Sol Invicus

Alias: Elagabalus, Heliogabalus
Location: Syria, Italy
Cities: Emesa, Rome
Estimated Date: 100s A.D. - 400s A.D.

  1. He played a large role in the mysteries of Mithras

    Sol Invictus played a prominent role in the Mithraic mysteries and was portrayed as being equated with, allied with, or an epithet of Mithras, although the relationship between the public cults themselves is controversial. The New Testament scholar Helmut Koester, in his book, Introduction to the New Testament, says “Although Mithras appeared to be the most oriental god among the new deities, and although his cult was essentially celebrated in exclusive mystery associations—the Mithras cult was a “mystery religion” in the strict sense of the word—this god was received by the Romans without resistance, and at the end of the 3d century CE, as Sol Invictus he became the official god of the Roman state.”
  2. His imperial cult is associated with Dionysus, Serapis and Apollo

    When Augustus fought against Mark Antony, Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.) identified himself with Apollo while Mark Antony identified himself with Dionysus. His great-great-grandson Nero (54-68 A.D.) continued to use the solar imagery of the crown radiating sunlight. Hadrian (117-138 A.D.), who created his own mystery religion based on Serapis for his lover Antinous, replaced the head of Nero with that of the sun. Shortly after the Year of the Five Emperors, 193 A.D., Caracalla (198-217), the first emperor to grant Roman citizenship to all freemen and the rights of Roman women to all women of the empire (while simultaneously expanding his tax base to pay for the increased military benefits necessary in the increasingly frequent coups), also stamped a sun god with a sunray crown on his newly debased currency, a solar representation also used on the coins of his cousin's son, the boy emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (218-222 A.D.), who is often credited with importing to Rome the Syrian sun god he would serve as a fourteen-year-old high priest, both named Elagabalus. The sun god Elagabalus, or Heliogabalus, was also identified with the Roman sun god, Sol Invictus, renamed Deus Sol Invictus, after the boy emperor Elagabalus replaced Deus (Zeus, Jupiter) as head of the panetheon. Constantine’s father Constantius was a devotee of the ‘Sun the Invincible’. In 310, Constantine dsecribes himself in a speech as having seen a vision of Apollo, who was often identified with the Sun God Helios, and was the patron of culture and of the emperor Augustus, which would appeal to parts of Gaul more acceptable to Roman traditionalists than Christianity
  3. His wife is associated with Venus

    Emperor Elagabalus married and divorced five times (twice to the same person) but his strongest love was for his male chariot slave. He supposedly (uniquely?) prostituted himself at the imperial palace and was reported to have desired a sex change. His third marriage formed an alliance with the Anatonian noblewoman Annia Faustina, connecting the imperial cult with that of Magna Mater (the Roman name for Cybele, the lover of Attis).The sun god was said to have entered into a divine marriage with Venus Caelestis. This alliance strengthened the role of women and allowed women to enter the Senate hearings and receive Senatorial titles for a short time, until Elagabalus and his mother were killed in a riot after he lost the good graces of the true power behind the empire at the time, Julia Maesa, Elagabalus' grandmother. His memories expunged from the public record through damnatio memoriae. Between the 230s and 260s A.D., the Venus Caelestis cult became associated with Sabazius, the Phrygian version of Dionysus, and the god of Jewish proselytizers banished from Rome a century earlier according to the epitome of Valerius, and around that same time Sabazius began appearing with solar aspects as well as the epithet of Invictus.
  4. His imperial cult promoted the concept of one god to solidify the empire under one emperor

