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- Hellenistic Monarchs
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The emperor's name and image were ubiquitous — on state coinage and on the streets, within and upon the temples of the gods, and particularly in the courts and offices of the civil and military administration. Oaths were sworn in his name, with his image as witness. His official res gestae achievements included his repair of 82 temples in 28 BC alone, the founding or repair of 14 others in Rome during his lifetime and the overhauling or foundation of civic amenities including a new road, water supplies, Senate house and theatres.
In Rome, it was enough that the office, munificence, auctoritas and gens of Augustus were identified with every possible legal, religious and social institution of the city. Should "foreigners" or private citizens wish to honour him as something more, that was their prerogative, within moderation; his acknowledgment of their loyalty demonstrated his own moral responsibility and generosity; "his" Imperial revenue funded temples, amphitheatres, theatres, baths, festivals and government.
This unitary principle laid the foundations for what is now known as "Imperial cult", which would be expressed in many different forms and emphases throughout the multicultural Empire. In the Eastern provinces, cultural precedent ensured a rapid and geographically widespread dissemination of cult, extending as far as the Augustan military settlement at modern-day Najran. Ephesus and Sardis , ancient rivals, had two apiece until the early 3rd century AD, when Ephesus was allowed an additional temple, to the reigning emperor Caracalla.
When he died, the city lost its brief, celebrated advantage through a religious technicality. The Eastern provinces offer some of the clearest material evidence for the imperial domus and familia as official models of divine virtue and moral propriety. Centres including Pergamum, Lesbos and Cyprus offered cult honours to Augustus and the Empress Livia: the Cypriot Calendar honoured the entire Augustan familia by dedicating a month each and presumably cult practise to imperial family members, their ancestral deities and some of the major gods of the Romano-Greek pantheon.
These Eastern connections were made within Augustus' lifetime — Livia was not officially consecrated in Rome until some time after her death. Eastern Imperial cult had a life of its own. The Western provinces were only recently "Latinised" following Caesar's Gallic Wars and most fell outside the Graeco-Roman cultural ambit. There were exceptions: Polybius mentions a past benefactor of New Carthage in Republican Iberia "said to have been offered divine honours". This required only the willingness of barbarian elites to "Romanise" themselves and their communities.
The first known Western regional cults to Augustus were established with his permission around 19 BC in north-western "Celtic" Spain and named arae sestianae after their military founder, L. Sestius Quirinalis Albinianus. Lugdunum set the type for official Western cult as a form of Roman-provincial identity, parceled into the establishment of military-administrative centres. These were strategically located within the unstable, "barbarian" Western provinces of the new Principate and inaugurated by military commanders who were — in all but one instance — members of the imperial family.
The first priest of the Ara altar at Lugdunum's great Imperial cult complex was Caius Julius Vercondaridubnus , a Gaul of the provincial elite, given Roman citizenship and entitled by his priestly office to participate in the local government of his provincial concilium. Though not leading to senatorial status, and almost certainly an annually elected office unlike the traditional lifetime priesthoods of Roman flamines , priesthood in imperial provinces thus offered a provincial equivalent to the traditional Roman cursus honorum.
In the senatorial province of Africa Proconsularis , altars to the Dii Magifie Augusti attest according to Potter a deity who was simultaneously local and universal, rather than one whose local identity was subsumed or absorbed by an Imperial divus or deity. Even as he prepared his adopted son Tiberius for the role of princeps and recommended him to the Senate as a worthy successor, Augustus seems to have doubted the propriety of dynastic imperium ; this, however, was probably his only feasible course. Tiberius accepted his position and title as emperor with apparent reluctance.
Though he proved a capable and efficient administrator, he could not match his predecessor's extraordinary energy and charisma. Roman historians described him as morose and mistrustful. With a self-deprecation that may have been entirely genuine, he encouraged the cult to his father, and discouraged his own. In Umbria, the Imperial cult priest sevir Augustalis memorialised "the providence of Tiberius Caesar Augustus, born for the eternity of the Roman name, upon the removal of that most pernicious enemy of the Roman people".
In Crete, thanks were given to "the numen and foresight of Tiberius Caesar Augustus and the Senate" in foiling the conspiracy — but at his death, the senate and his heir Caligula chose not to officially deify him. Caligula 's rule exposed the legal and moral contradictions of the Augustan "Republic". To legalise his succession, the Senate was compelled to constitutionally define his role, but the rites and sacrifices to the living genius of the emperor already acknowledged his constitutionally unlimited powers.
The princeps played the role of " primus inter pares " only through personal self-restraint and decorum. It became evident that Caligula had little of either. He seems to have taken the cult of his own genius very seriously, and is said to have enjoyed acting the god — or rather, several of them. However, his infamous and oft-cited impersonations of major deities may represent no more than his priesthood of their cults, a desire to shock and a penchant for triumphal dress  or simply mental illness.
His reported compulsion of priesthood fees from unwilling senators are marks of private cult and personal humiliations among the elite. Caligula's fatal offense was to willfully "insult or offend everyone who mattered", including the senior military officers who assassinated him. Perhaps not only his: in 40 AD the Senate decreed that the "emperor should sit on a high platform even in the very senate house". Claudius was chosen emperor by Caligula's praetorians and consolidated his position with cash payments donativa to the military.
The senate were forced to ratify the choice and accept the affront. Claudius adopted the cognomen Caesar, deified Augustus' wife, Livia, 13 years after her death and in 42 AD was granted the title pater patriae father of the fatherland but relations between emperor and Senate seem to have been irreparable. He seems to have entirely refused a cult to his own genius : but the offer of cult simultaneously acknowledged the high status of those empowered to grant it and the extraordinary status of the princeps — Claudius' repeated refusals may have been interpreted as offensive to Senate, provincials and the imperial office itself.
