Featured Aurelian Reestablishes Sun God Worship

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, May 11, 2018.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    After the emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (more commonly known as Elagabalus) was assassinated by the praetorian guard, worship of the sun god was suppressed in Rome for half a century. Why would that be? To understand, we need a little background on the nature of the cult of the sun god under Elagabalus.

    Elagabalus is not just the nickname of the Roman Emperor, but was first and foremost a Syro-Roman sun god. Other variations of the name include Aelagabalus and Heliogabalus. However, I shall use Elagabalus, because the god was consistently referred to by this name on Roman coin inscriptions during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (AD 218-222), such as SACERD DEI SOLIS ELAGAB. Elagabalus is the Latinized form of the Semitic Ilāh hag-Gabal, which derives from Ilāh "god" and gabal "mountain" (compare Arabic: جبل‎ jabal). The word means "the God of the Mountain."

    The god Elagabalus was highly venerated in Emesa (modern Homs), Syria, the home of Julia Domna and her sister, Julia Maesa, the grandmother of the emperor Elagabalus. In his early youth, the future emperor Elagabalus served as high-priest of the god Elagabalus in Emesa.

    After becoming Roman emperor at barely 14 years of age, he replaced the traditional head of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter, with the deity Elagabalus and forced leading members of Rome's government to participate in religious rites celebrating this deity, over which he personally presided.

    Although ancient historians characterize him as being "in every respect an empty-headed young idiot" (Herodian, V.7.1ff), and his reign is perhaps best known in modern times for its salacious sex-scandals, it was Elagabalus' impiety in elevating a foreign god above Jupiter himself that led to his assassination by the praetorian guard in AD 222 (Dio, LXXX.11.1) and for sun worship to be suppressed thereafter.

    Fast forward 50 years to AD 272. Engaged in the the campaign against Zenobia, an apparition of a "divine form" is said to have appeared to Aurelian's troops on the eve of the Battle of Emesa (Historia Augusta, XXV.3, 5). Having emerged from the battle victorious, Aurelian entered the city and went to the Temple of Elagabalus, where the apparition again appeared to him, with the result that Aurelian made a vow to the God in thanksgiving for his victory in battle.

    Aurelian triumphantly returned to Rome two years later, after recovering the Gallic Empire, and was hailed as Restitutor Orbis, "Restorer of the World." Aurelian decreed a magnificent temple to Sol Invictus ("the invincible sun") be erected in the Campus Agrippae in Rome, funded by spoils from his campaign against Palmyra, and he dedicated it on December 25, AD 274.

    Aurelian's vow to Sol was repeatedly celebrated in numismatic iconography and Sol Invictus appears on numerous reverse types and denominations issued during his reign. This recent addition to my collection is an example.

    This reformed antoninianus of the mint of Rome depicts Sol Invictus holding an olive branch and bow and treading on an enemy in Oriental costume. In the exergue, the initial R(oma) follows the mark of the reform XXI. Normally, a Greek officina letter appears before the XXIR on this issue; however, on this coin from the 9th officina, a star in the left field allows the letter Θ (= the Greek numeral for 9) to be circumvented. The letter was considered a bad omen, being the first letter of thanatos, the word for death, and which was used in funerary epigraphy.

    Post your Sol Invictus coins, your Aurelians, your Elagabalus coins -- anything you deem relevant!

    Aurelian ORIENS AVG antoninianus.jpg
    Aurelian AD 270-275.
    Roman silvered billon Antoninianus, 3.60 gm; 21.7 mm, 6 h.
    Rome mint, officina 9, issue 11, early – September AD 275.
    Obv: IMP AVRELIANVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev: ORIE-N-S AVG, Sol walking r., holding olive branch in r. hand and bow in l. hand, l. foot resting on a captive in oriental dress kneeling on the ground to r., head turned l., r. hand raised; * in left field, XXIR in exergue.
    Refs: RIC 64; MER/RIC temp 1834; RCV 11569; Hunter 23; Cohen 159; La Venera 1321-32.
    Last edited: May 14, 2018
    Agricantus, seth77, TTerrier and 27 others like this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    What a great story! I definitely want some of these now :)
  4. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    Sweet Aurelian. Here is my Aurelian with Sol

    j9aqh1 (1).jpg
  5. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    He really seems to love treading on captives.
    Aurelian - Oriens Avg 1843.jpg

    And on the reverse of this as, photobombing Aurelian and Severina.
    aurelian as.jpg
  6. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    LOL!! I love the photobomb!
  8. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Thanks for the great post ! Gret info and History.

