A. B. Griffith

Mithraism in the private and public lives of 4th-c. senators in Rome*

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* This article is based on part of my dissertation, “The archaeological evidence for Mithraism in imperial Rome” (University of Michigan, 1993), and in a preliminary form it was the subject of a paper entitled “Mithraism in Rome: a domestic religion or a religion for domestics” presented at the 93rd annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. Since then my thinking on this subject has benefited greatly from comments and suggestions by many mentors and colleagues. I therefore extend my sincerest thanks to Raymond Van Dam, Thelma Thomas, and Russell T. Scott, Richard Gordon, and especially to John D’Arms and the students of his Latin epigraphy seminar at the University of Michigan. Finally, I am grateful to Roger Beck for insightful comments on earlier drafts of this article, and to my colleague, John Oakley, for many good suggestions about argument and presentation, and to anonymous readers. All remaining errors are my own.

 A well-known series of inscribed dedications to Magna Mater from the Vatican Phrygianum also attests the participation of late 4th-c.[i] Roman senators in the cult of Mithras. This group of dedications is intriguing for many reasons, not the least of which is that it attests the devotion of senators to Mithras for the first time in the centuries-long history of the cult. Years ago Reinhold Merkelbach advanced the view that the Mithraism these senators practiced differed from that of earlier centuries, although he may have overstated his case when he denied that the Magna Mater dedications were true testimonials of the Mithraic cult.[ii] More recently Manfred Clauss has adopted a similar view by relegating the names of the 4th-c. senators responsible for these dedications to a separate appendix in his Cultores Mithrae.[iii] While both scholars agree that the practice of Mithraism among 4th-c. senators in Rome constituted a distinct phase and aspect of the cult, neither substantiates or otherwise elucidates his case. This is an issue not readily apparent and thus well worth exploring. What distinguished 4th-c. Mithraism was the avid participation of senators — not the slaves, freedmen, and legionaries of the previous centuries — who went so far as to install mithraea in their domus and to worship Mithras in the public context of the Phrygianum in the Ager Vaticanus. What concerns us here is why these senators embraced Mithraism so wholeheartedly when they had never had done so before.

 Using Merkelbach and Clauss as a point of departure to examine the nature of Mithraism in 4th-c. Rome, my aims in this discussion are twofold. First, I will show that the social, historical, and in this particular case, political and topographical contexts shaped and distinguished this phase of the Mithraic cult from that practiced elsewhere and at other times. More importantly, I will explore the reasons for Mithraism’s tremendous popularity in Rome — at a point when it had all but fallen into obscurity elsewhere in the empire[iv] — by reassessing the role of the cult in preserving certain ancestral traditions and social customs among senators. The social nature of Mithraic worship created an excellent venue for advancing and facilitating personal interactions among the senators who practiced it. Moreover, Mithraism’s structure of grades mimicked the hierarchy of Roman society and was thus able to replicate and promote the social organization in which the senators had once had so much influence. Publicly, the cult offered senators a locale for important interaction and, as one scholar has put it, a “means for public self-expression.”[v] Privately, as I hope to show, it reaffirmed hierarchy, and especially fides, within the familia and amongst peers.

 Mithraism in 4th-c. Rome is comparatively well documented, not only by the Phrygianum and other surprisingly loquacious inscriptions which reveal the names of individual senators, the range of cults in which they participated, and even the date (often to the day) when these dedications were made, but also by archaeological remains of mithraea from private homes (domus). In the course of this investigation we must first lay out this archaeological evidence for the 4th-c. cult, and at the same time examine the other major body of evidence, inscribed dedications, to confirm the practice of Mithraism by senators and the extent of their involvement in the cult. Finally, we will investigate the reasons for Mithraism’s appeal to senators and how that cult could serve them in different facets of their lives.

 I. The Via Giovanni Lanza mithraeum

 This mithraeum on the Esquiline hill, associated with a garden lararium and domus, is important for understanding the 4th-c. cult of Mithras.[vi] It is a problematic sanctuary for several reasons: its layout does not conform to typical mithraea in every respect, its owner cannot be identified, and it is difficult to date precisely. The subterranean sanctuary accessed by two flights of stairs was uncharacteristically small and nearly square (l. 3.7 m x w. 2.43 m) and lacked sufficient space for the requisite kline (dining couches), but statues of Cautes and Cautopates in niches at the landing on the stairwell, a tauroctony relief resting on two brackets on the left wall of the sanctuary, and the 4 niches for the lamps recovered during the excavation confirm its identity. Clauss firmly states what Vermaseren only tentatively suggested: that the owner of this domus and mithraeum was one Flavius Septimius Zosimus, who stated in a dedicatory inscription that he was a vir perfectissimus and sacerdos of Bronto and Hecate, and that he built a Mithraic cave (speleum).[vii] I would emphasize that this dedication found its way to the church of San Martino ai Monti and that the exact provenience and the circumstances of its discovery are unknown. However tempting it may be to associate this individual with the owner of the mithraeum, lararium, and domus, we cannot do so securely.

 Dating the mithraeum, the lararium, and the associated domus with any precision has also proven difficult. In his analysis of the domus in late-antique Rome, Frederico Guidobaldi considered the excavation reports carefully and has confirmed the “Constantinian” date originally suggested by the excavators, although he noted that the domus, lararium, and mithraeum were all installed in earlier structures which could date any time from the late 1st c. B.C. through the 2nd c. A.D.[viii] Most other indicators are too general to be helpful. Garden lararia were common enough that the presence of one here cannot help to determine a date. The arrangement of lararium and mithraeum recalls the garden lararium and biclinium at the Domus Fulminata at Ostia, but even if we posit a biclinium at the Via Giovanni Lanza lararium, a handy substitution for the kline lacking from the mithraeum, the Domus Fluminata is generally dated to the 1st and 2nd c.[ix] Neither is the presence of a mithraeum on the grounds of domus a good indicator because mithraea in domus and insulae are documented in the middle of the 2nd c. in Ostia and during the Severan period in Rome. What is most useful for supporting a “Constantinian” date is the presence of a mithraeum in a particularly well-appointed domus containing certain architectural features which might indicate a 4th-c. date, as here, [x] and the remarkable variety of deities in the lararium. Taken as a whole the group of 17 figures contained a life-size statue of Egyptian Isis, and statuettes of Serapis, Horus, and Mithras among the more traditional Jupiter, Diana, Venus, Mars, Hercules, Dionysus (represented by a bacchant), two lares, and a genius (of what Visconti declined to say). Now of all these deities, Mithras’ arrival was by far the most recent in Rome, and even it can be reasonably dated around A.D. 90.[xi] Inscriptions dedicated by senators in the 4th c. to Magna Mater in the Vatican Phrygianum, however, mention not only Magna Mater and Attis Menotyrannus, but also Mithras, Hecate, Liber, and Isis. These are not merely joint dedications, as we shall see presently, but a list of priesthoods in each of these cults. The variety of this list immediately calls to mind the group of statues from the Via Giovanni Lanza lararium.

The mithraeum of the Nummii Albini and the Palazzo Barberini mithraeum

 Two mithraea have been recovered on the Quirinal hill, both close to the ancient Alta Semita, a street which ran from the baths of Constantine up to the baths of Diocletian and beyond to the Porta Collina in the Servian wall (corresponding to the modern Via del Quirinale and Via XX Settembre). The first of the two sanctuaries lies on what are now the grounds of the Palazzo Barberini. No owner can be securely identified, nor can we determine how long the sanctuary remained in use. We do know from the brickwork of the mithraeum and from a large painted tauroctony scene, however, that the sanctuary had two distinct phases during the second half of the 2nd c. and the first quarter of the 3rd c.[xii] The second sanctuary was in the domus of the Nummii Albini, across the Alta Semita and slightly further up the hill towards the baths of Diocletian. Several inscriptions[xiii] recovered from the area are generally associated with the architectural remains of a domus, which had a cryptoporticus surrounding several vaulted rooms, including one which had been converted to a mithraeum.[xiv]

 The remains of still another domus, that of Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius, include part of a peristyle courtyard found at the corner of the modern Vicolo di Santa Nicola and the Via del Quirinale (now on the grounds of the Palazzo Barberini).[xv] Lanciani identified the owner of this domus as the individual named in inscriptions found nearby. The nearly identical texts differ only in the quality of the lettering, certain spellings and abbreviations, preservation, and dedicators.[xvi] Each identifies Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius as a pater in the cult of Mithras, which has interesting implications for the mithraea under discussion because both sanctuaries lay within a few meters of the inscriptions. The Barberini mithraeum cannot be associated securely with the domus of Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius for several reasons: because of its Severan date, because we cannot establish how long it remained in use, and because the original excavation reports do not contain enough information about the stratigraphical context of the peristyle remains to allow us to draw a conclusion about their relationship with the mithraeum. The sanctuary is, in fact, so close to the remains of the peristyle that both could easily have been part of the same property. Any further conclusion would be pure speculation.

