An Early Dedication to Elagabal

22 May 2008

Elagabal was a Syrian sun god, who was worshipped with rituals that are strongly reminiscent of the Babylonian Akitu festival. He is probably best known because an attempt to introduce his cult in Rome was made by the emperor Heliogabalus – whose real name was Varius Avitus Bassianus, but who was always called after his god.

His reign was from 218 to 222, and it is often assumed that he was responsible for the spread of the cult to other parts of the world. However, there is an interesting inscription in the City Museum of Woerden (Netherlands), that proves that the cult of the Syrian sun god was already known on the other side of the empire more than half a century before the reign of Heliogabalus.

It was erected by a soldier who may have been born somewhere along the Danube, but who may as well have been a native from the Low Countries. Here is the text:

Pro Salute Imperatoris Caesaris Titi Aelii HAdriani
Antonini Avgusti Pii
SOLI HELAGA
BALO ET MINERvae
Lvcivs TERENTIVS
BASSVS Signifer COHortis
III BREVCORvm
For the good health of the emperor caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus
Antoninus Augustus Pius,
to the sun Elaga-
bal and Minerva has

Lucius Terentius
Bassus, standard bearer of the third
unit of Breuci [erected this altar].

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