He further offended the traditional hierarchy by promoting his own trusted freedmen as imperial procurators : those closest to the Emperor held high status through their proximity. It has been assumed that he allowed a single temple for his cult in Britain , following his conquest there. Despite his evident respect for Republican norms he was not taken seriously by his own class, and in Seneca's fawning Neronian fiction, the Roman gods cannot take him seriously as a divus — the wild British might be more gullible.
Claudius died in 54 AD and was deified by his adopted son and successor Nero. Once in power, Nero allowed Claudius' cult to lapse, built his Domus Aurea over the unfinished temple, indulged his sybaritic and artistic inclinations and allowed the cult of his own genius as paterfamilias of the Roman people. He was overthrown in a military coup, and his institutions of cult to his dead wife Poppaea and infant daughter Claudia Augusta were abandoned. Otherwise, he seems to have been a popular emperor, particularly in the Eastern provinces.
Tacitus reports a senatorial proposal to dedicate a temple to Nero as a living divus , taken as ominous because "divine honours are not paid to an emperor till he has ceased to live among men". Nero's death saw the end of imperial tenure as a privilege of ancient Roman patrician and senatorial families. In a single chaotic year, power passed violently from one to another of four emperors.
The first three promoted their own genius cult: the last two of these attempted Nero's restitution and promotion to divus. The fourth, Vespasian — son of an equestrian from Reate — secured his Flavian dynasty through reversion to an Augustan form of principate and renewed the imperial cult of divus Julius. He dedicated state cult to genio populi Romani the genius of the Roman people , respected senatorial "Republican" values and repudiated Neronian practice by removing various festivals from the public calendars, which had in Tacitus' unsparing assessment become "foully sullied by the flattery of the times".
Jews who paid the tax were exempt from the cult to imperial state deities. Those who offered it however were ostracised from their own communities. Vespasian's son Titus reigned for two successful years then died of natural causes. He was deified and replaced by his younger brother, Domitian. Within two weeks of accession, Domitian had restored the cult of the ruling emperor's genius. However, there are no records of Domitian's personal use of the title, its use in official address or cult to him, its presence on his coinage or in the Arval Acts relating to his state cult.
It occurs only in his later reign and was almost certainly initiated and used by his own procurators who in the Claudian tradition were also his freedmen. Pliny's descriptions of sacrifice to Domitian on the Capitol are consistent with the entirely unremarkable "private and informal" rites accorded to living emperors.
Domitian was a traditionalist, severe and repressive but respected by the military and the general populace. He admired Augustus and may have sought to emulate him, but made the same tactless error as Caligula in treating the Senate as clients and inferiors, rather than as the fictive equals required by Augustan ideology.
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His assassination was planned and implemented from within his court, and his name officially but rather unsystematically erased from inscriptions. The Senate chose the elderly, childless and apparently reluctant Nerva as emperor. Nerva had long-standing family and consular connections with the Julio-Claudian and Flavian families, but proved a dangerously mild and indecisive princeps : he was persuaded to abdicate in favour of Trajan.
Pliny the Younger 's panegyric of AD claims the visible restoration of senatorial authority and dignity throughout the empire under Trajan , but while he praises the emperor's modesty, Pliny does not disguise the precarious nature of this autocratic gift. He would prove an enduring model for Roman imperial virtues. The Emperor Hadrian 's Hispano-Roman origins and marked pro-Hellenism changed the focus of imperial cult.
His standard coinage still identifies with the genius populi Romani , but other issues stress his identification with Hercules Gaditanus Hercules of Gades , and Rome's imperial protection of Greek civilisation. Dio claims that Hadrian was held to ridicule for this emotional indulgence, particularly as he had delayed the apotheosis of his own sister Paulina after her death. The cult of Antinous would prove one of remarkable longevity and devotion, particularly in the Eastern provinces. Bithynia, as his birthplace, featured his image on coinage as late as the reign of Caracalla r.
His popular cult appears to have thrived well into the 4th century, when he became the "whipping boy of pagan worship" in Christian polemic. He was predeceased by his wife Vibia Sabina. Both were deified but Hadrian's case had to be pleaded by his successor Antoninus Pius.
Marcus Aurelius ' tutor Fronto offers the best evidence of imperial portraiture as a near-ubiquitous feature of private and public life. Marcus' son Commodus succumbed to the lures of self-indulgence, easy populism and rule by favourites. He increasingly identified himself with the demigod Hercules in statuary, temples and in the arena, where he liked to entertain as a bestiarius in the morning and a gladiator in the afternoon. In the last year of his life he was voted the official title Romanus Hercules ; the state cult to Hercules acknowledged him as heroic, a divinity or semi-divinity but not a divus who had once been mortal.
The Nervan-Antonine dynasty ended in chaos. The senate declared damnatio memoriae on Commodus, whose urban prefect Pertinax was declared Emperor by the Praetorian Guard in return for the promise of very large donatives. Julianus began his reign with an ill-judged appeal to the memory of Commodus, a much resented attempt to bribe the populace en masse and the use of Praetorian force against them. In protest, a defiant urban crowd occupied the senatorial seats at the Circus Maximus.
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The Senate soon voted for the death of Julianus, the deification of Pertinax and the elevation of Septimius as Emperor. Attributed to Caracalla, before murdering his co-emperor and brother Geta. He cancelled the Senate's damnatio memoriae of Commodus , deified him as a frater brother and thereby adopted Marcus Aurelius as his own ancestor through an act of filial piety.
