Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 19.

Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. xvii + 398. ISBN 0-19-815275-2. UK£55.00.

D. Wardle
University of Cape Town

The long-awaited appearance of Gradel's Oxford DPhil thesis in published form provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the phenomenon of ruler cult in the early Roman Empire and the controversial theses that Gradel advances.[[1]] The study of Greco- Roman religion has come a long way in the past twenty years, but the specific area of ruler cult, despite enormously valuable detailed studies by the likes of Duncan Fishwick,[[2]] has struggled to free itself from long treasured, but now outdated, paradigms. Gradel offers a highly provocative interpretation of what may be the most distinctive innovation of the Roman Empire.

Gradel's introductory chapter (pp. 1-26) is crucial for the development of his ideas: he begins by confronting the problem of defining 'religion' in general and especially in the Roman context: he prefers a concept of religion 'defined by action of dialogue -- sacrifice, prayer or other forms of establishing and constructing dialogue -- between humans and what they perceive as "another world", opposed to and different from the everyday sphere in which men function' (p. 5), while at the same time arguing that for the Roman the divine world should not be separated from the other world. In addition, he builds on the important discussion by Simon Price on the need to remove overt or submerged Christianising assumptions from any discussion of Roman religion.[[3]] Gradel believes he can do this by using ancient, contemporary terminology (i.e. rejecting the modern category of 'ruler cult'), differentiating worshippers by status groups, and public from private rites on the basis of whether they received state (or municipal) funding or not (cf. Festus 284 L). Building on the distinction best enunciated by John Scheid, that Roman religion was centred on orthopraxy,[[4]] Gradel concentrates on sacrifice as the best vehicle through which to examine Roman worship. Using the records of the Arval Brethren, he establishes the hierarchy of sacrificial victims -- bull, steer, cow/heifer -- that will assist later in his categorisation of emperor worship. He concludes his introduction with the assertion that, although the Roman sacrificial rites established boundaries between gods and men, these (and all other trappings of cult, such as temples or priests) 'differed in degree, not in kind, from lower, terrestrial or -- as we would say -- secular honours' (p. 26), so that 'the man-god divide . . . could also be taken to reflect a distinction in status between the respective beings, rather than a distinction between their respective natures or "species"' (p. 26). Divinity, then, (or rather, divine status) emerges as a relative category. No doubt this is perfectly true in terms of a modern sociological analysis of Roman religion or religion in general, but does it do full justice to the distinctions drawn by the ancients themselves? Authors such as Suetonius could distinguish between human and divine honours (e.g. ampliora etiam humano fastigio, DJ 76) and behaviour (e.g. neque patrio neque civili ac ne virili quidem ac denique humano, Cal. 52), employing largely consistent distinctions in such a way as to suggest that, while things may be relative, there were 'absolute' distinctives (cf. Gradel's later discussion of Seneca's Apocolocyntosis in Chapter 12, see below).

Chapter 2, 'Before the Caesars' (pp. 27-53), begins by expanding on the idea that Rome's gods were not worshipped because they were gods, but for their services to the Roman state; to worship X expressed that the status gap between the worshipped and the worshipper was very great, 'it merely granted divine status to the honorand in relation to the worshippers' (p. 29). So, Gradel argues, 'there is no fundamental difference between worship of an emperor and of Jupiter' (p. 30), 'power was in fact the only common determinant for according divine worship to anyone, celestials or terrestrials' (p. 32).

The absence of a sufficiently large power-gap alone explains why no-one under the Republic was accorded divine status at the state level; however, within the Roman household, worship of the genius of the paterfamilias was an appropriate response to the unlimited power of the latter over his slaves and freedmen (and to a lesser degree over wife and children) which could be terminated only by his death. Gradel is here laying the foundation for his later, highly controversial, argument that worship of the imperial genius was avoided by elite Romans as servile, that it was not a less extreme form of cult designed to accommodate them and that its importance in imperial cult has been much overstated. The way in which ordinary free Romans, as individuals or communally, could respond to an extraordinary benefaction without the connotations of servility or clientship was to honour the benefactor as an earthly Jupiter (e.g. the famous popular response to Marius -- Val. Max. 8.15.7; and Cicero's public praise of P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther -- Red. pop. 11).

