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A Solar Eclipse and The Wrath of God on the Roman Empire

Aelia Capitolina was the Roman city built over Jerusalem by Emperor Hadrian. It's construction along with a Roman ban on Jewish circumcision started the Bar Kochba Revolt(132-136 AD). The above coin was minted in Aelia Capitolina by Hadrian's successor Emperor Antoninus Pius(138-161 AD). The obverse has a bust of Emperor Pius and the reverse shows the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the Temple Mount. Hadrian had built this temple for the worship of Jupiter and the Emperor near where the Second Jewish Temple of Herod had been destroyed. Today it is the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is unique among the coins of Jupiter in that multiple eagles are present. The eagle by Jupiter's feet is his pet, representing a human king who was worshiped above Jupiter himself. Jupiter was going to kill the king out of jealousy. However, Apollo changed him into an eagle to do the will of Jupiter. The eagle in the temple pediment may represent Temple Judaism now dead and under the control of Jupiter. The eagle to the right of the temple may represent the Jewish people who were forbidden to enter the city and now considered subservient to the pagan gods. This coin was a source of profound sadness and represented an insult to the JudeoChristian population at the time. Aelia Capitolina served as legionary headquarters to the 10th Fretensis Legion. This legion was heavily involved in the First and Second Jewish revolts. It served as an artillery unit on the Mount of Olives in the First Revolt and most likely crucified thousands of refugees trying to escape from Jerusalem during the Roman seige. The Bar Kochba revolt killed over 580,000 Jews in direct combat and many more were killed by famine and plague. Judea was renamed and merged into the Syria Palaestina province in 135 AD.

The Romans became involved in another war with the Parthians in 161-166 AD. Emperor Pius had died in 161 AD complaining about the Parthian King Vologasa IV. In 164 AD a deep solar eclipse was seen directly over Parthia, Petra, Jerusalem and finally Rome. The Romans obviously were encouraged by this sign and went on to claim victory by sacking the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon and Seleucia on the Tigris in 165 AD. Seleucia was likely the fourth largest city in the empire behind Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. The Parthians opened the gates to the Romans but they looted and destroyed the city anyway.

The solar eclipse of 164 AD was predicted and placed on a coin of Antoninus Pius minted in Petra.

The sacking of the Parthian Empire was the high water mark of Roman military conquest in 165 AD. The 10th Fretensis most likely contributed units in the Parthian war from Aelia Capitolina(Jerusalem). The Roman legions returned triumphantly only to bring the Antonine Plague from the Seige of Seleucia. Historians believe the Antonine Plague was most likely smallpox and it killed over one third of the population of the Roman Empire. This plague was interpreted as an omen from God and then co emperor Lucius Verus died from it after the seige of Seleucia. We do not see Jupiter Capitolinus in the temple mount on the coins of Aelia Capitolina after Antoninus Pius. It is most likely the Romans interpreted the death of Emperor Lucius Verus who followed Emperor Pius as a bad omen relating to Jupiter being displeased on the former Second Temple site. Tyche or the Roman god of fortune replaced Jupiter on the coinage of Aelia Capitolina.

It is important to remember God does not work on our timeline. 30 years after the destruction of ancient Judea the Antonine smallpox plague is generally regarded as the "natural disaster" that began the slow decline of the Roman Empire. Taxation revenues failed, legions disbanded, and Germanic tribes invaded the Italian peninsula for the fist time since 100 BC as a result of smallpox. The story continues below with more solar eclipses, wars, death and plague...........

Herennius Etruscus and Hostilian 251 AD , minted in Aelia Capitolina

Note the jugate bust motif is different here. Previous emperors and empresses used this motif frequently at the time of solar eclipses, the Severan dynasty for example. Both Caesars have radiate crowns. Both are sons of Emperor Decius and they are associated with Sun. It is possible with the crisis of the third century that the solar eclipse was viewed as a bad omen for the Roman Empire. The Cyprian plague began at this time and it is no coincidence all Western Roman coinage stopped after this plague in ancient Israel. The plague likely stopped trade and the solar eclipses below were associated with Germanic and Persian invasions in Empire. Note also that Caesar Etruscus and his father Emperor Decius were killed in the Battle of Abritus with the Goths. This was the the first time a Roman Emperor died in battle with an enemy. Emperor Hostilian, son of Decius and heir, died soon after from the Cyprian Plague and was the last Western Roman emperor on the coins of Aelia Capitolina.

Photos Shick Coins

So why were these solar eclipses indicative of the wrath of God on the Roman Empire? The above coin may help us understand. It is a bust of the Roman Queen Herennia Etruscilla, wife of Emperor Trajan Decius. It was minted in Antioch 249-251 AD. Note the double crescent motif below her portrait. It is a solar eclipse with the upper crescent being the moon as it traverses the lower crescent which is the sun. She is to be feared as a Roman Empress like a solar eclipse in nature. It was minted in Antioch which was a strong center of early Christianity. The Roman eagle on the reverse stands on the palm branch which may represent Judeo-Christian cultures of the Levant. Emperor Decius passed edicts requiring Christians to sacrifice to the Emperor and pagan Roman gods. This resulted in a great number of Christians being martyred for refusing to follow the will of a pagan emperor. Emperor Decius was widely regarded as the one emperor who tried to keep the Roman Empire united under paganism. He failed. He openly opposed Christianity and Jesus Christ. He paid dearly with his life and the life of his family. The Cyprian plague was possibly a form of smallpox and opened the empire to invasions and destruction. Christianity continued to grow despite the wrath of Decius and further persecutions under Diocletian. In the end God is always victorious.

Photo Athena Numismatics

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