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Mithras in Moesia Inferior

New Data and New Perspectives

Author: Valentin Bottez

Summary

The paper starts by adding to the corpus of Mithraic monuments the recently (re)discovered monuments, from Carsium, Nicopolis ad Istrum, Tropaeum Traiani, Tomis and Capidava. In the second part it focuses on the differences and similitudes between the cults in Novae and Istros, by analysing Mithraism's place in their respective communities.

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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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Secrecy was one of the major features of the so-called mystery cults that met with significant diffusion and popularity throughout the Greco-Roman world. The Roman cult of Mithras was a particular example of mysteries that took place in secret, without any public aspect.

This paper examines the ways in which the major symbolic systems of the Mithras cult, the mithraea, the scene of the tauroctony and the hierarchy of the initiatory grades, would have operated as elaborated security systems that would have contributed to the secrecy of the cult, obstructing both the physical and cognitive access of the uninitiated to their symbolic meanings.

Further, the cognitive processes that mediate the attractiveness of secret communities and forge social cohesion among members of secret groups are explored. It is argued that secrecy was a crucial aspect which would have promoted the formation of close exclusive communities of Mithraists and the development of social cohesion between the cult members.

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The highest number of mithraea in urban context of the ancient world come from Ostia. Although we do not know the whole city, mithraea have been found in all districts of the town. The spread and fortune of the Mithraic worship are also attested by the plenteous epigraphic and sculptural materials. This research deals with the Mithraism at Ostia, focusing on the particular case of monograms, just mentioned by Giovanni Becatti in his seminal work about mithraea at Ostia, dating back to more than sixty years ago. After the recent discovery of the Mithraeum of colored marbles by the archaeologists of the Ostia Marina Project (University of Bologna), it seems necessary to examine and contextualize the phenomenology of Mithraic monograms at Ostia, as is done in relation to similar processes which involve the Christian world.

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Porphyry's Cave of Nymphs is dedicated to deciphering the philosophical and theological significance of the cave described by Homer in the Thirteenth Canto of the Odyssey. However, within the exegesis of the Homeric cave awaits another exegesis concerning the cave in which Mithras sacrifices the bull and in which the initiation of the worshippers and the common meal take place.

According to Porphyry, the cave of the Nymphs is the place in which the worshippers were initiated into the platonic mystery of the descent and ascent of souls. Mithras, assimilated to the Demiurge of the Timaeus, generates souls by killing the bull he has caught, ridden and dragged into the cave which symbolises the cosmos. The souls, which are created by the bull/moon like bees in a sort of bougonia (cf. Virgil, Georgics IV), and which are animated by his blood, descend into the cycle of generation and incarnation and are dragged down by Boreas, the cold wind that keeps them cool in the place of earthly generation. After successive reincarnations the warm wind of Notus dissolves the carnal vestments that imprison them and returns them to the heat of the Sun.

Conclusion. After the comparison between the text of Porphyry and the CIMRM will show that the theme of the descent and ascent of souls is very weak in Mithraic finds, and the reading of tauroctony as bougonia remains deprived of iconographic evidence. To sum up, The Cave of the Nymphs is more relevant to the history of Platonism than to the history of Mithraicism.

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Roman Mithraism has been subject to philosophical interpretations and influences over the years. In this paper, I will present the important case of Mithras as a Demiurge by following the Platonic doctrine of the three Gods and its evolution, and after Plato, in three further phases.

A. Plato in the Timaeus and in the dialogue The Sophist (both written in 360 BC) debated three fundamental divine figures: the Being, who accounts for the early Idea and the source of all the other ideas, as well as the early cause of the world; the Demiurge, who was born from the Being and accounts for the acting Power creating the perceivable world; the Anima Mundi (the Soul of the World or the World Soul), who was born from the other two Gods and is the “mother” shaping all of beings.

B. Later, Middle Platonism (lasted from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD and on which the Chaldean Oracles were based) identified the Being as the First God and the source of every indistinct idea; the Demiurge as the Second God featuring the early Idea in order to create the world; and the Anima Mundi as the unifying principle from which all of organisms are shaped.

C. Finally, in Neoplatonism (lasted from the 3rd century to the 6th century AD and on which the Porphyry's De Antro Nympharum is based) this doctrine was fitted together with Mithraism: Mithras was the Demiurge and the Goddess Hecate was identified with the Anima Mundi.

This paper contributes to the current state of knowledge on this topic with a full detailed analysis of the connected different phases of Platonism in order to reach the identification of Mithras as the Demiurge.