Chapter 3, 'Caesar's Divine Honours' (pp. 54-72), cuts through the mass of secondary scholarship to concentrate on the primary sources and accepts rightly that the Senate decreed Caesar a state divinity, with attendant priests and temple, shortly before his death. These and the other honours voted to him are best viewed as the Senate's attempt to formulate an appropriate response to the unique position Caesar had won for himself by his victories. Gradel calls the attempt 'inconsistent', but, if we can assume that Dio provides an accurate chronological framework for the honours, there emerges a clear progression in the 'divine honours' voted him. Granted the Senate does at each stage bundle together disparate honours, to disregard Suetonius' distinction (quoted above) as 'feeble and imprecise', 'founded . . . on moral (and anachronistic) criteria determined by the behaviour of good vs. bad emperors from Augustus till Suetonius' own day' (pp. 60f., n. 15) assumes that the Senate was wholly ignorant of the hierarchy of honours long since formulated in the east.[[5]] Many of its members had served there and therefore it is most unlikely that all Caesar's honours were invented e nihilo.

The progression is destroyed if we follow Gradel's suggestion and interpret the inscription on the statue of Caesar on top of the world, Dio's hemitheos (43.21.2), as translating divus and also understand that as the Latin term for gods of the highest, eternal state. Gradel's argument on divus does not take into account the archaic nature of the word in mid-first century Rome and its particular appropriateness to a legal context.[[6]] Again, if Caesar was honoured in 46 as divus, the highest category of elevation, would it make sense for him to be honoured only as deus invictus (Dio's A)NI/KHTOJ QE/OJ, 43.45.3) in 45 after Munda?

Gradel accepts in essence the chronology of Dio's account and proposes a solution to the problematic discrepancy between Dio and Cicero on the cult title formally voted to Caesar in 44 -- he was offered the title 'Jupiter Julius', but either rejected it or it was withdrawn, and the vaguer divus was substituted.

Chapter 4, 'Beyond Rome: "By Municipal deification"' (pp. 73- 108), presents the general thesis that direct worship of the reigning emperor at the municipal level in Italy was the norm; worship of the imperial genius by contrast was rare at this level. The starting point is a rereading of Dio 51.20.6-8, 'in the capital itself and in the rest of Italy' no emperor dared to set up a precinct to himself: Gradel posits that, for his provincial audience, Dio wishes to emphasise that no emperor treated Italy as a province (p. 76). This and the argument developed thereafter involves rejecting the predominant view that Augustus was worshipped across Italy at the municipal level in the guise of his Genius, which was based on a flawed interpretation of much archaeological information, especially that from Pompeii.[[7]] Gradel reprises his earlier argument that the Mamia inscription should be restored as a dedication GENI[o coloniae], and thereby excludes it from the discussion of imperial cult, thus leaving no insurmountable evidence against the view that municipal temples from Augustus' lifetime were dedicated to him directly. Municipalities may have devised cults that could pass seamlessly from one emperor to the next by addressing them to Caesar Augustus (cf. CIL 4.1180), titles held by all emperors, although other evidence points to specific cults surviving up to a generation after the emperor's demise. As an example of iconographic evidence of municipal sacrifice to the emperor Gradel makes use of an altar from Abellinum (pp. 94f.), but the presence of two statues around the altar and sacrificing priest is a complicating factor, with which Gradel refuses to grapple. Even so, his main thesis that worship to Augustus' genius at the municipal level was avoided because of the social humiliation implied by open acknowledgement of client status survives, and is wonderfully illustrated by the contrast between Romans and client kings (pp. 100f.).

Chapter 5, 'The Augustan settlement' (pp. 109-39), pursues the line of argument further -- Augustus accepted no state cult to himself during his lifetime, either directly to himself or to his genius, even though his choice of name on its most obvious interpretation denoted superhuman status (cf. Florus 2.34.66). Gradel concentrates on the worship of Augustus' genius in the Compital cults of Rome, as it was reorganised from 7BC onwards as part of the emperor's administrative reforms of the city: the Lares compitales were renamed Lares Augusti and were joined by the genius Augusti; their worship was supervised and probably paid for by elected magistri of the 265 vici, although the state certainly paid for the restoration of Compital shrines from the late first century AD. It is clear that this level of cult was principally directed at and run by freedmen, and was shunned by freeborn Romans as involving a degrading cliental relationship, hence Gradel's justifiable insistence that it was not a state cult. While Gradel's argument has been questioned on the grounds that vicomagistri were state officials,[[8]] it is clear that the cult was not a state cult: although Laralia were a sacrum popularium (Festus 357 L, preserving a definition of the Augustan period which probably reflects the reforms of Augustus; if so, Gradel is wrong to categorise them as sacra privata [129]) they were not a sacrum publicum (cf. publica sacra, quae publico sumptu pro populo fiunt -- Festus 284 L), a cult on the level of, say, that of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitol.

