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A Man Among Gods: Evaluating the Significance of Hadrian's Acts of Deification

A Man Among Gods: Evaluating the Significance of Hadrian's Acts of Deification

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by Tracy Jennings
by Tracy Jennings

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Journal of Undergraduate Research on Apr 17, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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is a senior Classics major with minors in An-thropology and the Hesburgh Program in Public Service. Ater all-ing in love with Rome on a high school trip, she returned to study there at the Intercollegiate Center or Classical Studies during thespring o her junior year. She developed an interest in the EmperorHadrian when she visited his wall in England, his gate in Athens,and o course, his temple-dome hybrid called the Pantheon. As orher plans or next year, “rankly, we just dont know,” (to use the wise words o her proessor in Rome), but she hopes to nd a way back tothe eternal city. She would like to recognize Proessors Keith Brad-ley and Catherine Schlegel or their constant support and construc-tive criticism as well as UROP and the Classics department or thegenerous unding that made this essay possible and a joy to write.
A Man Among Gods:Evaluating the Signficance of Hadrian’s Acts of Deification
From 117-138 AD, when Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian)ruled the Roman empire, ve individuals received divine honorsthrough the will o this man:
his predecessor rajan, rajan’s wiePlotina, his mother-in-law Matidia, his “avorite” Antinous, andhis wie Sabina all became gods. By this period, it was not unusualor an emperor to deiy his predecessor ater a smooth transitiono power, but Hadrian was exceptional in the number o people hedeied and truly extraordinary in his deication o a person outsidethe imperial amily. Te ve acts o deication that occurred underHadrian illuminate the nature o Hadrian’s rule and the nature o emperorship during the early Antonine period. As a non-violent im-perial strategy, these acts consolidated his power as emperor both inRome and in the provinces.
What is the general significance of deification?
Deication itsel was signicant but not uncommon in the sec-ond century. Over the duration o the Roman empire, thirty-six outo the sixty emperors were named
rom Augustus to Constan-tine.
Tis term, once synonymous with
(god), became used ex-clusively or deied imperial members ater the deication o JuliusCaesar in 42 BC.
In the rst recorded act o deication in Romanhistory, the Senate awarded Julius Caesar divine honors two yearsater his death, and rom this point to Hadrian’s rule, six other em-perors were deied.
journal of undergraduate research
By the time o Hadrian’s rule, each
had a state
sponsoredcult that was well-established in religious and political institutions.Te Arval Brethren, a traditional college o priests reinstituted by  Augustus to honor the emperor, sacriced oerings or the emperor’shealth on his birthday and also kept a list o the
. Te
Feriale Durarum
, a papyrus that preserves a calendar o east days celebratedby the army during the rule o Severus Alexander, shows how inte-grated the imperial cult had become in o cial proceedings, withhonors continuing generations ater deication occurred. In theeastern provinces, Hellenistic ruler cults had conditioned people tohonor the emperor as a living divinity, but Republican Rome reject-ed the institution o kingship with strict rules limiting the durationo leadership. When the Republic collapsed, Augustus took publicmeasures to distance the emperorship rom a monarchy and rejecteddeication while he was still living. Augustus, as the rst and longest-reigning emperor, set the stan-dard or uture rulers to hold supreme religious, military, and politicalpower. Imperial authority was based on control o these three arenasin Roman society, although Augustus ceremonially downplayed theauthoritarian elements o the emperorship. In public monumentsand iconography, he was represented as the rst among equals, thebest citizen (
civilis princeps 
 A name the Senate bestowed upon Au-gustus late in his rule was
 pater patriae 
(“ather o the atherland”), which appropriated the patriarchal and hierarchical social structureto the system o governance. At the same time, this system was held in tension by what An-drew Wallace-Hadrill calls “the autocratic reality” and “the elaborateand yet transparent republican açade.”
He theorizes that imperialbehavior was shaped by two precedents: rst, Hellenistic ruler cults, which required an active display o rulers’ elevation over ordinary people, and second, the traditional Roman ideas o the Senate’s po-litical supremacy, such as
(“liberty” or political reedom),leaders as private citizens, and the patronage system. Te
civilis prin-ceps 
pater patriae 
concepts appeared to deer to the latter system,

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