Some notes on Jupiter Dolichenus

In the ruined Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya there is an impressive set of temple steps leading up to what is now merely a foundation.  This was the local temple of a deity little known today, named Jupiter Dolichenus.  Jona Lendering has some notes on this site here, and the following image is at his site.  Despite visiting Leptis twice, I never quite got as far as the temple, as I never walked around the bottom edge of the silted-up port.

Temple of Jupiter Dolichenus at Leptis Magna
Temple of Jupiter Dolichenus at Leptis Magna

But who is Jupiter Dolichenus?

We shall look in vain for literary mentions; Robin Birley here tells us that there are none.  All we have is images with incriptions underneath, and whatever we can deduce from these, from their distribution over the empire, and from the period to which they date.  An altar was recently found at Hadrian’s wall, for instance.

An article by C.S.Sanders in an old issue of the Journal of the American Oriental Society (23), p.85 f. gives more details.  It seems there is a literary reference, in Stephanus of Byzantium (who?) who tells us that Jupiter Dolichenus came from Doliche, a little town in Commagene in what is now Turkey. 

The images are all of the same kind.  The god is depicted holding an axe and a thunderbolt, and stood on a bull or ox.  The inscriptions are largely from the Severan period, and disappear thereafter.

A temporary god, then; one favoured during the period in the 2-3rd centuries when the filth of the Orontes flooded into the Tiber (Juvenal) and which vanished when times changed.

UPDATE: I have finally located online an image of the deity identified clearly by an inscription.  Here it is:

Jupiter Dolichenus (ISDoli 00003)
Jupiter Dolichenus (ISDoli 00003)

The inscription is from Rome itself and reads:

Iovi Optimo Maximo Dolicheno ex iusso ipsius d(onum) d(edit) / L(ucius) Vibius Felix cum Fulvia Tertia coniuge sua / su<b=P> sacerdot{a}e Aquila Barhadados / dedic(ata) Kal(endis) Mart(iis) Imp(eratore) Commodo Aug(usto) IIII et Auf(idio) Victorino II co(n)s(ulibus)

To Jupiter (Jove) Optimus Maximus Dolichenus, by his own order, gives the gift / Lucius Vibius Felix, with Fulvia Tertia his wife / under the priest Aquila Barhadad. / Dedicated on the kalends of March, the emperor Commodus Augustus for the 4th time and Aufidius Victorinus for the 2nd time being consuls.

The fourth consulate of Commodus dates this to 183 AD, on the 1st of March.  The priest Aquila Bar-Hadad has a very biblical name! A Flavius Barhadadi appears in an inscription from Alba Iulia.


5 thoughts on “Some notes on Jupiter Dolichenus

  1. Stephanus of Byzantium was a major character in Byzantine literature. He lived in the 6th century AD and wrote a huge work of ethnology and history called ‘Ethnika’. Unfortunately only Hermolaus’ epitome of Stephanus’ work has survived plus a few fragments here and there yet that epitome is still our main source for several writer like Hecateus of Miletus. Closer to my heart is that this work is one of only two works of Greek literature to mention Brylleion in Bithynia, which became Triglia which is were my grandfather was from and attended 1st grade there before he became a refugee from Kemal’s murderous forces and came as an orphan to the Greek state

  2. In the wikipedia article of Stephanus they have on the bottom all of his editions although it should be noted that the last complete critical edition wa in 1849. Google Books or the Internet Archive might have one of the online. In 2006 the German team that is publishing him published the first volume of his work (α to δ), I am currently reading the BMCR review google-translated in English (the link is also on the wikipedia article)

  3. There is a monograph on the Cult of Jupiter Dolichenus by M. Speidel in the EPRO series.

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