Investigating the Factors that Led to a Roman Emperor Being Worshipped as a God
Between Augustus in AD 14 and Constantine in AD 337, 36 out of the 60
emperors were officially deified. Hopkins believes that kings
of all eras associate themselves with divine beings in order to secure
and legitimise their position in power; likewise, subjects of a nation
use divine association to justify the absolute rule of an obscured
emperor. Both politics and religion before and after death contribute
to an emperor being worshipped as a god, but factors and traditions
alter with the changing political system.
Whilst the emperor is alive there are many issues that add to his
eventual deification; none more important that the cult of the living
emperor. The eastern provinces of the Roman Empire had long been
worshipping their rulers as gods and this created a politically
awkward situation within Rome. While the east bestowed many divine
honours on Roman emperors, the elites within the city did not condone
any divine worship of a mortal. The emperor was one of the elite and
although he was thought of as the first man, he was after all only a
Augustus was the first emperor to have and maintain an official cult
whilst alive. Although he accepted worship of his genius, he
simultaneously declined any directly divine worship. However this
can be discredited by the amount of imperial altars which suggest
direct sacrifices to the emperor. Many before him had been
considered great enough to deserve religious recognition, for example
the Gracchi Brothers and General Marius, both having statues
erected to them and sacrifices made in their honour. However this was
after death and neither was ever given the title ‘divus’, showing
their distinction from an emperor. Augustus, whilst still alive,
reordered the calendars to include his own personal celebrations (i.e.
his birthday) and as ‘pater patriae’ ordered that private household
libations included offerings to his genius and his personal household
deities, placing himself in the centre of Roman life.
The emperor himself played a substantial role in the cult of the
living emperor; however there had long been something divine about the
ability to succeed. Many of the celebrations on behalf of the emperor
were the result of the provinces’ own local initiative. The
variations between the types of games, processions, sacrifices etc.
show that it wasn’t imperial decree that established the cult but the
peoples desire to worship an emperor they considered to be divine.
The cult to the living emperor establishes the basis for the worship
of an emperor although only his genius is officially allowed to be
worshiped whilst he is still alive; from this comes divine honours
granted on behalf of the cult of a community....