Who used the mithraea in the domus of 4th-c. senators?

 Before examining the epigraphical evidence for mithraea in 4th-c. mithraea in Rome let us consider the heretofore implicit assumption that the senators themselves used the mithraea in these 4th-c. domus. We might justifiably surmise that slaves and freedmen in the senators’ familiae installed and used the sanctuaries in domus, since members of these marginal groups were the basis of Mithraism’s well-attested popularity prior to the 4th c.[xvii] While the archaeological record does show that mithraea in domus in Rome appeared at least as early as the late 2nd- and early 3rd-c., ignorance of the owner’s identity for each of these earlier examples prevents any conclusion about who installed and used the sanctuary. Richard Gordon concedes that the owners of these 2nd- and 3rd-c. domus must have recognized “the value” of the cult at the very least, but he argues that a mithraeum in a domus prior to the middle of the 3rd c. proves only that the owner consented to the installation of the sanctuary and nothing about his religious proclivities. “In the case of private households,” he asserts, “the typical leader seems to have been the freedman.”[xviii] Nothing precludes the possibility that the freedman himself was wealthy enough to afford his own domus. One practical consideration well worth remembering, however, is that ancient Rome was crowded and almost certainly had high real estate prices which, relative to the average wage, were perhaps similar to those of populous modern cities such as New York, Tokyo, or even Rome. The owner of a domus, no matter what his status, would be a generous patron to let his clients, freedmen, and slaves use part of his house as a mithraeum when he himself had no personal stake in the cult.

 The 4th-c. mithraea in domus reviewed above present an entirely different situation. The dedication on Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius’ statue base clearly indicates that he was a pater, the highest grade of 7, in the Mithraic cult. Given this fact, the high-quality appointments in the mithraeum of the Nummii Albini are at least as likely to indicate that the aristocratic owners used this space as the members of the familia.[xix] After considering the long-standing connection by marriage between the Nummii Albini and the Ceionii Kamenii, Alessandro Capannari argued that Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius was the pater in the mithraeum of the Nummii Albini.[xx] Of course it is entirely possible that Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius had his own mithraeum, but Capannari’s provocative suggestion emphasizes a fundamental point: senators, not lower-ranking members of their familia, used these mithraea. Several inscriptions from the Campus Martius illustrate the disposition of the congregation of one of these mithraea owned by an aristocratic family.

The Mithraic inscriptions found in the Campus Martius

 A group of 5 inscribed dedications to Mithras was recovered in the 15th c. near the modern Piazza San Silvestro, and a sixth was found in the 17th c.[xxi] No detailed account of the discovery remains,[xxii] and all the inscriptions are now lost except for a seventh recovered from the same area in 1867.[xxiii] The dedications celebrate the promotion of members of the congregation to higher grades in the years 357, 358, 359, 362, and 376 by both Nonius Victor Olympius,[xxiv] a pater patrum of a Mithraic congregation, and his sons, Aurelius Victor Olympius[xxv] and Aurelius Victor Augentius,[xxvi] both patres of the same congregation. One dedication also included Aurelius Victor Augentius’ son, Aemilianus Corfo Olympius.[xxvii] Tamesius Olympius Augentius,[xxviii] the grandson of Nonius Victor Olympius and son of either Augentius or Olympius, dedicated the one surviving inscription (which lacks a consular date), and in it he refers specifically both to temples of Apollo (Phoebeia templa) built by his grandfather and to caves (antra) he built himself. Although no architectural remains have been recovered that can be convincingly associated with a mithraeum, the recovery of so many dedications to Mithras from one location has rightly been interpreted as the site of the mithraeum to which the last, surviving dedication by the grandson refers.[xxix] Because it attests the worship of Mithras by three generations of a single family of senatorial rank, this group of dedications offers a rare glimpse into the structure of the cult in 4th c. When added to the evidence from Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius’ statue base from his domus on the Quirinal hill, this group also strengthens the case for identifying the Nummii Albini as the primary users of the mithraeum in their domus.

The Phrygianum in the Ager Vaticanus

 The most conclusive evidence for senatorial participation in Mithraism comes from a group of dedications to Magna Mater and other oriental deities between 305-90 recovered from the foundation trench for the facade of St. Peter’s basilica in 1609.[xxx] These dedications comprise the main body of evidence for the Phrygianum,[xxxi] and while its exact location remains uncertain, the provenience of the inscriptions recovered from under St. Peter’s and references in the Curiosum urbis regionum XIV and the Notitia urbis regionum XIV suggest that it was near the circus of Gaius and Nero.[xxxii] To this group from underneath the facade should be added an inscribed marble altar found in Piazza S. Pietro in 1949 and dedicated to the Great Idaean Mother of the gods and Attis Menotyrannus on July 19, 374 by none other than Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius.[xxxiii] This inscription, like many of the others recovered, reads like a cursus honorum, but one with a more religious focus. Each dedicator identified himself as vir clarissimus and listed his offices in various oriental cults in a manner which is nearly formulaic. Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius was a vir clarissimus, septemvir epulonum, pater and hieroceryx of Invictus Mithras, hierophanta of Hecate, archibucolus of Liber, and a tauroboliate and crioboliate, in that order. The statue bases from his house on the Quirinal hill and his epitaph from Antium reiterate this information and add that he was a magister in the cult of Mithras, quindecimvir sacris faciundis, and pontifex maior.[xxxiv] Two other dedications from the original St. Peter’s group of 1609 and a third found “in the gardens of Julius III” have a similar list of religious offices held by their dedicators, Caelius Hilarianus, Ulpius Egnatius Faventinus, and Iunius Postumianus.[xxxv] Caelius Hilarianus was a vir clarissimus, duodecimvir of the city of Rome, pater and hieroceryx of Mithras, and a hieroceryx of Liber and of Hecate. Ulpius Egnatius Faventinus was a vir clarissimus, an augur publicus populi Romani Quiritium, pater and hieroceryx of Mithras, archibucolus of Liber, hierophanta of Hecate, sacerdos of Isis, and a tauroboliate and crioboliate. Iunius Postumianus was a vir clarissimus, pater patrum of Mithras, quindecimvir sacris faciundis, and pontifex solis.

 Taking into account inscriptions recovered elsewhere in Rome than those from the Vatican or specific mithraea renders an even wider circle of senatorial participants.[xxxvi] Petronius Apollodorus and his wife, Ruf(ina?) Volusiana, dedicated an altar to Mithras in 370 with Greek and Latin inscriptions.[xxxvii] Rufius Caeionius Sabinus,[xxxviii] Sextilius Agesilaus Aedesius,[xxxix] C. Rufius Volusianus,[xl] and Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, [xli] mention that they were patres in the Mithraic cult. Outside Rome two were other viri clarissimi, Publilius Ceionius Caecina Albinus, who dedicated a Mithraic cave (speleum) while praeses proconsularis of Numidia from 364-67,[xlii] and Appius Claudius Tarronius Dexter, who dedicated a tauroctony relief at Pausilypum.[xliii]

 The Phrygianum dedications to Magna Mater confirm what the archaeological evidence for worship of Mithras amply suggests: that 4th-c. senators themselves used the mithraea in their houses. Equally important, these inscriptions also reflect the pattern of usage revealed in the Campus Martius inscriptions, that is, use of a mithraeum by a family. Members of the Lampadii and Caeonii, including the urban prefect (365), C. Caeonius Rufius Lampadius Volusianus, and three of his children, figure prominently among recorded tauroboliates.[xliv] Predominance by a single family seems to have been the exception in the case of the taurobolium, but the recent conclusion that Lampadius’ actions were motivated by competition and that he set a trend in “high-profile” taurobolia[xlv] has important implications for what I suggest is a similar competition among Mithraists with senatorial status.

