Imperial Cult and Early Christianity

Warren Carter

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:
Imperial Cult and Early Christianity


The imperial cult or emperor worship honored the emperor during his reign (common in the eastern provinces), or in Rome after his death. Emperors in Rome could be declared divus after their death, thereby elevating them to the level of the gods or demigods. Worship could also be directed to their genius (a personification of innate qualities or guardian spirit) or numen (a personification of active power). Across the 1st century ce, emperors who were declared divus in Rome and the West included Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, and Trajan. Some other members of imperial families were also elevated, including the wife of Augustus, Livia; the sister of Caligula, Drusilla; the daughter of Nero, Claudia Augusta; and the daughter of Domitian; Julia Augusta. The worship of emperors practiced in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire resembled ruler-worship elsewhere in the ancient world. The repertoire of activities was typical of religious practices in the classical world and included variously temples, shrines, altars, images, sacrifices, priests, processions, feasts, oaths of loyalty and obedience, hymns, poems, prayers, incense, and contests in athletics, music, and imperial encomiums. Expressions of worship could take place in households, trade associations, and in municipal, provincial, and state festivals. Observance was neither uniform nor universal throughout the empire. Nor was observance mandatory. The cult was not promoted solely from above or from the center, but often by elites in cities and provinces as a way of conceptualizing and negotiating the political power exerted by Rome and its emperor as a display of divine power through this human figure.

Article.  11373 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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