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THE ROMAN SUN: SYMBOLIC VARIATION IN ANCIENT SOLAR WORSHIP A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Classics and Ancient History Table of Contents I. Introduction ...............................................................................................................2 II. Trends in Scholarship..............................................................................................6 Nineteenth-Century Orientalism.........................................................................6 Cumont’s Shift to the East ................................................................................10 Recent Scholarship ...........................................................................................13 III. Textual Evidence ..................................................................................................18 Helios ................................................................................................................18 Sol .....................................................................................................................23 IV. Iconographic Evidence.........................................................................................31 Overview of LIMC............................................................................................31 Examples in Variation ......................................................................................34 Coinage .............................................................................................................39 a) chronological trends.............................................................................40 b) imperial examples................................................................................43 V. Mithraism and the Cosmos ...................................................................................48 Cumont’s Ideas .................................................................................................49 Beck and Cosmological Space..........................................................................51 Issues in Mithraic Study ...................................................................................55 Regional Variation in Dacian Reliefs ...............................................................59 VI. Sol Invictus in the Late Empire...........................................................................65 Constantine’s Sol: Coinage and Monuments....................................................65 Sol: A Monotheistic Force? ..............................................................................69 VII. Conclusion ...........................................................................................................74 Bibliography ................................................................................................................77 2 I. Introduction Aristarchus of Samos must have devised his heliocentric model of the solar system in the third century BCE, as his pupil Archimedes records his controversial arguments shortly thereafter. Unlike most other learned men of his day, he proposed that the sun and stars remained “unmoved,” while the Earth and all the other heavenly bodies revolved around it.1 Greeks like Aristarchus were some of the first to record their observations and calculations of the sun and other planetary bodies, or perhaps the first whose astronomical works survived, as it is understandably a global activity. Aristarchus’s heliocentric views must have been in the minority, but nevertheless, advancements in Greek cosmology showed a high level of interest in the sun and its movements in the Greek and Roman world at that point in time. As ancient astronomy often overlapped with philosophy, and philosophy with religion, and religion with politics, this conceptualization of the sun was rather multidimensional, as it could also be considered in a more immaterial, intellectual manner apart from its cosmic form. It could even, at times, be significant in both aspects simultaneously. Sun worship, through deities like Helios in Greece and Sol in Rome, can thus provide another model through which to understand the ancients’ views of the sun. The very fact that solar observation, study, and characterization was a global phenomenon is what makes solar divinity interesting; the way it was characterized at any given time can be a window into a particular society’s needs and methods of symbolic expression. Roman solar worship, in particular, seems to have taken a variety of different forms throughout the Republic and into the imperial period, and it is worth exploring what values those forms could reflect in Roman society. But the Roman Sol, the sun god sometimes equated or confused with Helios due to their 1 Archimedes, Sand Reckoner 3 closeness in representation, seems to have taken on many forms and personalities over time— how, then, are we to make sense of his evolution, and what may this progression tell us about the nature of solar divinity in Rome? What does it mean in regards to how the Romans approached their religions and deities? The history of Roman solar worship has, so far, been overly simplified amongst scholars. Subject to imaginary divisions and sequences in narrative, Sol is usually deemed responsible for far-reaching trends like orientalization and solar monotheism that do not make sense in light of literary and iconographic evidence. Additionally, the frameworks that have been placed around the study of Sol are largely incorrect and much too neat and straightforward to be an accurate reflection of his changes over time. For example, the distinction between an earlier Sol/Helios figure and a later Sol Invictus is unfounded, and denatures the diverse web of religious symbolism and political propaganda through which solar worship functioned. It has survived into modern scholarship, however, and it is part of a much larger trend amongst historians that focuses entirely on origins of religious symbols and their attached meanings—who must have been responsible for influence, and thus how that affected the character of the deity. This focus, as we will find with the work of major twentieth-century scholars, then translated to these forced divisions of Sol’s nature as a divine presence in Rome—conjuring this narrative behind the evolution of solar worship and solar symbolism that does not exist apart from our own far removed conceptualizations of it. In order to set the motion of Roman solar worship on a more fruitful path, past approaches should first be examined in their effectiveness and overall usefulness to the study of Sol. As I plan to address a variety of different literary and iconographical forms of Sol throughout the entirety of Roman history, I shall assess major works in scholarship dealing with 4 the Republican Sol, Imperial Sol, and also Sol within Mithraism. By analyzing the manner in which scholars like Franz Cumont, Roger Beck, and Gaston Halsberghe characterized and compartmentalized Sol, we can then deconstruct those narratives and in turn focus on coming to terms with variation in expression and meaning. For as we will discover when mapping the textual evidence for sun worship, origins are never clear, nor are they necessarily relevant to how the cult functions in any given context. As an overview of major literary and iconographic forms will show, focusing on variation—whether by region, style, or context—is a much more informative method of investigation, and difference serves as a more interesting inquiry than similarity based on ethnic roots impossible to prove. Solar iconography will be given attention more generally as well as within the realm of Mithraism, in imperial propaganda, and on coinage, but as it is beyond the scope of this study to provide an extensive survey of the material, the discussion will be kept brief. My aim is rather to propose a different approach to studying Roman solar worship and to provide examples as to how that could be useful, taking into account the diversity of symbolic meanings and forms of representation across regions, time periods, and changing social and religious traditions. Through utilizing the miscalculations and skewed methodologies of past historians, we can thus formulate a new approach emphasizing Sol’s variety of meanings and representations. Sol as a cosmic and divine force can then be better understood in his particular contexts within the Roman pantheon at different moments throughout the Republic and Empire. It will become apparent that solar worship—and the veneration of the Roman Sol in particular—was not singular, but rather (in literary sources) highly diversified; Sol’s role and personality could vary according to region, chronology, or by the function of the text itself. And his representation in 5 different forms of iconography further demonstrates the difficulties of relating meaning to image as well as interpreting the Romans’ symbolic language. Sol is at once his own self-contained divine figure, a cosmic symbol, a personality to be used to promote ideas of imperial victory, and many other forms all at once. The entire characterization and function of Sol thus depends more on his surrounding context than his own essence as a sun god, and any understanding of his place in Roman society, politics, or religion depends on recognizing those symbolic variations and what function they had in the broader Roman world. 6 II. Trends in Scholarship In order to formulate a new approach to understanding the sun as a divinity in Rome, it is necessary to first review the major work already done on the subject. The history of scholarship surrounding Sol is as complicated as his own story, for we find that its focus and conclusions are subject to contemporary political opinion as well as at times based on questionable sources. However, my intention here is not to interpret or disprove the arguments of each author presented beyond summary, but rather to examine their focus on origin in a broader sense and what conclusions they made in regards to how Sol’s roots influenced his nature as a Roman deity. Here we will begin by exploring the academic environment surrounding solar religion in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that provided the foundation upon which later studies grew. Then two more recent studies will be presented, in particular that of Steven E. Hijmans which, apart from its approach, is followed closely throughout my own analysis. By sampling these former approaches, we can then come to terms with the assumptions and categories placed on Sol, which then became self-evident as the conversation progressed. Past works on solar worship can then serve as a useful backdrop against the textual and iconographic evidence, which calls into question much of their methodology and overall concerns. Nineteenth-century Ideas and Orientalism One of the earliest influential scholars who studied Sol and his role in Roman religion was Georg Wissowa in the nineteenth century. Although many of his methods and ideas are no longer accepted by historians today, he is still an important figure to mention, as the study of Sol was shaped and molded by the questions he asked. For Wissowa and for many other historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were focused on origins—what, if any, parallels 7 could be drawn between Sol and solar worship outside of Rome, and what this meant as to the identity and character of Sol himself. First, Wissowa divided Sol into two forms which have managed to survive into present-day studies: Sol Indiges as the solar deity referred to in Republican sources, and Sol Invictus as a later, distinct development tied to the East as well as imperial propaganda. “Indiges” is not an easy term to define, as it is mentioned in connection with certain deities at certain moments, but lacks any discernable set of rules or explicit identity. Wissowa postulated that it was added much later for the purpose of differentiating the early Republican Sol from the later one. Livy tells us that Decius Mus invoked the dii indigetes after the novensides,2 which led Wissowa to interpret indiges as “traditional” or as referring to the earlier gods as opposed to those who had been more recently established. While this line of thinking is no longer followed by historians,3 it was important to Wissowa in his efforts to distance Rome from solar worship. Sol Indiges, according to Wissowa, was actually the Greek Helios who had been adopted into the Roman pantheon. This reveals an ideology at work behind Wissowa’s study; Roman religion had a distinct character to which the idea of solar worship did not adhere in contemporary thought. Hijmans explains that “in [Wissowa’s] view, the early Romans had straightforward beliefs, with practical gods whose roles were clearly defined, and this excluded more abstract religious concepts. Neither the sun, nor the stars, nor the planets were revered, astrology had no role to play… Therefore Wissowa rejected the belief that Sol was Roman.”4 Sol was thus subject to Wissowa’s own predilections regarding 2 Livy, The History of Rome 8, 9, 6. Francesca Prescendi, "Indiges," Brill’s New Pauly, ed. Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider (Leiden: Brill Online, 2015). 4 Steven E. Hijmans, “The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” PhD diss., Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (2009), page 3. 3 8 “Romanness” and was presented as a phenomenon with roots elsewhere, dissociated from Rome altogether. Wissowa’s separation between Sol Indiges and Sol Invictus, as well as his postulation that the early Sol was actually Helios, reflected larger trends occurring within scholarship during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Hijmans points out, Wissowa’s arguments were dependent upon (and worked backwards from) a pre-existing ideology regarding the nature of religion and ethnicity, and this was entrenched within the much larger overall treatment of the East versus the West. Astral religion and its constituents as a category (including solar worship) were regarded as inherently eastern, foreign to Rome and thus nonnative to the ideas and values of the Western society thought to be produced from it. It is crucial to recognize the intrinsic link between religion and ethnic identity within nineteenth-century scholarship; Hijmans identifies it as the “ethnocentric approach to religion,”5 in which the manner of one’s religious ideas and rituals directly reflects the character of the ethnic group that practiced it. But this could function in a more nationalistic way, turning in on itself to project the desired character of one’s own group as opposed to another. The nationalism prevalent in early studies like Wissowa’s should be understood against the background of orientalism as a larger trend during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Solar religion was downplayed precisely because of the association between it and the East, and scholars like Wissowa wished to distance themselves from what scholarship held as the inferior Eastern character. Edward Said’s classic study on orientalism provides a succinct overview of popular opinion on Western character versus the Eastern character: Said explains that “the European is a close reasoner; his statements of fact are devoid of any ambiguity; he is a natural 5 Ibid, page 8. 9 logician, albeit he may not have studied logic; he is by nature sceptical and requires proof before he can accept the truth of any proposition; his trained intelligence works like a piece of mechanism.”6 On the contrary, the mind of the Easterner is “wanting in symmetry”7 and faulty in reason, logic, and explanations. The Oriental is “gullible, devoid of energy and initiative, much given to fulsome flattery, intrigue, cunning, and unkindness to animals; Orientals cannot walk on either a road or a pavement (their disordered minds fail to under-stand what the clever European grasps immediately, that roads and pavements are made for walking); Orientals are inveterate liars, they are lethargic and suspicious, and in everything oppose the clarity, directness, and nobility of the Anglo-Saxon race.”8 In this light, then, we can perceive Wissowa’s arguments as an exercise in cultural strength. The nineteenth century in particular was a time for vast European expansion, in which the East was already viewed as subservient to the dominant West. It was against this imperialist atmosphere that Sol, held as an oriental deity in his later forms, had to be completely disconnected from the West in his infancy as well. The implications of nineteenth-century nationalistic ideas driving the study of Sol are clear. Questions were essentially limited—the focus on origin coupled with the ideological struggle over East and West left little room for possibility in variation. Notions of what the solar cult should have been led inquiries into what it was, and many of these assumptions (especially regarding Sol’s Eastern nature) were carried on in later works. The orientalism prevalent during the period combined with nationalistic attitudes effectively placed Sol into categories that have not broken down entirely; a separation is still maintained between Indiges and Invictus, for instance, and the latter’s oriental nature is still assumed in many characterizations. As we will 6 Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 1977), page 38. Ibid. 8 Ibid, page 38-39. 