II. Senatorial interest in Mithraism

 How Mithraism became popular among senators and the extent to which it was associated with older and more firmly embedded “foreign” cults, and even with traditional Roman religion, are issues worth considering. The recent observation that there was a “trend toward assimilating into ‘traditional’ paganism cults in Rome which had not previously received senatorial patronage”[xlvi] is a point well taken, but it does not go far enough. This association or ‘assimilation’ — and clearly there was one since the dedicators of the Phrygianum altars obviously knew each other and had overlapping religious interests — has been the subject of significant scholarly discussion. The notion of an organized, well-defined group of senators with religious tastes encompassing both traditional Roman religion and “oriental” cults was a main tenet in the argument that a group of “pagan” senators actively resisted Christianity by “reviving” paganism.[xlvii] The the validity of the artificial dichotomy — “Roman” and “Oriental” — applied to the interests of this group of senators has been questioned.[xlviii] Moreover the generalized use of the term “pagan” (and paganism) as denoting non-Christians has been exposed as anachronistic and redefined as an attitude of tolerance most prevalent among, but not exclusive to, those who practiced traditional Roman religion or one or more of the many cults.[xlix] Even the notion of a homogeneous movement of polytheists acting in response to a similarly well-organized and homogeneous movement of Christians has fallen out of favor in recognition of the diversity of religious practices geographically and socially, particularly among different groups in Rome.[l]

 The practice of Mithraism, still an unofficial cult in the 4th c.,[li] is evidence of this diversity. Its markedly different history distinguished it from the other imported deities such as Magna Mater and Attis, or Isis and Serapis mentioned in the Phrygianum dedications. These cults had prominent temples in Rome since the Republic and had, as Gordon succinctly put it, suffered a “civic takeover” which included membership drawn from all levels of society. The continuing interest and patronage of the aristocracy, under whose purview as quindecimviri these cults fell is easily understood.[lii] The available evidence for Mithraism, however, suggests a relatively late date for attention from higher ranks in society, and contrary assertions that senators and emperors participated in the cult earlier than the 4th c. are difficult to prove unequivocally. There is little evidence for sustained, active participation by elites before the 4th c. Of interest are A. Caedicius Priscianus’ dedication at the Castra Peregrinorum in Rome,[liii] a recently recovered group of dedications at the Aquincum V mithraeum made by six tribuni laticlavii of senatorial rank,[liv] and dedications by men of senatorial rank made at Lambaesis at various points from the last quarter of the 2nd c. and the first quarter of the 3rd c., and again in the late 3rd c. and early 4th c.[lv] Whether these dedications represent true devotion or recognition of local religious tastes remains an open question for some.[lvi] The Lambaesis dedications are too few and too infrequent to suggest sustained, significant support by elites holding high rank, and while the Aquincum V dedications represent a coherent group, I am inclined to agree with Beck, who views them as patronage of a locally popular deity.[lvii]

 Aside from these dedications, there is little evidence for participation in Mithraism among elites before the 4th c. It is beyond the scope of this paper, and perhaps even the realm of possibility, to speculate on why senators had never worshipped Mithras before. Rather, the important question is “why now”? In my view, 4th-c. senatorial interest in the cult of Mithras seems to have arisen after a discernible, continuing increase in imperial attention pervasive enough to elevate solar cults as close to “official” status as they ever came to be. Aurelian’s worship of Sol was a decisive turning-point. The sumptuous temple to Sol in the Campus Martius built in 273 and the newly created priesthood of Pontifex Solis encompassed many manifestations of solar deities both eastern and western, Mithras undoubtedly among them.[lviii] Mithraism had also attracted the attention, if not the participation, of the emperors of the Tetrarchy when in 308 Galerius convened some of the interested parties at Carnuntum in Upper Pannonia. In celebration of the agreement they had reached the Jovian and Herculian augusti and caesares dedicated a shrine (sacrarium) to Deus Sol Invictus Mithras, whom they also identified as patron (fautor) of their rule.[lix] On the surface this dedication seems to fit the same pattern as those of the Aquincum V mithraeum and from Lambaesis: patronage of a locally popular cult by high-ranking elites whose interest in it was merely opportunistic. As evidence for imperial devotion to Mithras this dedication is purely circumstantial. That the evidence for worship of Mithras at Carnuntum is as copious as that from Aquincum and includes one of the earliest datable Mithraic dedications in the empire may also be insignificant.[lx] What is important, however, and what pertains to Mithraic dedications by senatorial elite in any military context, is that these were ideologically well-suited to certain basic principles of military life, particularly commeraderie and fides. We recognize this in the choice of Mithras as the tutelary deity, the patron of the rule of the Tetrarchs. The problems which had plagued the Tetrarchy since the planned retirement of Diocletian and Maximian in 305 were succession and unity. The Carnuntum dedication celebrated the fides among the assembled augusti and caesares as well as that between legionaries and the emperors, and in this respect was not merely à propos but also politically expedient. The importance of loyalty among emperors need not be stated, but that such loyalty was a pre-requisite to having a loyal, unified army cannot be overstated — the legions had become, after all, the first resort of many who aspired to become emperor. What lies at the heart of the Carnuntum dedication — the association of Mithras with fides — reveals that Mithras was not merely one of many solar deities, but that many of his original assocations remained with him and were meaningful to Mithraists in the late empire.

 Mithras’ multiple associations (the sun, oaths and fealty, mediation) as a god honored by Persian royalty are well recognized. Such associations continued under the hellenistic kings of Commagene and were symbolized by a handshake between god and king, as is prominent on Antiochus I’s monument at Nemrud Dagh, and by the designation of the 16th of each month as a day sacred to Mithras in his capacity as mediator.[lxi] The handshake was a common gesture used for sealing agreements, including oaths and contracts, and it appears in numerous monuments of the Roman Mithraic cult where Mithras shakes hands with Sol, not to mention on imperial coins bearing the legend “fides exercitum” issued throughout the imperial period. In this vein the logical extension of Beck’s recent hypothesis that the Mithraic cult was transferred from the dependents of the royal family of Commegene to those of the Roman elite is that the attendant symbols and meanings and particularly Mithras’ extended associations — with the sanctity of bonds, oaths and fealty, and the symbolization these in the handshake — also accompanied the cult.[lxii] Such associations, which were important for building unity among members of a group and reflect Roman social norms in which personal bonds played an important role, are thus equally applicable and important to the subject at hand, loyalty among the Tetrarchs and their legions.

 This reunification of the Tetrarchs was an event whose impact extended beyond Carnuntum. Its immediate objective was to secure the approval of the army, but we have also noted Mithras’ specified role as fautor of the Tetrarch’s reign. While this occasion may have gone unnoticed by the Senate, it seems unlikely if only because the reaffirmation of loyalty was working both horizontally and vertically between the Tetrarchs and their legions. Placed against the background of Aurelian’s solar henotheism, the Carnuntum dedication to Mithras springs into sharp relief: such strong, open support for the cult at such a high level was without precedent.[lxiii]

 The Phrygianum dedications to Magna Mater are roughly contemporary with the Carnuntum dedication, which may be more than mere coincidence. Certain complications attend the dedications as a group, however, and the significance of one much-discussed inscription referring to “twenty-eight years of night” remains controversial because it coincides with a perceived gap in the dedications.[lxiv] The notion of such a lacuna is often accepted but to date not satisfactorily explained.[lxv] On the basis of this inscription Guarducci argued that the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica would have made the surrounding neighborhood unfit for worship, thereby causing a complete cessation of cult practices at the Phrygianum.[lxvi] Even the author herself has abandoned this theory since the basilica appears to have been completed much earlier in 326. Guarducci’s more recent suggestion — that the death of Constans I and the accession of Magnentius, an emperor more sympathetic to paganism, in 350 would have made worship at the Phrygianum “safe” again[lxvii] — does not account for the dedications made in the decades after Magnentius’ rather short three-year reign. Indeed, it suggests an opportunistic, intermittent worship of pagan gods according to the political and religious climate which, while it may be true to a limited extent, is difficult to explain in light of this particular 28-year gap, which does not coincide with the reign of Constantius II, or of any other emperor for that matter. Other objections include the application of the evidence from a single inscription universally rather than to the dedicator himself.[lxviii] It is well worth noting here that our knowledge of the Phrygianum is based solely on the location of these inscriptions; to date no architectural remains have been recovered for associated buildings or even a precinct. Given this situation, any (apparently) chronological lacunae in the evidence are at least as likely to be caused by accident of preservation as they are by contemporary circumstances. None of this dispute impinges on the present discussion of the practice of Mithraism among senators of the late 3rd and early 4th century, who were certainly aware of the cult, and who, perhaps with imperial, though not precisely official and legitimate, recognition of it clearly began to take more than passing notice of it themselves. To identify two different ‘brands’ of Mithraism separated by a gap in the evidence is to be too positivist.

