Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘kingship’


Kings Glorify State Gods by Conquering

The Assyrian king, like other Mesopotamian kings, was expected to glorify the god of the Assyrians—Ashur—by conquering for him as much territory as he could and by bringing back to his temple (and his kingdom) as much loot as he could. In the 300 years of the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries [B.C.E.], the Assyrian kings could pride themselves on how much they had pleased Ashur—they were the supreme power of the Near East.

Alfred S. Bradford, With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, p. 41

A Weak King Was Not a King

To rule, after all, is to have power, whether over things, over men (by other men or some god), or over men and gods together (by Zeus). But the bardic formulas sometimes add a little touch that is extremely revealing. In five instances anassein is qualified with the adverb iphi, ‘by might’, so that king’s rule (but never the householder’s) becomes rule by might. This must under no circumstances be taken to imply tyranny, forcible rule in the invidious sense. When Hector prayed for his son to ‘rule by might in Ilion’ ([The Iliad, Book] VI 478), he was asking the gods that the boy succeed to the throne, not that he be endowed with the qualities of a despot….

Iphi quietly directs attention to the limits upon the parallel between head of a household and king. One critical test lay in the succession. The kings, like Hector, were personally interested in pushing the family parallel to the point at which their sons could automatically follow them on the throne as they succeeded them in the oikos. ‘The king is dead! Long live the king!’ That proclamation is the final triumph of the dynastic principle in monarchy. But never in the world of Odysseus was it pronounced by the herald. Kingship had not come that far, and the other aristocrats often succeeded in forcing a substitute announcement: ‘The king is dead! The struggle for the throne is open!’ That is how the entire Ithacan theme of the Odyssey can be summed up. ‘Rule by might’, in other words, meant that a weak king was not a king, that a king either had the might to rule or he did not rule at all.

M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus, pp. 83-84

Emphasis mine.

Ideology Of Monarchy

…The Roman Empire had a well-formulated ideology and institutions of monarchy, and by the late Empire this was an absolute monarchy. Emperors could not always do just what they wanted to do, of course, but the system operated as though the imperial will were all-powerful; no constitutitional mechanism existed to frustrate or modify it. In any premodern absolute monarchy, effective limitations were set by primitive communications networks and by the small size of the civil service, which frequently made it impossible to implement the royal will even when it was accepted as law. The ideology of absolute monarchy was developed out of a Roman law, based on Hellenistic and Oriental traditions, that held that the people had surrendered the natural powers to the monarch and could never revoke the surrender.

Norman F. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages, pp. 104-105

Three-Fold Root of Monarchy

Ottoman society revolved around and was shaped by the central institution of the sultanate. Historically the institution of monarchy has a three-fold root: in the monarch’s role as leader in battle, as law-giver, and as ecclesiastical official. Ottoman sultans functioned in all these capacities.

Paul Coles, The Ottoman Impact on Europe, p. 34

Three Checks to Autocracy

The supreme, god-like position of the Assyrian monarch was promoted and enhanced in a variety of practical ways. Access to the king by individuals was, at best, extremely difficult, and the long walk through the gates and corridors flanked by bull and lion colossi and stone reliefs depicting the king slaying and mutilating his enemies would overwhelm the visitor, as it was intended to do, with ‘awesome splendour’…. The only mortal who could be regarded as an equal of the Assyrian king was a foreign king, whom the Assyrian monarch addressed as ‘my brother’, but even he was a potential subject of the ‘king of kings’….

The Assyrian king enjoyed absolute power over the state, there being only three checks to his autocratic rule, religion, legal precedent, and the temper of his nobles and officials. The monarch was subject to religious belief and practice, and examples of royal attempts to depart therefrom are extremely rare. As to legal precedent, the king had to respect the traditional rights of individuals, such as property ownership, and of groups or institutions, such as tax exemptions granted to privileged cities. Finally he had to respect the mood of the upper classes or run the risk, as a few kings did, of revolution and regicide. Apart from these considerations, however; the king’s will was supreme in all affairs of state. Indeed, in the legislative sphere he was not only the supreme but the sole legislator, his ‘law-making’ consisting of royal decrees. There was not even an assembly, as in Sumer, with which he might discuss a proposal, although he did seek advice from his various officials and sanction from the gods by means of omens. The king was presumably supreme judge, and he was definitely commander-in-chief of the army. In religion, although he was subject to commonly accepted beliefs and practices, as already mentioned, he was the high priest…of the god Ashur. This is in contrast to Babylonia where the high priest was not the same person as the king. Finally, even the economy was subject to his will, for in theory he owned all the land, and trade, both domestic and foreign, depended upon his sanction.

The Cambridge Ancient History, volume III, part 2, p. 196