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The Origin of the Power of the King and its Limitations

In their inscriptions, the Achaemenian kings had repeatedly referred to their kingship as a “gift from Ahurā Mazdā” and believed that their kingship could survive only with divine help. This religious origin of the power of the king provided suitable grounds for the Achaemenians to impose their monarchial rule on all the Persians as well as their non-Iranian subjects. However, it should be mentioned that while some foreign observers have praised this type of monarchy as the highest form of statesmanship there have also been some other scholars who have criticized it as the distorted form of monarchy and as a symbol of despotism against the subjects. It is possible that this disparity of observation could have been based upon the varying attitudes of the different Achaemenian kings.

Historical evidences prove the existence of laws that specified the limits of the authority of the Achaemenian king, which he was obliged to honor. Historical sources albeit without any mention of the origins of these laws have only indicated towards these limitations. Firstly, Herodotus has made mention of a Persian law according to which the king was not permitted to sentence anyone to death over his first crime. Other historians have also recorded that the Achaemenian kings like Cambyses and Xerxes would, at times, consult the royal judges about the lawfulness of some of their actions and even considered it obligatory upon themselves to abide by the law. Needless to say, such consultations occasionally did put the royal judges into trouble. It could perhaps be said that the laws that were mandatory on the king were part and parcel of the set of laws that Plutarch has referred to as the “sacred and obligatory law of the Persians”.


* source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 ,pp.620 – 621

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