Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: July 2010




In this book I analyze the related inter-workings of power and religion in the Roman empire by studying the religious involvements and interests of the Roman imperial senate and individual senators in the first two and a half centuries of the empire, from the reign of Augustus to the death of Severus Alexander. Augustus' establishment of a concentration of religious and political power in the same imperial hands offered a new central image of the emperor as prime sacrificer, an unprecedented development in Roman history. Analyzing the dynamics of this new conjunction of politics and religion, this study explores changes that found their way also into the coming of Christianity as Rome's state religion. Religion in Rome once functioned mainly as a polis religion and was therefore within the purview of the senatorial elite. I propose that in the empire religion came to play a new and prominent role in the processes of claiming and negotiating power relations between the emperor and the senate; along the way, the notion of power itself underwent a transformation. The position of the emperor was theorized and performed, in part, in religious terms. Similarly, individual senatorial posts gained religious significance, however political they might appear to us. Further, the divine associations of imperial power became part of a complex web connecting socioeconomic elements (such as the notion of Roman social order or the habit of euergetism) to transcendental notions of what makes a good leader, and in ways that approach what would later be considered theological ideals.