Sacral King

In many historical societies, the position of kingship carries a sacral meaning, that is, it is identical with that of a high priest and of judge. The concept of theocracy is related, although a sacred king need not necessarily rule through his religious authority; rather, the temporal position itself has a religious significance.




Germanic kingship refers to the customs and practices surrounding kings among the pagan Germanic tribes of the Migration period (circa AD 300-700) and the kingdoms of the Early Middle Ages (circa AD 700-1000). The title of king (Proto-Germanic:*kuningaz) is in origin that of the leader elected as sacral and military leader from out of a noble family, usually considered of divine ancestry, in the pagan period.

The Germanic monarchies were originally pagan, but their contact, during the Völkerwanderung or Migration Period, with the Roman Empire and the Christian Church greatly altered their structure and developed into the feudal monarchy of the High Middle Ages.

The term “barbarian monarchy” is sometimes used in the context of those Germanic rulers that after AD 476 and during the 6th century ruled territories formerly part of the Western Roman Empire, especially the Barbarian kings of Italy. In the same context, Germanic law is also termed leges barbarorum “barbarian law” etc.



Election of a King at “The Stones Of Mora” by Olaus Magnus



The Germanic king originally had three main functions:

  • To serve as judge during the popular assemblies.
  • To serve as a priest during the sacrifices.
  • To serve as a military leader during wars.

The office was received hereditarily, but a new king required the consent of the people before assuming the throne. All sons of the king had the right to claim the throne, which often led to co-rulership (diarchy) where two brothers were elected kings at the same time. This evolved into the territories being considered the hereditary property of the kings, patrimonies, a system which fueled feudal wars, because the kings could claim ownership of lands beyond their de facto rule.

As a sort of pagan high priest, the king often claimed descent from some deity. In the Scandinavian nations, he administered blóts at important cult sites, such as the Temple at Uppsala. Refusal to administer the blóts could lead to the king losing power (see Haakon the Good and Anund Gårdske).

According to the testimony of Tacitus (Germania), the early Germanic peoples had an elective monarchy already in the 1st century.

“They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority.



The notion has prehistoric roots and is found worldwide, on Java as in sub-Saharan Africa, with shaman-kings credited with rain-making and assuring fertility and good fortune. On the other hand, the king might also be designated to suffer and atone for his people, meaning that the sacral king could be the pre-ordained victim of a human sacrifice, either regularly killed at the end of his term in the position, or sacrificed in times of crisis (e.g. Domalde).

Among the Ashanti, a new king was flogged before being enthroned.

From the Bronze Age Near East, enthronement and anointment of a monarch is a central religious ritual, reflected in the titles Messiah or Christwhich became separated from worldly kingship. Thus, Sargon of Akkad described himself as “deputy of Ishtar“, just as the Pope is considered the “Vicar of Christ“.

The king is styled as a shepherd from earliest times, e.g., the term was applied to Sumerian princes such as Lugalbanda in the 3rd millennium BC. The image of the shepherd combines the themes of leadership and the responsibility to supply food and protection as well as superiority.

As the mediator between the people and the divine, the sacral king was credited with special wisdom (e.g. Solomon) or vision (oneiromancy).



Sacral kingship was carried into the Middle Ages by considering kings installed by the grace of god

Gustav Vasa, for better or worse

One of the main reasons for June 6  being made  the national holiday is Gustav Vasa. He rebelled against the Kalmar Union and was appointed to the Swedish king on this particular day, the year 1523. He is said to have been a handsome man, fashion-oriented, charismatic and charming, but with temper enough for several. There are many stories about storming out of the room and different situations concerning this king – he is said to have stormed out of school at a young age and never really got a hang of it there with Latin, and that he  on skis stormed off towards the Norwegian border in Midwinter nights cold when the Dalecarlians didnt immediately want to do as he wanted , and celebrate each year with the skiing called “Vasaloppet” today (which admittedly is in the opposite direction, so perhaps it is rather the Dalecarlians recovery of the angry nobleman that is celebrated)


Reformation King Gustav Vasa Church quickly reduced power and economic influence. Church Soils, donations and property were transferred to the state, the king (ie himself) was the head of the Church instead of the Pope in Rome, the Bible was translated and published in Swedish and sermons would continue to  be in Swedish, not Latin.

And inherited kingship. It is Gustav Vasa who is the father of it too. Of course, he was elected king, that was how it was done at that time. A kind of rudimentary democracy, to put i kindly, where appropriate person would be chosen. The selection was often quite limited, particularly as it would be prefered to choose from one of the more or less royal lineages, but the idea was that “Nu är till konungsriket i Sverike konunger väliande oc ey ärfvande”  (Now unto the kindom of Sweden, be kings by election and not inheritance) in the words of the national law Gustav Vasa  modified on .


Recreating the sound of Tutankhamun’s trumpets

Recreating the sound of Tutankhamun’s trumpets

By Christine FinnArchaeologist and presenter, Ghost Music

Bandsman James Tappern plays Tutankhamun's trumpet at a BBC recording in 1939

Tutankhamun’s trumpet was one of the rare artefacts stolen from the Cairo Museum during the recent uprising. The 3,000-year-old instrument is rarely played, but a 1939 BBC radio recording captured its haunting sound.

