Featured Elagabal - The sun god of Emesa

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Nov 25, 2020.

  1. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member

    The following is my reply to a discussion that Jochen links to above, proposing that the star in rev. field of some of Elagabalus' coins represents Halley's Comet, which is reported to have been observed in the Mediterranean sky in 218 AD. I couldn't manage to register at that other discussion site, so am posting my reply here instead.

    A very interesting and well-presented discussion!

    According to my own unpublished research, at the beginning of 220 AD a star was placed in the reverse field of all Rome-mint coins of Elagabalus, including the coins he struck for his mother, grandmother, and successive wives.

    In the course of 221, however, four emperor-sacrificing reverse types were introduced for Elagabalus, and the so-called horn was added to his obverse portrait. From now on the star continued to be placed in the reverse field of all of Elagabalus' coins, but it was omitted from the types that he produced for his family members, namely Julia Soaemias (type VENVS CAELESTIS seated), Julia Maesa (type PVDICITIA seated), Aquilia Severa (2nd marriage, type LAETITIA standing), and Severus Alexander as Caesar (various types). This restriction of the star to the coins of Elagabalus himself after mid-221 fits well with Herodian's account that towards the end of the reign Julia Maesa persuaded Elagabalus to concentrate on his duties as high priest of his Emesan sun god, and to accordingly adopt his cousin Severus Alexander and make him Caesar, so that he could take over for Elagabalus the business of ruling the empire.

    Soon after the introduction of Elagabalus' four emperor-sacrificing types in mid-221, however, quite a few denarius reverse dies of each type were mistakenly engraved with the star placed behind the emperor, so had to be corrected by eradicating those misplaced stars from the dies and engraving new stars in what was obviously understood to be the proper position, that is in front of the sacrificing emperor. You show in your discussion above one such denarius with a partially eradicated second star behind the emperor; failure to entirely eradicate the second star doubtless stands behind Cohen's description of some such coins as showing two stars. These corrections would appear to be very strong evidence that the stars on Elagabalus' coins were meant to represent not the comet which had been seen in 218, but rather the sun god to whom the coin types of 221-2 depicted the emperor sacrificing, and whose image should therefore be placed before rather than behind him. I admit however that I don't know how to explain the tails that are sometimes added to the stars in front of the emperor, which could be taken as indicating that they represent comets.
    Amit Vyas, Shea19, Aestimare and 6 others like this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    @Jochen1, always an education and a pleasure to read your posts. The many added coins and notes from @curtislclay show the magic of CT threads. Here's my coin, with star, to add.

    Am I seeing things or does the right-most standard cover a second star?
    Elagabalus sacrificing.jpg
    Elagabalus (218-222), AR Denarius, Rome, AD 221
    Obv: IMP ANTONINVS - PIVS AVG, laureate, horned, cuirassed and draped bust right
    Rev: P M TR P IIII COS - III P P, emperor standing left, sacrificing out of patera over altar and holding branch on left, star above patera on his right, two standards on his left.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2020
  4. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    I searched for a long time for the fate of the stone of Emesa, but found no answer. Do any of you know what has become of it? Or has it simply been lost in the course of time?

    Best regards
  5. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Yes appears to be "lost" - here's a reference mentioning this and a much smaller black stone of Ka'bah in Mecca.
    This article also perhaps interesting as it mentions the black stone as originating as a meteorite.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  6. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @Sulla80 Yes, that sounds very likely.

  7. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member


    I think no second star behind the emperor on your denarius, just the two lower serifs of the S in the legend which are reminiscent of the rays of a star.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2020
  8. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Ahh - I think I was looking lower at the two below the circle on the standard?
  9. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member

    Oh, those are just decoratians of the standard, which are frequently shown in this type. See BMC pl. 93.6: similar "rays" on both standards, before and behind the emperor.
    Sulla80 likes this.
  10. Cicero12

    Cicero12 Supporter! Supporter

    A fantastic post about an extremely interesting and enigmatic character! I wish I had a stone of Emesa aureus to share-it is definitely on the list!
  11. gogili1977

    gogili1977 Well-Known Member

  12. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Great write-up, Jochen. I always feel about 25 IQ points smarter after I read one of your posts (that puts me up in the mid-90s!).

    Here is Elagabalus with Sol and the star (comet?) to the right, rather than the left.

    Elagabalus - Den. SOLwhip Aug 2017 (0).jpg

    Elagabalus Denarius
    (220 A.D.)
    Rome Mint

    IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG, laureate draped bust right / P M TRP III COS III P P, Sol, radiate, advancing left raising hand, & holding whip, (faint) star to right.
    RIC 28b; RSC 154; BMC 179.
    Note: star usually to left.
    (2.80 grams / 18 mm)
    7Calbrey, Aestimare, Bing and 3 others like this.
  13. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Interesting coin. This is one of the irregular types that Curtis Clay pointed out.