7 10 begin to see, the more neatly-placed the framework, the less we truly know about individual forms of Sol and solar worship within Rome. Cumont’s Shift to the East As the twentieth century began, scholarship took an interesting turn with the work of Franz Cumont, the Belgian archaeologist and historian well-known for his work on Mithraism and the eastern mystery cults. While traditional opinion held Sol to be a foreign entity, Cumont essentially agreed—but he traced Roman solar worship to Syria in particular, and thus shifted the argument to the East. According to Hijmans, Cumont “radically changed the tone of the discussion, but strengthened its basic tenets, providing a general oriental background against which the development and spread of the cosmic solar cult could be understood.”9 Rather than simply asserting the solar cult’s oriental beginnings and re-framing them in a Syrian context, Cumont argued for a fundamental competition between Roman religion and these new cults from the East. He says that “in order to gain the masses and the cream of Roman society (as they did for a whole century) the barbarian mysteries had to possess a powerful charm, they had to satisfy the deep wants of the human soul, and their strength had to be superior to that of the ancient Greco-Roman religion.”10 Suddenly not only did Sol descend from Eastern religion, but Roman religion had allowed itself to be infiltrated. One of Cumont’s basic arguments revolves around a decline in traditional Roman worship. Citizens were disillusioned after the fall of the Republic and Augustus’s reforms had failed, according to Cumont, and this created a classic vacuum of religious fervor to which the 9 Hijmans, “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” page 17. Franz Cumont, The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism (Chicago: Open, 1911), page 28. 10 11 oriental religions satisfied.11 In addition, he says there were no great scientific discoveries to keep Romans imaginative or hopeful; their overall spirit in regards to the worship of their gods had dwindled. Cumont eloquently puts forth that “the world cursed with sterility, could but repeat itself; it had the poignant appreciation of its own decay and impotence.”12 As the empire aged, so did the character of men13 and the general integrity and morale of Romans, and thus he argues that they were attracted to the emotion and vigor of the oriental cults. Roman religion was really two-faced, then, according to Cumont; traditional gods were worshipped out of civic duty, and participation in oriental cults (this could be Isis, Mithras, or the Baals, etc.) was considered “the expression of a personal belief.”14 In regards to the worship of the sun within these mysteries, particularly Mithraism on which Cumont focused much of his work, Sol takes on an inherently personal nature when considered in light of Cumont’s characterization of oriental cults within the Roman Empire. However, Cumont offered more practical reasons for the spread of oriental religions westward. Communication via newly-established trade routes from the Latin provinces to hardto-reach areas in Syria played a key role in transmitting religious ideas. Newly-acquired knowledge of exotic religious cultures combined with the disparities and general moral melancholia within traditional Roman deities and rituals caused an influx of oriental mysteries in the later Empire. These mysteries appealed to Romans in a variety of ways according to Cumont, as we have discussed, but he goes so far as to assert that Eastern religions appealed to the Romans’ intellect through their dealings with Chaldean astrology, seen as highly superior to the 11 Ibid, page 39. Ibid, page 34. 13 Ibid, page 42. 14 Ibid, page 44. 12 12 Romans’ “infantile religion.”15 Cumont explains that “Syria was Rome's teacher and predecessor,”16 and thus Rome took over the astrological ideas prevalent in the oriental mysteries; Cumont postulates that those ideas eventually fused with other Semitic and Roman traditions to culminate in one idea of the divine. “The last formula,” Cumont writes, “reached by the religion of the pagan Semites and in consequence by that of the Romans, was a divinity unique, almighty, eternal, universal and ineffable, that revealed itself throughout nature, but whose most splendid and most energetic manifestation was the sun.”17 The sun is both a part of astrological mystery promoted by the Eastern cults and a sort of global truth for Cumont, and thus he neatly ties together the influx of the oriental mysteries and their reverence for the sun with the increasing presence of Christianity. Cumont’s work on oriential religions and their spread into the Roman traditions of the imperial period shifted the argument to the East in terms of influence—not only did they disseminate into Rome, but Rome was so fundamentally weakened religiously that they were quickly accepted. As for Sol himself, sun worship was caught up in Cumont’s combination of astrology and morality that swept into Rome via trade routes from Syria. He assumed that the textual evidence and iconography for the later imperial Sol must have been directly inspired by this oriental influx, and most importantly, that Romans themselves were aware of this and readily accepted it. In this astrology/morality combination, Sol could also take on more symbolic attributes, especially when working back from what we know to be the ultimate result: monotheism. For Cumont, Sol is both an oriental and consolidating force that moved into Rome through a wider acceptance of astral religion and a desire for depth of religious meaning. 15 Ibid, page 31. Ibid, page 134. 17 Ibid. 16 13 Recent Scholarship The conversation surrounding Sol during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was thus concentrated on eastern influence. It makes sense, then, for more recent historians to focus their works on reacting to those foundational approaches. Two interesting examples can be found in G.H. Halsberghe’s Cult of Sol Invictus of 1972 and, more recently, Steven Hijmans’ “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome” . Although Halsberghe and Hijmans were answering essentially the same question—what is the real identity of Sol?—they took different approaches to their studies and raised important questions in interpreting sources. Halsberghe’s Sol followed the earlier precedents and was divided into Sol Indiges and Sol Invictus. However, Halsberghe argued for a distinctly Roman character of Republican Sol, relying on the Fasti of Philocalus for evidence of an “autochthonous Sol.”18 Halsberghe himself is ambiguous on the precise meaning of the term “indiges,” but goes against the claim that it differentiated Sol from his later imperial (and thoroughly Eastern) form, arguing that the Romans had no need, at the time, to discern between them. But according to Halsberghe, Sol maintained a continuous presence throughout the period, and especially towards the “switch” to imperial Sol. The later Sol Invictus was promoted as early as Marc Anthony, who portrayed the sun god as allpowerful on coins, but it was Augustus’s veneration of Apollo that inspired this new personality of the solar deity. Halsberghe explains that Augustus “was determined first and foremost to give new luster to the ancient cults of the Roman people and if necessary to rescue them from oblivion,” and by this promotion he thus “laid the basis for the extension of the theology of the sun a few centuries later.”19 In Halsberghe’s conception of Sol’s identity, it was double—the Republican sun god was thoroughly Roman, but in the second century, Syrian solar traditions 18 19 Gaston H. Halsberghe, The Cult of Sol Invictus (Leiden: Brill, 1972), page 28. Ibid, page 29. 14 infiltrated Rome under the emperor Elagabal. He thus calculates that “this cult knew two distinct periods of brilliant growth,”20 but it is still treated as one single cult that changed over time. Another facet of Halsberghe’s argument that should be noted is the importance placed on the cult of Sol as a whole, especially during the imperial period. The reason given for Halsberghe’s interest in Sol Invictus is “the great influence its dogma exerted on the religious life of the Empire for three long centuries,”21 but this dogma was caught up in the political agendas of the period as well. Promoted especially by Eastern astronomers, sun worship was an overarching concept that connected divinity with the emperor and vice versa, so that even though Sol was becoming steadily more popular through “literary and romantic fictions,”22 Halsberghe explains that “the political ends of the empire were served by these theological concepts.”23 Political policy and aspiration under such emperors as Elagabalus and Aurelian thus furthered the veneration of Sol and his new role as protector, victor, and all-encompassing god. Halsberghe notes that “the emperors came to see themselves as the comites of the sun god,” so it was a gradual process through which the relationship between Sol and the emperors (and as such, the empire as a whole) evolved over time. Halsberghe bases this argument largely on the Historia Augusta’s representation of both Elagabalus and Aurelian, marking the introduction of Elagabalus’s Sol and his oriental nature as the beginning of the switch between Roman Sol and this new Sol Invictus. Sol’s popularity then remained relatively constant but was further promoted by Aurelian24 and later emperors. He even justifies the lack of monuments for Sol, pointing to the damnatio memoriae of Elagabalus as an excuse; it was the hatred toward 20 Ibid, page 172. Ibid. 22 However, Halsberghe offers no examples of such works. 23 Halsberghe, The Cult of Sol Invictus, page 37. 24 Halsberghe presents Aurelian’s mother as a priestess of the sun god (page 130), although his only source is the Historia Augusta, which is highly controversial. 21 15 Elagabalus, not Sol Invictus, that spurred the destruction of his temples and projects, and thus why we cannot find more evidence for Sol’s importance in the Roman pantheon.25 We receive a much-needed change of pace in Hijmans’ dissertation on the cult of Sol. While his goal is also to take another look at the hypotheses established by earlier historians, Hijmans differs from other scholars’ work in his extensive look at solar iconography, and his conclusions seem to both conform to, and deviate from, past work on the subject. For Hijmans, Sol is a continuous force similar to that which was argued by Halsberghe, but evidence for Sol’s importance is treated more critically; he is said to have never been elevated above other prominent deities in the Roman pantheon, even through his role in the Mithraic mysteries, and his overall significance in Roman religion is downplayed.26 Furthermore, there is no distinction between an earlier Roman Sol Indiges and a later oriental Sol Invictus—Hijmans makes the case that Sol should be regarded as wholly Roman throughout his presence in both the Republic and Empire. The driving force behind Sol’s changing personality depended on the degree of flexibility of the Romans as well as the progression of scientific knowledge. For Sol’s primary role, according to Hijmans, was a symbol of the cosmos (as exemplified in Sol’s combination with Luna in a large portion of solar iconography), but he could be used to represent certain ideas when they were appropriate. Sol was a power to invoke—none of his symbolic functions were necessarily unique to him, but it was in those wider contexts and Sol’s purpose in terms of both religion and politics that painted a somewhat ambiguous identity. But it is Hijmans’ look at solar iconography that acts as the backbone of the study, and he organizes this vast amount of information into three general types: Sol depicted in a youthful 25 Halsberghe, The Cult of Sol Invictus, page 127. Steven Hijmans, “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” PhD diss., Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (2009), page 621. 26 16 bust, Sol standing with a whip or glove, and Sol as a charioteer driving the quadriga.27 However, Hijmans recognizes that although these are straightforward categories as they appear to us, they depend on widely varying context as well as regional modifications—they are meant as the stylistic choices of representing Sol, not necessarily the only ways in which it has been done. One of the most important contributions Hijmans makes to the study of solar worship within Rome is his explanation of the relationship between visual representation and symbolic meaning. Sol’s appearance on coins, reliefs, mosaics, and other monuments is not interpreted as reflecting an “intrinsic meaning,” but rather simply the conventional symbolism of the time, or whatever meaning the Romans built via symbolic forms (whip, globe, chariot, etc.) within the expression.28 For example, Sol and Luna are quite often portrayed together in what appears to be cosmic symbolism—sun and moon, or the heavens as a whole—but the meaning or desired function of individual representations depends on outer context, such as what scene they are framing and their exact location within this scene. In this way Hijmans’ study is helpful indeed, as the overall fluidity of Sol’s representations can be seen and understood in the light of the complexity that is symbolic language within Roman religious and political iconography. Halsberghe and Hijmans thus offer two very distinct, yet connected studies of the worship of Sol. They disagree on ethnic identity—while Halsberghe follows closely the evidence given by the Historia Augusta and takes the oriental character of Sol Invictus as a given fact, Hijmans advocates the notion that the ethnic identity of Sol never changed. He breaks down the former mindset of Indiges versus Invictus and instead offers a more critical view of the sources that led scholars to that point. But despite this fundamental difference, both Halsberghe and Hijmans still treat the veneration of Sol as one continuous phenomenon despite fluctuations, and 27 28 Ibid, page 71. Ibid. 17 as such, Sol is then one single force. The Republican Sol mentioned in the Fastii, for example, is the same Sol reinvigorated by Augustus, Elagabal, Aurelian, Constantine, and others, even though the inspiration, symbolism, and characteristics might have varied according to the agendas of each. So while Wissowa and Cumont stretched the argument between two poles—that is, the idea that solar religion was not a part of “real” Rome, and the counter-point that Rome willingly and deliberately took on the oriental solar cult, Halsberghe set the precedent for more nuanced studies that allowed for some variation. For the first time, Sol could be considered in both a Roman and Eastern context at once. Hijmans took Halsberghe’s foundation and questioned its merits, concluding on the basis of both textual and iconographical evidence that there is no sound argument for an oriental identity at all. However, Sol’s treatment as one homogenous deity (even despite major differences over time) as well as scholars’ focus on origins only leaves us with more questions about the nature of Sol. 18 III. Textual Evidence As others’ interpretations have been focused on up to this point, it would be beneficial to present the main sources upon which they relied, both textual and iconographic. Our catalogue of solar iconography groups representations of Sol and the Greek Helios together, as they are held to be so close in nature and form that they are largely indistinguishable. In light of this grouping, I shall include major literary evidence for both forms of the sun god so that its function and role within different contexts can be best evaluated. I aim to provide a general overview and interpretation of Helios/Sol’s characterizations in the textual evidence, whether in the way he is utilized by the writer, his abilities and general personality, or his place in a wider network of gods. With a sense of the diverse ways in which Helios/Sol can be depicted verbally, we can then have a solid base upon which to understand him visually. Helios The earliest characterization of Helios is of course that which is found in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Because of the nature of oral tradition, we can assume that Homer (either as a single entity or the later-chosen representative of a group of writers who exemplified their period in Greek history) expressed the nature of the gods as they were to early Greeks. But it is also equally plausible that Homer’s Helios acted as an early foundation upon which the god’s function and personality could then be altered as time progressed and as Homer’s attributed works took their prominent place in Greek culture. Helios is a minor figure in both the Iliad and Odyssey, but in both works he seems to take on an almost omniscient quality. In the Iliad, Zeus mentions Helios when he conjures a thick cloud within which to hide himself and Hera from view of men and other gods: the cloud is so opaque that Zeus says “might not even Helios 19 discern us twain, albeit his sight is the keenest of all for beholding.”29 The sun deity is thus connected with acute vision, which makes sense in terms of the sun as a light source, but in the Odyssey this is taken a further step forward. The flocks of Helios Hyperion are mentioned several times, and come to the forefront of the story when Odysseus’s men go against his orders and choose to sacrifice them. In his warning to Odysseus regarding the flocks, the Theban Teiresias characterizes Helios as he “who oversees and overhears all things,”30 but later, when Odysseus recalls Teiresias’s advice, Helios is he “who gives joy to mortals.”31 So the solar deity is at once close to man, in that he gives him joy, while also acting as an all-seeing judicial force. But we also see some early trends in symbolism in the Homeric Hymn to Helios, which combined all of these qualities with a more physical conception of the sun and its activity. Like the Iliad and Odyssey, the Hymn to Helios portrays him as having keen sight through mentioning his “piercing gaze” and “far-seen face,” and it also appears that Helios and joy are still closely connected as the author exclaims in his conclusion of the hymn, “Hail to you, lord! Freely bestow on me substance that cheers the heart.”32 But throughout the body of the hymn, Helios is represented through his chosen symbols: attention is drawn to his golden helmet, bright rays and locks, rich fine-spun garment, stallions, and his golden-yoked chariot. Here his movement and activity as part of the cosmos appears to take on its own importance, as once his chariot has ascended into the sky, “he rests there upon the highest point of heaven, until he marvelously drives them down again through heaven to Ocean.”33 This characterization secures Helios’s place as one of the “deathless gods” as he is not only all-seeing but also consistent in his 29 Homer, Iliad 14. 