Tag Archives: Emperor Worship

Emperor Worship at Herculaneum Part 2

In a previous post I shared some images and thoughts on what I believe is the only completely preserved building dedicated to the worship of Roman Emperors in the First Century A.D.  I want to complete the posting of images from the main room where the statue of the Emperor was located.  In these two frescos, the Emperor is portrayed as the mythical hero Hercules!

On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.

View looking at the north wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  On the left is Hercules with his club, lion’s skin, and a bow and arrows.  The nude figure next to him is a river deity that is attempting to snatch away Hercules’ wife, Deianeira.  Hercules is about to rescue her!  Tuck suggests that this is a metaphor for the Emperor as Hercules who protects/rescues his people.

Flanking the central piece are “windows” that look out on to the world.  Note especially the two chariots with horses in the upper two corners.

Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude. The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.

View looking at the south wall of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship).  The central panel is flanked by two slender spirally fluted columns.  It appears that there is an attempt to portray this central panel as a hanging tapestry.  Hercules, without club or lion’s skin, is sitting nude.  The female in the foreground is the deity Minerva and in the back, between the two of them, is Zeus’s wife, Hera.  Tuck believes that this is a representation of Hercules about to be taken up to be with the gods (= apotheosis) and that he and Hera are here reconciled—Hera had attempted to kill him.  Tuck believes that this is a metaphor for the apotheosis of the Emperor—being represented as Hercules.  In other words, Vespasian, like Emperors before him, was taken to be with the gods—and thus became a god!

To view 6 images of this important room Click Here.


Professor Tuck (see below) suggests that this room was renovated shortly after the death of Vespasian in A.D. 79, early in the reign of Titus—which implies that the room was soon buried by the pyroclastic flow from Vesuvius—ca. 24 August 79.

I am indebted to the explanatory comments of Steven L. Tuck in his engaging “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.

 

Emperor Worship at Herculaneum

As Christianity spread into the Roman World, one of the major, growing, cults that it faced was the worship of the ascended, deified, Roman Emperors—and eventually the worship of living Emperors.  It is well–known that this practice forms part of the background for the book of Revelation and also for many additional passages found in the New Testament.

So, where did all this take place?  To my knowledge, there is only one almost completely preserved structure known where this occurred.  It is called the Sacellum (chapel/temple) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship) that was excavated at Herculaneum—near Pompeii.  In this and the following post, I will share some images of this very unique structure.

View looking west at the major room of the interior of the Sacellum of the Augustales. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This building is a large space with a central nave and two side aisles.  The four columns outline the central nave and above it was a clerestory that let in outside sunlight.  Directly ahead, on the west side is the central shrine where a statue, or bust, of the emperor was venerated.  In the foreground, there are two square pedestals attached to the columns.  On them stood statues of prominent priests that served the imperial cult (=Augustales).

View looking west into the cult room of the Sacellum of the Augustales where the deified Emperor was worshiped. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

As you look directly ahead you see a vertical rectangular podium on which a statue, or bust, of the emperor was venerated.  The white, faded, paint above the podium was the latest style—based upon Neronian examples found in Rome.  The light blue paint in and above the arch was made of a substance that included lapis lazuli that was imported from Afghanistan!

On both side walls are two different frescos of Hercules—see images in the next post.  Below the frescos is barren plaster that previously was covered with marble sheeting—removed during the early tunneling/mining expeditions.  On the floor is a well–preserved marble floor—see image below.

This Latin Inscription was found on the floor of the Sacellum of the Augustales. It mentions that Aulus Lucius Proculus and his son gave a dinner to the (priests), the Augustales and to the city council at the dedication of this building.

Steven Tuck’s translation of the six line inscription follows:

Sacred to Augustus
Aulus Lucius     MEN = voting tribe
Proculus and his son Julianus
P . . . S [= Pecunia Sua = “with their own money”] [CR: compare the use of “P   S” in the Erastus Inscription from Corinth]
[Lower two lines: ] they gave a dinner to the Augustales and to the city council at the dedication of this building [= large public dinner]

Tuck notes that the name Aulus Lucius Proculus indicates that this person was a freed slave who became very wealthy and had become a priest in the organization of the Augustales (= those priests that supervised the Emperor cult).  Talk about upward mobility!

This marble floor is found in the cult room of the Sacellum of the Augustales.

Cut marble floors were very expensive! Even more expensive than mosaic floors! Note the wonderful variegated colors!

Herculaneum is a city that was located on the Italian coast west of Mount Vesuvius.  It was destroyed in August A.D. 79 when Vesuvius erupted.

Because it was buried by 50–60 feet of pyroclastic material, the buildings and their contents are actually better preserved than those found at nearby Pompeii.  It was probably 1/4 the size of Pompeii.  It is estimated that only 25% of the town has been excavated.

