably the Orange Catholicism. A mix of things, it seems very unlikely any locale in Dune would resemble any existing culture much.
(Too many works of fiction just make lazy counterparts to real cultures, though i understand that actually developing a culture that seems distinct from anything real is a lot of work.)

I could see Duke being translated as Shogun in another language, derived from Japonic languages (it seems unlikely Japan as it is exists in Duniverse, Galach is noted as being “hybrid Inglo(sic)-Slavic” language). But in Galach, they’d most likely get called Duke, though i suppose untranslated title could be used on some occasions.

For sake of the game though, i do agree with using any titles as one wishes, and i think it is good you didn’t try to impose titles to House tiers.
But perhaps a future House-centric supplement could make note of various titles and how they relate to each other in real world, and also offer alternative terms from other cultures. And perhaps note that a GM might want to consider social rankings that might be associated with different titles.
I know i’m considering that i’ll place players in a situation where they might inadvertently insult someone if they don’t realize the social rank between titles (and positions, lower title may have higher status than it seems in some situations, such as when meeting the Emperor’s friend…). Keep 'em on their toes :sunglasses:

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Well you do have the “Padishah Emperor” and Padishah is of Persian origin meaning “King of Kings”, a Shah being a King. So personally I don’t think its too far a stretch in a setting such as Dune (which appears to draw from all of Earths many cultures) would have other non-European titles, especially those from the Middle East and Asia of which Herbert has drawn considerable influence from.

Although the issue I can see is with drawing from feudal Japanese titles such as “Shogun” is that they do not translate well to a European title of nobility given the context in which it was used historically, as its more a title of office as a military dictator which was why the title was eventually done away with when Tokogawa ascended to the Imperial Throne.

That being said… there is no reason why meanings behind the words change just as they do in real life. Take the words Tyrant and Dictator for example. In the context of their time, these were nothing more than legitimate titles of office. Now, they have a negative connotation and are used to describe a form of government.

But ultimately, as you said, its a game in a fictional setting so do what you think sounds cool and what fits the setting lol :smiley:


I’m not as savant as the other posters about noble rank in Dune, but there’s an interesting European noble rank: the Marquis. Someone who was historically “given” a non-controlled, hazardous territory that he has to pacify/control. The territory was called a march. The title is outside the ranking of noble’s titles;
In Dune universe it can be a contested territory between Human empire and the Bene Tleilax or a place not reachable by the Space Guild, for whatever reason (or perhaps before Spice were discovered). Perhaps they went there and their records were lost during the Bluterian Era.
I always found the Marquis title interesting for scenarii
The house will have to survive there to access the standard noble ranks, or at least some of their rights.


I realize I’m new here AND very late to the party, but I wanted to comment on a few things here regarding Japan (as I lived there for almost a decade and studied the place and langauge quite a bit; I’ve also taught Japanese history at university):

  1. Shogun was a title for a daimyo who was the military dictator, nothing else. It wasn’t a noble title in the classical sense of the term. Daimyo is what they used to denote different rulers of different things, but there’s no real “ranking” within the daimyo as you have implied in Baron, Earl, etc. So, using Daimyo in Dune would be okay, but imprecise. At most, it would be noted what one was the Daimyo of, say, Imagawa prefecture, or some other area. Titles COULD be gotten/cajoled from the Emperor. As noted in Wikipedia about Oda Nobunaga: “In early 1574, Nobunaga was promoted to the Lower Third Rank ( *Ju Sanmi) of the Imperial Court and made a Court Advisor (Sangi). Court appointments would continue to be lavished on a nearly annual basis, possibly in hope of placating him. Nobunaga acquired many official titles, including Major Counselor (Gondainagon), General of the Right of the Imperial Army (Ukon’etaishō), and Minister of the Right (Udaijin) in 1576. In February 1578 the court made him Grand Minister of State (Daijo daijin), the highest post that could be given.”

  2. Tokugawa NEVER “ascended to the Imperial Throne”. Not ever. He simply ruled Japan (with the Emperor as a figurehead with little actual power). The current actual Emperor of Japan is a direct descendent of the first emperor (though, there is a lot of dispute into rather the first few Emperors existed). In fact, theirs is considered the longest unbroken line of rulers in history. This is actually a problem as, by Japanese law, there aren’t a lot of people who can be Emperors since there’s only been one family, ever. So the number of (male) candidates is quite tiny; and the government doesn’t seem interested in entertaining the idea of female candidates, even though the idea is popular with regualr Japanese people.

P.S. - Don’t mean to harp on this too much but Dune (and Herbert) was obviously referencing western noble traditions (especially English), with a side order of Persian and Arab influence to boot.


Urgh yeah sorry my mistake. Thanks for the correction! For some reason I thought he took the throne but you’re quite right :slight_smile: Also don’t think he (Ieyasu) was the one to scrap the shogante either thinking about it. Was a descendant. Going to have to look it up.

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Tokugawa Ieyasu was the one who founded his dynasty of Shoguns. The Shogunate stops being a thing in 1867, right at the start of the Boshin War, when forces from southern and western Japan overrun the Bakufu (the shogunate government). Then those forces sorta kinda but not actually reinstate the Emperor as the ultimate authority in Japan (which is interesting because, or paper at least, he never wasn’t, but practically, he had no power under the shogunates). For a very brief moment people entertain the idea of the Emperor ruling directly, but then things go back to a situation where the Emperor never exercises day-to-day power over the government that he is nominally the head of (the people who eventually exercised power were an oligarchy).

Which means to say, it’s interesting; do look it up! :wink:


I have always meant to! Obviously more interesting stuff to discover there :slight_smile:

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Some scenario ideas:

  • What if the line died somewhere in the future. And what if the actual one is a ghola or more sneaky a descendant of a ghola (Somewhat controllable by the Bene Tleilax ?)
  • Perhaps they don’t want the Bene Geserit to see his descendant to avoid a purge
  • an elite group to keep the secret ( an elite samurai guard)
  • a secret group of ninjas for more ruthless choices (that may, at least partially, be Face Dancers that protect Bene Tleilax interests)
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