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ETHNICITY

AND CULTURE
IN
LATE ANTI QUITY
edited by
Stephen Mitchell
and
Geoffrey Greatrex

with contributiomfrom:
Kate Adshead, Hartwin Brandt, John Curran, Hugh Elton,
Geoffrey Greatrex, Mark Handley, Jill Harries, Naomi Janowitz,
David Lamben, Catrin Lewis, John Matthews, David Milson,
Scephen Mitchell, Fiona Nicks, David Noy, Rachael Pallas-Bro\.vn,
Sacha Stern, Theresa Urbainczyk, Yulia Ustinova, Engelbert Winter

Duckworch
and

The Classical Press of Wales


BIBLIOTECA UN!VERS1T!\RIA
Las P,d:n::ts de Gran Ca;1aria

MITHRAISM ANO CHRISTIAN


IN LATE ANTIQUITY IT

Engelbert Winter
uries AD the Indo-Iranian
econd and third cent
god M.tthras un
.
In the s
.
doubtedJ
.
b
imp
mo
orta
st
Y
nt
the
de1t
of
1es
e
thro
n
ugh
o
o
ut the Roman emp. 1
el,4!
,.,, ,,,e
.
. .
ire. The
also e volved 1nto a k een rival of Chn suanity. Ernest R
t
'
e
u
enan s ramous rema
c l
.
, .
. . .
.
rk
le
on:
S1
not
chn
t
st1a
n1sm
th1s
e
es
eut
siz
t
a
arre
t
ph
dans sa croissance par
em
mortel
l
le
le,
monde
e
eut t mithraist e.'2
u ue maladi
q eq
Alth ou gh this view has bee n rejected with good reasons,3 Renan's words pon
t
impo
nce
that
rta
the
cial
cult
of
e
Mith
p
ras claimed for a long period. lt
to the s
is thus not possible to claim that Mithraism was neither a great popular religion
nora threat to Christianity.4 Like Mithras, Christ was a mediator berween good
and evil, light and darkness. Both were considered to be deities of light and sun

by their respective followers. Ancient observers already pointed out analogies


concerning their beliefs and their liturgies, such as the importance of water, cult

meals, the idea of resurrection and of a day of final judgement.5 The mainly
Christian authorities Oustin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Firmicus Maternus,

Gregorius Nazianzus, Hieronymus, Sokrates) sketch, of course, a fairly distorted


picture of these features. 6
Our literary sources as well as the pictorial representations related to the atlt
of Mithras, extensively and brilliantly compiled by Franz Cumont an Men

J. Verm aseren,7 formed and still form the basis of numerous comparaave srudies.

.
Many of these refer to the parallels concerning the doctrines, rules and ntuals of
and
these tw o relig
ions, which both promise redemption. Gary Lease8
attenaon to
Clauss9 prov1
de modern scholarly .1nterpretattons and have drawn
.
Following
the m ost t
ng
di
ea
isl
m
e
b
to
d
mportant issues. Earlier studi es tend e
. .
. ed
Ch rtstian
ucy or vtew
.
saar
Chn
f
0
onty
sources ' they either emphazis ed the supen
-1
. n doctrines10 Alremaavoy
the M'tth .
.
ra1c mysteries as devilish imitations of Chnstta
11 Today
they r g
of M1.thras.
cult
the
f
.
ar
0
oot
d
e
.
e
d Chn. st1an1ty
.
cr:. h
as a sectanan orrs
pcion
thes
an d no ado
ce
e
en
nfl
u
1
rect
di
views have given way to the idea that no
12 T e m ost rece nt
0f si
h
s
ng1 asp
m
yste
s
ous
1.
e
ects took place between rhe rwo reli gi

.un--1
with
COrnp ar .
re w1ons
.
h
bot
f
ative studies
0
u
analyze rhe commo n foundano ns
.::
to th
es.
1
u
(a.l1
.
en
ir
m
e htst
uman
' on. ca I evoluti
from
on and to the history 0f h
incerest
t
os
APan e
m
d
te
. . .
rac
rro m the s1m1lanttes,
.
wh.1ch have att

