Elagabalus (deity)

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Elagabalus or Heliogabalus is a Syro-Roman sun god.

Contents

Cult

Elagabalus was initially venerated at Emesa in Syria. The name is the Latinized form of the Syrian Ilāh hag-Gabal, which derives from Ilāh "god" and gabal "mountain") compare Hebrew: גבלbul and Arabic: جبلjabal), resulting in "the God of the Mountain" the Emesene manifestation of the deity.[1] The cult of the deity spread to other parts of the Roman Empire in the second century. For example, a dedication has been found as far away as Woerden (Netherlands).[2]

In Rome

The cult statue was brought to Rome by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who before his accession was the hereditary high priest at Emesa and is commonly called Elagabalus after the deity.[3] The Syrian deity was assimilated with the Roman sun god known as Sol Invictus ("the Undefeated Sun").[4]

A temple called the Elagabalium was built on the east face of the Palatine Hill, to house the holy stone of the Emesa temple, a black conical meteorite.[5] Herodian writes of that stone:

This stone is worshipped as though it were sent from heaven; on it there are some small projecting pieces and markings that are pointed out, which the people would like to believe are a rough picture of the sun, because this is how they see them.[6]

Herodian also relates that Elagabalus forced senators to watch while he danced around his deity's altar to the sound of drums and cymbals,[5] and at each summer solstice celebrated a great festival, popular with the masses because of food distributions,[7] during which he placed the holy stone on a chariot adorned with gold and jewels, which he paraded through the city:

A six horse chariot carried the divinity, the horses huge and flawlessly white, with expensive gold fittings and rich ornaments. No one held the reins, and no one rode in the chariot; the vehicle was escorted as if the god himself were the charioteer. Elagabalus ran backward in front of the chariot, facing the god and holding the horses reins. He made the whole journey in this reverse fashion, looking up into the face of his god.[7]

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