World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Persian king (centre) and courtiers (right) depicted in the conventional attitude of proskynesis
Different degrees of proskynesis, from a slight bow of the head to full prostration.
Moravian proskynesis in 1735.

Proskynesis (; Greek προσκύνησις) refers to the traditional Persian act of bowing or prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the term proskynesis is used theologically to indicate the veneration given to icons and relics of the saints; as distinguished from latria, the adoration which is due to God alone,[1] and also physical gestures such as bowing or kneeling (genuflection in the Western church) before an altar or icon.


  • Etymology 1
  • Practice 2
  • Applications 3
  • See also 4
  • References and sources 5
  • External links 6


The Greek word προσκύνησις is derived from the verb προσκυνέω, proskyneo, itself formed from the compound words πρός, pros (towards) and κυνέω, kyneo ([I] kiss).[2] It describes an attitude of humbleness, submission, or worship adoration-particularly towards a sovereign ruler, God or the gods.


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 barbaric 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 as a god, 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 customs of 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.

The emperor Diocletian (AD 284-305) is usually thought to have introduced the practice to the Roman Empire, forming a break with the Republican institutions of the principate, which preserved the form, if not the intent, of republican government. However, there is some evidence that an informal form of proskynesis was already practiced at the court of Septimius Severus.[3] 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 to Christianity, proskynesis became part of an elaborate ritual, whereby the emperor became God's vice-regent on earth.[4] Titular inflation also affected the other principal offices of the Empire. Justinian and Theodora both insisted on an extreme form of proskynesis, even from members of the Roman Senate,[5] and they were attacked for it by Procopius in his Secret History.[6]

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ Ware, Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) (1993). The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books. p. 257.  
  2. ^ πρός,κυνέω,προσκυνέω,προσκύνησις. Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. ^ .Herrscherideologie in der SpätantikeFrank Kolb, Review by Chris Epplett, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2002.07.02.
  4. ^ John Julius Norwich
  5. ^ Mitchell, Stephen. (2007) A History of the later Roman Empire AD 284-641: The Transformation of the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell, p. 228. ISBN 9781405108560
  6. ^ Procopius, Secret History 30, 21-30.
  • Josef Wiesehöfer: "Denn ihr huldigt nicht einem Menschen als eurem Herrscher, sondern nur den Göttern". Bemerkungen zur Proskynese in Iran", in: C.G. Cereti / M. Maggi / E. Provasi (eds.), Religious Themes and Texts of Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia. Studies in Honour of Gh. Gnoli on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday on 6 December 2002, Wiesbaden 2003, S. 447-452.

External links

  • Proskynesis
  • Proskynesis in the late Roman Empire.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.