An imperial cult is a form of state religion in which an emperor or a
dynasty of emperors (or rulers of another title) are worshipped as
demigods or deities. "Cult" here is used to mean "worship", not in the
modern pejorative sense. The cult may be one of personality in the
case of a newly arisen
Euhemerus figure, or one of national identity
(e.g., Ancient Egyptian
Pharaoh or Empire of Japan) or supranational
identity in the case of a multi-ethnic state (e.g., Imperial Era
China, Roman Empire). A divine king is a monarch who is held in a
special religious significance by his subjects, and serves as both
head of state and a deity or head religious figure. This system of
government combines theocracy with an absolute monarchy.
1 Historical imperial cults
1.1 Ancient Egypt
1.2 Ancient China
1.3 Ancient Rome
1.4 Ancient Japan
1.5 Ancient Southeast Asia
2 Examples of divine kings in history
3 See also
6 Further reading
Historical imperial cults
Further information: List of imperial cults
Main article: Pharaoh
The Ancient Egyptian pharaohs were, throughout ancient Egyptian
history, believed to be incarnations of the deity Horus; thereby
derived by being the son of Osiris, the afterlife deity, and Isis,
goddess of marriage.
Ptolemaic dynasty based its own legitimacy in the eyes of its
Greek subjects on their association with, and incorporation into, the
imperial cult of Alexander the Great.
See also: Son of Heaven, Chinese sovereign, Religion in China, and
Emperor of China
In Imperial China, an emperor was considered the Son of Heaven. The
scion and representative of heaven on earth, he was the ruler of all
under heaven, the bearer of the Mandate of Heaven, his commands
considered sacred edicts. A number of legendary figures preceding the
proper imperial era of China also hold the honorific title of emperor,
such as the Yellow
Emperor and the Jade Emperor.
Imperial cult (ancient Rome)
Augustus as Jove, holding scepter and orb (first half of 1st century
Imperial cult of ancient Rome identified emperors and some
members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority
(auctoritas) of the Roman State. The official offer of cultus to a
living emperor acknowledged his office and rule as divinely approved
and constitutional: his Principate should therefore demonstrate pious
respect for traditional Republican deities and mores
Even before the rise of the Caesars, there are traces of a "regal
spirituality" in Roman society. In earliest Roman times the king was a
spiritual and patrician figure and ranked higher than the flamines
(priestly order), while later on in history only a shadow of the
primordial condition was left with the sacrificial rex sacrorum linked
closely to the plebeian orders.
Numitor corresponds to the regal-sacred principle in early Roman
history. Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, was heroized into
Quirinus, the "undefeated god", with whom the later Caesars identified
and of whom they considered themselves incarnations.
Varro spoke of the initiatory mystery and power of Roman regality
(adytum et initia regis), inaccessible to the exoteric communality.
In Plutarch's Phyrro, 19.5, the Greek ambassador declared amid the
Roman Senate he felt instead like being in the midst of "a whole
assembly of Kings".
Roman Empire developed the
Imperial cult gradually developed
more formally and constituted the worship of the
Roman emperor as a
god. This practice began at the start of the Empire under Augustus,
and became a prominent element of Roman religion.
The cult spread over the whole Empire within a few decades, more
strongly in the east than in the west.
reinforced it when he demanded the proskynesis and adopted the
adjective sacrum for all things pertaining to the imperial person.
The deification of emperors was gradually abandoned after the emperor
Constantine I started supporting Christianity. However, the concept of
the imperial person as "sacred" carried over, in a Christianized form,
into the Byzantine Empire.
Main article: State Shinto
Hirohito was the last divine
Emperor of Japan.
In ancient Japan, it was customary for every clan to claim descendancy
from gods (ujigami) and the royal family or clan tended to define
their ancestor as the dominant or most important kami of the time.
