Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.06.04

Panagiotis P. Iossif, Andrzej S. Chankowski, Catharine C. Lorber (ed.), More than Men, Less than Gods: Studies on Royal Cult and Imperial Worship. Proceedings of the international colloquium organized by the Belgian school at Athens (November 1-2, 2007). Studia Hellenistica, 51.   Leuven:  Peeters, 2011.  Pp. 728.  ISBN 9789042924703.  €97.00.  

Reviewed by Seb Nichols, Durham University (

Table of Contents

This 51st addition to the Studia Hellenistica series provides a scope of study which goes far beyond the Hellenistic period itself and deals with Graeco-Roman royal and imperial worship as a whole, albeit with particular emphasis on the Greek world. This collection was originally a set of papers delivered at the Belgian School of Athens and provides a wide-ranging, comparative approach to the problem of ruler cult in its many forms. As Iossif and Lorber state in their concluding notes, the purpose of the published collection is to act as “demonstration project, with the goal of opening new perspectives in the study of Graeco-Roman ruler worship” (692). Many of the articles challenge traditional scholarly approaches to ruler cult, and particularly the dichotomies that characterise our understanding: supposed contrasts between human and divine (although this is hardly a new concept: Gradel demonstrated this in admirable clarity, as the editors themselves acknowledge);1 East and West; Greek and Oriental; and imposition and spontaneity of cult in its origin. The book is extremely successful in achieving the goal set out by Chankowski, Iossif and Lorber: whilst it does not necessarily present entirely novel arguments, it does open the way for a more balanced study of ruler cult as a whole by dealing conclusively with many of the problematic assumptions in the field.

The papers are assembled chronologically but the organization encourages comparative study, which, as Chankowski establishes in his introduction, is essential for highlighting the variety of facets evident in ruler worship. The book is divided into four sections: pre-Hellenistic cult, Hellenistic cult, Roman cult and Arsakid cult. The editors argue that adopting a chronological approach allows a clearer understanding of the influences of both pre-Hellenistic (particularly Achaemenid and Pharaonic) cult and Arsakid cult on Graeco-Roman worship, and that this is preferable to attempting to define it by contrast. This approach is successful to a certain extent, since the influence of pre- Hellenistic cult is clear to see. However, including a single paper on Arsakid royal cult at the end of the Roman section is somewhat disruptive. Furthermore, the editors offer nothing to bring together individual sections, nor are the sections divided from one another. Whilst this might assist the continuity of the volume, one feels that the editors could have far better achieved their purpose in highlighting the influence of one culture on another by offering a conclusion to each section. This is particularly true of the gap between the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Although the influence of one on the other is occasionally hinted at (by Iossif and Lorber in their conclusion, especially), this is not very clear from the papers themselves. As a result, the collection has a somewhat disjointed feel that detracts from the potential impact of the essays.

Its effectiveness is also slightly hampered by some curious editorial decisions. For example, much of the content of Iossif and Lorber’s conclusion would have been better placed in the introduction. Whilst Chankowski’s introduction is clear on the overall approach of the collection as well as the limitations of evidence available, the overall purpose is far more clearly discussed in the conclusion. The brief summary of each contributor’s work, which is also found in the conclusion, would benefit the reader far more in the introduction.

The first section is devoted to pre-Hellenistic practice. The pre-Hellenistic section begins with an article by Mark B. Garrison, who discusses the iconography on the tomb of Darius I at Naqš-e Rustam and compares it with seals from the Persepolis Treasury. This essay is particularly accessible for those with limited exposure to Achaemenid culture and iconography. Haim Gitler explores the spread of Achaemenid iconography on coinage in Palestine in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Claude Baurain discusses the influence of the Teukrid rulers of Salamis (particularly Evagoras I and the discourse of Isocrates) on Hellenistic ruler cult. This article provides a thorough introduction into the discussion of Hellenistic cult, and as such fits well with the comparative approach set out by the editors.

