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  • Der römische Kaiser und das Land am Nil: Kaiserverehrung und Kaiserkult in Alexandria und Ägypten von Augustus bis Caracalla (30 v. Chr. – 217 n. Chr.)
  • Michael Peachin
Stefan Pfeiffer. Der römische Kaiser und das Land am Nil: Kaiserverehrung und Kaiserkult in Alexandria und Ägypten von Augustus bis Caracalla (30 v. Chr. – 217 n. Chr.). Historia Einzelschriften, 212. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2010. Pp. 378. €67.00. ISBN 978-3-515-09650-8.

With the work especially of Duncan Fishwick, Simon Price, and Ittai Gradel tending nowadays to set the stage, our appreciation of worshipping, honoring, [End Page 145] and just generally perceiving the Roman emperor has progressed apace. The present book by Stefan Pfeiffer is an important and fascinating contribution to this discussion.

What Pfeiffer offers is an exhaustive study of both the cultic veneration and the diversified honoring of Roman emperors (down to Caracalla) in Egypt. The book is admirable in several large, or conceptual, ways. First, Pfeiffer takes very great pains to distinguish sharply between actual (cultic) worship of an emperor and the various mechanisms for honoring him; nonetheless, in doing this, he allows the ancients’ less-than-absolute posture regarding the distinction between gods and humans to stand. All of this results in a highly nuanced approach to the material examined here. Second, every conceivable type of evidence is scrupulously mustered in the construction of arguments: papyri (including, n.b., Demotic and Hieroglyphic texts); inscriptions; other material remains of various sorts. In this regard, Egypt is conducive to an exceptionally rich discussion, and Pfeiffer beautifully exploits this potential. Third, though hardly least, the simple fact is that we have not had, two dissertations aside, this kind of study for Egypt before.

A first section very carefully distinguishes (theoretically) between practices involving worship of emperors and those that reflect honors showered upon the monarch, and a second section lays out the various “Strukturfragen,” which are crucial because this study is focused on the highly multicultural Egypt. Pfeiffer offers an impressively thorough overview of the Egyptian evidence concerning each of the emperors he treats (41–216). This part of the book could easily and profitably be used as a history of the Roman emperors from Augustus to Caracalla in their relationships with the province. Thereafter, we proceed to sections on: emperors as (Ptolemaic) basileus and (Egyptian) pharaoh; imperial cult as it was communally organized in the metropoleis; honoring (again, in strict opposition to worshipping) emperors in Egyptian temples; how the more lowly people both honored and worshipped Roman emperors.

Let me try to isolate just a few of the important results here. First, Pfeiffer shows how, as in so many other areas and ways, Augustus forcefully set the stage for all that would come later. He also is careful to point out that there was no one formulaic “Kaiserkult,” which was assiduously disseminated by the central government to all the provinces. Instead, Rome sanctioned, e.g., the construction of temples, the appointment of priests, and the creation of festivals, all of which variously involved worship and/or the honoring of emperors, which in turn resulted in a “veritable” centralized “Kaiserkult.” In the specific case of Egypt, Pfeiffer argues that probably right after the provincialization, a system did come down from Rome (either directly from the emperor, or perhaps with significant impetus from the prefect), whereby each metropolis officially and communally began to worship the emperor in the context of a local sebasteion or kaisareion. As he shows plainly, though, this was a new Roman confection, and was not somehow an uncomplicated continuation of Ptolemaic ruler-worship. The only emperor known to have received his own temple was Hadrian. Pfeiffer also reveals the whole apparatus of imperial cult in Egypt to have been overseen by the archiereus of Alexandria and Egypt, and he argues that this position was probably more an administrative than a religious one. Then, in the book’s final section, Pfeiffer makes a persuasive case for fairly widespread private worship (and, of course, honoring) of the emperor by the common folk. [End Page 146]

In sum, Pfeiffer has produced a very significant contribution to our understanding of how populations over the Roman Empire approached...


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