Roman Mythology

The Emperor-God and Foreign Borrowings

What was the nature of and purpose of the emperor-god cult?

Many Romans believed that the emperor was guided from within by his divine spirit or genius. Furthermore, it was believed that a great ruler would achieve apotheosis or full deification in heaven after his death. Julius Caesar was the only Roman emperor deified during his lifetime. He was recognized as a god by the Roman Senate in 44 B.C.E. Augustus was deified by the senate in 14 C.E. after his death. Thirty-five other emperors were deified in the same way until the Christian era when Theodosius ended the practice in 337 C.E. Some emperors—including Augustus—treated the deification idea ambiguously, but Augustus and others realized its importance in establishing a kind of “divine right” to rulership which, in a multicultured empire, was politically useful.


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