There were various words for 'king' in the ancient Mediterranean world. We will glance at some of them such as Hebrew melekh, Greek basileus, Latin rex, and at associated words such as Greek prytanis and archon, Etruscan zilch, Latin princeps and flamen, and Norse godi.
Originally, all power centred on the king. The ideal aimed at by the ancient monarch was to combine the functions and powers of prophet, priest and military leader. Later, the various duties and powers were shared between political officers and priests. For example, augurs assumed responsibility for discovering the will and intentions of the gods and advising the monarch about the probable course of events.
Monarchs, officials and tyrants [in the Greek sense of the word tyrant] frequently assumed names, titles and behaviour linking them with a particular deity, divine power or phenomenon. For example, a viceroy of the king of Persia was called a satrap, the rhapis, rod, of Set. Taranos imitated thunder as he drove about in his chariot.
There is often a link with an electrical term, for example, the fire from the sky, ar, which survives in 'monarch', and in Greek arche, 'beginning' or 'rule'.
Kings are known to have danced, especially before an object looking like a staircase, ziggurat or step pyramid, and David danced before the ark. Dancing was one of the king's duties. Etruscan and Latin speakers, hearing the Semitic word raqs, dance, adopted the word in the form regs, spelt rex, king.
A place or thing was regarded by the Romans as sacer if it was associated with a divinity. Threshing floors and places such as Es Sacra in Jerusalem, where the rock emerged from the ground, were holy, and some of them became places where kings danced and plays were performed. At first the king would dance to show that the deity was present, perhaps to impress by demonstrating that he was in touch with the god or goddess. As time passed without further catastrophes such as earthquakes and major electrical disturbances, the force ebbed away. The king's dance would then have another aim: to revive the failing god.
One of the king's most important duties was to keep the god alive in his shrine. To build and maintain a temple such as that of Hestia in Athens, or of Vesta in Rome, containing fire, tended by Vestal Virgins or by a flamen, blower of the fire [flare is to blow], was a way of persuading a deity to make the temple its permanent home and to continue to protect the city or persons concerned.
We have seen that Etruscan vacl, or vacil, means religious banquet. The v of vacl is interchangeable with b [Grimm's Law], and the Etruscan letter c may stand not only for k but also for something like the English s. A Greek basileus is a person who is basilens, feasting.
Mayani, in his book The Etruscans Begin to Speak, quotes from an Albanian ballad by G. Fishta. Heroes defeat a monster, and feast on two fat stags in a celebratory banquet.
Any animal that had horns ran the risk of being sacrificed as a symbol of an object in the sky with horns, regarded as a threat to the stability of the kosmos, celestial order.
The general resort to sympathetic magic, for example by the Egyptians, who sacrificed red cattle because Typhon was red, since nothing else could be done, explains the willingness to spend huge sums on sacrifices, games and drama festivals.
The Greek king, and the Etruscan or Roman noble, had to be prepared to sacrifice their own lives when necessary. King Kodros of Athens did so, as did Marcus Curtius when, to appease divine anger, he rode into a chasm that had opened in the Roman forum.
In Athens, and in other places in the ancient world, the king was replaced by officials. His duties were shared among officers such as the Athenian archons, of whom there were nine. The first was known as ho archon, the archon, the second as ho basileus, the king archon, in charge of public worship and criminal trials, the third as ho polemarchos, the war archon. The others were hoi thesmothetae, the lawmakers. A thesmos was an ordinance, enjoining the orderly and correct way of doing things, reflecting order in the cosmos. All archons had something of the divine authority of the basileus, and Homer refers to kings as diotrephees, of heavenly nurture, i. e. descent. They wore a crown, stephanos, as a badge of office, as did any official or individual who was performing a sacrifice.
Greek arche means origin, beginning, and hence authority and rule. Ar appears in Etruscan, meaning divine fire, lightning. Arseverse, an inscription in Etruscan, is a prayer to Sethlans, a god who controlled lightning, to turn aside the fire. Latin severto means 'turn aside'. The Greek letter chi, which appears in arche, is probably related to the Hebrew qa, which appears in qadhosh, 'producing qa' and therefore holy. Greek stephanos is Set phanos, Set appearing, a manifestation of the god encircling the head, and applied to an object such as a bowl of wine. In his Timaeus, Plato associates the head with the divine fire.
Among the most important officials in Athens was the prytanis. Tanuo means 'I stretch out'. His title is similar to that of the Etruscan tanasar.
The poet Pindar refers to Zeus as prytanis of lightnings and thunderbolts. The title means 'he who holds out the fire', i. e. the hurler of lightning.
The prytanis was one of fifty committee members of the boule, council. It is probable that his duties included tending the sacred fire of Hestia, the goddess of the hearth of the city. As a stoker, the prytanis was the earthly copy of the god in the sky who waved the brand to make it blaze, then hurled it. Such a deity was a theos. This word may mean 'he who puts the fire'. The Indo-European root detj, which appears in Russian, means to put.
