A Roman shrine to the god Mithras (Mithraeum), ca. A.D. 240, from Dura-Europos (Syria).

The cult of Mithras first became evident in Rome towards the late 1st century AD. Having originated in Persia, during the next two centuries, it spread to the frontiers of the Western empire. It is referred to as a Roman “mystery” cult, for an initiation ceremony was required in joining, and the members kept the activities and liturgy of the cult strictly secret. Due to the highly secretive nature of the cult, our evidence for it is essentially entirely archaeological. Here we have a rare of example of a Mithraeum from Dura-Europos, which appears to be originally set in private house -a rare case indeed. The Yale University Art Gallery give the following description:

A shrine to the god Mithras, the Mithraeum at Dura-Europos was commissioned A.D. 168/69 by Palmyrene archers serving in the Roman army. It was renovated and enlarged in A.D. 209/11. The reconstruction on view here represents the third and final phase, dating to around A.D. 240. Unlike most Mithraea, which were underground to commemorate the god’s birth in a cave, the Dura Mithraeum was built into a private house.

The cult of Mithras attained popularity in the Roman period among soldiers and merchants. Restricted to men, it was a mystery religion thought to include initiation, ritual banquets, and the promise of salvation after death. The primary cult image was the tauroctony, or Mithras slaying the Cosmic Bull, often paired with an image of Mithras banqueting with Sol, god of the sun (as seen in the painting at left). Other common images included events from the life of Mithras and zodiac signs. While the subjects depicted in most Mithraea are similar, style and composition vary. The Dura Mithraeum contained two tauroctony reliefs, one above the other. The side walls showed Mithras as a mounted archer in a presentation that would have resonated with the Palmyrene archers who founded the shrine. (Yale)

Courtesy of & can be viewed at the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Via their online collections1935.100.

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