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APOTHEOSIS (ἀποθέωσις, consecratio), the enrolment of a man amongst the gods.

While among the free Greeks and Romans all the dead were regarded as becoming in a sense gods (χθόνιοι, dii manes) and dwelling in a subterranean abode, and received duteous worship from the family at the family hearth, and in the case of the founders of cities and great benefactors of cities were honoured by the city with sacrifices and festivals (e. g. Brasidas at Amphipolis, Thuc. 5.11), the privilege of a celestial abode was regarded as belonging only to those who had performed great exploits in the service of humanity. This privilege attached to very few: Hercules is an example. But under despotisms, such as that of the East and Egypt, the case is different. For there the king, who was generally also priest, living in isolation, regarded with awe and terror, slave-master of his subjects, was naturally looked on as a being vastly if not radically different from the rest, and so was considered to become a god when dead. To the polytheistic ancients, who did not believe in any impassable gulf between divinity and humanity, this did not mean much more than that the great social distinctions in this life were kept up in the next. The kings even came to be regarded as gods while alive. Here then are the conditions under which deification prevails, viz. a people who are inclined to submission, and among whom accordingly great social distinctions arise.

So in historical times among the Greeks, who worshipped Adrasteia and were wise, deification was slow in appearing. Lysander is the first we hear of: he got divine honours from the people of Asia Minor (Plut. Lys. 18). A temple was raised to Philip of Macedon in the Altis at [p. 1.140]Olympia (Paus. 5.20.5). Demetrius Poliorcetes was deified at Athens (see the hymn in Athen. 6.253 a; and Grote, 12.205 seq.) and Sicyon (Diod. 20.102). But it is among that portion of the Greek race which conquered and amalgamated with the Eastern peoples that we find deification quite common, a sign of the Greeks becoming Asianized. Alexander the Great required divine honours to be paid to him even while alive: witness the striking scene at Bactra and the noble Hellenic protest of Callisthenes (Arr. Anab. 4.10, § § 7-9; Grote, 12.37): and the laconic decree of the Spartans--“Whereas Alexander desires to be a god, let him be a god” (Ael. VH 2.19). His successors in various countries continued the practice. In Egypt the Ptolemies gradually assume the rank of divinities; they could not have done otherwise without incurring the contempt of their subjects, for deification was in accordance with the national ideas and practice of Egypt. Ptolemy I. (Soter) was deified after his death (Theocr. 17.16), and even styled θεὸς while alive (Eckhel, D.N. 4.9). So too we find Philadelphus and Philometor styled gods (Eckhel, l.c. pp. 8, 16), also Euergetes II. and his wife (C. I. G. 2620); and the titles of the chief priest of Egypt, the ἱερεὺς Ἀλεξάνδρον, ran thus--ἐφ᾽ ἱερέως τοῦ ὄντος ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ Ἀλεξάνδρου καὶ θεῶν Σωτήρων καὶ θεῶν Ἀδελφῶν καὶ θεῶν Εὐεργετῶν καὶ θωῶν Φιλοπατόρων καὶ θεῶν Ἐπιφανῶν καὶ θεοῦ Φιλομήτορος καὶ θεοῦ Εὐπάτορος, &c.; the plural forms signifying that the close relations of Soter, Philadelphus, &c., were also deified (Welcker, Gr. Götterlehre, 3.309). Among the Syrians Antiochus I. is called a god; in the treaty between the Smyrnaeans and the Milesians Antiochus II. was surnamed θεός: Antiochus IV. has θεὸς ἐμφανὴς on his coins (Eckhel, D. N. 6.270); Antiochus VI. was called Dionysus, &c. For all this see especially Eckhel, D. N. 3.209 seqq., and Welcker, Gr. Götterl. 3.310 seq., to which the reader is referred for similar examples from Pergamus and Pontus.