Mithraic hierarchy in 4th-c. mithraea

 If senators were active participants in the Mithraic cult, the three extant mithraea examined above are noteworthy in that they comprise almost a third of the 10 mithraea in Rome for which there are (or were at the time of excavation) actual physical remains, and fully 40% when combined with the evidence from the group of inscriptions from the Campus Martius.[lxix] The detailed lists of priesthoods and offices attesting participation in several cults, and in state religion, and the fastidious attention to the date in so many of the examples express unmistakably the pride and depth of commitment on the part of the dedicators of the Phrygianum inscriptions.[lxx] If this religious cursus is somewhat unprecedented in dedicatory inscriptions, it is at least appropriate in the context of private mithraea like those in the Campus Martius and in domus, as well as in the relatively public context of the Phrygianum.

 These cursus also reveal an interesting aspect of Mithraic grades in private mithraea. None of the viri clarissimi who made the dedications under discussion held a grade lower than pater, and several had reached the super-rank pater patrum. The term pater patrum itself indicates that a hierarchy, albeit top heavy, flourished, and the evidence of promotions from the dedications in the mithraeum of Nonius Victor Olympius and his family (all but the third grade, miles, are mentioned) further attests the continuing importance of grades.[lxxi] Pater patrum is an interesting term, especially since it so often accompanies identification of status, vir clarissimus. Of the 15 instances of pater patrum (or some declension of it) in the empire, 11 are from Rome.[lxxii] Of these, 9 pertain to the dedicators of the Phyrgianum inscriptions, but the other two examples also come from men of high social rank; one by Flavius Antistantius, vir egregius,[lxxiii] and the other by Agrestius, vir clarissimus.[lxxiv] Explicit disclosure of social rank and Mithraic grade was clearly important for those at the top, a circumstance which compels us to ask both why this was so, and who occupied the lower grades so carefully but anonymously recorded in the Campus Martius inscriptions. The context of the mithraea and the Mithraic dedications offers insight.

 As previously observed, evidence for familial groups among the dedicators and the stipulation of Mithraic grade and social rank reveals that senatorial fathers and sons used the mithraea in domus. By contrast to Mithraism before the 4th c., when freedmen and slaves (and also legionaries) participated in the cult in great numbers, the 4th c. lacks evidence for these groups. Now if Mithraic grades persisted into the 4th c. and no senators held a grade below pater, at least according to extant evidence, we must consider who filled these lower grades. The hierarchical nature of the Roman familia suggests that it might have been its other members — young sons, younger brothers, freedmen, slaves, and clients. As we shall see, the arguments advanced for the well-attested popularity of Mithras among the Roman legions prior to the 4th c. can also explain the cult’s attraction for family groups.

Mithraism among the Roman legions and in the Roman familia

 The comparison between the hierarchical structure of both Roman society and the Mithraic grades is obvious, and it has often been extended to explain Mithras’ great appeal among the ranks of the Roman legions. Gordon, however, has argued persuasively that Mithraism “constituted a means of social control” because promotion through a hierarchy necessarily demanded a degree of “acceptance of and submission to authority” or social conformity.[lxxv] Mithraism would thus have offered to a soldier the reaffirmation of such submission and to a centurion the reaffirmation of his own elevated status.[lxxvi] To my knowledge, no one has applied this notion of social control achieved by honoring social conformity directly to the congregations of mithraea in domus to other groups in Roman society worshipping Mithras. Yet we can easily substitute for the younger sons, freedmen, slaves of the familia, and perhaps even the extended clientele the soldiers of lower rank. The domus mithraeum could thus function as the consummate expression of its aristocratic owner’s power as pater familias; in it he led his congregation not only with the authority of a Mithraic pater, but also with the legal power of patria potestas or dominus, or with the social influence of a patronus. Such a notion also happily accords with Clauss’ recent theory[lxxvii] that priests and not initiates passed through the 7 grades further reinforces this view of Mithraism as reaffirmation of military and domestic hierarchy and also explains why no senator occupied the lower ranks. In such a scenario the hierarchy of the mithraeum was rendered more complex by adding on top of the regular initiates a group of priests pursuing the Mithraic cursus. This priesthood increased the distance between the pater and the general congregation and in doing so further emphasized the high status of the pater patrum.[lxxviii] Naturally the senator who owned his own mithraeum in his own domus would rise straight to the top, perhaps taking his eldest son with him (the pater patrum and pater), while other younger sons, other relatives, and various clients filled the lower ranks and the congregation.[lxxix] I do not mean to imply that reaffirmation of social conformity and high social status was the sole reason for worshipping Mithras in the context of the familia, but rather to suggest that it was a useful by-product which Roman participants themselves might have recognized.

 The personal benefits to be derived from the worship of Mithras were undoubtedly the basis of the cult’s attraction for soldiers and civilians alike, and thus the communal nature of Mithraic worship, which included a cult meal, could offer something well beyond reassurance that social conformity was a virtue. Even so, personal satisfaction and pleasure in social interaction mingled with religious worship were minor aspects; what mattered more was the benefit that accrued over time: loyalty. If, as is commonly believed, the hierarchical relationships of the Roman familia were a microcosm of those in Roman society, we may now consider why Mithraism had any appeal at all for senators and how it could meet their needs in the public sphere just as adequately as it served them privately.

Mithraism in the private and public lives of senators

 The attraction of Mithras in the context of the Carnuntum conference applies equally well to the public and private lives of senators. A god to whom oaths, contracts, and other bonds were sacred was perfectly suited to the senator who presided over his familia as a pater. The Phrygianum dedications, however, present the opposite set of circumstances in which Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius and his peers openly and proudly proclaimed their devotion to Mithras. Mithraea in domus met all the requirements of secrecy, privacy, and intimacy which traditionally surrounded Mithraic ritual, but the Phrygianum was decidedly more public.[lxxx] Even if Mithraic worship never happened there — and no evidence confirms that it did — these senators clearly intended their peers to know who was and who was not a Mithraist. This sort of revelation directly compromised the discretion and seclusion normally associated with Mithraic communities to the extent that the designation ‘mysteries’ became a misnomer. It stands to reason therefore that senators not only wanted their Mithraic beliefs known, but also perceived some benefit from doing so.

 The social aspects of Roman Mithraic practice are worth considering here. If the socially interactive nature of Mithraism reinforced the structure and loyalty within familiae, then the possibility that it did so outside also exists. In the readily available and comparatively public venue of the Phrygianum any sort of interaction could potentially occur, enabling senators to fulfill diverse customary social duties, particularly of religio, but possibly also of negotium, and even of amicitia.[lxxxi] Mithraea in domus could provide another locale for these social duties simply with the inclusion of social peers from outside the immediate circle of the familia. The owner who worshipped Mithras privately with his peers could meet at least some of the demands of amicitia and display to a social equal not only his sense of duty, but also his authority, power, and worth, in addition to reinforcing the structure of his familia and fulfilling his own obligations of religio. In essence, this close group of worshippers could revive and uphold the old values of the ancestors in the context of worshipping a deity with non-Roman origins. The benefit to the invited social peer might seem minimal; he could foster amicitia and, almost as a by-product, negotium, but as a guest in the mithraeum of another he actually demeaned himself somewhat since he was not pater patrum there, and since he might not have had a mithraeum of his own to return the invitation. Here we must recall what increased the importance of Mithras in the 4th c.: he was the god of oaths, bonds, and loyalty who was invoked to oversee the reaffirmation of the Tetrarchy at Carnuntum.

 That bonds and loyalty could be of concern to 4th-c. pagan senators is not a difficult premise to accept. These were men whose political influence in the empire had long since dwindled and whose social influence faced a new challenge from senators more closely bound to the emperor through Christianity. The common meal of the Mithraic liturgy, whether or not it intentionally mimicked the Eucharist, certainly offered a clear alternative to pagans. But the natural outgrowth of Mithraic worship, the loyalty among worshippers, was far more useful to senators who clung to paganism. Loyalty to each other and to the social and religious traditions of Rome also sustained their influence as senators, or at least offered the pretense of doing so. Though pagan priesthoods had not been the exclusive preserve of senators for the past millennium, they were, as it would appear from the Phrygianum inscriptions, the last retreat. The religious experience Mithraism, with its hierarchical structure, socially interactive ritual, and intimate places of worship, encapsulated core values of Roman aristocratic society, and for this reason, then, its frequent appearance in the “cursus” of priesthoods is understandable. Whereas before the very nature of Roman society and government, even under the empire, gave senators social prominence and an influential role in many aspects of government, administration, and religion, such was increasingly less the case for pagan senators. In short, they might never before have considered Mithraism because the need to reaffirm status and influence had never existed.

