Sol Invictus

A major theme for much of Constantine’s reign was the minting of coins dedicated to the sun god sol. Even when Constantine claimed to accept Christianity, he was still very much entrenched in the pagan gods for much of his reign. The coin below is a bronze nummus minted in 315 A.D. in Rome. The obverse gives Constantine’s name and depiction, while the reverse says “Soli Invicto Comiti” (to the unconquerable sun god, companion), depicting the sun god raising his right hand, and holding the globe in his left hand. In searching the Mantis American Numismatic Society, I found hundreds of coins minted exactly like this one.

Follis-Constantine-lyons_RIC_VI_309

Obverse: IMP CONSTANTINVS P F AVG: Bust laureate, dr. cuir. r.

Reverse: SOLI INVICTO COMITI: Sol radiate stg. l. raising r., holding globe in l., chlamys across l. shoulder

RIC. 33

 

Similarly, this bronze nummus below depicts Constantine on the obverse, and the sun god on the reverse, as depicted in the figure above. “Soli Invicto Comiti” is again transcribed, and Sol seems to be commanding the sun to rise. In looking at Constantine’s coinage referencing the sun god, the phrase “soli invicto comiti” is present on a vast majority of them. It translates as “to the unconquerable sun god, companion”. It is very important to note the reference to Sol as a “comites” (companion). Constantine gave this title out often during his reign to officials and high ranking citizens as an honor. The use of this title in reference to Sol is very interesting, because while Constantine is certainly showing great respect in putting the sun god on so many coins, he also implies a very personal relationship with Sol almost as if he is an equal. This particular coin was minted in Ostia (the harbor city of Rome) around 312-313 A.D.

1933.999.107.obv.width350

1933.999.107.rev.width350

Obverse: IMP C CONSTANTINVS P F AVG: Bust laureate, dr. cuir. r. seen from behind

Reverse: SOLI INVICTO COMITI: Sol stg. l. holding globe close to body in l. and raising r.

RIC.87

The bronze half nummus below dates 310-313 A.D. and was minted in Treveri. It again depicts Constantine on the front, and the sun god on the back. Constantine’s title on this particular coin is simple, reading “Constantinus Aug”. What is interesting to note about the reverse is that it does not refer to the “unconquerable sun god” as a “comites” as well. There are a few coins such as this, which refer to him only as “the unconquerable sun god”, but the vast majority refer to him as a “comites” (companion) as well.

1995.11.961.obv.width350

1995.11.961.rev.width350 (1)

 

Obverse: CONSTANTINVS AVG: Bust laureate, cuir. r.

Reverse: SOLI INVICTO: Sol stg. l., holding globe in l., raising r.

RIC.899

 

An interesting fact to note about these coins is that for the most part all of the coins of Constantine referencing Sol are found on the nummus. The reason may simply be that Constantine wanted to pay respect to the sun god, and since the nummus was the most common coin denomination, the image of Sol on it would be seen by a large audience of Roman citizens. In fact, the only instance of Sol depicted on a solidus I could find is in this gold solidus minted in Ticinum in 320-321 A.D. Unfortunately the process of digitizing images of Roman coins is still a work in progress, and we do not have a verifiable picture of this particular coin right now. The obverse depicts Constantine, and gives him a standard title “Constantinus P F Aug”. The reverse reads “Soli Comiti Aug N”, and depicts the sun god presenting victory on a globe to Constantine. This coin really seems to emphasize the sun god as more of a friend than a superior over Constantine saying, “to the sun god, companion”. The “Aug” on the reverse could possibly be calling the sun god “Augustus”, or referring to him as the “companion of Augustus”. I found this coin intriguing for one because it is the only solidus depicting Sol I could find, and also because its depiction and transcription on the reverse is very different from most other coins dedicated to the sun god.  Again, we can only conjecture as to the reasons for this lack of Sol’s presence on higher denomination coins.

 

Obverse: CONSTANTINVS P F AVG: Head laureate, r.

Reverse: SOLI COMITI AVG N: Sol stg. r. presenting Victory on globe to emperor stg. l. in military dress; between them, suppliant

RIC. 108

 

Decline of ‘Sol’ coins/Christian associations

Though we have found many coins of the sun god from Constantine’s reign, fewer of these coins begin to be minted as his rule continues, until production of them ceases entirely on the nummus after 318 A.D., though some production of them continue on gold coins until 325 A.D. The reason for this change is somewhat unclear, though it may be that ‘Sol’ merely morphed into the Christian religion for Constantine. Perhaps Constantine began to take his Christian faith more seriously as time went on. Anyhow, these theories are simply conjecture, and all we can really say with certainty is that the depictions of the sun god did drop off and disappear entirely during the second half of Constantine’s reign.