Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.12.24 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.12.24

Takashi Fujii, Imperial Cult and Imperial Representation in Roman Cyprus.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2013.  Pp. 248.  ISBN 9783515102575.  €44.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Søren Lund Sørensen and Kristina Winther-Jacobsen, University of Southern Denmark; University of Copenhagen (;

Table of Contents

This book is an adapted version of Takashi Fujii’s Heidelberg dissertation of 2010. The aim of the Fujii’s study is to "examine the imperial cult and other types of imperial representation in Cyprus while it was under Roman rule from the end of the first century BCE to the end of the third century CE," with a particular focus on the epigraphic evidence from the island (11). The book is divided into three parts: "The Emperor in the Wide Spectrum of Representation" (21-91); "Political and Social Settings of the Imperial Cult" (93-123) and "Imperial Cult in the Socio-Political Framework of Cyprus" (125-160). An appendix includes a catalogue of the 90 inscriptions (all related to the imperial cult) quoted throughout the book (161-209). This catalogue is compiled according to the various cities, e.g. Kourion no. 1, Kourion no. 2, etc., and includes Greek and Latin text, Fujii’s translation, bibliography and notes on context, date, and provenance.

Fujii’s work is extremely well structured with an introduction and conclusion to every chapter as well as an overall introduction and conclusion to this well-written study.

Preceding the first chapter is a useful map of Roman Cyprus (9) and an introduction to the whole book. The introduction describing the purposes of Fujii’s work is interwoven with reflections on earlier scholarship as well as the relevant methodology. Thus, it is somewhat confusing to find the various purposes of the study spread out over this ten-page introduction (11; 12; 17; 19). In the introduction Fujii places his work on the imperial cult in Cyprus in the context of studies written on the imperial cult in others provinces and admits that the choice of Cyprus resulted in part from considerations of scale: the size of the island and the number of inscriptions meant that the topic could be studied in a doctoral thesis (14).

Chapter 1: "Emperors Represented in the Greek Language" (23-36) examines titles assigned to emperors and members of the imperial family in Cypriotic inscriptions. This chapter should be read together with table 1 (210-211). Fujii argues that θεός very often renders the Latin divus and should therefore not be translated with god. According to Fujii, θεός is a technical term dependant upon a consecratio in Rome. (24-25). Fujii, however, admits that we find inscriptions in Cyprus styling Tiberius and Nero θεοί, even though they were never declared divi in Rome. So perhaps θεός in Cyprus comprised a wider semantic field than the Latin divus (30).

With Dion Cassius 51.20 in mind, Fujii states that the koinon would have avoided using θεός for living emperors in the sense of “god” so as not to upset the senate in Rome (31). On an individual level, however, there was no problem in styling Nero or Tiberius θεός during their lifetime, since this would never reach the senate in Rome (Lapethos no. 2 and Salamis no. 8). Fujii’s interpretation leads him to translate θεός variously as Divus (Amathous no. 1), divine (Kition no. 1) and god (Keryneia no. 1). Can we really expect that every literate Cypriot knew how to distinguish between these three meanings of θεός when reading an inscription? Fujii concludes this chapter by stating that θεός was a title referring to a specific emperor, whether dead or alive, while σεβαστός was a generic and anonymous title (36).

Chapter 2: "Imperial Statues" (37-56) should be read together with table 2 (212-213). This chapter examines the material evidence for statues of the emperors and their immediate families including eight sculptures (no table, number reconstructed from notes) and 39 inscriptions (table p. 44). To Fujii the problematic distinction between cultic and honorific is a key element in identifying material evidence for imperial cult. The parameters of the analysis include “statue-habits” and the “textual structure” of the inscriptions. The reference supporting “statue-habits” is a seminar held in Oxford (note 13); Fujii might have done better to refer to, e.g., the studies of Jane Fejfer, which are, admittedly elsewhere cited in chapter 2.1 As stated by the author in the conclusion “the context and implications are not always straightforward”, and the data set is very small. Fujii sees the high proportion of Julio-Claudian dedications as a product of the family’s close connection to the Paphian Aphrodite. Another possibility is a continuation of well-established Ptolemaic traditions at the sanctuary studied by Anastassiades as referred to by the author himself (38).2

Chapter 3: "Status of the Emperor in the Civic Landscape" (57-75) examines the presence of the imperial cult in temples, gymnasia and theatres in Cyprus. There were no temples built solely for the cult of the emperor (61), and Fujii argues that the religious landscape underwent minimal change with regards to the imperial cult. The emperors were theoi synnaoi and almost always inferior to the traditional deities, e.g. Apollon Kaisar in the company of Apollon Hylates. (64; 74-75).

Chapter 4: "A Cypriot oath of allegiance to Tiberius" (77-91) examines the imperial oath from Cyprus (Paphos Vetus no. 8) and compares it to other imperial oaths. This chapter is among the most interesting and innovative in Fujii’s book. First of all, Fujii proposes a new reading of line 21. Instead of ψηφίσασθαι (Mitford), Fujii settles for the noun ψήφισμα and makes it dependant on the infinitive εἰσηγήσεσθαι. Fujii’s translation reads ‘to propose a decree’ (77).

