The Winter Solsticethe time of year when the darkness of night begins to diminish due to the constant increase in sunlight, played an important role as a cultural and temporal marker in ancient Rome.
This is evidenced by the results obtained by a group of Spanish researchers from the Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit – CSIC), the University of Santiago de Compostela and the University of Oviedo.
It was already known that the winter solstice modeled rome and its landscape of the ancestral cult of Saturn as the primordial god of the Roman territory before the foundation of the city, until its use by Augustus as one of the signs of its multiple celestial connections and solar.
The important festivals around the solstice were also well known. The researchers of this study set out to demonstrate how some public monuments The significant ones, possibly from the origins of Rome and certainly from the reign of Augustus, are oriented towards the sunrise or sunset of the winter solstice.
buildings facing the sun
The work, published in the journal Environmental Archeology includes at least three important conclusions. The first is the prominence of the winter solstice in the guidance of different elements of Roman cities, particularly in the time of Augustus, establishes a set of symbolic relationships of deep interest and with cosmological implications. It connects Augustus with the origins of Rome, establishing him as a new founder.
On the other hand, the cultural use of the associations of Apollo with the sun, well established for Greece but less so for Rome, legitimizes the power of Augustus for some of the most prominent cultures of the eastern part of the Empire.
Finally, the imposing urban Development from the western part of the Empire, with the predominance of the winter solstice orientation, connects these localities with Augustus and, at the same time, with Rome.
The researchers came to these conclusions after conducting a archaeological studyconsisting of identifying the sunrise or sunset orientation of some of the main public buildings of the old Roman Forum and the Forum of Augustus, as well as other western Roman cities.
Identification of Rome with the god Apollo
“Our work confirmed the choice of the winter solstice as a relevant date in the Roman astronomical and religious calendar, endowed with cultural significance linked to the cycles of renewal of nature and the city of Rome”, he comments. David Espinosaco-author of the study and current professor at the Complutense University of Madrid.
In addition, the study confirmed the existence of a astronomical link and topography between the city of Rome and the albanian mountainswhere the city of Alba Longabirthplace of Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome.
“Emperor Augustus, who continued and promoted this long tradition, would have conceived his governmental action as an authentic refoundation of the city of Rome, promoting its identification with the solar god Apollo and the orientation towards the winter solstice of the buildings of his forum and of countless Roman cities founded or rebuilt under his mandate”, emphasizes the researcher.
The winter solstice thus proves to be a powerful and stable cultural marker Tracing the history of ancient Rome, it links Augustus to the origins of the city as a kind of new founder —as was already known from other evidence—, linking the various provincial cities to Rome as part of a shared worldview.
González, A., Garcia, MV et al. “The Winter Solstice as a Roman Cultural Fingerprint of Mythical Origins from Rome to Augustus”, Environmental Archeology, 2022