Ancient Sun WorshipIN the history of mankind no form of idolatry has been more widely practiced than that of the worship of the sun. It may well be described as universal; for there is scarcely a nation in which the worship of the sun in some form has not found a place. In Egypt, the oldest nation of historic times, under the names of Ra and Osiris, with half a dozen other forms; in Phenicia and the land of Canaan, under the names of Baal, Melkarth, Shamas, Adoni, Moloch, and many other forms; in Syria, Tammuz and Elagabalus; among the Moabites, under the names of Baal-peor and Chemosh; among the Babylonians and Assyrians, under the names of Bel and Shamas; among the Medes and Persians and other kindred nations, under the name of Ormuz and Mithra; among the ancient Indians, under the name of Mitra, Mithra, or Mithras; 1 in Greece, under Adonis, Apollo, Bacchus, and Hercules; in Phrygia, under the term Atys; and in Rome, under Bacchus, Apollo, and Hercules; -- in all these places, and under all these forms, the sun was worshiped by all these peoples. The myth of Hercules alone will illustrate the wide-spread practice of this worship: "The mythology of Hercules is of a very mixed character in the form in which it has come down to us. There is in it the identification of one or more Grecian heroes with Melcarth, the sun-god of the Phenicians. hence we find Hercules so frequently represented as the sun-god, and his twelve labors regarded as the passage of the sun through the twelve signs of the zodiac. he is the powerful planet which animates and imparts fecundity to the universe, whose divinity has been honored in every quarter by temples and altars, and consecrated in the religious strains of all national. From Meroe in Ethiopia, and Thebes in Upper Egypt, even to Britain, and the icy regions of Scythia; from the ancient Taprobana and Palibothra in India, to Cadiz and the shores of the Atlantic; from the forests of Germany to the burning sands of Africa; -- everywhere, in short, where the benefits of the luminary of day are experienced, there we find established the name and worship of a Hercules.
"Many ages before the period when Alcmena is said to have lived, and the pretended Tyrinthian hero to have performed his wonderful exploits, Egypt and Phenicia, which certainly did not borrow their divinities from Greece, had raised temples to the sun, under a name analogous to that of Hercules, and had carried his worship to the isle to Thasus and to Gades. Here was consecrated a temple to the year, and to the months which divided it into twelve parts, that is, to the twelve labors or victories which conducted Hercules to immortality. It is under the name of Hercules Astrochyton, or the god clothed with a mantle of stars, that the poet Nonnus designates the sun, adored by the Tyrians. He is the same god,'' observes the poet, `whom different nations adore under a multitude of different names: Belus on the bank of the Euphrates, Ammon in Libya, Apis at Memphis, Saturn in Arabia,2 Jupiter in Assyria, Serapis in Egypt, Helios among the Babylonians, Apollo at Delphi,AEsculapius throughout Greece,'' etc. Martianus Capella in his hymn to the sun, as also Ausonius and Macrobius, confirms the fact of this multiplicity of names given to a single star.
"The Egyptians, according to Plutarch, thought that Hercules had his seat in the sun and that he traveled with it around the moon. The author of the hymns ascribed to Orpheus. fixes still more strongly the identity of Hercules with the sun. He calls Hercules the god who produced time whose forms vary, the father of all things, and destroyer of all. He is the god who brings back by turns Aurora and the night, and who, moving onward from east to west, runs through the career of his twelve labors; the valiant Titan who chases away maladies, and delivers man from the evils which afflict him.''" -- Anthom.3
By whatever name or under whatever form the sun was worshiped, there was always a female divnity associated with it. Sometimes this female was the moon sometimes the earth, sometimes the atmosphere, and at other times simply the female principle in nature. In other forms it was the idea of a male and female blended in one, as in the case of Baalim. The female sometimes appeared as the wife of the one with whom she was worshiped; sometimes as both the sister and the wife, as in the case of Osiris; yet again as the wife of some other god; and often not exactly as a wife at all, but simply as a female associate. With Osiris was associated Isis; with Baal, Ashtaroth, or Astarte; with Bel, Mylitta; with Shamas, Anunit; with Adonis, Venus; with Hercules, Omphale; with Apollo, Diana; with Atys, Cybele. Sometimes they were worshiped in the images of the male and female human figure; sometimes in the form of a bull and a heifer, as in Osiris and Isis; sometimes in a form in which the human and the beast were blended; sometimes in a simple carved disc for the male, and a piece of carved wood for the female, as in some forms of Baal and Astarte; sometimes in the form of stones which had fallen from heaven, but mostly in the form of cones or obelisks4 which they themselves had shaped to represent the male, and of other shapes to represent the female. And yet in unison with all these the sun itself was worshiped, especially at its rising, by a bow or prostration, or kissing of the hand.
