Imperial Cult, Roman

  • Candace Weddle Livingston
Living reference work entry


Although there was a strong and ancient tradition in Roman culture of honoring the spirits of the dead (Manes), prior to the third century BCE, the Romans did not deify mortals. They did honor the Genius of a living man (just so, the Junoof a woman); these terms, however, denoted a divine force present in every human but at the same time distinct from him, and their worship should therefore not be considered equivalent to the worship of deified humans. The actual deification of individuals only came into practice following contact with Hellenistic cultures as the empire expanded; the concept of worshiping the emperor as a deity seems generally to have been an outgrowth of the Greek practice of deifying heroes and Hellenistic kings. The development of those earlier cults of heroes and kings, as well as later divine honors offered to prominent Romans, has been seen by modern scholars as adaptation by the Greeks of the cults of their traditional Olympian gods in order to...

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  1. Beard, M., J.A. North, and S.R.F. Price. 1998. Religions of Rome. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
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Further Readings

  1. Bickerman, E.J., and W. den Boer, eds. 1973. Le Culte des souverains dans l’Empire Romain: sept exposés suivis de discussions. Geneva: Fondation Hardt.Google Scholar
  2. Cannadine, D., and S.R.F. Price. 1987. Rituals of royalty: Power and ceremonial in traditional societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Clauss, M. 2001. Kaiser und Gott: Herrscherkult im römischen Reich. Munich: K.G. Saur.Google Scholar
  4. Friesen, S.F. 1993. Twice Neokoros: Ephesus, Asia, and the cult of the Flavian imperial family. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Friesen, S.F. 1995. The cult of the Roman emperors in ephesos: Temple wardens, city titles, and the interpretation of the revelation of John. In Ephesos: Metropolis of Asia, ed. H. Koester, 229–250. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Gradel, I. 2002. Emperor worship and Roman religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  7. Price, S.R.F. 1980. Between man and god. Sacrifice in the Roman imperial cult. The Journal of Roman Studies 70: 28–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Price, S.R.F. 1999. Imperial cult. In Late antiquity: A guide to the postclassical world, ed. G.W. Bowersock, P. Brown, and O. Grabar, 510–511. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Small, A., ed. 1996. Subject and ruler: The cult of the ruling power in classical antiquity. Ann Arbor: Journal of Roman Archaeology.Google Scholar
  10. Scott, K. 1975. The imperial cult under the Flavians. New York: Arno.Google Scholar
  11. Weinstock, S. 1971. Divus Julius. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson UniversityAndersonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jeffrey A. Becker
    • 1
  • Alison Barclay
    • 2
  1. 1.Dept. of Classical and Near Eastern StudiesBinghamton University - SUNYBinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Modern Languages and ClassicsSaint Mary's UniversityHalifaxCanada