Term Paper: Emperor Worship

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Emperor Worship

The worship of Roman emperors appeared to have developed from ancient beliefs in, or worship of, a divine spirit or a guardian double of a rule. Like the Greeks, the Romans held that the spiritual powers, Agathos daimon and Agathe tyche, guided men's destinies. To them, Agathos daimon was the guiding spirit and Agathe tyche was a personal deity, which covered every human being. The Romans worshipped these two spirits. This belief in divine guardianship led to the worship of a superman who was not only a guiding spirit but also a god. The procreative power of the male was called his genius. This was complemented by the power to conceive and bear by the female, called juno. Both powers terminated with the individual's death. In Rome, spiritual powers permeated the world of commerce, the home, the government, personal virtues and nature itself. Right at the start, Roman religion differed from Greek religion in some aspects. Romans were more inclined to functional gods than to merely personified ones. Roman gods were first impersonal forces. Their religion was quite materialistic at first and emphasized purposes than morality. On the other hand, their religion dealt more with duty, law, and patriotism and intended to please or placate the gods and to silence men's fears. The emphasis on purpose and pragmatism would alter Roman disposition towards the preservation of law and order. Eventually, the Romans adopted the late republic, which worshipped their emperors.

Totis Quinctius Flaminius was the first Roman to be worshipped. He set the Greeks free from Macedonian rule in 197 BC. It set the trend. Julius Caesar was, however, the first to declare himself an absolute ruler with a divine lineage. He had this vision while in the quest of Spain and envied Alexander the Great when gazing at the latter's statue at the Temple of Hercules. Fortune tellers goaded him that he was destined to conquer the earth. He claimed to be a descendant of Mars and Venus. The Roman senate decreed him to be a demigod. In the year 45 BC, a statue was built for him with the inscription that he was an unconquered god. His image was inscribed in portraits. The people were required to swear by his genius. Holidays and sacrifices were observed in his name. It was said that Julius Caesar accepted extreme honors, including dictatorship for life. He was given the forename Imperator and surname of Father of his Country. Many thought that these honors were too great to ascribe to someone who was mortal. His golden throne, temples, altars and statues were placed beside those of the gods. His name became the basis for the seventh month. He refused to be called a king because of the connotation of tyrant or despot. Yet at the time of his murder, it was disputed whether he should have been made king, especially because of a Sibylline prophecy that the Partians could be conquered only by a king. In the year 44 BC, he was formally decreed to be among the gods

Julius Caesar's heir was Octavius, who was renamed Augustus in 27 BC. He was the victor at Actium. He was revered and called the Civi Filius, the son of deified Julius. In 29 BC, the senate ordered the inclusion of his name in hymns equally with those of the gods. He was a shrewd politician. He negotiated with soldiers with gifts and the people with cheap corn. He concentrated on his work at the Senate, the magistrates and the laws completely without opposition. In 27 BC, the senate was thinking of heaping up more honors for Octavius, including a new name. He first took fancy over Romulus, but realized that it would hint at his desire for kingship. Instead, he chose the title of Augustus. The title indicated that he was more than human. The most precious and sacred objects were called "augusta." In 24 BC, the senate decreed to free Augustus from the compulsion of the laws so as to make him independent yet supreme over himself and the laws. In effect, this was to make him do everything he wishes and refrain from anything he did not wish. Augustus, however, preferred to be worshipped as a god in Egypt rather than in Rome. It was already a tradition in Egypt to worship a pharaoh but not yet the trend in Rome. His Greek subjects already proclaimed him a god. In certain provinces, he allowed the veneration on condition that the temples to be erected in his honor be done jointly with the goddess Roma.

Emperor worship first emerged in the province of Asia in Western Asia Minor in Pergamum in 29 BC for the goddess Roma and Augustus. Augustus demanded this worship by 12 BC. Some emperors favored emperor worship, but some did not. Among those who favored it were Caligula, Nero and Domitian. The cult remained a part of the state religion until the arrival and conquest of Constantine in approximately 350 AD. Christians who did not vow to emperor worship in Rome were persecuted. Those who enforced the practice could have employed fraud in making images speak, like miracles. The Romans of the time were inclined to superstitions and willingly gave in to these fakeries. This inclination was reinforced by the sighting of a comet in the sky the night Julius Caesar died. The people believed that the bright light meant that Caesar's soul went to heaven.

The death of Julius Caesar gave impetus to the tradition of emperor worship or cult. After his murder, there was paralyzing terror among the people of Rome. This was followed by a destructive civil war, Augustus and his army firmly held power. The prevailing unrest called for some kind of regression into familiar circumstances. The situation required a savior with a father-god title, who could restore stability and unified power. This could be sanctioned only by divine power. Augustus responded to the need by preserving the appearance of democracy. He pushed for a moral and religious revival and return to appealing religious values. He introduced rituals, which would confer legitimacy to his power. He used sufficient and appropriate propaganda to achieve his aim. He did and the civil war ended. His style of peace, called the pax deorum, was viewed as a divine reward from the gods. After his death, the senator Numerius Atticus declared that he witnessed the bodily ascension of the emperor to heaven. He even set an example for other deified emperors to follow. He was not to return to earth with his mortal body. The senate formally enrolled Augustus as a state cult and a divinity. Hence, he was given the title "Divus." A temple was erected to his worship. The senate put up a sacred college purely to his worship. A festival, called Augustalia, was also held to commemorate him. With a general acceptance of these decrees, the worship of emperors was firmly and culturally established. It was practiced for centuries. The pattern was set by the death of Augustus for less dignified emperors. These megalomaniacs who suffered from inferiority complex and require worship in their lifetimes included Caligula, Nero, Domitian and Commodus. They wanted to be rained to the level of gods in divinity and power. They were not content with being first among the citizens of Rome. They wanted Jupiter himself to give up his thunderbolt to whoever was emperor at the time.

Officially sanctioned rituals and the authority of augurs gave strength to this new cult of the Emperor, combined with Roman polytheism. Transactions and exchange of gifts with client kings in the provinces were accompanied by gratitude and assurances that deified the Emperor would not fail in anything. Emperor worship infiltrated all aspects of Roman private and public life. It was exercised and observed most elaborately, plainly to impress the masses. Augustus appointed Pontifex Maximum in 12 BC to supervise the calendar and state sacrifices and rites. The Festival of Saeculum, or Festival of the Century, in 17 BC illustrated the importance of those rites. It required the participation of the entire populace, including the slaves, and lasted for three days. A huge number of animal sacrifices and offerings were elicited and given in exchange for the eternal protection of the state and bestowal of grace upon its people. For Augustus and his household, choir singing, stage plays performed and chariot races held as part of a series of entertainment. And at the Festival of Death, the Emperor appeared as the Savior of the Era and full of the glory of Apollo.

These rituals were utilized as effective instruments to keep the state functioning smoothly. Communities in the provinces often asked permission to establish their own rituals and cults and artifacts to honor the Emperor for the sake and in the language of diplomacy. The traditional symbolic systems of the ceremonies represented the emperor in familiar terms of divine power. The Roman imperial cult thus forged a relationship of power between… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Emperor Worship.  (2007, October 31).  Retrieved July 24, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/emperor-worship/6338080

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"Emperor Worship."  Essaytown.com.  October 31, 2007.  Accessed July 24, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/emperor-worship/6338080.