Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sol Invictus

Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the later Roman empire. The cult was created by Aurelian in 274, who made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Scholars disagree whether the new deity was a refoundation of the ancient Latin cult of Sol[1], a revival of the cult of Elagabalus[2] or completely new[3]. The god was favoured by emperors after Aurelian and appeared on their coins until Constantine.[4] The last inscription referring to Sol Invictus dates to 387 AD.[5] and there were enough devotees in the 5th century that Augustine found it necessary to preach against them.[6] A festival on 25 Dec. is sometimes thought to be responsible for the date of Christmas.[7]

Invictus (unconquered) was an epithet used for various Roman divinities in the Roman Empire. In the Roman Calendar of the early empire these include Jupiter Invictus and Mars Invictus. It was in use from the late Republic and throughout the Imperial period for a range of deities, such as Hercules, Apollo and Silvanus,[8] and was therefore a well-established form when applied to Mithras by Roman devotees from the 2nd century onwards. It has a clear association with solar deities and solar monism; as such, it became the preferred epithet of Rome's traditional Sol and the novel, short-lived Roman state cult to Elagabalus, an Emesan solar deity who headed Rome's official pantheon under his namesake emperor.[9]

The earliest dated use of Sol invictus is in a dedication from Rome, AD 158.[10] Another, stylistically dated to the 2nd century AD, is inscribed on a Roman phalera: "inventori lucis soli invicto augusto" (to the contriver of light, sol invictus augustus ).[11] Here "augustus" is most likely a further epithet of Sol as "august" (an elevated being, divine or close to divinity), though the association of Sol with the Imperial house would have been unmistakable and was already established in iconography and stoic monism.[12] These are the earliest attested examples of Sol as invictus, but in AD 102 a certain Anicetus restored a shrine of Sol; Hijmans (2009, 486, n. 22) is tempted "to link Anicetus' predilection for Sol with his name, the Latinized form of the Greek word ἀνίκητος, which means invictus".[13]


The Roman gens Aurelian was associated with the cult of Sol.[17] After his victories in the East, the emperor Aurelian thoroughly reformed the Roman cult of Sol, elevating the sun-god to one of the premier divinities of the empire. Where previously a priests of Sol had been simply sacerdotes and tended to belong to lower ranks of Roman society,[18] they were now pontifices and members of the new college of pontifices instituted by Aurelian. Every pontifex of Sol was a member of the senatorial elite, indicating that the priesthood of Sol was now highly prestigious. Almost all these senators held other priesthoods as well, however, and some of these other priesthoods take precedence in the inscriptions in which they are listed, suggesting that they were considered more prestigious than the priesthood of Sol.[19] Aurelian also built a new temple for Sol, bringing the total number of temples for the god in Rome to (at least) four[20] He also instituted games in honor of the sun god, held every four years from AD 274 onwards.

The confusion surrounding Aurelian's reforms has been significant, much of it rooted in the mistaken opinion that he was introducing a new cult, which, as is now clear, he was not. The following constitute the most common errors of fact attributed to Aurelian and his reforms.

1. Aurelian called his sun god Sol Invictus to differentiate him from the earlier Roman god Sol.

Actually, Aurelian is twice as likely to call Sol Oriens on his coins as he is Sol Invictus.[21] Only one of the fifteen or so pontifices of Sol adds the epithet invictus; all others simply call themselves "pontifex Solis".[22]

2. Aurelian built his new temple for a Syrian sun god, not the Roman one.

There is no credible evidence to support this, and ample evidence to refute it. The "Syrian Sol-hypothesis" is therefore now rejected by all specialists in the field.[23]

3. Aurelian inaugurated his new temple dedicated to Sol Invictus and held the first games for Sol on December 25, 274, on the supposed day of the winter solstice and day of rebirth of the Sun.

This is not only pure conjecture, but goes against the best evidence available.[24] There is no record of celebrating Sol on December 25 prior to CE 354/362. Hijmans lists the known festivals of Sol as August 8 and/or 9, August 28, and December 11. There are no sources that indicate on which day Aurelian inaugurated his temple and held the first games for Sol, but we do know that these games were held every four years from CE 274 onwards. This means that they were presumably held in CE 354, a year for which perchance a Roman calendar, the Chronography of 354 (or calendar of Filocalus), has survived. This calendar lists a festival for Sol and Luna on August 28, Ludi Solis (games for Sol) for October 19–22, and a Natalis Invicti (birthday of the invincible one) on December 25. While it is widely assumed that the invictus of December 25 is Sol, the calendar does not state this explicitly.[25] The only explicit reference to a celebration of Sol in late December is made by Julian the Apostate in his hymn to King Helios written immediately afterwards in early CE 363. Julian explicitly differentiates between the one-day, annual celebration of late December 362 and the multi-day quadrennial games of Sol which, of course, had also been held in 362, but clearly at a different time.[26] Taken together, the evidence of the Calendar of Filocalus and Julian's hymn to Helios clearly shows, according to Hijmans and others, that the ludi of October 19–22 were the Solar Games instituted by Aurelian. They presumably coincided with the dedication of his new temple for Sol.[27]

4. After Aurelian, Sol became supreme deity of the Roman Empire.
(Hijmans 2009, chapter 9) raises serious doubts about this contention.


