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Steven Ernst Hijmans

Groningen, 2009

Links and Suggestions for anyone (but particularly the non-specialist), who wants to read what I’ve published on Sol

You can’t read the book here, but it is available. For a quick link to the online full text of this book, please go to my page (where you will also find other publications of mine on Sol): Main recommendation: DON’T read the whole book! There is a lot here that you can skip. Skim through this document to find out which parts interest you. Summary Read chapter 1 to understand why Classicists no longer adhere to the old views on Sol. Then, if you’re interested in Christ-Helios read chapter 8; if you’re interested in Sol in general, read chapters 9 and 8, as well as 5; if you’re interested in Augustus and Sol, read chapter 7; and if the connection between radiate emperors and Sol is your topic, read chapter 6. Instead of chapter 5, you may prefer to read this article on “Temples and Priests of Sol in the City of Rome”.

In this book, I try to pull together all the various aspects of almost two decades (off and on) of Solresearch. It is a scholarly work, but to my delight it has also attracted a more general audience, predominantly people interested in the religious environment in which Christianity emerged. For those more general readers, this short ‘guide’ to the contents may be helpful. Background Roman religion is difficult to study. It is a vast field, of course, with literally thousands of deities, but that is not the problem to which I am alluding. It is lack of written sources, and lack of balance in what sources we have that is the issue. The few written sources we do have are so haphazard, that one of the ten deities most often commemorated in inscriptions, Jupiter Dolichenus, is not even mentioned in them, let alone discussed. There are Roman Imperial cults of obvious popularity – given the number of votives archaeologists have uncovered – for which we have no written evidence in any form, so that we don’t even know the name(s) of the deity/ies involved. The so-called Danube Rider plaques are an example of mass-produced, common objects linked to a cult about which we know nothing. The situation is different, but not much better, when we do have literary sources. The ancient authors are often heavily invested in their texts, and therefore cannot be taken at face value. This is especially true in late antiquity, when Christianity rapidly establishes itself as the exclusive state religion. Whether Christian or pagan, anyone writing about religion at this time had an axe to grind. When modern scholars sought to understand the broad trends and circumstances that formed the context for this momentous religious shift, it was nonetheless on those meagre sources that they relied. While this is, of course,

perfectly acceptable, what actually happened was not. Scholars like Georg Wissowa or Hermann Usener developed broad scenarios describing the how and why of the religious transition of late antiquity, and then fitted in the snippets of ancient sources, thus providing ‘proof’ for their vision. For example, Tacitus tells us of Roman soldiers greeting the sun at dawn “because that was the custom in Syria”. What does this tell us about the cult of the sun god in Syria? Nothing, really, but the passage is widely cited in support of the contention that the sun was the supreme deity in Roman Syria. Rather than deduce that from this passage, these scholars instead induct this passage into their broad, explanatory framework. It is somewhat like having a puzzle in pieces, a lot of which are missing, without a master image. Having decided what the overall image must have been, enigmatic snippets of info like the greeting of the sun are easily incorporated, because so few pieces are left. Sol, too, is rarely mentioned in extant literary sources, and when he is mentioned, the texts have little to say of substance. As a result, it is relatively easy to make such stray remarks in our sources fit the postulated model. Fortunately, there is another corpus of sources, namely images and archaeological remains related to Sol, that are much more abundant, and have much less invested in them. The aim of this book is to fully integrate the non-literary sources into the study of Roman solar cult(s). The result is a study in, broadly speaking, three parts: I. II.

Review of previous scholarship in the light of the material culture evidence (chapter 1).
How to recognize and ‘read’ images of Sol; what material do we have? (chapters 2-6). Case studies (chapters 7-9).

Chapter 1 is, in my humble opinion, a must-read for anybody who is interested in Sol. It will tell you why I don’t believe that Rome had a separate sun god, Sol Invictus, who differed from the traditional sun god, Sol Indiges, and deconstruct the ‘evidence’ for a Syrian provenance for Sol Invictus. Chapter 2 is theoretical – for the die-hards only. Chapter 3 is dry; it discusses the elements of Sol’s iconography. Useful, though, if you’re not aware of how strict Roman iconographical rules were. Did you know that certain types of nimbuses are excluded from Sol’s iconography? Not only does that mean that Sol can never be depicted with that type of nimbus, it also means that it cannot evoke associations with Sol, when somebody else is depicted with it. Chapter 4 is endless. It presents the material evidence I gathered for this study Chapter 5, on temples, is now superseded by an article on temples and priests of sol in Rome – see the webpage mentioned above ( Chapter 6 is a quintessential iconographic argument, which revolves around ribbons. It shows why we need to be careful not to interpret the radiate crown of the emperors as a symbol assimilating them to Sol. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 present case-studies that show how the systematic and rigorous analysis of the nonliterary source-material can yield interesting results. After chapter 1, these are probably the most interesting.

Chapter 7: the Carmen Saeculare of Horace Chapter 8: mausoleum M in the Vatican necropolis and its famous mosaic of Christ Helios. Chapter 9: further thoughts on Sol

Remember: go to for a link to this book and other, related publications, online.

Steven Hijmans