    No Sol Invictus here, but I do have an Elagablus and Aurelian to toss in:

    RI Elagabalus 218-222 CE AR Antoninianus Radiate Roma seated Obv-Rev.jpg
    RI Elagabalus 218-222 CE AR Antoninianus Radiate Roma seated

    RI Aurelian 270-275 CE AE Ant Concordia-Milit.jpg
    RI Aurelian 270-275 CE AE Ant Concordia-Milit
  9. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    What a fantastic write up @Roman Collector ! I really would like to get an Elagabalus coin showing the sacred stone being pulled by the quadriga. Until then I'll settle for this little guy.

    Roman Empire
    AR Denarius, Rome mint, struck ca. AD 218-222
    Obv.: IMP CAES ANTONINVS AVG; Laureate draped cuirassed bust right
    Rev.: VICTOR ANTONINI AVG; Victory advancing right, holding wreath and palm branch
    Dia.: 20.29 mm
    Wt.: 3.26 g
    Ref.: RIC IV 153
    Ex Bill Rosenblum mailbox sale 28F, Nov. 1998

    I do at least have a relevant Aurelian shown here as the restorer of the world!

    Roman Empire
    Aurelian, AD 270-275
    BI Antoninianus, Serdica Mint, struck ca. AD 274/5
    Wt.: 4.1 g
    Dia.: 25 mm, 12h
    Obv.: IMP C AVERLIANVS PF AVG; Radiate, cuirassed bust right.
    Rev.: RESTITVT ORBIS; Woman standing right presents wreath to Aurelian standing left holding spear, star between, KAA in exergue
    Ref.: RIC 288

    Queen Zenobia and her son being presented to Aurelian
  10. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Redditor Lucis Aeternae

  11. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Very interesting write-up Roman Collector, and beautiful examples throughout.
    Very interesting about the 9th officiana's star symbol as a way to circumvent a superstition - I did not know that.

    There is some speculation that December 25th became our Christmas celebration date because of the Festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti - there's a bit on that in Wikipedia. I think Aurelian's coins have been sold commercially (overpriced) as being from "The Father of Christmas." He sure doesn't look like Santa to me...

    Anyway, here is my only decent Aurelian, a Sol stomping-on-a-captive type:

    Aurelian - ORIENS AVG ant Mar 2018.jpg

    Aurelian - ORIENS AVG ant Mar 2018a.jpg

    Aurelian Antoninianus
    (c. 270-275 A.D.)
    Rome Mint

    IMP AVRELIANVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust right / ORIENS AVG, Sol walking
    left, holding globe and raising right hand, foot on one of two bound captives. Mintmark X.
    RIC 62, X; Cohen 154.
    (4.22 grams / 24 mm)
  12. Caesar_Augustus

    Caesar_Augustus Well-Known Member

    Sol on the reverse of this follis of Licinius I:

    Sol on the reverse of this follis of Constantine I:

    Very nice coins, by the way! :) I need an upgrade to my Aurelian Sol, which I'm planning on selling.
  13. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    Where to start? I decided that an Eastern Sept. Sev. was suitable.



    An Aurelian - MARS INVICTVS - Mars, Sol combo
    Another Aurelian, Mars-Sol
    Obv:- IMP C L DOM AVRELIANVS P F AVG, Radiate, cuirassed bust right
    Rev:- ORIENS AVG, Mars in military dress stg. right, holding long sceptre in left hand, receiving globe from Sol standing left, holding whip in left hand, resting with right foot on a bound captive in oriental dress seated left, head turned right
    Minted in Serdica (–/–//XXI(•)P(•)). Issue 7, Phase 2. April – November A.D. 274
    Reference:- RIC Unlisted, RIC temp #2671.1 corr. (this coin)

    Same reverse die as RIC temp #2672
    PACATOR ORBIS from Lugdunum
    A couple of Probus
  14. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..i'm with ya on that Curtisimo!.. i've wanted one since i 1st saw one and really didn't know anything on the history of it..now i REALLY want one:p
    Ryro, Roman Collector and Curtisimo like this.
  15. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    kool write-up and coin RC..it puts Elag in a different light. i have Aurelian antoninianus with a, i believe, Sol & emperor reverse and my denarius of Elag. kbaby eats Aurlieian silverwash antiochos ll lyre 004.JPG kbaby eats Aurlieian silverwash antiochos ll lyre 005.JPG sick kitty buddy elagalabus coffee 004.JPG sick kitty buddy elagalabus coffee 007.JPG
  16. Ryro