344-345. Homer, Odyssey 11.109. 31 Ibid, 12. 269. 32 Homeric Hymns XXXI. 33 Ibid. 30 20 movement across the sky; the sun is thus its own deity with a distinct personality while also a cosmological force that expresses itself in “classic” solar symbols. Moving into the Classical period, we find that Helios has a wide range of potential qualities depending on what literary genre is being focused upon. For example, for major philosophers of the period, the sun seems to have held quite an important position among gods. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates stands in place for the duration of an entire night, only abandoning his post once the sun had risen and he had offered prayers to it.34 And in his Apology, we get the sense that worship of the sun was fairly widespread; Socrates, whilst defending himself against the charge of disbelief in the gods of the state, exclaims out of frustration “Do I not even believe that the sun or yet the moon are gods, as the rest of mankind do?”35 His point depends upon Plato’s audience’s knowledge of the sun as a common divine form, and thus his question is “Do you take me to be so different from you?” Helios is clearly well established amongst the Greek gods by Plato’s time, but a closer glimpse can be seen through Xenophon’s Memorabilia in which the sun takes a more demonstrative role. Helios himself is not mentioned here, but Xenophon explains other gods’ natures through the figure of the physical sun: “even the sun, who seems to reveal himself to all, permits not man to behold him closely, but if any attempts to gaze recklessly upon him, blinds their eyes. And the gods' ministers too you will find to be invisible.”36 The sun, even in its purely physical role, is still held to possess properties and qualities that exemplify the divine character. It is comparable, for Xenophon, to “the gods’ ministers” and thus demonstrates the larger conceptualization of the sun as an omniscient moral judge. 34 Plato, Symposium 200d. Plato, Apology 26d. 36 Xenophon, Memorabilia 4,3,14. 35 21 The sun also appears in the works of Greek tragedians, and his role is adjusted accordingly. In Aeschylus’s Suppliant Women, the sun is the “bird of Zeus”37 and is called upon specifically to save the Danaids from their impending marriage to their cousins. Similarly, in Sophocles’s Elektra, the sun is a force that can intervene on behalf of those it wishes to defend. Here the chorus, upon hearing Elektra’s desire for her own death after the death of her brother Orestes, asks “Where are the thunderbolts of Zeus, or where the shining Sun, if they look upon these things and quietly cover them over?”38 So the sun is again closely related to Zeus, or at least the sun’s qualities are close enough for it to be mentioned in the same breath—but most importantly, it is once again a force to be invoked in the effort to right a certain wrong, or bring relief to an otherwise helpless situation. Helios clearly had a literary presence as old as Greece itself, but we can also study his place geographically and politically through Pausanias’s Description of Greece. Written much later in the second century CE, Pausanias’s guide was intended to be a general one and thus does not explore intricacies of Helios’s nature as a deity. However, his books on Corinth and Laconia are valuable in determining who worshipped Helios in later Greek history as well as his relationship to the cities and regions themselves. In Corinth, Pausanias tells us that Helios was part of the founding myth (originally from Athens) and was given “the height above the city”39 in a land dispute with Poseidon, but the latter was rewarded the isthmus and thus remained Corinth’s dominant god. Sites sacred to Helios included the Acrocorinthus40 and the former city of the Hermionians,41 but he is again only one deity out of many who share Pausanias’s attention. 37 Aeschylus, Suppliant Women 213. Sophocles, Elektra 824. 39 Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.1.6. 40 Ibid, 2.4.6. 41 Ibid, 2.34.10. 38 22 His description of Laconia provides interesting examples of Helios’s worship, for at one site the sacrifice of horses seems to be central,42 and at another he is worshipped alongside Pasiphae, who Pausanias equates with a non-local moon goddess.43 From Pausanias, then, we can gather that Helios was certainly well known and established amongst the gods, but he was still relatively minor. Regional variation in myth and ritual are also at play, for Pausanias felt the need to point to the horse sacrifice and association with Pasiphae as unusual characteristics of that particular group or region’s temple practices. The literary evidence for the worship of Helios in Greece thus does not define him in absolute terms—his nature varies with the aim of the work. What we do know about the Greek sun god is that he was at once divinely personified and considered a cosmic force. As seen in Homer as well as the works of later philosophers and tragedians, there is certainly a trend toward Helios as having extraordinary sight, perhaps simply through sunlight as itself illuminative but also personified in the god’s vision, and this then extends to Helios having astute and objective moral judgment. The thought that these characteristics might have transferred or bled into the Romans’ conceptualizations of the sun is not necessarily unfounded, especially as in the Hymn to Helios we find an early mention of many of the classic solar symbols that remained in use well into Roman Greece and beyond. But Pausanias’s notes on specific sites of temples to Helios demonstrates that again, regional variations in ritual, character, and associations matter—the major literary evidence is thus made up of snapshots of sun worship that show long-term trends in overall personality, yet differences in level of importance as well as ritual. 42 43 Ibid, 3.20.4. Ibid, 3.26.1. 23 Sol As discussed already in the second chapter, the sun god considered to be the Roman mirror image of Helios was usually divided into two categories: the native Sol Indiges and a later oriental-inspired Sol Invictus. In terms of textual evidence, however, these associations become less evident as our sources are rather scant and sometimes debatable in reliability. We would do better, therefore, to take a close look at the major literary sources for the Roman Sol chronologically and sans traditional classifications, and instead direct attention towards how it was characterized at that particular moment in time—in particular, the context in which Sol was brought up in discussion, his physical presence as a deity in Rome, and varying stories regarding origin and inspiration. In this way, the diversity of his potential applications and significance can instead be mapped and, in a sense, de-generalized. The earliest sources for Sol place him in quite a traditional role. Varro mentions Sol in an agrarian context in De Re Rustica, explaining that Sol and Luna should be invoked together, as their “courses are watched in all matters of planting and harvesting.”44 Alfred Wolf’s study on Roman agriculture in literature as it related to human values placed Sol, as well as the other deities called upon to bring good fortune to the farm, in part of an “ancient rural guise”45 in which simple farmers were revered as the most virtuous of men. The first book of De Re Rustica, then, was in a sense romanticizing Roman agriculture and presenting Sol in the context of the old Roman deities. The sustainment of farming and agriculture was seen as the sustainment of Rome itself,46 and Sol as a deity was thus rooted in its earliest years and strongest tenants. But Sol also appears to have a more obvious Roman personality; in the second book of Roman Antiquities, the 44 Varro, De Re Rustica I.1.5. Alfred Wolf, “Saving the Small Farm: Agriculture in Roman Literature,” Agriculture and Human Values (1987): page 68. 46 Ibid. 45 24 first-century BCE Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus gives an overview of the activities of Romulus and Tatius and their expansion of the city in its infancy. According to Dionysius, “they built temples also and consecrated altars to those gods to whom they had addressed their vows during their battles… Tatius to the Sun and Moon”47 among others. This presumably coincides with Varro’s depiction of the sun as one of the earliest deities, but in this case, Sol was part of the very foundations of the city and thus had a distinctly political function. Sources that mention locations for the worship of Sol are rather scarce, but we can get a sense of its prominence from those that identify monuments and shrines. In the first century CE, Quintilian spoke of a “shrine of the Sun, close to the temple of Quirinus”48 in his orthographic teachings in Institutio Oratoria, perhaps suggesting that the temple and altar mentioned by Dionysius was still in use. Similarly, Tertullian, who wrote later in the second or third century CE, identified a temple within the Circus Maximus: “the circus is chiefly consecrated to the Sun, whose temple stands in the middle of it, and whose image shines forth from its temple summit.”49 And further evidence for the veneration of Sol can be found under the rule of Vespasian in the first century. According to Suetonius, Vespasian rewarded the restorer of the Colossus,50 presumably meaning he had some say in its new façade and dedication. We know that the Colossus was restored to venerate the sun based on Pliny’s Natural History, which reads, “in consequence… of the public detestation of Nero's crimes, this statue was consecrated to the Sun.”51 By the early empire, then, Sol was not just the agrarian deity referenced by Varro, although it is notable that he would include the sun as an integral part of Roman values such as 47 Dionysius, Roman Antiquities II.50.3. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria I.7.12. 49 Tertullian, De Spectaculis VIII.1. 50 Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars VIII.18.1. 51 Pliny, Natural History XXXIV.18. 48 25 farming. These examples of monuments to Sol thus tell us he held a modest place in the Roman pantheon—prominent shrines to Sol existed and he seems to have held an important position at certain moments, but amongst a wealth of other deities. When analyzing origins for Roman solar worship, one of the texts most relied upon by past scholars was the Historia Augusta, which was thought to be written sometime in the fourth century. The text is of course highly problematic, as not only the author and date are called into question, but also the overall aim and viewpoint of the work. It would be most beneficial to approach the Historia Augusta critically, considering whose views it truly represents and what this meant for Sol. His varying treatment can be seen in the chapters detailing the reigns of Elagabalus and Aurelian. The author’s attitude toward Elagabalus is clearly quite negative, focusing on his outrageous behaviors and foreign nature, and this is mirrored in other texts such as Herodian’s History of the Roman Empire. Herodian is sure to mention the “eastern” dress and activity of the emperor,52 and he describes the introduction of Elagabalus’s sun god as something strange—new—to the Romans, always referring to it as “his god” rather than the prior-known, Roman god.53 He is sure to detail Elagabalus’s fall from grace just like Cassius Dio, who records in his Roman History that he and his mother’s bodies were dragged through the streets in a clear act of celebrating their death.54 What becomes abundantly clear from these characterizations is that Elagabalus was not a popular figure amongst the Roman elite who were composing such histories. The lower classes’ reactions to this sun god are not represented here, but those in higher positions clearly wanted to fashion Elagabalus as foreign, his cult incompatible with traditional Roman religion. In his study on the opinion of Elagabalus, Michael Sommer suggests 52 Herodian, History of the Roman Empire 5.5.10. Ibid, 5.6.6-7. 54 Cassius Dio, Roman History LXXX 21.2. 53 26 that the Roman elite might have shunned his new solar deity on account of the threat it posed to the state pantheon by promoting a monotheistic system of worship, which then had theocratic influences in governmental policies. The conical stone of Emesa itself, venerated by Elagabalus as the physical embodiment of his god, might have represented a sharp denial of the contemporary Roman conception of divinity, according to Sommer.55 Whatever the source of such contempt against the new solar cult, this Sol appears to be placed outside of Rome’s accepted religious boundaries and thus was considered foreign—therefore we can gather that there were both acceptable and unacceptable ways to venerate the sun in the Roman Empire. The Historia Augusta’s chapter devoted to Aurelian is quite different in tone from that of Elagabalus and presents his reign in a much more favorable light. It has been used by Halsberghe and others, however, to argue that Elagabalus’s eastern solar deity still had ties to later emperors, but this lacks evidence upon further analysis. The author of the Historia Augusta claims that Aurelian and his soldiers, exhausted from battle, were inspired and invigorated by a certain “supernatural agency”56 that then became known whilst visiting the Temple of Elagabal at Emesa, where Aurelian is said to have “not only established temples there, dedicating gifts of great value, but… also built a temple to the Sun at Rome, which he consecrated with still greater pomp.”57 Palmyra was also mentioned in an alleged copy of one of Aurelian’s letters to one Cerronius Bassus, if the author of the Historia Augusta is to be believed. Having been destroyed in the pillage of the city, Aurelian specifically ordered the Temple of the Sun there “restored to the condition in which it formerly was” as well as further embellished.58 On the surface, it 55 Michael Sommer, “The Challenge of Aniconism: Elagabalus and Roman Historiography,” Mediterraneo Antico vol. 11 no. 1-2 (2008), page 588. 56 SHA IV.25.3. 57 SHA IV.25.6. 58 SHA IV.31.7. 27 appears as though Aurelian took the Syrian sun god as his own and must have then supplanted it directly back in Rome. However, it should be noted that Elagabal is only named when designating which temple Aurelian visited, and not mentioned again; when the author refers to the supernatural agency and the temples built and restored, it is always in more generic terms and lacks any mention of a foreign air, as we would expect after Elagabalus’s chapter. As no further information was offered on this new temple venerating the sun in Rome, it is impossible to say what its influences were; what is clear is that it was accepted as a Roman form of sun worship. The Historia Augusta thus presents to us two characterizations of two solar cults, demonstrating not only that Sol had a changing and evolving persona, but that he could be used by different emperors with different effect. One interesting textual source we have for Sol calls attention to the connections typically made between the sun and Apollo, and may provide a different characterization based on those relationships to other deities. The Carmen Saeculare was thought to be commissioned by Augustus to honor Apollo as his chosen patron deity, but in fact the pair of Sol and Luna mirror the pair of Apollo and Diana in the poem. Interpretations of what these connections represent are highly varied; early scholarship, wishing to distance Sol from Rome and the emperor, argued that Apollo’s association with the sun was wholly incorrect and they were rather two completely separate deities in all aspects.59 Later studies emphasized the political agenda of Augustus that surrounded the commission of the piece, as in G. Karl Galinsky’s analysis, which suggests that the “Carmen Saeculare” was meant to advertise the Augustan secular games. Galinsky draws upon the “indigenous” interpretation of Sol Indiges to connect it to the Latins, and thus the inclusion of the paternal Sol in the poem meant that it was “a celebration to secure the subjection 59 See Joseph Fontenrose, “Apollo and Sol in the Latin Poets of the First Century BC,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association vol. 70 (1939). 28 of the rebellious Latins and to make them over into loyal Roman subjects.”60 Alternately, Apollo and Diana were figures that would appeal to the Greeks and Philhellenic Roman elite, so according to Galinsky’s analysis the work as a whole represented the Roman tendency to accept the gods of the conquered as their own as a political strategy. But Hijmans offers yet another interpretation; relying upon the nature of the combinations of Apollo/Sol and Diana/Luna that anchor the poem, Hijmans argues that they are presented in a manner that would have evoked the concept of Aeternitas to Roman readers. They balance each other, in a sense, as Hijmans further explains: “The sun and the moon are not unchanging—they appear and disappear, wax and wane, and can even be eclipsed—and yet are infinitely reliable because their changes are themselves unchanging and follow fixed patterns,” and it is in this way that they “refer to the inherently fluctuating nature of eternal stability.”61 The “Carmen Saeculare” is obviously a controversial work, but even if we are unable to pinpoint its precise meaning and context, it raises important questions regarding the manner in which deities like Sol and Apollo were defined in the Roman pantheon—namely, if they were clearly defined at all and in what ways their identity could have been altered in their invocation with other major deities. The major textual evidence available for Sol thus demonstrates the issues with which we are faced when attempting to map his character and associations chronologically. The earlier Sol referred to by Varro and Dionysius, among others, is traditional and intrinsically tied to Rome as a political entity, but as we have seen in the Historia Augusta, solar worship was not necessarily always considered Roman—While the historical reliability of the work can be debated, it is nevertheless clear that under Elagabalus, elite Romans chose to place Sol outside the limits of respectability, focusing on the foreign nature of his outlandish cult. Aurelian’s Sol was then as 60 61 G. Karl Galinsky, “Sol and the ‘Carmen Saeculare,’” Latomus (1967), page 628. Hijmans, “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” page 563. 