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The article is devoted to the analysis of the historiographical background of the category of the so-called oriental cults/oriental religions created in the 19th century and developed by Franz Cumont. We discuss the role of this term in 20th-century historiography with the focus on the works of Tadeusz Zieliński that are important to the reception of the oriental cults metaphor. We argue that the concept of oriental cults/oriental religions in its original version is not an effective or useful research tool. However, as a historiographical concept it has fulfilled its role in a threefold way: firstly, it drew scholars’ attention to the vitality of ancient religious experience, secondly, it established the fact that Roman religion was a living organism, naturally adapted to changing political, social and cultural conditions, thirdly, it helped to understand the principles behind the construction of metaphors in the academic discourse.

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The main concepts used in this article are the dichotomy and differences between the two main groups of theories regarding the origins of the Roman mystery cult of Mithras: namely the school of the great Belgian scholar Franz Cumont, who considered Mithraism in the Roman world as an essentially Iranian cult adapted to the new cultural Hellenistic-Roman context and the theory of the 19th century German scholar K. B. Stark, respectively (revived in the seventies of the 20th century by academics like R. Beck, J. R. Hinnells, St. Insler, R. Gordon, and A. Bausani), who considered that the Roman cult of the solar god Mithras was a new mystery cult, which was born in the Roman world because of the Hellenistic scientific discovery of the precession of the equinoxes. My conclusion is that the Roman cult of Mithras, fused with the cult of Sol Invictus (the Hellenistic-Roman cult of the Unvanquished Sun), has more things Iranian than the name of the central deity of this initiation-mystery cult (despite its undeniable Hellenistic-Roman and astrological-astronomical elements).

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