In earlier times, the term "autocrat" was coined as a favorable feature of the ruler, having some connection to the concept of "lack of conflicts of interests" as well as an indication of grandeur and power. The Russian Tsar for example was styled, "Autocrat of all the Russias", as late as the early 20th century.
In the Medieval Greek language, the term Autocrates was used for anyone holding the title emperor, regardless of the actual power of the monarch. Some historical Slavic monarchs, such as Russian tsars and emperors, included the title Autocrat as part of their official styles, distinguishing them from the constitutional monarchs elsewhere in Europe.
Both totalitarianism and military dictatorship are often identified with, but need not be, an autocracy. Totalitarianism is a system where the state strives to control every aspect of life and civil society. It can be headed by a supreme dictator, making it autocratic, but it can also have a collective leadership such as a commune, junta, or single political party.
Examples from early modern Europe suggests early statehood was favorable for democracy. But, according to Jacob Hariri, outside Europe, history shows that early statehood has led to autocracy. The reasons he gives are: continuation of the original autocratic rule and absence of "institutional transplantation" or European settlement. This may be because of the country's capacity to fight colonization or the presence of state infrastructure that Europeans did not need to build new institutions to rule. In all the cases, representative institutions were unable to get introduced in these countries and they sustained their autocratic rule. European colonization was varied and conditional on many factors. Countries which were rich in natural resources had an extractive and indirect rule, whereas other colonies saw European settlement. Because of this settlement, these countries possibly experienced setting up of new institutions. Colonization also depended on factor endowments and settler mortality.