29 ambiguous as Elagabalus’s was offensive, demonstrating that the circumstances surrounding Sol’s promotion at certain moments has more to reveal in regards to his character than Sol himself—another words, Sol was less a self-contained personality than an evolving presence that could be called upon in various circumstances. The “Carmen Saeculare” further expounds upon this idea, calling to attention the relationships between gods as well as how certain combinations could invoke larger concepts not necessarily related to the gods on a singular level. Sol is thus malleable, appearing to have at times been considered in his physical role as the sun, representing agriculture, but also extending to traditional Roman values. At times, and often simultaneously, he is also considered in his more mythical form, but as his components change, Sol himself changes. ----These varied depictions of the Greek and Roman forms of solar worship do not serve to form any all-encompassing definitions or patterns—on the contrary, what the textual evidence disproves is the notion that any such characterization would be of use. We know that there was probably some type of connection between the way Helios was perceived and how Sol was fashioned just due to the general relationship between the Greek and Roman pantheon, but the evidence is too scarce and vague to argue for a direct, measurable influence at any point in history. Nevertheless, Helios and Sol were both considered in their cosmological roles as well as their roles as deities. The sun was at once a physical presence (thus cyclical, dependable, and connected to agriculture) and a personified god with its own qualities. However, when these sources are analyzed as a whole, what becomes apparent is that the attributes of Helios/Sol vary not just according to geography (as we saw in Pausanias’ descriptions of Corinth and Laconia), but also according to point in time (as in Elagabalus’s Syrian Sol) as well as the overall aim of 30 the work he is mentioned within. Based on textual sources alone, details surrounding solar worship are vague—it is only in combination with iconography that his functions can be better understood. 31 IV. Iconographic Evidence In addition to interpreting our scarce literary evidence for the worship of the sun in Rome, the extensive range of iconographic material—reliefs, sculpture, etc.—should also be addressed. As I intend to draw attention to Sol’s diversity of symbolic representation and meaning among such depictions, a general overview of the evidence compiled in the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae and its commentary provided by Cesare Letta will be helpful. Additionally, several more specific examples should also be used to show the spectrum of Sol’s different roles and contexts. His appearance on Roman coins will be briefly discussed in a similar manner, first understanding the evolution of Sol’s image on coins before looking more closely at three examples from the imperial period. It is important, however, to place iconographic types in their own contexts and perspectives; it is necessary for one to organize them in some way in order to properly scrutinize and compare them, but it is also understood that the symbolic language of certain types of representations—funerary monuments, for instance— differs greatly from that of, say, imperial coinage. Keeping this in mind, Sol’s character, properties, and style of rendering then seem to depend almost fully upon his environment and social, religious, and political contexts. Overview of Sol/Helios in LIMC The Helios/Sol entry in the LIMC can be adequately summarized by compiling major iconographic patterns into three different categories as it concerns the present study.62 First, according to Letta’s commentary Sol almost always appears in combination with Luna, and this is predictably the largest section in his compilation. But Sol and Luna can appear together in 62 For a different focus, see Hijmans (1996) page 138. Here I am more concerned about Sol’s broader function within the scene and variations in projection. 32 numerous contexts; for example, they can be depicted alone with little to no further information, as in their simple representation on a lamp in LIMC 314. They can also appear as “attributes or symbols” as in LIMC 325, in which they are shown in two reliefs around a four-sided base. Here Sol and Luna are clearly visible on their own sides—Sol appears radiate, and Luna’s crescent is in place around her head—but it also contains images of a lion, a serpent in a tree, and two cypresses in separate reliefs on the same base. So although “attributes or symbols” sounds rather vague, the meaning behind these various combinations of symbols is not always apparent, and thus we classify them according to how they appear to affect Sol and Luna’s symbolic meaning. Another important function of Sol and Luna in iconography is cosmic framing. As we shall see in representations of the tauroctony, Sol and Luna can at times be seen in the periphery of the scene in the upper corners, and according to the general theory as Hijmans explains it, they “stress the cosmological character of a given representation, or symbolize its eternity and allencompassing nature…they are guarantors of cosmic harmony and the universality of cosmic order.”63 At times Sol and Luna may be flanking the scene similarly to the tauroctony, but they can also appear as moving across the periphery of the scene64 or on the respective ends of a relief. For example, the sarcophagus from Santa Chiara in Naples features Sol and Luna standing at either end, aloof and yet intentionally placed on either side of the action in the middle.65 Pushing the cosmic interpretation further, then, some evidence shows Sol and Luna with figures of the zodiac, as in a gem that places four planets (including sun and moon) around a circle with 63 Hijmans, “The Sun which did not rise in the East; the Cult of Sol Invictus in the Light of NonLiterary Evidence,” BaBesch vol. 71 (1996), page 143. 64 An interesting example of this is LIMC 347, in which Sol and Luna appear to be riding in opposite directions. This led Hijmans (1996) to conclude it was a symbol of cosmic chaos, and thus other “normal” flanking representations must refer to order. 65 LIMC Sol/Helios 342. 33 four zodiac signs.66 Sol and Luna thus have highly diverse representations, ranging from simple renderings by themselves, to interacting with other symbols and figures, to signifying cosmic order by flanking a variety of scenes, to even participating in some sort of zodiacal episode. One of the larger categories in the LIMC recognizes Sol’s placement in the context of the emperor and imperial Rome. Of course, this too is widely varied, but two examples can serve to give us a sense of what Sol’s job might have been in different scenarios. First, the Colossus of Nero67 is listed despite no renderings being available; however Letta deduces that Nero and Sol were indeed tied together in this statue.68 Nero is represented with solar attributes such as the radiate crown—his personage takes on divine solar characteristics; the emperor is the sun personified, and the sun guides him in his rule. Secondly, on a gem is depicted the emperor Licinius in a front-facing quadriga, with Sol and Luna in the upper left and right corners guiding him.69 Sol is holding a globe and Luna a torch, which then correspond to the globe and torch Licinius carries. Here Sol and Luna are supporting actors, at once maintaining their own divine/cosmic identity (whatever that may have been to the Romans of the early fourth century) as evidenced by their privileged position, and also lending that nature to the emperor in an act of endorsement. Sol’s function in representations with the emperors is just as nuanced as the other categories we place him in; as with these examples, he is used in a different manner to achieve a different result from a different audience. Perhaps the most complicated classification is that of simply Sol represented alone (or alone as far as we can tell). An obvious problem is the complete lack of context for many of these entries, as many must have been part of a larger structure or artistic installation of some 66 LIMC 295. LIMC 446. 68 Letta places much importance on the symbol of the radiate crown in his commentary. 69 LIMC 409. 67 34 kind; we are left with a huge variety of depictions that are not necessarily helpful in determining any sort of collective character. But the variety can again be noted, for although we have a general solar image “type”—perhaps standing with his right hand raised, holding any number of objects typical of Sol such as a whip or globe—his design can also be subject to slight differences in artistic symbolism as well as stylistic trends. In a shrine from Rome, which Letta dates to the middle of the third century,70 Sol is depicted in his usual fashion, but he is missing his radiate crown. A full discussion of the scholarly controversy behind the symbolic meaning of the radiate crown is beyond the scope of this study,71 but it is important to recognize that differences abound in the study of the iconography of Sol—even what are considered his most basic attributes. Styles and trends are similarly important to understanding the character of representations of the sun god; some, such as a Mithraic relief also from the third century,72 show Sol in a frontward-facing quadriga rather than in profile. While our interpretations of its meaning are only conjecture, it stands as an example of stylistic differences. Only with a much wider context of its use regionally and religiously would we be able to piece its significance together, but these slight alterations can tell us much more about the fluidity of Sol’s nature over time. Variations in Solar Iconography As we discussed in the chapter regarding past scholarship on the cult of Sol, the aspect of his worship or invocation that everyone focused upon had to do with origins—Who does solar religion belong to? What aspects of the Roman sun cult can we trace to outside sources? Is Sol an eastern, oriental deity or is he Roman through-and-through? However, in our reading of the 70 LIMC 93. Hijmans suggests that rays must have been painted on and are thus now conveniently lost. 72 LIMC 128. 71 35 major textual sources and overview of the iconographic evidence in the LIMC, it has proven apparent that variance in portrayals and literary references is of more use than focusing on drawing connections in character and symbolism between wide regions and over expansive time periods. While, as we have already seen in the LIMC, these differences can be observed in many different forms in Roman solar iconography, we can find two interesting examples in the figures and symbols that accompany Sol as well as epigraphic variation according to region. Hopefully rather than attempting to build one large identity, the characters of Sol can then be revealed in their own unique contexts. One of the most important indicators of Roman solar iconography is the object(s) Sol (or Luna) is holding. These can of course vary, but some examples may serve to illustrate the main types. We have seen that in the shrine from Rome depicting a non-radiate Sol, he is wearing a cloak and carrying a whip in his left hand. According to Hijmans’ interpretation of Sol’s common objects, the cloak or chlamys is just attributed to the image of the Greek charioteer73 although he can, at times, appear nude. Hijmans also connects the whip with the Greek charioteer, but here his explanation is less convincing, as the whip is also a common symbol in busts of Sol and many scenes without the quadriga or horses. It is seen as a solar symbol regardless as only Sol and Luna are given the whip, however the intrinsic meaning behind it is clearly ambiguous. The globe is also a major device related to Sol and Luna as well as emperors. Hijmans explains that the globe represented the cosmos in Greek teaching lessons, and therefore whoever is depicted holding the globe was meant to be the “prime mover” of the cosmos. 73 Hijmans, “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” page 74. 36 Various emperors, in whose context it probably means “supreme power”, in turn used this concept.74 These sorts of objects and attributes appear consistently enough in solar iconography to be used as indicators of Sol’s identity. For example, Hijmans draws attention to fragments of a statue found on the Esquiline Hill in Rome whose identity is commonly assumed to be Sol, but also raises some concerns.75 In the statue, Sol is depicted in somewhat typical fashion: nude but for a cloak, and with a stone radiate nimbus—however, only one horse accompanies him, thus casting doubt on his identity.76 The importance of Sol’s usual objects is demonstrated by their omission here in this statue, for had they not been missing, they could have made his identification (or non-identification) undeniable by modern scholarly opinion. Meaning is thus dependent not only on Sol himself, but what is placed with him; the symbolic message is perhaps more complex than we perceive it to be. But to complicate matters still, the sun can also be tied into other iconographical types altogether, and although they may not be referring to Sol himself as a specific sun god, they are important to mention as they pertain to solar iconography as a whole. We can assume that many of these alternate symbols probably exist, and the sun is (or is said to be) referred to via another solar symbol that appears to be separate from the deity. The eagle and the serpent, for example, are used in interesting ways supposedly related to solar representation. In his study on eagle/serpent symbolism, Rudolf Wittkower claims that certain eagle statues in Syria represent Helios, with evidence of a Hittite influence.77 The Hittites were supposedly linked to the Syrians 74 Ibid, page 75. Ibid, page 113. See also LIMC 461. 76 Ibid. 77 Rudolf Wittkower, “Eagle and Serpent: A Study in the Migration of Symbols,” Journal of the Warburg Institute vol. 2 no. 4 (1939), page 297. 75 37 through the Assyrians and Persians who then influenced their conceptions of solar divinity through the popular ideas and symbolism of Zoroastrianism, in which the eagle/serpent theme was common. Therefore, according to Wittkower, we can see representations of Helios (Shamash) between figures of eagles with serpents in their beaks, as in the sun temple in Hatra.78 Furthermore, eagles can be found on second-century Hatrean coins as evidenced by John Walker’s analysis. The sun god was clearly depicted on the obverse with his usual cloak and rays, while on the reverse an eagle with outstretched wings rose within a laurel wreath.79 While these scholars take the eagle as some sort of vague solar symbol and the eagle/serpent combination particularly as evidence for Iranian influence, some are more hesitant. Shinji Fukai, for example, in his analysis of Hatrean artifacts, defined the eagles present in the reliefs of the sun temple in Hatra as guardian gods.80 He drew on the same Hatrean coins as proof; for while Walker equated the eagle with the sun god on the obverse, Fukai assumed that this combination must mean the eagle is a sort of protector of the city. Interpretations are thus varied here, but clearly the sun was known to be related to other symbols beyond his representation as a physical god or cosmic logo, and these can vary according to region and cultural influence. Regional variation is particularly complex with Sol, as in all solar worship as a global phenomenon. Here all of Sol’s regional identities cannot be fully examined, but we can focus on one example to illustrate the slight alterations in character made between cultures within Rome. An interesting altar found in Rome exhibits two inscriptions (one in Latin, and one in Palmyrene) to solar gods Sol and Malakbel, among sculptural reliefs on four sides. George Houston’s 1990 78 Ibid. John Walker, “The Coins of Hatra,” The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society vol. 18 (1958), page 168. 80 Shinji Fukai, “The Artifacts of Hatra and Parthian Art,” East and West vol. 11 no. 2 (1960), page 161. 79 38 study on the monument favored an early dating of sometime within the first century, but also highlighted the controversy surrounding this line of thinking. Houston’s examination of the altar’s inscriptions is nonetheless useful, as several key differences can be seen in the manner in which Sol and Malakbel are treated.81 The Latin text is fairly straightforward, listing the names of the benefactors “in fulfillment of a vow to (the Sun) who has earned it.”82 The “Calbienses” in line six is here interpreted as the dwelling within which the family lived, but other possibilities exist; regardless, this is in stark contrast to the Palmyrene text. As far as names of those dedicating the altar, the Palmyrene inscription lists only one, followed by “…and the Palmyrenes.”83 It omits entirely any reference to where they lived or worked, as was the suggested meaning behind “Calbienses.” They also list Malakbel as well as “the gods of Palmyra” separately—in the Latin inscription, only the Sun was mentioned. The end of the Palmyrene text is also quite unusual; there is no equivalent to “To their gods. Peace!” in the Latin inscription. These solar divinities—whether Sol, Malakbel, or “Palmyrene gods”—were thus approached in different manner in each of these inscriptions, and they can be used to identify regional characteristics of the sun god. I tend to follow Houston’s main conclusions regarding the comparisons and contrasts between the Latin and Palmyrene inscriptions of the altar; as he explains, “although these two texts are obviously related, they are not translations of one another, but rather two different and independent texts. This is an important point, for it means that there is no guarantee that the Claudii who paid for this altar thought of ‘Malakbel and the gods of Palmyra’ as completely 81 For text and translations of the inscriptions, see George Houston, “The Altar from Rome with Inscriptions to Sol and Malakbel,” Syria (1990), page 190 and 192. 