2 – He Was Proclaimed a God on Earth
Aurelian had achieved remarkable success, and he was certainly in no mood for humility. Not content with being the Restorer of the World, he was known by a variety of superlatives. His military successes ensured that Rome’s frontiers were almost unrecognizable from the chaos of the previous decades. By now, Aurelian was known as the ‘most victorious,’ Victoriosissimus and the ‘most glorious,’ Gloriosissimus.
As emperor, Aurelian managed to see off the Carpi, the Arabians, the Germans, the Palmyrenes and the Persians. Inscriptions initially marked him out as eternal and invincible then graduated to referring to him as the personification of Hercules. Finally, he became known as Imperator Deus et dominus, a god. To top it off, his divinity was ‘backdated’ to his birth, so the people were in no doubt as to Aurelian’s god-like status.
Aurelian was not shy in showing off his new found status as he began wearing a diadem and a cloth made of gold. In one sense, you could say that power went to his head, but perhaps there was a method to his madness. Over the previous few decades, the role of ‘emperor’ was assumed by so many people that it almost lost its significance. No one was able to command the respect of the people, the Senate, and the army. Aurelian changed all that and demanded obedience and loyalty. For his part, he displayed an air of leadership, power, majesty and immortality, things that the title of emperor had recently lost. Diocletian followed Aurelian’s lead when he became emperor under a decade later.
Aurelian was also keen to remove the ‘soldier-Emperor’ designation and achieved it by refusing to share meals with the soldiers or marching amongst them. He wanted to be isolated from them, to set himself apart. Given the outcomes of his many campaigns, there is little doubt that it was a successful strategy up to a point.
Aside from being seen as a god, Aurelian introduced religious reform during his brief tenure as emperor. He made Sol Invictus (Sun God) an official cult; his goal was to unite the people of the Empire under one God without forcing them to betray their chosen deities. A new temple to Sol Invictus was built and dedicated on December 25, 274 AD. The historian Lactantius claimed that Aurelian would have persecuted other religions if he survived longer and Christian historians suggest he ordered persecutions of Christians during his reign.