Sol Invictus and Sunday
One day of the week was named after Sol, the sun. But there was no observance of any of these days in the way that the Jews observed Saturday or the Christians Sunday. The first Sunday closing law was enacted by Constantine in 321 AD, and refers to the "day of the sun", and forms the basis of subsequent Christian legislation in this area.[38]

Sol Invictus and Christianity
The Philocalian calendar of 354 AD gives a festival of "Natalis Invicti" on 25 Dec. There is no evidence that this festival was celebrated before the mid 4th century AD.[39] It also contains the earliest certain reference to 25 December as the feast of the birth of Christ.[40]

Whether the 'Sol Invictus' festival "has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date" of Christmas (Catholic Encyclopedia (190[41]) or not has been called into question by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who challenged this theory by arguing that a December 25 date was determined simply by calculating nine months beyond March 25, regarded as the day of Jesus’ conception (the Feast of the Annunciation).[42]

Some Christians accept the idea that Sol Invictus may be behind the date of Christmas, with the idea that the early church "baptized" the holiday by imbuing it with a new, Christian meaning. In the 5th century, Pope Leo I (the Great) spoke of this in several sermons on the Feast of the Nativity. Here is an excerpt from his 26th sermon:

But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery.

Mosaic of Sol (the Sun) in Mausoleum M in the pre-fourth-century necropolis under St Peter's Basilica. Some have interpreted it as representing Christ.

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, article on Constantine the Great:

"Besides, the Sol Invictus had been adopted by the Christians in a Christian sense, as demonstrated in the Christ as Apollo-Helios in a mausoleum (c. 250) discovered beneath St. Peter's in the Vatican."

Indeed "...from the beginning of the 3rd century "Sun of Justice" appears as a title of Christ"[43]. Some consider this to be in opposition to Sol Invictus[citation needed]. Some see an allusion to Malachi 4:2.

The date for Christmas may also bear a relation to the sun worship. According to the scholiast on the Syriac bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi, writing in the 12th century:

"It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day." [44]

However, this statement directly conflicts with what we know of the early Christians, namely, that they were ridiculed, tortured, and cast apart from operative society precisely because they would not participate in the pagan feasts and celebrations.[citation needed] The early Christians set themselves directly in opposition to the paganism which ruled the day:

"Since Christians worshipped an invisible God, pagans often declared them to be atheists." [45]

From: Wiki
Sol Invictus
The winter solstice was celebrated in many different cultures and represented in mythology as the battle of the virtuous god against the darkness, or metaphorically, the moment in which an initiate overcomes death and resurrects from the underworld to bringing light again to his people, just like the sun, which rises again after the dark night.
The many deities associated to the sun in various cultures represent these heroes who have won this battle, remaining unconquered – the unconquered sun or sol invictus. In Rome, sun god Mithras (a Roman version or Persian sun god Mithra) was worshipped during the winter solstice. Nordic cultures also celebrated the Yule festival in December and Aztecs celebrated sun god Huitzilopochtli's month in December as well.
The solar deities in many cultures were related to the winter solstice as in the longest night of the year, it could seem as if the sun was never going to rise again, but when it did appear above the horizon, this meant that the one more time, the sun managed to resurrect, attesting that the little sun that exists inside each person would also re-emerge, invariably. So, the winter solstice celebrations were a way to remind the population about the cycles of nature and inspire people to be like the sun.

From: The Symbolism of the Winter Solstice – Sol Invictus
On Saturnalia and the Festival Day of Sol Invictus
by Michael Small (2005)

Saturnalia and the cult day for Sol Invictus are two Roman holiday celebrations held in the days leading up to and preceding the modern Winter Solstice. The Saturnalia itself was originally held on the 17th of December, but the festival eventually extended from the 17th of December until the 23rd, and Romans honoured the birthday of Sol Invictus on the 25th of December. In this article I will endeavour to provide an overview of these two important festivals in antiquity and consider how they might be celebrated today. Also, as the theme for this edition of The Hearth is light and darkness I will also consider some possible interpretations of these festivals as they relate to the shortest day, the agricultural cycle, and the whole notion of hidden potential for growth expressed through the Roman holiday season. I believe it is important to consider both holidays together, since they are not only closely tied together in date and theme, but are also both part of the larger season the Roman’s called ‘Bruma’ or Midwinter.