Another root found in Albanian is ve, to put. This is from an eastern, Caucasian, area, as are some other words which go back to Etruscan. When combined with the Slavonic root zhar, fire, we have the Latin serv-, servant. In this context, we may recall the slave boy, Servius Tullius, who became king.
The king was the one who preserved the fire. Servo means save, servio means serve. The two verbs, superficially different, are basically the same. The king was the servant of the god, the preserver of the holy fire, who added fuel to it, and waved a brand to make it burst into flame.
A flamen was a Roman priest, associated with the cult of an important person such as an emperor. Like the prytanis, he had to blow the flame.
The genius of a Roman was a kind of guardian angel. Considering that the letter g is often a transliteration of a Semitic q, it seems possible that the genius has much in common with the Egyptian ka. The aim was that the genius, fire and life, of the head of state should not be extinguished. Emperor worship and the building of temples to Egyptian monarchs and the royal ka reveal the political importance of the priests.
Another of our words is the Latin princeps, chief, chieftain, or prince, equivalent to the prytanis as referred to by the poet Pindar. The title is a combination of three words: pyr, in-, and capio. A prince captured the power of the fire.
The Norse godi was a chieftain who had priestly powers, looked after a shrine and supervised the worship of its deity.
An early reference to an anointing process is that of an Egyptian hieroglyphic text from Thebes, quoted by Budge in From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, Arkana edition p. 487ff. and 514. Horus embraced the dead Osiris, transferring to the body his own ka. When a king embraced a statue of a god, it is probable that the process was reversed, so that the king was hoping to receive divine life from the statue. In such a case, presumably the priest would have attempted beforehand to charge the statue, so that the sa-ankh could be transferred to the king.
According to Mayani, Etruscan levacs is an anointer [Albanian ljej to smear], revealing a possible link with the Levites, who were entrusted with the management of the ark.
The Sumerian King List mentions the exalted tiara and throne of kingship, which first came down to earth in Eridu. This celestial origin of the tiara is suggestive of the Greek stephanos, crown.
For a king to be able to claim divine ancestry was of great help in the matter of securing loyalty and obedience. Furthermore, possible problems about the succession on a monarch's death could be forestalled. The legitimacy of the heir's claim to the throne would be supported by belief in divine parentage in the royal line. One technique employed for this end was incubation.
According to Sumerian myth there was a sacred marriage between Dumuzi and Inanna. This may be connected with the story reported by Herodotus, that in Babylon, in the saharu, shrine, on top of the ziggurat, a chosen priestess would spend the night with the king. Another example of a divine marriage is to be found in Athens, where, at the festival of the Anthesteria, there was a sacred marriage of Dionysus and the wife of the king archon.
One factor in the phenomenon of the Minotaur in Crete may have been an attempt to achieve divine ancestry for the royal family at Knosos, but the killing of the Minotaur is more likely to be a magical attempt to remove a cosmic threat.
Kings in Greece were very close to being heroes, in the specialised sense of the Greek hero. Heroes were demi-gods, having a divine parent. They were a step below daimons, and were a link between human and divine.
The word 'hero', from the Greek, resembles the Hebrew heron, conception. Infants might be hidden in caves, to escape the wrath of a divine father, such as Saturn or Zeus. Kreousa hid her child Ion in a cave to escape her father's anger. Hermes took the infant Ion to Delphi, where he grew up and was eventually recognised by his mother. When Athene revealed the truth, Ion returned to Athens, where he became the ancestor of the Ionians.
There were two sources for obtaining divine parentage: the sky, and the earth. The deity could take the form of lightning, or that of the force perceived in caves and among split rocks.
The Etruscan trin, hero, may be tur, bull, Latin taurus, and Greek in-.
THE ETRUSCAN zilch
If the zilc is the seat-occupier, he resembles the king and the Roman senators. He is sometimes qualified by an additional title, such as marunuch. The marunuch was probably an official who held a marun, whatever that may be.
Reversed, the consonants of marun become nrm. Etruscan o and u are in many words interchangeable, so it is possible that marun is norma, which means canon, rule, measuring rod.
I suggest that the marunuch was an official who carried a staff like that of the Roman senator.
Assaracus was a king of Phrygia, an area where Indo-European and Semitic speaking peoples met, and therefore where confusion could easily arise over the direction of reading and writing, resulting in reversals, of which we have already seen some likely examples. Assaracus was son of Tros, and grandfather of Aeneas.
Latin currus is a chariot, a vehicle in which a god stood or sat as he travelled through the sky.
Arabic korsi is a chair.
It is just possible that the name Assaracus, with its key letters
src, is a reversal of the Semitic root krs. Princes took names that
suggested that they were of divine origin, hoping thereby to
increase their authority. Assaracus may have wished to be
compared to, or related to, a god riding on a chariot.