Some scholars have suggested that it was a small fishing village, but because of the finely built houses, and their lavish decoration, it seems more probable that it was a sea–side playground for the elite!

Professor Tuck (see below) suggests that this particular structure was renovated shortly after the death of Vespasian in A.D. 79, early in the reign of Titus—which implies that the room was soon buried by the pyroclastic flow from Vesuvius—ca. 24 August 79—and that is why the decorative elements are so well–preserved.

I am indebted to the explanatory comments of Steven L. Tuck in his engaging “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.

 

One of Pilate’s Coins — Emperor Worship in Judean Territory

Besides constructing a Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate issued a series of bronze coins—perutahs honoring the Emperor Tiberius.  He minted these coins in Jerusalem between 29 and 31 (Taylor, 556; Jesus was tried before this same Pilate in AD 30 or 33).

Obverse of a bronze perutah, minted in Jerusalem, by Pontius Pilate
Note the “augur’s staff” called a lituus — the coin is inscribed
Click Image to Enlarge

The above is a sample of one of the two types of coins.

Bronze perutah minted in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate

The inscription on this coin reads “of Tiberius Caesar.”  This type of coin features a lituus on the obverse side of the coin.

The lituus was a wooden staff (or wand) with a curled end, made of a branch of either ash or hazel … The lituus was held in the right hand of the augures and was the augures’ identifying emblem.  (Taylor 559-59)

The lituus was used by augurs who were priests that interpreted the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds (size of flock, noises made, direction of flight, etc.).

[The lituus] was also raised to the sky when they invoked the god and made predictions.   It was used to mark out regions of the heavens when assessing the placement of sacred space on earth (Taylor 559).

Taylor continues, that these two types of coins (only one is covered in this post) honor priests

who were representatives of Roman religion in the two imperial cult temples of Caesarea Maritime and in Sebaste, located in the province he [Pilate] governed (565).

And she concludes:

In using exclusively Roman cultic items in his coinage designed for a province largely composed of Jews and Samaritans, Pilate was promoting Roman religion, manifested largely in the imperial cult, in an environment in which there were strong sensitivities (565).

Thus it is evident that the person who condemned Jesus to death was active in promoting the Imperial Cult via the coins that he issued and the Tiberieum that he built at Caesarea!

In light of the above, imagine what was going through Pilate’s mind when he heard the words:

“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 555–563.

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It should be noted that coins from cities/areas outside of Judea — with images of deities or emperors on them — circulated in Judah.  See Mark 12:13-17 and parallels.

Paul at Assos — Final Part (Asia Minor/Turkey)

In two previous “posts” I described “Paul on the Road to Assos” (Acts 20:5-12) and “Paul’s Arrival at Assos” and the Temple of Athena at Assos.  The Assos that Paul visited was a well–established Greco Roman city.  Indeed, at one time the philosopher Aristotle had lived and taught in the city (ca. 347–343 B.C.).

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Ancient Theater at Assos with the Aegean Sea Below
Click on Image to Enlarge

As in other Roman cities, the citizens of the city would assemble as the ekklesia in the theater to discuss and debate civic affairs.

The city itself, like other Roman cities, were active in honoring/worshiping the Emperor, his family, and his predecessors.  In fact, in 1881 a bronze tablet was found at Assos that dates to A.D. 37—roughly 20 years before Paul’s visit.  This tablet “records the oath of allegiance that Assos’s inhabitants swore to the emperor Gaius [Caligula] when he gained power.  It reads:

“… Since the announcement of the coronation of Gaius … (Caligula), which all mankind had longed and prayed for, the world has found no measure for its joy, but every city and people has eagerly hastened to view the god [Caligula], as if the happiest age for mankind had now arrived.

It seemed good to the Council, and to the Roman business men here among us, and to the people of Assos, to appoint a delegation … to visit him and offer offer their best wishes and to implore him to remember the city and take care of it ….

We swear by Zeus the Savior and the god Caesar Augustus [Octavian] and the holy Virgin of our city [Athena Polias] that we are loyally disposed to Gaius Caesar Augustus and his whole house, and look upon as our friends whomever he favors, and as our enemies whomever he denounces.  If we observe this oath, may all go well with us; if not, may the opposite befall.
(reference below)

Thus again, Paul and his companions encountered the veneration (worship) of the Emperors even here at Assos.

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The Modern Port of Assos

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The modern harbor at Assos
The hotels on the right are located at the foot of the acropolis
Click on Image to Enlarge

Today the harbor as Assos serves the fisherman and a number of boutique hotels line its dock [on our tours we typically stay in one of these hotels].

However, the harbor that Paul left from for Mytilene was located a bit to the east of the modern harbor.

AssosHarborDiagNote the locations of the Modern and Ancient Harbors.

AssosAncientHarbor-01-2To view additional images of the site of Assos Click Here.