The cult of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) was dedicated on the 25 December 273 C.E. in honour of the birthday of the Sol. Although this took place two days after the completion of Saturnalia, it is nevertheless thematically linked to the earlier festival for the 25th marked not only the birthday of Sol Invictus, but also the Winter Solstice in the Julian Calendar. The implications behind this are clear, for on the shortest day of the year the sun is born into the world and will spread his light and fertility throughout the hemisphere as the days grow progressively longer. Although we cannot know for certain, it seems likely that this sort of thinking would have occurred to the ancients – perhaps going so far as to see the events of the Saturnalia as almost or paving the way for this important event to occur. It is also interesting to note that Sol Invictus was often conflated with both the god Helios and Mithras, the latter whose cult was considered the largest Pagan rival to Christianity in Antiquity. It is surely no coincidence that his birthday, or at least the season surrounding his day, was chosen by Christians as an appropriate time to celebrate their own religious mysteries (absorbing and adapting many of the seasonal traditions along the way).


For the rest of the article: On Saturnalia and the Festival Day of Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") was long thought to have been a Roman state-supported sun god introduced from Syria by the emperor Aurelian in 274 and overshadowing other Eastern cults in importance,[9] until the abolition of paganism under Theodosius I. However the evidence for this is meager at best,[10] and the notion that Aurelian introduced a new cult of the sun ignores the abundant evidence on coins, in images, in inscriptions, and in other sources for a strong presence of the sun god in Rome throughout the imperial period.[11] Tertullian (ca. AD 160 - AD 220) writes that the Circus Maximus was dedicated primarily to Sol.[12] There is no hiatus in the cult of Sol in Rome, nor any shift in the depictions of the god suggesting some sort of significant change under Aurelian. It is clear, however, that the cult of the sun did become much more important during his reign, not least with the institution of a new college of pontiffs for Sol.

There is some debate over the significance of December 25th for the cult of Sol. According to a single, late source, the Romans held a festival on December 25 of Dies Natalis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered one." Most scholars assume Sol Invictus was meant, although our source for this festival does not state so explicitly.[13] December 25 was commonly indicated as the date of the winter solstice,[14] with the first detectable lengthening of daylight hours. There were also festivals on other days in December, including the 11th (mentioned above), as well as August. Gordon points out that none of these other festivals are linked to astronomical events.[15] When the festval on December 25th was instituted is not clear, which makes it hard to assess what impact (if any) it had on the establishment of Christmas.

The official status of the cult of Sol after Aurelian was significant, but there is no evidence that it was the supreme cult of the state. Hoey exaggerates the importance of an inscription from Salsovia that supposedy indicates an official empire-wide cult-prescription for Sol on December 19th.[16] It actually simply states that at the command of the emperor Licinius the commanding officer of the detachment at Salsovia was to burn incense annually for a newly erected statue of Sol on November 18 (Hoey misread the date).[17] This simply means that Licinius accpted the erection of the statue in his honour.

Throughout the fourth century the cult of Sol continued to be maintained by high-ranking pontiffs, including the renowned Vettius Agorius Praetextatus.[18]

From: Wiki
The cult statue was brought to Rome by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who before his accession was the hereditary high priest at Emesa and is commonly called Elagabalus after the deity.[3] The Syrian deity was assimilated with the Roman sun god known as Sol Invictus ("the Undefeated Sun").[4]

A temple called the Elagabalium was built on the east face of the Palatine Hill, to house the holy stone of the Emesa temple, a black conical meteorite[5]. Herodian writes of that stone:

This stone is worshipped as though it were sent from heaven; on it there are some small projecting pieces and markings that are pointed out, which the people would like to believe are a rough picture of the sun, because this is how they see them.[6]

Roman aureus depicting Elagabalus. The reverse reads Sanct Deo Soli Elagabal (To the Holy Sun God Elagabal), and depicts a four-horse, gold chariot carrying the holy stone of the Emesa temple.

Herodian also relates that Elagabalus forced senators to watch while he danced around his deity's altar to the sound of drums and cymbals,[5] and at each summer solstice celebrated a great festival, popular with the masses because of food distributions,[7] during which he placed the holy stone on a chariot adorned with gold and jewels, which he paraded through the city:

A six horse chariot carried the divinity, the horses huge and flawlessly white, with expensive gold fittings and rich ornaments. No one held the reins, and no one rode in the chariot; the vehicle was escorted as if the god himself were the charioteer. Elagabalus ran backward in front of the chariot, facing the god and holding the horses reins. He made the whole journey in this reverse fashion, looking up into the face of his god.[7]

Herodian's description strongly suggests that the Emesene cult was inspired by the Babylonian Akitu-festival.[8]

The Emperor also tried to bring about a union of Roman and Syrian religion under the supremacy of his deity, which he placed even above Jupiter,[9] and to which he assigned either Astarte, Minerva or Urania, or some combination of the three, as wife.[7] The most sacred relics from the Roman religion were transferred from their respective shrines to the Elagabalium, including "the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred." He reportedly also declared that Jews, Samaritans and Christians must transfer their rites to his temple so that it "might include the mysteries of every form of worship."[10]

After the Emperor was killed in 222, his religious edicts were reversed and the cult of Elagabalus returned to Emesa.[11]

From: Wiki
Also see:
Sol Invictus & Christmas

Christ, Constantine, Sol Invictus: the Unconquerable Sun
Heliogabalus & here (Syrian god equated with Sol Invictus)

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