Septimius' reign represents a watershed in relations between Senate, Emperors, and the military. Where Vespasian had secured his position with appeals to the genius of the Senate and Augustan tradition, Septimius overrode the customary preferment of senators to senior military office. He increased plebeian privilege in Rome, stationed a loyal garrison there and selected his own commanders.
He paid personal attention to the provinces, as sources of revenue, military manpower and unrest. Following his defeat of his rival Clodius Albinus at Lugdunum, he re-founded and reformed its imperial cult centre: dea Roma was removed from the altar and confined to the temple along with the deified Augusti. By AD, Caracalla had murdered Geta, pronounced his damnatio memoriae and issued the Constitutio Antoniniana : this gave full Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Empire.
In reality, Caracalla was faced by an endemic shortfall of cash and recruits. Humiliores they remained, but now liable to pay taxes, serve in the legions and adopt the name of their "liberator". Where other emperors had employed the mos maiorum of family obligation at the largely symbolic level of genius cult, Caracalla literally identified his personal survival with the state and "his" citizens. He was assassinated in AD, with the possible collusion of his praetorian prefect Macrinus. The military hailed Macrinus as imperator , and he arranged for the apotheosis of Caracalla.
Aware of the impropriety of his unprecedented leap through the traditional cursus honorum from equestrian to Emperor, he respectfully sought senatorial approval for his "self-nomination". It was granted — the new emperor had a lawyer's approach to imperium  but his foreign policy proved too cautious and placatory for the military. The year-old emperor brought his solar-mountain deity from his native Emesa to Rome and into official imperial cult. In Rome, it was a foreign and according to some ancient sources disgusting Eastern novelty.
In AD, the priest Elagabalus replaced Jupiter with the god Elagabalus as sol invictus the unconquered Sun and thereafter neglected his Imperial role as pontifex maximus. According to Marius Maximus, he ruled from his degenerate domus through prefects who included among others a charioteer, a locksmith, a barber, and a cook. He was assassinated by the Praetorians at the age of 18, subjected to the fullest indignities of damnatio memoriae and replaced with his young cousin Alexander Severus , the last of his dynasty, who reigned for 13 years until killed in a mutiny.
This section provides an overview of developments most relevant to cult: for a full listing of Emperors by name and date, see List of Roman Emperors. The end of the Severan dynasty marked the breakdown of central imperium. Against a background of economic hyperinflation and latterly, endemic plague, rival provincial claimants fought for supremacy and failing this, set up their own provincial Empires.
Most Emperors seldom even saw Rome, and had only notional relationships with their senates. In the absence of coordinated Imperial military response, foreign peoples seized the opportunity for invasion and plunder. Maximinus Thrax reigned —8 AD sequestered the resources of state temples in Rome to pay his armies. The temples of the divi were first in line. It was an unwise move for his own posterity, as the grant or withholding of apotheosis remained an official judgment of Imperial worthiness, but the stripping of the temples of state gods caused far greater offense.
Maximinus's actions more likely show need in extreme crisis than impiety, as he had his wife deified on her death  but in a rare display of defiance the senate deified his murdered predecessor, then openly rebelled. A succession of short-lived soldier-emperors followed. Further development in imperial cult appears to have stalled until Philip the Arab , who dedicated a statue to his father as divine in his home town of Philippopolis and brought the body of his young predecessor Gordian III to Rome for apotheosis.
Coins of Philip show him in the radiate solar crown suggestive of solar cult or a hellenised form of imperial monarchy , with Rome's temple to Venus and dea Roma on the reverse. In AD, Philip was succeeded or murdered and usurped by his praetorian prefect Decius , a traditionalist ex-consul and governor. After an accession of doubtful validity, Decius justified himself as rightful "restorer and saviour" of Empire and its religio : early in his reign he issued a coin series of imperial divi in radiate solar crowns. Apostasy was sought, rather than capital punishment. Valerian —60 identified Christianity as the largest, most stubbornly self-interested of non-Roman cults, outlawed Christian assembly and urged Christians to sacrifice to Rome's traditional gods.
The senate hailed him as restitutor orbis restorer of the world and deus et dominus natus god and born ruler ; he was murdered by his Praetorians. His immediate successors consolidated his achievements: coinage of Probus —82 shows him in radiate solar crown, and his prolific variety of coin types include issues showing the temple of Venus and Dea Roma in Rome.
These policies and preoccupations culminated in Diocletian 's Tetrarchy : the empire was divided into Western and Eastern administrative blocs, each with an Augustus senior emperor , helped by a Caesar junior emperor as Augustus-in-waiting. Provinces were divided and subdivided: their imperial bureaucracy became extraordinary in size, scope and attention to detail.
Diocletian was a religious conservative. On his accession in AD , he held games in honour of the divus Antinous. According to Lactantius , this began with a report of ominous haruspicy in Diocletian's domus and a subsequent but undated dictat of placatory sacrifice by the entire military. Legally, these were military insurrections and Diocletian's edict may have followed these and similar acts of conscience and faith.
Under Diocletian's expanded imperial collegia , imperial honours distinguished both Augusti from their Caesares, and Diocletian as senior Augustus from his colleague Maximian. An elaborate choreography of etiquette surrounded the approach to the imperial person and imperial progressions. The senior Augustus in particular was made a separate and unique being, accessible only through those closest to him. Diocletian's avowed conservatism almost certainly precludes a systematic design toward personal elevation as a "divine monarch".
