Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences
Date of Last Revision
Number of Credits
Bachelor of Arts
Date of Expected Graduation
Rulers at the helm of imperial states seem to be surrounded by material culture and protocol (i.e. rituals) to legitimize their position and ensure the continued loyalty of their subjects. An interesting iteration of this phenomenon are the ruler cults of the Hellenistic world, which evolved out of ancient Greek hero worship. When Alexander of Macedon began his conquests, he not only utilized the familiar aspects of the Greek cults, but he also integrated Egyptian and Persian practices in order to establish his ruler cult. Alexander’s influence was then responsible for the ruler cult spiking in popularity during the Hellenistic period. It is unlikely the concept would have spread as far and as widely across the world as it did without his powerful influence and divine status behind it. The following establishment of the Imperial Cult of the Roman Empire can arguably be credited to the Hellenistic ruler cults, with Caesar Augustus modeling many of his own strategies for legitimacy after those of Alexander. The Imperial Cult struggled throughout its long history with religious minorities in the empire, and the cult slowly fell into decline after the deathbed conversion of Constantine.
The ruler cult did not fully disappear after the fall of Rome. Instead, it inspired. In the United States of America, the ruler cult continues to survive in the form of the veneration of the presidents, most notably highlighting George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. American intellectuals have adapted ancient Greco-Roman cultic practices that connect the past with the present in a top-down process. Art and architecture are utilized to illustrate this bridge. Other common practices of ancient ruler and hero cults can also be seen being employed in order to establish legitimacy. Regardless of the time in which a society exists, the continuous and evolutionary nature of the ruler cult suggests it will maintain a presence in some capacity so long as there are rulers to worship.
Dr. Evi Gorogianni
Dr. Elisha Dumser
Dr. Michael Graham
Honors Faculty Advisor
Dr. Michael Graham
Proprietary and/or Confidential Information
Meade, Sarah, "From Homer to Rome and Beyond: A Study of the Ruler Cults of the Hellenistic World" (2023). Williams Honors College, Honors Research Projects. 1706.
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