82 Ibid, page 190. 83 Ibid, page 192. 39 identical with Sol Sanctissimus, although of course they may have done so.”84 It is important to note that the Palmyrene text does clearly separate Malakbel from “the Palmyrene gods,” so there is the possibility of a closer connection between Sol and his Syrian form, with the Palmyrene gods left as mysterious add-ons. But despite whether these were indeed two individual texts or otherwise, the differences can tell us much about Sol in his varying regional contexts. For example, the odd “sign-off” at the end of the Palmyrene text may have been a typical characteristic of the Syrian cults or to Malakbel. The different form of the vow could also be related to the cult’s individual etiquette—the Latin inscription clearly places much more emphasis on expressing veneration for the god, as it begins with “Soli sanctissimo sacrum” and includes the comment about the sun meriting the dedication. Perhaps this could point to differences in custom—variations in the manner in which the sun god was valued, such as emphasis on verbal devotion versus an emphasis on ritualistic devotion. It is of course impossible to know for sure, but variations within solar iconography deserve as much attention as perceived connections. Coinage Roman coins are a field of study in themselves of course, and by no means is this intended to be an extensive analysis of the evidence. The most thorough compilation of coins relevant to this study is that found in the volumes of Roman Imperial Coinage, which will provide most of our examples here. Hijmans also offers a much neater view of Sol on Roman coinage in his image catalog that serves as an adequate summary. By first looking at chronological trends in issuances under both Republican and Imperial Rome, we can get a sense 84 Ibid, page 193. 40 of how the sun god was used politically over time. This will provide a foundation for then examining Sol’s function on coins more closely under three individual emperors: Augustus, Elagabalus, and Aurelian.85 Through viewing solar imagery on coinage first more generally and establishing its trends, we can then focus on variations in representation under these three rulers. Sol’s use on coinage had a distinctly political purpose, but his representation depended upon what (or whose) message he was being used to convey. a) Overview of chronological trends When discussing numismatic evidence, and especially in the interpretation of various symbols or depictions subject to stylistic trends, several issues arise. Context is always important in any type of iconography, but here particularly so, as Hijmans reminds us that symbolic meaning on coins was dependent upon the series as well as the intended audience.86 A coin studied in isolation may have been part of a larger issue of coins with complementary figures, or it may have been minted as part of a campaign including the commemoration or dedication of other monuments. Thus our interpretation of numismatic symbolism is limited largely to the patterns we are able to trace across time periods and reigns. Further issues come with the symbols themselves, as Hijmans points out that coins are “not a direct reflection of Roman society and its religious views.”87 In the same spirit of today’s currency, he characterizes symbols on Roman coins as “the result of a complex interaction between Roman numismatic tradition, standard imperial propaganda-themes and to some extent the specific religious or 85 Coins depicting Sol issued under Constantine will be dealt with separately in a later chapter. Hijmans, “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” page 458. 87 Hijmans, “The Sun which did not rise in the East,” page 137. 86 41 ideological messages communicated by the reigning monarch.”88 So we cannot, for instance, take increased solar symbolism on coinage as evidence of an increased fervor in the cult of Sol— it is, however, perhaps indicative of stylistic patterns of that particular emperor and their agenda in regards to how they wanted to portray themselves and their reign as a whole. We can form a general outline of the chronology of solar symbolism on Roman coins using the RRC and RIC as well as the material compiled by Hijmans and other scholars. Sol can be found on some Republican coins beginning in the third century BCE and appearing consistently enough to be notable until the time of Antonius. At times Sol’s classic attributes are seen, such as the radiate crown89 and combination with Luna. He is often in a quadriga, or illustrated to have wavy hair. However, some differences can be noted, as in two coins from the late second century BCE. The obverse of both coins features a bust of Roma, and the reverse a chariot scene—however, while RRC 309 shows Sol radiate in his quadriga as usual, RRC 318 depicts Jupiter driving the chariot as evidenced by the thunderbolt in hand. Sol’s radiate head floats above, facing Jupiter along with the lunar symbol of the crescent. These coins, while appearing similar at first glance, place Sol in two very different contexts. While we can only speculate as to the significance of the symbolism shown, it is apparent that Sol could at once be a divine force in his own right (as when he is driving the quadriga) as well as a supporting member in another scene with another deity. His placement facing Jupiter with the crescent is unusual, but it is of course implied that his presence in this manner is either a symbol of guiding cosmic power or solar/lunar framing of some sort. Regardless, it is clear that even in the Roman 88 Ibid. The earliest coin known to depict Sol is a prime example of the radiate crown, as Sol is given sixteen rays. See Michael H. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 150 no. 39.4, pl. VII. 89 42 Republic, Sol could appear in a variety of styles and functions that depended upon political and cultural trends. We find that solar symbolism seems to mostly disappear from the end of the Republican period to the late second century of the current era. When it returns in the Roman Empire under the Severans, however, Sol’s “type” appears to take shape; we begin to see Sol in his most standard forms, such as standing with his right hand raised, and holding one of his usual objects (whip, globe, etc.). Aeternitas also begins to make an appearance, typically holding the heads of Sol and Luna as in Vespasian’s example.90 With Elagabaglus’s coin issues, we begin to notice deliberate promotion of the sun god, especially in new images such as the black stone of Emesa.91 After his brief reign, however, we do not see such numerous uses of Sol on coins until the time of Aurelian. But here Sol’s imperial function seems to become more clear: on Aurelian’s coins, not only is solar symbolism more frequent, but he also makes use of the image of captives being trampled as well as interaction between the emperor and Sol. These types then remain relatively constant on issuances of coins into the later empire, with another major increase leading up to the reign of Constantine. Constantine’s coins exhibit similar themes with slight variations, like Sol being paired with Victory more often and also the curious appearance of the Roman military camp in the background of several late imperial coins. Fluidity of symbolism aside, however, it is clear that Sol’s presence on Roman coinage steadily increased with time, and as such the symbolic language of his representations must have been flexible. The characterization of republican and imperial coinage through isolated examples is almost impossible, but patterns in representations of Sol can still be useful in the sketch of his 90 C.H.V. Sutherland and R.A.G. Carson, ed., Roman Imperial Coinage vol. I (London: Spink and Son, 1968), II. 28 no. 121. 91 Elagabalus’s coins will be discussed more in detail in the following section. 43 symbolic variations. An obvious characteristic of imperial coins as opposed to Republican coinage is their featuring of the emperor’s head on the obverse. But while this is to be expected, it also lends a new context to Sol and solar symbolism on the reverse; now, rather than being paired with figures like Roma as we saw in some Republican coins, Sol is now directly related to the emperor—he is not just a representative of Roman values and custom, but also a force to be invoked in the name of the imperial state. Sol thus becomes a cog in the machine of imperial propaganda, but this is not to say that “Republican” and “imperial” refer to two distinct and easily traceable personalities, for on the contrary, Sol’s symbolic language is still dependent on how he is used—what/who he is paired with, their symbolic meaning in various situations, the context of the coin itself such as the series to which it belongs or the public campaign it was part of (and we rarely have this information). What is important, however, is that Sol in iconography—particularly in his images on coins—could be used to call forth a plethora of different meanings, some of which may have evolved over the course of his popularity as a divine figure. b) Imperial examples In the efforts to discern Sol’s evolving presence on Roman coins, a brief examination of three major examples from the volumes of Roman Imperial Coinage may be of use. It is of course impossible to provide here a full history of Sol as he relates to Roman numismatic tradition, but by focusing on the manner in which Sol was used by emperors in varying periods, we can form a clearer picture of the relationship between the sun and Roman politics. According to Harold Mattingly, the artwork on Roman coins was dependent upon Greek inspiration, however this is not to say that figures and symbols on the coins are thus Greek; on the contrary, 44 “indigenous” elements are expressed via these early artistic foundations.92 Furthermore, Roman coins were exceptional in their portrayals of current events, especially in the early years of the empire, and it is in this sense that Sol’s representations on coins are valuable to us as they are snapshots of Sol’s role in relation to the state and emperor at any given moment. Beginning with the reign of Augustus, then, it appears that Sol initially had a limited presence on imperial coinage. He is only found on a few coins from the mint of Rome—never the provinces—and these were issued by L. Aquillius Florus, one of three moneyers of the year 18 BCE. The obverse, upon which is the bust of Sol radiate, is considered a carryover from Republican numismatic trends, and the fact that Florus chose Sol for his design is treated more as a personal preference, as Mattingly argues that these Republican types mostly expressed “the history of the moneyers”93 rather than the history of Rome as put forth by Augustus himself. For Augustus aligns himself mostly with Apollo, as evidenced by their pairing on later issuances as well as his use of the laurel. Florus does place some common symbols on the reverse meant to refer to Augustus’s rule: While radiate Sol adorns the obverse, on the reverse we find wreaths, a quadriga with ears of corn referring to Augustus’s corn distributions in the same year, Augustus in a biga of elephants which honored his return from Eastern triumphs, and representations of Armenians/Parthians, celebrating the military victories in the east. So while it is apparent that Sol (at this point) was not a major figure associated with imperial victory, he was still important enough for his bust to be considered appropriate for the obverse of quite early imperial coinage. Sol had a continuous numismatic presence from the Republic to the Empire, but it is not until the reign of Elagabalus that we see a clear influx of solar imagery. And not only did the use 92 Roman Imperial Coinage, page 20. Harold Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum vol. I (London: British Museum Publication, 1976), page cii. 93 45 of these symbols become suddenly more commonplace, but the nature of the solar deity seems to have been redefined. This was indeed a new Sol, for it is clear that Elagabalus intended to promote an eastern sun god rather than the classic Roman conceptualizations of Sol that we have already seen on coins. For example, the black stone of Emesa is featured on some examples, assigning a distinctly foreign nature to his cult. In another example, “Sacerd. dei Solis Elagabal” introduces the god by name, thus demonstrating that this particular solar deity was previously unknown. We do see the use of some common symbolic pairings, such as Sol holding the whip or globe, but he is also depicted at times with a thunderbolt thought to have connections to Jupiter. Mattingly argues that all of these symbols must have been given “fresh significance” under Elagabalus, particularly in the case of the thunderbolt as it would have meant that “the functions of Jupiter are now performed by the ‘unconquered sun’”94 and therefore Elagabalus would have been interjecting his Syrian solar god into the Roman pantheon. Furthermore, the legends featured on his coinage sometimes referred to Elagabalus himself in priestly terms as in “Summus sacerdos,” which Mattingly tells us was chosen at the expense of “pontifex maximus” and “marks the Emperor as supreme above all minor priests.”95 Elagabalus’s coinage thus depicts a brief religious importation, as details like the black stone and introduction by name indicate that this sun god was clearly Syrian, and previously unknown to the Roman people. Elagabalus himself must have been the salesman of his deity, for he renamed himself in his epithets to express his priestly position, but once this position was made vacant with his assassination, Sol Invictus Elagabal disappeared from Roman coins. The more classic forms of Sol continued in a limited number of coins after Elagabalus, usually featuring him simply standing and holding a typical object like a whip or globe on the 94 95 RIC page 24-25. Ibid, page ccxxxviii. 46 reverse. But a further example of reinvention can be found in the coins issued during the reign of Aurelian. The sheer number of coins depicting Sol increased, but as Hijmans is quick to remind us, this is not to be taken as increased veneration of Sol in the sense that other deities were made less important, for of course what we call Roman religion lacked that sort of competitive element. But it seems as though Aurelian used Sol in the same way that Augustus used Apollo— almost a kind of patron deity, although this should not imply exclusivity. Rather, the patron deity is deployed to convey strength in certain chosen abilities and accomplishments. Aurelian’s choice in solar symbolism is not necessarily anything new, however it appears more strategic in the sense of Sol’s function. For example, we see Sol interacting with captives much more often on Aurelian’s coins, and the legend of “soli invicto” reinforced the image of Sol as his own triumphal force which, on coinage, was then meant to exemplify Aurelian’s reign. His coins thus point to a revamped Sol, retaining no visible eastern elements from the days of Elagabalus but instead expressing itself more often in traditional forms. These brief examples show that Sol’s representation on coins was, in the imperial period at least, dependent upon the emperor’s desired image—whether corresponding to himself, his reign, or Rome as a whole. Sol did not always have a strong presence, as we saw with the relatively few issuances under Augustus, although he is often credited for beginning the special veneration of the sun that culminated in the acceptance of Christian monotheism. And as Elagabalus demonstrates, Sol could also be fashioned in a way that clashes with surrounding customs; it is even possible to see a completely different solar personality, especially in his representation on coins. And Aurelian’s Sol is seemingly void of this “foreignness,” accepted by the Roman elite—he is more directly invocative of the concepts of victory, triumph over enemies in battle, and he is closer to the emperor in terms of his legacy. Sol was thus depicted according 47 to the emperor’s wider political agenda; his varying image on imperial coinage shows that this distinct facet of the solar “personality” could be further molded into whatever imperial message was deemed appropriate at the time. ----In his discussion of iconography related to Sol, Hijmans treats the evidence as rather straightforward—deviations from the norm may have occurred occasionally, but the larger focus was on the overarching trends. His goal was to understand solar iconography in the long term. It has been my aim, however, to present Sol’s images not as mostly falling into line with this or that pattern, but rather to stress the fluidity of symbolic language related to the sun. While this does not negate the existence of trends, it reminds us that symbols could vary in style and meaning from one time period, emperor, or region to the next. Image functions quite differently than text, after all, and most of the meanings we attach to these forms are no more than conjecture. In Sol’s depiction in general iconographic forms, it became apparent that his meaning could depend on his components such as the objects he holds—the globe, whip, etc.