Persian Mithra-worship and the Roman Mithraic mysteries
|Mithraeum at San Clemente, Rome|
Whatever may be that relationship, Mithraism came - in one form or another - from the East, Iran, the empire conquered by Alexander and settled by Greeks under the Seleucid dynasty, and later as the centre of two empires: first the Parthian, then the Sassanid.
A notable entry into the Roman Empire came with the visit by Tiridates I of Armenia - who was also a Zoroastrian priest - to the emperor Nero. Many agree that this is how Mithra entered the empire. This king was accompanied on his state visit by magi,
"On the other hand, Tiridates presented himself in Rome, bringing with him not only his own sons but also those of Vologaesus, of Pacorus, and of Monobazus. Their progress all the way from the Euphrates was like a triumphal procession. Tiridates himself was at the height of his reputation by reason of his age, beauty, family, and intelligence; and his whole retinue of servants together with all his royal paraphernalia accompanied him. Three thousand Parthian horsemen and numerous Romans besides followed in his train. They were received by gaily decorated cities and by peoples who shouted many compliments. Provisions were furnished them free of cost, a daily expenditure of 800,000 sesterces for their support being thus charged to the public treasury. This went on without change for the nine months occupied in their journey."
"In Italy he was conveyed in a two-horse carriage sent by Nero, and met the emperor at Neapolis, which he reached by way of Picenum. He refused, however, to obey the order to lay aside his dagger when he approached the emperor, but fastened it to the scabbard with nails. Yet he knelt upon the ground, and with arms crossed called him master and did obeisance. Nero admired him for this action and entertained him in many ways, especially by giving a gladiatorial exhibition at Puteoli."
So much was covered with gold, the meeting was known as the "Golden Day". Tiridates declared, in Greek: My Lord, I am a descendant of Arsakes and the brother of the Kings Vologases and Pacorus. I have come to you who are my god; I have worshipped you as the [sun]; I shall be whatever you would order me to be, because you are my destiny and fortune.
|Coin of Gondophares|
"The name of Gondaphares was translated in Armenian in "Gastaphar", and then in Western languages into "Gaspard". He may be the "Gaspard, King of Persia", who, according to apocryphal texts and eastern Christian tradition, was one of the three Biblical Magi who attended the birth of Christ. Through this interaction and association, Gaspard was adopted by the Europeans (and in Western tradition) as a male first name."What has any of this to do with Chrestianity? Remember: the first, named Chrestian is Antonia Minor and her estate manager is Alexander the Alabarch in Alexandria; one of his sons was the apostate, Tiberius Alexander, who was Nero's diplomatic hostage to ensure the safety of Tiridates:
"On the day appointed, Tiberius Alexander, a distinguished Roman knight, sent to assist in the campaign, and Vinianus Annius, Corbulo's son-in-law, who, though not yet of a senator's age, had the command of the fifth legion as "legatus," entered the camp of Tiridates, by way of compliment to him, and to reassure him against treachery by so valuable a pledge." (Tacitus, Annals 15.28)He was therefore in Armenia, at the court of Tiridates, until the king's return.
Through this, we see that Mithra (in the East) and Mithras (in the West, are in some manner connected to both Chrestianity and what becomes the later, Christian, textual tradition. The scholarly arguments comparing Mithraism to Christianity are all made pointless by their seeing a religion which did not exist at that time, and their inability to see Chrestianity, which reliable archaeology informs us did exist then.
|Investiture of Sassanid emperor Ardashir I or II (3rd century CE bas-relief at Taq-e Bostan, Iran. On the left stands the yazata Mithra with raised barsom, sanctifying the investiture.|
"Mithra is the Zoroastrian angelic Divinity (yazata) of Covenant and Oath. In addition to being the Divinity of Contracts, Mithra is also a judicial figure, an all-seeing Protector of Truth, and the Guardian of Cattle, the Harvest and of The Waters."
