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Mithras in Etruria

Characteristics of a Mystery Cult in the Roman Regio VII

Author: Nicola Luciani

Summary

The aim of this article is to cast a light on the nature of the mysteries of Mithras in central Italy, focusing on the administrative division of Roman Etruria. The Regio VII in fact, despite not being the richest Italian area in terms of Mithraic findings, has nevertheless emerged as a privileged territory to observe different aspects of the cult, due to the great variety of its artefacts.

Hence, starting from the material evidence and from its distribution across the region, the social classes that took part in the worship of Mithras are identified. Consequently, the active role played by public officials in promoting the spread of the mysteries is discussed, as well as the cult diffusion among the lower classes, and the interest demonstrated by the aristocratic elites from the Middle/Late Empire.

The conclusion will examine the last phases of the cult in Etruria, showing how the Mithraic mysteries ended following diverse modalities during the first decades of the 5th century AD, sometimes because of violent acts of destruction, and sometimes in a peaceful manner.

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The Mithraic evidence in Etruria and Umbria – VII and VI Regiones – presents some particular features of great interest, not only because they contribute to enlarging our knowledge regarding the extent of the diffusion of Mithraism in these regions, but also as regards the general study of the cult itself and the comprehension of certain facets of the cultic implantation patterns within the religious communities.

The epigraphic corpus of Mithraism in Umbria provides valuable information concerning some grades of initiation and Mithraic priesthood, highlighting the specificity of this religion. The importance of such information transcends what we know about the local level, by revealing details about the functioning of the cult in general, especially regarding the degree of Leo and some variants of the priesthood, which are poorly documented elsewhere in the Roman Empire.

In addition, the discovery of Mithraea, Mithraic images and other archaeological evidence in Etruria and Umbria provides a picture that shows an important spread of the worship in the private context, i.e., both domus and villae, with examples as relevant as Vulci and Spoletium. Further ahead, the prevalence of astral components in the material evidence also suggests a strong preference among local devotees of Mithras of higher social status for the cosmological aspects of their religion.

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This paper discusses the Mithraic reliefs found in Etruria (Regio VII). The reliefs are analysed and their iconographic, archaeological and chronological features compared with a view to advancing new proposals on the cult of Mithras in the area concerned. The paper focuses first on the new Mithraic relief discovered in Veii and discusses the presence of a specific object that constitutes the most original iconographic feature of the relief. It can be seen aligned behind Mithras' head, which obscures its central part: considering its shape and the presence of the quiver over Mithras' right shoulder, the object can be identified as a bow. The object's specific position, probably connected to the symbolic importance of the bow in the mysteries of Mithras, is unique not only among Mithraic reliefs but also in the surviving Mithraic evidence from the Roman world. The other reliefs from Etruria are analysed, with a brief description of the type of iconography, the chronology and archaeological context of each piece. Comparing the reliefs allows us to pinpoint differences in size, style and chronology, highlighting the uniqueness of the new relief from Veii. These differences can be put down to factors that are yet to be examined in more detail, connected to the clients and the workshops operating in the region. The study concludes that the Veii relief can be considered not only the oldest and most stylistically refined of these pieces, but also one of the earliest attestations of the cult of Mithras in Etruria.

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Pliny the Elder’s encyclopaedia contains lots of information on Etruria and the Etruscans in different contexts. Besides geographical descriptions, there are text parts related to the Etruscans in the volumes on botany, zoology, pharmacology and mineralogy. In the following, I am going to provide an analysis of all the passages related to the Etruscans in the encyclopaedia along different themes.

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Dazu besonders Studies in the Romanization of Etruria [Acta Romani lnstituti Finlandiae 5]. Rom 1975. Die beste Darstellung der etruskischen Religion bleibt Pfiffig, A. J. : Religio

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La proibizione dei bacchanalia tra la Magna Grecia e l'Etruria

Il Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus di Tiriolo e il Trono delle Pantere di Bolsena