—as well as other figures like the eagle, thought to have some sort of solar significance. And as the Sol/Malakbel altar from Rome attests, regional variations in veneration of the sun as a deity could exist side-by-side. In a somewhat separate view of Sol on Roman coinage, his image and meaning could fluctuate according to political agenda. The most beneficial approach, then, takes into account the malleability of solar nature. 48 V. Mithraism and the Cosmos Romans’ worship of the sun seems to extend into many different arenas, be it political, personal, or astrological (or a combination), and the cult of Mithraism is another context through which we can examine his representation. Here I will treat the issue of Sol within the Mithraic mysteries separately, as this role does not necessarily characterize Sol as a whole, but rather offers a glimpse into the identities he could take on. Mithraism deserves its own discussion precisely because of its individuality—we cannot assume that the Sol present on Mithraic reliefs has the same attributes and symbolic meanings as those of imperial propaganda, for example, but this does not make it irrelevant. On the contrary, the role of Sol within Mithraism as well as the manner in which it has been dealt with in scholarship is immensely important to our understanding of symbolic variation. The cosmos tend to take on different functions according to which scholar one follows, and it is essential to (once again) observe what connections they made between symbol, meaning, and identity in order to examine whether their methodology is useful for the study of Sol. Here we will return to Cumont to discuss further speculation on the oriental nature of the cult and its diversified doctrine relating to Sol. This can be contrasted with the more recent work of Roger Beck, who provides us with a completely different take on identity through a study of the cosmos within Mithraism. Through these examples, I can then draw attention to issues surrounding methodology, and in turn provide my own argument regarding approach. Sol is one of many different deities and symbols within this mystery cult, but in this manner, Mithraism can be a sort of case study within the overwhelming conceptualization of solar worship. 49 Cumont’s Ideas on Mithraism and Sol Cumont’s approach in Mysteries of Mithras is typical to what we saw in his Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism in the sense that he was essentially worried about where elements of Mithraic doctrine and icons came from. He first supposes that Mithraism as a whole was both Persian and Semitic; the “basal layer” was derived from ancient Iran.96 He places above this “Mazdean substratum” influences in doctrine from Semitic sources in Babylon, then more in Asia Minor as time progressed and the cult spread and finally adopted certain Hellenic attributes.97 This movement of Mithraism was not a direct one, according to Cumont—The principal agent was, of course, the Roman army, which “gladly admitted to their rites those of their companions in arms, of whatever origin, whose aspirations the official religion of the army failed to satisfy, and who hoped to obtain from the foreign god more efficacious succor in their combats or, in case of death, a happier lot in the life to come.”98 But the spread of Mithraism also depended upon the movement of Semitic peoples in Syria and elsewhere in the Near East via trade routes connecting the Roman East to the center of power in the west. Rising from the lower classes gradually into the Roman elite, participants in the Mithraic mysteries proved a powerful force, according to Cumont’s narrative.99 He therefore attempts to answer the classic question of origin, which leaves us with a hodgepodge of different influences and infiltrations. Cumont further emphasizes this complexity when he explains Mithraism’s diversified doctrine as a mixture of Mazdean and Chaldean components. Sol is characterized as having Mazdean properties in that he is the supreme deity among a pantheon of gods which, mirroring the Iranian tradition, then translate to planets and astronomical bodies in Mithraic 96 Franz Cumont, Mysteries of Mithras (Chicago: Open Court, 1903), page 30. Ibid, page 31. 98 Ibid, page 43. 99 Ibid, page 61 and 81 (about the spread of Mithraism into the army elite). 97 50 representations. It is thus a mixture between theogony and cosmology, as exemplified in what Cumont interprets as the struggle between opposing elements present in Mithraic doctrine These “hymns of fantastic symbolism” presented themselves most clearly in the form of the four steeds traversing the fixed circle. In Cumont’s analysis, the chariot is being driven by “the Supreme God”100 around the circumference of the circle, propelled by four horses. The outermost (and faster) horse symbolizes the planets and cosmos, and while Cumont is less specific about the inner horses, he explains that the essence of each horse is transferred to the one “conquering” steed, which is then merged with the charioteer himself. The crux of this complicated scene is Cumont’s interpretation of the struggle between elements; the steeds are said to represent ether, air, water, and earth, and through their battle, the defeat of the innermost horse (that which represents Earth) symbolizes “the conflagrations and inundations which have desolated and will in the future desolate our world,” while the victorious outer horse is the “symbolic image of the final conflict that shall destroy the existing order of all things.”101 Here we can get a sense of how Cumont uses Mithraic imagery to reconstruct symbolic meaning, and in the case of the sun, it is characterized both as the highest deity (in the charioteer) and cosmological force (in its act of driving the chariot). But more should be said on Cumont’s conceptualization of Sol, especially in the connections made between Sol and Mithras. Cumont himself does not seem to have been entirely certain of the sun’s role, as its function tends to fluctuate in his work depending on which context it is being analyzed against. For example, Cumont argues for the idea of a “double Mithras” stemming from a combination of both Iranian and Semitic solar deities within the Mithraic 100 Ibid, page 116. Here we can assume that Cumont means a combination of the sun and Mithras. Mithras’s double identity will be discussed following this example. 101 Ibid, page 118. 51 mysteries.102 Here, the sun is both identical to and distinct from Mithras—at once a cosmic body, and also deified. However, Mithras could also act as a mediator due to his reputation for good deeds in Zoroastrian religion, as the god of light according to the Magi, and as an occupant of the “middle space of the planetary choir”103 in Chaldean doctrine. Cumont tells us that he could therefore at times represent this “middle zone” between heaven and hell, a metaphorical as well as cosmological space in which Mithras is the buffer between divine and earthly beings. Yet Mithras takes on still more identities when considered in combination with other components of Mithraic symbolism such as the torchbearers Cautes and Cautopates, whom Cumont suggests were “naught else than the double incarnation of [Mithras’s] person.”104 The torchbearers, who will be discussed further in light of Beck’s conclusions, are presented as complementary solar symbols; their raised and lowered torches correspond to a plethora of different binaries in Mithraic scholarship. Cumont uses them to construct what he calls a triple Mithras: they could at once represent the “day star” appearing at dawn and rising into the sky only to fall toward the horizon in the evening, as well as the sun’s movement into Taurus (signaling the beginning of spring) and Scorpio (signaling the beginning of winter).105 Mithras is thus inseparable from the sun in Cumont’s interpretation of Mithraic imagery, invoking a wide variety of different meanings attributed to diverse influence in both doctrine and cosmic symbolism. Beck and Cosmological Space But the role of Sol within the Mithraic mysteries can be further observed in the much more recent work of Roger Beck in his Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire. 102 Ibid, page 121. Ibid, page 128. 104 Ibid, page 129. 105 Ibid. 103 52 Compared to Cumont, Beck’s work depends heavily on astrology and astronomy as tools to understand Mithraic symbolism, and through this approach we can see how the sun operates in a much more temporal interpretation. First, Beck draws attention to the mithraeum itself. He sees the space in which the rituals and initiations were performed as crucial to the doctrine that guided them—he calls it the Mithraic cave, the “blueprint”106 which is supposedly mirrored in every mithraeum throughout the empire. According to Beck, the cave represented to the Romans “an inside without an outside,”107 and he uses a certain mithraeum at Marino to demonstrate this. The Marino mithraeum is an actual cave, and Beck sees it as a vehicle for more cave symbolism; the tauroctony is depicted as taking place within its own cave, for example, within which is Mithras’ cloak which depicts still more cosmic images. Beck thus argues that the space of the cave represents the universe, and within this space are more systems and universes so that “the inside is ampler than the outside; the contained contains the container”108 in a sort of nesting doll of cosmic symbolism. This space is immensely important in Beck’s study, because within it he finds a complex map of sorts. And although it cannot be fully recreated here, the main points of this spatial interpretation are important to mention, as they reveal the methodology behind Beck’s reading of Mithraic symbolism, especially in terms of the sun’s role. The cave can be read in several different ways, according to Beck. He argues that Mithras “commands the celestial equator”109 at the spring equinox in the cult niche, surrounded by the ecliptic/zodiac along the benches and the autumn equinox opposite him. The zodiacal signs Beck associates with the benches would thus 106 Roger Beck, The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 2006), page 112. 107 Ibid, page 106. 108 Ibid, page 107. 109 Ibid. 53 fall in line as the northern signs to Mithras’ right and the southern signs to Mithras’ left. But the mithraeum is also a “hemispherical volume of space,”110 representing everything above the equator (side-benches) although a southern hemisphere can only be imagined extending down underneath the floor in this scenario.111 Nevertheless, Beck paints the cave as an image of the movement of the sun, moon, and stars around the Earth outside, so that visitors to the mithraeum could mimic in their physical movements around the room the movements of celestial bodies. It is also important to mention that the cardinal directions function heavily in Beck’s translation of the mithraic “blueprint.” The side-benches, for example, as shown in the mithraeum beneath the Basilica San Clemente in Figure 1, can represent north and south with their corresponding zodiacal signs. But in Beck’s figuration of the northern and southern hemispheres, the intersection of the longitudinal and latitudinal lines represents Earth’s position, and as such an “east” and a “west” appear to those standing in this spot, further mirroring the movement of the celestial bodies westward across the sky (from Earth’s point of view). Clearly Beck’s view of the mithraeum as an image of the universe is a multifaceted one with overlapping references, but the positions of these bodies are what prove important to the meanings he assigns to them. In order to understand the role of these bodies, we must also understand Beck’s placement of the planets within the mithraeum. He uses the Sette Sfere mithraeum as evidence for their position, as here six are neatly illustrated along the front of each bench. But noticeably absent is the sun, which Beck places at the cult niche with Mithras, representing his place in the equinoxes but also evoking his “privileged” place in the mysteries. The cult niche, for Beck, illustrates “[the sun’s] place in the Platonic higher world, the world of invariance which is and 110 Ibid, page 110. The side-benches are indeed interpreted as representing both celestial equator and zodiac. See sections 11.3 and 11.4 on page 109 for Beck’s explanation of the apparent contradiction. 111 54 Fig. 1: Mithraeum at San Clemente. Photograph is my own. does not become, the world of Eternity.”112 But something else is happening in the cave— namely the tauroctony, which for Beck has its own astral meaning. As we have already seen, the image of Mithras is tied up in the image of Sol, and as such they are at times equated with one another. Beck goes even further to propose that the bull’s identity is inseparable from the moon, or Luna.113 As he explains, “astral symbols in the tauroctony can and do function as language signs with agreed meanings”114 and therefore the artistic depiction can be interpreted as “startalking about the interaction of Sun and Moon.”115 With this equation, then, the slaying of the bull becomes the sun’s triumph over the moon, symbolizing the phenomenon of the new moon. This scene can then carry over into more abstract principles like the ascent and descent of the soul, which Beck asserts as part of Mithraic doctrine, as well as the cycle of solar victory and 112 Ibid, page 115. See section B3 on page 197 for Beck’s full explanation of how he linked Luna and bull. 114 Ibid, page 196. 115 Ibid, page 206. 113 55 solar defeat. Sol/Mithras is thus the supreme cosmic body and he is the actor in Beck’s cave universe—the symbolism follows the known paths of the sun, moon, and stars and reveals itself in the structural layout of the cave itself. All of this fits Beck’s description of Mithraism’s “ultimate sacred postulates.”116 Its power is indeed a god—Mithras—who is also the unconquered sun as evident by the title Deus Sol Invictus Mithras. There is this “harmony of tension in opposition”117 occurring both spatially in the cave as well as symbolically, as through the torchbearers Cautes and Cautopates. And, importantly, all these ideas express themselves in motifs within the mithraeum; the meaning is found in the images’ placement as well as their content. These conclusions are not necessarily unlike Cumont’s; it is this approach, however—the dependency on astronomical patterns within the blueprint of the cave—that sets Beck’s study apart. Cumont has given us a characterization of Mithraism (and specifically Sol’s role within the mysteries) on the basis of an intricate network of religious influences from Persia and the Semitic Near East, and solar worship is present at many levels. Beck’s Sol is more bound to his cosmic role, but still exhibits the same multiplicity of symbolic meaning that we were left with before. Issues within Mithraic Study and the Case for a New Approach Having considered both Cumont and Beck’s analysis of Mithraic imagery, we can now turn to matters of inconsistency in their methodologies as well as some general issues that their studies raise in the search for Sol’s individual character and symbolic effect. Here I will mostly focus on problems in Beck’s more recent interpretation, as Cumont’s specific drawbacks have by now been thoroughly discussed amongst modern scholars, but Cumont’s overall approach and 116 117 Ibid, page 5-6. Ibid. 56 the subsequent theories and connections created from them can still be useful in the search for a more meaningful question. However, Beck’s most important sources for his cosmological interpretation of Mithraic doctrine present their own problems, and this carries over into his multivalent conception of solar symbolism. By focusing on these issues, we can raise doubts regarding connections spanning time and culture as well as the personality Beck attributes to Sol, and in turn focus on the variations of character that can be of more use to the present study. Through Beck’s desire to “withdraw that wedge between symbol and reality,”118 he relies heavily on the information given by Porphyry of Tyre. Of course, we lack adequate source material (beyond iconography) for the doctrine and initiations of Mithraism, so for Beck to bridge the gap between image and meaning, he had to rely solely on Porphyry’s interpretation, which raises some obvious issues. Porphyry, although a contemporary source, cannot provide a full account of a cult’s rituals and symbolic meanings; we are subject to the writer’s own perspective (regional and cultural), as with any subject within history, and thus cannot construct a valid model based on the testimony of a single figure. To make matters worse, there is no evidence to suggest that Porphyry was actually involved in the Mithraic mysteries—as a highly educated philosopher who studied under Plotinus in Rome, we can imagine that Porphyry’s knowledge of Mithraic ritual was probably more cerebral and abstract compared to the eyewitness testimony of an initiate, which we lack. As a student of Plotinus, Porphyry is held as one of the major proponents of NeoPlatonism in the later Roman Empire, and as such we should expect that philosophy to come through in his reading of Mithraic imagery. Particularly of interest is the Neo-Platonic “journey of the soul,” which immediately calls into question many of Beck’s conclusions on symbolic 118 Ibid, page 113. 