Among the “wonderful things” Howard Carter described as he peered by candlelight into the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 were two trumpets, one silver and one bronze.

For more than 3,000 years they had lain, muted, in the Valley of the Kings, close to the mummy of the boy king. Found in different parts of Tutankhamun’s tomb, both were decorated with depictions of Egyptian gods identified with military campaigns.

Both became exhibits at the Cairo museum, but when it was broken into during the recent uprising, the bronze instrument vanished. Luckily, the silver one was away on exhibition tour.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

The loss – and return – of such a celebrated artefact is convincing some of Tutankhamun’s celebrated curse ”

Egyptologists were already reeling from the loss of many of the country’s antiquities, and many found the theft of one of the oldest surviving musical instruments in the world particularly poignant.

Many such objects would have been looted and melted down in ancient times, says Oxford Egyptologist Margaret Maitland. “There was a real lack of precious metal so there was systemic retrieval,” said Ms Maitland.

The trumpet was recently found – reportedly with other Tutankhamun artefacts in a bag on the Cairo Metro.

Due to the fragile nature of the trumpets, their sound has only been recreated on a few occasions.

Early radio broadcasters saw the potential for an extraordinary recording, and in 1939 the Egyptian Antiquities Service was persuaded to take part in a BBC broadcast to the world from the Cairo Museum.

Rex Keating, a radio pioneer who helped convince the museum, was chosen to present it to an estimated 150 million listeners worldwide one Sunday afternoon.

To set the scene, he first interviewed Alfred Lucas, one of the last survivors of Carter’s team, and the man responsible for restoring Tutankhamun’s treasures.

With five minutes to go before the trumpet sounded, the watchmen’s lanterns failed, and the museum was plunged into darkness. A candlelit Cairo was put through to London.

Mr Keating then counted down to the broadcast: “One minute to go. From the corner of my eye I can see Lucas, striving to look unconcerned – but the quivering of the script in his hand betrays his agitation…”.

Tutankhamun's gilded bronze trumpet and other objects from the Cairo MuseumThe gilded bronze trumpet was recovered recently along with several other missing objects

Mr Lucas’s concern was understandable given the story Mr Keating once told about an earlier attempt to play the silver trumpet in front of King Farouk of Egypt.

His story goes that the precious instrument shattered, possibly because of a modern mouthpiece being inserted to play it. According to Mr Keating’s colourful account, Mr Lucas was left as shattered as the trumpet and needed hospital treatment. The instrument, at least, was repaired.

And then the moment came. Listeners were enthralled.

The musician chosen for this legendary broadcast was bandsman James Tappern. His son, Peter, also a trumpeter, recalled how this was the story of his childhood, and one his father loved telling:

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

It is very tempting to want to hear what these instruments would have sounded like, but it’s just too dangerous”

Margaret MaitlandEgyptologist

“He was actually quite proud of it,” he says.

But the only recording his parents had of the original broadcast, a fragile 78 record, was broken in a house move. It was to be decades before he finally heard the original BBC recording.

“I was astonished with the quality of it,” he said. “How the original trumpeters played them is totally beyond me… [my father] used modern mouthpieces but the actual expertise he used is quite astonishing.”

The good news of the trumpet’s return is unlikely to herald a rush of archaeologists trying out ancient instruments in museums, says Ms Maitland:

“It is very tempting to want to hear what these instruments would have sounded like, but it’s just too dangerous, especially when these are some of the only examples.”

King Tut’s curse

A whole science has sprung up around the study of ancient music, where the original instruments are too fragile to play or no longer exist.

Archaeologists and archaeomusicologists are still able to get a sense of how they might have sounded.

Richard Dumbrill, considered the world’s leading authority on the Music of the Ancient Near East, is one. He reconstructed the Silver Lyre of Ur, discovered by Leonard Woolley in modern-day Iraq around the same time that Tutankhamun’s tomb was excavated.

The BBC recording of the trumpets took place in 1939 in the Cairo MuseumThe trumpets were first played just before World War II broke out, but could they really summon war?

Mr Woolley, a brilliant archaeologist, recognised a pile of twisted metal in a tomb as the remains of a 5,000-year-old lyre. He poured wax into the space where the instrument had lain to recover the shape.

Mr Dumbrill used the cast and Mr Woolley’s notes to recreate the lyre, including the animal gut strings. The sounds it makes conjures up a world even more ancient than Tutankhamun’s.

The Lost Sound Orchestra, as its name suggests, aims to bring other ancient worlds to life. Using laptops, experts try to make digital sound from virtual instruments – such as those shown on ancient Greek vases. They started with the epigonion (an ancient stringed instrument) from the 2nd Century BC.

But this is not just an academic exercise – the project creates the possibility of an orchestra of lost sounds gathered from all over the world via digital technology.

As Tutankhamun’s trumpet echoes once more, the loss – and return – of such a celebrated artefact is convincing some of Tutankhamun’s celebrated curse. Not least the trumpet’s apparent ability to summon up war.

Bandsman Tappern had, after all, played the trumpet shortly before World War II broke out. Cairo Museum’s Tutankhamun curator claims the trumpet retains “magical powers” and was blown before the first Gulf War, and by a member of staff the week before the Egyptian uprising.


Long live the God King Tut Ankh Amun, king of the south and the north.