::Imperial cult (ancient Rome)


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{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||$N=Use dmy dates |date=__DATE__ |$B= }} {{#invoke:Sidebar|sidebar}} The Imperial cult of ancient Rome identified emperors and some members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority of the Roman State. The framework for the Imperial cult was formulated during the early Principate of Augustus, and was rapidly established throughout the Empire and its provinces, with marked local variations in its reception and expression.

Augustus' reforms transformed Rome's Republican system of government to a de facto monarchy, couched in traditional Roman practices and Republican values. The princeps (later known as Emperor) was expected to balance the interests of the Roman military, Senate and people, and to maintain peace, security and prosperity throughout an ethnically diverse empire. The official offer of cultus to a living emperor acknowledged his office and rule as divinely approved and constitutional: his Principate should therefore demonstrate pious respect for traditional Republican deities and mores.

A deceased emperor held worthy of the honor could be voted a state divinity (divus, plural divi) by the Senate and elevated as such in an act of apotheosis. The granting of apotheosis served religious, political and moral judgment on Imperial rulers and allowed living Emperors to associate themselves with a well-regarded lineage of Imperial divi from which unpopular or unworthy predecessors were excluded. This proved a useful instrument to Vespasian in his establishment of the Flavian Imperial Dynasty following the death of Nero and civil war, and to Septimius in his consolidation of the Severan dynasty after the assassination of Commodus. In the development of Imperial rule from Principate to Dominate, the role of the Senate was increasingly marginalised and military loyalty became the key to Imperial authority.

The Imperial cult was inseparable from that of Rome's official deities, whose cult was essential to Rome's survival and whose neglect was therefore treasonous. Traditional cult was a focus of Imperial revivalist legislation under Decius and Diocletian. Christian apologists and martyrologists saw the cult of the Emperor as a particularly offensive instrument of "pagan" impiety and persecution.<ref>See Bowersock et al for "pagan" as a mark of socio-religious inferiority in Latin Christian polemic:</ref> It therefore became a focus of theological and political debate during the ascendancy of Christianity under Constantine I. The emperor Julian failed to reverse the declining support for Rome's official religious practices: Theodosius I adopted Christianity as Rome's state religion. Rome's traditional gods and "Imperial cult" were officially abandoned. However, many of the rites, practices and status distinctions that characterized the cult to emperors were perpetuated in the theology and politics of the Christianized Empire.<ref>Allen Brent, The Imperial Cult and the Development of Church Order: Concepts and Images of Authority in Paganism and Early Christianity before the Age of Cyprian (Brill, 1999)</ref>

The Roman Imperial cult is sometimes considered a deviation from Rome's traditional Republican values, a religiously insincere cult of personality which served Imperial propaganda.<ref>Price, 13–17, includes historians of opposing political views among those who interpret the Imperial cult as the domination of "a servile world" through politically driven "charade". Eduard Meyer, "Alexander der Grosse und die Absolute Monarchie", (1905) in Kleine Schriften, 1, 1924, 265, and Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939. 256, reach essentially the same conclusions about the nature and purpose of the Imperial cult, despite their opposing political alignments. Price, 13, note 31, refers to Demandt's analysis of Meyer's position, in A. Demandt, "Politische Aspekte im Alexander-bild der Neuzeit," Archiv fur Kulturgeschichte 54, 1972, 325ff at p.355.</ref><ref>See also Harland, P. A., "Honours and Worship: Emperors, Imperial Cults and Associations at Ephesus (First to Third Centuries C.E.)", Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses 25 (1996) 319–334.</ref> It drew its power and effect, however, from both religious traditions deeply engrained in Roman culture, such as the veneration of the genius of each individual and of the ancestral dead, and on forms of the Hellenistic ruler cult developed in the eastern provinces of the Empire.

Imperial cult (ancient Rome) sections
Intro  Background  End of the Republic  Caesar's heir  The Imperial succession  Imperial crisis and the Dominate  Context and precedents  The Imperial cult and Christianity  Historical evaluations  See also  Notes  References and further reading  

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