According to Mesopotamian belief, “kingship came down from heaven” and was therefore a divinely decreed institution. The notion that kings were chosen for their office by the gods of the land is expressed in the royal inscriptions of all historical periods. There were special rituals of coronation that confirmed the ruler’s responsibility toward the deities and his subjects whose “shepherd” he was meant to be. Kingship was hereditary in the male line, thus forming dynasties, but persons could also accede to the throne by violent means or usurpation of the throne.
   Some kings of the Early Dynastic period and those of the Third Dynasty of Ur also fulfilled important religious offices, as did the Assyrian kings, but they did not hold a supreme priestly office. The Akkadian kings (e.g., Naram-Sin) and those of Urassumed the status of a deity; at least, their names were written with the determinative sign that was usually reserved for divine names. In the third millennium B.C., there was also a cult for the statues of living and deceased kings.
   Babylonian kings during the second millennium B.C. saw themselves as arbiters of justice. The Amorite rulers in particular were keen to show an interest in the affairs of all their subjects, while the Kassite and Neo-Babylonian rulers were more remote. During the annual New Year festival, the Babylonian king had his ears pulled and his face slapped by a priest to remind him that he, too, was a subject of the gods. Assyrian monarchs saw the defense and enlargement of their country by military means as their primary duty. Babylonian divinatoryscience was primarily dedicated to safeguard the country and its king. Especially the Assyrian kings surrounded themselves with learned advisers skilled in the arts of interpreting the “signs,” and the king had to undergo a lengthy ritual of purification to avert evil portents (see ASTROLOGY/ASTRONOMY). In some cases, a “substitute king” could be officially appointed for a limited period of time so that any misfortune might befall him rather than the real king (see ISIN).

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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