Bachelor of Arts
Department or Program
Greek and Roman Studies
Professor Barbara Olsen
Professor J. Bert Lott
This thesis attempts to analyze the Roman Senate’s actions during the importation of three different gods — Cybele, Asklepios, and Bacchus — into Rome during the Middle Republic (400-133 BCE) in order to deduce how the Senate manipulated these religious events to increase their own power and reinforce elite, Roman social norms. Religious events of such importance would not normally be so closely monitored by the Senate, but rather, specific colleges of priests. However, in looking at the ancient narratives of these events, this is not the case.
In order to explore this idea of Senatorial manipulation, the three case studies have been carefully chosen. The first chapter will center on Cybele, the second on Asklepios, and the third on Bacchus. The Cybele and Asklepios narratives share many similarities that allow for a fruitful comparison of supposedly perfect importations. In both of these instances, the Senate is able to tie the importation to a concurrent political event which allows them to extend their sphere of influence further into the religious sphere and create a situation in which they are made stronger.
Bacchus, the third imported god whose story will be looked at, underwent an altogether different sort of importation. Rather than being sought out by the Romans, the Senate saw the incursion of the Bacchic cult as parasitic. They argued that this cult threatened their power and dealt with the sect accordingly.
These three narratives reveal a trend of Senatorial interference in divine importations in order to augment their power and reinforce Roman values that benefit the Senators’ position in the world.
Samolchuk, Joshua, "Delivered Divinities: Senatorial Power and Senatorial Peril in the Importation Narratives of Cybele, Asklepios, and Bacchus" (2020). Senior Capstone Projects. 981.