IMPERIAL CULTS AS RELIGION
The preceding five chapters examined specific imperial cults in their historical social contexts. I organized the analysis according to the people and groups that sponsored the cults: province, cities, groups, and individuals. This typology is imperfect, for many cults cross these categories; I have carefully pointed out the limits of such an analysis. The advantage is that we are forced to look more closely at the ways in which these institutions functioned in the lives of communities. With attention to social context, cultic format, and the demographics of participation, I hope to build a more nuanced explanation of the institutions.
The result is not a homogenous abstraction, but a reconstruction of imperial cults as one aspect of an evolving polytheistic system. Imperial cults did not compose an independent, mythic worldview; they were a distinguishable part of their broader, polytheistic cultural context. As such, they did not need to shoulder the whole burden for the religious life of the communities in which they were practiced. Rather, the worship of the imperial families and institutions constituted an identifiable feature of the larger symbolic world of Greco-Roman polytheism.
Imperial cults tended to fulfill particular needs within this polytheistic society. My goal in this chapter is to illuminate the religious profile of imperial cults in that setting, drawing from materials discussed in earlier chapters. The sections of the chapter are arranged in the categories of cosmogony, cosmology, human maturation, and eschatology, and the concepts of discourse and contrapuntal interpreta