The Cult of Mithras

27 Dec, 2012 290 Other religions

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the cult of Mithras, a mystery religion that existed in the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD. Also known as the Mysteries of Mithras, its origins are uncertain. Academics have suggested a link with the ancient Vedic god Mitra and the Iranian Zoroastrian deity Mithra, but the extent and nature of the connection is a matter of controversy. Followers of Mithras are thought to have taken part in various rituals, most notably communal meals and a complex seven-stage initiation system. Typical depictions of Mithras show him being born from a rock, enjoying food with the sun god Sol and stabbing a bull. Mithraic places of worship have been found throughout the Roman world, including an impressive example in London. However, Mithraism went into decline in the 4th century AD with the rise of Christianity and eventually completely disappeared. In recent decades, many aspects of the cult have provoked debate, especially as there are no written accounts by its members. As a result, archaeology has been of great importance in the study of Mithraism and has provided new insights into the religion and its adherents.

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  • Greg Woolf 8 episodes
    Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews
  • Almut Hintze No other episodes
    Zartoshty Professor of Zoroastrianism at SOAS, University of London
  • John North No other episodes
    Acting Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London

Reading list

  • Romanising Oriental Gods: Myth, Salvation and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele, Isis and Mithras
    Jaime Alvar (Brill, 2008) Google Books →
  • Religions of Rome
    Mary Beard, John North and Simon Price (Cambridge University Press, 1998) Google Books →
  • The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire: Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun
    Roger Beck (Oxford University Press, 2007) Google Books →
  • Beck on Mithraism: Collected Works with New Essays
    Roger Beck (Ashgate, 2004) Google Books →
  • A History of Zoroastrianism
    M. Boyce and F. Grenet (Brill, 1991) Google Books →
  • The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries
    Manfred Clauss (Edinburgh University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • The Mysteries of Mithra
    Franz Cumont (Forgotten Books, 2012) Google Books →
  • Image and Value in the Graeco-Roman World: Studies in Mithraism and Religious Art
    Richard Gordon (Variorum, 1996) Google Books →
  • Persian Mythology
    John Hinnells (P. Bedrick Books, 1985) Google Books →
  • A Companion to Roman Religion
    J. Rupke (ed.) (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)
  • The Cults of the Roman Empire
    Robert Turcan (Wiley-Blackwell, 1997) Google Books →

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