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[1285b] [1] These monarchies therefore now and in the past are of the nature of tyrannies because they are autocratic, but of the nature of kingships because they are elective and rule over willing subjects. A fourth class of royal monarchy consists of the hereditary legal kingships over willing subjects in the heroic period. For because the first of the line had been benefactors of the multitude in the arts or in war, or through having drawn them together or provided them with land, these kings used to come to the throne with the consent of the subjects and hand it on to their successors by lineal descent. And they had supreme command in war and control over all sacrifices that were not in the hands of the priestly class, and in addition to these functions they were judges in law-suits; some gave judgement not on oath and some on oath—the oath was taken by holding up the sceptre.1 These kings then of ancient times used to govern continuously in matters within the city and in the country and across the frontiers; but later on when gradually the kings relinquished some of their powers and had others taken from them by the multitudes, in the cities in general only the sacrifices were left to the kings,2 while where anything that deserves the name of royalty survived the kings only had the command in military expeditions across the frontiers. [20]

There are then these kinds of kingship, four in number: one belonging to the heroic times, which was exercised over willing subjects, but in certain limited fields, for the king was general and judge and master of religious ceremonies; second, the barbarian monarchy, which is an hereditary despotism governing in conformity with law; third, the rule of the functionary called an aesymnetes, which is an elective tyranny; and fourth among these is the Spartan kingship, which may be described simply as an hereditary generalship held for life. These kingships then differ from one another in this manner. But a fifth kind of kingship is when a single ruler is sovereign over all matters in the way in which each race and each city is sovereign over its common affairs; this monarchy ranges with the rule of a master over a household, for just as the master's rule is a sort of monarchy in the home, so absolute monarchy is domestic mastership over a city, or over a race or several races.

There are therefore, we may say, virtually two kinds of kingship that have been examined, this one and the Spartan. For most of the others lie between these, since with them the king is sovereign over fewer things than under absolute monarchy, but over more than under the Spartan kingship. Hence our inquiry is virtually about two questions, one whether it is expedient or inexpedient for states to have a military commander holding office for life, and that either by descent or by class,3

1 This ritual is mentioned in Hom. Il. 1.234, Hom. Il. 7.412, Hom. Il. 10.328.

2 The monarchy was reduced to a priesthood at CyreneHdt. 4.161) and at Ephesus.

3 Some MSS. give ‘or by election.’

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hide References (9 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (3):
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 4.161
    • W. Walter Merry, James Riddell, D. B. Monro, Commentary on the Odyssey (1886), 3.444
    • W. Walter Merry, James Riddell, D. B. Monro, Commentary on the Odyssey (1886), 8.258
  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), GEROU´SIA
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), REX
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (4):
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