Little Bits of History

Unconquered Sun

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 7, 2015
Constantine's Sol Invictus coin

Constantine’s Sol Invictus coin

March 7, 321: Constantine decrees. Sol Invictus or “Unconquered Sun” was the official sun god of the late Roman Empire. In 274, Aurelian, the emperor, made it an official cult along with the already multitudinous other Roman cults. There is debate today as to whether or not this was an entirely new cult or just the resurrection of the ancient Latin cult of Sol. Aurelian’s successor emperors all placed Sol Invictus on their coins. The last inscription for the sun god was in 387 AD, but even after that date, there were still followers and in the 5th century Augustine preached against the worship. One theory, although not accepted as sacrosanct, is that December 25 was selected for Christmas because it was the date of the Roman festival Dies Natalis Solis Invicti or the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”.

The Sun was not the only invincible or unconquerable Roman god. Jupiter, Mars, Hercules, Apollo, and Silvanus were as well. The worship of Sol began with the earliest establishment of Rome. Some believe Sol Invictus to be the continuation while others believe it is an entirely new creation. The first notice of the two words together came in 158 AD. The Romans were not the first to believe the Sun was invincible. The Syrian god Elagabalus predates the consistent use of Invictus to describe the almighty sun. It was Aurelian who elevated the status of the god and every pontifex of Sol was a member of the senatorial elite – the priesthood of Sol was highly prestigious. The senators usually held priesthoods with other deities as well.

Constantine adopted the practice of sun worship to the extent of placing SOLI INVICTO COMITI on his coins. This claimed the unconquered sun was the companion of the emperor. The Arch of Constantine also bears images of Sol Invictus. A gold medallion from his reign shows the Emperor’s bust in profile twinned with Sol Invicus and the words INVICTUS CONSTANTINUS. His triumphal arch was particularly aligned with a huge statue of Sol by the Coliseum so the statue was the backdrop as one approached the arch.

On this day, Constantine made his devotion to Sol Invictus universal. He called the seventh day of the week dies Solis or day of the sun – Sunday. The day of the Sun became a day of rest for all those in the cities and all workshops were to be closed, as decreed on this day. In the country, it was allowed for farmers to lawfully continue with their work as it might be impossible to rest if another day was not available for important tasks such as sowing grain or fine planting. Later emperors lost some of their infatuation with the Sun God, but there is still something to be said for having Sunday as a day of rest.

Don’t judge men’s wealth or godliness by their Sunday appearance. – Benjamin Franklin

I don’t think suicide is so terrible. Some rainy winter Sundays when there’s a little boredom, you should always carry a gun. Not to shoot yourself, but to know exactly that you’re always making a choice. – Lina Wertmuller

If God hadn’t rested on Sunday, He would have had time to finish the world. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. – Susan Ertz

Also on this day: Gilbert and Sullivan – In 1896, The Grand Duke opened at the Savoy Theatre. The last G&S work.
One Ringy-Dingy – In 1876, Bell received a patent for his telephone.
Shrigley Abduction – In 1827, Ellen Turner was kidnapped.
Phyllis Diller – In 1955, the star began an 87 week run at The Purple Onion.
Bloody Sunday – In 1965, peaceful marchers were met with violence.

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