Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.06.32

U.M. Liertz, Kult und Kaiser. Studien zu Kaiserkult und Kaiserverehrung in den germanischen Provinzen und in Gallia Belgica zur römischen Kaiserzeit. Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae XX.   Rome:  1998.  Pp. 250.  ISBN M.  

Reviewed by David Potter, The University of Michigan
Word count: 1260 words

Uta-Maria Liertz's volume on the "worship and veneration" of the emperor in the Germanies and Gallia Belgica is a useful contribution to an area that has recently benefited from a number of genuinely important books. Her key point emerges from the title. This is the distinction that she sees between Kaiserkult and Kaiserverehrung, the one term being used to cover cases in which the emperor is the object of cult, the other being those cases where people demonstrate their devotion to him by recommending his safety to a divinity.

After a brief (but pointed) introduction, the book divides into two parts. In the opening section L. reviews the evidence for diverse forms of cult, city by city. Beginning with Germania Superior she works her way north to Gallia Belgica with impressive thoroughness, tracing the existence of priestly offices, be they sacerdotes, flamines or collegia of seviri Augustales where they exist. In the second section she offers a more integrated discussion of what she sees as basic issues in regional ruler cult. The topics are suggested to her by her texts rather than by any global theory of the way in which the cult operated. Thus her first section is devoted to the groups whom she sees as offering private cult to the emperor (various collegia and soldiers). The second treats the emperor as a cult object, ordinarily in association with Roma, the Lares Augusti, the genius imperatoris and finally the numen Augusti. In the third section she examines the cult of the "so-called" imperial virtues (a rather odd way of describing dedication pro salute imperatoris, Victoria Augusta, felicitas Augusti etc.). The artificiality of this category appears in her treatment of CIL xiii 7417 where she offers pro salute et victoria et reditu imperatoris, leaving one to wonder why the imperial return which is grammatically equated with the salus and victoria of the emperor should be separate (p. 145). The presence of the emperor was just as important as his safety and victory. The fourth section collects "loyal addresses" in honorem domus divinae and pro salute imperatoris (which again raises some questions about her categories in part 3). The fifth category offers an analysis of divinities that are invoked in connection with the emperor (see below).

L. rightly takes the evolution of the imperial cult in the German provinces, and in Gallia Belgica, as a measure of the spread of Roman institutions. She notes that Augustus instituted a provincial cult at ara Ubiorum to parallel Drusus' establishment of the ara Romae et Augusti at Lyons in 12 BC, and that under Tiberius this was transformed into the cult of Roma and divus Augustus. She supports Fishwick's view that there was no change in the status of these celebrations (i.e. to include the reigning emperor) under Claudius, the famous temple at Camulodunum being intended as one to Roma and divus Augustus which only became a temple to divus Claudius after his death in 54.1 Under Vespasian, as Fishwick (followed by L.) has argued, the provincial cult linked Roma with both the deified and living emperor.2 By the Severan period the emperor was associated with a range of divinities, which had the implicit effect of raising the emperor to a superhuman level. On an ideological level, this may be true, but it might also be taken as a sign of something slightly different. The imperial cult was an institution through which the ideals of the ruling power could be communicated at the local level. By expanding the range of gods with whom the emperor could be associated, the institutions of the cult enabled provincials to place the emperor more firmly in a context meaningful to themselves. L.'s specific observation that the emperor himself is always found in the radius of other divinities, making it incorrect to say that he was the object of cult himself, is true (pp. 210-211). But it may not do justice to the importance of the imperial cult as an institution that provided a common language through which conceptions of power, both human and divine, could be expressed.

In the case of the German provinces assimilation of imperial vocabulary to other religious contexts may be seen in the association between the emperor and Mercury, or, rather the association of Mercury with the power of the Augustus. A temple was built for Mercurius Augustus at Cologne in the reign of Titus. L. sees this dedication as lying at the interstices of the well known Roman interpretation of a Germanic High God with Mercury and the local response which accepts the identification of the local God and makes the point that he is the High God by giving him the epithet Augustus (pp. 177-78). Thus too with texts such as 1974 n. 512 (pp. 180-83): [I](ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) / [I]unoni Minervae / Volcano Aug(ustis) sac(rum) or Nymphis Augg(ustis) in 1977 n. 666 (p. 165) she is interested in the fact of association. In doing so she remains on safe ground, but these texts do raise a slightly different question: is such binary opposition viable? The use of Augustus in such contexts is identical to the use of sebastos in the east. It reveals the process by which the title of the emperor came to be associated with the concept of supreme power. Insofar as this is the case, the division between Kaiserkult and Kaiserverehrung, between interpretatio romana and interpretatio gallica, becomes a bit more complex. Indeed, in an ideological sense such distinctions lose much of their relevance. Kaiserkult is thus the celebration of supreme power as manifested through the existence of the domus divina, the diverse interpretationes are submerged in the notion of power, and they cease to be so localized. For just as Mercurius might become Augustus in this way so too did the God Maragzu in North Africa become Maragzu Augustus ( 1996 n. 1705).

On an organizational level, cult of any sort reifies local power structures. What is interesting here is that, despite the initial parallel between the cult of Roma and Augustus at ara Ubiorum, there is no developed provincial cult of the Augusti in either of the Germanies or in Gallia Belgica. The flamines and sacerdotes Augusti are figures of local significance associated with municipal cults of the emperor, sometimes operating with a collegium of seviri Augustales, which was formed out of private initiative. In some places it would appear that the seviri operated without a single flamen, possibly a sign of the later urbanization of the region in question. Aside from the chronological suggestion, L. offers no explanation for this phenomenon, and she is probably correct to do so as the evidence is so limited as to make speculation pointless (p. 107). What is perhaps most interesting about all of this is that it did not follow the pattern of the tres Galliae to the south and that the ara placed in the land of the Ubii did not become a focal point for regional cult the way that the ara at Lyons did.

The collection of evidence and its clear exposition make this a useful book. Students of the Roman west will benefit from her effort. While one might question the wisdom of her choice to work so directly from texts rather than with the aid of broader explanatory models that might help the reader understand the conceptualization of supreme power on the northern frontier more clearly, the plain statement of the evidence is needed. Her discussions of the broader points are good and I hope that she will discuss them further.


1.   D. Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West 1 (Leiden, 1987), 214.
2.   L. p. 10; Fishwick, The Imperial Cult, 1, 276.

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