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Thread: The Roman Imperial Standard of the Dragon of Symbol of Fire-Worship

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    The Roman Imperial Standard of the Dragon of Symbol of Fire-Worship

    The Roman Imperial Standard of the Dragon of Symbol of Fire-worship.
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    The passage of Ammianus Marcellinus, that speaks of that standard, calls it "purpureum signum draconis" (lib. xvi. cap. 12, p. 145). On this may be raised the question, Has the epithet purpureum, as describing the colour of the dragon, any reference to fire? The following extract from Salverte may cast some light upon it: "The dragon figured among the military ensigns of the Assyrians. Cyrus caused it to be adopted by the Persians and Medes. Under the Roman emperors, and under the emperors of Byzantium, each cohort or centuria bore for an ensign a dragon" (Des Sciences Occultes, Appendix, Note A, p. 486). There is no doubt that the dragon or serpent standard of the Assyrians and Persians had reference to fire-worship, the worship of fire and the serpent being mixed up together in both these countries (see LAYARD'S Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii. pp. 468-469). As the Romans, therefore, borrowed these standards evidently from these sources, it is to be presumed that they viewed them in the very same light as those from whom they borrowed them, especially as that light was so exactly in harmony with their own system of fire-worship. The epithet purpureus or "purple" does not indeed naturally convey the idea of fire-colour to us. But it does convey the idea of red; and red in one shade or another, among idolatrous nations, has almost with one consent been used to represent fire. The Egyptians (BUNSEN, vol. i. p. 290), the Hindoos (MOOR's Pantheon, "Brahma," p. 6), the Assyrians (LAYARD's Nineveh, etc., vol. ii. chap. 3, p. 312, Note), all represented fire by red. The Persians evidently did the same, for when Quintus Curtius describes the Magi as following "the sacred and eternal fire," he describes the 365 youths, who formed the train of these Magi, as clad "puniceis amiculis," in "scarlet garments" (lib. iii. cap. 3, p. 42), the colour of these garments, no doubt, having reference to the fire whose ministers they were. Puniceus is equivalent to purpureus, for it was in Phenicia that the purpura, or purple-fish, was originally found. The colour derived from that purple-fish was scarlet (see KITTO'S Illustrated Commentary on Exodus xxxv. 35, vol. i. p. 215), and it is the very name of that Phenician purple-fish, "arguna," that is used in Daniel v. 16 and 19, where it is said that he that should interpret the handwriting on the wall should "be clothed in scarlet." The Tyrians had the art of making true purples, as well as scarlet; and there seems on doubt that purpureus is frequently used in the ordinary sense attached to our world purple. But the original meaning of the epithet is scarlet; and as bright scarlet colour is a natural color to represent fire, so we have reason to believe that that colour, when used for robes of state among the Tyrians, had special reference to fire; for the Tyrian Hercules, who was regarded as the inventor of purple (BRYANT, vol. iii. p. 485), was regarded as "King of Fire," (NONNUS, Dionysiaca, lib. xl. l. 369, vol. ii. p. 223). Now, when we find that the purpura of Tyre produced the scarlet colour which naturally represented fire, and that puniceus, which is equivalent to purpureus, is evidently used for scarlet, there is nothing that forbids us to understand purpureus in the same sense here, but rather requires it. But even though it were admitted that the tinge was deeper, and purpureus meant the true purple, as red, of which it is a shade, is the established colour of fire, and as the serpent was the universally acknowledged symbol of fire-worship, the probability is strong that the use of a red dragon as the Imperial standard of Rome was designed as an emblem of that system of fire-worship on which the safety of the empire was believed so vitally to hinge.

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