Rather, he formally elaborated imperial ceremony as a manifestation of the divine order of empire and elevated emperorship as the supreme instrument of the divine will. The idea was Augustan, or earlier, expressed most clearly in Stoic philosophy and the solar cult, especially under Aurelian. At the very beginning of his reign, before his Tetrarchy, Diocletian had adopted the signum of Jovius ; his co-Augustus adopted the title Herculius. During the Tetrarchy, such titles were multiplied, but with no clear reflection of implicit divine seniority: in one case, the divine signum of the Augustus is inferior to that of his Caesar.
These divine associations may have followed a military precedent of emperors as comes to divinities or divinities as comes to emperors. Moreover, the divine signum appears in the fairly narrow context of court panegyric and civil etiquette. It makes no appearance on the general coinage or stauary of the Tetrarchs, who are presented as impersonal, near-homogenous abstractions of imperial might and unity.
The Augustan settlement was promoted by its contemporary apologists as restorative and conservative rather than revolutionary. Claims that later emperors sought and obtained divine honours in Rome reflect their bad relationship with their senates: in Tertullian's day, it was still "a curse to name the emperor a god before his death".
On the other hand, to judge from the domestic ubiquity of the emperor's image, private cults to living emperors are as likely in Rome as elsewhere. As Gradel observes, no Roman was ever prosecuted for sacrificing to his emperor. The divi had some form of precedent in the di parentes , divine ancestors who received ancestral rites as manes gods of the underworld during the Parentalia and other important domestic festivals.
Their powers were limited; deceased mortals not normally possess the divine power numen of the higher gods. Their case was discussed by the senate, then put to the vote. In Seneca's Apocolocyntosis , on the other hand, the unexpected arrival of the divinised Claudius creates a problem for the Olympians, who have no idea who or what he is; and when they find out, they cannot think what to do with him. Seneca's sarcastic wit, an unacceptable impiety towards a deus , freely portrays the divus Claudius as just a dead, ridiculous and possibly quite bad emperor.
The immense power of living emperors, on the other hand, was mediated through the encompassing agency of the state. Once acknowledged as paterfamilias to an Empire, a princeps was naturally entitled to genius cult from Imperial subjects of all classes. Cult to a living emperor's numen was quite another matter and might be interpreted as no less than a statement of divine monarchy. Imperial responses to the first overtures of cult to the August numen were therefore extremely cautious. The obscure relationship between deus , divus and numen in Imperial cult might simply reflect its origins as a pragmatic, respectful and somewhat evasive Imperial solution using broad terminology whose meanings varied according to context.
For Beard et al. Participation in sacrificium acknowledged personal commitment to the broader community and its values, which under Decius became a compulsory observance. In Julio-Claudian Rome, the Arval priesthood sacrificed to Roman state gods at various temples for the continued welfare of the Imperial family on their birthdays, accession anniversaries and to mark extraordinary events such as the quashing of conspiracy or revolt. On 3 January they consecrated the annual vows: sacrifice promised in the previous year was paid, as long as the gods had kept the Imperial family safe for the contracted time.
If not, it could be withheld, as it was in the annual vow following the death of Trajan. The divi and genii were offered the same kind of sacrifice as the state gods, but cult officials seem to have offered Christians the possibility of sacrifice to emperors as the lesser act. By ancient tradition, presiding magistrates sought divine opinion of proposed actions through an augur, who read the divine will through the observation of natural signs in the sacred space templum of sacrifice. For Cicero, this made the augur the most powerful authority in the Late Republic.
In the later Republic, augury came under the supervision of the college of pontifices , a priestly-magistral office whose powers were increasingly woven into the cursus honorum. The office of pontifex maximus eventually became a de facto consular office. The mos maiorum established the near-monarchic familial authority of the ordinary paterfamilias "the father of the family" or the "owner of the family estate" , his obligations to family and community and his priestly duties to his lares and domestic penates.
His position was hereditary and dynastic, unlike the elected, time-limited offices of Republican magistrates. His family — and especially his slaves and freedmen — owed a reciprocal duty of cult to his genius. Genius pl. A paterfamilias could confer his name, a measure of his genius and a role in his household rites, obligations and honours upon those he adopted. As Caesar's adopted heir, Octavian stood to inherit the genius , heritable property and honours of his adoptive father in addition to those obtained through his own birth gens and efforts.
Her official cults were supervised by the pontifex maximus from a state-owned house near the temple of Vesta. His penates remained there as its domestic deities, and were soon joined by his lares. His gift therefore tied his domestic cult to the sanctified Vestals and Rome's sacred hearth and symbolically extended his domus to the state and its inhabitants. He also co-opted and promoted the traditional and predominantly plebeian Compitalia shrines and extended their festivals, whose Lares were known thereafter as Augusti. Rome's citizen legionaries appear to have maintained their Marian traditions.
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They gave cult to Jupiter for the emperor's well-being and regular cult to State, local and personal divinities. Cult to the Imperial person and familia was generally offered on Imperial accessions, anniversaries and renewal of annual vows: a bust of the ruling emperor was kept in the legionary insignia shrine for the purpose, attended by a designated military imaginifer. By the time of the early Severans, the legions offered cult to the state gods, the Imperial divi , the current emperor's numen , genius and domus or familia , and special cult to the Empress as "mother of the camp.
