archive : Italy
: Rome : text by Lauren van Zoonen, photos by Jona Lendering ©
Temple of Elagabal
|Unless otherwise indicated, pictures on this page © Marco Prins and Jona Lendering. Photos can be downloaded and used for non-commercial purposes, but you have to acknowledge Livius.|
|The boy-emperor Heliogabalus, shown here as a bust from the Musei Capitolini in Rome, was an enthusiastic worshipper of the Syrian sun god Elagabal of Emesa, or, as the Romans sometimes called him Sol Invictus, "the invincible sun". During Heliogabalus' reign, which began in 218 and lasted until 222, he dedicated a temple on the Palatine hill. After all, Elegabal was also a mountain god.|
|The terrace of the temple, the Elagabalium, had already been built by the emperor Domitian (81-96) and there may have been a place of worship dedicated to Jupiter. This is part of the eastern face of the old platform.|
|Heliogabalus, however, expanded the terrace and rededicated it to Sol Invictus Elagabal. This photo shows the terrace from the northeast; the little church to the right, dedicated to the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian, marks the site of the ancient temple. After Heliogabalus' death the temple was once again dedicated to Jupiter by Severus Alexander. Today, only the terrace and a few remains are visible in the garden of the church of San Sebastiano.|
|In front of the sanctuary, on its western side, was a large, five-arched gateway of which a few remains are left. When you enter the little modern gate, you reach the church garden.|
|The northern part of the terrace wall. The author of the Historia Augusta reports that after building the temple, Heliogabalus moved the emblems of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the palladium (a statue of Minerva), the shields of the Salii and other sacred objects to the new building. These were highly sacrilegious acts. For instance, the statue of Minerva had always been hidden from sight and was not to be moved from its place, yet the emperor had entered the holy temple, had touched the statue, and had ordered its removal. He soon gave back the statue under the pretense that his god was displeased with the goddess. Instead, the goddess of the celestial Venus (Tanit) was ordered to come from Carthage.|
|It seems that Heliogabalus wanted his temple to be a place of worship
for Elagabal and two goddesses, as had always been the case in Syria. At
the same time, venerating a triad on a hilltop was a challenge to the temple
of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva on the Capitol.
A satellite photo of the terrace can be found here.