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Bull-Killer, Sun Lord

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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #15 on: September 04, 2010, 12:43:13 pm »

Early Archaeology of Mithraism

In the 19th century, several major finds resurrected interest in Mithraism, especially in Rome and its nearby port, Ostia. In the 20th century, Franz Cumont uncovered the Mithraeum of Dura-Europos and published his research in a series of books, including The Mysteries of Mithra. The standard form of a Mithraeum was a long room with benches on either side, culminating in a cult niche, where a tauroctony and votive offerings would be found.

Rome boasts some of the world's most famous Mithraea. Between A.D. 212 and 217, the Roman emperor Caracalla built a massive bath complex. In 1908, archaeologists began to excavate beneath these baths, and, four years later, they discovered the largest Mithraeum found to date in Rome. Few carvings survived from this Mithraeum, but a marble fragment of a relief found shows Sol, the Roman personification of the sun, and Luna, or the moon. A smaller inscription gives Mithras the epithet of "unconquered," further associating Mithras with Sol Invictus. Other reliefs appear to have been deliberately destroyed; only pieces of the tauroctony survived.

Perhaps the most famous Roman Mithraeum is underneath the Basilica di San Clemente. First excavated in 1914, this Mithraeum is similarly shaped to that in the Baths of Caracalla: a long, rectangular room with benches on either side, culminating in a cult niche. The arched roof of the San Clemente temple is remarkable for its implications on Mithraic theory. It contains 11 holes, four of which scholar W. Marburg Lentz identified as ventilators. The other seven may represent seven celestial bodies. This possible identification has led some scholars to theorize that Mithraic iconography had ties to star maps and equinoxes.

With ships coming in from all over the world, Rome's port of Ostia was subject to many foreign influences. It is no wonder, then, that more than a dozen Mithraea have been identified there. The Mithraeum of the Seven Gates was built around A.D. 160-170. A plaster-topped altar stands near mosaics depicting Mithraic symbols. Most striking, though, is the floor mosaic, showing a center archway framed on each side by three more arches. These "seven gates" give this Mithraeum its epithet. The recurrence of the number seven resonates with St. Jerome's description of seven ranks of Mithraic initiation. This gate mosaic is located behind the entrance to the Mithraeum: once one has stepped into the temple, the initiation has begun.

The Mithraeum at Dura-Europos in eastern Syria was a spectacular find, discovered in 1934. It came to international prominence through the likes of Cumont and seems to be contemporaneous with the Ostian Mithraeum of the Seven Gates. The first local inscription--accompanied by a tauroctony--dedicated to Mithras dates from A.D. 168, around when Rome occupied Syria. In one wall painting at Dura, Mithras is depicted as a Palmyran archer, a hunter with bow and arrow. Many of the Roman soldiers stationed at Dura were archers from nearby Palmyra.
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #16 on: September 04, 2010, 12:43:41 pm »




The standard structure of a Mithraeum is a long hall with benches on either side, with a depiction of the tauroctony at the end. (Ken Pennington)
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #17 on: September 04, 2010, 12:44:14 pm »



The tauroctony in the Mithraeum beneath the Basilica di San Clemente, Rome (Claudia Porcel)
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« Reply #18 on: September 04, 2010, 12:44:42 pm »



The remains of the Mithraeum at Walbrook, London (Andrew Taylor)
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #19 on: September 04, 2010, 12:45:12 pm »



A dedicatory relief to Mithras from the soldier Ulpius Silvanus from the Walbrook Mithraeum in London (Museum of London)
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #20 on: September 04, 2010, 12:45:49 pm »

Mithras also held sway in Britain. In 1954, W. F. Grimes found a Mithraeum in Walbrook, London. Dating from the mid-2nd century, this temple contained a white marble head and bust of Mithras. Inside, a tauroctony was found with a dedication from a Second Legion soldier named Ulpius Silvanus that may have been originally located with other votive offerings in the cult niche.

Recent Discoveries

In the past 15 years, Mithraea have been unearthed everywhere from Spain to Iraq. Many of them boast similar construction, consisting of a rectangular room with a place for votive offerings at its end. The temples were often constructed during Mithraism's heyday of the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.

April 2010: After decades of controversy, a long-closed sanctuary of Mithras was finally reopened. This Mithraeum is located in the Rhodope Mountains in the town of Thermes on the border between Greece and Bulgaria. Because of the tensions between Communist Bulgaria and Greece in the 20th century, the site's excavator, Bulgarian archaeologist--and eventual prime minister--Bogdan Filov, conducted no further enquiries into the site after his initial foray in 1915. So far, the findings merely consist of a sacred spring and a sculptured relief. Bulgarian officials have called for increased Greek involvement in a further investigation, which will lead to a planned tourist venture in the area. Interestingly, Bulgarian archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov identified the veneration of rocks as a cultic ritual that was part of this Mithraic complex, resonating with the story of Mithras's rock birth.

