Saturday, April 15, 2017

[Dissertation] Cult and Calendars in the Ancient Empires of Qin, Han, and Rome

Rebecca Robinson

McGill University

Department of History and Classical Studies



Cult and Calendars in the Ancient Empires of Qin, Han, and Rome is a comparison of reforms made to imperial cult and calendar during the formative years of empire.  As distinct from ruler cult, I define imperial cult as cult activity worshiped both by the emperor and on his authority.  The early years of the Qin Han and Roman empires saw imperially-sponsored cult increase dramatically, and saw the positioning of the person of the emperor at the centre of all cult activity.  In both empires, reforms to state cult and calendars were initiated as part of a larger program of consolidating power around the person of the emperor.  Despite the very different challenges facing the emperors of Han and Rome, there is a remarkable similarity in the areas in which they chose to consolidate their power, as well as the methods through which they carried out their reforms.  In both empires, the rulers sought the advice of advisors from outside of the traditional elite, incorporating astronomical and religious knowledge from diverse regions and peoples.  This outside knowledge and practices were then incorporated into state cult, reshaping the way that the emperors and their subordinates worshipped.  I argue that these reforms to cult, and the incorporation of outside knowledge, was fundamental to the consolidation of power in the person of the emperor. 

Examining the expansion of cult practices, calendrical reforms, and spectacular performances, the dissertation uncovers the processes in the transformation of imperial cult to fit the changing needs of empire.  Rather than seeking parallels in belief systems or cult practice, the dissertation compares the ways in which religious institutions both shaped and communicated a new imperial order.  The juxtaposition of the two societies reveals not only the similarities and differences in these processes, but also the biases of historical sources and subsequent scholarship in both fields.

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