__

1 '7

Engelbert Wi nter
non has become of prir:, .. '<:'ortance d .
ther phenome
ano
Urtng
.
s,
her
'
c
ear
res
. orous destrucno n of M'ith r1 . . .-,
,, nct ua
ne
ng
s
bY the
years. The
. ,
the 1 as t few .
. : 'l AD o
h
rourt
e
t
e
h
f
ce,;'')
o
half
nd
seco
nwar ds
. .
e m the
1 y rro
.
' has
Ch nsnans ' mam
.
b
Ch
y
ments
,.,
lJ'.,,-,
11
state
aut
atory
ho
rs
derog
r
y
an
efer not
ersy. M
.
led to conc rov
.
.
j f.;.
. .
h
anc
M'
ras
it
,
f
,.;
o
cult
n.st1
. 1ar1t1
the
an1
een
ty
, bue aIs
es berw
o
only to the s1m1 . .
f
h
o
t
ese
rs
two
followe
relig
the
een
ion
berw
s
non
, Iead'ing
to strong compen
E ; . .
. ous urban elashes in the fourth century. 1 n h '1s cctes1ast1c al History th
to sen
e
lived between 380-440, tells us
who
s,
.
.
Sokrate
writer
abour
Ch.nsnan Greek
na
m
gypt
y
Al
d
.
.
E
ll
b
e
exan
w
of
ower
tians
s
Chris
of
the cult
seno us atraeks on che
.
.

J
mpero
t
E
r
e
u
h
o
tan:
f
e
nm
1
the
of Michras, which rook place m

been abandoned ro negJecr and filth


There was a place in rhar city which had long
,
, d sacrif iced hu
mysteries
heir

celebrared
formerly
had
pagans
the
man
wherein
.
beings ro Mirhra. This being empty and or erw se useless ...the b1shop George wis hing
to erect a church on rhe sire of ir, gave d1recnons rhar che place should be cleaned.
In che process of clearing ic, an adyrum of vast depth was discovered which unveiled
che narure of rheir heachenish rices: for chere were found there skuJls of many per sons

of ali ages, who were said to have been immolaced for the purpose of divinarion by

che inspection of encrails, when che pagans performed these and such-like magic
ares whereby they enchanced rhe souls of men. The Chriscians on discovering rhese
abominations in rhe adyrum of the Mithraeum, went forrh eagerly ro expose rhem ro
che view and execracion of ali; and therefore carried rhe skulls chroughouc che cicy, in
a kind of criumphal procession, for che inspecrion of the people. When rhe followers of
Mirhras beheld this, unable ro bear the insulting character of the acr, rhey became so
exasperaced, rhar rhey assailed che Chriscians with whatever weapon chanced to come

ro hand, in rheir fury destroying numbers of them in a variety of ways.

We are also indebted to the church-farher Jerome In a letter written about


.
AD 400, Jerome praises the
praefectus urbis Romae of rhe years 376/77 for his
measures taken against one of the man
y Mirhraea in the old capiral.15 Jer ome
mentions not only simple destruction,
but emphasises that the prefect upturned,
smashed and hammered off all
the unnatural images in the cave of Mithr
.
(specu Mzth
rae et omnia portentuosa simu
lacra ... subvertit, ftegit, excussit) In this
way Jerome excellently
characterized the fanatical intolerance of the Chrisci n 16
a 5
Many examples of such
activities can be found in the arch aeological record,
notably the desrructio
ear
n and desecration of the Mit
hraea in Konigshofen n
Strasb rg and at Sa
nta Priscia in Rom

e. 17
Unn l now there
.
.
us
has
b
een
a
bund ant arehaeolo g1cal
. .
of the religio
ce
ev1de
n
ranat

1c1sm of Christta

ns agamst
the cult of Mithras in ltal y and in the wesrern
and nonhern
. re.
.
provinces, but
i
p
e
rn
not
n
m
a
m
the
Ro
easte rn part of the
our mg

a four-w eek '


s surv ey m
.
. the autu mn of 1997, m y colleague, Q.r.
A. Schurt
e-M a1sc
in
hatz, and 1 d.
iscovered a new Mithraeum in Co rn rnagene
eastern An
i
arol s 1t .1

located in ancien D
Dolichen
t oliche, the native rown of
.
us, w ch ts
s1 cuated ne
lOkm
ar the m o d e n v111 age .fDu
"lu
"k, approx1rn
norrh-west

of the Turk
.
ish c1t
y o f Gaz1antep (Frg. 1).1 9

rer
Ip;ely

174

11
1 i-thri,l ism

---( , 'J rtst--

and t, .