In none of these forms, however, not even in the naked shining sun, was it the literal object that was worshiped, but certain functions or powers, of which these were but the representations. It was observed that the sun in co-operation with the earth and the atmosphere which gave rain, caused all manner of verdure to spring forth and bear its proper fruit. It was held, therefore, that the sun was the supreme formative power, the mighty author of fruitfulness, and that the greatest and most glorious manifestation and exertion of his powers were employed in reproduction. Sun worship was therefore nothing more nor less than the worship of the principle of reproduction in man and nature. And as the influence of the real sun was extended over and through all nature, so this principle was extended through all worship.
"All paganism is at bottom a worship of nature in some form or other, and in all pagan religions the deepest and most awe-inspiring attribute of nature was its power of re-production. The mystery of birth and becoming was the deepest mystery of nature; it lay at the root of all thoughtful paganism, and appeared in various forms, some of a more innocent, others of a most debasing type. To ancient pagan thinkers, as well as to modern men of science, the key to the hidden secret of the origin and preservation of the universe, lay in the mystery of sex. Two energies or agents, one an active and generative, other a feminine, passive, or susceptible one, were everywhere thought to combine for creative purposes; and heaven and earth sun and moon, day and night, were believed to co-operate to the production of being. Upon some such basis as this rested almost all the polytheistic worship of the old civilization; and to it may be traced back, by stage, the separation of divinity into male and female gods; the deification of distinct powers of nature, and the idealization of man''s own faculties, desires, and lusts; where every power of his understanding was embodied as an object of adoration, and every impulse of his will became an incarnation of deity." -- "Encyclopedia Britannica."5
As the sun was the great god, the supreme lord, and as he exerted his most glorious powers in reproduction, it was held to be the most acceptable worship for his devotees so to employ themselves and their powers. Consequently prostitution was the one chief characteristic of sun worship wherever found. As the association of a female without reference to relationship was the only requirement necessary to worship, the result was the perfect confusion of all relationships among the worshipers, even to the mutual interchange of garments between the sexes. In the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus there is a faithful record of such a result among the sun worshipers of the land of Canaan whom the Lord caused to be blotted from the earth. The prohibition in Deuteronomy xxii, 5 -- "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman''s garment" -- was aimed directly at this practice in sun worship.
