King for a Day

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King for a Day

A most gratifying theme for fiction is the story of an insignificant person being elevated to the position of royalty for a brief period, usually just for one day.

Ironically the event is based on an actual custom that was widespread in ancient Babylonia. On New Year's Day it was customary for the reigning king to appoint a person of low stature to be "king for a day." The unfortunate appointee would be wined and dined and given anything he wanted. He was appropriately designated "unfortunate" because the next day he would be put to death! On one New Year's Day, however, the custom backfired. King Enlil—Imitti appointed his gardener to the post, and during the celebration the real king died. He appears to have drunk too much wine, and quite probably he received a little help toward his demise. Enlil—Banmi the gardener remained on the throne and ruled for the next twenty—four years. It was noted that he never appointed a gardener to the position of "king for a day."

In contrast with such short reigns, the longest in recorded history was held by Pepi II, who succeeded to the throne of Egypt in 2272 B.C. and ruled for at least the next ninety years. He was doubtless a mere infant when he ascended the throne, probably not even old enough to sit on it. His feet certainly did not touch the floor when he was first placed on the royal seat, but they were firmly implanted for the decades to come. Records clearly show that during his adult years Egypt prospered under his rule but fell apart a mere two years after his death.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth