Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Roman worship of Hercules

In his discussion of Roman religious beliefs, Dr. Fagan mentioned that in the later imperial period, Diocletian and Maximian promoted the worship of both Jupiter and Hercules as the recognized patron gods of the empire.

"The emperors of Rome had long associated themselves with the hero Hercules, known to the Greeks as Herakles. His exploits and 'labors' had been celebrated for many centuries, and demigod Hercules came to represent strength, virility and power - all personal features that were important to an emperor. There were countless minor emperor-associations with Hercules earlier in the empire, as well as several blatant ones: Commodus donned the lion's skin on coins and medals late in his reign, Caracalla was likened to Hercules (and his brother Geta to Bacchus), and Gallienus often promoted his Herculean efforts by striking coins and medals with just such an association. We certainly must include Postumus, the Romano-Gallic rebel who founded his own separatist empire, as chief among rulers who likened themselves to Hercules. The Tetrarchy created by Diocletian in 293 was a logical expansion of the Diarchy he founded in 285 by hailing Caesar his comrade-in-arms Maximian. The arrangement became more logically structured in 286, when Diocletian raised Maximian from Caesar to Junior Augustus. In this Diarchy there were two divine associations, which, in terms of describing the dynastic structure, came to be known as 'houses.' The Senior Augustus, Diocletian, chose as his patron the supreme deity Jupiter (Jove), whereas Maximian adopted the mythological hero Hercules: hence the common reference to the Jovian and Herculian houses of the Tetrarchy."