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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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A miniature relief representing the scene of tauroctony, i.e. Mithras killing the bull, is on display in the Archaeological Museum in Split. Despite its visibility, the relief has so far remained unpublished. It is therefore the aim of this article to provide the detailed description of the object, and to contextualize it within the broader framework of “small and miniature reproductions of the Mithraic icon”. Based on this, the original provenance and dating of the miniature relief are proposed. Furthermore, the relief is taken as a fine example of interconnectedness of social, material, and religious mobility in “globalizing Roman world”. The final part of the article discusses the psychological effectiveness of miniature Mithraic reliefs, suggesting their possible role as memory aids.

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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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Mithraic Iconography in Hispania

Reinterpretation of the Catalogue and New Findings

Author: Claudina Romero Mayorga

Summary

This proposal aims to provide an update of the catalogues of findings associated with the mysteries of Mithras in Hispania produced by García y Bellido (1967) and Alvar Ezquerra (1981). A new approach to the archaeological material is needed due to the multiplicity of findings in recent decades and the overcoming of traditional theories in this field of study. We have focused on the figurative monuments, as Mithraic iconography has been considered a mere vehicle for the transmission of the eschatology of the cult.

Although three representations of tauroctony were located in the province of Baetica, the findings of Tróia and Mérida, both in Lusitania, are the most important source of materials in the territory of Hispania. Recent discoveries in Lugo, Altafulla, Cabrera de Mar, Puente Genil, San Juan de la Isla, Barbate, Mérida, along with the revision of the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano collection, have been a great contribution to the study of Mithraism in the Iberian Peninsula.

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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 external orientation of the Mithraic sanctuaries shows a great variety and heterogeneity. The internal orientation of the sanctuaries suggested by the cult image, however, shows a great homogenity and uniformity. The internal structure is organised on the possible axial line drawn from the entrance to the cult image, and continues beyond that. We can establish that the interior of a mithraeum is oriented along the ‘North-South – East-West’ frame of reference by the cult image.

The representation of the “Cosmos” in the sanctuary portrays only the visible, sensorial world. The known and organised “Cosmos” is the sanctuary itself, the ‘northern part’ of the Mithraic ‘Universe’ with its own inner coordinates.

The ‘Anti-Cosmos’, the Underworld, had been abolished from the ‘Mithraic Universe’, completely unmentioned by literary sources. After the vertical North-South and horizontal East-West orientation we can consider, that the cult image also as a partition, divides the ‘Mithraic Universe’ up into ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ parts. The ‘northern part’, as it is displayed, the ordered part of the ‘Universe’, or the “Cosmos” itself is represented by the shrine. Its opposite, the ‘southern part’, the disordered part of the ‘Universe’, or ‘Anti-Cosmos’ is absent on the cult image.

The Tauroctony prevents the specifically represented Underworld and its principles to manifest, creating the opportunity for the initiates to continue their eternal life in the living and organized part of the ‘Universe’, in the “Cosmos”.

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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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