Authors: Vincenzo Elio Junior Macchione and Davide Mastroianni

Summary

In the Greek world, the celebrations of Dionysus were different: the Rural Dionysia and the City Dionysia, the Lenee, the Antestèrie, the Oscofòrie, the Ascalia and the Bacchanalia. During the Bacchanalia, women ran, danced and screamed in the woods, and fell prey to Dionysian inebriation. In 186 BC, the Roman Senate issued a decree that limited the cult of Bacchus Dionysus in Rome and in Italy, because of sexual abuses (see Livy, Ab Urbe condita 39. 8 – 39. 18). The diffusion of Bacchanalia was a risk for people and for the dignitas of Rome. In 1640 in Tiriolo, Calabria, during the excavation for the foundations of the so-called Palazzo Cicala, a bronze inscription and fragments of columns were found; the inscription had the original text of Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus with which, in 186 BC, the Roman Senate forbade the Bacchanalia. In Latium, during the excavation of the so-called Domus delle Pitture in Bolsena, directed by the École Française de Rome, between 1964 and 1982, a fragment of a throne's base and a cherub's leg were found in a layer of ashes in an underground room. Another 150 pieces of the throne, including ribbons and fragments of a panther head, were recovered in a specific spot of the room. Fragments, carefully restored and reassembled, compose an object called Trono delle Pantere of Bolsena, datable between the end of the 3rd century BC and the early years of the 2nd century BC. The left and rear sides are better preserved. The first represents a panther sitting on a throne with a cherub on his knees while it grabs at the ears of beast; the rear side represents a pattern with wings blocked by ribbons. The front side is completely destroyed. The throne has different sets of problems on its religious meaning and its decoration, where the Dionysiac theme is clear. The panther, the cherubs and the ribbons recall the Dionysus sphere, during which he was hidden inside a cave. Indeed, the underground room of Bolsena was appropriated to Bacchanalia. This paper intends to link Tiriolo and Bolsena, through the specific cases of two cities; in the first we have a proof of the enforcement of the law in 186 BC, and in the second we have an evidence of its application, with the destruction of a throne and of a Bacchic shrine.

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This chapter aims to reconsider an inscription from Consilinum (3rd century CE), in which we find the problematic mention of a mundus Attinis. This inscription has been almost neglected by scholars: it has been analyzed in a systematic way only in an article in Latin language back in 1978. It is not easy to explain what mundus exactly represented to the ancient Romans, but we can assert for sure that it was a holy place in connection with the worship of the gods of the underworld. The connection between Cybele, Attis, and the underworld is well known, but this is the only mention we have of a mundus Attinis i.e. Attidis. It might be connected to the (mystic?) rites in honor of the dead Attis, symbolized by a pine, who, during the Hilaria, was carried in an underground chamber for lamentations, before his new life. In my opinion, we might also think of the mundus as a sort of reversed womb, related to the figure of the Magna Mater, in which birth and death come together and overlap.

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Két esettanulmány a praerómai Itália összehasonlító mitológiai ikonográfiája köréből. Az első további bizonyítékát adja Etruria és Picenum ismert kapcsolatának az orientalizáló korban. A második azt bizonyítja, hogy ugyanaz az ikonográfiai motívum különböző értelmezést kíván különböző kultúrák (ebben az esetben Picenum és Basilicata) összefüggésében.

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We find three definitions of the saeculum in the Roman world. The Etruscan Century is based on the lives of the human beings and of the different cities in Etruria. We find an echo of these theories in the Roman divination There are two definitions of the century in Rome, a century of 100 and a century of 110 years. This theory, elaborated by the Quindecemviri sacris faciundis and Ateius Capito, has been taken into consideration to celebrate the Secular Games in 17 AD. In fact, the reign of Augustus has been considered as the return of the Golden Age in Italy and in the Roman world, with the end of the civil wars. In Vergil’s poetry, we find a historical conception of the Hesiodic Golden Age. Announced in the fourth Eclogue, the Golden age is localized in the Latium (Georgica) under the power of Augustus (Aeneid).

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In 2014 the discovery of a Mithras' statue at Tarquinia occurred. This was due to the Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale dell'Arma dei Carabinieri, which informed the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria Meridionale about clandestine activities in May 2014 on the poggio della Civita – where the ancient city of Tarquinia stood – in a zone close to the Etruscan temple of the Ara della Regina (fig. 1).

As soon as possible, the Soprintendenza carried out an archaeological excavation, focusing the effort on the need to find evidence for the place of origin of the magnificent sculptural group (fig. 2), which represents Mithras Tauroctonus. This sculpture was recovered by the Carabinieri after investigation by the police, directed by the Procura della Repubblica of the law court of Rome.

Archaeological research since then has led to the discovery of another marble part of the same sculpture (fig. 3), i.e., the dog leaning on the knee of the bull and perfectly dovetailing with the Mithraic Tauroctony. The discovery of another fragment pertaining to the same sculpture is an irrefutable proof that the Mithras' statue came from the domus of the Civita of Tarquinia, which represents an important and new scientific result.

The only other sculptural group depicting Mithras in Southern Etruria was one previously found in Vulci, discovered in 1975 after a clandestine excavation close to the domus del Criptoportico. This new finding proves the spread of this cult in Tarquinia, as well, and the style of the new sculpture suggests a chronological priority of the Tarquinian Mithraeum in respect to that in Vulci.

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