The rising ascendency of Rome could not fail to obtain its meed of deification from the Greeks. They bestowed divine honours on Flamininus, and associated him with Hercules and Apollo (Plut. Flam. 16). Smyrna raised altars to the goddess Roma, 195 B.C. (Tac. Ann. 4.56); and Alabanda built a temple and instituted games in her honour (Liv. 43.6). It appears to have been quite usual for the provincials to worship and enrol among the gods the virtues of their governors (Cic. Q. Fr. 1.1, 10, 31). And indeed it became so common for the provincial governors to have temples raised to them and games celebrated in their honour (e. g. Marcellea and Verrea in Sicily; Mucia in Asia, Cic. Ver. 2.21, 51), that the Roman law made a special provision on the subject; and while it forbade the governor to levy any extraordinary impost, made this special exception, “ut al templum et monumentum capere liceret” (Cic. Q. Fr. 1.1, 9, 26), thus encouraging the practice of deification. Theophanes, the friend of Pompeius, was deified by the Mitylenaeans (Tac. Ann. 6.18); and before this a boxer actually had been consecrated as a god while alive (Plin. M. N. 7.152).

But the Romans were on the whole slow to adopt this un-Roman custom. Since Romulus had disappeared from the earth and had become the god Quirinus (Liv. 1.16)--and this is probably a Greek fable (Mommsen, R. H. 1.174, 481)--no example of apotheosis is recorded till the latest period of the republic. The Romans had not been under a despotism and had had no really great men, and besides were inclined to worship abstractions rather than individuals. But in the later times of the republic, under the influence of Asianized Greek ideas, many even of the cultivated classes of Rome held that while the souls of all were immortal, those of the great and good were divine (Cic. Legg. 2.1. 1, 27), and that they ascended to the heavens and the stars (cf. Hor. Od. 3.2, 21; Verg. A. 9.641). Cicero, absurd as he declares the idea of a man becoming a god is (Cic. N. D. 1.1. 5, 38; Phil. 1.6, 13), yet when he had lost Tullia longed to deify her (Cic. Att. 12.3. 6); it would not be contrary, he says, to the tenets of certain philosophers, alluding to the Stoics (cf. Zeller, Phil. der Gr. 3.1, 294 seq., ed. 1865). Roman theology about this time produced a book on the gods who had been men (Labeo, de diis animalibus; see Serv. ad Aen. 3.168). If such opinions on the possibility of transition from humanity to divinity were maintained by the enlightened, they were held by the people too;--in the time of Sulla they had erected statues and made offerings to M. Marius Gratidianus: Senec. de Ira, 3.18--a motley crowd, gathered from all nations, who had none of the solid Roman virtues and were engrained with cosmopolitan, i. e. Graeco-Asiatic ideas. The time was fully ripe for deification to be practised at Rome.

And the man came. Julius Caesar's brilliant military exploits abroad, and his overthrowing the tyrannical aristocracy at home, and thus becoming the saviour of society, made him the adored of the people. He knew it, and he meant to rule, and rule as the king-god (Mommsen, Staatsr. 2.732). An image of him standing on the globe of the world was set up in the Capitol, with an inscription that he was a demi-god (D. C. 43.14). His statue was placed in all the temples of Rome and of the empire (id. 44.4). It was enacted later that public prayers should be offered for him every year, that oath should be taken by his genius, that there should be a festival to him every four years as to a hero (ἥρωι), that Luperci Julii should be appointed and an additional day should be added to the circensian games in his honour; that his golden chair and jewelled crown should appear in the theatre like those of the gods, and his car be borne in processions; and finally they called him plainly Jupiter Julius, and enacted that an altar should be set up to his Clemency and Antonius should be appointed his priest, a sort of Dialis (D. C. 44.6); in fact, as Suetonius (Suet. Jul. 76) says, “nullos non honores ad libidinem cepit.” All this, chiming in with the enthusiasm and affection of the mass of the people, had the effect of strengthening the idea that he was superhuman. The wild fanaticism of the people, especially the foreigners, towards his remains when he was murdered, was apparent by their raising an altar and organizing a worship to him where he was burned (Suet. Jul. 85). The upper classes indeed wanted this ardour wholly; and Antonius (V. Max. 9.15.1) and later Dolabella put a summary stop to this worship at his altar (Cic. Att. 14.1. 5). [p. 1.141]But the ardour continued and was heightened a little later (Sept. 24 or 25) when Octavian celebrated the games of Victoria Caesaris (or of Venus genetrix or victrix--they are all the same--see Mommsen on C. I. L. i. p. 397) and the comet appeared (D. C. 45.7), which seemed to confirm the opinion that Caesar had become a god. Next year (43 B.C.) Caesar was solemnly enrolled among the gods as Divus Julius (lege Rufrena, C. I. L. 1.626, and Mommsen ad loc.; also 9.2628). He was deified, says Suetonius (Suet. Jul. 88), not merely with the lip-service of those who decreed it, but by the sincere belief of the people. This shows the different feelings of the upper and lower orders towards Julius. The enthusiasm of the people was mainly due to their regarding him as their saviour: indeed we find Caesar and Augustus very widely worshipped as “saviours” (D. C. 44.4.5; C. I. G. 2368, 2957; Letronne, Recueil, 1.81; Eckhel, D. N. 4.45, &c.). From the time of this deification of Caesar, divus acquired the specific meaning of a god who had been a man, while deus was a god from the beginning (Mommsen, Staatsr. 2.733, note 2). It is maintained in the Christian Church, which applies the title divus to its saints; and deification among the ancients corresponds in many respects with Christian canonization (see Boissier, La Religion Romaine, 1.180).