    Ryro Another victory like that will destroy us! Supporter

    Great write up @Roman Collector !
    Aurelian is one of my favourite emperors. His stories are epic!...to bad his coins generally are not. But yours is a beaut! Here are a few of mine.
    CollageMaker Plus_201846153241459.png

    270-275CE Antoninianus.
    Siscia. Obv: IMP
    Radiate, draped, and
    cuirassed bust right.
    Rev: IOVI
    Emperor standing right,
    holding scepter, receiving
    globe from Jupiter standing
    left, holding scepter.
    RIC 227.

    CollageMaker Plus_20184520495995.png

    270-275 CE Siscia.
    Antoninianus. Armored
    bust with Ray Crown R.
    RS: Fortuna enthrones L.
    With rudder and
    cornucopia, on the side
    wheel. C. 95. R.I.C. 220

    CollageMaker Plus_201845204813292.png

    270-275 AD CE
    Antoninianus. 274 AD Cyzicus.
    VS: Imp C AVRELIANVS avg.
    Bust with Ray Crown and tank
    RS: ORIENS avg/XXI. Sol with
    raised right and globe standing
    to the left, tied captive to his
  17. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Sol may have taken a break at Rome but he was active in the Empire.
    Gordian III Oriens

    Philip II Sol

    Valerian I Oriens x2


    Gallienus Oriens
    Aeternitas with Sol
    Claudius II Oriens rq2127fd3368.jpg
    Postumus Oriens

    Victorinus Invictus

    I have not heard that the * was used to replace theta. Are there other coins of this mint and series that show officinae one through eight? I'll need to research that question.
  18. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Fantastic post! The history of Sol worship is fascinating.

    The emperor immediately following Elagabalus avoided Sol on his early coinage, but not later on:
    Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 10.34.05 AM.jpg
    AE as, issued in 235

    Doug posted a Gallienus above. Here's another, featuring one of the winged horses drawing Sol's chariot... the coin invokes Sol's help, SOLI CONS AVG.
    Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 10.35.10 AM.jpg
    date: 267-68

    An eastern usurper not included above (Macrianus, 260-261):
    Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 10.34.52 AM.jpg

    Despite these earlier appearances, it's clear that Sol had a huge upswing under Aurelian.
    Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 10.37.30 AM.jpg

    Lastly, my favourite Constantine featuring Sol, not long before the disappearance of any pagan gods on the coinage:
    Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 10.36.48 AM.jpg
    date: 310-313
  19. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    hehe, well ya can't really blame'em for that, i mean when your cuz and former emp is kilt for dat..eh... better play that low key for the moment..^^
  20. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Yes, there sure are!
  21. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    A fine post calling attention to an important period in the history of religion. Here's my Aurelian Sol, as well as a briefer write-up I once did on the subject.


    So between 235 and 284 A.D., as many as twenty-six “barracks emperors” claimed the imperial throne. Few emperors died in their sleep; quite often they were slain by rival forces or by another ambitious general within the Roman army. Aurelian reigned longer than most: 270-275 A.D., and he was quite a formidable force, doing much to bring Rome back from the brink of collapse. This pagan emperor who allegedly persecuted Christians was also ironically significant in paving the way for Christianity, for he was devoted to the god Sol, or the sun. “Solar Monotheism,” while still spectacularly pagan, laid the popular groundwork for an empire believing in only one God. Indeed, judging by his coinage, Constantine the Great was a particular devotee of Sol Invictus, until he sees a cross in the sky and decides to become a Christian. (Some believe the “cross” was a solar halo, further syncretizing Sol and Christ in Constantine’s belief system.) The coin in the photo is one of Aurelian’s, with the reverse of Sol striding left between two bound captives and the reverse legend “ORIENS AVG,” perhaps best glossed as “THE RISING AUGUSTUS.” Here the rising fortunes of the Emperor are to be aligned with the rising Sun. Clearly Aurelian was feeling pretty good about himself—until, of course, a corrupt army secretary faked and leaked a list of men Aurelian was allegedly about to execute. These men stabbed to death one of the few capable emperors of the chaotic third century.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page