Jupiter Dolichenus was a Roman god created from the syncretization of Jupiter, the Roman 'King of the gods', and a Baal cult of Commagene in Asia Minor. The Baal gods were themselves king gods and the combination was intended to form a powerful mixture of eastern and western regal traditions combined in the one deity. The cult was one of the Mystery Religions that gained popularity in the Roman Empire as an alternative to the open 'public' religion of mainstream Roman society. Its temples were closed to outsiders and followers had to undergo rites of initiation before they could be accepted as devotees. As a result very little is known about the actual worship of the god apart from the few clues that can be obtained from the sparse iconographic, archaeological or epigraphic evidence. The cult gained popularity in the 2nd century CE and reached a peak under the Severan dynasty in the early 3rd century CE. At least seventeen temples are known to have been built in Rome and the provinces which, while substantial, is far below the popularity enjoyed by Mithras, Isis or Cybele. Unlike these Mystery Cults, the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus was very fixed on its oriental origins and the cult soon died out following the fall of the city of Doliche to the Sassanids in the mid-3rd century CE.
The Baal of Doliche appears to have had his origins as a Hittite storm god known as Tesub-Hadad, whose cult was centered on the hill of Dülük-Baba Tepesi near the town of Dülük (now modern Gaziantep in Turkey). Evidence for his worship can be traced back to the 6th century BCE, but the Roman expansion of the cult began with their conquest of the area in 64 BCE and its inclusion in the province of Syria. The new Roman deity took his name from Doliche, the Roman name for the town.
The earliest dateable evidence for his worship outside of Doliche is from Lambaesis, where the legate dedicated an altar in 125 CE. The cult had certainly spread to Rome under Marcus Aurelius when a temple to Jupiter Dolichenus was built on the Caelian hill. Not much later we can see it in Germany where a centurion of Legio VIII Augusta dedicated an altar in 191 CE at Obernburg in Germania Superior. A large number of dedications then occur under Septimius Severus and Caracalla, which represents the high point of the cult.
By the mid-3rd century CE, however, the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus was in terminal, and rapid, decline. The first serious blow came following the assassination of Alexander Severus and the rise to power of Maximinus Thrax (235-238). The Severan dynasty had supported the cult and with their fall not only did Jupiter Dolichenus lose imperial favour, but continued support might have been seen as being politically dangerous following the change of regime. Certainly all the sanctuaries on the Rhine and Danube end under Maximinus' reign, especially those supported by the army. Maximinus would not have easily tolerated anything that could be perceived as disloyalty by his army.
The critical blow, however, fell in 253 or 256 CE when Shapur I captured and sacked Doliche. With the loss of his home and main sanctuary, the god was permanently discredited in terms of his perceived power. The cult had tied itself so firmly to the sanctity of Doliche and to the oriental nature of the god that it had never achieved the universality that it needed in order to survive the loss.
Jupiter Dolichenus was always addressed in full as Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus. 'Optimus Maximus', meaning 'Best and Greatest', was the standard and unique term of honour that was given to the king of the gods, and since Jupiter Dolichenus was still Jupiter, the term of respect was maintained. In Latin epigraphy Jupiter Optimus Maximus is simply abbreviated to IOM (Jupiter is spelt Iupiter as there is no 'J' in the Latin alphabet). Therefore in most inscriptions or dedications to Jupiter Dolichenus his name appears as IOM Dolicheno, or Iovi Optimo Maximo Dolicheno in full. The endings of the Latin words take the dative case (meaning 'To' or 'For') as they are gifts to or for the god. He did, however, receive some distinctive forms of address. The inscriptions from his temple on the Aventine hill in Rome, for example, address him as 'eternal preserver' and 'Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus Eternal, preserver of the firmament, pre-eminent divinity, invincible provider'.
The cult was a mystery religion whose theology, temples and rituals were open only to the initiates. Very little is known about the cult as it did not last long enough to appear in the Christian literature that provided so many useful clues on other mystery cults such as Mithraism. Nor can the archaeological evidence help much. It is only from the epigraphic sources that we can gain much insight. References to a sacerdotus (priest) shows that there was an internal structure, though one that did not seem to have any great complexity. An inscription from the Aventine temple (see below) gives a list of the members of one community. The group consists of 32 names, 7 of which are identified as being a patronus or patron. The text of the inscription refers to patroni and candidati (candidates), so we can assume that the other names were men who held status of candidatus. What exactly this meant is unclear. Were they candidates for initiation or candidates for a higher status? The patrons may have been sponsoring new candidates to join the community, but as the text of the inscriptions refers to both as fratri (brothers) this would imply that they are all already initiates. One priest dedicates the inscription and styles himself as 'father of the candidates', a symbolic title similar to that of the Father grade in Mithraism. In a second inscription the roles of 'recorder', 'leaders of this place' and 'litter-bearers of the god' are identified. The members of the community are introduced by the phrase 'Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus chose the following to serve him'.