The sacrifice of virginity was the most acceptable offering that ever could be made in the worship of the sun. Indeed, until this sacrifice had been made, no other offering was acceptable. One ancient writer saw the manner of worship of Bel and Mylitta in Babylon, and has left a record of what he saw. He says: --
"The Babylonians have one most shameful custom. Every woman born in the country must once in her life go and sit down in the precinct of Venus, and there consort with a stranger. . . . . Venus is called Mylitta by the Assyrians." -- Herodotus. 6
Baal-peor, by whose shameful worship Balaam succeeded in bringing evil upon Israel when he failed in his own efforts to curse them, was the god which in Moab presided over such characters as above described by Herodotus in Babylon. This particular system of worship did not prevail outside of Egypt and the Eastern nations. In Greece and Rome the worship was through Bacchus, Hercules, Apollo, etc., and was more in the form of festivals -- mysteries -- celebrated with obscene symbols and in most lascivious rites. The rites of Bacchus are thus described: --
" The worship of Bacchus prevailed in almost all parts of Greece. Men and women joined in his festivals dressed in Asiatic robes and bonnets, their heads wreathed with vine and ivy leaves, with fawn skins flung over their shoulders, and thyrsi or blunt spears twined with vine leaves, in their hands. They ran through the country shouting Io Bacche ! Euoi ! Iacche ! etc., swinging their thyrsi, beating on drums, and sounding various instruments. Indecent emblems were carried in procession, and the ceremonies often assumed a most immoral character and tendency. The Woman, who bore a chief part in these frantic revels, were called Bacchae Maenades Thyiades Euades, etc. " -- Anthon.7
In the mysteries Bacchus was identified with Osiris, and was worshiped as the sun. In India, Schiva and his worship were identical with Bacchus and his worship. "The two systems of worship have the same obscenities, and the same emblems of the generative power." -- Anthon.8 "An obscure native of Greece brought first to Etruria, and shortly afterwards to the more congenial soil of Rome, the mysterious orgies of Bacchus, which had already obtained an infamous celebrity in the East. The horrible wickednesses which were perpetrated at the initiations, at which the passions of the youth of either sex were inflamed by wine and music, secresy and security, had been practiced by the devotees without remorse for some time, before they were discovered. . . . The Bacchanalia, though constantly interdicted, continued to reappear in the city." -- Merivale.9
The worship of the Phrygian Cybele and Atys was common in Greece five hundred years before Christ, and was introduced into Rome about 547 B. C., when an embassy was sent to the king of Pergamus to ask for the stone which represented Cybele, and which was said to have fallen from heaven. The king gave up the stone, which was taken to Rome. A temple was built, and a festival established in her honor. The festival was called Megalesia, and was celebrated annually in the early part of April, and is thus described: --
"Like Asiatic worship in general, that of Cybele was enthusiastic. Her priests named Galli and Corybantes, ran about with dreadful cries and howlings, beating on timbrels, clashing cymbals, sounding pipes, and cutting their flesh with knives. The box-tree and cypress were considered as sacred to her, as from the former she made the pipes, and Atys was said to have been changed into the latter." -- Anthon.10
The universality of the worship of the sun in Hercules has been already shown. Of the manner in which his worship was conducted, we have the following account: --
"It seems to have been marked by an almost delirious sensuality. Married and unmarried females prostituted themselves at the festival of the gods. The two sexes changed their respective characters; and tradition reported that Hercules himself had given an example of this, when, assuming the vestments and occupation of a female, he subjected himself to the service of the voluptuous Omphale. The Lydian Hercules was named Sandon, after the robe dyed with sandyx, in which Omphalc had arrayed him, and which the females of the country imitated in celebrating his licentious worship." -- Anthon.11
In Rome and Italy, "The worship of Hercules was from an early date among the most widely diffused; he was, to use the words of an ancient author, adored in every hamlet of Italy, and altars were everywhere erected to him in the streets of the cities and along the country roads." -- Mommsen.12
As before stated, the almost numberless forms of sun worship were practiced in Canaan. In the practice of these fearful abominations they had so corrupted themselves that in the expressive figure of the Scripture, the very earth had grown so sick that it was compelled to vomit out the filthy inhabitants. "The land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants." Lev. xviii, 25. All of this the God of heaven taught his people to renounce. "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled): that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God." Lev. xviii, 26-30.13
In all these prohibitions the people were taught to shun as the terrible plague that it was, every suggestion of the evil influences of the worship of the sun. They were to break down all the sun-images and carved stocks -- groves -- that might be found anywhere in all the land which the Lord had given them. See Ex. xxiii, 24; xxxiii, 13, 14.
In yet another and most comprehensive way the Lord taught his people to shun every indication of the worship of the sun. As has been shown, the devotees of the sun worshiped with their faces toward the east. When God established his worship with the children of Israel in the very midst of the sun worshiping nations round about, at first a sanctuary was built and afterwards a temple, where he dwelt by the glory of his presence. To the door of this sanctuary every form of sacrifice and offering was to be brought, and there they were to worship. And the door of that sanctuary (the temple also) was always toward the east, in order that all who would sacrifice to Jehovah and worship him, would in so doing turn their backs upon the sun and its worship; and that whoever joined in the worship of the sun, had first to turn his back upon Jehovah.