Aspiring to divinity was in the fashion of the time. Sextus Pompeius declared himself son of Neptune (Plin. Nat. 9.55); and Antonius and Cleopatra were Bacchus and Aphrodite, or Osiris and Isis, according to the country they were in (Plut. Ant. 26 and 54; D. C. 50.5). Octavian was more moderate. He would not allow himself to be worshipped except along with the goddess Roma. In 29 B.C. he allowed the Romans in Ephesus and Nicaea to erect a temple to Rome and Divus Julius, and the Greeks in Pergamum and Nicomedia to erect a temple to himself (D. C. 51.20, an important passage). Temples were also erected to him in Nysa (C. I. G. 2943), Mylasa (ib. 2696), Cyzicus (Tac. Ann. 4.36), Athena (C. I. G. 478). And not only in the East, but in the West--at Tarraco (Tac. Ann. 1.18: “templum ut in colonia Tarraconensi strueretur Augusto petentibus Hispanis permissum datumque in omnes provincias exemplum;” and more in Hübner's note, C. I. L. ii. p. 540), at Lugdunum in 12 B.C. (Suet. Cl. 2), at what was afterwards Cologne (Tac. Ann. 1.57), at Narbo Martius in 10 A.D. (Orelli, 2489; and cf. Desjardins, Géographie de la Gaule romaine, 3.186 seq., 224 seq.)--rose altars to Rome and Augustus. [For this provincial worship of augustus, and the important council of the province that grew up around it, see AUGUSTALES and CONCILIUM] The men of the world at Rome naturally despised all this. No one, says Maecenas contemptuously (D. C. 52.35), has ever become a god by a show of hands (χειροτονητός). No one of any repute whatsoever paid worship to him in Rome or Italy, says Dio Cassius (51.20). Perhaps not officially, but spontaneously they did, by the infection of the general enthusiasm; for we find sacerdotes or flamines Augusti, while he was alive, in Pisa (Orelli, 643, last §), in Praeneste (id. 3874), in Pompeii (C. I. L. 10.837), in Beneventum a Caesareum to Augustus and the colony of Beneventum (C. I. L. ix 1556), &c. Later the practice spread everywhere. The temples were called Καισαρεῖα or Σεβαστεῖα (C. I. G. 2126, 2839, &c.): the most celebrated of these are the one at Ancyra in Galatia, on the wall of which his exploits have been found engraven, and the one at Alexandria (Philo, Leg. ad Caium, p. 567). Probably during the lifetime of Augustus he was not publicly worshipped at Rome. Suetonius (Suet. Aug. 52) is very explicit: “in urbe quidem pertinacissime abstinuit hoc honore.” But we cannot deny that the eagerness of the grateful people to give divine honours to the giver of the Pax Romana, and desire to flatter on the part of the upper classes, exhibited itself in worshipping him in private (Ov. Pont. 4.9, 111; Hor. Ep. 2.1, 16). Besides adopting the name AUGUSTUS the emperor allowed the senate to worship his virtues (Boissier, l.c. p. 137); and to gratify the enthusiasm of the lower orders he allowed his Genius (τύχη) to be worshipped among the Lares (Hor. od. 4.5, 30), the guardians of the state (praestites, Ov. Fast. 5.129), and these Lares were henceforth called Lares Augusti (C. I. L. 10.1582). This worship was placed under the charge of the MAGISTRI VICORUM and their subordinate ministri, people in humble walks in life; and by thus enlisting the lower orders, who had no part in the state hitherto, in the service of the empire, Augustus established in them a strong conservative element for his constitution. [For an admirable account of the worship of the Lares and Augustus, see Desjardins, Géographie de la Gaule romaine, 3.212 seq., a valuable discussion.] Thus we see that Augustus was worshipped as a god in the provinces, but at Rome, during his lifetime, permitted only partial divine honours to be paid him--in this less bold than Julius--just as in the sphere of politics he would not be monarch but only princeps (Mommsen, Staatsr. 2.734).