"As the Divinity of Contract, Mithra is undeceivable, infallible, eternally watchful, and never-resting. Mithra is additionally the protector of cattle, and his stock epithet is "of Wide Pastures." He is Guardian of the waters and ensures that those pastures receive enough of it."Syncretism: the Sun
"In Zoroastrian scripture, Mithra is distinct from the divinity of the Sun, Hvare.khshaeta (literally "Radiant Sun", whence also Middle Persian Khorshed for the Sun). However, in Zoroastrian tradition, Mithra evolved from being an all-seeing figure (hence vaguely associated with the Sun) into a divinity co-identified with the Sun itself, effectively taking over Hvare.khshaeta's role. How or when or why this occurred is uncertain, but it is commonly attributed to conflation with Babylonian Shamash and/or Greek Apollo, with whom Mithra shares other characteristics (e.g. a judicial function). "
|Apollo, as god of the sun, drives his chariot across the sky.|
|Found sites of mithraea, temples to Mithras. Note how far east they go, into Syria (Dura Europos) and Mesopotamia.|
"Mithraism, also known as the Mythraic mysteries, was a mystery religion centred around the god Mithras that was practised in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to the 4th century. The religion was inspired by Persian worship of the god Mithra (proto-Indo-Iranian Mitra), though the Greek Mithras was linked to a new and distinctive imagery, and the level of continuity between Persian and Greco-Roman practise is debated. The mysteries were popular in the Roman military."
1. Beck, Roger (2002-07-20). "Mithraism". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. Retrieved 2011-03-24. The term “Mithraism” is of course a modern coinage. In antiquity the cult was known as “the mysteries of Mithras”; alternatively, as “the mysteries of the Persians.”…The Mithraists, who were manifestly not Persians in any ethnic sense, thought of themselves as cultic “Persians.” ... the ancient Roman Mithraists themselves were convinced that their cult was founded by none other than Zoroaster, who “dedicated to Mithras, the creator and father of all, a cave in the mountains bordering Persia,” an idyllic setting “abounding in flowers and springs of water” (Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs 6).
2. Geden, A. S. (15 October 2004). Select Passages Illustrating Mithraism 1925. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 51–. ISBN 978-1-4179-8229-5. Retrieved 28 March 2011. Porphyry moreover seems to be the only writer who makes reference to women initiates into the service and rites of Mithra, and his allusion is perhaps due to a misunderstanding.... The participation of women in the ritual was not unknown in the Eastern cults, but the predominant military influence in Mithraism seems to render it unlikely in this instance.
Few are willing to agree on the parallels.
Mystery of the Iranian-Roman link
Mary Boyce, a researcher of ancient Iranian religions, writes that even though Roman Empire Mithraism seems to have had less Iranian content than historians used to think, still "as the name Mithras alone shows, this content was of some importance."[Boyce, Mary; Grenet, Frantz (1975). Zoroastrianism under Macedonian and Roman rule, Part 1. Brill. pp. 468, 469. ISBN 90-04-09271-4. Retrieved 2011-03-16. The theory that the complex iconography of the characteristic monuments (of which the oldest belong to the second century A.C.) could be interpreted by direct reference to Iranian religion is now widely rejected; and recent studies have tended greatly to reduce what appears to be the actual Iranian content of this "self consciously 'Persian' religion", at least in the form which it attained under the Roman empire. Nevertheless, as the name Mithras alone shows, this content was of some importance; and the Persian affiliation of the Mysteries is acknowledged in the earliest literary reference to them.]
|Mithraeum beneath Basilica of San Clemente, Rome|
Numerous mithraea are under Christian churches, usually but not always, as a crypt.
"The Basilica of Saint Clement (Italian: Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano) is a Roman Catholic minor basilica dedicated to Pope Clement I located in Rome, Italy. Archaeologically speaking, the structure is a three-tiered complex of buildings: (1) the present basilica built just before the year 1100 during the height of the Middle Ages; (2) beneath the present basilica is a 4th-century basilica that had been converted out of the home of a Roman nobleman, part of which had in the 1st century briefly served as an early church, and the basement of which had in the 2nd century briefly served as a mithraeum; (3) the home of the Roman nobleman had been built on the foundations of republican era villa and warehouse that had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 64 AD."
This example was the family home of Clemens, built on the ashes of the Great Fire of Rome. There is no evidentiary support for either the Pope Clement I, or the supposed theologian, Clement of Alexandria: both are products of the Christian, textual tradition. One must ask how this great, Christian family had a temple to Mithras in the basement of its family home, and meeting house of the Church of Rome:
"The early basilica was the site of councils presided over by Pope Zosimus (417) and Symmachus (499). The last major event that took place in the lower basilica was the election in 1099 of Cardinal Rainerius of St Clemente as Pope Paschal II."
|Adoration by the three wise men or Magi; Sarcophagus relief (4th century), Vatican.|