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The Role Of Kings In Ancient Society

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Ancient Rulers have been a crucial part of our history. We see over and over again the fall of the throne and the rise of a new King, usually based on birthright or by the Gods’ blessing. However, the role of Kings across cultures in these ancient societies is not always the same. In this paper we will discuss those similarities and those differences between just two of many ancient societies. The two societies I have chosen to focus on are Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece One of the ancient societies that we have explored so far is ancient Egypt. They became politically unified after regional rulers gained authority and by 3000 BCE, Egypt became unified under a single, all-powerful ruler. Egypt has a history of dynasties, which were a family of Pharaohs, and this comes from a word meaning “Great House”. “Later Egyptian Pharaohs wore the pschent, a double crown that unites the crowns of upper and lower Egypt and bore a cobra and a vulture”.

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The New Kingdom; about 1534 BCE, is well known for its strong rulers and the rise of the Egyptian Empire. Through the support of the army, Pharaohs were given the role of military leader. Pharaohs gained loyalty of nobles through bribery of land and usually appointed people close to them to high-ranking positions as soldiers. The daughter of Thutmose, Hatshepsut, was crowned Pharaoh in 1479 BCE. She claimed to be the daughter of the God Amon to elevate her status as Pharaoh and she wore male clothing and a fake beard to minimize her femininity. She led their military to great conquests and had a temple built for the God Amon. We see this part of Egyptian history as less concerned about making pyramids, and more concerned about making temples in honor of the Gods. “Pharaohs were very much concerned with the afterlife” and most of their religion was centered around preparing for this.

After the noble and ambitious reign of Hatshepsut, we see her son, Thutmose III, expand Egypt’s power to an even higher level. He “created the Egyptian Empire by laying claim to territory in Palestine and Syria through the course of about seventeen campaigns”. After defeating a coalition of Canaanite Kings at the Battle of Megiddo, Thutmose III followed the Hyksos model of making defeated rulers into vassals. This allowed them to remain in power as long as they “were loyal, paid taxes, and sent hostages from their own people as a guarantee of their good behavior”.

The second ancient society that we will examine is the Greeks; specifically, the Dark Ages. During this time period, “each village was administered by a petty King known as a Basileus, whose original function was to serve as a war leader”. The Kings duties included overseeing land acquisition and defense attacks from neighboring communities. Each King lived in a big mud brick house and usually came from royal descent, although, the selection of a new King had to be confirmed by the Ekklesia.

The Ekklesia were a kind of warrior assembly comprised of men who were both free and able to serve in the army, and also “ratified decisions made by the King”. The King had a council that advised him in all of his royal duties and they were called a “boule”. In Homer’s Illiad, Agamemnon was the ruler of Mycenae and was depicted as merely a “chief among his peers”. If the kings angered or dishonored the Gods in any way, the Gods sent the wrath out to make their point. This is the case for Agamemnon after he failed to free a priest’s daughter from captivity. Agamemnon was angry at this reaction and said that he would not free her because he loves her, even more so than his own wife, and refers to her as his prize. The Gods send a plague to the Danaans because of this greedy King’s actions. His lack of remorse and blatant disregard for the welfare of his people is not uncommon with many of these Greek Kings.

Most of the rulers in Greek mythology are depicted as half God half Human to show their elevated status as ruler but also their human characteristics and imperfections such as greed, lust, and ego. These two ancient societies reflect how the role of King can differ across time and space. In Egypt we see powerful militant rulers who are the sole authority of their people. In Greece, we see Kings who have less authority but still hold some power over acquiring land, etc. This differs slightly from the rulers in Greek mythology, as those Kings were thought to be part divine and part human.

The role of Kings in these ancient societies, though different, were crucial to the development and advancement of their respective societies. Without their leadership role, the cities would crumble under the disarray and disorganization. Though these leaders are later replaced with aristocracy and councils of government, their mark on history is one so powerful that we teach it in our curriculum today in ancient history.

11 February 2020

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