Chapter 6, 'The Augustan heritage and mad emperors' (pp. 140- 61), concentrates on the developments attributed to Caligula by our literary sources. Under Tiberius there was a fossilising of the Augustan status quo, but the accession of Caligula led to new challenges. Initial restraint, for example an imperial veto of a proposal ordering sacrifices to Caligula's genius (Dio 59.4.4), soon gave way to extravagant and provocative behaviour. I conjecture that the refusal was made before Caligula accepted the title pater patriae on 21 September 37, and as such took note of the sensibilities of the Roman and Italian elite. Gradel's most important contribution here is to argue that the cult of Caligula which both Suetonius and Dio describe as being initiated in Rome was not a state cult; if the senate did offer Caligula a state temple, he refused it and 'instead built another temple, with flamingo cult and all, at his own expense and on his own land, indeed in his own palace' (p. 152) -- hence the cult was private.[[9]] This reconstruction, although it has a degree of plausibility, involves a highly selective treatment of Dio 59.28.5, rejecting the contents of a ME/N clause and privileging the DE/, and, to my mind, places too much emphasis on the silence of Suetonius.

Chapter 7, 'The Emperor's Genius in State Cult' (pp. 162- 97), argues that Claudius' reign saw a crucial development in imperial cult: to avoid the unfortunate connection between formal state deification and death a state cult of the emperor's genius was introduced in January 42, when also Claudius engineered the deification of Livia. Gradel offers a detailed reinterpretation of the so-called 'Frieze of the Vicomagistri' (pp. 165-78), which he argues does not relate to the Compital cult of the imperial genius but to a sacrifice to two divi, namely Augustus and Livia, at the latter's consecration; the frieze, he argues, probably formed the base to the statues of Augustus and Livia in the temple of Divus Augustus. The appearance of a bull first among the sacrificial victims leads Gradel to conclude that the genius of the living emperor was being honoured as well. This is all ingenious, but other problems of iconographical interpretation emerge -- can we have the emperor present at a sacrifice to his own genius?[[10]]

So in January 42 Claudius introduced worship of the genius Augusti as a state cult, one integrally connected with his assumption of the title pater patriae; as father of the state, his genius was entitled to worship just as that of any paterfamilias within his house. Gradel underlines his theory that this cult was problematic for elite worshippers by tracing its disappearance under Vespasian and Titus, who were distancing themselves from later Julio-Claudian excess, its rapid reappearance under the absolutist Domitian, and further disappearance from Trajan to Antoninus Pius.

Chapter 8, '"In every House"? The Emperor in the Roman Household' (pp. 198-212), rightly criticises Bickerman's arguments for the absence of imperial worship in the domestic context, collecting archaeological and literary evidence of imperial portrait busts in ordinary and elite houses and showing that possession of an image of the reigning emperor was normal.

The imperial presence goes back to a senatorial decree of 30 BC which laid down that a libation be poured to the then Caesar at every meal, both public and private (Dio 51.19.7). Gradel has to impute a veto against public libation (as he does for Caligula's cult; cf. p. 152), but why would such an example of civilitas be suppressed, when Dio a few lines later can record selectivity and restraint on the part of Caesar (51.20.4)? More convincing is Gradel's 'fundamentalist' reading of the literary evidence to the conclusion that the libation was in practice poured to the emperor and not to his genius.

Chapter 9, 'Corporate Worship' (pp. 213-33), deals with the associations of cultores who worshipped the emperor and his Lares both in the domestic context and outside it, attested primarily by inscriptional evidence across Italy. Even in Rome these associations had temples (CIL 6.253, 958), an important corrective to the frequently proclaimed view that there was no cult of the living emperor in Rome (p. 223). As before, Gradel argues that they did not worship the imperial genius, but rather the emperor directly or the domus divina. On the seviri Augustales Gradel emphasises that cult was only a part of their function as an ordo. Overall his assertion that private worship of the emperor was rife is an important corrective to over-rational and elite-centred studies of imperial cult: 'the extraordinary circumstances behind the few instances where emperors took a stand against private worship of themselves indicate that the phenomenon was as common as it was permanent' (p. 233).