An Imperial cult temple was known as a caesareum Latin or sebasteion Greek. In Fishwick's analysis, cult to Roman state divi was associated with temples, and the genius cult to the living emperor with his altar. The emperor's image, and its siting within the temple complex, focused attention on his person and attributes, and his position in the divine and human hierarchies. Expenditure on the physical expression of Imperial cult was vast, and was only curbed by the Imperial crisis of the 3rd century. As far as is known, no new temples to state divi were built after the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
The Imperial divi and living genii appear to have been served by separate ceremonies and priesthoods. Emperors themselves could be priests of state gods, the divi and their own genius cult images. The latter practice illustrates the Imperial genius as innate to its holder but separable from him as a focus of respect and cult, formally consistent with cult to the personification of ideas and ideals such as Fortune Fortuna , peace Pax or victory Victoria et al.
Priests typically and respectfully identified their function by manifesting the appearance and other properties of their deus. The duties of Imperial priests were both religious and magistral: they included the provision of approved Imperial portraits, statues and sacrifice, the institution of regular calendrical cult and the inauguration of public works, Imperial games state ludi and munera to authorised models.
In effect, priests throughout the empire were responsible for re-creating, expounding and celebrating the extraordinary gifts, powers and charisma of emperors. As part of his religious reforms, Augustus revived, subsidised and expanded the Compitalia games and priesthoods, dedicated to the Lares of the vici neighbourhoods , to include cult to his own Lares or to his genius as a popular benefactor.
Thereafter, the Lares Compitales were known as Lares Augusti. Tiberius created a specialised priesthood, the Sodales Augustales , dedicated to the cult of the deceased, deified Augustus. This priestly office, and the connections between the Compitalia cults and the Imperial household, appear to have lasted for as long as the Imperial cult itself. Greek philosophies had significant influence in the development of Imperial cult.
Stoic cosmologists saw history as an endless cycle of destruction and renewal, driven by fortuna luck or fortune , fatum fate and logos the universal divine principle. Livy in the early to mid 1st century BC , and Lucan in the 1st century AD interpreted the crisis of the late Republic as a destructive phase which led to religious and constitutional renewal by Augustus and his restoration of peace, good fortune and well-being to the Roman people.
Augustus was a messianic figure who personally and rationally instigated a "golden age" — the pax Augusta — and was patron, priest and protege to a range of solar deities. The Imperial order was therefore not merely justified by appeals to the divine; it was an innately natural, benevolent and divine institution. The Imperial cult tolerated and later included specific forms of pluralistic monism. For Imperial cult apologists, monotheists had no rational grounds for refusal, but imposition of cult was counter-productive.
Jews presented a special case. Long before the civil war, Judaism had been tolerated in Rome by diplomatic treaty with Graeco-Judaean rulers. It was brought to prominence and scrutiny after Judaea's enrollment as a client kingdom in 63 BC. Early Christians appear to have been regarded as a sub-sect of Judaism and as such were sporadically tolerated.
Jewish sources on Emperors, polytheistic cult and the meaning of Empire are fraught with interpretive difficulties. In Caligula's reign, Jews resisted the placing of Caligula's statue in their Temple, and pleaded that their offerings and prayers to Yahweh on his behalf amounted to compliance with his request for worship. Philo does not challenge the Imperial cult itself: he commends the god-like honours given Augustus as "the first and the greatest and the common benefactor" but Caligula shames the Imperial tradition by acting "like an Egyptian".
After the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and most of the city in the first Jewish revolt, Hadrian rebuilt both in Greek style, dedicated the rebuilt Temple in Dio's account to Jupiter, renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and sought a ban on circumcision as impious disfigurement. The ensuing Bar Kokhba revolt overwhelmed the Roman military occupation and destabilised much of the Empire. For almost three years, Judea was an independent state, led by the messianic commander Simon Bar Kokhba. Then it was obliterated by the Imperial armies and erased from the Roman map — Hadrian renamed it as Syria Palaestina.
Jews described theirs in its aftermath. Jewish messianism retreated into abstraction, and a Jewish nation-state became an ideal. Christians were less inclined to identify with the Judaic roots of their religion: some actively repudiated them. Hadrian's restrictions on Judaism were later relaxed and Jewish exemption from the full obligations of Imperial cult proved a source of suspicion and resentment for Hellenists and Christians alike. To pagan Romans a simple act of sacrifice, whether to ancestral gods under Decius or state gods under Diocletian, represented adherence to Roman tradition and loyalty to the pluralistic unity of Empire.
Refusal was treason. Christians, however, identified "Hellenistic honours" as parodies of true worship. Official letter from Constantine, dated AD In this change of Imperial formula Constantine acknowledged his responsibility to an earthly realm whose discord and conflict might arouse the ira deorum ; he also recognised the power of the new Christian priestly hierarchy in determining what was auspicious or orthodox. Though unbaptised, Constantine had triumphed under the signum of the Christ probably some form of Labarum as an adapted or re-interpreted legionary standard.
He may have officially ended — or attempted to end — blood sacrifices to the genius of living emperors but his Imperial iconography and court ceremonial elevated him to superhuman status. Constantine's permission for a new cult temple to himself and his family in Umbria is extant: the cult "should not be polluted by the deception of any contagious superstition". On his death he was venerated and was held to have ascended to heaven.
Philostorgius later criticised Christians who offered sacrifice at statues of the divus Constantine. Constantine's nephew Julian , Rome's last non-Christian emperor, rejected the "Galilean madness" of his upbringing for a synthesis of neo-Platonism , Stoic asceticism and universal solar cult and actively fostered religious and cultural pluralism. The Western emperor Gratian refused the office of pontifex maximus and, against the protests of the Senate,  removed the altar of Victoria Victory from the Senate House and began the disestablishment of the Vestals.
