Imperial Divinity in Fourth Century Panegyric

1:00pm - 2:00pm / Thursday 11th February 2021
Type: Seminar / Category: Department
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What does it mean to call a Christian emperor a god? The persistence of the language of imperial divinity in the panegyrics of the fourth century A.D. is one of the most curious features of late antique literature. Unlike the ritual forms of the imperial cult, the continued use of such terminology has received very little scholarly attention. In this paper, I examine this phenomenon, with particular attention to the late fourth-century pagan orators, Themistius and Claudian. I take examples of their imputations of divinity to the emperor, and explore what, if any, political and religious ideologies and beliefs can be discerned from them. I argue that the language of imperial divinity was not merely ‘conventional’, but something that authors thought about and used carefully and deliberately. I make comparisons with contemporaries both pagan and Christian, including Julian, Eusebius and Pacatus Drepanius. I suggest some potential explanations, and examine how conceptions of imperial divinity intersected in subtle and complex ways with religious debates between pagans and Christians in this period.

Please email Rachael Cornwell ( or Daniel Lowes ( for the zoom link.