"What role did the Imperial cult play within Roman religion and government in the second and third centuries?"
The Roman Imperial cult identified emperors and some members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority of the Roman State. The framework for Imperial cult was formulated during the early Principate of Augustus, and was rapidly established throughout the Empire and its provinces, with marked local variations in its reception and expression (Wikipedia, 2010). Honouring the emperor and other imperial officials was an important part of life in Roman. They erected statues, monuments, plaques, and buildings in order to show their respect for these imperial emperors and gods.
The Imperial cult which was dramatically extended all over Roman at that time played a vital role in Roman religion and government. Basically, the emperors thought that they were gods and they had a right to control everything. The citizens had to trust their gods and worshipped them. Roman government, since Augustus era, he contributed to the idea that he was something more than human. His reforms of the system of Roman government were important. He effectively mixed both the old and the new, a typically Roman idea. At the result, his system of reforms save the Empire, but in the long run caused the death of representative institutions. Augustus himself never did away with these institutions, he was consul, tribune, chief priest of the civic religion and the public censor.
After Augustus died, Roman had several emperors but most of them died in early age until the 3rd century, it could be written as the history of a political mass that a good leader could not be found to fill the Roman office of emperor. Between 211 and 300, there were more than seventy emperors who competed for control of the Imperial office. Meanwhile, lots of cities declared their independence from Rome, slaves rebelled on the greatest states and civic responsibility disappeared. Finally, The Roman Empire was divided into East and West.
Roman religion was best described as Roman superstition. It was simply a useful tool for keeping the masses under control. It affected the unity of citizens in Roman whatever nationality was, they were Romans. Roman religion was polytheistic well-known as Olympian gods, the Romans worshipped hundreds of gods associated with specific cities, peoples, activities, professions, and abstractions. Every home had the statues of the household gods. The Roman Senate continually extended official recognition to gods. All residents of the Empire were expected to sacrifice to the major Roman cults which were the emperors and other dominant gods. Jews and Christians were sometimes granted dispensation from this duty, depending on the politics of the current emperor. Rituals were the heart and soul of Roman religion, almost every activity, public or private, had a religious aspect and there were over 100 official holidays.
There was a link between church and state. The emperor, the senators, and other government officials all used their authority to enforce proper worship, and they also had their own roles to fill in the rituals. For instance, the state supported and regulated the temples which high priests usually sat in the Senate. After Hadrian reign, the power of the emperors became absolute and strong that the later emperors could claim divinity during their own lives. Participation in the Imperial cult became a loyalty test, the Imperial cult was an aggressive sort of civil religion. Loyal citizens of the Empire were expected to attend every ritual and worshipped their gods. Christians and Jews refused to worship the Emperor in terms of they had one god and they were not allowed to worship other gods. For this reason, the persecution was a law enforcement tool to punish them. Incense is a preparation of aromatic plant matter, often with the addition of essential oils extracted from plant or animal sources, intended to release fragrant smoke for religious, therapeutic, or aesthetic purposes as it smolders. ... This persecution was used as an amused ceremony for Romans because it generally took place in an open field, however, afterwards, many Romans had sympathy for those Christians and it hit an increase of Christians all through Roman. The Imperial cult was abandoned when Constantine I, who had adopted the Christian religion, became an Emperor. From then on, Christian was a high religious claimed by Roman. In his age, citizens could believe in any gods whatever the Roman gods or not, in contrast, they still had to serve the Roman laws.
In conclusion, the Imperial cult occurred throughout every part of Roman, there were many prominent points as it reflected the feel of unity, family members and Romans because they had the same gods, worshipping the same gods and they could sacrifice for their gods. On the other side, the emperor could abuse their power because they could control everything both government and religion and it was unfair for people who believed in other gods or worshipped another things which did not get along with Romans.
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