Through the periods of the judges there were lapses into sun worship among the children of Israel, but they were restored to the worship of the Lord, and by the influence of Samuel and David, and Solomon in his early days, the whole nation was separated from sun worship in all its forms, and united in the pure worship of Jehovah. Yet in his later years Solomon turned from the Lord, and "loved many strange women, together with daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in into you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtaroth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods." 1 Kings xi, 1-8.
After the death of Solomon, the ten tribes separated themselves from Judah and Benjamin, and under the kingship, and by the direction, of Jeroboam, established a false worship through the two golden calves copied from Egypt, one of which was placed in Bethel and the other in Dan. Each of the successors of Jeroboam walked in the way of Jeroboam "and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin," unto the time of Omri, who in this wicked way "did worse than all that were before him." "And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him. And it came to pass as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him." 1 Kings xvi, 30-33.
From this it is evident that as corrupt and degrading as was the worship established by Jerobaoam, that of the sun was far worse. Ethbaal was a priest of Baal and Astarte, who assassinated the king and made himself king in his stead. Jezebel brought with her into Israel the worship of Baal and Astarte,-- the male and female sun, -- and established it to such an extent that in a few years there were four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred of Astarte, and only seven thousand people in all Israel who had not joined in the wicked worship. Elijah began a reformation, but the worship and the gods introduced by Jezebel remained in some measure till the reign of Jehu, who gathered every worshiper of Baal to a general assembly in honor of Baal, and slew them all. "And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them. And they brake down the image of Ball, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day. Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel. Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel and that were in Dan." 2 Kings x, 26-29.
Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, married Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and with her, sun worship through Baal and Ashtaroth was introduced into the kingdom of Judah; for Jehoram "walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab; for the daughter of Ahab was his wife: and he did evil in the sight of the Lord." 2 Kings viii, 18. This worship of Baalim continued till the time of Hezekiah, who "brake the images [sun images] in pieces, and cut down the groves [Ahseras, representations of Ashtaroth], and threw-down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin." 2 Chron. xxxi, 1. By Manasseh, however, this worship was all restored in its fullest extent; "for he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them. Also he built altars in the house of the Lord whereof the Lord had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be forever. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son Hinnom: also he observed times and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made in the house of God of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name forever." 2 Chron. xxxiii,3-7.
This image which he set in the house of the Lord was rather a double image of Baal and Ashtaroth, which he put up above the altars of Baal in the house of the Lord. The cloisters about the temple were used as stables for the horses which were dedicated to the sun. By the side of the temple he built houses for the priests and priestesses of the Baalim, where the women wove hangings for the figures of Astarte.
Happily, Manasseh was succeeded by Josiah, who annihilated this whole system. "For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father : and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images that were on high above them he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images he brake in pieces and made dust of them, and strewed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them."
"And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the grove. And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beer-sheba, and brake down the high places of the gates that were in the entering in of the gate of Joshua, the governor of the city, which were on a man''s left hand at the gate of the city. . . . And he defiled Topheth, which is the valley of the children of Hinnom. that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs, and burned the chariots of the sun with fire. And the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, did the king beat down, and brake them down from thence, and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron." 2 Chron. xxxiv, 3,4 ; 2 Kings xxiii,7-12
Yet by the time that Zedekiah reigned, there was again a serious lapse not tonly into certain forms of sun worship, but into the open worship of the literal sun. Ezekiel was among the captives in Babylonia, and by the Spirit of God he was taken in a vision to Jerusalem, and was caused to see the abominations that were being practiced there. First, he was caused to see the image of Jealousy in the very entry way to the altar of sacrifies, before the house of the Lord.
He was told to turn, and he would see greater abominations than this. He then saw, "and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them Stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up."
Again he was told to turn, and he would see yet greater abominations than this that they were doing. He was then brought " to the door of the gate of the Lord''s house which was toward the north : and, behold, there sat women weeping] for Tammuz."
