Sacred Kingship among the Peoples of the Steppes
“Das Sakrale Königtum bei den Steppenvölkern,” Numen 13 (1966): 14-26
The study of the institution of sacred kingship was greatly advanced by the Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (Rome, 1955), which was dedicated to this theme. The many contributions enriched our knowledge of sacred kingship in every way, but in my opinion, the most important aspect of these contributions is that they allow us to pursue a new, comparative study of this phenomenon. Several terminological difficulties, however, stand in the way of such a comparative approach. The comprehensive, phenomenological material of the Congress was extremely heterogenous, and it quickly became clear that further progress would first require a clarification of terms. Such a move towards clarity was made by the Dutch scholar Th. P. van Baaren, who argued convincingly that in order to clarify the notion of “sacred kingship” we should return to the original Frazerian terminology.4 This would mean that the only sacred kingships are those in which 1) after his ascension to the throne the king is treated as a divinity on earth; 2) the king rules his people with divine power; 3) the king is accountable for order in the cosmos; and 4) the life and death of the king have cosmic significance. The death of the king has a representative character, and just as in the case of the demi-gods of pre-history, the dying of the king becomes a fountain of life for his entire people.