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.
A mithraeum always has long benches, which were called praesepiae, “places where cattle are fed in a stall” (CIMRM 233). The name is inappropriate for a dining room, which was usually called, instead, triclinium. Mithraeum is the current modern name, whereas the ancients called it spelaeum, antrum, templum. Another important name was Leonteum, which was not a separate cultic place for Leones only, because Porphyry states that the members of a Mithraic community were the Leones and the servants were called Korakes, the Ravens (Porphyr. de abst. 4. 16). The Mithraic menu apparently consisted of meat rather than of vegetables, even though one should take into account the fact that bones are better preserved than vegetables in an archaeological site, and therefore they are often published, whereas vegetal remains had never been investigated by means of chemical analyses. Lions are notoriously carnivorous and the praesepiae had to be filled with meat for the Leones.
The initiation of Leones was supposed to be dry and fiery (Tert. Adv. Marcionem I 13), and we are also told that the Mithraic Leones avoided water for their purifications and washed their hands with honey (Porph. De antro 15–16). Moreover, a lion and a snake are often depicted on Mithraic reliefs as going to drink from a crater. It is possible to get some information from those facts about what Leones were used to drinking during their symposia: they were thirsty but their drink could not be water, but eventually, wine was permitted. Iustin. Apol. I 66 speaks of a cup of water, but only to mention some ritual acts during initiations and not during symposia.