Tag Archives: Naples Archaeological Museum

What was in the building where the Roman Emperors were honored/worshiped?

In the last two posts I described and shared some images of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship) that was found at Herculaneum (near Pompeii). Because of a Latin Inscription that was found there, we know that banquets took place in the room. Suprisingly, in Professor Tuck’s 30-minute talk on this room, he does not mention the contents (see below). So I had never given it much thought.

On our recent trip to the Naples Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli), Italy, our guide pointed out four large statues that were found in the Sacellum! Two of Augustus and two of Claudius! I was very surprised (and excited) to find this out, for although I had visited the museum a good number of times, but no guide had previously pointed these statues out. For me, it was a great experience to connect these statues with a place that has such importance for the topic of the Imperial Cult (aka Emperor Worship).

These four statues are part of the collection that is on permanent display in the large main room of the museum.

A bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.– A.D. 14) who is portrayed as the deity Jupiter (Greek: Zeus). Note that he is holding a “thunderbolt” in his left hand. The statue is about 7 feet tall.
A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.– A.D. 14) who is portrayed as “Enthroned.”

Here, Augustus is semi-nude, as a deity, and is crowned with the Civic “Oak Wreath” Crown—a very special honor given to him for having “delivered/saved” his people

A bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) standing.  He has a spear in his right hand and may have held a “thunderbolt” (as Augustus above) in his left hand.  He probably is being portrayed as a deity (Jupiter) or possibly as a hero.
A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) who is portrayed as “Enthroned.” He is semi-nude, as a deity.
This is the Sacellum of the Augustales in Herculaneum, where these four statues were found.

It is amazing that a new religious movement that claimed that a poor Galilean carpenter, who was crucified by the Romans, believed to be the Son of God and raised from the dead could “compete” with the impressiveness of the well established Imperial Cult and and extensive/powerful Roman Kingdom.

For additional comments on these statues see here.

Steven L. Tuck “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.