14.The Syrian cavalier god


On a stone slab from Hama the sun hero is seen riding towards a pillar with a snake coiling around it. Although he is shown galloping along with a cloak flying from his shoulders, he is followed by an obviously very speedy snake (Beirut Mus., Goodenough, Jewish Symbols, V, fig.162).

The symbolism is ecstatic: his travel towards the world pillar, the centre of the world, is a spiritual journey, a rising of kundalini-power. The other picture (Rostovtzeff, Dura Europos. VI, pl.XXX, 1) shows his arrival at an incense altar, also the symbol of the world pillar, and here he is greeted by the god who is the highgod, the personification of the world pillar, Saturn.  



The incense altar is the end of his spiritual journey, and he is crowned with the Wreath of Victory by a bird (eagle?). A coin from Lydia from the period of the emperor Hadrian [1] shows the sun hero reaching the gate of paradise, here, like in Tyre, marked with the double pillar of fire-alter and holy vegetation: the cavalier god reaching the sun´s gate is also the motif in a picture of Heron [2]. It shows the god riding through a gate marked by the sun-bird hovering over his head, and behind him a snake is standing on its tail.

From Khirbet el-Hamman comes a stone relief with the cavalier god approaching the fire-altar (symbol of the pillar of fire, the world pillar) and greeted by a woman holding out the Wreath of Victory and a shallow bowl of libation, symbol of the water of life (Rostovtzeff, Dura VI,pl. XXX,3; see below). The second picture is a very worn down relief from Ferzol (Photo Beirut Mus., SYRIA 19,1938. Goodenough, V, fig.165 [3].) It shows the cavalier god marked out as the sun warrior by the mighty aura around his head. He has reached the palm tree, symbol of the tree of life, where the highgod carrying heavy clusters of dates is standing, naked (?). 






A coin from Carthage shows only the horse of the sun reaching the holy date palm and being crowned with the Wreath of Victory. That it is the journey to the transcendent world is also seen from the caduceus, (Falbe-Lindberg-Müller, II, p.77, no.28). Other coins show the horse as a winged Pegasus (no.127) or with the sign of mystical light: double-snake around the disc of the sun (no.132,143,146), the disc of the sun in the crescent moon (183,154), or the mystical rosette (122). Once the horse is standing between the club of Heracles and the palm tree (19): the club shows that it belongs to Heracles-Melqart. 

The sun hero is often called by the Latin name, Genius (Semitic: Genneas/Ginnaja/GNJ´), and is often shown with the incense altar and the wreath-carrying eagle. (The picture below is from Djoubb el djarrah, east of Homs, SYRIA 26, 1949, pl. XI) This eagle is well known from the iconography of Palmyra, where a (deceased?) priest is seen resting where the sun shines (eternally?) while this very same eagle is presenting him with the “Wreath of Victory”. H.Seyrig[4] says that the eagle and the wreath may probably be seen as a symbol of “heavenly investiture”. In Dura the eagle is seen flying toward Jarhibol-Malcha, on a graffiti called Nicator (Greek: “Victor”), while a Victoria is seen approaching from the other side to crown the god.



The second picture is a small stele bought at the flee-market in Constantinople in 1914 (Cook II,pl. 19). An Anatolian god (Theos Hypsistos or Zeus Sabazios) is seen on a horse with the forelegs in a position often characteristic of the horse of the cavalier god approaching the tree of life, with the snake coiling up its trunk, the eagle at the top, and at the foot the juice of life in a crater. It stands besides a fire-altar: the horse is approaching the gate of the sun consisting of the gateposts expressing the duality of fire and vegetation. C.Hopkins[5] has shown that the horse-man with the flying cloak on a horse with this specific position of the legs carrying a huge scabbard is either a god or a divine king. F.Cumont has suggested that the “Giant-columns” from Roman Gaul with a horse-man at the top fighting a man with snake feet is a motif with Syrian roots.[6] These columns were originally octogon with pictures of the 7 gods of the planets & Fortuna.

The horse-man is in my opinion the sun hero who, after travelling in the course of the sun, has ascended to heaven, above the fortune dictated by the planets and stars. The fight with the giant is the usual fight with the monster of primordial totality, Typhon.

Clermont-Ganneau[7] has published a picture of a relief from Soueida, now destroyed in the Druse uprising. It shows the sun hero on his horse, fighting the Typhon monster with his bow. A gem from Byblos (Dunand 68) shows the mystical kundalini-symbol as a winged snake with a double tail and a bird's head:



In Hellenistic Syria we come across a mounted god. He is riding along with his cloak blown out by the wind, and often with a great quiver hanging behind his right thigh. He is travelling in the course of the sun to paradise or apotheosis. His journey is the journey to heaven, therefore we find him galloping towards the world pillar symbolized by a pillar-like altar for burning incense, with the snake normally coiling around the world pillar, ascending to the top of the altar. The mystical meaning of the journey is underlined by the horseman as the union of sun and moon (the slab from Hama).

Coins from the Hellenistic period show Mithras as the mounted god reaching the double world pillar of fire and vegetation, the sacred gate to paradise (Cumont,MMM p.190,218.A.C.). Coins from the cent B.C. show Persian kings with a very special sign of royal dignity: a ring circling their necks, and leading the circle movement a snake’s head or a winged horse (Jac. de Morgan, Numismatique de la Perse, pp.132 & 137, fig.18 & 20).




This interpretation makes it possible to understand the next scene: Mithras is galloping along with the snake and the lion hunting down two stags and two goats. A very important coin from Tyre shows Melqarts-Heracles hunting 4 stags. On his journey to the country of the sun, India, the apostle Thomas gets hold of 4 wild donkeys for pulling his car to the final point of destiny. On some pictures belonging to the Mithras cult we see Mithras running to catch up with the sun's quadriga. Hunting the divine stag with the mystical light between its horns is a symbol of seeking mystical experience = journey to paradise in the sun's course, or even in its quadriga. Hunting the 4 stags is taking control over the powers that can lead you to mystical vision/journey to paradise (Fresco, the Mithraeum in Dura).


[1] Cook, Zeus, II, 563.

[2] Lex.Icon. Heron 7.

[3] The motif is also treated in S.Ronzevalle, Jupiter Héliopolitain, 1937.

[4] SYRIA 26, 1949, p.234

[5] Berytos III, 1936, pp.20f.

[6] Journal of Roman Studies 28, 1938, pp.87f.

[7] Recueil d´archéologie orientale, I, pp.178f.