Augustus died in 14. A.D., and by solemn decree of the senate was made a god ( “caelum decretum,” Tac. Ann. 1.73). Other expressions for deification are inter divos referre (Suet. Aug. 97), in numerum deorum referre (Suet. Cl. 45), caelestes honores decernere (Tac. Ann. 12.69; ἀθανατίζειν, D. C. 59.11). After this, to preserve the cult, a college of priests was appointed, the sodales αυγυσταλες; and besides these public ministers there sprung up a number of private associations for the worship of Augustus in Rome and throughout the empire, Livia setting the example by establishing between the Palatine and the Basilica Julia a domestic sanctuary to her deified husband, of which she was the priestess; and further, she celebrated games in his honour (Tac. Ann. 1.73). All this worship, public and private, was an expression of strong devotion and loyalty to the empire, and as such was encouraged by those in authority. Oath by the emperor's genius had already begun under Julius (D. C. 44.6). Subsequently it was the practice in formal oaths to swear by Jupiter, the deified emperors, the genius of the reigning emperor, and the Penates (Lex Salpensa, 100.25; and Mommsen ad loc. p. 460). For more see JUSJURANDUM

Tiberius, while rigorously enforcing the divinity of Augustus (Tac. Ann. 1.73, 74; 2.50; 3.66), rejected all divine honours for himself, [p. 1.142]and would hardly allow them even in Asia (Tac. Ann. 4.15). He was not made a god on his death. Not all emperors were deified, but only those whom for good or bad reasons (Plin. Pan. 11) the reigning emperor proposed to the senate; for it was the senate who formally decreed divine honours, “iudicavit de principibus,” as Vopiscus (Tac. 4) says. And sometimes it was with great difficulty that deification of the preceding emperor was obtained from the senators. They refused it even under pressure from the soldiers to Domitian (Suet. Dom. 23), who had been styled “dominus deusque” during his lifetime (Mart. 5.8. 1, and passim). So Trajan was addressed by Pliny as aeternitas vestra (Ep. 10.87). It was from the earnestness with which Antoninus urged Hadrian's case that he got the title of Pius. Under pressure from Severus, who wished to make himself son of M. Aurelius and so brother of Commodus, divinity was decreed to the latter (Spart. Sev. 11); and the violence of the soldiers extorted it for Caracalla (Spart. Carac. 11). It had accordingly become a mockery. All the succeeding military emperors were deified, and the title (divus) continued to be given to deceased Christian emperors down at least as far as Valentinian (Eckhel, D. N. 8.473), though we cannot suppose that “consecratio” (vid. inf.) was performed in their case.