The quote above is from pp. 136–37 in Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. eds. Yarbrough. Readings From the First–Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Adada and Paul’s First Journey

AdadaAdada is a well–preserved Roman city located 40 mi. north of Perge on the road that led from Perge to Pisidian Antioch.  It is probable that Paul and Barnabas passed through the city as they traveled south, descending from Pisidian Antioch to Attalia (see below).

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This well preserved temple at Adada was dedicated to the Roman Emperors
Three temples dedicated to the Emperors have been found at Adada
Click on Image to Enlarge

The city minted its own coins in the first century BC and it was very prosperous during the rules of the Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius (ca. AD 98–160).

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Remains of the Roman Forum — The massive “staircase” is more probably a seating area where the council of Adada could meet.
Click on Image to Enlarge

The remains at Adada include a Forum, a theater, and temples to Roman Emperors!

AdadaMapTHYDr. Mark Wilson notes that there were two routes that connected the Pamphilian Plain (Perge and Attalia) with Pisidian Antioch.  He suggested that Paul and Barnabas took the western route, the via Sebastia, from Perge to Pisidian Antioch but followed the quicker, but steeper central route on their return journey south to Perga (Acts 14:25)—thus passing through Adada on their return journey.

Wilson, Mark. Biblical Turkey — a Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. Istanbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2010, p. 106.

To view 24 high resolution images of Adada, along with commentary, Click Here.

Emperor Worship In “Israel” in Jesus’ Day

When Christian tour/academic groups visit the area of Galilee it is natural to ask “what was Galilee like in Jesus’ time?”  This is actually a tricky question to answer for what is meant by “Galilee?”  I think it is best to let Josephus define it (War iii.3.1-2 [35–43]) and if this is the case then it was very limited in size and actually surrounded by Gentile populations! (see for example the map on p. 212 of The Zondervan Atlas of the Bible)

Foundation of the Temple to Augustus that Herod the Great built in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi—at Omrit
The southwest corner
Note the delicately carved molding and the remnants of fresco on the wall

Archaeological excavations in Galilee — Galilee as defined by Josephus, and pre- 70 CE — show that it was  Jewish in nature and was not yet greatly influenced by Greco- Roman culture (except for some frescos at Yodfat and Herod Antipas’ new city of Tiberias).  Indeed, the archaeological remains (ritual baths, stone vessels, lack of pig bones, shaft graves) at most sites in Josephus’ Galilee seem to indicate that Jews were living in small villages that were rural in nature.  Most tour leaders/guides will rightfully expound on the Jewish context of Jesus’ upbringing and focus of ministry, and will also reference the close proximity of Greco- Roman culture via the caravan routes that ran around and through Lower Galilee.

In two previous posts I have commented on the archaeological finds at Omrit and the Imperial Cult (worshiping the Roman Emperor) in Asia Minor.  IMHO we also need to give emphasis to the fact that Herod the Great had built  three Imperial Cult Temples — all less than 40 miles from Nazareth/Capernaum.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry these Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  had been in existence for over 40 years!

When tour leaders/guides expound upon “Peter’s Great Confession” at/near Caesarea Philippi — “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16; etc.) — usually the emphasis is upon “Christ” as the Greek word for Hebrew Messiah/Mashiach and Jesus as the fulfillment of the divine promise that had been made to David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7).  In addition, often reference is made to failed messiahs and rebel leaders that lived before, during, and/or after the days of Jesus — and that Jesus’ “kingdom” was of a different nature than the typical expectation of these folk.

But when Peter’s confession is made within 5 miles (or less) of  one of the three Imperial Cult Temples that had been dedicated to Roman Emperor Augustus — who was to be worshiped as a god, or at least the “son of god”  — the confession takes on all kinds of additional overtones!  And one of the first thoughts of many of the hearers of the Gospels (living in a Greco- Roman context in Asia Minor, Greece, North Africa, and Italy) had to have been, how could anyone ever think that  a crucified Galilean Jew named Jesus could be “the Son of the Living God?”   There already was a “son of god!”  Namely the reigning Roman Emperor who was worshiped as a “son of god” by (almost) all his subjects at Imperial Cult Temples scattered throughout his kingdom—not to mention previously deceased emperors (and some family members) who had ascended to heaven and were worshiped “as gods!”

The above just hints at some of the topics that could be thought through and expanded upon, and what better place to do this than at Omrit—where the foundations and some artifacts of the Herodian Imperial Cult Temple are still there in all their glory!

Directions to Omrit
Left is north in the image.
The road running from left (north) to right (south) in the bottom of the image is Hwy 918

It is easy to travel to Omrit by driving south on Hwy 918 (from the junction of Hwys 99 and 918) and turning east on the paved road just before (north) of the Bezek antenna.  To visit this unique site you need to budget about 90 minutes or so once you turn off  highway 918, but IMHO it is well worth the time!