. ni
tfl
.
t:Y m

lrtte anttqutty
.

------- -z,

} :;-

. "

f
:

il

,.,

.....

.....
..
..

'
....

..
...

\ .....
\

u. JIt.

"
u

..

g
:.

. ..

..

..
.... s

.:

'
s:.

..

..
.

...

....

..

\ 1
\1

l
Fig.
19g ; Ancient Co

8 1 O f.

..

..
...

.....

mmagene. After J.

d
Dortmun
er.
ott
G
r
mat tk
ma ene. Hei
Wagner, Kom g

Engel bert Winter

I
.

'"'

Fig. 2: Doliche. From J. Wagner, Bonnerjahrbcher 182 ( 1982), 138. Scale 1: 100,000.

The entrance of the cave is at the bottom of the western side of the so

called Keber Tepe, the hill where the ancient setdement was situated (Fig. 2).

Altogether the natural cave, which was shaped out for the cult ceremonies a n d
is separated into an entrance lounge and the cult chamber, is approximately
40 m long. 20 At the front wall of the cult room three steps lead to a sacrificial

hollow. Above, there is a 2-metre high relief, which depicts the god Mithras

kneeling on the bull. The central scene of the killing of the bull and the outline

of che bull, rearing up to che right, can be seen very clearly. However, the relief

was badly damaged by chisel-blows: Mithras' head was knocked off and replaced

by a Christian cross. Apart from this cross there are further Christian symbols
in other places of the cave. In sorne recesses, which were also adorned with small
reliefs, the pictures were also knocked away and replaced by Christian crosses.
e
All these symbols indicare destruction by Christians, whose numbers mu st ha
n
been considerable in Doliche in later times. After the downfall of paga nism '.
d
this town, possibly as a consequence of its destruction at the hand of the S asa ni
king Sapur I, a bishop resided in Doliche.21 In 1998 we discovered a second ve
A n
monumen al
the first on e. gai
ithraeum
beside
same
the
in
directly
cave,

che cult rel ief is partly destroyed, probably again by the Christians.22
raea
At this stage, not much can be said with regard to che date of che Mich
fucure
and their destructton. Th
'is 1s one of the central proble ms to be solved by
din 0 f
work Funher vest gat
m
t ton should reveal more clues to a better underst a n ge r
.
the relauonsh1p
ed 1 0
. .
.
rn p ec
co
bet ween these two reltg1ons
lC
h
.
h
of redemptton, w
tiollowers. Mo
el at1ng
reov
er,
we hope to find answers to sorne of the qu esu. on s r
n
f
to the cu1t o
rn i g
e
c
o
M1thras an d wh'1ch
e
may promote the wider discusst. on n

176

f '
'\d
,1;raisrn and
.
Christ
. tant
.
ty in

and perspectives of che i

late antiquity

itory of rel'rg1
.
on m the Rom
problems .
.
an and 1 ate
e
ods. 23 The ioll owing questi-0ns are
s t'll
Roman pen
bey ond our
kn

ow1 edge:
1 t h e worship of Mithr
when an d h ow d'd
e
as
d
eve
l
op
irom the ba.ekgrou
.
nd
ruler cult mto a mystery cult? R.
tic
enis
ell
h
Beek' s comprehe
of
ns1v e anide
.
. e F ranz. umon t
smc
C
, ( 1984) summarizes the h'istory
'Michr a1sm
of research' but
.1cattons reveal
.
bl
pu
ent
the
rec
.
d1fficul
.
ti
re
es in find'mg convmcm
mo
g answers.
.
.
'
to Dav1'd Ulan sey s book ' Tht Orio-ins
.
1 will only pomt
0.r1h
o'J , t M'tthra1e
. Mrysterits, i<t
. .
.
in wh1ch he propo ses that the ongm of Mithraism lay wi'th a group ofT:ars1. an
.
Sroics who, at sorn.e time after the middle of the second century se, transmuted
, .
che astronmer Hppar chus h1gh ly technical hypothesis about che precession
.
of the equmoxes mto the foundauon doctrine of che new cult'.2s Beck has
arcempted to refute the view that people in antiquity turned such technical
matt ers into a religion and proposes an alternative theory, to locate Michraism's