Theodosius I briefly re-united the Western and Eastern halves of the Empire, officially adopted Nicene Christianity as the Imperial religion and ended official support for all other creeds and cults. He refused to restore Victoria to the Senate House, extinguished Vesta's sacred fire and vacated her temple. Even so, he accepted address as a living divinity, comparable to Hercules and Jupiter, by his overwhelmingly pagan Senate.
Imperial ceremonial — notably the Imperial adventus or ceremony of arrival, which derived in greater part from the Triumph — was embedded within Roman culture, Church ceremony and the Gospels themselves. His Imperium was not recognised by his Eastern counterpart and he may have been a puppet-emperor of the Germanic general Ricimer.
In the west, imperial authority was partly replaced by the spiritual supremacy and political influence of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Eastern Empire, sworn adherence to Christian orthodoxy became a prerequisite of Imperial accession — Anastasius I signed a document attesting his obedience to orthodox doctrine and practice. He is the last emperor known to be consecrated as divus on his death AD The title appears to have been abandoned on grounds of its spiritual impropriety but the consecration of Eastern emperors continued: they held power through divine ordinance and their rule was the manifestation of sacred power on earth.
The adventus and the veneration of the Imperial image continued to provide analogies for devotional representations Icons of the heavenly hierarchy and the rituals of the Orthodox Church. 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. The nature and function of Imperial cult remain contentious, not least because its Roman historians employed it equally as a topos for Imperial worth and Imperial hubris.
Rebellious politics and literary style spurred John Dryden's scorn. Yates's derision of the middle class. Among all wit's objects, though, the target of Erasmus's wit-religion-has proved particularly appealing and enduring. He echoed Erasmus in ridiculing religion's seduction by worldly pomp and power:.
The history of religious satire entered a new, defining phase near the start of the eighteenth century. Though inherited forms of ridicule persisted, satire in cultural and political debates about religion began to inform an emerging discourse of religious toleration that was recognizably modern.
Such satire was not without danger. Prosecutions for seditious and blasphemous libel continued in the Age of Enlightenment. Nevertheless, the use of irony, humor, and ridicule in quarrels over religious texts, practices, and beliefs was intertwined with the development of modern sensibilities in tolerating sectarian differences.
This novel form of tolerance differed from earlier forms of humanist forbearance which had extended the range of permissible doctrinal views within a catholic church. Erasmus himself proposed an inclusive ecclesiology accommodating diverse views of nonessential doctrinal matters, called adiaphora.
The purpose of such an inclusive ecclesiology was to incorporate believers into one church, not to permit denominational sectarianism or heterodox views of essential doctrines such as original sin or the divinity of Christ. Erasmus's catholic vision continued into the post-Reformation era of confessional sovereignties with similar proposals for indulgent unity, or concordia, advocated by Dutch Arminians, the Saxon Samuel Pufendorf, and the Latitudinarians of England. Separately, though, the outlines of a more discernibly modern tolerance, which drew a harder line between civil and ecclesiastical concerns and made room for individual expressions of conscience, began emerging with force in the mid-to-late seventeenth century.
Contemporaries often expressed the modern notion of limiting state authority to civil matters in terms of restricting the state's penal power to the outward things of persons and property, not the inward things of conscience and belief. This modern notion was intended to allow the practice of denominational and confessional sectarianism in sovereign societies.
It circulated widely in the decades and generations after the mid-seventeenth century. Such toleration, to be sure, remained a radical position for some time. Religious minorities throughout Europe and North America continued to suffer exclusion from public institutions or prohibitions on their very existence. Yet sectarian diversity persisted. Religious minorities, especially in the Anglo-American world, gradually gained enough security in their social status to demand not merely the right of worship but the abolition or reform of discriminatory laws such as religious taxes and test oaths.
In conjunction with notions of toleration, the literati of the English-speaking public sphere used satire to scrutinize the communities, beliefs, and practices of the increasingly diverse religious landscape, just as they did in examining other dimensions of social life, such as politics, art, and social hierarchy. Charges of blasphemy remained a real threat. Yet wit, humor, and even ridicule in debates about religious systems and institutions were integral to Enlightenment conceptions of tolerance.
Raillery regarding the uses and meanings of religion, and tolerance of religious differences, in other words, were related endeavors. Both were refined forms of expression, exhibiting the cultivation of the self in wit and noncoercion and the civility of the polis in letters and nonpersecution. The practice of satirical tolerance informed the belletristic culture of freethinkers and aesthetics as well as the civic endeavors of sectarians and orthodox Christians.
It thus helped shape the eighteenth century's burgeoning republic of letters, creating civic space for contending trends in religious beliefs and practices and for related disputes over pedagogy and rights. It fostered the rendering of critical judgment by conceiving of the self more as an expressive agent of moral discernment than as a protected identity. It thus crafted, and bequeathed, a particular type of tolerance, a hearty, thick-skinned liberality able to accommodate substantive moral differences. The satirical republic included moral judgments as dissonant as those of Ralph Wallis and Charles Blount.
Both were Restoration-era Englishmen who lived under penal laws that prohibited religious worship outside the Church of England though Blount lived just beyond the Act of Toleration , which ended corporal punishment for orthodox Protestant dissent. They berated the established church because the state had invested it with financial resources for its parishes and ecclesiastical courts and with cultural authority in education and print licensing. Wallis was similarly anticlerical, though with a prophetic tone portending the demolition of episcopal structures:.
Blount and Wallis differed in their backgrounds and social standings. Blount was an English country gentlemen; Wallis a nonconforming pamphleteer. Though Wallis had been a freeman of London before the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in , his publications were illegal thereafter, and he suffered arrest on at least one occasion. The two also differed in their religious views. Blount was a deist critical of traditional, orthodox religion. Wallis was an orthodox Christian who, unlike deists, believed in the divinity of Christ and original sin.
