Imperial Cult



  • Was careful to promote himself as 'more than mortal' but not claim outright divinity. In the provinces Augustus encouraged people to worship him alongside Rome <--subtle way of combining religion with keeping good relations etc. between provinces and Rome. 
  • Described as son of a god on an AUREUS of 28BC: on one side he is there wearing a laurel wreath surrounded by his titles and on the other he is seated on a magistrates chair holding out a scroll (restoring the republic). the sides seem to contradict each other but he is perhaps trying to say that he has completed the challenge of restoring the republic, which only one 'more than mortal' would be able to do.
  • Poets describe him as a kind of god e.g. HORACE ODES suggests Mercury has changed his form to appear on earth (in Aug) and save the people of Rome. 
  • Makes himself a member of all the main priesthoods e.g. pontifex maximus, showing he was pious manand associating himself with the state cult but not explicity demanding worship RES GESTAE
  • COIN of capricorn (star symbol when Aug was born), rudder of the state, an orb (the world) and a cornucopia: metaphor that Aug is destined by the gods to steer the world to prosperity
  • Altar at Narbo built AD 11-13 shows that provincials were keen to participate in the imperial cult. on the INSCRIPTION people of Narbo declared they had 'bound themselves to worship his divinity for ever'. continued to be this way as incription was reinscribed years later. 
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  • Bilingual dedication to Julia and Venus Genetrix on Lesbos shows the imperial cult extended to the emperor's famiy even if they had little political significance. 
  • TACITUS says that Augustus allowed temples to be built to him provided the city of Rome was also worshipped. 
  • 'The senate consecrated the altar of Fortuna honour of my return' RES GESTAE 11. AUREUS After it was dedicated his return was celebrated annually by the vestal virgins and pontifices. He became focus of religious attention whether he regarded himself a god or not. 
  • Ara Pacis set up in 9BC: altar dedicated to goddess of peace - to celebrate and honour Augustus' return from the provinces
  • Augustus encouraged worship of his Lares in Rome - INSCRIPTION around 7BC recounting the priestly attendants who were to oversee the cult. 
  • Augustus genius (divine spirit) was worshipped in Rome as OVID in FASTI says every district now pays honour to its three divinities, the twin lares and a leader's (Augustus') genius
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  • Clear that he is must less inclined to see any expansion of emperor-worship
  • SUETONIUS TIB 26 statues that he refused decrees allowing temples to be set up to him and only allowed statues and portrait bust of himself to be set up with explicit permission and even then only as decoration of the temple, not among statues of the gods.
  • He refused Further Spain to build a temple to Tiberius and Augusta and says he is mortal and content with mortal honours TACITUS ANNALS
  • Gytheion Letter AD15: people of Gytheion sent a letter to Tiberius proposing many divine honours to him but he refused saying he was 'satisfied with more moderate honours suitable for men'. But he did not reply on behalf of Livia suggesting Tiberius is truly just modest and it is for personal reasons he denies worship rather than an official policy. 
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  • Saw his divinity as a way to give his reign political legitmacy. 
  • Drusilla was the first Roman woman to actually be deified despite being of no political significance. Deified simply for being the emperor's sister SUETONIUS LOG, DIO says she got a golden statue, cult statue and her own shrine etc. change in perception of imperial cult - suggests its more to do with family connections
  • DIO says that Gaius gave orders for a sacred precinct to be consecrated to him in a province of Asia, Miletus. He wanted to take over the large and beautiful temple the people of Miletus were building at that time in honour of Apollo. 
  • DIO says he requested an annulment of a decree ordering sacrifices to be offered to his Fortune (and said this action of his should be inscribed on a tablet -wanted to be seen as rejecting worship, more humble?) but then as a complete contradiction he ordered temples to be erected to him and sacrifices to be offered to him as they would a god. shows Gaius' as a properly mad and self obsessive emperor. 
  • INSCRIPTION on Temple of Gaius at Didyma: 'those who were first to be his temple builders erected his statue at their own expense' the whole inscription is quite sycophantic in nature btu arguably should be more trustworthy a it is a contemporary source - reflects the provincials actually wanting to worship Gaius. 
  • Gaius attempted to convert Jewish Temple in Jerusalem to a temple of the imperial cult PHILO when discussing the his embassy to Gaius. Gaius trying to force the imperial cult upon cultures not willing to receive it. 
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  • SUETONIUS LOG 22 'he insisted on being treated as a god'. according to Suetonius he would send for famous statues of gods and replaces their heads with his own. also tells the anecdote of when Gaius stood next to a statue of Jupiter and asked an actor to tell him who was greater. when the actor hesitated he was flogged.
