- All of the city-states, kingdoms, and empires of ancient Mesopotamia were ruled by kings. Even when the Greeks, who had much experience with democracy, took over the region following the fall of the Persian Empire, they continued the local tradition of absolute monarchy. Going at least as far back as the third millennium b.c., kings justified their right to wield absolute power by citing one or another version of the myth of creation and how the institution of kingship was handed down from the gods. As told in the Babylonian Epic of Creation, for example, the ascendancy of the god Marduk as ruler of the universe and the other deities symbolized the ascendancy of kings over their human subjects. Also, the Sumerian King List claimed that kingship was first handed down from the gods to humanity at Eridu.To further reinforce this divine right to rule, Mesopotamian kings were often portrayed as somehow superhuman or semi-divine. Some ancient texts mention an aura or radiance surrounding the king's person, called the melammu,or "awe-inspiring luminosity." Also, it was common to refer to the king as the "son" of a certain god; to bestow on the king lofty, supernatural titles such as "king of heaven and Earth"; and to show the monarch standing with a god in artistic renderings.However it was justified and reinforced, kingship brought with it duties and responsibilities as special and important as the king's titles and official images. Stemming from his unique relationship with the divine, he was often viewed as the highest of society's high priests. Among the words spoken during the crowning of an Assyrian king were these: "Before Ashur, your god, may your priesthood and the priesthood of your sons find favor." Although it varied from one time, place, and culture to another, a king's religious duties could include making sure that temples were built or maintained, appointing priests, leading various religious ceremonies and festivals, and consulting with official diviners and astrologers about the fate of the nation. The king was also the supreme commander of the army, with the authority to initiate wars at his will and to draw up plans for his military campaigns. In addition, he was the chief of state. In that capacity, he appointed government administrators and provincial governors, received and entertained foreign ambassadors, dispensed justice, and considered petitions from his subjects.Most of these aspects of kingship in Mesopotamia were similar to those in many other places in the ancient world, from Egypt to Rome. There was one Mes-opotamian royal custom that was unique and rather peculiar, however - that of the substitute king. In a number of Mesopota-mian realms, if there seemed to be any sort of threat to the safety of the monarch, even an unfavorable omen, palace officials chose a temporary stand-in. The substitute, who had no real authority, was decked out in royal robes and was given quarters in the palace; meanwhile, the real king went into hiding. It was hoped that the stand-in would die in the king's place, thereby cheating fate. It appears that in some cases the substitute king was killed after the emergency had passed.
Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. Don Nardo Robert B. Kebric. 2015.
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