This Hellenistic section begins with an excellent article by Angelos Chaniotis on the ithyphallic hymn to Demetrios Poliorketes. This hymn, as he himself observes, features prominently in many literary approaches to Hellenistic cult, making his close study essential. It is impressive both in its detail and in its use of contemporary material, both hymnic and otherwise. Particularly effective is the way in which Chaniotis has related features of the hymn – such as Demetrios’ physical presence, efficacy, and willingness to listen to prayers – with religious thought and practice as expressed elsewhere. Oliver D. Hoover goes on to discuss the taurine iconography of Seleukos I, arguing convincingly that this was intended as a multicultural approach, appealing to Babylonian and Iranian religious ideals, as well as to the more familiar Greek ones. Hoover’s chapter is followed by Panagiotis P. Iossif’s study of the use of Apollo Toxotes on the coins of Antiochus I. Iossif offers some fascinating and plausible conclusions, particularly regarding the connection of the archer and the divine king. Together with Hoover’s article, it provides an excellent overview of Seleucid religious thought and iconography. Also interested in iconography is Catharine Lorber, who discusses the role of the aegis in Ptolemaic art and its relationship to Pharaonic art, as well as Ptolemy’s claim to be the successor of Alexander. This fascinating area of iconography has been in great need of focused study and its significance and implications could be discussed still further. Hans Hauben also discusses Ptolemaic Egypt, namely Ptolemy III and Berenike II and their self-association with cosmic entities. Dimitris Plantzos discusses the association and identification of Ptolemaic queens with Isis, drawing on a variety of representations. His chapter offers a novel approach to the problem of treating statues as Isis. He asserts that, first and foremost, they should be considered statues of Isis before attempting to identify links to particular queens, rather than beginning with the assumption that they necessarily are identified as these queens. Finally, François de Callataÿ and Catharine Lorber discuss the use of Royal epithets on Hellenistic coinage. Although, as they admit, this leads to an imbalance (the Ptolemies do not issue epithets on coins, as a general rule), their assessment of the geographical distribution of these epithets is excellent and they assemble a catalogue which will no doubt prove essential to future study. Overall, this section is extremely strong, covering a wide variety of approaches, many of which were overdue for such attention.

The section on Roman ruler cult is, sadly, somewhat weaker, particularly because little attention is given to the role of the emperor in Roman state cult; the focus is instead on provincial, particularly eastern, cult. Whilst Western cult has already received considerable attention (from Fishwick and Gradel, amongst others),2 more discussion of this alongside Eastern cult would give the section more balance – particularly since one of the stated aims of the volume is to discuss the dichotomy between East and West. Furthermore, almost no coverage is given to the distinction between living and dead emperors. Although the genius is mentioned briefly by Janneke de Jong as the Latin equivalent of Tyche, the role of the worship of the genius, as opposed to the divi, deceased emperors voted divine honours by the Senate, is not explored at any great length by any of the contributors. The section begins with Emmanuel Voutiras’s discussion of the honours offered to Mark Antony at Thessalonika following his benefactions, with particular attention given to the manner in which the city attempted to appease Octavian after Actium by adopting the cult of divus Iulius. Fernando Lozano then addresses the traditional assumption that Eastern cults arose spontaneously while Western ones were imposed. His evaluation of these two separate dichotomies is excellent and contributes hugely to the goals of the volume and points to several directions for future study. Maria Kantiréa goes on to demonstrate several of Lozano’s points in her study of cult at Pergamum, Athens, and Ephesus, revealing the role of local religious tradition in the establishment of ruler cult. Mika Kajava discusses a large number of dedicatory inscriptions and attempts to categorise them according to function and grammatical case. His demonstration that it is not possible to clearly delineate between honorific and sacred inscriptions furthers the aims of the volume in challenging traditional viewpoints. Ziad Sawaya discusses the numismatic evidence for imperial cult in Phoenicia: the relation between cult and the status of cities is a fascinating one and is explored in excellent detail. Janneke de Jong discusses the evidence of Greek papyri for emperor worship in Roman Egypt, discussing temples, imperial days, oaths and titulature. The essay could have pursued in more depth the idea that the emperor inherited from the Ptolemies the role of Pharaoh.3

Antonio Invernizzi is the sole contributor on Arsakid cult. His chapter discusses the excavations of the fortress of Mithridates at Nisa and its ritual functions. Unfortunately, it is not entirely clear how this essay serves the aims of the editors: its relation to the other sections is not immediately apparent, and as such it is unclear how far the editors’ comparative approach should be adopted. In the absence of more contributions on Arsakid cult, some editorial comment or summary would be particularly valued here.

This book is clearly not designed for a newcomer to the field of ruler cult. Many of the articles are clearly targeted, if not at specialists, at least at those with some experience of the subject. These reservations, and those expressed above, are fairly minor, however. It is on the whole an important collection whose value lies in the breadth of comparative material covered by the contributors. Although this breadth comes at the expense of coherence (which should perhaps have been addressed by the editors), it nevertheless successfully challenges some of the common perceptions found in scholarship on Graeco-Roman cult, in both origin and practice, and provides new perspectives which will undoubtedly encourage future study.


1.   Gradel, I. 2002. Emperor Worship and Roman Religion. Oxford.
2.   Fishwick, D. 1987. The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire. Leiden.
3.   Further discussion of such ideas is found in Lewis, N. 1983. Life in Egypt under Roman Rule. Oxford.

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