Local References in the Letter of Smyrna (Rv 2:8-11), Part 4: Religious Background -- By: David E. Graves

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 19:3 (Summer 2006)
Article: Local References in the Letter of Smyrna (Rv 2:8-11), Part 4: Religious Background
Author: David E. Graves

Local References in the Letter of Smyrna
(Rv 2:8-11), Part 4:
Religious Background1

David E. Graves

Role of the Imperial Cult

The worship of the Emperor was an important part of Smyrna’s culture from early in Rome’s rise to power. Kistemaker writes that in order to make the spirit of Rome concrete throughout the empire,

Romans presented the emperor as its embodiment, and thus worship of the emperor arose. Although some of the first emperors disparaged this worship, the population energized it to the point that the emperor was considered to be divine (2001: 121; cf. Barclay 1957: 32; Blaiklock 1983: 5.462).

The origin of the goddess Roma cultus can be traced in the Greek world to the city of Smyrna, modern Izmir, Turkey, because of her need to invent and maintain a relationship with Rome (Potter 1992: 6.74; Mellor 1975: 14–15). In 195 BC, while Antiochus III (223–187 BC) was at the height of his power, Smyrna was the first Ionian city to establish a templum urbis Romae (Latin “temple to Roma,” Tacitus 1989: 4.37-8; Ramsay 1979: 253–54; Barclay 1957: 30–31; Yamauchi 1980: 57–58; Kistemaker 2001: 121; Grant 1963: 927),2 the center of the imperial cult. Mellor points out that

after more than two centuries, the temple of Roma at Smyrna still served its original function: to flatter Rome and thereby secure favors for Smyrna (1975: 14).

In AD 26, according to Tacitus, the Commune Asiae (Latin) decreed a second temple (Cadoux 1938: 239; Tacitus 1989: 4.56) to the goddess of Rome (Dea Roma, Latin), resulting in envoys from 11 cities vying for the privilege of construction. Tiberius heard the arguments and narrowed the decision down to Sardis and Smyrna (Tacitus 1989: 4.55; Mellor 1975: 14; Ramsay 1979: 254; Friesen 1993: 15–16; Aune 1997: 160; Cadoux 1938: 239; Swete 1957: lxi). Tacitus goes on to describe the arguments of the Smyrnaean orators:

The envoys from Smyrna, after tracing their city’s antiquity back to such founders as either Tantalus, the son of Jupiter, or Theseus, also of divine origin, or one of the Amazons, passed on to that on which they chiefly relied, their services to the Roman people, whom they had helped with naval armaments, not only in wars abroad, but in those under which we struggled in Italy. They had also been the first, they said, to build a temple in honour of Rome, during the consulship of Marcus Porcius Cato, when Rome’s power indeed was

Statue of a priest of the imperial cult at Smyrna. (30 BC-AD 395, Archaeolo...

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