    The Sol Invictus cult was reformed by Emperor Aurelian (whose name is the origin of the French city Orléans) into a henotheistic cult; that is, accepting the worship of multiple gods but worshipping or equating them with a single god. Aurelian (270-275 A.D.) was pivotal in reunifying the fractured Roman Empire following the Crisis of the Third Century and in doing so created a new temple cult in the Campus Agippae at Rome to facilitate “one god, one empire, one emperor.” After Aurelian’s reunification of the Roman Empire, it was divided again by Emperor Diocletian, an Illyrian military man who split the empire into four territories led by two senior emperors named Augustus and two lesser emperors named Caesar, none of whom ruled from Rome, and while this ended the Crisis of the Third Century, it did not end the chaos of contested successions. On the advice of his son-in-law Galerius, Diocletian also enacted the last and greatest persecution against Christianity. According to the Christian author Lactantius, Galerius hated the Roman name due to his Dacian lineage and wanted to rename the empire the Dacian Empire. Whether this is true or not, when Galerius became Augustus, he repealed the long tradition of exempting Italy from taxation, causing a revolt in Rome led by Maxentius, the son of a former Augustus and important ally to Diocletian. Galerius failed to even reach Rome, and Maxentius was instead defeated by Constantine, who eventually reconquered the rest of the empire, overthrowing Dioceltian’s four-headed tetrarchy and moving the capital from Rome to Constantinople, further eroding the “Rome” out of the Roman Empire. While Constantine was a Caesar, he maintained the prototypical Roman deities on his coinage, but after ascending to Augustus, he adopted the henotheistic Sol Invictus cult of his father and promulgated a genealogy that made him a descendent of Claudius II Gothicus, the highly-praised emperor that Aurelian had served under, thus reinstating imperial succession by heredity, which Aurelian had once again extinguished by killing Claudius II’s brother following his boss’ death. Thus, as Eusebius puts it, the Monotheistic Revolution that eventually took over the eastern side of the empire seems to correlate with the desire to maintain a monarchy (one god, one empire, one emperor) with eastern religious sympathies (Sol Invictus, Christianity) against the more traditional polytheistic associations (Jupiter, Hercules) of a Diocletian terarchy divided by a complex father-son dual-hierarchy.
    Officially he continued with the ceremonies of paganism, sacrificing to Apollo (the Sun) before the campaign on the Rhine (par. 66), and consulting the haruspices before expedition into Italy. Pagan panegyrists speak also of secret communications made him by Apollo in Gaul. We need not wonder at all this, for paganism was the official religion and he had no decisive motive for abandoning its external ceremonies. We do not know what he was thinking. It is very probable that the cult of the god Sol pleased him since, like so many others, he believed that such a poly-monotheistic [henotheistic] system would not only fit in very well with the State religion but would respect the convictions of the Christians (pars. 27-29). If Constantine at this time was no longer a convinced polytheist he was only following the footsteps of his father who, as we are told, “had broken away from the religions of the Greeks” (cf. Socrates in Hist. Eccl., I, 2). It is almost certain that Constantius, after deserting polytheism, welcomed the apparent monotheism of the god Sol while he was treating the Christians with kindness...

    As long as Constantine was subordinate in the tetrarchy to the other dynasts, he used the tutelary deities of the tetrarchy, the Jupiter of Diocletian and the Hercules of Maximian (par. 5). When these two Augusti left the stage, Constantine put Jupiter and Hercules aside and brought out the divinity Apollo-Sol, connecting him with Claudius II, the Goth from whom his servile courtiers made his father descend (par. 11). From 310 – the death of Maximian – in court panegyrics and on his coins Constantine is depicted as surrounded by the light of “Sol.” In the panegyrics the Sun is the companion (comes) of the majesty of the emperor. Inscriptions on coins echo this idea (soli invicto comiti), and show the Sun pouring out his rays or even Constantine shining forth in the guise of the Sun-God.
    3. The origin of these may justly be ascribed to the delusion of polytheistic error. But when that instrument of our redemption, the thrice holy body of Christ, which proved itself superior to all Satanic fraud, and free from evil both in word and deed, was raised, at once for the abolition of ancient evils, and in token of his victory over the powers of darkness; the energy of these evil spirits was at once destroyed. The manifold forms of government, the tyrannies and republics, the siege of cities, and devastation of countries caused thereby, were now no more, and one God was proclaimed to all mankind. 4. At the same time one universal power, the Roman empire, arose and flourished, while the enduring and implacable hatred of nation against nation was now removed: and as the knowledge of one God, and one way of religion and salvation, even the doctrine of Christ, was made known to all mankind; so at the self-same period, the entire dominion of the Roman empire being vested in a single sovereign, profound peace reigned throughout the world. And thus, by the express appointment of the same God, two roots of blessing, the Roman empire, and the doctrine of Christian piety, sprang up together for the benefit of men.

    5. For before this time the various countries of the world, as Syria, Asia, Macedonia, Egypt, and Arabia, had been severally subject to different rulers. The Jewish people, again, had established their dominion in the land of Palestine. And these nations, in every village, city, and district, actuated by some insane spirit, were engaged in incessant and murderous war and conflict. But two mighty powers, starting from the same point, the Roman empire, which henceforth was swayed by a single sovereign, and the Christian religion, subdued and reconciled these contending elements.

    6. Our Saviour’s mighty power destroyed at once the many governments and the many gods of the powers of darkness, and proclaimed to all men, both rude and civilized, to the extremities of the earth, the sole sovereignty of God himself. Meantime the Roman empire, the causes of multiplied governments being thus removed, effected an easy conquest of those which yet remained; its object being to unite all nations in one harmonious whole; an object in great measure already secured, and destined to be still more perfectly attained, even to the final conquest of the ends of the habitable world, by means of the salutary doctrine, and through the aid of that Divine power which facilitates and smooths its way.

