Human Gods: Divus and Sanctus

The Sacred College of the Cult of the Gods of the Antonine Imperium has issued a decree recognizing the status of divus (divine) and sanctus (holy) for various persons. See the new page at right for the Sacred College for details. In general, the Sacred College accepts the status of divus or its equivalent that was granted to various members of the Ptolemaic dynasty and various Roman emperors by the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is the opinion of the Sacred College that the people so selected may receive the customary honors and rites that are offered to the heroic dead and the honored ancestors. Divus is an ancient title. Sanctus is a new concept, inspired by the usage of this term by the Ekklesia Antinoo.

No one is required to worship these honored persons, but we should remember them. Reflect upon their lives, their accomplishments, successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies.

These persons have been accepted as divus: Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I, Berenike I, Ptolemy II, Arsinoe I, Ptolemy III, Arsinoe II, Ptolemy IV, Cleopatra VII, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Lucius Caesar, Gaius Caesar, Livia Drusilla, Claudius I, Poppaea Sabina, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Plotina, Matidia I, Marciana, Hadrian, Sabina, Antoninus Pius, Faustina I, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, Faustina II, Pertinax, Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Severus Alexander, Julia Maesa, Gordian I, Gordian II, Gordian III, Philip I, Philip II, Decius, Valerian, Gallienus, Claudius II, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, Galerius, Julian.

The title of divus has been granted to the following persons: Marcus Antonius, Aelius Caesar, Mindia Matidia II, Zenobia, Maxentius, Maximinus Daia.

The title of sanctus has been granted to the following persons: Marcus Agrippa, Maecenas, Otho, Caenis, Germana, Herodes Atticus, Lucilla, Flavius Eugenius, Arbogast.

The title of divus has been revoked for the following persons: Constantius I, Jovian, Valentinian I, Valens, Valentinian II.

The following persons have been condemned: Helena, Constantine I, Constantius II, Gratian, Theodosius I.

The title of divus was discontinued after the time of Theodosius I and the Sacred College makes no judgment on the succeeding emperors of Rome and Constantinople, other than to condemn their religious intolerance.

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Published in: on April 21, 2011 at 9:25 pm  Comments (7)  
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  1. Just curious, but why’d you revoke Valens’ status as divus? Although he was an Arian he seemed fairly tolerant on religious matters – especially in comparison to his contemporaries – and Theodoret even claimed that he permitted the worship of Dionysos once more:

    “At Antioch Valens spent considerable time, and gave complete license to all who under cover of the Christian name, Pagans, Jews, and the rest preached doctrines contrary to those of the Gospel. The slaves of this error even went so far as to perform pagan rites, and thus the deceitful fire which after Julian had been quenched by Jovian, was now rekindled by permission of Valens. The rites of the Jews, of Dionysos and Demeter were no longer performed in a corner as they would have been in a pious reign, but by revellers running wild in the forum. Valens was a foe to none but to them that held the apostolic doctrine. Against the champions of the apostolic decrees alone he persisted in waging war. Accordingly, during the whole period of his reign the altar fire was lit, libations and sacrifices were offered to idols, public feasts were celebrated in the forum, and votaries initiated in the orgies of Dionysos ran about in goatskins, mangling dogs in Bacchic frenzy.” (Ecclesiastical History 4.21; 5.20)

    • That was a difficult decision, but I decided in the end that none of the officially Christian emperors should have the title of ‘divus’. I was aware of the quote about Valens that you provided on your other blog. Thanks for posting that. Valens might qualify as ‘sanctus’ rather than as ‘divus’. He died with his troops in the Battle of Adrianople in 378 ce, the battle that marked the military turning point in the decline of Rome.

      Some of the other people on my list might be regarded as controversial. Otho, for instance, is usually dismissed as a non entity by historians but I think there is more to him than is readily apparent. Was Livia Drusilla, the wife of Octavius, a respectable Roman matron or a scheming witch who used magic to dispose of her husband’s enemies? What about Claudius I – a nice old man with scholarly interests, or a skilled poltician who arranged for the assassination of Cleopatra’s grandson Ptolemy, with the blame placed on the Emperor Gaius, and then arranging for the murder of Gaius himself? There are unresolvable shadows over some of these people. I have personal reservations about people such as Julius Caesar and Trajan, were they war mongers or patriots?, but their deification was widely accepted in the ancient world. I would have preferred that Antonius and Cleopatra had been victorious, but their ultimate death at the hands of Octavius Augustus does not diminish the achievement of Octavius in creating a Roman government that provided a high degree of peace, stability, and prosperity for the Empire for almost 300 years.

      • Interesting, and very understandable, to see that you have some personal reservations about some of the people on the list.

        Speaking of controversy, is the “Gaius Caesar” listed the Emperor Gaius, aka Caligula? If it is a different Gaius Caesar, please ignore the following questions.

        I know that Caligula’s claims to divinity in his lifetime were…innovative, but do you know if they were accepted after his reign?

        Or is the status of divus unrelated to his other claims of divinity?

  2. Very good stuff!

    I just have one question/clarification: even though the HA indicates that Hadrian refused the deification of Aelius Caesar, the imperial cult calendar from Doura-Europos indicates that he was honored as a divus on his birthdate in January. So, should he be in your first list rather than your second, I wonder…?!?

    I like that you’ve added Lucilla to the Sanctae as well; but, I wonder, do you think Appia Annia Regilla, Herodes Attikos’ wife, who was heroized after her death, is also deserving of addition to one of your lists? If not, no big deal…just wondered. 😉

  3. I listed Aelius as a “new recipient” of the title of divus because I was not sure about his ancient status. Most modern historians say that “divus” was denied to him, even though the Doura calender says otherwise. I wonder if that status was awarded after the death of Hadrian. There are some other people of uncertain status that I just guessed as to which list they belonged to. The two Philips, for instance, might not have been declared divus, but then again they might have been, so I put them in the first list.

    Appia probably does belong among the Sanctae, as do a number of other people who were of beneficial and significant cultural or religious importance in ancient society. They would have to be included in an additional list to be published at some future date.

    In general I wanted this initial list of divi and sancti to be consistent with actual ancient practice, with a few extras thrown in. I also have an unspoken rule that people have to be dead for 1,500 years or so before they can be considered as divi or sancti (in the absence of any divine revelations to the contrary anyway).

    Antinous, of course, is not included in these lists because of his special status: he is deus and theos rather than divus, as revealed after his death as a mortal human through his own revelation and that of the other gods.

  4. Never mind, I opened the document and saw that it was Octavian’s adopted son. Thanks!

    • Thanks for the question! If they had lived longer, either of Octavian’s adopted sons Gaius and Lucius might have become emperor. They appear to have been good people.
      The bad guy, Gaius(Caligula), has been condemnd by both ancient and modern historians. Interestingly enough, Gaius(Caligula) was a direct descendent of Marcus Antonius and one of Marcus’ Roman wives (grandson or great grandson, I forget which). His bad reputation might be somewhat exagerrated, then again maybe not.


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