Proskynesis

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Proskynesis (Greek π"οσκ"νησις from the words π"ός pros and κυνω kuneo, literally meaning "kissing towards") refers to the traditional Persian act of prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank.

According to Herodotus in his "Histories", a person of equal rank received a kiss on the lips, someone of a slightly lower rank gave a kiss on the cheek, and someone of a very inferior social standing had to completely bow down to the other person before them. To the Greeks, giving proskynesis to a mortal seemed to be a barbarian and ludicrous practice. They reserved such submissions for the gods only. This may have led some Greeks to believe that the Persians worshipped their king, who was the only Persian that received proskynesis from everyone, and other misinterpretations caused cultural conflicts. Alexander the Great proposed this practice during his lifetime, in adapting to the Persian cities he conquered, but it failed to find acceptance amongst his Greek companions (an example can be found in the court historian, Callisthenes) - and in the end, he did not insist on the practice.

During the Roman Empire, the emperor Diocletian (A.D. 284-305) introduced the practice, forming a break with the Republican institutions of the principate, which preserved the form, if not the intent, of a representative government according to Edward Gibbon, paraphrasing historians such as Zosimus. The political reason for this change was to elevate the role of the emperor from 'first citizen' to an otherworldly ruler, remote from his subjects, thus reducing the likelihood of successful revolt, which had plagued the Empire during the preceding 50 years. This change in status was accompanied by reduction in the size of the legions and a reorganization of the Empire into prefectures, dioceses, and smaller provinces. Similarly, the emperor was hailed no longer as "Imp(erator)" on coins, which meant 'commander in chief" but as "D(ominus) N(oster)" - 'Our Lord.' With the conversion of Constantine I to Christianity, proskynesis became part of an elaborate ritual, as asserted by historian John Julius Norwich, whereby the emperor became God's vice-regent on Earth. Titular inflation affected the other principal offices of the Empire.

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