Aeneid and the ancestor of Romulus and Remus. Being such a central figure in Roman myth, the goddess featured prominently in numismatics for nearly 500 years. She first appears on Republican coinage in the second century BC and was depicted on the folles of Galeria Valeria as late as AD 311. Venus is depicted on Roman coins with many avatars and epithets -- Venus Felix, Venus Victrix, Venus Genetrix, and so on -- but she does not appear in the guise of Venus Caelestis -- "Venus of Heaven" -- until the reign of Elagabalus, when she is used as a reverse type for coins issued for Julia Soaemias, his mother. Venus Caelestis then disappears from Roman coins altogether, with the inexplicable exception of a rare Antoninianus of Magnia Urbica some 60 years later. Julia Soaemias, AD 218-222. Roman AR Denarius, 3.02 g, 19.2 mm, 1 h. Rome, AD 220-221. Obv: IVLIA SOAEMIAS AVG, bare-headed and draped bust, r. Rev: VENVS CAELESTIS, Venus diademed and standing l., holding apple and scepter; in right field a star. Refs: RIC 241; BMCRE 45; RCV 7719 var.; Cohen 8; CRE 467. Julia Soaemias, AD 218-222. Roman AR Denarius, 3.15 g, 18.8 mm, 7 h. Rome, AD 221-222. Obv: IVLIA SOAEMIAS AVG, bare-headed and draped bust, r. Rev: VENVS CAELESTIS, Venus enthroned l., holding apple and scepter; child standing r. at her feet. Refs: RIC 243; BMCRE 55; RCV 7720; Cohen 14; CRE 465. Julia Soaemias, AD 218-222. Roman orichalcum dupondius, 11.05 g, 25.3 mm, 7 h. Rome, AD 221-222. Obv: IVLIA SOAEMIAS AVG, bare-headed and draped bust, r. Rev: VENVS CAELESTIS S C, Venus enthroned l., holding apple and scepter; child standing r. at her feet. Refs: RIC 408; BMCRE 387; RCV 7729; Cohen 20; Thirion 390. The question is why was this avatar of Venus so closely associated with Elagabalus and to no one else? Because Venus Caelestis is the Roman equivalent of the Greek Aphrodite Ourania, who was associated very early in Greco-Roman mythography with the eastern goddess named (in various languages) Astarte, Ishtar, Ashtaroth, and others. We know from ancient authorities such as Sukkunyaton, Herodotus, and Pausanius, as well as in a bilingual Greek/Phoenician inscription of the fourth century BC and a second century BC inscription from Delos, that Astarte was to be identified with the Greek Aphrodite Ourania. Astarte is unsurprisingly identified also with Venus Caelestis, and was worshiped at the temple of Venus Caelestis in Carthage, as known to Ambrose in the fourth century AD. She may have been considered too foreign to have been worshiped in Rome and to appear on Roman coins until the Severan period. The emperor nicknamed and popularly known as Elagabalus was born in AD 204 to Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus, the Praetorian Prefect under Caracalla, and given the name Varius Avitus Bassanius. In the months leading to his accession to the throne, Varius' name was changed to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus to establish himself as the illegitimate son and rightful heir to Caracalla. Some modern scholars, such as Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado, refer to Elagabalus as Varius to emphasize his true identity. Astarte was the titulary deity of Elagabalus' ancestral Avitus family and Venus Caelestis features prominently in the activities of Elagabalus. Venus Caelestis appears on a relief sculpture on a column capital found in the Roman Forum, known as Elagabal’s Idyll, and which may have originally come from the Temple of Elagabal on the Palatine. La pompa del magistrato, Musea de Aquileia, Udine. Photo: Aquileia Nostra, Udine. A two-dimensional reconstruction of the column capital depicts a female figure on a plinth raising her right arm above an eagle and grasping her drapery with her left hand. Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado, on the basis of iconography, concludes that this half-draped female figure is Venus Caelestis. Indeed, the figure is similar to this late-eighteenth century print from the British Museum collection depicting a Roman statue of Venus Caelestis in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, at the time. In a bizarre series of celestial wedding ceremonies and divorces paralleling his own earthly ones, Elagabalus, in his role as priest of Elagabal (the Syrian sun god), divorced Elagabal from Vesta and married him to Venus Caelestis, simultaneously with his own divorce from the former Vestal Virgin Julia Aquilia Severa and marriage to Annia Faustina. This series of celestial marriages was one of many religious acts Elagabalus performed that offended the Roman ruling class. The young emperor replaced the traditional head of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter, with the deity Elagabal and forced leading members of Rome's government to participate in religious rites celebrating this deity, over which he personally presided. It was this impiety in elevating a foreign god above Jupiter himself that led to his assassination by the praetorian guard in AD 222 and for sun worship to be suppressed for decades thereafter. The Roman people had had enough of Elagabal and of Venus Caelestis and they vanished from Roman coinage for half a century until Aurelian reestablished sun-god worship in AD 274. Post anything you feel is relevant, of course! ~~~ 1. RIC5 / The Roman Imperial Coinage, vol. 5. Part 2: Probus to Diocletian, p.185, no. 345. See here for the example in the British Museum collection. Why this eastern goddess should appear on the coins of Carinus, whose family originated in Gaul, is puzzling. 2. Perhaps the most well-known discussion of Aphrodite Ourania occurs in Plato's Symposium (180d ff.) in which Pausanias points out that there are two kinds of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. First, there is Aphrodite Ourania ("Heavenly Aphrodite"), the daughter of Ouranos, with whom he associates "Heavenly Love." Second, there is Aphrodite Pandemos ("Common Aphrodite"), daughter of Zeus and Dione, who is considerably younger than Heavenly Aphrodite, and with whom he associates "Common Love." 3. Susan Ackerman, "'And The Women Knead Dough': The Worship of the Queen of Heaven in Sixth-Century Judah", in Peggy L. Day (Ed.), Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel, Fortress Press, 1989, pp. 109-24 (111-112). 4. De Arrizabalaga y Prado, Leonardo, and de La Fuente, Marcos Raúl. Varian Studies. Vol. 2, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017, p. 265. 5. Ambrose. The Letters of S. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan: Translated, with Notes and Indices. J. Parker, 1881, p. 111. 6. Vagi, David L. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, c. 82 B.C.- A.D. 480. Vol. 1, Coin World, 1999, p. 295. 7. Smyth, William Henry. Descriptive Catalogue of a Cabinet of Roman Imperial Large-Brass Medals. Bedford, 1834, p. 221. 8. De Arrizabalaga y Prado, Leonardo, and de La Fuente, Marcos Raúl, op. cit., p. 144, fig. 30. 9. Ibid, p. 145, fig. 31. Drawing by Leonardo de Arrizabalaga y Prado. 10. Ibid, p. 265. 11. This drawing is copied from an illustration in Antonio Francesco Gori, "Museum Florentinum exhibens insigniora vetustatis monumenta quae Florentiae sunt Ioanni Gastoni Etruriae magno duci dedicatum", vol. III (1734), "Statuae antiquae", pl. XXX. 12. Vagi, David L, op. cit., p. 298. 13. Dio, LXXX.11.1.