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Imperial Worship System of the Early Caesars


This research paper discusses the origins, evolution and underlying reasons for the system of imperial worship which developed under the early Roman Caesars, Julius Caesar (b. B.C. 100, d. B.C. 44), Augustus Caesar (b. B.C. 63, d. A.D. 14) and Tiberius (b. B.C. 42, d. A.D. 37). Belief in the divinity of a Roman ruler first seriously developed during Julius Caesar's brief reign as dictator, primarily as an accoutrement of his rapidly accumulating and increasingly unrestricted power. The beginnings of a cult of emperor worship were cut short by his assassination, but its foundations were broadened by his deification during the succession struggle which followed. After he prevailed over his rivals for power, Octavian (later named Augustus) cleverly channelled the impulse toward emperor worship in politically acceptable directions which helped forge unity in the heterogenous Roman Empire and strengthen his regime. He, too, was deified after his death which helped establish the principle of imperial succession even though Tiberius himself opposed all attempts to attribute divine attributes to his personage during his lifetime. In this way the belief in and practice of emperor worship came to serve as pillars of imperial rule.

Prior to the conquests of Julius Caesar and his rise to power as one of Rome's three consuls after B.C. 59 and its undisputed leader after his defeat of his great rival Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus in Thessaly in B.C. 48, Rome had generally not followed the practice of emperor worship which had been quite common in Greece and other Eastern provinces. According to Weinstock, "it was an old Greek belief that great achievements deserved divine honours, and that is why the mythical heroes, [such as Heracles and Dionysius] . . . became gods after their death." Sometimes the Greeks turned their greatest heroes into gods during life and believed "that kings and great m...

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Imperial Worship System of the Early Caesars. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 09:45, May 21, 2019, from