And he was told to turn yet again, and he should see greater abominations even than this. "And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord''s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, and they worshiped the sun toward the east." Eze.viii,16.
All that is meant in this we cannot tell; but this much is certain, that, in the estimate of Jehovah, as bad as was the worship of Astarte, and however much it provoked to jealousy; as bad as was the worship of all manner of abominable beasts; as bad as was the worship of Tammuz; yet worse than all these, even though in them were embodied some forms of sun worship -- more abominable than all these was the setting of the face toward the east, in the worship of the sun itself. This was to turn the back upon the Lord; to leave him and his worship behind; and, in worshiping the visible sun, to choose all that was included in all the forms of its worship that might be known. This was open apostasy -- the renunciation of all that was good and the acceptance of all that was bad.
Now, aside from the lascivious rites of Bacchus and Hercules, and beyond the fearful orgies of Cybele, this very form of worship prevailed in the Roman empire. The worship of the sun itself was the principal worship of the Romans in the time of Constantine. The sun, as represented in Apollo, was the chief and patron divinity recognized by Augustus. "Apollo was the patron of the spot which had given a name to his great victory of Actium; Apollo himself, it was proclaimed, had fought for Rome and for Octavius on that auspicious day; the same Apollo, the sun-god, had shuddered in his bright career at the murder of the dictator, and had terrified the nations by the eclipse of his divine countenance . . . . Besides building a splendid temple to Apollo on the Palatine Hill, the emperor sought to honor him by transplanting to the Circus Maximus, the sports of which were under his special protection, an obelisk from Heliopolis [city of the sun] in Egypt. This flame-shaped column was a symbol of the sun, and originally bore a blazing orb upon its summit." -- Merivale. 14
To Sol Deus invictus -- the sun, the unconquerable god -- were attributed the world-wide conquests of the Roman power. The greatest and most magnificent temple that ever was built on earth, except only that built by Solomon, was erected by Antoninus Pius, emperor of Rome, at Baalbek, in honor of the visible shining sun.
But it was in Elagabalus that the worship of the sun received its strongest imperial impetus. The way that he became emperor was this : The emperor Caracalla was murdered near Antioch, March 8, A.D. 217, and there Macrinus became emperor in his stead. Caracalla''s mother committed suicide shortly afterward, and then Macrinus commanded Julia Maesa, her sister, to leave Antioch with her family. She went to Emesa where a considerable body of troops was stationed, and where was a temple of the sun which the troops frequented in their worship. Julia''s grandson, Bassianus, was made high-priest of the sun in this temple. In this young man the troops "recognized," or thought they recognized, the features of Caracalla." Julia took particular pains, by the careful distribution of money, to deepen this impression, and May 16,218, he was declared emperor by the troops at Emesa. He asserted his hereditary right to the office because of his relationship of Caracalla.
The rebellion rapidly spread among the troops throughout the province. Officers who tried to check it were murdered, and the power of young Bassianus daily grew.
Macrinus assembled his troops, and left Antioch to quell the insurrection. A battle was fought, and Macrinus was slain, thus ending a reign of eighty-seven days, and Bassianus became emperor in fact, June 7, A.D. 218. He assumed the name of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and sent letters to the Senate announcing his accession to the empire in the place of Macrinus. Not being ready just then to go to Rome personally, he sent a picture of himself which he commanded to be placed in the Senate house over the altar of victory. "He was drawn in his sacerdotal robes of silk and gold, after the loose flowing fashion of the Medes and Phenicians; his head was covered with a lofty tiara, his numerous collars and bracelets were adorned with gems of an inestimable value. His eyebrows were tinged with black, and his cheeks painted with an artificial red and white." -- Gibbon. 15 The name under which the sun was worshiped at Emesa, where Bassianus was high-priest, was Elagabalus. His accession to the office of emperor he attributed to the favor of this sun-god. Therefore as emperor he assumed the name of Elagabalus as greater and more honorable than any that might be derived from any other source, and by this name alone is he known in history.