57 meaning. In her thesis on The Cave of the Nymphs, Nancy Hoffman summarizes this NeoPlatonic journey as “a hierarchical series of studies and contemplations” through which “an individual could eventually achieve assimilation to the divine One, which was ineffable and immanent, and which interacted with mortals through a process of immaterial emanation.”119 Beck clearly saw this hierarchy reflected in a number of different systems within the Mithraic mysteries, and thus his fashioning of the cave to emphasize cosmological groups and patterns in movement allows Porphyry’s doctrinal interpretations to be true. Hoffman further explains that “this process consisted of divine descent simultaneous with mortal ascent resulting in an intermingling of human and divine entities.”120 As a result, the concepts of ascent and descent are everywhere in Beck’s mithraeum. In his cosmological view, the cave is a physical model of the sun’s ascent and descent (whether it be the cycle of a day, a year, or seasonal), and when combined with the seemingly overlapping figures of Mithras and Sol, this must translate to divine ascent/descent of the soul. Beck thus worked backwards, constructing the Mithraic cave to fit Porphyry’s Neo-Platonic ideas. It makes sense that Porphyry’s philosophical leanings transposed themselves onto the works and mythologies he was writing about; indeed, this was the whole purpose. Porphyry’s analysis of Mithraic doctrine within The Cave of the Nymphs fits into a wider philosophical trend notorious for rendering established myths in its authors’ own interpretations. Andrew Smith, one of the leading scholars on the work on Porphyry and Plotinus, explains this tradition as a “tour de force which probably responds to the challenge of previous interpretations of the Platonic and 119 Nancy Hoffman, “Mysticism and Allegory in Porphyry’s De antro nympharum,” MA thesis, University of Texas (2014), page 3-4. 120 Ibid, page 4. 58 other versions of the myth which would have been familiar to his audience.”121 The Cave of the Nymphs, in particular, was its own brand of Neo-platonic promotion as a Homeric hymn, as answering “Homeric questions” was a common undertaking for ancient writers and philosophers. Hoffman argues that by the time of Porphyry, “Homeric interpretation was a very wellestablished genre of easily-recognized conventions.”122 And the purpose of this exercise, beyond adding credence to the author’s own philosophic school, was to bring these Homeric passages “into coherence with a given writer’s philosophical worldview,”123 thereby making sense out of the insensible. We cannot take Porphyry’s interpretation of Mithraic doctrine at face value, then, and this is precisely what Beck fails to realize in his haste to utilize rare textual evidence for the cult’s doctrine. For example, when analyzing the main cult niche that depicts the tauroctony, Beck sees Mithras/Sol’s image there as “his place in the Platonic higher world,”124 although this does not necessarily have anything to do with Mithraism. Porphyry was inclined to see NeoPlatonic elements in Mithraic images, and depending on his interpretation thus weakens Beck’s whole cosmic theory on the cave’s layout, including the importance he places on Sol as the highest divine form. In addition to doubt regarding his sources, there is also the issue of the mixture of symbolism in both Cumont and Beck’s attempts to make sense out of Mithraism. Cautes and Cautopates, for example, are prominent in the mithraeums discussed by Beck, and can sometimes represent or directly affect the sun depending on their context. But their symbolic meaning is highly varied; Cautes and Cautopates, with their raised and lowered torches, are at 121 Andrew Smith, “Porphyry: Scope for a Reassessment,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies vol. 50 (2014), page 11. Here Smith is referring to another of Porphyry’s texts, but the general trend is in line with that of Cave of the Nymphs. 122 Hoffman, “Mysticism and Allegory,” page 3. 123 Ibid. 124 Beck, The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire, page 115. 59 times said to indicate the sun or the moon, the vegetative cycle, or the sun’s broad movement across the heavens. And Beck provides us with even more interpretations through his spatial study of the cave, arguing that Cautopates’ lowered torch represents the northern bench with the summer solstice, while Cautes’ raised torch represents the southern bench with the winter solstice.125 He bases this on the images seen at the Sette Sfere mithraeum again, which are used to give him a sort of orientation within the cave, but Beck also ascribes diverse symbolic meaning to the pair. Cautes and Cautopates could “flank and define” a scene as in the tauroctony, representing Taurus and Scorpius.126 But Beck also connects them to Gemini in the sense that they are alternate and complementary, and in this way could denote the visible and invisible hemispheres.127 So if Cautes and Cautopates—thought to be connected somehow to solar symbolism—can have such a variety of different meanings, what does that then indicate for Sol’s role? Working with such limited sources and stretching those sources to explain all Mithraeums forced Beck to extract any and all meaning from mute iconography with the vaguely related commentary of Porphyry. We are left with such a loose definition of Mithraism’s symbolic parts that its doctrine (and thus the role of the sun) evades us. Regional Variation in Dacian Reliefs Still more issues can be found in Beck’s method by analyzing the “blueprint” of the Mithraic cave against several examples in regional and stylistic differences. First, his use of Sette Sfere as a universal model comes with its own impediments. The mithraeum at Ostia is certainly valuable to the study of Mithraic doctrine, for the cosmic element expresses itself in the most 125 Ibid, page 112. Ibid, page 196. 127 Ibid, page 202. For more meanings attributed to the torchbearers, see page 211. 126 60 obvious manner here—planets line each of the benches (thus “seven spheres”), mapping for Beck the connections between Porphyry’s doctrine and astronomical symbolism. In fact he even considers it the “ideal” mithraeum; Beck clarifies that he does “not mean the mithraeum that all mithraea should have been but, with the exception of Sette Sfere, failed to be.” The “star-talk” of Sette Sfere thus becomes the language of all mithraea; all are generalized based on what one mithraeum appears to have represented. Even Beck’s broader assumptions regarding the mithraeum as a cave exhibit this same tendency towards the universality of Mithraic symbolism. As some mithraea are indeed fashioned in caves, and Porphyry (in typical Platonic fashion) emphasizes the cave trope, Beck argues that all mithraea must be intended as caves, even when they are freestanding structures. The initiates, according to Beck, simply did not always have natural caves available to them; in a sense he characterizes them as the receivers of Rome’s hand-me-downs, having to fit their cult into whatever space they had—this then justifies the fact that they were always rectangular, as opposed to a more cosmologically-accurate domed space. But here we run into a problem with Beck’s interpretation, as he leaves no room for regional or stylistic differences. For example, we know that the mithraeum at Dura Europos was not only a free-standing structure above ground level, but according to Marie-Henriette Gates’ study, also “always intended as a religious structure.”128 Builders of this mithraeum clearly displayed a certain choice in construction that does not completely fit Beck’s explanation—it began essentially as a blank canvass, yet was not fashioned out of a natural cave, was not sunken in order to represent a cave, and still exhibited the rectangular shape that Beck thought odd enough (in terms of representing the cosmos) to need to justify. There are stylistic differences as well, as in the paintings on the side walls which 128 Marie-Henriette Gates, “Dura-Europos: A Fortress of Syrio-Mesopotamian Art,” The Biblical Archaeologist (1984), page 176. 61 depict seated men in Persian dress as well as hunting scenes that display a more Iranian Mithras.129 While these scenes as well as the overall construction of the mithraeum do not immediately point to a difference in Sol’s nature in Durene Mithraism, they demonstrate that Beck’s blueprint is perhaps more limited than he himself believes. If doubt can be cast on his illustration of the cave as universe in all mithraea, the meanings he assigns to cosmic bodies can also be questioned. It is certainly not a stretch of the imagination to think that Mithraic solar imagery and the doctrine that surrounded it could display regional variations; perhaps by focusing on the differences, we can formulate the role of the sun in more specific terms. One particularly interesting example of regional variation in Mithraism can be found within Beck’s own study of four reliefs depicting the tauroctony from the region of Dacia.130 He presents these reliefs in two stylistic pairs: CIMRM 1974 and 2000, both from the Apulum area, and CIMRM 2001 (also from Apulum) and the Sarmizegetusa relief. Both of these pairs share iconographical details and general layouts, but both also exhibit particularities in style that may lead to questions regarding the sun’s role. For example, the positioning of Sol and Luna in the second pair is worth noting, for unlike typical tauroctony reliefs in which they are placed in the upper left and right corners framing the scene, CIMRM 2001 and the Sarmizegetusa relief brought the busts of Sol and Luna inward. In Sarmizegetusa, Luna was moved to just above the head of Mithras, while a depiction of the rock birth takes her typical place in the upper righthand corner. 2001 shows Sol in the raven’s usual position beside the head of Mithras, while the raven takes Sol’s position in the upper left corner. Beck attributes these slight changes to style, arguing that room had to be made for the rock birth, and this created its own new trend in Dacian 129 Anastasios Orlandos, “The New Mithraeum at Dura,” American Journal of Archaeology (1935), page 4. 130 Roger Beck, “Four Dacian Tauroctonies: Affinities Within a Group of Mithraic Reliefs,” Apulum (1985). 62 reliefs.131 But variations in symbolic meaning must also be considered, especially with Sol’s movement inward. As the raven is normally considered a messenger figure,132 this switch has symbolic consequences—Is Sol now communicating to Mithras on his own accord? Does Sol then lose his supporting role in the framing of the cosmos with Luna? What is the significance of the raven in the sun’s normal position? None of these questions can necessarily be answered with certainty, but what is clear is a departure from the norms, which Beck argues should be considered a deliberate choice by the artists of the reliefs.133 But other issues relating to solar symbolism present themselves in the two pairs of Dacian reliefs, namely with other “complementary” solar figures. Returning to the torchbearers Cautes and Cautopates, we can identify a major peculiarity in CIMRM 2001 and Sarmizegetusa. Rather than depicting Cautopates with his usual lowered torch, both reliefs show two raised torches, immediately complicating the whole conceptualization of the torchbearers as opposite/complementary to one another. Such a broad diversity of meaning has been attributed to the torchbearers, especially by Beck himself, but most of these are wholly incompatible with the image of two raised torches—they cannot represent “opposing” forces like the sun/moon and thus balance the scene, nor can they refer to the sun’s movement across the heavens as there is no downward descent, nor can they be seen as the Gemini symbolizing two hemispheres (among many other definitions). Beck takes the opportunity to define this different image of Cautes and Cautopates against the same symbolic meaning he attributed to the “normal” image: he says that in the image of two raised torches, “somehow there can be ascent without descent, waxing 131 Ibid, page 50. Beck expresses doubt in this reading as it is based solely on interpretation (and I would agree), but for our purposes here it can still serve as an example of shifting symbolic meaning. 133 Ibid, page 51. 132 63 without waning, life without death.”134 These are still rather vague conclusions, but it is apparent that the sun’s role (both spatial and temporal) may have been affected by the alteration, and it appears to have been a regional phenomenon. This second pair of reliefs offers yet another interesting alteration in the symbol of the lion, which Beck understands as a clear solar symbol. While the lion’s normal position in the scene varies, it is most common in reliefs from the Rhine and Dacian areas.135 But the lions in CIMRM 2001 and the Sarmizegetusa relief are quite strange in that they run leftwards out of the scene while their heads turn back to look. Beck takes the lion as its own self-contained solar symbol: “more precisely,” he says, “a symbol of the solar nature of the central power, the Deus Sol Invictus Mithras who performs the action at the heart of the icon.” According to Beck’s interpretation, the lion “would serve as a reminder that the power of Mithras is the power of the Sun and that the two deities are at some level—and despite appearances—not two but one.”136 So when the lion runs outwards away from the scene, it has a direct symbolic consequence, albeit elusive to modern historians. For a plethora of interpretations could be applied here, none of which could be confirmed, but if the lion is indeed so closely related to the sun, then we can presume that Dacian Mithraism either deviated from the norm in Sol’s role and treatment in some way or differed in their methods of expressing solar activity. All of this points to regional differences in both iconographical representation and symbolic meaning, and while Beck argues that it was a decision made on the part of the designer of the reliefs, it would be unwise to attribute these changes to one individual’s personal agenda. It is equally possible and quite likely that the artist was informed by the customs and traditions 134 Ibid, page 53. Ibid, page 54. 136 Ibid, page 60. 135 64 around them, and simply expressed what the cult had already formulated and engrained into its own rituals and culture. More emphasis should be placed on the choice of the group as a whole to present the sun in these peculiar ways rather than passing over these abnormalities for the sake of a simpler generalization. ----Beck’s study of the Dacian reliefs thus reveals that one reading of Mithraic iconography, and specifically solar imagery within it, does not correspond to all Mithraic cults. Sol’s character is complex, as he is clearly a major deity and force within the cult, yet his placement and context seem to be highly varied. We must also remember the Romans’ relationship to the images themselves; Hijmans reminds us that “the ‘message’ was itself visual and experiential without there necessarily being a detailed verbal counterpart. Recipients of such messages visualized and experienced rather than verbalized them.”137 So although the precise meaning is still hidden from us, Sol and his related figures like the torchbearers and lion acted in different ways according to regional custom. We can thus find in these variations of Mithraic solar representation a glimpse into the problem of characterizing sun worship in Rome; any study of the sort must give more precedence to geographical and cultural disparities as well as changes over time. 137 Hijmans, “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” page 179. 65 VI. Sol Invictus in the Late Empire The emperor Constantine and his supposedly special veneration for the sun deserves separate attention not necessarily because he used Sol in some entirely new way, but because his relationship with the Roman sun god is commonly held as the precursor to the acceptance of Christian monotheistic ideas. By looking at Constantine’s characterization and use of Sol in a political sense through his buildings and monuments as well as coins, it will be possible to assess Sol’s role in imperial propaganda. Turning then to major literary works of the later imperial period, we can begin to see more clearly how the argument connecting Sol to Christianity took hold in scholarship and popular opinion, and details such as the equation of Christmas to a solar celebration can then be dealt with. Sun worship is, again, more nuanced than former studies have suggested; Constantine’s Sol is prominent and strong in his victorious imperial image, but this does not necessarily translate to monotheistic tendencies we know came afterward, and thus are inclined toward when considering the issue. Rather than drawing sweeping conclusions on ideological influence, we should instead focus on the solar role as it appeared in its own right. Constantine’s Sol: Coinage and Monuments While coinage should not be relied upon fully to illustrate any particular emperor’s attitude toward the gods, Constantine’s coins are still worth noting due to their reflection of certain trends in imperial propaganda. For the number of coins depicting Sol began to increase even before Constantine, and he seems to have grown into a more specific role in terms of imperial symbolism. Erika Manders, in her study on imperial coinage, suggests that this sudden influx of solar imagery was due to an increase in internal and external threats and a general 66 weakness of the empire in the later third century.138 She also draws upon the Codex Theodosianus to pinpoint how the emperor’s image was received, as it includes a passage explaining that the size of the emperor’s image does not affect the coin’s value.139 The fact that such a correction needed to be made suggests that the emperor’s representation on coins was rather powerful—if a common Roman could have mistaken a large image to mean high value, that image must have been perceived as intrinsically related to the emperor’s greatness in Constantine’s time.140 The figures chosen for the reverse, then, had important things to say regarding the emperor’s reign and legacy. It appears that Constantine was continuing a trend of featuring solar iconography on coins. When taken as a group, many of Sol’s representations followed already existing patterns; for example, Sol was often paired with Victory, and captives made their appearance on a number of different issuances in typical imperial fashion.141 However, we also see more interaction between Constantine and Sol, as in their busts facing one another in (EXAMPLE NEEDED) and the crowning of Constantine by Sol in (EXAMPLE NEEDED). So Constantine’s coinage does place significant importance on the figure of Sol, but it is necessary to remember that this does not mean Sol was promoted above any other deities. Hijmans attributes the notion of emperors elevating certain gods to “Christianizing assumptions,”142 pointing out that all emperors tended to associate themselves with certain divine personalities—Augustus with Apollo, for example. Therefore what appears to be Constantine’s special veneration for Sol was in fact more related to 138 Erika Manders, Coining Images of Power: Patterns in the Representation of Roman Emperors on Imperial Coinage (Leiden: Brill, 2012), page 21. 