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Apollo’s statue in Hierapolis (1)

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Topics (move over topic to see place in topic list)

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

12 Assyrian Identity

12 Assyrian Identity

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

06 Visual arts and architecture

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

5th century CE
Roman Empire
Roman philosophers and scholars

The deity in question is very likely Nebo, worshipped as Apollo. A statue which fully answers to Macrobius’ description was found in the excavations of Hatra, where an inscription called the deity Aššur-Bel or Iššar-Bel.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.17.66-70:
The inhabitants of Hierapolis, who are Assyrians by race, embody all the activities and powers of the sun in the form of a single, bearded statue which they call Apollo. Its face is represented with a long pointed beard; the statue has a tall basket on its head and it is protected by a breastplate; the right hand holds upright a spear on which is a little figure of Victory; the left hand offers the likeness of a flower; and a gorgon-like cloak with a fringe of serpents hangs from the top of the shoulders and covers the back. By the side of the statue are representations of eagles in flight. Before its feet is an image of a woman, with female figures on her right and left encircled by the sinuous coils of a serpent. The downward-pointing beard represents the rays which shoot from above to the earth. The golden basket rising high above the head denotes the height of heaven, whence the essence of the sun is believed to come. By the evidence of the spear and breastplate a representation of Mars is added, and Mars (as I shall go on to explain) is to be identified with the sun. The figure of Victory bears witness to the universal sovereignty of the sun. The likeness of a flower represents the flowering of all that the god sows and engenders and fosters, nourishes and ripens. The likeness of a woman is a representation of the earth, to which the sun gives light from above; and in like manner the two female figures on each side represent matter and nature, which together serve the earth. The representation of a serpent points to the serpentine course of the sun. The eagles, by the great speed and height of their flight, indicate the great height of the sun. The statue has also a gorgonlike vesture, because Minerva, to whom we know this vesture belongs, is a power of the sun; for we have it on the testimony of Porphyrius that Minerva is the power of the sun which gives a right judgement to the minds of men, and that is why this goddess is said to have been born from the head of Jupiter, or, in other words, to have issued from the highest part of the heavens, whence the sun derives its origin.

Source (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.17.66-70


Davies 1969, 126-127Davies, Percival V. Macrobius, The Saturnalia. Records of Civilization. Sources and Studies 79. New York, London: Columbia University Press 1969.
Drijvers 1980, 66Drijvers, Han J. W. Cults and Beliefs at Edessa. Études Préliminaires aux Religions Orientales dans l'Empire Romain 82. Leiden: E. J. Brill 1980.

Amar Annus

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