 I have tried to demonstrate that inclusion of social peers in Mithraic worship at private mithraea could benefit both the senatorial owner and his senatorial guest, but that by no means proves that such activity did indeed occur. Yet, when we take into account the well-attested popularity of Mithraism among senators, the premise that private mithraea played an important role in otium and negotium and thereby enhanced their public and social lives is a reasonable one. Unless we accept as fact that senators favored the cult for good reasons, we trivialize their devotion by supposing that they joined cults at random simply because they were pagan cults and not because the worship of a particular deity enriched their lives. Nor should the success of Mithraism and other pagan cults in the 4th c. be underestimated or discounted, since as a group these cults persisted even in the face of regular legal prohibition. The ‘safety in numbers’ approach apparent in the list of cults in the Phrygianum dedications shows that loyalty and amicitia can succeed, at least for a time.

 The decline of Mithraic dedications in the late 4th c. can be attributed to various causes, but perhaps the most important is the death of the senators who had sustained the cult for decades and who were sustained by it in return. Dedications by viri clarissimi in the Phrygianum occurred between 305 and 390 (most in the latter half of that period), while the latest dedication by someone identifying himself as a pater patrum of Mithras there is 377.[lxxxii] Jerome’s famous letter of 403 to Laeta, a daughter of the Albini, recalled the destruction of a Mithraic cave (specus) and its images by Gracchus during his urban prefecture (probably in 378).[lxxxiii]

 Violence may indeed have been a factor in Christian opposition to Mithraic worship, but neither it nor the ban on sacrifice and revocation of funding of state cults recorded in the Codex Theodosianus for 391 and 392 were the leading cause of its demise.[lxxxiv] The Codex records frequent and escalating bans on sacrifice of various sorts and on “superstition” during the 4th c. Such repetition suggests that such prohibitions were utterly ineffective, and perhaps that the laws of this part of the Codex was difficult to enforce.[lxxxv] Mystery cults proper were not formally outlawed until 396.[lxxxvi] The death of the senators themselves coincides with the cessation of Mithraic dedications,[lxxxvii] the last reference to Mithras being Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius’ epitaph from Antium in 385. So final was this end that in Macrobius’ Saturnalia, written only a generation or so later, the confirmed Mithraist Vettius Agorius Praetextatus failed to mention “Mithras” as one of the many manifestations of the sun.[lxxxviii]

 Mithraism of the 4th c. was indeed something altogether different, as Clauss and Merkelbach have hinted. Aurelian’s reinvigoration of solar cults was extended by the Tetrarchy, whose dedication to Mithras coincided with dedications to Magna Mater at the Vatican Phrygianum by senators also devoted to Mithras. The archaeological evidence indicates that some of these senators were so committed to the cult that they built mithraea or installed them in their domus not merely for reasons of personal convenience or “conspicuous consumption,” but, as I have tried to show, because the nature of Mithraic ritual, which placed a high value on conformity to social status, on good relations between members of the congregation, and most of all on loyalty, was uniquely suited to the public and private needs and aspirations of these senators. It was not merely a solar cult that upheld the sanctity of oaths and bonds, but also an institution whose very nature, simultaneously hierarchical and social, sustained the ancient Roman values and customs, and therefore, traditional Roman society.

 Christchurch, New Zealand        A. B. Griffith

Frequently used abbreviations

CIMRM M.J. Vermaseren, Corpus inscriptionum et monumentorum religionis Mithriacae, 2 vols. (1956 and 1960)

EPRO Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l’empire Romain

PLRE A.H.M. Jones, J.R. Martindale, and J. Morris (eds), Prosopography of the later Roman empire, vol. 1 (1971)

TMMM F. Cumont, Textes et monuments figurés relatifs aux mystères de Mithra, 2 vols. (1896 and 1899)


[i] All dates are A.D. unless otherwise stated.

[ii] R. Merkelbach, Mithras (1984) 147 and 247.

[iii] M. Clauss, Cultores Mithrae (1992) 295-96; Id. Mithras (1990) 39-41; Id., “Die sieben Grade des Mithras-Kultes,” ZPE 82 (1990b) 183-94 at 184. So also R. Beck, “The Mysteries of Mithras,” in J.S. Kloppenborg and S.G. Wilson (eds), Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World (1996) 176-85 at 179.

[iv] See E. Sauer, The end of paganism in the north-western provinces of the Roman empire the example of the Mithras cult (British Archaeological Reports S634), who speaks to the issue of the decline of Mithraism in the 3rd and 4th c.

[v] N. McLynn, “The fourth-century taurobolium,” Phoenix 50 (1996) 312-330 at 328.

[vi] The main publication about it is brief but pithy and includes several drawings: C. Visconti, “Del larario e del mitreo scoperti nell’Esquilino presso la chiesa di S. Martino ai Monti,” BCR (1885) 27-38 and pls. 3-5. The finds are summarized in the two major catalogues of Mithraic monuments: CIMRM 356-59 and TMMM 2.15. See also M.J. Vermaseren, De Mithrasdienst in Rome (1951) 75-6 for a discussion of monuments in Rome and more recently, S. Ensoli Vittozzi, “Le sculture del ‘larario’ di S. Martino ai Monti. Un constesto recuperato,” BCR 95 (1993) 221-43. J. Calzini Gysens, “Mithra, Spelaeum (Via G. Lanza 128; Reg. V),” in E. M. Steinby (ed.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, Vol. III: H-O (Rome 1993) 260-61 provides a brief summary of the excavators’ reports, complete with contemporary and subsequent bibliographic references which discuss this mithraeum.

[vii] CIL VI.733=ILS 4226=CIMRM 360=TMMM 2.61. Clauss, op. cit., 1992 (n.3), 26. Vermaseren, op. cit. (n.6),75-76. Vermaseren tentatively suggested that the dedication to “Deo Soli Invicto Mithre (sic)” might belong to a mithraeum close by such as the Via Giovanni Lanza sanctuary, but pointed out that no definite conclusion was possible. F. Coarelli, “Topografia Mitriaca di Roma,” in U. Bianchi (ed.), Mysteria Mithrae (EPRO v. 80) (1979) 60-79 at 71 did not associate the mithraeum with this inscription.

[viii] F. Guidobaldi, “L’edilizia abitava unifamiliare nella Roma tardoantica,” in A. Giardina (ed.), Società Romana e impero tardoantico II: Roma: politica, economia, paesagio urbano (1986) 194-98. The lararium is brick, the entrance to the mithraeum is brick above opus reticulatum, the stairway walls are brick and tufa, and the mithraeum tufa. Calzini Gysens, op. cit. (n.6) agrees.

[ix] For the Domus Fulminata see J.E. Packer, “The insulae of imperial Ostia,” MAAR 31 (1971) 171-72 and plan 22; Id., “Housing and populations in imperial Ostia and Rome,” JRS 57 (1967) 80-95 and G. Becatti, Scavi di Ostia IV: mosaici e pavimenti marmorei (1962) 104-109 and figs. 37-43.

[x] Guidobaldi, op. cit. (n.8), 194-98. Notable are the tri-conch nymphaeum and other apsidal rooms.

[xi] R. Gordon, “The date and significance of CIMRM 593 (British Museum Townley Collection),” JMithSt 2 (1978) 148-74 (repr. in R. Gordon, Image and Value in the Graeco-Roman World: Studies in Mithraism and Religious Art (1996)) and R. Beck, “The mysteries of Mithras: a new account of their genesis,” JRS 88 (1998) 115-128.

[xii] G. Gatti and G. Annibaldi, “Il mitreo Barberini I: topografia e monumenti del luogo; II: il santuario mitriaco,” BCR 71 (1943-45) 97-108; M. Guarducci, “Quattro graffiti nel mitreo del Palazzo Barberini,” in Bianchi, op. cit. (n.7), 187-91; M.J. Vermaseren, Mitriaca III: the mithraeum at Marino (EPRO v. 16.3) (1982) 83-89; and P. Meyboom, “Excursion about the dating of the paintings,” in Vermaseren, op. cit., 35-46. A useful summary of these reports can be found in J. Calzini Gysens, “Mithra (Palazzo Barberini; Reg. VI),” in E. M. Steinby (ed.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, Vol. III: H-O (Rome 1993) 263-64.

