Imperial Cult (ancient Rome)

Imperial Cult (ancient Rome)

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 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 honour 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. 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 characterised the cult to emperors were perpetuated in the theology and politics of the Christianized Empire.

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.

Read more about Imperial Cult (ancient Rome):  End of The Republic, Caesar's Heir, Religion and Imperium Under Augustus, Imperial Crisis and The Dominate, The Context and Precedents For Imperial Cult, The Imperial Cult and Christianity, Historical Evaluations

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Imperial Cult (ancient Rome) - Historical Evaluations
... The nature and function of Imperialcult remain contentious,not least because its Roman historians employed it equally as a topos for Imperialworth and Imperialhubris ... been interpreted as an essentially foreign,Graeco-Eastern institution,imposed cautiously and with some difficulty upon a Latin-Western Roman culture in which the deification of rulers was ... In this viewpoint,the essentially servile and un-Roman"Imperial cult was established at the expense of the traditional Roman ethics which had sustained the ...

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