Sun 9 Oct 2005
Worship of the emperors is a fascinating aspect of religious life in the Roman empire. Over on BMCR, there is a review (by Kieran Hendrick) of a recent book that deals with the title “temple-warden” (neokoros) in connection with provincial imperial cults (temples devoted to worship of the emperors): Barbara Burrell, Neokoroi: Greek cities and Roman Emperors. Cincinnati Classical Studies, New Series Volume IX. Leiden: Brill, 2004.
Cities throughout Asia Minor and other eastern areas of the empire proudly took on the title “temple-warden” when they came to host a provincial temple in honour of the “revered ones” (Sebastoi), the emperors or imperial family as gods. Burrell’s book gathers together and provides an overview of the evidence for this practice.
If you would like to know more about worship of the emperors in the eastern part of the empire, you can read a brief overview here on my site. Or, if you would like to read more about imperial cults at the local level within associations, read my journal article here (or this one). On the significance of these cults for John’s Apocalypse (Revelation), which speaks of “worshipping the beast”, read this. The classic study which set the stage for much recent research in this area, including my own, is Simon Price’s Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1984). That is still the place to start if you want to read a book on the subject.
Photo (above right): Head of the colossal statue of emperor Domitian (or Titus) associated with the provincial imperial cult temple at Ephesus (which made the city “twice temple warden” in the Flavian era, the late first century). Now in the Ephesus Museum (mini-photo-tour of museum here). Photo by Phil.