    7. And surely this must appear a wondrous fact to those who will examine the question in the love of truth, and desire not to cavil at these blessings. The falsehood of demon superstition was convicted: the inveterate strife and mutual hatred of the nations was removed: at the same time One God, and the knowledge of that God, were proclaimed to all: one universal empire prevailed; and the whole human race, subdued by the controlling power of peace and concord, received one another as brethren, and responded to the feelings of their common nature. Hence, as children of one God and Father, and owning true religion as their common mother, they saluted and welcomed each other with words of peace. Thus the whole world appeared like one well-ordered and united family: each one might journey unhindered as far as and whithersoever he pleased: men might securely travel from West to East, and from East to West, as to their own native country: in short, the ancient oracles and predictions of the prophets were fulfilled, more numerous than we can at present cite, and those especially which speak as follows concerning the saving Word. “He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” And again, “In his days shall righteousness spring up; and abundance of peace.” “And they shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into sickles: and nation shall not take up sword against nation, neither shall they learn to war any more. [-Isaiah 2:4]”
  5. The Christian Chi-Rho symbol probably came from his imperial cult

    Eusebius says that Constantine swore an oath to him that he and his army saw in the sky the chi-rho symbol above the sun along with the word “By this, conquer!” Scholars have long suggested that the symbol was originally meant to be identified with Sol Invictus and was later readapted into a Christian symbol following Christianity’s ascension in the capital city. Although the chi-rho are generally believed to reference the first two letters of the word Christ, K and R, an inscription from Tobna in Algeria dedicated to Sol Invictus shows that Chi-Rho also signify KRonos, or Saturn, the god of time and air who was also associated with Sol at the time, forming the final planetary tier as Pater, or “Father”, in the Mithras cult. Kronos is likewise equatable with the Sumerian Enlil (“Lord-Air”) and the Canaanite sky god El the Bull (the golden calf), whose plural form Elohim is used for the word “God” in grammatically singular syntax in the Old Testament.
  6. His birthday is on Christmas

    Aurelian instituted December 25th as the sun god’s birthday, opened new games in his honor and made every pontifex of the cult an elite Senator (although each Senator held other priesthoods as well).
  7. The Easter date was purposely chosen by Constantine to replace the Passover instituted by the Old Testament

    Along with it being associated with the Western tradition, Constantine specifically uses the fact that the Jews celebrate Passover on the Vernal Equinox as a reason to change it to the following Sunday.
    When the question relative to the sacred festival of Easter arose, it was universally thought that it would be convenient that all should keep the feast on one day; for what could be more beautiful and more desirable, than to see this festival, through which we receive the hope of immortality, celebrated by all with one accord, and in the same manner? It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded. In rejecting their custom, we may transmit to our descendants the legitimate mode of celebrating Easter, which we have observed from the time of the Savior's Passion to the present day. We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Savior has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course; and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast. How can they be in the right, they who, after the death of the Savior, have no longer been led by reason but by wild violence, as their delusion may urge them?… As, on the one hand, it is our duty not to have anything in common with the murderers of our Lord; and as, on the other, the custom now followed by the Churches of the West, of the South, and of the North, and by some of those of the East, is the most acceptable, it has appeared good to all; and I have been guarantee for your consent, that you would accept it with joy, as it is followed at Rome, in Africa, in all Italy, Egypt, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Libya, in all Achaia, and in the dioceses of Asia, of Pontus, and Cilicia.
  8. His weekday was purposely chosen by Constantine as the official Day of Rest to replace the one instituted by the Old Testament

    In 321, Constantine decreed Sunday to be an official day of rest when government offices would close.
  9. He was worshipped in mystery cults that had a baptism sacrament performed for the remission of sin, abstinence, a belief in heaven and hell, and the resurrection of the dead

    One of the problems arising when studying the sun cult in the Roman Empire during the period of the emperors is the lack of agreement as to wether [sic] Sol Invictus Elagabal should be identified with Mithras2. Some authors, on the other hand, attach too little importance to the Syrian cult3.

    It is our opinion that a sharp distinction must be drawn between [Sol Invictus] Elagabal and Mithras as solar deities...

    The different locations of the rituals, the differences in the numbers and hierarchial status of the spectators and adherents, the basic differences in ritual and sacrifices, clearly show that these cults could not have been identical. This does not, of course, imply that there were no similarities between them. Both cults, which developed under analogous cultural conditions, called their god Sol Invictus, the unconquerable sun god...

    Up to a certain point, many elements of the two cults were common to both. This is true of the dogmas, especially in the imperial period. The attraction of the cult of Sol Invictus derives, to a great extent, from the same source as that of the cult of Mithras, which exercised a strong emotional influence by virtue of its complex symbolism, promises, and the purification its rites offered. The followers of Mithras could be purified by baptism; they honoured the seventh day, the day of the sun, and celebrated the birth of their god on the 25th of December. Their special virtues were abstinence and self-control. They believed in the existence of a heaven for the pure and a hell for the sinful, and also in the immortality of the soul, a future judgment, and the resurrection of the dead. We have found traces of all these elements in the cult of Sol Invictus Elagabal, if our interpretation of symbols and representations has not misled us.
  10. He is associated with a tomb figure beneath the Vatican that may be Jesus

    Solar charioteer in a Vatican tomb, 250-350 A.D.

    Imagery similar to Sol-Helios is used in what appears to be an image of Jesus as a charioteer in a ceiling mosaic from the Tomb of the Julii in Masoleum M beneath St. Peter's Basilisca, dated to the late 200s or early 300s A.D.
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The Dying-and-Rising Gods

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