Corbridge: Sol Invictus

SolInvictus

Corbridge Roman Fort lies to the south of Hadrian’s Wall which incorporated milecastles, or small fortlets, every Roman mile. Each of which had a gateway to the north and south with two small square turrets between each milecastle (Andrews, 2015). The soldiers stationed along the Wall and at the early forts at Corbridge were mostly auxiliaries: non citizens initially recruited from the enemies Rome encountered on her frontiers and later from Rome’s provinces (Hodgson, 2015). Organized into famous legions, the Roman citizen troops were heavy infantry units with trained craftsmen contained within the ranks – accounting for the high quality religious sculpture and architectural stonework found at Corbridge. Inscriptions provide an accurate means of dating events at Corbridge and the movement of troops can be traced through the dedications they leave. Stone survives very well and provides extremely useful evidence. Stone sculpture can be dated according to its style and the techniques used to carve it with inscriptions providing information relating to building activity, religious practices and linking people to places. The letters cut into stone would have been painted red, relief decoration and sculpture was also brightly coloured. The above inscription was dedicated to Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) who was an eastern god whose worship spread through the army from the 1st century AD and was especially encouraged by the Emperor Elagabalus (AD 218-22). The son of Sextus Varius Marcellus, Elagabalus took the cult of the god by whose name he is known to Rome and which he reached in July 219. His intention in late 220 to make Elagabalus (deus Sol Invictus) supreme god of the empire aroused hostility at Rome and ultimately led to his murder on 11 March 222 (Hornblower & Spawforth, 2004). He was subjected to damnatio memoriae – essentially an eradication of his public memory which is evident from the first line of the inscription being chiselled out. The above inscription would have adorned an undiscovered, yet substantial, temple dedicated to Sol which was built by a detachment from the 6th Legion, stationed at Corbridge in about AD 158. The dedication is flanked by peltae (crescent shaped shield) and adjacent panels would have depicted winged Victories.

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