THE Religion of Antinous commemorates the arrival in the springtime of 129 AD of Antinous and Hadrian in the fabulous city of Sardis, a city of gleaming marble high in the mountains of the province of Lydia.
It was a powerful military bastion and it was famed for its splendid temples and the gymnasium, which has been partially reconstructed for the benefit of modern-day tourists who, like the ancient Romans, look upon the city as an example of civilization in a far-flung province.
The city of Sardis is one of the most ancient cities in Asia Minor, with a history that extends thousands of years back into pre-history.
It was the capital of the Kings of Lydia and was a tremendously wealthy city under its ancient King Croesus, who contributed large amounts of gold to the building of the Temple of Artemis at nearby Ephesus. The Persians defeated Croesus but they were never able to subjugate the Lydian people completely.
The Lydians were Greek allies, and quickly sided with Alexander when he invaded, opening their gates to him without resistance. After Alexander, Sardis was caught between the powerful Attalids of Pergamum and the Seleucids of Antioch, both kingdoms founded by generals of Alexander.
At the close of the Hellenistic period, during the war with Mithradites, the people of Sardis sided with Rome, for which they were rewarded. While Sardis was under the control of Antony, a cult worshipped him as the New Dionysus, but when Octavian overthrew him, a Temple to Augustus Caesar was constructed without hesitation.
The biblical Book of Revelation, which numbers Sardis as one of the Seven Churches, criticizes the citizens for being weak and lame worshipers of Jesus and for preferring the Cult of the Emperors.
It is against that pagan backdrop that Hadrian and Antinous arrived in the springtime of 129 AD.
Flamen Antinoalis Antonyus Subia says:
"While touring the Province of Asia, Hadrian and Antinous were received with jubilation and divine honor. Hadrian was received as a visiting god, more than as a ruler, and Antinous was treated with deepest respect and loving devotion. The Lydian people were devoted to Helios, the sun god, and to Artemis in her Asia aspect as Great Mother.
"So we dedicate the visitation of the Roman court to the Divine Hadrian as the life-giving Helios, and to Antinous as the male Artemis with his bow and arrow at the ready as he soars under the protective solar wing of the imperial eagle."