But besides emperors many other members of the imperial family were deified, amongst whom we find many women. On their coins these often take the title of some goddess, e. g. Livia takes that of Heré, Julia that of Aphrodite (Eckhel, D. N. 8.469). Women used to swear by the divae, just as men by the genius of the emperor (D. C. 59.11; 60.5). And here it may be useful to give a list (taken from Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.446, with evidence added) of all members of the imperial family who received divine honours down to Alexander Severus:--1. Julius. 2. Augustus. 3. Livia (Suet. Cl. 11). 4. Drusilla, daughter of Germanicus (D. C. 59.11). 5. Claudius (Suet. Cl. 45). 6. Claudia Augusta, daughter of Nero and Poppaea (Tac. An. 15.23). 7. Poppaea (ib. 16.21). 8. Vespasian (Plin. Pan. 11). 9. Titus (Henzen, 7421). 10. Domitilla, daughter of Vespasian (Orelli, 2231). 11. Julia Augusta, daughter of Titus (Eckhel, D. N. 6.366). 12. Domitian's infant son (Eckhel, D. N. 6.400). 13. Nerva (Orelli, 783). 14. Trajan's father (Orelli, 804). 15. Marciana, Trajan's sister (Orelli, 792). 16. Trajan (Spart. Hadr. 6). 17. Plotina, Trajan's wife (Orelli, 3744). 18. Hadrian (Spart. Hadr. 27). 19. Sabina, Hadrian's wife (Orelli, 836). 20. Matidia, Sabina's mother (ib. 2196). 21. Antoninus Pius (Capit. Pius, 13). 22. Faustina, his wife (ib. 6). 23. L. Verus (Capit. M. Ant. 15). 24. M. Aurelius (ib. 18). 25. Faustina, his wife (ib. 26). 26. Commodus (Spart. Sev. 11). 27. Pertinax (Capit. Pert. 15). 28. Sept. Severus (Herodian, 4.2). 29. Caracalla (Spart. Carac. 11).

Sometimes consecration did not follow till after burial; e. g. Livia died in 29 A.D., but was not consecrated till 42: sometimes the two acts were simultaneous. But in any case consecration, after being decreed by the senate, involved a funeral ceremony. We have three detailed accounts of such consecration: (1) that of Augustus (D. C. 56.34 and 42); (2) of Pertinax (id. 74.4 and 5); (3) of Severus (Herodian, 4.2). The first differed from an ordinary Roman burial generally in its greater splendour, and specially in three waxen images taking the place of the corpse which had been previously buried (Xiphilin‘s supplement to D. C. 56.34), and an eagle, the bird of Jupiter, being let loose from the pyre, which was regarded as carrying the soul of the dead man to the gods. Far more Oriental in its extravagance was the consecration of Pertinax, of which Dio Cassius was himself an eye-witness. In the Forum Romanum near the stone tribunal a wooden platform was erected, and on it an open pillared structure was raised, adorned with ivory and gold, and in it a bier was placed with heads of land and sea creatures carved thereon. The bier had coverlets of purple and gold, and on it was placed a waxen image of Pertinax, laid out in triumphal costume; and a fair youth brushed away the flies with a peacock's feather, for Pertinax, they feigned, was asleep. The emperor, the senators, and the senators' wives approached in mourning garments and sat down, the women in the porticoes, the men in the open. Then followed statues of all the illustrious Romans of old, choruses of men and boys chanting a hymn to the dead man, brazen images of all the subject nations in their national costume, representatives of the different guilds (γένη) in the city, the lictors, the scribes, the heralds, &c.; images of the great and illustrious in deed or discovery or walk in life; then the cavalry and infantry in full armour, the chief racehorses, the gifts for the pyre. (mostly aromatics; see Henzen, Arv. 88) presented by the emperor or the senators or senators' wives or equites illustres, or by the divisions and collegia throughout the city. Thereafter followed a gilt altar, adorned with ivory and Indian jewels. When all these had passed, Severus mounted the Rostra and delivered the funeral oration. Tears and lamentations accompanied the speech, and burst forth louder when the speech was ended and the bier was moved. The chief priests and the magistrates, actual and designate, took it from the platform and gave it to some of the knights to bear. The procession marched before the bier, which was borne amidst droning flutes and beatings of the breast to the Campus Martius, the emperor following last. There the pyre was erected, a tower-like structure with three stories (four in Herodian's description, built like a lighthouse), adorned with gold and ivory and statues, and on the top of this was the gilded chariot which Pertinax used to drive. Into this pyre the bier was placed and the funeral offerings. Then, Severus and the relations of Pertinax having kissed the image, the emperor mounted a platform, and the senators from raised seats viewed what followed. When everything was prepared, the praefects and the knights, and the cavalry and infantry, went through their customary and their elaborate (πολιτικὰς καὶ ποιητικὰς) evolutions round the pyre (cf. Verg. A. 11.188); the consuls applied the torch, and when the fire had caught an eagle soared up aloft. Herodian's account of the apotheosis of Severus is not materially different, except that for seven days previously the gradual death of Severus is acted, a waxen image taking the place of the emperor, physicians visiting it, and so forth. The orientalized [p. 1.143]character of the whole proceeding is obvious: and for this Preller (Röm. Myth. p. 787) refers to the description of the pyre of the Assyrian Hercules in K. O. Müller, Kleine Schriften, 2.102 seq., to the obsequies of Hephaestion (Diod. 17.115), and the elder Dionysius (Ath. 206).

