Rituals of power : the Roman imperial admission from the Severans to the fourth century
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My PhD analyses the imperial “admission” (the so-called “salutatio” and “adoratio”) from the Severans to Constantine and argues that this ritual played an active role in the construction of imperial power. Chapter 1, 2 and 4 focus on the development of the admission from the first century to Constantine I and provide a detailed reconstruction. Drawing on Clifford Geertz’s interpretive approach, I argue that the admission during the Principate presented the emperor as a traditional primus inter pares and that this continued under the Severans. This continuity heightened Severan power and legitimacy. The presentation of the emperor in his admission changed markedly in Late Antiquity as the monarchic and divine qualities of the emperor were stressed, which contributed to a thorough reorientation of the narrative of imperial power and legitimacy. The field of embodied cognition illuminates how such narratives were internalised by participants. Despite these discontinuities, elements of continuity between the Late Antique admission and the Principate persisted, and I argue that the imperial “salutatio” and “adoratio” were two manifestations of a long tradition of imperial admissions. In Chapter 3, 5 and 6, this institutional focus is paired with an exploration of how Cassius Dio, Claudius Mamertinus and the Historia Augusta’s anonymous author used the admission. I argue that this ritual plays a central role in all these authors’ construction of the good emperor, especially when emphasising the importance of civilitas. These authors’ literary representations of the admission also aimed to shape its ritual narrative, thereby undermining or supporting imperial self-presentation. This highlights that not only the emperor but also the elite could derive power from the admission. This is supported by Chapter 7 which argues that participation in the admission ensured the elite influence and power, since this ritual constituted a highly reliable context for petitioning the emperor.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2026-02-10
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Electronic copy restricted until 10th February 2026
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