The Cult of the Emperor
When was the first Roman ruler deified?
The Romans began the practice
of deifying their dead rulers
with Julius Caesar. Before he
died, Caesar received the right
to have a flamen for a cult in
his honour, to mark his house
like a temple and to place his
‘imago’ in the procession of the
gods that featured in Roman
parades and festivals.
After he died, the Senate passed
a decree formally deifying
Caesar and altars and temples
were erected to him.
A ‘flamen’ was a priest
with the responsibility
for the worship of a
god or goddess in
Roman religion
Why did the Romans accept the deification of Caesar
so easily?
Although the deification of their
ruler would certainly have
seemed novel to the
inhabitants of Rome, his
assimilation to divine status
would have seemed quite
normal to the peoples of the
eastern empire who had
always regarded their kings
and rulers as divine, and were
equally ready to pay divine
honours to the Roman
emperors.
The fact that he was deified after
his death would have meant
that Romans would have not
felt directly threatened by
such an action.
“The peoples in
the Eastern
Roman empire
had always
thought of their
rulers as divine,
so it seemed
natural to
worship the
Roman emperor
as god”.
Source material 7.3.1
In what way was Augustus so skillful in exploiting
the cult of the emperor?
Augustus was brilliant in the
way he aligned religious
authority with political:
while Augustus allowed
himself to be associated
with numerous rites and
cult activities e.g., his
membership of the various
colleges of priests’, there
was no single ceremony
such as a coronation
where he was the
dominant actor.
Indeed, Augustus never
personally claimed divine
status during his lifetime.
How did Augustus use the goddess ‘Roma’ to
enhance the power of the empire?
‘ROMA’ was the deity personifying the
Roman state.
Augustus, however, encouraged the
worship of Roma in the provinces
(although she did later on gain a
temple in Rome itself).
Many temples were built in the
provinces in her honour, often as a
‘Temple of Rome and Augustus’ to
make the imperial cult and emperor This coin, struck in an
eastern province,
worship more palatable.
has on the reverse a
Thus, outside of Italy, worship of the
temple devoted to
emperor was usually linked to the
the goddess ‘Roma’.
worship of the goddess ‘ Roma’.
What was the ‘genius’?
The Romans believed that
every living being had a
‘genius’ or protecting
spirit.
People in the provinces
were encouraged to
worship the ‘genius’ of
the emperor, linked with
the goddess ‘Roma’ Detail of the ‘Genius (spirit) of
another method of
the Paterfamilias flanked by
promoting emperor
2 lares
worship.
Lararium in the house of the
Vettii in Pompeii
What was the ‘numen’?
The nod that Juppiter
gave assenting to an
action was called his
‘numen’.
It thus became to signify
divine will or the
power of a deity.
Augustus organised
public worship of his
‘numen’ which
represented the
godhead or divine
power of a living
emperor - another
example of emperor
worship.
Bust of the Juppiter, the
Father of the gods
Why did Augustus never explicitly say that he
was a god?
The Roman political system did
not approve of a living emperor
declaring himself a god (no
doubt as a result of their dislike
of an all powerful head of state).
The emperor Caligula made the
mistake of claiming to be a god
during his lifetime. This action
was described by contemporary
historians as an example of his
dementia.
This is why Augustus was careful
to never explicitly to declare
himself a god although he
walked a very fine line in this
respect.
Bust of the Emperor
Caligula
Why did Romans encourage the worship of
emperors as gods?
• People were more likely to
submit to Roman rule if
they regarded the
supreme ruler as a god
• It reduced, as a result, the
chances of uprisings
• It gave many people in the
provinces a sense that
they belonged to one great
empire
• It was very popular
amongst the upper and
middle classes who
looked to Rome to
promote their careers
Augustus as ‘Pontifex
Maximus’
Did this cult of the Emperor always have the
desired effect?
The temple at Colchester
dedicated to the deified
emperor Claudius was
regarded by the Britons
as a symbol of eternal
oppression, and the
priests used religion as
an excuse to waste
British money.
Boudicca raised this
temple to the ground
when she rebelled
This is a model of the temple
against Roman
of the deified emperor
occupation
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