[xiii] The first was a dedication to M. Nummius Albinus on a statue base on the occasion of his second consulship in 345. See A. Chastagnol, Les fastes de la préfecture de Rome au bas-empire (1962) 127. Another inscription recovered in 1877 mentions M. Nummius Attidianus Tuscus (possibly the great uncle of M. Nummius Albinus according to PLRE I. 1142). See BCR (1877) 168 no. 145 and A. Capannari, “Delle scoperte archeologiche avvenute per la costruzione del Palazzo del Ministero della Guerra,” BCR (1885) 3-26 at 5-6 (CIL VI.1748)). Other fragments referring to family members were found in 1883 (NSc (1883) 233-34 and also Chastagnol, op. cit., 30). Finally two fragments found in 1884 and 1885 refer to a Nummius Tuscus as urban praefect in 302-303. Chastagnol, op. cit., 38-39, no. 12 suggests that this Nummius Tuscus may have been the son of M. Nummius Tuscus, the consul of 258. See NSc (1884) 103 and 422 for the lower half of the inscription and Capannari, BCR (1885) 7 for the upper half. Capannari's article, which preceded the discovery of archaeological remains, focuses on the Nummii Albini known at that time. In 1893 still more architectural remains and statuary from the domus were recovered when the foundations for the Methodist and Episcopal church at the corner of Via Firenze and Via XX Settembre were dug. See NSc (1893) 357-58, 418-19, 430-31, and 517, and also (1894) 13-14. All these sources are summarized in J. Calzini Gysens, “Mithra (Domus Numii; Reg. VI),” in E. M. Steinby (ed.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, Vol. III: H-O (Rome 1993) 262. See also F. Guidobaldi, “Domus: Nummii,” in E. M. Steinby (ed.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, Vol. II: D-G (Rome 1995) 146-47.

[xiv] A. Capannari, “Di un mitreo pertinente alla casa del Nummi scoperto nella Via Firenze,” BCR (1886) 17-26 and pl. 4. For the general discussion of the remains, including the mithraeum, see also M. Santangelo, “Il Quirinale nell'antichità classica,” MemPontAc 5.2 Ser. 3 (1941) 153. These sources are summarized in J. Calzini Gysens, “Mithra (Domus Numii; Reg. VI),” in E. M. Steinby (ed.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, Vol. III: H-O (Rome 1993) 262.

[xv] R. Lanciani, “Supplimenti al volume VI del Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum,” BCR (1884) 44 and pl. 4 reports this infromation briefly. See also All these sources are summarized in F. Guidobaldi, “Domus: Alfenius Caeionius Iulianus s. Camenius,” in E. M. Steinby (ed.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, Vol. II: D-G (Rome 1995) 119-20.

[xvi] CIL VI.1675=31902=CIMRM 516/395B=TMMM 2.24 and CIL VI.31940=CIMRM 395A. See also NSc (1884) 21-22 and BCR (1884) 43-44 no.769 (=CIL VI.31940), and Capannari, op. cit.(n.13) 10.

[xvii] The catalogues and introductory texts for the cult provide abundant documentation for participation of marginal members of Roman society, but none more than Clauss, op. cit., 1992 (n.3). See also TMMM and F. Cumont, Les mystères de Mithra, 3rd. edn. (1913); Vermaseren, op. cit. (n.7), and Id., Mithras the Secret God, transl. T. and V. Megaw (1963).

[xviii] R. Gordon, “Mithraism and Roman Society,” Religion 2 (1972), 92-114, esp. 104 and nn.70-71 (repr. in Gordon, op. cit. (n.12)).

[xix] Namely a black-and-white-mosaic floor laid in a geometric pattern and a wall-painting of the tauroctony scene. Capannari, op. cit. (n.13), 3-12 and (n.14), 17-26.

[xx] Capannari, op. cit. (n.14), 25, also noted the proximity of the two domus. Chastagnol, op. cit. (n.13), 38-39 and PLRE I. 34. M. Nummius Ceionius Annius Albinus, a praetor and urban prefect during the late 3rd c., is an excellent example not only of the familial connections but also of the success of both families in Roman politcs.

[xxi] CIL VI.749=ILS 4267a=CIMRM 400=TMMM 2.7; CIL VI.750=ILS 4267b=CIMRM 401=TMMM 2.8; CIL VI.751a=ILS 4267c=CIMRM 402=TMMM 2.9; CIL VI.751b=ILS 4268=CIMRM 403=TMMM 2.10; CIL VI.752=ILS 4267d=CIMRM 404=TMMM 2.11; CIL VI.753=ILS 4267e=CIMRM 405=TMMM 2.12; CIL VI.754=ILS 4269=CIMRM 406=TMMM 2.13.

[xxii] R. Lanciani, Ancient Rome in light of recent discoveries (1888) 166, stated that Fra Giovanni Giocondo and Pietro Sabino witnessed the discovery of the inscriptions and the building in which they were located, but he does not give any more detail.

[xxiii] G. Henzen, “Sacrario mitriaco,” BdI (1868) 90-98.

[xxiv] PLRE Nonius Victor Olympius 18, p. 647 and CIL VI.749-53=ILS 4267a-e.

[xxv] PLRE Aurelius Victor Olympius 17, p.647 and CIL VI.752=ILS 4267d.

[xxvi] PLRE Aurelius Victor Augentius 2, p.125 and CIL VI.749-53=ILS 4267a-e and 4268.

[xxvii] PLRE Aemilianus Corfo Olympius 14, p.646=CIL VI.751b=ILS 4268=CIMRM 403. Interesting in this inscription and also in CIMRM 405 is the rare reference to the second grade, nymphus, here represented as cryfios (chryfios in CIMRM 405), the pupa being one of the alternate symbols, along with the snake and the diadem and lamp, for the second grade. The only other reference, and that to nymphus proper, also comes from a Roman context, the late 2nd c./early 3rd c. Santa Prisca paintings (see n.82 below). The choice of an alternate or equivalent term expressed in Greek occurs elsewhere, as in hierocorax for corax (CIMRM 403) or hieroceryx for pater (CIMRM 513 and 514, below n.35; CIMRM 515 and 206, below nn.33-34 and elsewhere). The motivation may differ in each case. In his discussion of the symbols relating to second grade, Merkelbach has noted the butterfly and its stages, particularly the pupa, or chrysalis, as symbolic of the soul and of the eternal life and death cycle (op. cit. (n.2), 88-91). The choice of vocabulary here may be philosphically inspired rather than a squeamish desire to avoid nymphus (a male bride, possibly represented by a man in drag in Mithraic processions). The use of hieroceryx and hierocorax may simply be philhellenism, or possibly a hellenization of the Mithraic mysteries by a group also initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries.

[xxviii] PLRE Tamesius Olympius Augentius 1, p.124-25=CIL VI.754=ILS 4269.

[xxix] Vermaseren assigned a separate catalogue number to this “mithraeum” (CIMRM 399). The inscriptions are numbered in sequence thereafter as CIMRM 400-406 (n.22), Coarelli, op. cit. (n.7), 73, accepted Vermaseren’s designation as a mithraeum, as did D. Gallo, “Il mitreo di San Silvestro in Capite,” in Bianchi, op. cit. (n.7), 231-42, who tried to locate it within Aurelian’s temple of Sol close to the same location in the Campus Martius.

[xxx] See O. Marrucchi, “Cippo marmoreo con iscrizione greca e relievi riferibili al culto frigio della Magna Mater,” NSc (1922) 81-87; J. Carcopino, Études d’histoire Chrétienne (1953) 129-34; M. Guarducci, Le Christ et Saint Pierre dans un document pre-Constantinien de la necropole Vaticane (1953) 68-74; and M. Guarducci, “L’interruzione dei culti nel Phrygianum del Vaticano durante il IV secolo d. Cr.,” in U. Bianchi and M.J. Vermaseren (eds), La soteriologia dei culti orientali nell’impero Romano: atti del colloquio internazionale su la soteriologia dei culti orientali nell’impero Romano (EPRO v. 92) (1982) 109-22.