97 out of the 260 named worshippers mentioned on inscriptions are soldiers, so while it can be seen that the army had an interest in the cult, it was by no means exclusively military. There are cases of whole units making dedications to the god (e.g. a detachment of the fleet at Misenum at Ostia in 186 CE), though we cannot be sure exactly what this means. Was it the whole of the group who were devotees or was it just some of them? Similarly the appearance of military standards, trophies and the goddess Victoria on votive tablets need not be seen as an integral military aspect to the cult. These are all symbols of triumph or kingship and are suitable attributes for a royal god. As a king deity he required a consort and the natural counterpart was Jupiter's own wife Juno. Within this cult she takes the name Juno Dolichena. In iconography she always appears on the right of her partner.
The theology of Jupiter Dolichenus gave prominent places to Apollo and Diana who often appear on votive tablets as a pair of busts side by side. Why this is the case is uncertain; however, equally important seem to be Sol, god of the sun, and Luna, goddess of the moon. These two provide a clear cosmic element, perhaps suggesting Jupiter Dolichenus' command of Day and Night or an allegory to the extent of his realm. Rather than being distinct members of the pantheon it may be that Apollo and Sol are serving the same function as sun gods, as are Diana and Luna with the moon. Castor and Pollux also frequently appear and their role is less clear. Most likely they are seen as the sons of Jupiter. Isis and Serapis appear with some frequency, perhaps as 'guests' or as allusions to the royal pair of Doliche.
Attributes and iconography
Few of the characteristic attributes of Jupiter appear in the representation of Jupiter Dolichenus, apart from the thunderbolt, a beard, and at times the eagle. In all other respects the god is a new creation which blends oriental and Hellenistic conventions. The god always appears dressed in a military fashion, armed and dressed in a cuirass. This does not necessarily mean that his cult was especially militaristic; rather, the attributes signify power and royalty. The cuirass in particular is a Hellenistic artistic convention to portray divinity. The weapon that the god carries is usually a double-headed axe (a labris), a weapon often associated with the kings of Thrace and Asia Minor and not a common soldier's weapon. In accordance with Roman oriental convention he also wears the Phrygian cap and trousers, clothing worn by other oriental gods that the Romans invented or adapted, such as Mithras.
The unique feature of representations of Jupiter Dolichenus is that he is always shown standing on the back of a bull. The bull had a long association with concepts of strength, virility and fertility (e.g. in the Minoan civilisation) and was also a key part of Mithraic belief. Standing on the back of a bull would have been a clear connection between the powers of the beast and those of the god, but the fact that he stands on the back of the animal would have had significance too. This was a deity that had the power to tame and subdue this notoriously wild creature and bend it to his will, as well as work with it. Bulls also appear frequently within his temple sites. At the temple to Jupiter Dolichenus at Zugmantel in Germany, the altar table was supported by legs carved in the shape of two bulls. In contrast Juno Dolichena rides a deer, an animal with suitably royal associations.
An altar from Obernburg (now in the Stiftsmuseum Aschaffenburg) perhaps displays in images the theology of the cult. On the left side are carved a thunderbolt, a tree and a scutum. The thunderbolt is a standard attribute of Jupiter; however, the tree and the shield are not. Taken together it could be argued that the thunderbolt represents the power of the god, the tree represents success and fertility, and the shield security. These could then be an expression of the benefits that Jupiter Dolichenus provides for his follower. However, as is so often the case with mystery religions, the meaning is only a plausible interpretation.
A temple to Jupiter Dolichenus is known as a dolichenum, a term created by archaeologists. No specific term seems to have existed as the devotees only use the word templum when referring to their shrines. The temples are not in the classical style of a rectangular colonnaded shrine standing on a raised podium with an altar outside in front. There was no need for such public visibility, as the cult was closed to all but the initiated. The design of the temple needed only to include these initiates and exclude the participation from any outsiders; therefore, it needed to be insular and exclusive. There are some similarities to mithraea, the temples to Mithras, as they are windowless and rectangular in plan, and have a narthex as well as a cella with a central nave terminating at a high altar. There is uncertainty over whether the cella also had the podium benches that are typical of a mithraeum, on which initiates could recline when they took part in their ritual meals. The function of the temples therefore is far from clear and although 17 have been identified or excavated (see below), few details can be securely agreed on.
