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Sol Invictus

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Sol Invictus ("the undefeated Sun") or, more fully, Deus Sol Invictus ("the undefeated sun god") was a religious title applied to at least three distinct divinities during the later Roman Empire: El Gabal, Mithras, and Sol.

Unlike the earlier, agrarian cult of Sol Indiges ("the native sun" or "the invoked sun" - the etymology and meaning of the word "indiges" is disputed), the title Deus Sol Invictus was formed by analogy with the imperial titulature pius felix invictus ("dutiful, fortunate, unconquered").

The Romans held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." The use of the title Sol Invictus allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian (AD 270-274); and Mithras, a soldiers' god of Persian origin.[1] Emperor Elagabalus (218-222) introduced the festival, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian, who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.[2]

December 25 was also considered to be the date of the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma.[3] It was therefore the day the Sun proved itself to be "unconquered" despite the shortening of daylight hours. (When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.) The Sol Invictus festival has a "strong claim on the responsibility" for the date of Christmas, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. [4] Solar symbolism was popular with early Christian writers[5] as Jesus was considered to be the "sun of righteousness."[6] More recent sources suggest that there is evidence[7], [8]that Christian celebration of Christmas pre-dates the Sol Invictus festival.


The title first gained prominence under the emperor Elagabalus, who abortively attempted to impose the worship of El Gabal, the sun-god of his native city Emesa in Syria. With the emperor's death in 222, however, this religion ceased, though emperors continued to be portrayed on coinage with the radiant sun-crown, for close to a century.


In the second instance, the title invictus was applied to Mithras in private inscriptions by devotees. It also appears applied to Mars.


The Roman gens Aurelia was associated with the cult of Sol. After his victories in the East, the emperor Aurelian introduced an official cult of Sol Invictus, making the sun-god the premier divinity of the empire, and wearing his radiated crown himself. He founded a college of pontifices, and dedicated a temple to Sol Invictus in 274. It is possible that he created the festival called dies natalis Solis Invicti, "birthday of the undefeated Sun", which is recorded in 354 (in the Calendar of Filocalus) as celebrated on the 25th December; but no earlier reference to it exists.


Emperors up to Constantine portrayed Sol Invictus on their official coinage, with the legend SOLI INVICTO COMITI, thus claiming the Unconquered Sun as a companion to the Emperor. During the reign of Constantine the coinage ceases to be pagan in 325, and Sol Invictus disappears with the rest at that date.

Constantine decreed (March 7, 321) dies Solis — day of the sun, "Sunday" — as the Roman day of rest [CJ3.12.2]:

On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.

The religion of Sol Invictus continued to be part of the state religion until paganism was abolished by decree of Theodosius I on February 27, 390.

Sol Invictus and Christianity

Christian iconography adopted some of the artistic language of paganism. The depiction of Christ with a halo relates to late antiquity usage, but the radiated crown also appears.

According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, article on Constantine the Great:

"Besides, the Sol Invictus had been adopted by the Christians in a Christian sense, as demonstrated in the Christ as Apollo-Helios in a mausoleum (c. 250) discovered beneath St. Peter's in the Vatican."

However, there is a counter claim that it cannot be Sol Invictus, as it did not exist at that date.

Indeed "...from the beginning of the 3rd century "Sun of Justice" appears as a title of Christ"[9]. Some consider this to be in opposition to Sol Invictu. Some see an allusion to Malachi 4:2.

The date for Christmas may also bear a relation to the sun worship. According to the scholiast on the Syriac bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi, writing in the twelfth century:

"It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day." (cited in "Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries", Ramsay MacMullen. Yale:1997, p155)

The 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia: Christmas states: "The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date."

However this pagan feast is first documented only in 354 AD, see Aurelian above.(Aurelian was a roman emporer.

Use in popular culture

In the roleplaying game Exalted, the Unconquered Sun appears as the most powerful god in all of Creation. His chosen, the Solar Exalted, are the default protagonists of the setting.

External links


  1. ""Mithraism", The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913.
  2. "Sol." Encyclopædia Britannica, Chicago (2006).
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Bruma
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named CathChrit
  5. "Christmas, Encyclopædia Britannica Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2006.
  6. 4:2 Malachi 4:2
  7. Tighe, William J. Calculating Christmas, 2003
  8. Schmidt, Alvin J.(2001), "Under the Influence", HarperCollins, p377-9
  9. New Catholic Encyclopedia, "Christmas"

Further reading

  • Halsberghe, L. 1972. The Cult of Sol Invictus (Leiden)

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