Invoking humans in Roman-era oaths: Emotional relations and divine ambiguity

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This article examines Roman-era oaths invoking nondeities, especially persons. It argues that rather than invoking quasi-deities or persons to be punished by the gods in case of perjury, as usually understood in the past, these invocations could have two concurrent functions: honoring the invoked persons and affirming a statement. Though such invocations had limited legal power, they were commonly practiced throughout the period, as demonstrated in various textual genres, including Latin poetry and rhetoric, texts of the Second Sophistic, Jewish rabbinical writings, and 5th-century Christian sermons. Furthermore, nondivine invocations were frequently combined and mingled with divine invocations, with only theologically inclined authors attempting to define them clearly as a separate category. This interpretation has significance for understanding some equivocal oaths, such as the oath by the emperor, as well as for our perception of oaths in general as a speech act with functions going beyond the affirmation of a statement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-410
Number of pages29
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2021


  • Awe
  • Divinity
  • Honor
  • Invocation
  • Oath
  • Roman Empire
  • invocation
  • divinity
  • oath
  • honor
  • awe

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • History


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