139 Codex Theodosianus 9.22.1. 140 Manders, Coining Images of Power, page 34. 141 Based on chronology of RIC as well as Hijmans’s catalog of images in his “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome.” 142 Hijmans, “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” page 611. 67 his own image; as Hijmans explains, “The deployment of image types [sol] on coins was not about Sol and his cult, but about the emperor and his reign. The message was not that the emperor wanted the viewer to personally forge closer bonds with Sol, but that the viewer should respect the emperor as one with close ties to the divine sun.”143 Coins that depict Sol thus do not reflect his inherent character as a god, but rather his essence and attributes are mingled with the emperor’s legacy. Another angle from which to view Constantine’s treatment of solar iconography is through his building projects. Constantine was known to have been repairing sections of the stands at the Circus Maximus, constructing a major basilica and a bathhouse on the Quirinal, and a number of statues were devoted to him.144 However, the Arch of Constantine serves as a particularly telling example of Constantine’s use of Sol to convey certain themes in imperial propaganda. We can begin to understand this complex monument through its overall symbolism—the arch was, in fact, a “patchwork” of sorts—combining past victories with the present and weaving the power of former emperors into Constantine’s own reputation. Dedicated to Constantine by the Senate and people of Rome as attested in the attic inscription, the arch placed together remnants from past monuments (or spolia) built in honor of Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius.145 In many of the reliefs, including the roundels originally dedicated to Hadrian, Constantine has quite literally been placed into the scene, as his head has been fastened onto the former emperor’s body; in the context of battle scenes and associations with Victory, 143 Ibid. Ibid, page 612. 145 For a more in-depth description of the arch and its components’ origins, see Mark Wilson Jones, “Genesis and Mimesis: The Design of the Arch of Constantine in Rome,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians vol. 59 no. 1 (2000). 144 68 Constantine is thus celebrated for his military triumphs.146 Sol and Luna are represented in tondi on the east and west sides of the monument, and Sol is also present in battle scenes with Constantine. Figure 2 shows the roundel in which Sol rises in his chariot, mirrored on the opposite side of the monument by Luna in another roundel. The placement of Sol is thus related to Constantine’s promotion of imperial victory propaganda, both framing the piece with Luna and supporting the emperor’s victory in battle. Fig. 2: Sol rises in his chariot on the eastern façade of the Arch of Constatine. Photograph is my own. The wealth of symbolism in the artwork of the arch itself is not the only perspective through which Sol is utilized in connection with the emperor, for by the time of Constantine the Colossus had been reverted back into a representation of Sol. And it was not just his form, but also his placement spatially in relation to the arch that tells us how Sol is to be read. According to Elizabeth Marlowe’s study, the Colossus would have stood just north of the arch between the 146 Specifically the Battle of Milvian Bridge, which the attic inscription seems to refer to. 69 Temple of Venus and Roma and the Flavian Amphitheater.147 So as spectators approached from the south along the Via Triumphalis, the Solar Colossus would have risen perfectly from beneath the arches, further reflecting the already obvious exaltation of Sol on the arch itself and the nearby temple dedicated to him. The Arch of Constantine and the juxtaposition of the Colossus thus nicely demonstrate the complexity of iconographic forms of Sol and their ability to be morphed into the desired symbolism. Constantine was focused on impression, both in his monuments and in his coins—tying his personality to Sol, while not raising him above other gods in value, allowed him to use the solar symbol as one for imperial victory. Sol: A Monotheistic Force? It has become quite a popular trend within scholarship to argue that this later solar personality—Sol Invictus—played a direct role in introducing the idea of monotheism into the minds of Romans, so that Christianity then had a platform upon which to grow. Halsberghe, for example, goes so far as to say that at the time of Constantine, “Deus Sol Invictus formed the centre of all religious life”148 and thus he was elevated above all others. And indeed, many of our textual sources from the fourth and fifth centuries seem to portray the sun as an all-encompassing force; Macrobius’s Saturnalia, for instance, placed the sun at the very top of the divine hierarchy. He argues that it must be “divine reason” that caused the sun to be the epitome of all the gods, as it alone orchestrated the movements of stars and planets and thus “we have to admit that the sun, as directing the powers that direct our affairs, is the author of all that goes on around 147 Elizabeth Marlowe, “Framing the Sun: The Arch of Constantine and the Roman Cityscape,” Art Bulletin (2006), page 225. 148 Halsberghe, The Cult of Sol Invictus, page 167. 70 us.”149 So Macrobius’s Sol had more of a cosmic function that then led to his divinity. Similarly, Julian’s “Hymn to Helios” seems to put forth an image of the sun as a kind of mediator between the divine Sol and the physical sun.150 However, it is important to place these texts in their rightful chronological context, as by the time writers like Macrobius and Julian were considering these ideas, Christianity was well established, and the popularity of Neo-Platonic ideas at this point no doubt spurred the tendency to group gods together and see one as representative of many (as seen in Julian). To rely on them as objective accounts of the nature of later imperial sun worship would be undoubtedly foolish, for we would be imposing our prior knowledge of the religious patterns and ultimate “winners” onto our own conceptualization of Sol. Being so far removed from the values of what we call “traditional Roman religion,” we must be careful not to approach the monotheistic question from an already Christianized frame of mind; writers like Macrobius and Julian may give us some valuable information as far as the sun’s relation to other deities in its latest form in Rome, but they do not characterize solar worship as a whole. Additionally, Hijmans points out that these texts themselves were outliers, “exceptions to the rule of regular, ephemeral religious expression” and thus rather than illustrating for us broad characterizations, the text is rather an “individual, one-time actor on the long-term stage that is set (for us at least) by the tradition, range, and arrangement of our visual sources.”151 Macrobius’s Sol is thus limited to a certain period as well as certain ideologies, reflecting a pagan view heavily influenced by contemporary Christian ideas. 149 Macrobius, Saturnalia I.17.2. Julian, “Oration Upon the Sovereign Sun. Addressed to Sallust,” trans. Emily Wilmer Cave Wright, The Works of the Emperor Julian vol. I (1913), page 138-140. 151 Hijmans, “Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome,” page 618. 150 71 A common line of argument in the debate on the origins of monotheism in Rome ties Sol Invictus to December 25th, the traditional date of the winter solstice, and the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ. An immediate problem arises, however, in the complete lack of evidence prior to Christianity for any celebration of Sol on December 25th. The imperial fasti make no mention of it, and the feast days for Sol that they do record in August, October, and early December are unrelated to the sun’s cosmic events.152 Julian is in fact the only one who refers to any solar celebration on the solstice,153 but as his whole agenda is to convince readers of the ancient and embedded customs of his pagan cult, it is perhaps more tempting to ask why Julian needed to try so hard to convince them. It is, however, still possible that some sort of celebration did occur just on account of the significance of the solstice itself. Hijmans notes that there seems to be evidence for increased interest in the sun’s cosmic activity and movements through Roman calendars’ use of planetary weeks as well as zodiacal representations; it is therefore possible that the sun at certain points could have been treated purely as an astronomical entity rather than its divine counterpart. Other evidence for solar influence on the date of Christmas comes from Christian sources such as the De Pascha Computus, whose anonymous author referred to the birth of Jesus as the same day as the creation of the sun.154 Eventually the Nativity was connected with Jesus’s baptism, resulting in varying traditions with the Theophany/Epiphany, but we see a lateDecember date chosen by the end of the fourth century in the orations of Gregory of Nazianzus.155 Clearly there is no map here to follow regarding which tradition was in place first or who influenced who—Christian writers did, however, make much use of the solar trope when 152 Ibid, page 588. Julian, “Oration Upon the Sovereign Sun. Addressed to Sallust.” 154 De Pascha Computus, XIX. 155 See Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration XXXVIII, which was given on December 25th. 153 72 referencing Jesus,156 and we know that the sun was revered amongst some Christians as late as the fifth century, when Leo I felt the need to preach against those who worshipped the rising sun in St. Peter’s.157 We have no way of knowing if this was a continuation of the cult of Sol Invictus, a general recognition of the sun in its purely cosmic form, or perhaps an entirely new formulation of the sun closely tied to monotheism that was both derived from and influenced by emerging Christian ideas. ----We are left with the sense that Roman solar worship in the late imperial period underwent significant changes in expression, although sometimes it is unclear whether Sol is the actor or the acted-upon in terms of influence. We saw that Sol was already gaining popularity as a figure used on coins before the reign of Constantine, but through his subsequent coinage and monuments, seemed to solidify the solar identity as purveyor of imperial victory and triumph over foes of Rome. The cult of Sol in a religious sense thus had little to do with Constantine’s invocation of the sun personified; the iconography places Sol in relation to the emperor’s image, and thus he is used to define and project Constantine’s legacy. Alternatively, this elevation in solar visibility is used to argue for connections between Sol Invictus and the monotheistic ideas that soon after found their place in Roman religious tradition. But Sol was simply never fashioned in a manner that would suggest he was to be elevated above all others—Constantine may have emphasized a solar connection, but this did not displace other divine personalities. Furthermore, we must not read Christianized sources like Macrobius and Julian as objective portrayals of the solar form in the late empire, as the foundation had already been laid for them 156 For example, in Mark 16:2, the women go before the tomb “when the sun had risen” to find that the son had also risen. 157 Leo I, Sermon XXVII: On the Feast of the Nativity. 73 to see many gods in one and vice versa. Sol’s role in the later imperial period is thus as ambiguous as the rest of his history; we can gather that at the time Constantine came to power, Sol could be used in iconography as a component of propaganda, mingling with Victory and the emperor. We can also tell in its combination with Luna that the sun still held a cosmic, astronomical significance (either separate from his divine personality or fused together, or perhaps both at different times). To present the cult of Sol as a precursor to Christianity is to ignore the symbolic language of his representations in favor of a “neat” explanation for what we know came next. 74 VII. Conclusion Former approaches taken to the study of Sol have led us nowhere in truly understanding him as a deity and what forms he took in iconography. We began with the most obviously skewed nineteenth-century dialogue facilitated by Wissowa and others which clung to contemporary ideology over objective analysis and thus always placed the sun god outside of Rome—either directly transposed from the Greek Helios or, in the imperial period, an oriental construct. But that initial focus on precisely where Roman sun worship originated, as problematic as it was, continued on in a pattern throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries. Cumont’s reversal of the discussion to center upon an eastern source certainly provided us with valuable material, but we are left empty-handed when his arguments are compared to the source material. Halsberghe attempted a thorough sketch of the imperial Sol Invictus (still separated from the Republican Sol Indiges), but similarly falls short in his reliance on unreliable material as well as his haste to draw connections between solar religion and monotheism. And even Hijmans’s extensive and meticulous study that refutes all of those claims, which I have made use of quite frequently, still follows in their footsteps in the sense that he aims his research toward determining to whom Sol belongs. Even after over a century worth of analysis, we are still left with what we perhaps already suspected—that the figure and character of Sol could actually be seen as multiple Sols when considered in different regions, artistic and political contexts, and points in time. Based on the evidence we have for the earliest form of Sol, supposedly taken from Helios, he was considered thoroughly Roman and thus was; but Sol Invictus Elagabal, for instance, was portrayed on coinage as well as in the biographies as having uniquely eastern attributes—not to mention that the Roman elite chose to outline him in this way, and must therefore be considered a direct 75 influence as nothing suggests otherwise. But there is no basis for the concept of a neatly divided Sol Indiges and Sol Invictus nor the latter’s eastern character, especially as nothing suggests that any emperor outside of Elagabalus had anything to do with his Syrian solar god in Rome. We must therefore reject the popular yet flawed conceptualization of Roman sun worship as one homogenous entity that underwent sweeping, uniform changes in favor of one that takes into account the complexities of solar expression and strives toward no narrative. This is of course not to say that trends in Sol’s representation do not exist, as I have shown throughout my examination of solar imagery and literary themes. My aim has not just been to explain why past approaches were inadequate, but also to illustrate the variety of symbolic forms Sol could take throughout his history in iconographic representation. Sol, especially in his combination with Luna in the flanks of a scene, could often be construed as a cosmic force rather than as his own self-contained divinity. Even in texts such as that of Varro, Sol’s cosmic function is important within the subject of agriculture. But we know Sol was a deity in his own right, as plenty of temples and shrines were dedicated to him in Rome and thus he must have had a moderate place amongst gods. Mithraic iconography appears to draw upon both roles—Sol was represented as his own divine being, yet also one with Mithras and a cosmic force. And in the later imperial period, Sol was used by the emperor to construct his own victorious identity, both in coins as well as in building projects and games. So the image of Sol certainly did not have a single intrinsic meaning, nor did his characterization by each of the ancient authors exclude his other roles elsewhere. Understanding Sol’s role in any particular scene depends on one’s ability to read the Romans’ symbolic language—Sol is not necessarily himself but often rather his chosen essence in relation to every other symbol involved and their wider context. 76 Scholarship has thus sought to simplify a phenomenon far too intricate in social and cultural meaning to be distilled down to one narrative. Questions regarding origin of ideas are tricky if not impossible, and in the case of the study of Roman sun worship, they are useless in determining Sol’s importance and role in the broader conception of divinities. We would do much more informative work by focusing on variations within solar religion, whether that be in regional, contextual, or symbolic evolution over time. Just in this brief discussion of Sol within the literary and iconographic evidence of Republican and Imperial Rome as well as solar symbolism within Mithraism, we have seen the multidimensionality of the sun as a personality and symbol as well as fluctuations in his role and significance in Roman society and politics. It would therefore benefit us to explore the peculiarities and variations of Sol and leave the questions surrounding ethnic origin unanswered. As a global phenomenon, solar worship cannot be reduced to any one characterization, and influences do not determine identity. In the case of Sol, better questions can be formed based on regional, cultural, and political context in order to de-generalize sun worship’s narrative in Roman history. 77 Bibliography Primary: Aeschylus. Suppliant Women, trans. 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