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Sol (mythology)

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Title: Sol (mythology)  
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Subject: Mithraic mysteries, List of Roman deities, The Sun in culture, Apollo, Sowilō
Collection: Roman Gods, Solar Gods
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Sol (mythology)

This article is about the sun god. For the sun goddess of the same name, see Sól.

Sol was the solar deity in Ancient Roman religion. It was long thought that Rome actually had two different, consecutive sun gods. The first, Sol Indiges, was thought to have been unimportant, disappearing altogether at an early period. Only in the late Roman Empire, scholars argued, did solar cult re-appear with the arrival in Rome of the Syrian Sol Invictus, perhaps under the influence of the Mithraic mysteries.


  • Etymology 1
  • Sol in the Roman Republic 2
  • Identification with Janus 3
  • Sol Invictus 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


The Latin sol for "Sun" is the continuation of the PIE heteroclitic *Seh2ul- / *Sh2-en-, cognate to Germanic Sol, Sanskrit Surya, Greek Helios, Lithuanian Saulė.[1] Also compare Latin solis to Etruscan usil. Today, sol (or variations of it, such as Italian sole or French soleil) is still the main word for "sun" in Romance languages. Sol is used in contemporary English by astronomers and many science fiction authors as the proper name of the Sun to distinguish it from other stars which may have their own planetary systems.

Sol in the Roman Republic

According to Roman sources, the worship of Sol was introduced by Titus Tatius.[2] In Virgil he is the grandfather of Latinus, the son of Sol's daughter Circe who lived not far from Rome at Monte Circeo.[3] A shrine to Sol stood on the banks of the Numicius, near many important shrines of early Latin religion.[4] In Rome Sol had an "old" temple in the Circus Maximus according to Tacitus (AD 56 – 117),[5] and this temple remained important in the first three centuries AD.[6] There was also an old shrine for Sol on the Quirinal, where an annual sacrifice was offered to Sol Indiges on August 9th.[7] The Roman ritual calendars or fasti also mention a feast for Sol Indiges on December 11th, and a sacrifice for Sol and Luna on August 28th. Sol Indiges ("the native sun" or "the invoked sun" — the etymology and meaning of the word "indiges" is disputed) represents the earlier, more agrarian form in which the Roman god Sol was worshipped. As the cult evolved the epithet "indiges" fell into disuse (see Sol Invictus, see also Di indigetes).

Identification with Janus

Various Roman philosophers speculated on the nature of the sun, without arriving at any consensus. A typical example is Nigidius, a scholar of the first century BC. His works have not survived, but writing five centuries later, Macrobius reports that Nigidius argued that Sol was to be identified with Janus and that he had a counterpart, Jana, who was Moon. As such, they were to be regarded as the highest of the gods, receiving their sacrifices before all the others.[8] Such views appear to have been restricted to an erudite elite — no ancient source aside from Macrobius mentions the equation of Sol with Janus — and had no impact on the well-attested cult of Sol as independent deity.

Sol Invictus

Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") was long thought to have been a Greek state-supported sun god introduced from Asia Minor by the emperor Aurelian in 274 and overshadowing other Eastern cults in importance,[9] until the abolition of Classical Roman religion 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 Greece throughout the imperial period.[11] Tertullian (died AD 220) writes that the Circus Maximus was dedicated primarily to Sol.[12] During the reign of Aurelian, a new college of pontiffs for Sol was established.

There is some debate over the significance of the date December 21 for the cult of Sol. According to a single, late source, the Romans held a festival on December 21 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 festival 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 accepted 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]

See also


  1. ^ see e.g. EIEC, p. 556.
  2. ^ August. de Civ. Dei, iv. 23
  3. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 12, 161–4.
  4. ^ Pliny Nat. Hist. III 56.
  5. ^ Annals 15, 74.
  6. ^ Tertullian, de Spect. 8.
  7. ^ Quintilian Inst. 1,7,12; Fasti Amiternini (“a.d. V Idus Augustas: Soli Indigeti in colle Quirinali Feriae”), Fasti Vallensis (a.d. V Idus Augustas: Solis Indigetis in colle Quirinali Sacrificium Publicum), Fasti Maffeiani and Fasti Allifani.
  8. ^ Macrobius Saturnalia i. 9; an echo of Nigidius views i perhaps to be found in Cicero De Natura Deorum ii. 27
  9. ^ A typical example of this line of thought can be foud in: Allan S. Hoey, "Official Policy towards Oriental Cults in the Roman Army" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 70, (1939:456-481) p 479f.
  10. ^ Gordon, Richard L.; Wallraff, Martin (Bonn). "Sol." Brill's New Pauly. Antiquity volumes edited by: Hubert Cancik and ; Helmuth Schneider . Brill, 2010. Brill Online.
  11. ^ Gordon (prev. note) cites S. E. Hijmans, The Sun Which Did Not Rise in the East. The Cult of Sol Invictus in the Light of Non-Literary Evidence, in: BABesch 71, 1996, 115–150.
  12. ^ De Spect. 8
  13. ^ The Natalis Invicti is mentioned only in the Calendar of Philocalus which dates t AD 354 [1]
  14. ^ When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.
  15. ^ Gordon, Richard L.; Wallraff, Martin (Bonn). "Sol." Brill's New Pauly. Antiquity volumes edited by: Hubert Cancik and ; Helmuth Schneider . Brill, 2010. Brill Online.
  16. ^ "An inscription of unique interest from the reign of Licinius embodies the official prescription for the annual celebration by his army of a festival of Sol Invictus on December 19" (Hoey 1939:480 and note 128).
  17. ^ Inscription nr. 5 in Inscriptiones Scythiae Minoris Graecae et Latinae 2, Bucharest 1980. The prescription is for "die XIV Kal(endis) Decemb(ribus)" i.e. the 14th day before the kalends of December which is November 18th.
  18. ^ CIL VI,1778,[2] and 1779.[3]
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