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Even though the Mithraic epiclesis SAECULARIS has been explained with a link to the Ludi SAECULARES of 248, we prefer to elucidate it with the relief that we can observe between the two altars consecrated to MYTRAE SAECULARI, in Housesteads, in the civil parish of Bardon Mill in Northumberland, England, south of Broomlee.

Close to Hadrian's vallum, we can actually see a representation of Mithras, identified with Phanes, emerging from the cosmogonic egg with a zodiacal belt around him, lighting up the world. Concerning Jupiter (IOVI SEQULARI), moreover, on an Antoninianus of Claudius II “the Gothic”, this epiclesis expresses his responsibility for the kosmos in its cyclic eternity. Like Jupiter, Mithras is a sovereign of the universe.

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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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One of the key questions in the studies of the Roman cult of Mithras has been, since the works of F. Cumont, the question about the religious historical origin of the cult – regarding which there is no consensus to this day. Theories about the origin of the cult can be divided into three groups: (1) the so-called “strong” Iranian thesis, according to which the cult was imported from Iran; (2) the so-called “weak” Iranian thesis, claiming that just a few, mostly irrelevant elements of the cult originated in Iran; (3) a radical stance that there is no consistency between the Roman cult of Mithras and the Iranian cult of Mithra and what the two have in common is simply the similar name of a god. The author of this presentation has studied comparatively the character of Mitra in Indian religious literature, that of Mithra in Iranian religious and mythological texts as well as in Iranian religious iconography, and Mithras in the cult devoted to him in Rome, and has concluded that the radical belief common in current Mithras studies, according to which Mithras is connected with Mitra and Mithra only by them having similar names, is just as erroneous as the “strong” Iranian thesis defended by F. Cumont and G. Widengren. Although it is certain that the Roman cult of Mithras is not a cult imported from Iran, but a new cult that originated in the Roman Empire, the author of this presentation maintains that the Roman cult of Mithras contains a series of motifs that can be found both in the Vedas and in Iranian mythological texts: connection of Mitra/Mithras with friendship and a contract of friendship; certain military traits; connection with cosmogony and the cosmic order; connection with light, the Sun and the chariot of Sol; the role of the god as a giver of water and fertility; the idea of a sacrifice that stimulates fertility. Based on the sources linked to the Roman Mithras, in particular the iconography, it may be claimed that a large part of these motifs did not have a peripheral role in the mythology connected with the cult, but they carried an important, maybe even a central role. As the previously mentioned motifs were already interrelated in India and Iran, the author of this presentation believes that their coexistence in the mythology of the Roman cult of Mithras cannot be a coincidence but testifies to the wider Indo-Iranian background of the central figure of the cult, the god Mithras, which should not be ignored even if the Roman cult of Mithras is viewed as a new cult that evolved in the Roman Empire and within the context of the Greco-Roman religion.

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Mithras in Regio VI, Umbria

Fragments of a Shipwreck

Author: Giovanna Bastianelli

Summary

The presence of Mithras in Regio VI, Umbria, is documented by materials (some inscriptions, two arae, two reliefs, two tauroctonies: one of them fragmentary, the other one almost complete) which were either fortuitously unearthed between the 18th and the 19th century without any further research following, or discovered during unsystematic excavations – in both cases, they ended up lost (or simply forgotten) among the other pieces of family collections. This is how Marquis Eroli and Count Valenti bought, respectively, a relief now kept at the Museo Archelogico in Terni and a fragmentary tauroctony, still visible today in the hall of his ancestral palace in Trevi; Count Ramelli retrieved a tauroctony and some inscriptions in Sentinum: the tauroctony was then walled in the hall of his palace in Fabriano and the inscriptions were collected in the lapidarium of the palace. Finally, Count Marignoli promoted the excavation of the Mithraeum in Spoleto, dug up by Fabio Gori and documented in drawings and watercolors by the architect Silvestri; currently that Mithraeum has been reduced to a shapeless heap of rubble and its materials are not to be found anywhere.

This is definitely a distressing situation which, however, allows us to outline at least a Mithraic geography in Umbria made up of places along the Via Flaminia, east and west, where initiates to the Mithraic cult used to live, from Ocriculum to Interamna Nahars, Montoro, Spoletium, Trebiae, Carsulae and Sentinum, on the junction of the road coming from Helvillum. As for the cultores Mithrae in Regio VI, the few surviving inscriptions speak about them. There are freemen and freedmen, few slaves, some artisans, maybe some landowners or administrators of private and public estates who live and work at in-between towns and villae. They participate in the cult by covering various functions and supporting it financially: the leones in Carsulae collect money to build their leonteum; Sextus Egnatius Primitivus pays out of pocket to rebuild a spelaeum destroyed by an earthquake, while the thirty-five patroni of Sentinum contribute in different ways to the needs of their community.

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