Chapter 10, 'Numen Augustum (pp. 234-50), has more 'ghost-busting' -- Gradel presents a re-reading of the Fasti Praenestini which eliminates the altar to the Numen of Augustus putatively set up in AD 6; and his study of the altar in Narbo removes that as a public cult -- it is not the copy of a state altar in Rome, but is better illustrated by comparison with a private cult from Forum Clodii in Etruria. Gradel's detailed discussion of this neglected inscription (CIL 11.3303) concludes that the numen Augustum, on whose altar the genii of Augustus and Tiberius are invited to feast, was the living emperor, in turn here Augustus and Tiberius.

Chapter 11, 'A Parallel: C. Manlius, Caeretan "Caesar"' (pp. 251- 60), is a pendant to the first part of the book and discusses an altar dedicated to C. Manlius who was celebrated as perpetual censor by his clients. Scholars had often connected the monument with imperial cult, but Gradel argues that the cult was devoted to Manlius (rather than by Manlius), in recognition of his exalted position within Caeretan society.

Chapter 12, '"Heavenly Honours decreed by the Senate": from Emperor to Divus' (pp. 261-371) is by far the lengthiest of the book and is devoted to the official state cult of the emperor -- in stark contrast to what Gradel has demonstrated for the private, and non-official, areas, the formal, official position as set out in senatorial decrees is that the living emperor was not a god. He brings to bear on this question the same line of argumentation pursued earlier, that once dead an emperor had no power and that to confer divine honours on him did not involve humiliation of the worshipper.

Discussion of the funeral and consecration of Augustus, in particular, is excellent and yields several insights: the difference of emphasis and purpose in the accounts of Dio and Suetonius, the historicity of the eagle released from the funeral pyre, Augustus' desire to be declared a state god posthumously and the Res Gestae as his manifesto, the superfluousness of the eye-witness to the imperial ascension.

Constructing the meaning of consecration, as opposed to determining the minutiae of the proceedings, is more difficult. Gradel rejects the usual notion of canonisation as inherently Christianising; rather the Senate actively created a deity. And in so doing 'further cemented the link between death and divinity in the Roman state, making divine honours to the living emperor in this context an even more dangerous notion' (p. 295).

In his discussion of Seneca's Apocolocyntosis I am confused by the notion of absolute deity which Gradel imports -- Claudius received relative divinity from the earthly rituals and senatorial decree but is denied 'divinity in the absolute sense' (p. 329). His work has emphasised throughout that, for the Romans, divinity is a construction of a power-relationship, being a god implies no different nature. Then, when dealing with texts which use the language of belief in connection with divi, ostensibly more appropriate to absolute divinities (in a Christianising sense or not), he presents a paradox worthy of Alice in Wonderland: such language actually demonstrates the doubt that could be felt about the claim of absolute divinity for divi (p. 324). Gradel posits a crisis of belief, because the relationship between the worshipper and worshipped was not (and could not be) reciprocal in the case of divi, as a cause of the cult of individual divi not surviving the immediate political situation that led to their institution. Even Tiberius' active support for the worship of Augustus at the municipal level achieved nothing long-lasting and cities across the empire had to be bullied into erecting temples (Dio 56.46.3); only one of the sixteen known temples to Divus Augustus in Italy is definitely posthumous. 'People cared little for their emperors once they had left this world; and even when they did, the main, if indirect, target of their worship was usually the living emperor' (p. 339). Even so, Gradel shows from the Feriale Duranum that worship of the divi was imposed from Rome and maintained among the army until at least the mid-third century AD and from the prominent archaeological remains of Rome that the official state cults of some of the divi were continued long after their death. A financial crisis during the reign of Maximinus between 236 and 238 led to their suppression at Rome and thereafter, whenever the title divus was voted, it was little more than honorific.

