Divinizing Emperors a Late Development in Roman Religion

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A bit of truncated ancient history to explain today’s tedious headlines:

A later development in Roman religion was the worshiping of emperors as gods. As the Romans expanded their holdings to the east, they encountered the phenomenon of divine kingship. At first they rejected the idea that a human ruler should be worshiped as a god. But in 44 bc, Roman ruler Julius Caesar permitted a statue to be erected to himself bearing the inscription deo invicto (“to the unvanquished god”), and declared himself dictator for life. That same year Caesar was assassinated by citizens who were unhappy with his dictatorial regime and wanted to see a return to Rome’s earlier republican ideals. While Caesar’s heir, Octavian, took the name Augustus and made himself the first emperor of Rome, he also avoided any claim to divinity. In the first century of the Roman Empire, the idea of the divinization of emperors was often ridiculed. The philosopher and playwright Seneca mocked the imperial divinization of Claudius I as the “Pumpkinification of Claudius.”

As the government of the Roman Empire became more and more autocratic, giving rulers almost unlimited power, emperors eventually accepted divine honors, and sacrifice to the emperor came to be required as a token of loyalty. The requirement of sacrifice became a significant source of conflict between early Christians, who resisted the practice, and the Roman political authorities who enforced it.

11:20 am on June 7, 2004