Despite such differences, the two similarly ridiculed the established church as vulgar in its worldliness. They also viewed it as an entrenched obstacle to their respective programs of cultural reform, deism and Christian evangelism. Deists rejected much of orthodox Christianity for natural religion, forswearing revelation beyond what natural philosophy revealed about nature's God.
Though not monolithic, deists criticized biblical text, disputed Christ's divinity, disavowed miracles, and portrayed Christian doctrines on human nature, sin, and redemption as disingenuous theological schemes promoted by a professional class of publicly funded clerics. They called such schemes "priestcraft. Its claims of revealed truth, they maintained, encouraged intolerance and suppressed the expression of conscience and opinions; its focus on sin fettered moral striving and the cultivation of virtue; its featuring of hell and miracles furthered fear, ignorance, and passivity; and its suspicion of freethinking hindered advances in science.
Deists used these depictions of orthodox Christianity as rhetorical weapons in their battle for cultural stewardship as they sought to emancipate society from orthodoxy's hegemony. For them, orthodox Christianity, as one scholar notes, was "a fundamental obstacle to the improvement of humankind and the amelioration of social and political injustices.
In contrast, Wallis's ridicule of established religion and its intolerance was grounded in religious motives that were thoroughly orthodox. Similar to Blount, he viewed England's church as using pomp and ceremony for temporal gain, but he proclaimed the living God as liberating society from episcopal structures.
In this, he evoked biblical imagery of an active God promoting cultural renewal by pulling down the moral and institutional structures of human iniquity. His social vision grew from his orthodoxy, which warranted restricting state power to civil things because of the low moral condition of governing authorities. The discourse on civil things reflected vital cultural undercurrents. Wallis and Blount titled their respective works Magna Charta and Oracles of Reason to suggest programs of cultural renewal that would remedy the ills they associated with established religion.
Satire was an essential tool of their programs and remained so for many after England's Act of Toleration. Not only did various forms of intolerance continue to thrive in parts of Europe, with French Huguenots and German Palatinates still fleeing their homelands for England and elsewhere, but the Toleration Act itself was merely a provisional suspension of penal laws against select English dissenters.
It allowed their worship as second-class subjects but was neither universal nor irrevocable. Raised a dissenting Presbyterian and educated at a leading dissenting academy, he wrote the work in the voice of a High Church Tory Anglican advocating the persecution of England's sectarians. But as in case of rebellions and insurrections, if a few of the ringleaders suffer, the multitude are dismissed. It mocked religious intolerance by satirizing the contemporary revival of Tory Anglicanism and its call for a robust confessional culture.
The hoax was so subtle, though, that readers were confused when Defoe's authorship was revealed. Authorities, however, used this revelation to place him in the pillory for seditious libel. Satirical expression through the early decades of the eighteenth century aimed not only at institutions of established religion or programs of intolerance but also at the deeper social structures of behavioral norms and habits.
Discourses on social behavior proliferated in a process of evaluating the manners most appropriate for a post-Glorious Revolution social order. Such critics understood how the established church and the royal court had shaped English culture to date, and they sought new cultural and institutional means of achieving a more tolerant-postpuritan and post-Tory-society. Christian satirists such as Defoe advocated the manners of a nonsectarian Protestantism independent of social status.
Central to these eighteenth-century experiments in refinement was the cultivation of the self in a revised cultural order. Whig thinkers viewed the self and the polity as exchanging domineering patterns of religious coercion and intolerance for sociable discourses of wit, irony, humor, and ridicule. Satire pervaded such projects as they became central to the many strains of Enlightenment conceptions of religious toleration. Cooper, like Blount, was a country gentleman, the third Earl of Shaftesbury and a former member of Parliament.
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His essays constituted, according to one scholar, "a foundational work in English Deism" and were widely reprinted throughout the eighteenth century. Though Shaftesbury eschewed the aggressive tone of many deists, he similarly criticized contemporary Christianity, viewing it not just as a corrupt institution but as an inferior cultural system whose teachings on human nature inhibited human flourishing and social development.
As an alternative, he offered a freethinking vision of a natural religion aimed at rehabilitating human nature and restoring natural virtue while, in his words, "asserting thus zealously the Notion of a religious Liberty, and mutual Toleration. Shaftesbury also contributed a distinct moral philosophy, an aestheticism in which virtue was a performance art to be admired for its beauty.
The performance involved characters in dialogue exhibiting the refined manners of polite conversation. The manners were the philosophy, less proving moral truth through knowledge and logic than displaying it in the communal affections of sociable selves. It used literary characters to draw readers into a community of sociable exchange whose manners formed common moral standards for shaping the character of its participants, both fictitious and real.
The dialogue's common moral sense inheres in the display of wit's assorted hues-raillery, humor, irony, and ridicule-as Shaftesbury details in Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor: "One of those principal Lights or natural Mediums, by which Things are to be view'd, in order to a thorow Recognition, is Ridicule. He undermined belief in the accuracy of biblical text and mocked popular understandings of its basis for morality, all "without fearing what disturbance I might possibly give to some formal Censors of the Age. Shaftesbury also celebrated the virtue of ridicule in A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm.
It was particularly useful for evaluating personal beliefs, "for in the manner we may conceive 'em, they may peradventure be very grave and weighty in our Imagination; but very ridiculous and impertinent in their own nature. Polite wit undermined the solemnity that sustained older habits by displaying the more tolerant sensibility of critical humor. Wit's wisdom was "never to punish seriously what deserv'd only to be laugh'd at," an indulgence that Shaftesbury modeled by mocking the apostolic author of the Christian epistles.