[xxxi] CIL VI.497=ILS 4145, CIL VI.498, CIL VI.499=ILS 4147, CIL VI.500=ILS 4148, CIL VI.501=ILS 4149, CIL VI.502=ILS 4150, CIL VI.503=ILS 4151, CIL VI.504=ILS 4153. Whether other inscriptions also refer to the Ager Vaticanus in Rome is contested. The reference to ‘Vaticanus’ in a dedication from Lugdunum in honor of the completion of a taurobolium, ‘L. Aemilianus Carpus IIIIIIvir Aug(ustalis), item | dendrophorus, | vires excepit et a Vaticano trans|tulit, ara et bucranium | suo impendio consacravit’ (CIL XIII.1751= ILS 4131) could indicate the sanctuary in Rome rather than an area of similar name in Lugdunum (see also M.J. Vermaseren, Corpus cultus Cybelae Attidisque (CCCA) v. III: Italia--Latium (EPRO v. 50.3) (1986) 133-34 no. 386). So also the “Montem Vaticanem” in CIL XIII.7281=ILS 3805, a dedication to Bellona from Mainz-Kastell. The topographical dictionaries do not even question the reference. See esp. H. Jordan and C. Huelsen, Topographie der Stadt Röm in Alterthum 3 vols. (1871-1907), v. 1.3, 659; S.B. Platner and T. Ashby, A topographical dictionary of ancient Rome (1929) 325-26; and L. Richardson, A new topographical dictionary of ancient Rome (1992) 290. The issue is summarized and recanvassed thoroughly by R. Turcan in Les religions de l’Asie dans la vallée du Rhône (1972), 85-88, who concludes that the only ‘Vaticanus’ was that in Rome. We are left to wonder about the condition of the vires referred to in CIL XIII. 1751 (‘vires excepit et a Vaticano transtulit’) after they arrived in Lugdunum from Rome. Vermaseren argues, and rightly I think, that these inscriptions attest to the recreation of a ‘vaticanus’ outside Rome (Cybele and Attis: the myth and the cult (1977) 46).

[xxxii] Both the Curiosum urbis regionum XIV and the Notitia regionum urbis XIV mention in regio XIV ‘Gaianum et Frigianum” (H. Jordan (ed.), Topographie der Stadt Röm in Alterthum v. 2 (1907) 563.

[xxxiii] AE 1953 no. 238=CIMRM 515.

[xxxiv] ILS 1264=CIMRM 206=TMMM 2.147, EphEp 8.648 and BdI (1884) 56 ff and CIL VI.31902.

[xxxv] CIL VI.500=ILS 4148=CIMRM 513=TMMM 2.19 (Caelius Hilarianus); CIL VI.504=ILS 4153=CIMRM 514=TMMM 2.20 (Ulpius Egnatius Faventinus); and CIL VI.2151=CIMRM 521=TMMM 2.18 (Iunius Postumianus).

[xxxvi] H. Bloch, “A new document of the last pagan revival in the west 393-394 A.D.,” HThR 38 (1945) 199-224 included a chart of twenty-three senators whose dedications show that they were participants in multiple oriental cults. I have selected only those who were Mithraists.

[xxxvii] CIL VI.509=CIMRM 524=TMMM 2.23=CIG 6012b.

[xxxviii] CIL VI.511=CIMRM 522=TMMM 2.21.

[xxxix] CIL VI.510=ILS 4152=CIMRM 520=TMMM 2.17.

[xl] CIL VI.846=ILS 4154=CIMRM 466=TMMM 2.25.

[xli] CIL VI.1778=CIMRM 420=TMMM 2.14 and CIL VI.1779=ILS 1259.

[xlii] CIL VIII.6975=CIMRM 129=TMMM 2.530.

[xliii] CIL X.1479=ILS 4196=CIMRM 175=TMMM 2.148.

[xliv] As noted by McLynn, op, cit. (n.5), 327.

[xlv] Ibid, 327-28.

[xlvi] M. Beard, J. North, and S. Price Religions of Rome, Vol. I: A History (Cambridge 1998) 383-84.

[xlvii] O. Seeck, “Q. Aurelii Symmachi quae supersunt,” in Monumenta Germaniae Historica Vol.6 (1883); D.N. Robinson, “An analysis of the pagan revival of the late 4th c., with especial reference to Symmachus,” TAPA 46 (1915) 87-101; Bloch, op. cit. (n.36) and “The pagan revival in the west at the end of the 4th c.,” in A. Momigliano (ed.), The conflict between paganism and Christianity in the fourth century (1963) 193-218. With Seeck as the original inspiration, these scholars have done much to illuminate the role of the alleged pivotal figures, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus and Q. Aurelius Symmachus. Clauss, op. cit., 1990 (n.3), 40 has even asserted that the Phrygianum in the Vatican (as opposed to the older and more established temple to Magna Mater on the Palatine hill) served as a religious center for these inveterate pagans.

[xlviii] J. Matthews, “Symmachus and the Oriental cults,” JRS 63 (1973) 175-95. emphasizing the nature of religio in a 4th-c. context and the extent to which public and private aspects of the so-called “oriental” cults, and particularly the cults of Magna Mater and Mithras, were blurred. This view is upheld by M. Beard, J. North and S. Price, op. cit. (n.46) 384.

[xlix] J. O’Donnell, “The demise of paganism,” Traditio 35 (1979) 45-88.

[l] Ibid, 46ff. “Christianity,” he observed, is a vague term simply because there was no single doctrine. Similarly, there were Christians who had not renounced every aspect of their ‘pagan’ way of thinking, and an enormous variety of cults and modes of religious practice among non-Christians.

[li] See below n.57.

[lii] R. Gordon, “Religion in the Roman empire: the civic compromise and its limits,” in M. Beard and J. North, (eds), Pagan priests: religion and power in the ancient world (1990), 250.

[liii] S. Panciera, “Il materiale epigrafico dallo scavo di S. Stefano Rotondo,” in Bianchi, op. cit. (n.7), 88.

[liv] Clauss, op. cit., 1992 (n.3), 183-84.

[lv] Ibid, 248-49.

[lvi] Ibid, 184.

[lvii] Beck, op. cit. (n.3), 179. Aside from these limited examples, discussion of participation by emperors or elites in Mithraism prior to the 4th c. focuses on dedications by imperial freedmen. The two earliest, by T. Flavius Hyginus Ephebianus (CIMRM 362) and by Alcimus (CIMRM 593-94) (see Merkelbach, op. cit. (n.2), 147-48; Clauss, op. cit., 1992 (n.3), 19-20; and Gordon, op. cit. (n.12), 151-53 and 155-56) are regarded as evidence for the earliest date of the Roman cult. Recently Beck op. cit. (n.11), following Merkelbach, op. cit. (n.2) highlighted the significance of the early appearance of the cult among imperial freedmen, proposing a model for the development of the cult in Rome in which knowledge of the cult passed from the military and civilian dependents of the royal family of Commagene to the familiae of the Roman aristocracy and even the imperial familia. With the exception of Commodus, whose interest in Mithraism is reported by a source of questionable integrity (“...sacra Mithriaca homocidio vero polluit, cum illic aliquid ad speciem timoris vel dici vel fingi soleat.” “...he polluted Mithraic rites with a genuine murder, although it was customary for something to be said or to be pretended to produce the impression of fear.” HA Vit. Comm. 9), we have no direct evidence for a sustained interest in the cult by any princeps before the late 3rd c.

[lviii] Matthews, op. cit. (n.48), 178-79, assumed rather than demonstrated Mithraism’s status as an official cult. His unsupported assertion that “...Mithras and Magna Mater...functioned in the fourth century as personal initiation rites as well as officially sanctioned public cults” is misleading and not technically correct as it applies to Mithras, whose “official” sanction was secondhand at best as it could have come only through Aurelian’s creation of the Pontifex Solis. M. Beard, J. North and S. Price, op. cit. (n.46) argue for Mithraism’s unofficial status. For the relationship with Sol Invictus see G. Halsberghe, The Cult of Sol Invictus (EPRO v.23) (Leiden 1972) 130-54.

[lix] CIL III.4413=ILS 659=CIMRM 1698.

[lx] See CIMRM 1644-1722.

[lxi] Merkelbach, op. cit. (n.2), 23-27, 51-59 and CIMRM 28-32.

[lxii] Beck, op. cit. (n.11).

[lxiii] See Beck op. cit. (n.11). Presumably a cult popular among the late-1st c. familiae of the Roman aristocracy had its tacit approval, if not its active participation.

[lxiv] AE (1923) no.29. Complete bibliography is available in Guarducci, op. cit. (nn.30-31); and R. Duthoy, The taurobolium: its evolution and terminology (1969) 23-24.

[lxv] See, for example, R. Turcan, “Les motivations de l’intolérance Chrétienne et la fin du Mithriacisme au IVe siècle ap. J.-C.,” Proceedings of the VIIth congress of the International Federation of the Societies of Classical Studies (1984) 209-26 at 224.

[lxvi].Guarducci, op. cit. (n.30).

[lxvii] Ibid, 117-18.

[lxviii] McLynn, op. cit. (n.5), 328-29 and Duthoy, op. cit. (n.64).

