The Influence of Babylon, Egypt and Greece

Emperor worship inherited some of its concepts from the ancient East, where kings were considered sons of the gods. The famous legal code of King Hammurabi (ca. 1792–1750 B.C.E.) of the first dynasty of Babylon contains a description of how the god, the king and the people were bound together. When the king assumed the throne, he derived his authority to rule by grasping the hands of the statue of the god Marduk. The god thus revealed himself to the people through the king, who then became a son of the god, and his rule could not be questioned.

The idea that the ruler was associated with the sun came from Egypt. The ancient Egyptians venerated Re, the sun god, and the Pharaoh was understood to be his son. In effect, the ruler was the inviolable intermediary between the people and their god. The Greeks did not share this view: their gods were much more human and visited people on earth. Further, the rule of their kings was not absolute. But when Alexander the Great visited Egypt, he was welcomed as the son of Amon-Re, the principal Egyptian god. From then on he accepted that he was the son of Zeus, the chief of the gods. Alexander was buried in Alexandria, where he was worshiped as the son of Amon. As his cult spread, temples were erected to his honor throughout Asia Minor. His successors, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, came to believe that they, too, were worthy of veneration.

It was a short step from here to veneration of the conquering Romans when they succeeded the Greeks in ruling the East. Soon temples and statues were built honoring Dea Roma (the goddess Rome), and the stage was set for the blossoming of Roman emperor worship, which proves to have a lengthy pedigree.