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  • Consecration issues commemorated the deification of the Roman emperor

    James Meyer

    Consecration issues commemorated the deification of the Roman emperor


    In many cultures it is common for some rulers, politicians, or generals to achieve (before or after their deaths) the status of folk heroes. In some cases the process is encouraged (and exploited) by governments, but it may also occur spontaneously. In antiquity, as well as today, the outward signs o f personality cults (monument s, Statues, coins, and paintings) are more prominent in totalitarian societies. Rome was no exception . The most numerous and grandiose relics of this type were built during the Empire, in honor of the emperor and his family.

    In spite of the high visibility of Imperial personality cults, the concepts which promoted them can be traced back to Republican, and even prehistoric time. The Romans were predisposed to such cults through their tradition of ancestor worship. Through inscriptions, coinage, and ancient literature, it appears that ancestor worship reached an apogee during the Republic. The benefits in prestige certainly encouraged wealthy and powerful families to honor their illustrious ancestors, but even in poor families the departed continued to exert a continuing (if shadowy) influence on the surviving members of the family. This belief is illustrated by the Lemuria festival and other funerary customs.

    Taking advantage of this tradition, the first emperor of Rome (Augustus) took the process one step further by having his adopted father (Julius Caes.1f) declared a god. This, of course, made Augustus the son of a god. Curiously enough, Augustus also made preparations for his own consecration. These ceremonies, in turn. became the blueprint for successive emperors for the next three hundred years (see Figure I). From the amount of publicity given to these deifications, it is clear that they were meant to be taken seriously, at least by the masses. The authority of a body of men (ostensibly the Senate) to elevate a deceased person to godhood did, however, chal...


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