[lxix] The number of mithraea in Rome is often disputed. Vermaseren identified 16 mithraea in his catalogue (CIMRM), down from 100 (De Mithradienst in Rome, Nijmegen 1951, 89-95), and that was before those under S. Stefano (at the Castra Peregrinorum), and under the modern Ospedale S. Giovanni were recovered. Coarelli, op. cit. (n.7) identified 40 on the basis of extant architectural remains and other monuments without an architectural context. I have argued elsewhere that both Vermaseren’s and Coarelli’s estimates are too optimistic and that the evidence reflects a more conservative 15 definite mithraea, with another 10 possible mithraea. Definite mithraea include the 10 for which there are actual physical remains (of which only 7 can still be seen today), and an additional 5 from buildings known to exist and from which we have evidence of Mithraic worship: the baths of Titus, the Castra Praetoria, the temple of Jupiter Dolichenus on the Aventine hill, and the imperial palace on the Palatine hill. The last is the mithraeum referred to in the group of inscriptions from the Campus Martius (n.21). See A. Griffith, “The archaeological evidence for Mithraism in imperial Rome,” (diss., The University of Michigan, 1993) 14-162 but especially 23-5.

[lxx] McLynn, op. cit. (n.5), 323-26, has also observed the strong presence of the individual in these inscriptions, or the “arrogation by the dedicants of the epigraphic spotlight” and concludes that “...the taurobolium had become not ‘personal,’ but personalized.” He further notes that in the context of the Phrygianum inscriptions that it had an “unusually high public profile” and that the taurobolium itself occurred “in a context of competitive publicity.”

[lxxi] Clauss, op. cit., 1990b (n.3), 188-89 noted that for the years 150-250 70% of the documentation for grades comes from Italy, but only 34% of the Mithraic dedications which include names of individuals (compare the Danubian provinces, which produced 43% of all the names of individuals, but only 14% of the inscriptions which mention grades, or Dacia in particular with 96 names and a Mithraic grade mentioned only once). In Italy one out of every two inidviduals who identified themselves also identified their Mithraic grade.

[lxxii] The other four are from Ostia (CIL XIV.403=CIMRM 235=TMMM 2.141); Dura Europos (in Greek) (CIMRM 57); Venetonimagus (CIL XIII.2540=CIMRM 911=TMMM 2.94); and Augusta Emerita (CIMRM 779).

[lxxiii] CIL VI.86=CIMRM 336=TMMM 2.26 (the so-called Ottaviano Zeno relief).

[lxxiv] CIL VI.47=CIMRM 369=TMMM 2.27. I am at a loss to explain the lack of the tria nomina here. Bloch, op. cit. (n.36) did not include “Agrestius” on his chart of viri clarissimi. P. Herz, “Agrestius v(ir) c(larissimus),” ZPE 49 (1982) 221-24 convincingly established a terminus post quem of 364 for Agrestius but offered no thoughts on his name.

[lxxv] Gordon, op. cit. (n.18), 95, 109, and n.103. Gordon argued against two then common assumptions: that Mithraism's ladder of 7 grades offered a comforting replication of “real life” to soldiers accustomed to the rigid military hierarchy and that Mithraism’s hierarchy could also act as a social equalizer since any legionary could, theoretically, surpass the grade of his superior officers. Gordon dismissed this idea of a subordinate “lording it over” a superior officer as “absurd.”

[lxxvi] Gordon, op. cit. (n.18), 10.

[lxxvii] Clauss, op. cit., 1990b (n.3) challenged the assumption that all initiates passed through the 7 grades. If such were the case, he argued, then we would expect to see grades mentioned frequently in dedications, although we certainly might expect to see some grades mentioned more than others. Clauss observed that between the years 150 and 250 only certain grades appeared regularly, namely the fourth grade, leo and the seventh, pater (at a ratio of 3:1, pater: leo) while of the remaining grades corax appeared 5 times, miles and perses once each, and nymphus and heliodromus not at all in more than one thousand inscriptions. It was this infrequency, as well as the appearance of several other words for priest (antistes, sacerdos, magister, hieroceryx) that led Clauss to his conclusion. Clauss (op. cit. (n.3) 189) also noted that Italy produced 70% of the Mithraists reporting grades but only 34% of Mithraic material with names, indicating that the cult was more intensively ranked in Rome, possibly because of similar ranking in society and the family. Oddly, Clauss omitted the appearance of “Nama Nym[phos] tutela Veneris” and “[N]a[ma] Nymph[i]s tut[ela Ve]n[eri]s” on the upper and lower layers, respectively, of the Santa Prisca mithraeum wall paintings (CIMRM 480,6) and in the Dura-Europos mithraeum, where “nymphos” or some form of it appear more than once (CIMRM 63). The two examples of “cryfios” (CIMRM 403, nn.21 and 27) and “chryfios” (CIMRM 405, n.21), a substitution for “nymphos,” fall outside Clauss’ selected chronological period.

[lxxviii] Gordon has observed a growing attraction to ascetism and world-denying experiences among priests during the later empire. In this context, as Gordon fully elaborates, “secret religions” would be instantly appealing, but Mithraism particularly so because the pater was not only set apart by his grade, but also by his costume, which imitated that of Mithras and thus removed him somewhat from the human world. See Gordon, op. cit. (n.52), 250-5.

[lxxix] CIMRM 403 (n.27) is an interesting case in which Aemilius Corfinius Olympius was inducted as a hierocorax (corax), the lowest grade, almost certainly because he was only 13 years old at the time. This may indicate that sons went through the ranks properly but started at an extremely young age.

[lxxx] For a similar view applied to worship of Magna Mater in the Phrygianum, see McLynn, op. cit. (n.5), 325 ff., and for a discussion of the blurring of public and private in the cults of Magna Mater and Mithras, Matthews, op. cit. (n.48), 178.

[lxxxi] Matthews, op. cit. (n.48), 176-79, understood religio to refer not “merely to the relations between men and the gods, but equally to those among men themselves” according to Cicero's definition in Natura Deorum 2.8, ‘cultus deorum’, and from its later, and frequent use, by Symmachus in his letters. Thus the diverse meanings of religio and its synonyms, officium and munus, include amicitia.

[lxxxii] Caelius Hilarianus (CIL VI.500=ILS 4148=CIMRM 513) seems to be the latest dedication mentioning Mithras in 377.

[lxxxiii] Hieron., Ep. 107.2. No details about the mithraeum are mentioned, and it is thus impossible to connect it with any of the sanctuaries discussed herein.

[lxxxiv] Cod. Theod. 16.10.10-12.

[lxxxv] Periodic bans began in 320 (Cod. Theod. 16.10.1) when Constantine permitted consultation of proper authorities concerning omens “provided only that they abstain from domestic sacrifices, which are specifically prohibited” (C. Pharr, The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions (1952). The significance of Constantine’s legislation in light of the Edict of Milan and the question of whether it was ever enforced have been much debated (Turcan, op. cit. (n. 67), 211-12 provides a useful summary). The debatable impact of Constantine’s legislation notwithstanding, such bans escalated during the course of the 4th c.: superstition and sacrifices were banned under Constantius in 341 (Cod. Theod. 16.10.2) and again in 346, 354, and 356 (Cod. Theod 16.10.4 and 6), and there was a special ban on nocturnal sacrifices in 353 (Cod. Theod. 16.10.5), which many have interpreted as being especially aimed at Mithraism. Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius made similar bans in 381 (Cod. Theod. 16.10.7), again in 382 (Cod. Theod. 16.10.8), again in 385 (Cod. Theod. 16.10. 9) as well as in 391, 392, and 395 (Cod. Theod. 16.10.10-12). The exact dating of certain laws is problematical, but even with adjustments such frequent reiteration is significant. See O. Seeck, Regesten der Kaiser und Päpst für die Jahre 311 bis 476 n. Chr. (1919 repr. 1984) and B. Sirks, “The Sources of the Code,” in J. Harries and I. Wood (eds), The Theodosian Code (1993) 45-69, for adjustments in dating, and the time delay between promulgation and actual publication. Turcan (op.cit.) argued that Christian opposition to Mithraism was not a matter of ideas but of practice and proposed that these continuing legal bans were the heart of Christian opposition, which treated sacrifice as an act of culture, not religion, and as such an act that could be banned by law.

[lxxxvi] Cod. Theod. 16.10.14.

[lxxxvii] Of the senators who held Mithraic priesthoods and whose dates of death we know, Petronius Apollodorus died in 370, Ulpius Egnatius Faventinus died in 376, Caelius Hilarianus and Rufius Caeionius Sabinus died in 377, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus died in 384, and Alfenius Ceionius Iulianus Kamenius died in 385.

[lxxxviii] Macrob. Sat. I.17-23.


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