Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία
Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Δευτέρα, 2 Απριλίου 2018

Proskynesis (Prostration) : The royal ritual of Barbarians and the freedom mentality of the Greeks

Proskynesis refers to the traditional Persian act of bowing or prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the term proskynesis is used theologically to indicate the veneration given to icons and relics of the saints; as distinguished from latria, the adoration which is due to God alone, and also physical gestures such as bowing or kneeling before an altar or icon. The Greek word προσκύνησις is derived from the verb προσκυνέω, proskyneo, itself formed from the compound words πρός, pros (towards) and κυνέω, kyneo kiss). It describes an attitude of humbling, submission, or worship adoration particularly towards a sovereign ruler, God or the gods.
The Achaemenid Empire (c. 550–330 BC), also called the First Persian Empire, was an empire based in Western Asia, founded by Cyrus the Great. Ranging at its greatest extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 million square kilometers. Incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings), for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army. The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires. The Achaemenid Empire is noted in Western history as the antagonist of the Greek city-states during the Greco-Persian Wars and for the emancipation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Messages lie encoded in various components of the rituals of Achaemenid court ceremonial: the architectural venue for ceremonies or the route of imperial processions can offer significant clues about the meaning of ceremonies to the life and ideology of the dynasty. Achaemenid court ceremonies maintained and reinforced hierarchy within the elite and delineated power relations between courtiers, the royal family, and the monarch himself. Persian monarchs relied upon formalized etiquette and court ceremony to create a special aura around the throne.  A deliberate separation and distancing of the king from the gaze of his subjects, even from much of his court, meant that elaborate rituals were enacted through which courtiers and visitors might get limited access to the royal personage during a tightly controlled and stage-managed audience ceremony. The monarch’s royal throne was a significant icon of kingship it was high-backed and rested upon leonine-feet (thrones frequently employed lion or sphinx imagery;). The Great King had a footstool too, an important emblem of kingship and one loaded with ritual there was even a court office associated with it, and a bearer of the royal footstool is depicted on the Apadana. Curtius Rufus’ vignette of Alexander misappropriating a low table as a footstool only reconfirms the centrality of this seemingly inconspicuous piece of furniture in royal display and ideology; after all, it was a given that the Great King’s feet should never touch the ground, and must be protected by soft carpets. At the centre of the Treasury Relief a courtier dressed in a riding habit possibly the chiliarch performs a ritual gesture of obeisance to the monarch which, prima face, is associated to the sala’am, or formal greeting, used in later Muslim courts. Formalized gestures were a hallmark of Persian social communication and the Achaemenids readily seem to have transformed the gestures of la vie quotidienne into a rarefied form of court etiquette. Known to the Greeks as proskynesis, the exact nature of the ceremonial obeisance is debated, but when Herodotus says that one should perform proskynesis to a superior while prostrating oneself or bowing down, the term must describe an act performed once one is bowed or prostrate, which is, as on the Treasury Relief, kissing from the hands. In a Near Eastern context, the Persian reverential practice of bowing and kissing looks very much at home: kow-towing, prostration, kissing the ground, or even kissing the feet of the monarch were familiar gestures in Egyptian and Neo-Assyrian court protocol. But for the Greeks the gesture was a religious act and suitable only for performance before a god so that for a Greek to do it before a man undermined the Greek pride in eleutheria (freedom) Classical authors note that performing proskynesis before the Great King was a non-negotiable rule for an audience and the misunderstanding of the Persian act of proskynesis as a veneration of divine monarchy accounts for several Greek tales which take the distaste for this act of social submission as their theme.
According to Herodotus in his Histories, a person of equal rank received a kiss on the lips, someone of a slightly lower rank gave a kiss on the cheek, and someone of a very inferior social standing had to completely bow down to the other person before them. To the Greeks, giving proskynesis to a mortal seemed to be a barbaric and ludicrous practice. They reserved such submissions for the gods only. This may have led some Greeks to believe that the Persians worshipped their king as a god, the only Persian that received proskynesis from everyone, and other misinterpretations caused cultural conflicts. Alexander the Great proposed this practice during his lifetime, in adapting to the customs of the Persian cities he conquered, but it failed to find acceptance amongst his Greek companions (an example can be found in the court historian, Callisthenes) and in the end, he did not insist on the practice. An incident that occurred at Maracanda of Bactriana widened the breach between Alexander and many of his Macedonians. He murdered Cleitus, one of his most-trusted commanders, in a drunken quarrel, but his excessive display of remorse led the army to pass a decree convicting Cleitus posthumously of treason. The event marked a step in Alexander’s progress toward Eastern absolutism, and this growing attitude found its outward expression in his use of Persian royal dress. Shortly afterward, at Bactra, he attempted to impose the Persian court ceremonial, involving prostration (proskynesis), on the Greeks and Macedonians too, but to them this custom, habitual for Persians entering the king’s presence, implied an act of worship and was intolerable before a human. Even Callisthenes, historian and nephew of Aristotle, whose ostentatious flattery had perhaps encouraged Alexander to see himself in the role of a god, refused to abase himself. Macedonian laughter caused the experiment to founder, and Alexander abandoned it. Shortly afterward, however, Callisthenes was held to be privy to a conspiracy among the royal pages and was executed (or died in prison; accounts vary); resentment of this action alienated sympathy from Alexander within the Peripatetic school of philosophers, with which Callisthenes had close connections.
The emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) is usually thought to have introduced the practice to the Roman Empire, forming a break with the Republican institutions of the principate, which preserved the form, if not the intent, of republican government. However, there is some evidence that an informal form of proskynesis was already practiced at the court of Septimius Severus. The political reason for this change was to elevate the role of the emperor from "first citizen" to an otherworldly ruler, remote from his subjects, thus reducing the likelihood of successful revolt, which had plagued the Empire during the preceding 50 years. Similarly, the emperor was hailed no longer as "Imp(erator)" on coins, which meant "commander in chief" but as "D(ominus) N(oster)" - "Our Lord." With the conversion of Constantine I to Christianity, proskynesis became part of an elaborate ritual, whereby the emperor became God's vice-regent on earth. Titular inflation also affected the other principal offices of the Roman and Byzantine Empire. Diocletian, because of the influence of Greece and Greek culture, the true center of the empire shifted to the east. This would become more prominent under Emperor Constantine, for he would turn a small Greek town, Byzantium, into a shining example of culture and commerce, New Rome. Rome was never either emperor’s choice for a capital. Reportedly, and despite such grand projects as the new Roman baths - the largest in the Roman world on completion in 305 CE, Diocletian would only visit the great city once and that was just prior to his abdication. Even Maximian preferred Mediolanum (Milan). To Diocletian the capital was wherever he was; however, he eventually selected Nicomedia as his capital. The empire’s finances had always been a point of contention for most emperors, and since more money was necessary to fund the provincial reorganization and expanded military, the old tax system had to be scrutinized. The emperor ordered a new census to determine how many lived in the empire, how much land they owned and what that land could produce. In order to raise money and stem inflation Diocletian increased taxes and revised the collection process. Individuals were compelled to remain in the family business whether that business was profitable or not. To stop runaway inflation he issued the Edict of Maximum Prices, legislation that fixed the prices of goods and services as well as wages to be paid; however, this edict proved to be unenforceable. Aside from the continued problems with finance and border security, Diocletian was concerned with the continuing growth of Christianity, a religion that appealed to the both the poor and the rich. The Christians had shown themselves to be a thorn in the side of an emperor since the days of Nero. The problem grew worse as their numbers increased. Diocletian wanted stability and that meant a return to the more traditional gods of Rome, but Christianity prevented this. To most of the emperors who preceded Diocletian, Christians offended the pax deorum or “peace of the gods.” Similarly, since the days of Emperor Augustus, there existed the imperial cult - the deification of the emperor - and Jews and Christians refused to consider any emperor a god. However, part of the problem also stemmed from Diocletian’s ego. He began to consider himself a living god, demanding people prostrate themselves before him and kiss the hem of his robe. He wore a jeweled diadem and sat upon a magnificent, elevated throne. In 297 CE he demanded that all soldiers and members of the administration sacrifice to the gods; those who would not were immediately forced to resign. Next, in 303 CE he ordered the destruction of all churches and Christian texts. All of these edicts were encouraged by Galerius. However, throughout this Great Persecution the Christians refused to yield and sacrifice to the Roman gods. Leading members of the clergy were arrested and ordered to sacrifice or die and a bishop in Nicomedia who refused was beheaded. Finally, any Christian who refused was tortured and killed. At long last, the persecution came to an end in 305 CE. Unfortunately, Diocletian’s vision of a tetrarchy would eventually fail. After years of war between successors, Constantius’ son Constantine reunited the empire after the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. He would rule from a city that would one day bear his name, Constantinople. And, in a decision that would have made Diocletian cry out, he gave Christianity the recognition it deserved, even becoming a Christian himself. In 476 CE with the fall of the empire in the west, the east, while still bearing some resemblance to the Old Rome, would be reborn as the Byzantine Empire.
Justinian and Theodora both insisted on an extreme form of proskynesis, even from members of the Roman Senate, and they were attacked for it by Procopius in his Secret History. At the peaceful height of Middle Byzantium, court life "passed in a sort of ballet", with precise ceremonies prescribed for every occasion, to show that "Imperial power could be exercised in harmony and order", and "the Empire could thus reflect the motion of the Universe as it was made by the Creator", according to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who wrote a Book of Ceremonies describing in enormous detail the annual round of the Court. Special forms of dress for many classes of people on particular occasions are set down; at the name-day dinner for the Emperor or Empress various groups of high officials performed ceremonial "dances", one group wearing "a blue and white garment, with short sleeves, and gold bands, and rings on their ankles. In their hands they hold what are called phengia". The second group do just the same, but wearing "a garment of green and red, split, with gold bands". These colours were the marks of the old chariot-racing factions, the four now merged to just the Blues and the Greens, and incorporated into the official hierarchy. Due to the specific authority of the Byzantine Emperor, it is very difficult to describe his relationship with the general public. Regardless of all church-religious mystique around the person of the Emperor, it can be said that in everyday life, with its everyday obligations  the Emperor endeavored to show himself before the people. Normally this is done with a specially organized ceremony, made by a particular person in charge master of ceremonies. Here we will try to point out some of the everyday activities of the Emperor that allowed him to show himself before the people as pious and respectable of the order. According to protocol requirements in the admission of foreign representatives the Emperor was forbidden to speak. The Logothete guided the dialog in his name; data about this is given by Liutprand of Cremona from 949 A.D., when he was the representative of the Italian king Berengar. Such a practice can be interpreted as being of security reasons and also the Byzantine belief that the Byzantine emperor stands highest of all earthly rulers.
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