It is clear from the epigraphic record that the communities could attract important patrons; however, it can be debated how much these VIPs were actually interested in the cult and how much their dedication of temples was simply them fulfilling the duties of a local dignitary. A case in point is the inscription from Cologne where the restoration of a dolichenum is dedicated by the provincial governor Lucius Lucceius Martinus (legatus Augustorum pro praetore provinciae Germaniae inferioris) in 212 CE. Unfortunately we can't say that the temple could number someone of such significance within its community; however, it does show that the communities could attract the attention of the most important person around.
In a temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus at Porolissum, a number of priests are mentioned (Sacerdotes Dei Iovi): Marcus Aurelius Vitalus, a duumvir; Antonius Mavius, a decurion; Acius Flavus; Caius Marcius Vegesius; and a priest with an Oriental name, Attonaris Bassus.
Sources of evidence and information
Important excavated shrines.
- Dülük-Baba Tepesi, Gaziantep, Turkey. 'Home' sanctuary of the god.
- Aventine Hill, Rome, Italy. Shrine found under Via di S. Domenico.
- Porolissum, Transylvania, Romania
- Brigetio, Szöny, Hungary.
- Carnuntum, Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, Austria. Shrine in a group of oriental temples (including Mithras) east of the legionary fortress.
- Dura Europus, Salhiyé, Syria. Military shrine.
- Stockstadt, Hesse, Germany. Shrine located east of the auxiliary cohort fort beside a mithraeum.
- Zugmantel, Hesse, Germany. Shrine located north of the auxiliary cohort fort on the limes frontier.
Important museum collections.
- Aiud Museum. Aiud, Romania. Inscription from near Apulum recording the restoration of a temple by a sacerdos.
- Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt. Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Replicas of all six silver plaques from Heddernheim.
- British Museum. London, England. Two silver plaques from Frankfurt-Heddernheim including one showing Jupiter Dolichenus purely as Jupiter.
- Epigraphic Museum at the Baths of Diocletian. Rome, Italy. The altars and sculptures dedicated by the emperor's bodyguard.
- Museum Carnuntum. Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, Austria. The fine sculptures from the Carnuntum shrine.
- Museum Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden, Germany. The finds from Zugmantel and the originals of the Frankfurt-Heddernheim silver plaques.
- Römisch-Germanisches Museum. Cologne, Germany. Inscription recording the dedication of a temple by the provincial governor.
- Stiftsmuseum Aschaffenburg. Aschaffenburg, Germany. The finds from the Stockstadt temple and the altar from Obernburg.
- Jacobi, H. 1924. "Das Heiligtum des Juppiter Dolichenus auf dem Zugmantel". In Saalburg- Jahrbuch VI. p168-183.
- Najdenova, J. 1989. "The Cult of Jupiter Dolichenus in Lower Moesia and Thrace". In H. temporini & W. Hasse (eds), Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt. II.16.2, 1542-55.
- Speidel, M. P. 1978. The Religion of Juppiter Dolichenus in the Roman Army.
- Turcan, R. 1996. The Cults of the Roman Empire pp159–169.
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- CIL VIII 2680=18221
- CIL XIII 6646
- Tóth. 1973, "The Destruction of the Sanctuaries of Iuppiter Dolichenus at the Rhine and in the Danube Region", in Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 25, 109-116.
- Beard M, North, J. & Price, S. 1998 The Religions of Rome. Volume I, p. 281. The authors see the use of Optimus Maximus not as respect for Jupiter but as an attempt to usurp him. This view ignores the evidence of synchronisation between the two gods.
- AE 1940.75
- ILS 4316
- CIL VI 31187, 31181.
- AE 1940 75
- ILS 4316
- CIL XIV 110
- Speidel 1978 pp21-24
- Speidel 1978 pp25-32
- P. Merlat. 1947. "Jupiter Dolichenus, Serapis et Isis", in Revue Archéologique 27, 10-31.
- H. Jacobi. Das Heiligtum des Juppiter Dolichenus auf dem Zugmantel. In Saalburg- Jahrbuch VI. p169-171.
- E.g. CIL VIII 2680 = 18221.
- Steiny (p218) interprets the podium of the Aventine temple as a 'long platform, probably for dedications'.
- CIL XIII 8201. Römisch-Germanisches Museum Inv 97.
- D.G. Tamba. Templul lui Iupiter Optimus Maximus de la Porolissum
- E.M. Steinby. Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae p218 & Fig. 94 p435.