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The Divinization of Caesar and Augustus, by Michael Koortbojian

Precedents, Consequences, Implications

Reviewed by W. Jeffrey Tatum

The invention of Divus Iulius entrained important issues of representation. Ought there to be a recognisable distinction between Caesar-The-Great-Man and Divus Iulius? And, if so, what should Divus Iulius look like? And what should be the chief significations of his divine aspect? These questions, and the further inquiries they provoke, lie at the centre of Michael Koortbojian’s fascinating and enjoyable book.

In his lifetime, Caesar was the recipient of divine honours, a practice (adapted from the protocols of Hellenistic monarchy) that was, by the second half of the first century BC, far from novel in Rome. But, Koortbojian insists, Caesar, however much he was likened to the gods, was not one of them until after his death. This claim is not uncontroversial. Still, that the distinction between being god-like and being a god was by no means a negligible one, at least for some Romans, is perhaps illustrated by Antonius’ hostility, after the assassination, toward Caesar’s spontaneous and unofficial worship in the forum and his apparent, if short-lived, resistance to Caesar’s deification. Even before Caesar’s status came into question, during the 70s, a society of hard-headed publicani were insistent that anyone who had once been mortal could not, in any real sense, become a god (or at least not a god who was immune from taxation), a claim that was prominent enough to be the object of a consular inquiry and a senatorial decree (SIG3 747=RDGE 23; cf. also Cic. Nat. D. 3.49; Paus. 1.34.1;Liv. 45.28; still very much worth consulting is T. Mommsen, Hermes 20 (1885), 268ff.). This issue, although not discussed by Koortbojian, and too often mentioned only in passing in discussions of republican religion, is pertinent to Koortbojian’s argument here. In any case, for Koortbojian the job of fashioning the image of Divus Iulius began in 42 BC, after the triumvirs’ establishment of the new god. Between that moment and the dedication of the temple to Divus Iulius in 29, robust experimentation intervened, as the Roman establishment endeavoured to settle on the god’s proper form and function.

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