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Mark Antony's Legacy

On December 25th, 40 BCE, the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII, gave birth to twins, one a boy and the other a girl. The boy, Alexander Helios, was named after Alexander the Great and the Greek name for the Sun, Helios. The girl, Cleopatra Selene II, was named after her mother and the Greek name for the Moon, Selene. The father of the twins was Mark Antony. And after the suicide of their parents, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II were taken to Rome and eventually raised by their step mother Octavia Minor, who was the sister of Caesar Augustus and fourth wife of Mark Antony.

The exact fate of Alexander Helios is unknown. What is known is that, as a child, he was engaged by his parents to marry Iotapa, the daughter of the king of Media Atropatene. However, after Octavian invaded Egypt, Iotapa fled Alexandria for Media and eventually married her cousin Mithridates III, King of Commagene. She and Mithridates had several children together. One of their daughters, also named Iotapa, married King Sampsiceramis II of Emesa, Syria. That daughter eventually had two sons with Sampsiceramis, Gaius Julius Aziza and Gaius Julius Sohaemus, both of whom would eventually succeed to the throne of Emesa.

As for Cleopatra Selene II, she had a son, Ptolemy of Mauretania, who had a daughter named Julia Drusilla. Julia Drusilla eventually married Gaius Julius Sohaemus, the priest king of the Royal House of Emesa and grandson of Iotapa of Media. Julia Drusilla and Sohaemus eventually had a son, Gaius Julius Alexio, who inherited the Emesan thrown.

Around 186 AD, following the death of his first wife, the future Roman Emperor, Septimus Severus, heard about a woman in Emesa of whom it had been foretold that she would marry a king. The woman was Julia Domna. She was the daughter of Julius Bassianus, who was the high priest of the Syrian Temple of the Sun and descendant of Cleopatra Selene II. And, as it had been foretold, it was not long after Septimus Severus married Julia Domna that he became the Roman Emperor, marking the beginning of what is known as the Severan Dynasty.

One of the more colorful members of the Severan Dynasty was the Roman Emperor we know as Elagabalas. He was the grandson of Julia Maesa, the older sister of Julia Domna. During the reign of Caracalla, he was living in Emesa and serving as the high priest of the Temple of the Sun. After Caracalla was assasinated, his grandmother was able to have the Third Legion declare the fourteen year old emperor.

The name Elagabalus was not his actual name; that was merely a nickname given to him after his death. The name Elagabalus, which was sometimes written as Heliogabalus, is said to derive from El-Gabal, which was supposedly the name of the Emesan god worshipped at the Temple of the Sun. El Gabal is usually translated by scholars as "god of the mountain", however it appears likely that the name was actually a contraction of Helios and Apollo, the names of two Greek gods closely associated with the Sun.

Elagabalus received his nickname because, while he was emperor, he arranged to have the Temple of the Sun moved from Emesa to Rome. He then declared that the god of the temple, which he called Sol Invictus, was to be worshipped as the chief god of Rome. The official date of the god's celebration was December 25th, which was the birthday of his own ancestors, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene II. Tragically, after four years of a chaotic rule, Elagabalus was himself assasinated and replaced by his cousin, Alexander Severus.

Despite the assasination of Elagabalus, various Roman Emperors after him continued to be depicted driving a quadriga (a four horse chariot), wearing a radiant crown, and other symbols of Sol Invictus, such as the constellation Capricorn (visible during the winter solstice) and the Temple of the Sun.

In 272 AD, the Roman Emperor Aurelian marched his army to Syria in order to confront Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra who had claimed much of Egypt and the Levant as her own territory. After Zenobia's army was defeated near Antioch, she fled to Palmyra. Aurelian shortly thereafter entered Emesa and was greeted as a liberator and showered with gifts. He would later return to Rome and re-establish the Temple of the Sun there. He would also reinstate Sol Invictus as the chief god of the Roman pantheon.