Gradel's book is essential reading for anyone interested in the religious life of the Roman Empire, particularly for those who deal with ruler cult. His style and conclusions are provocative and, even where they do not convince, they force a serious re-reading of the evidence.[[11]]


[[1]] The thesis was passed in 1995 and the transformation into a book was essentially completed by early 1998, although the preface dates from April 2002 and publication followed later in the year. Although Gradel says he has taken account of later scholarship, only one item appears in the bibliography (G. Camodeca, Tabulae Pompeianae Sulpiciorum, Edizione critica dell' archivio puteolano dei Sulpicii (Rome 1999). He fails therefore to take account of Marianne Bergmann's Die Strahlen der Herrscher: Theomorphes Herrscherbild und politische Symbolik im Hellenismus und in der römischen Kaiserzeit (Mainz 1998), M. Clauss, Kaiser und Gott: Herrscherkult im römischen Reich (Stuttgart 1998) and D. Feeney, Literature and Religion at Rome: Cultures, Contexts, and Beliefs (Cambridge 1998) of the major monographs published in 1998.

There are hints, however, that Gradel has not really updated his bibliography after the submission of the thesis in 1995: he misses the earlier article M. Clauss, 'Deus praesens: der römische Kaiser als Gott', Klio 78 (1996) 400-33, which takes a similar view to Gradel on key issues; and although he includes two articles by Dobbins and Hänlein-Schäfer from A. Small Subject and Ruler: the Cult of the Ruling Power in Classical Antiquity (Portsmouth, R.I. 1996), he doesn't make use of C. J Simpson's article on the cult devoted to Caligula. Although he has an extended and good discussion of the Forum at Pompeii (pp. 103-8), he does not mention K. Wallat's, Die Ostseite des Forums von Pompeji (Frankfurt 1997). On the question of public worship in Augustus' house on the Palatine (pp. 115f.) there is no mention of D. Fishwick, 'A Temple of Vesta on the Palatine?' in A Ladomirski (ed.), Etudes sur l'histoire gréco-romaine (Wroclaw 1993) 51-57. On imperial apotheosis M. Beard and J. Henderson, 'The Emperor's New Body', in M. Wyke (ed.), Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity (Oxford 1998) 191-219.

[[2]] See, for example, Duncan Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire -- Provincial Cult, Institution and Evolution (Leiden 2002).

[[3]] S. R. F. Price, Rituals and Power: the Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge 1984) 1ff.

[[4]] For example, Gradel p. 24: 'it is difficult for us to grasp a religious system with almost exclusive emphasis on ritual action to the almost complete detriment of theology or speculation'.

[[5]] See, for example, Fishwick [2].

[[6]] See the argument developed at length by D. Wardle, 'Deus or Divus: the Genesis of Roman Terminology for Deified Emperors and a Philosopher's Contribution' in G. Clark & T. Rajak (edd.) Philosophy and Power in the Graeco-Roman World (Oxford 2002) 181-91.

[[7]] The view has its most familiar expression in L. R. Taylor's The Divinity of the Roman Emperor (Middletown 1931).

[[8]] T.R. Stevenson, review of Gradel, Prudentia 2003, drawing on the unpublished 2003 Berkeley dissertation of Bridget Buxton, Rome at the Crossroads, 6BCE-4 CE.

[[9]] Despite its moments of Egyptomania F. Gury, 'Caligula entre les Castores', in Imago Antiquitatis: religions et iconographie du monde romain. Mélanges offerts à Robert Turcan (Paris 1999) 265-80, is worth citing. The author thinks (well he would!) that his own commentary on Suetonius' Life of Caligula (Brussels 1994) offers a more nuanced treatment of Chapter 22 than that of D. W. Hurley.

[[10]] Stevenson [7] also highlights potential problems in the identifications posited by Gradel and the absence of comparative iconographical material from the discussion.

[[11]]] The book is well produced, but has several misprints (e.g., p. xii Codex lustinianus; p. xiv Parallellae, Populus Romana; p. xv Real-Encyclopedie; p. 36 th; p. 55 n. 5 AMNESTIAJ; p. 58 n. 9 Fishwick (1986); p. 67 defication; p. 74 n. 2 DE', EPETREYE, ELLHNIKOIS; p. 76 wrongly centred footnote; p. 94 puring; p. 98 n. 50 and p. 99 n. 56 Ehrenburg; p. 125 n. 38 Hänlein-Schäfer (1990); p. 105 n. 64 missing ) after p. 113; 131 The Fasti . . . was; p. 152 Seutonius; p. 234 protrac-ted; p. 236 n. 7, p. 238 n. 11, p. 239 n. 12 Ehrenburg; p. 355 n. 146 Bickermann; p. 382 Ehrenburg; p. 383 MEFR 108-11). More problematic is the scale and clarity of many of the photographs; my ageing eyes needed the assistance of a magnifying glass to search for some of the iconographic details identified by Gradel.