April 2010: Archaeologists discovered the remains of a Mithraeum in Angers, northwestern France. First constructed in the 3rd century A.D., the temple is located inside a domus, or Roman house. The temple was probably destroyed in the 4th century, as evidenced by shattered statues and signs of burning. It contains remains of a relief depicting Mithras with torchbearers and of a worn head of the god, distinguished by his Phrygian cap. The offerings included about 200 coins. Other artifacts found include Nubian terracotta figurines, a brooch, and a deer-shaped pouring device with three holes in its throat, perhaps used in an unknown rite. Unfortunately, because the area is due to be razed for housing, archaeologists may not have much more time to excavate.

2009: A Mithraeum was found in Iraq in the northern province of Dohuk. The prayer space in this Mithraeum faces the sun, says Hassan Ahmed Qassim, Dohuk's director of antiquities. Such a location seems apt, considering Mithras was a solar deity. Qassim says that the Mithraeum's discovery is important in understanding the historical transformation of the region. While this area was never under official Roman rule, Dohuk may have come under its influence.

2009: An Italian farmer outside Rome discovered a giant marble relief of Mithras on his property. Dating from the 2nd century, the relief had been excavated illegally. Made of Tuscan marble, it originated in the Etruscan city of Veio, about 12.4 miles from Rome. At the time, Italian police believed thieves planned to smuggle it to Japan or China through the United Arab Emirates. Weighing more than 3,000 pounds, the relief was to be sold for 500,000 euros.

2008: A Mithraeum was discovered under a modern shopping mall in Szombathely in northwestern Hungary by archaeologist Peter Kiss. This temple is the first example for Mithraism in Szombathely, though evidence for the cult has appeared elsewhere in Hungary. Thus far, the excavated area consists of an outer room and an entranceway. The temple burned down in the 4th century, as evidenced by pieces of ceiling and wall paintings found on the floor. Currently, an artistic restorer is working to recreate the shattered paintings, which used expensive pigments in their construction.
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« Reply #21 on: September 04, 2010, 12:46:17 pm »



Excavating the Mithraeum at Lugo, Spain (Jaime Alvar)
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« Reply #22 on: September 04, 2010, 12:46:42 pm »



C. Victorius Victorinus's offering to Mithras from the Lugo Mithraeum (Jaime Alvar)
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Gwen Parker
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« Reply #23 on: September 04, 2010, 12:46:58 pm »

2003: A Mithraeum was discovered in Lugo, called "Lucus Augusti" in Roman times, in northwestern Spain. While examining a manor house, or pazo, in an area under consideration for building expansion, workers found the Mithraeum. As it turned out, the pazo was on top of an old Roman residence. Historian Jaime Alvar theorized that the temple's cult niche was destroyed during the Mithraeum's construction. The temple was most active in the 3rd and 4th centuries. A granite altar found was dedicated by one C. Victorius Victorinus, who calls himself a "centurion of the Seventh Legion" in the inscription. The inscription dubs Mithras "invictus," or "unconquered," allying him with Sol Invictus.

2000: Daniele Manacorda of Roma Tre University found another Mithraeum in Rome, located in the Crypta Balbi at the southern end of the Campus Martius. This Mithraeum was built in the early 3rd century and used until the late 4th century. The temple has the typical Mithraic structure, though the cult niche has not yet been found. A fragment of a third-century tauroctony was discovered.
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« Reply #24 on: September 04, 2010, 12:47:18 pm »

1998: Archaeologists excavated a Mithraeum at Hawarti in Syria; initial forays were made into the building the 1970s, but not completed until the '90s. Underneath what was a Christian basilica in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., the Mithraeum was revealed when the basilica floors collapsed. By dating date of coins, pottery, and lamps to the mid-4th century A.D., archaeologists have proposed that this Mithraeum is the latest constructed of those yet found. Roger Beck characterizes the iconography of the Hawarti wall paintings as "all over the place." He adds, "There are these strange, strange figures of Mithras holding...naked, black demonic figures by chains." He suggests that this scene represents evil overcome by good, personified by Mithras.

1993: Construction workers were clearing an area in Martigny, southern Switzerland, for apartment buildings, when, to their surprise, they found a Mithraeum built between A.D. 150 and 200. A long room with benches on either side, this Mithraeum has a podium at the end for a tauroctony and other votive objects. Dedicatory offerings here ranged from coins to an earthenware vase bearing a Greek inscription from one Theodoros to the Greek sun god Helios. This offering reinforces the notions of Mithras's worship under various epithets.

Carly Silver is a junior at Barnard College, Columbia University, in New York City. A religion major, she is concentrating on ancient belief systems and their effects on the development of monotheism.

    * References

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© 2010 by the Archaeological Institute of America
www.archaeology.org/online/features/bull_killer/
« Last Edit: September 04, 2010, 12:49:02 pm by Gwen Parker » Report Spam   Logged
Gwen Parker
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« Reply #25 on: September 04, 2010, 12:47:58 pm »



Reconstructing the Mithraeum at the Crypta Balbi (Michael Tinkler)

http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/bull_killer/
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