  • Generally Gaius' claim to divinity best confirms the popular notion of his insanity.
  • SUETONIUS 'established a shrine to his own godhead'. temples erected in Rome to himself
  • must consider that there is NO archeological evidence that pointed to a cult of Gaius so have to rely on sources. Also consider that literary sources e.g. Philo who we would expect to be very hostile towards Gaius actually never accuses him of claims to divinity. 
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  • Declines worship 'The appointment of a high priest to me and the buildings of temples I decline' he did not want to seem arrogant and considered these honours shuold be given to the gods only. He does allow them to keep his birthday as a sacred day. LETTER FROM CLAUDIUS TO ALEXANDRIANS
  • Rejected all forms of worship to himself except it seems in Britain. Possibly saw imperial cult as a useful colonisation tool. Britain was the new province in his rule...
  • Possible Claudius was celebrated as a god in Britain: SENECA refers to a temple in Britain where barbarians would worship him and pray to him as a god. 
  • Claudius got his grandmother Livia deified however SUETONIUS CLAUDIUS. she was given a statue in the temple of Augustus. Her deification will have reminded people of Claudius' close link to Livia and therefore Augustus. 
  • Claudius' Deification took place soon after his death in AD54 TACITUS ANNALS and COINS. useful for Nero to be the son of a god but dangerous as Britannicus, his rival heir, would also have been. 
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  • Poets viewing the emperor as a living God like with Augustus: SENACA writes that Apollo says that he go beyond the span of human life and be like him in countenance and beauty and not inferior in song or voice. 
  • SUETONIUS says Nero was thought to rival Apollo in singing and the Sun in chariot racing. rivalling Gods - up there with their standards etc.
  • In the provinces Nero rejects honours in Egypt INSCRIPTION saying he declined their temple because it is an honour only rightly granted to gods. 
  • DIO writes that Tiridates says on his visit to Rome that he worships Nero , '[his] god]' as he does Mithras. No evidence that Nero encourages this however
  • TACITUS tells us that he rejects offer of statues being erected in Rome of himself in gold and silver. 
  • TACITUS also recounts another time Nero rejects the statue saying divine honours shold be paid to emperors only when they are no longer among men. But Tacitus seems to insinuate that this reveals Nero's paranoia perhaps about offending the gods than an indication of his modesty.
  • Building of the colossus - massive bronze statue - arguably hubristic but others argue it was just a statue intended of the emperor and the size etc. was necessary to fill the space in such a massive palace, it wasnt trying to be a god or anything. PLINY it was only later converted to Sol the Sun god. 
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  • Octavia Claudia daughter of Nero deified TACITUS 
  • TACITUS ANNALS says that divine honours were voted to Poppaea, Nero's second wife, after her death. coins support both these deifications
  • Nero seems to not have greatly extended imperial cult
  • Neither Tacitus Annals or Suetonius complain about Nero usurping divine honours, even though we would expect them to having lived through Domitian. We would know from Tacitus if Nero was really bad. 
  • Nero did not claim to be better than gods but other people claimed he was. 
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  • Attitude seems much more down to earth. SUETONIUS says his dying words were 'oh dear I think I am becoming a god' is seen as the ultimate expression of Vesp's humour and good sense. 
  • His accession as emperor seemed to be marked by various divine signs like miracles - Vespasian suposedly healed the sick - someone who was blind TACITUS HISTORIES
  • He focused on bringing back the state cult restoring temples and preserving public ceremonies INSCRIPTION AD78 and bringing Egyptian cults to Rome e.g. he and Titus stayed in the Temple of Isis just before their Jewish Triumph JOSEPHUS JEWISH WARS
  • Sometimes presented with radiate crown on coins but interestingly only when linked with Augustan concepts e.g. pax Augusta. 
  • Did finish building Temple of Claudius which could show harmonious links with the divine. 
  • Seemed more keen to present himself as one of the people than someone greater than mortal
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  • Followed similar policy to his father. 
  • Sometimes like his father prsented as radiate on coins again mainly with Augustan concepts. 
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  • Dismissed wife then took her back saying it was a 'recall to my divine bed' SUETONIUS
  • He ordered that he be called 'Dominus et Deus' (Lord and God) SUETONIUS DOM 13. This portrayal of himself may only have extended to the court and senate however - public may have been completely unaware of any divine pretensions. 
  • SUETONIUS DOM 13 said that statues of him had to be either gold or silver and had to be above a certain weight. <- clearly encouraged worship of himself. 
  • He deified Titus but this is no different to how other emperors acted with regards to imperial cult. 
  • Set up a temple to the gens flavia SUETONIUS DOM 5
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