Later in history, this was considered common practice by noble
families, and the head members of the family, including that of the
imperial family, were not seen to be divine. Rather than establish
sovereignty by the manner of claimed godhood over the nation however,
Emperor of Japan and the imperial family stood as the bond between
the heavens and the earth by claims of descending from the goddess
Amaterasu, instead dealing in affairs related with the gods than any
major secular political event, with few cases scattered about history.
It was not until the Meiji period, that the Japanese
Emperor began to
be venerated along with a growing sense of nationalism.
Arahitogami – the concept of a god who is a human being applied to
Hirohito as he was known in the Western
World), until the end of World War II.
Ningen-sengen – the declaration with which the Shōwa Emperor, on
New Year's Day 1946, (formally) declined claims of divinity, keeping
with traditional family values as expressed in the Shinto religion.
Ancient Southeast Asia
Devaraja is the Hindu-
Buddhist cult of deified royalty in Southeast
Asia. It is simply described as Southeast Asian concept of divine
king. The concept viewed the monarch (king) as the living god, the
incarnation of the supreme god, often attributed to
Shiva or Vishnu,
on earth. The concept is closely related to Indian concept of
Chakravartin (universal monarch). In politics, it is viewed as the
divine justification of a king's rule. The concept gained its
elaborate manifestations in ancient
Java and Cambodia, where monuments
Angkor Wat were erected to celebrate the king's
divine rule on earth.
Medang kingdom, it was customary to erect a candi (temple) to
honor the soul of a deceased king. The image inside the garbhagriha
(inner sanctum) of the temple often portrayed the king as a god, since
the soul was thought to be united with the god referred to, in
svargaloka. It is suggested that the cult was the fusion of Hinduism
with native Austronesian ancestor worship. In Java, the tradition
of the divine king extended to the Kediri, Singhasari and Majapahit
kingdoms in the 15th century. The tradition of public reverence to the
King of Thailand
King of Thailand is the continuation of this
ancient devaraja cult. The
Surakarta and Sultan of
Yogyakarta are the direct descendants of the
Mataram Sultanate founded
in the late 17th century, and was said to be the continuation of the
Ancient 8th century Mataram kingdom.
Tibetan Buddhism uses the tulku system, an ancient way of finding the
reincarnation of a previous deceased lama: they are usually young
boys, sometimes of wealthy and influential families and sometimes of
peasant families like the current 14th Dalai Lama, that are found and
enthroned as the reincarnation of an enlightened person that has
already deceased. Every tulku is still called on the title of Rinpoche
and is given as much respect as his previous reincarnation. Complying
with each and every wish of a child or adult tulku is not unusual.
Tulkus lead responsible lives because of their status as a
bodhisattva. While many tulkus are monks, some tulkus choose to lead
lay lives with families of their own.
Examples of divine kings in history
See also: Sacred king
Some examples of historic leaders who are often considered divine
Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt
Shilluk Kingdom was ruled by a divine monarchy
Ghanas (Kings) of the Empire of Ghana
God Worshipping Society
God Worshipping Society leader Hong Xiuquan, leader of the Taiping
Rebellion, claimed to be Christ's younger brother, and attempted to
establish rule as a divine king
Buddhist monk Gung-ye, King of Taebong
The Japanese emperors up to the end of World War II
Javanese Kings during Hindu-
Buddhist era (4th century – 15th century
AD) such as
Sailendra dynasty, Kediri, Singhasari and
Kings of Khmer Empire, Cambodia
The Dalai Lamas of Tibet
Kings of the Maya city-states of the Classical period
Sapa Incas in pre-Hispanic South America; considered descendants of
the sun god Inti.
Kings or Akua Aliʻi of the Hawaiian Islands before 1839
Many Roman emperors were declared gods by the
Roman Senate (generally
after their death). (See
Imperial cult (ancient Rome).)
Cult of personality
Divine right of kings
Emperor of Japan
Mandate of Heaven
North Korean cult of personality
Imperial cult in Roman Britain-Google docs
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Cult in South Asian Art & Architecture". ISBN 8189233262.
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