When he went to Rome, the "black conical stone" from Emesa, the symbol of the functions of the sun, was taken with him, and as he moved "in a solemn procession through the streets of Rome, the way was strewed with gold dust; the black stone, set in precious gems, was placed on a chariot drawn by six mill-white horses richly caparisoned. The pious emperor held he reins, and supported by his ministers, moved slowly backwards, that he might perpetually enjoy the felicity of the divine presence. In a magnificent temple raised on the Palatine Mount, the sacrifices of the god Elagabalus were celebrated with every circumstance of cost and solemnity. The richest wines, the most extraordinary victims, and the rarest aromatics, were profusely consumed on his altar. Around the altar a chorus of Syrian damsels performed their lascivious dances to the sound of barbarian music." -- Ginnon.16
It was in perfect harmony with the rites of sun worship everywhere that all the laws of nature and decency should be violated and subverted by Elagabalus; that he should have a long train of concubines, and a rapid succession of wives; that a vestal virgin should be taken by force from her sacred retreat to feed his passion ; and that he should put on the dress, and play the part, of a woman, while he publicly assigned to another the title and the place of husband to himself. All these things belonged with the worship of the sun, and all this Elagabalus did, not as emperor, but as imperial high-priest and representative of the sun. As emperor and high-priest of the sun, it was his chief purpose, and "it was openly asserted, that the worship of the sun, under his name of Elagabalus, was to supercede all other worship." -- Milman.17
As soon as Aurelian became emperor, March, A. D.270, he began the erection of a temple of Rome in honor of the sun. In A. D. 272 he made an expedition against Zenobia, who had established her authority in the East with her capital at Baalbek. When he had overthrown her power and captured her capital city, he left an officer with a garrison of troops to govern the city while he returned to Europe. The people arose and murdered the governor and his soldiers. Aurelian returned and gave up the people to indiscriminate massacre, and made of the city itself a heap of ruins. The only attempt he made to repair it was to restore the temple of the sun, which Antoninus had built. When he returned to Rome in A. D.274, he celebrated a triumph, which, in magnificence and the abundance of treasures, was second to none that Rome had ever seen. At this time also he dedicated his magnificent temple to the sun.
"A considerable portion of his oriental spoils was consecrated to the gods of Rome ; the Capitol, and every other temple, glittered with the offerings of his ostentatious piety; and the temple of the sun alone received above fifteen thousand pounds of gold. This last was a magnificent structure, erected by the emperor on the side of the Quirinal Hill, and dedicated soon after the triumph, to that deity whom Aurelian adored as the parent of his life and fortunes. His mother had been an inferior priestess in a chapel of the sun; a peculiar devotion to the god of light, was a sentiment which the fortunate peasant imbibed in his infancy; and every step of his elevation, every victory of his reign, fortified superstition by gratitude." -- Gibbon.18
The immediate predecessor of the emperor Diocletian died on his way from Persia to Europe. The fact of his death was concealed from the army for a time, which gave rise to a strong suspicion that he had been murdered. When Diocletian was chosen emperor, he therefore deemed it necessary to purge himself of all suspicion by a means which would prove satisfactory to all. He did it by a solemn oath in the face of the sun. "Conscious that the station which he had filled, exposed him to some suspicions, Diocletian ascended the tribunal, and raising his eyes towards the sun, made a solemn profession of his own innocence, in the presence of that all-seeing deity." -- Gibbon.19 And it was the oracle of the sun -- Apollo -- at Miletus, which he consulted before he issued the decree of persecution, to which he was so strongly urged by Galerius, who was prompted by his mother, a fanatical worshiper of Cybele.