Shaftesbury thus recommended that the magistrate dispense with the "supernatural Charity" of the "saving of Souls" to focus on the administering of temporal affairs. In seeking to restrict the magistrate's authority, Shaftesbury expressed important developments regarding the state and toleration. His focus on temporal affairs resembles Wallis's argument about civil things.
Neither was a philosopher examining the origins of political authority, though both articulated a vision of good government through religious satire. By ridiculing prominent religious practices, institutions, and beliefs, they encouraged greater tolerance of religious worship and sects, the one from a freethinking perspective, the other from orthodox conviction. Shaftesbury's Characteristicks enjoyed significant influence throughout the eighteenth century, promoting religious criticism, moral sense philosophy, and literary dialogue. It also advanced an ongoing debate about expressive manners that was entwined in the period's contests over religious toleration.
Both decried Shaftesbury's influence in promoting wit and ridicule in discussions about religion. Shaftesbury's Letter is "industriously spread in the Nation," Astell lamented, even though many "reckon it a very poor, incoherent, contradictory, senseless, Piece; weak in every thing but Malice to Religion, and even to GOD Himself. Opponents viewed Shaftesbury as encouraging a form of expression that tended to promote disorder. Restraint had potential legal implications. Since the lapse of the Licensing Act in , the English press was free from the prior restraint of licensing but not immune from postpublication prosecution for libel.
In Rex v. The result was amorphous notions of seditious and blasphemous libel indictable at common law, as Defoe experienced. Shaftesbury argued that the threat of prosecution was reason for more wit, as an authorial method of legal evasion: "If Men are forbid to speak their minds seriously on certain Subjects, they will do it ironically. If they are forbid to speak at all upon such Subjects, or if they find it really dangerous to do so; they will then redouble their Disguise, involve themselves in Mysteriousness, and talk so as hardly to be understood.
Wit thus maintained privacy in the process of publicity. Shaftesbury published his "essay on the freedom of wit and humour" as "a letter to a friend. It was intended for highbrow consumption. The English cleric Thomas Woolston employed "this clancular and subtil Method" of writing to his own detriment, being convicted of blasphemous libel in In Six Discourses on the Miracles of Our Saviour , he mocks biblical miracles as "the grossest Absurdities," commenting on Jesus casting demons into swine, "If any Exorcist in this our Age and Nation" had done likewise, "our Laws and Judges too of the last Age, would have made him to swing for it.
Edmund Gibson, the bishop of London, decried Woolston's " Blasphemous Manner " while noting "the Duty of the Civil Magistrate at all time, to take care that Religion be not treated either in a ludicrous, or a reproachful manner. Taylor to remind defense counsel, "Whatever strikes at the very root of Christianity, tends manifestly to the dissolution of civil government. The deist Anthony Collins responded to Woolston's predicament by popularizing Shaftesbury's method and argument. Collins satirized the orthodox view of the Christian gospels as literal fulfillments of Hebraic prophecy, clothing his ridicule in exaggerated piety.
He tied his endeavor to religious toleration, citing Pierre Bayle and John Locke and advocating "that universal liberty be established in respect to opinions and practices not prejudicial to the peace and welfare of society. Making the supposition explicit, Collins authored A Discourse Concerning Ridicule and Irony in Writing , which shows that even Anglican divines have long used wit in debating religion. Lest that fail to convince, he articulated Shaftesbury's argument that religious intolerance is reason for more ridicule of religion. In this, Collins exhibited a form of what Jacques Berlinerblau calls the profanity loop see chapter 2 -countering intolerance of wit with yet more satire and ridicule.
Collins presented this strategy as a biblical command, invoking "the noble Sarcasm of Elijah"; "the Psalmist" who suggested "laughing to scorn, and deriding the greatest men upon Earth"; and "the following Sarcasm or Irony" about humanity's fall into sin in Genesis "This Passage shews, that the whole Affair of the Fall. The Scottish philosopher David Hume employed similar humor more subtly. Therein, he describes advocates of the use of reason in religious matters as pretend Christians. In good humor, he dons their mask to profane revelation, asking readers to consider "the Pentateuch, which we shall examine, according to the principles of these pretended Christians, not as the word or testimony of God himself, but as the production of a mere human writer and historian.
Here then we are first to consider a book, presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, written in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all probability long after the facts which it relates, corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts which every nation gives of it origin. Hume proceeds as if merely describing the biblical accounts of the Fall, the Flood, and the Covenant, refraining from irony until his concluding thought: "Upon reading this book, we find it full of prodigies and miracles.
It gives an account of a state of the world and of human nature entirely different from the present: Of our fall from that state: Of the age of man, extended to near a thousand years: Of the destruction of the world by a deluge: Of the arbitrary choice of one people, as the favourites of heaven; and that people the countrymen of the author. Hume combined satire and "the principles of toleration" in his Natural History of Religion He emphasized that toleration "proceeded from the steady resolution of the civil magistrate, in opposition to the continued efforts of priests and bigots.
Hume was long conscious of the importance of politeness, even before he was denied an Edinburgh professorship on charges of heterodoxy. He intentionally avoided militant tones. He thus found writing in dialogue an inviting style, because it allowed significant license under cover of literary characters. In "Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State," Hume's first-person character relates "a conversation with a friend who loves sceptical paradoxes; where, though he advanced many principles, of which I can by no means approve, yet as they seem to be curious,. I shall here copy them.