    Marsyas Mike likes this.
  14. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Here's the "long-tailed" version of the star/comet, horned bust:

    Elagabalus - Den. SOLIS Feb 2017 (0).jpg

    Elagabalus - Den. SOLIS Feb 2017 (4).JPG
    Elagabalus Denarius
    (218-222 A.D.)
    Rome Mint

    IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG laureate, draped, horned bust r., SACERD DEI SOLIS ELAGAB, Elagabalus, in priestly robes standing right, sacrificing over altar, holding patera and club star with long tail in field
    RIC 131; RSC 246; Sear 7542.
    (2.49 grams / 18 mm)
    Jochen1, Aestimare, Sulla80 and 2 others like this.
  15. Aestimare

    Aestimare Active Member

    It’s always a pleasure to read you, @Jochen1, and @curtislclay.

    @curtislclay, your theory is very interesting, but I I’m not sure the place of the star could be strictly linked to Elagabalus. This coin is an example : Rauch Auction 85 (26.11.2009) Lot 697 .

    No priest in this case, and thus, the star on the right seems to have been erased, probably before the left one was carved.

    I take advantage to present two plates, I’m happy to share, formerly a die link study, but that can be useful here either. I hope you’ll appreciate, even though in French. I apologize.
    sans = without
    boeuf = bull
    autel = altar
    étoile = star
    corne = horn
    même coin = same die
    ses RIC 323d2 20,04g = Berlin Museum 18257347
    ses RIC 323d2 corne 25,20g = eBay numismatiklanz 372667272000
    ses RIC 326d2 21,11g = CNG 69, Lot: 1673
    ses RIC 326d2 corne 23,20g = CNGtcs 757145
    ses RIC 326d2 var 23,30g = British Museum R.16084
    ses RIC 327d2 corne éd 21,45g 21,42g = CNG 97, Lot: 686
    ses RIC 327d2 corne égDeff 19,63g = CNGea 286, Lot: 365
    ses RIC 327d2 éd 23,60g = CNG 84, Lot: 1097
    ses RIC 327d2 ég 20,12g = NAC 052 Lot: 1163
  16. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Another example of a star not fully eradicated:
    Elagabalus. 218-222 AD. AR Denarius (18mm; 2.62 gm; 12h). Rome mint. Struck 221-222 AD. Obv: Laureate and draped bust right, with “horn” on forehead. Rev: INVICTVS SACERDOS AVG, Elagabalus standing left, holding patera in right hand over lighted altar and cradling club (or cypress) in left arm; recumbent bull behind altar; star to left and right. RIC IV 88; Thirion 261; RSC 61c.
    Amit Vyas, Aestimare, Jochen1 and 3 others like this.
  17. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member


    The star was confined to coins of Elagabalus only after the introduction of the four emperor-sacrificing types in mid-221.

    The Providentia-standing coin you show was struck earlier in 221, so at a time when the star was still being placed in left or right field on all coins of both Elagabalus and all of his family members.

    Two stars on the denarius you show is interesting, perhaps just an engraver's error. No attempt seems to have been made to eradicate the second star behind Providentia.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2020
  18. Julius Germanicus

    Julius Germanicus Well-Known Member

    So the tradtional dating of this Sestertius to 220 AD by Sear et al. is wrong because there should have been a star from the beginning of 220 and the absence of a star should place this after mid 221?

    Bildschirmfoto 2020-11-29 um 21.52.47.png
    Would this mean that the Venus standing type (always with star) predated the Venus seated type (without star)?
  19. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member

    Correct: VENVS CAELESTIS standing, always with star, early 220 to mid-221;

    VENVS CAELESTIS seated, always without star, mid-221 to March 222.
  20. Aestimare

    Aestimare Active Member

    Thank you very much @curtisclay for your answer.

    You’re right, my observation was wrong : the right star doesn’t seem to have been eradicated. It’s just smaller. And your theory’s still plausible then, and very interesting.

    If I may be allowed to say it, couldn’t the star coins appear later in 220 considering the TR P III ex. without stars that exist (RIC 27 common, and some others rarer) ?
  21. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member


    Elagabalus' antoniniani and denarii in Rome-mint style but with obv. legend IMP ANTONINVS AVG were in my opinion all produced at a branch mint, which indeed remained in operation at the beginning of the emperor's TR P III, as shown by the TR P III Jupiter seated type that you cite, but which never added a star to its reverse types, so is irrelevant to the question of when the mint of Rome added that star.

    Consider the relevant dated coins of the mint of Rome: TR P II Sol standing, always without star, 18 such denarii in the Reka Devnia hoard; TR P III Sol advancing, always with star, 143 such denarii in the hoard. The TR P III type is so common that it very likely began quite early in the year, indeed probably at the very beginning of the year, as the continuation of the TR P II Sol standing type of the preceding issue. There are, indeed, a few TR P III mint of Rome middle bronzes that still omit the star (Thirion 157a and 168-9), but these cannot push the date of the introduction of the star more than perhaps a week or two past 1 Jan. 220, and maybe not at all, because they could be New Year's issues dated to after 1 January, but actually produced a couple of weeks earlier, so before the introduction of the star.
    Marsyas Mike, Jochen1, eparch and 2 others like this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page