Proskynesis refers to the traditional Persian act of prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank.
According to Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...
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
Callisthenes of Olynthus was a Greek historian. He was the son of Hero and Proxenus of Atarneus, which made him the great nephew of Aristotle by his sister Arimneste. They first met when Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great...
) - and in the end, he did not insist on the practice.
The emperor Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244 – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....
(A.D. 284-305) is usually thought to have introduced the practice to the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....
, forming a break with the Republican institutions of the principate
The Principate is the first period of the Roman Empire, extending from the beginning of the reign of Caesar Augustus to the Crisis of the Third Century, after which it was replaced with the Dominate. The Principate is characterized by a concerted effort on the part of the Emperors to preserve the...
, which preserved the form, if not the intent, of a representative government. 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.
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
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...
to Christianity, proskynesis became part of an elaborate ritual, as asserted by historian John Julius Norwich
John Julius Norwich
John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich CVO — known as John Julius Norwich — is an English historian, travel writer and television personality.-Early life:...
, whereby the emperor became God's vice-regent on Earth. Titular inflation affected the other principal offices of the Empire.
Eastern ChristianityIn the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...
the term proskynesis is used theologically to indicate the veneration
Veneration , or veneration of saints, is a special act of honoring a saint: an angel, or a dead person who has been identified by a church committee as singular in the traditions of the religion. It is practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic, and Eastern Catholic Churches...
given to icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...
s and relic
In religion, a relic is a part of the body of a saint or a venerated person, or else another type of ancient religious object, carefully preserved for purposes of veneration or as a tangible memorial...
s of the saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...
s; as distinguished from latria
Latrīa is a Latin term used in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology to mean adoration, a reverence directed only to the Holy Trinity. Latria carries an emphasis on the internal form of worship, rather than external ceremonies.-Catholic teachings:In Catholic teachings, latria also applies...
, the adoration
Adoration is love given with deep affection. The term comes from the Latin adōrātiō, meaning "to give homage or worship to someone or something."-Ancient Middle East:...
which is due to God alone.