The oldest custom carried the dead to heaven on an eagle (Artem. Oneir. 2.20), and this is the most common figure on the representations of apotheoses. But we find Augustus represented on a Paris cameo as borne on a winged horse; and in the apotheosis

Medal of Antoninus Pius, representing the funeral pyre at his Consecratio. (Brit. Museum.)

of Antoninus and Faustina the winged genius of Eternity with two eagles carries them to the skies. On the triumphal arch of M. Aurelius the younger,

Consecratio of Antoninus and Faustina, from pedestal of Column of Antoninus Plus.

Faustina is borne aloft by a winged genius holding a torch. On a medal we see Julia Domna soaring up on the back of a peacock, Juno's bird.

The new god is represented with the caput radiatum (cf. Verg. A. 12.162), first adopted by an emperor while alive by Nero (Eckhel, D. N. 8.467);--the nimbus first on the coins of Antoninus

Medal of Julia Domns, on the back of a peacock. (Brit. Museum.)

Pius, regular after Constantine (Preller, p. 784):--the image of the deified emperor no more appears in the funerals of his family (D. C. 56.46), but his statue appears among the statues of the gods at the games, on a tensa drawn by four elephants, symbols of eternity (D. C. 74.4; Eckhel, 7.144, 328). This is not exclusively confined to the gods, for in the 3rd century it was also used in the case of triumphs over the Parthians (Capit. Gord. 27). All these accompaniments of divinity appear on the coins representing consecration,--the caput radiatum, eagle, peacock, pyre, altar, tensa drawn by elephants: further, the star on the coins of Julius; the phoenix, another symbol of eternity, on Trajan's coins, &c. For a full account see Eckhel, D. N. 8.456-473.

Outside the imperial family we sometimes find examples of deification. Antinous, the favourite of Hadrian, is the best known example (Orig. in Celsum, 3.36): it reminds us of Cicero and Tullia. Survivors are prone to imagine blessedness for the loved and lost: e. g. the Carpocratians, a Gnostic sect, built a temple to the son of their founder, who died young (Friedländer, 3.456), and the same impulse may be seen in inscriptions (Orelli, 4647, 4530; Henzen, 7418). Men, too, paid worship to their human ideal: thus Plato, after his death, was regarded by some of his followers as son of Apollo (Zeller, 2.1, 378, note 3, ed. 1875). Much of the sincere and lasting adoration paid to M. Aurelius (Capit. M. Ant. 18) was probably due to this impulse. Alexander Severus used to offer religious rites to many holy souls,--to Apollonius of Tyana, Christ, Abraham, Orpheus, “et huiuscemodi ceteros” (Lampr. Alex. 29).

(For apotheosis the chief works are F. G. Welcker, Griechische Götterlehre, 2.294-316, 1863; L. Preller, Römische Mythologie, 770-796, 1858; Gaston Boissier, La Religion Romaine, 1.109-186, 1878; and Eckhel and the inscriptions passim. Besides this, additional information may be obtained in Mommsen-Marquardt, 2.731-740, 783 seq., 1078; 6.89, 264-5, 443-455; Baumeister in his Denkmäler, pp. 109-111, and Mayor on Juv. 4.71, and Index.)


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    • Homer, Odyssey, 4.5
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    • Ovid, Fasti, 5
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    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 9.15.1
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