The Roman gens Aurelia was associated with the cult of Sol. After his victories in the East, the Emperor Aurelian thoroughly reformed the Roman cult of Sol, elevating the sun-god to one of the premier divinities of the Empire. Where previously priests of Sol had been simply sacerdotes and tended to belong to lower ranks of Roman society, they were now pontifices and members of the new college of pontifices instituted by Aurelian. Every pontifex of Sol was a member of the senatorial elite, indicating that the priesthood of Sol was now highly prestigious. Almost all these senators held other priesthoods as well, however, and some of these other priesthoods take precedence in the inscriptions in which they are listed, suggesting that they were considered more prestigious than the priesthood of Sol. Aurelian also built a new temple for Sol, which was dedicated on December 25, 274, and brought the total number of temples for the god in Rome to (at least) four. He also instituted games in honor of the sun god, held every four years from 274 onwards.
The identity of Aurelian’s Sol Invictus has long been a subject of scholarly debate. Based on the Augustan History, some scholars have argued that it was based on Sol Elagablus (or Elagabla) of Emesa. Others, basing their argument on Zosimus, suggest that it was based on the Šams, the solar god of Palmyra on the grounds that Aurelian placed and consecrated a cult statue of the sun god looted from Palmyra in the temple of Sol Invictus. Professor Gary Forsythe discusses these arguments and adds a third more recent one based on the work of Steven Hijmans. Hijmans argues that Aurelian’s solar deity was simply the traditional Greco-Roman Sol Invictus
Bust of Aurelian, laureate, draped, left
IMP C L DOM AVRELIANVS P F AVG
Aurelian and Severina clasping hands, a little angel running between them; in field above, bust of Sol, radiate, right
CONCORDIA AVG; S-C in ex
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