The gods invoked in the oath comprise Greek, Roman and Cypriot deities. According to Fujii, Augustus is subsumed under the local gods in this formula implying a “ritual transfer” of the Roman emperor into the local pantheon. The words καὶ τὸν ἔκγονον τῆς Ἀφροδίτης Σεβαστὸν θεὸν Καίσαρα are very important for Fujii, as they make Augustus the descendant of the main goddess of the island, Aphrodite (83). This interpretation is not necessary, as the invocation formula might just as well be referring to the connection of the gens Julia with Aphrodite/Venus.

Fujii notes the lack of any divine epithet concerning Tiberius: Only Augustus is θεός (82). Fujii compares this with the imperial oath from Neapolis in Pontos, where Augustus is lacking divine titles.3 This he interprets as a reluctance to include divine epithets when referring to living emperors leading Fujii to suppose that the oaths of Cyprus and Neapolis were oaths promoted by the local koina. In the oath from Neapolis the living Augustus is, however, referred to as θεοῦ υἱοῦ. Furthermore, the emperor is invoked alongside the other gods, and the inscription states that the oath was taken at the altars of Augustus in the temples of Augustus. Whether or not these temples were joint temples, it is hard to deny the fact that Augustus was taken to be a god in Neapolis in Pontos as well as in Paphlagonia where the oath was first taken. That the koinon took the lead in promoting the oath rests on the assumption that divine epithets were avoided. In Anatolia they weren’t. Furthermore, we have no knowledge of a koinon with its seat in Gangra, as Fujii indirectly supposes (88-89). That the invocation of τὴν κοινὴν τῆς νήσου βουλαίαν Ἑστίαν (Paphos Vetus no. 8) refers to the koinon of Cyprus is less clear to the reviewers (81; 88). The Greek does no more than refer to the common hearth of the island. The inscriptions from the island that mention the koinon never refer to this hearth. That Roman officials were involved in the promotion of the oath, as Fujii hesitatingly hypothesises (89-90), is a much more straightforward interpretation of the oath in the context of the other imperial oaths, where we find references to Roman magistrates presiding at the taking of the oaths, e.g. Conobaria, Assos, Aritium as well as Pliny’s letters 10.52 & 53 (which are not referred to by Fujii).

Chapter 5: "Communication through the Imperial Cult" (95-110) analyses the cult of the emperor on three levels: regional (koinon), civic and individual. Koinon relations with the emperors are very few in Cyprus and are limited to a one-way communication. There are no statues in Cyprus known to have been set up by the koinon (53; 104-105). The koinon only sent a statue to the Olympieon in Athens, and we find no letters from Rome addressed to the koinon. It is to the civic and individual levels that we must look for religious and political activity (105-110). There is no indication of rivalry over temples and titles as is the case with other provinces, but there is ample evidence for the individual rivalry of ambitious Cypriots trying to position themselves in Cypriot society via the imperial cult. This is the only time Fujii deviates from his structure in order to introduce new arguments in the conclusion of a chapter (109-110), but this is Fujii at his very best. Fujii convincingly dismisses the relevance of the theory of imperial cult as a do ut des-relationship for Cyprus and instead argues that participation in the cult was a means of maintaining power.

This is also the argument of chapter 6: "The Imperial Cult in the Socio-Political Framework of Cyprus" (111-123), where Fujii illustrates how the same families maintained power by holding the office of high priest of the imperial cult through generations (116-120). Involvement in the cult does not, however, seem to have elevated any Cypriots to the status of senator in Rome (120-123).

Chapter 7: "Festival" (128-133) looks at festivals introduced under the principate and argues that these festivals were incorporated into the context of traditional deities thereby implying a “ritual transfer of Roman emperors into a local context. There is, unfortunately, no clear evidence that these festivals were celebrated in the context of the traditional deities.

The final chapter: "Emperors and Time" (135-156) examines the introduction of regnal years and calendars as examples of communication between Cyprus and Rome. Dating according to the reign of an emperor comes as no surprise, and Fujii focuses on the so-called Romano-Cypriot calendar. By analogy with I.Priene 105, Fujii credits the koinon with the introduction of the calendar. There are six inscriptions dated by this calendar (152-153), none of which are related to the koinon. Other calendars were used at the same time, and Fujii has to resort to medieval texts to fill out the remaining months of this calendar. The calendar as a means of communication with Rome and the koinon as its instigator do not appear convincing on the basis of the available sources.

In the introduction Fujii raises the question of Romanization but does not return to it until the last pages of the conclusion (159-160), where he briefly states that the incorporation of the imperial cult into Cypriot society was "a localisation of the imperial power in the periphery" rather than a centre-periphery relationship. Throughout his book Fujii does, however, make valuable use of the concept “ritual transfer” as formulated by Angelos Chaniotis (13). Furthermore, Fujii deserves credit for having translated all the inscriptions in his appendix, illustrating his full command of Greek and Latin.

Even though the reviewers do not agree with Fujii on the amount of communication between Cyprus and Rome or the koinon’s supposed role in promoting the oath and the calendar, this does not diminish the value of this book as a very important contribution. Chapters 4 and 5 represent significant new contributions to the study of imperial oaths and imperial cult participation as an important means of social and political navigation. Fujii’s book is a learned and very important work that should be read by everyone interested in Cyprus and the imperial cult in general.


1.   E.g. chapter on “Statuary formats and statuary body types” in J. Fejfer, Roman Portraits in Context, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008, 393-404.
2.   A. Anastassiades, Πάφος καί λατρεία Πτολεμαίων: Μερικές παρατηρήσεις, RDAC 2001, 223-231.
3.   OGIS 532.

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