This essay challenges the idea that Constantine’s radiate statue on his Constantinopolitan column assimilated the Christian emperor to the pagan deity Apollo Sol, the Radiant Sun. Iconographic analysis of Roman coinage allows us to understand the imperial crown of rays as an attribute of Divus Augustus, Augustus the God. I argue that from Nero through Constantine, the last Roman emperor to use the corona radiata in his portraiture, the radiate crown signified the theomorphic assimilation of the reigning emperor to Divus Augustus. Every man who wore it claimed to be “the Divine Augustus of the Present Age.” The corona radiata was thus at once a religious and an imperial symbol that signified the continuity of the “Augustan line.” My analysis of imperial coinage affirms this conclusion in demonstrating that its uses were independent of the emperor’s personal patron deity, including Sol.
These proposals have important repercussions for understanding Constantine’s faith. The religious compromise that the Christian Constantine entered in agreeing to a radiate portrait concerned imperial legitimation. Though a devout believer, the emperor still chose to remain the Divine Augustus in his new city, as that concession signaled something important that he could not communicate otherwise: his new city’s identity vis-à-vis Rome.