Roman Imperial Cult

he Roman Imperial Cult was among the most important parts of Roman religion during the 1st century C.E. It is a practice that honors the Emperor of Rome during his reign or after his death.

During ancient times, emperors of Rome could be declared divus after their deaths which elevate them to the status of the Gods and Demigods.

Originally, the rise of the Roman Imperial Cult started after the assassination of Roman dictator Julius Caesar.

Following his death, Caesar received continuing cult worship from Ancient Romans and was given his own feast day and temple. The regularization of the Roman Imperial Cult took place during the reign of Augustus.

Augustus who was the Emperor of Rome from 31 B.C.E. to 14 C.E. established cult expressions as one of the key features of a monarchical government system.

He subsequently elevated his wife, Livia into imperial status during his reign. Other members of the imperial families which became a member of the Imperial Cult included Julia Augusta who is the daughter of Domitian and Nero’s daughter, Claudia Augusta. Other than Caesar and Augustus, other Roman Emperors who were recognized as Gods upon their demise include Diocletian, Vespasian, and Trajan.

Facts about the Roman Imperial Cult

  • The Pontifex Maximus or chief priest is the title that is given to the Roman Emperor once they would serve the office.
  • The Roman Senate elevated Augustus into divus status following his death in 14 C.E.
  • The induction of dead Roman Emperors as one of the religious deity of Rome was an official law of the Roman Senate. Normally, a new emperor who wants to continue the footsteps of his predecessor asks the senate to make him divine.
  • The Roman Imperial Cult assumed a critical part in the Roman persecution of Christians.
  • Emperor Diocletian headed the most complete punishment of Christians with the aim of strengthening the Roman Imperial Cult.
  • Christian Jews were not persecuted by the Roman Imperial Cult as long as they offered a prayer to their deity in behalf of the Emperor.
  • Imperial virtues such as Victoria Augusti, Securitas Augusti, Abundantia Augusti, Pax Augusta, and Libertas Augusti were objects of widespread cult actions at both the public and private levels.
  • The Roman Imperial Cult was adopted into the local religious lives of every Roman. As a matter of fact, local organizations can select leaders or affiliates of the Imperial group as their godlike character.
  • When did the Roman Imperial Cult end?
    While the Roman Imperial Cult managed to survive the change of Roman religion, it eventually nosedived following the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity. During the reign of Constantine, Christianity started to become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.
  • What are the three forms of cults in Ancient Rome?
    It is important to note that there was no single imperial cult in the Roman Empire. Instead, there were three specific forms of cults particularly the official state cult of Rome, private cults, and the municipal cults of towns and cities in the Empire.
  • How does an Emperor become a divus?
    Typically, a senatorial decree and formal ceremonies are performed after their deaths to elevate the status of every Emperor to immortals.
  • What are the religious practices of the Roman Imperial Cult?
    Ordinarily, worship activities involved common religious practices in the classical world and included multiple shrines, altars, temples, and images as well as feasts, sacrifices, processions, festivals that are normally headed by a chief priest. In most cases, the expression of worship to the Emperors can be done on provincial and state festivals, municipal gatherings, trade associations, and households.