But it was in Constantine that, after Elagabalus, the sun found its most worshipful devotee. As emperor of Rome he had to show some deference to the other gods, and therefore on the medals which were issued in honor of his victories, there were the figures of Jupiter and Mars, as well as of Hercules and Apollo. Up to the period of his war with Maxentius, A. D.312, "all that we know of Constantine''s religion would imply that he was outwardly, and even zealously, pagan. In a public oration, his panegyrist extols the magnificence of his offerings to the gods. His victorious presence was not merely expected to restore more than their former splendor to the Gaulish cities ruined by barbaric incursions, but sumptuous temples were to arise at his bidding, to propitiate the deities, particularly Apollo, his tutelary god. The medals struck for these victories are covered with the symbols of paganism. Eusebius himself admits that Constantine was at this time in doubt which religion he should embrace." Milman20
Thus as emperor, and to satisfy the prejudices of the people, some respectful deference was shown to other gods, but "the devotion of Constantine was more peculiarly directed to the genius of the sun, the Apollo of Greek and Roman mythology; and he was pleased to be represented with the symbols of the god of light and poetry. The unerring shafts of that deity, the brightness of his eyes, his laurel wreath, immortal beauty, and elegant accomplishments, seemed to point him out as the patron of a young hero. The altars of Apollo were crowned with the votive offerings of Constantine; and the credulous multitude were taught to believe that the emperor was permitted to behold with mortal eyes the visible majesty of their tutelar deity; and that, either waking or in a vision, he was blessed with the auspicious omens of a long and victorious reign. The sun was universally celebrated as the invincible guide and protector of Constantine." -- Gibbon21
In the time of Constantine, and in Constantine himself. the worship of the sun occupied the imperial seat, and was the imperial religion of Rome. It will be necessary in another chapter to trace the same thing among the people of the empire.
1 [Page 183] This is so among the Hindus of India, even to this day. " The most sacred and the most universally used -- even to the present day -- of all Vedic prayers is that composed in the Gayatri meter, and thence called Gayatri, or , as addressed to the vivifying Sun-god, Savitri : `Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the Divine vivifier; may he enlighten our understanding."
"Turning toward the Eastern sky, he repeats the Gayatri or Savitri . . . This prayer is the most sacred of all Vedic utterances, and like the Lord''s prayer among Christians, . . . must always among Hindus take precedence of all other forms of supplication. The next division of the service is called Upasthana (or Mitro-pasthana) because the worshiper abandons his sitting posture, stands erect with his face toward the rising sun, and invokes that luminary under the name of Mitra. The prayer he now repeats is Rig-veda iii, 59, of which the first verse is to the following effect :
" ` Mitra, raising his voice, calls men to activity.
Mitra, sustains the earth and the sky.
Mitra, with unwaking eye, beholds call creatures.
Offer to Mitra the oblation of butter ! ''
The use of this hymn is the morning service of every Hindu." -- " Religious Thought and Life in India." chap i last par., and chap. xv, par., 41,57.
2 [Page 185] Sun worship, with that of the other heavenly bodies, continued till the rise of Mahomet. The father of Mahomet, when a boy, was devoted as a sacrifice to the sun, but fortunately was ransomed. (See Gibbon," Decline and Fall," Chap. 1, par 9.) It was from the horrors of sun-worship that Mahomet turned Arabia.
3 [Page 185] "Classical Dictionary," article "Hercules."
4 [Page 186] The obelisk, or Cleopatra''s Needle, brought from Egypt and now standing in Central Park, New York City, is one of these stone sun-images.
5 [Page 187] Article "Christianity."
6 [Page 188] Book i, chap excix.
7 [Page 188] "Classical Dictionary, Bacchus.
8 [Page 189] Id.
9 [Page 189] "History of Romans Under the Empire, " chap xxii, par. 19,20.
10 [Page 189] "Classical Dictionary," article "Cybele."
11 [Page 190] Id., "Hercules."
12 [Page 190]"History of Rome, " book i chap. xii, par. 25.
13 [Page 191] Read also the whole of Leviticus chapters xviii,xx.
14 [Page 197] "Romaus Under the Empire." chap xxxiii, par .13.
15 [Page 198] "Decline and Fall,"chap. vi, par. 22.
16 [Page 199] Id., par. 23.
17 [Page 199] "History of Christianity," book ii, chap. viii, par. 22.
18 [Page 200] "Decline and Fall," chap.xi, par.43.
19 [Page 200] Id., Chap. xii, par.41.
20 [Page 201] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. 1, par. 36.