Emperor Worship During the Early Church

The worship of Roman emperors— the imperial cult—was established during the reign of Augustus (27 BC to 14) and spread throughout the empire. The Roman Senate was able to give the status of divinity to de- ceased emperors, and also to some family members. The temples of Ro- man emperor worship served a State religion that transcended and unified individual pagan gods.

Initially, emperor worship was developed because local people desired it. Over time, however, emperor worship became a required test of loyalty to the Roman empire. Anyone who refused to perform the rituals of emperor worship would be punished, and often killed. Under emperor Claudius (41– 59), Jews were given full exemption from emperor worship, but this was not the case for Christians. As a result, thousands of Christians were martyred for refusing to participate in emperor worship.