where'

founding grou among th dependants of the dynasty of Commagene as it


.
made the transmon from chent rulers to Roman ariscocracs' (Beck 1998, 121 ).
He argues that 'foundation in Rome, moreover, in the cnvirons of che paJace

is accommodated by the supposicion that it was therc chac the encourage of


the deposed yet honoured Antiochus IV, inviced to live in che capicaJ by the
emperor, first transmitted the Mysceries into che households of the great' (Beck

1998, 126). M. Giebel has advanced another interescing suggescion, chat che
founder may have been che first king of Commagene, Anciochus 1: 'Whilc che
origin of the culc which was praccised in che west may not yet be demonscraced
by documencary evidence, many indicacions point to Anciochus 1 and che circle
around him as che founding figure.'26 Finally B . Jacobs has again proposed that
the Mithraic mysteries, invenced by an unknown founder, originaced in che

wesc, probably at Rome.27 Until very recently ali the archaeologically idencifiable
Mithraea of che ancienc world have been located in ItaJy and in che western
and nonhern provinces of che Roman empire. New Mithra, ow:ever, have
recently been reponed from souchern Anatolia, 28 and the spec1aJ 1gmfice of
che discovery of two new examples in the eascern part of Anatolia, spec c:aUy
,
in Commagene, an area where che worship of Michras had a long cradmon
is evident.29
.
Commagene not onl.y for
.
1
.
One th mg
h ave ev1dence n
1s cert am
. We now
the yscenes 0
Mithras Apollo as par e of che hellenistic ruler cult, bue aJso for
w Mithraeu o
Michr as. They flourished in che same area. Funhermoe che n
aeolog1cal
.
s further 1mpres.s1ve areh
Dol1c
h e wnh
ns Chns
nan
symbol s represent

. .
e by
d
n comm1tt
proof of che rivalry becwen che cwo rel igions. The destrucno
ror th e very
ea1s e
.
the Chnsci
m 0f Doliche rev
.
.
ans in che newly found M1thraeu
.
an eastern
e cult of M1thras m
fiirse time
th
s
d
towar
nce
their religious intolera
Christian h earc land .
e.roro norrhern
1scovery, 11
Rereerence can also be made to yet ano ther new
.
che
. nsh ip becween
.
. tes the cense re1ano
Syria, w
umma
11
h'1ch in a similar way 1
can be
1
. h'ch
-filled cave, w
.
.
.
cut t 0f
.
earch
an
997

1
M1thras and Chnsnamcy. In

17 7

Engelbert Winter

found at Haw arti (Hu;-- . . ;0 ! 5 km


eu m , was
n o rth
e:. d as a Mithra
1den nrte
.
of a eh urch . Th'- ."
floor
.
d
.
,;;1ca
collapse
er

rhe
e
.
.
.
of Apamea, beneath .
. . eted by
ves, had lw '-. . l .. . . . dt
sun:
still
h
wh1
,
ea
tn the 4
Apam

80s
archbishop Photios of
th
h had ev1dencly been ( 0;1structed
wh1c
ch,
chur
ler
smal

at
.
above an older'
.
e
.
the d escruct1on o.f the Mit
c.
immed1ately arter
ry
centu
hr
h
a
fourt
.
e
the
u
of
rn
end
tat he M1thraeum had served as a pla
ce
Finds of coins and pottery show
date. The excavator remarks th
chis
unttl
as
Mithr
of
ers
at 'it
cult for follow
to
n
have
know
been
latest
che
use
rti
Hawa
d
of
anywhe re
makes the Mithraeum

of

in che Roman world'.3


site are the surviving
The most noteworthy remains at the Hawarti
wall
of
legend
Mihras,
che
from
whic
h notab ly

paintings. They exhibir scenes


.
the
mcorporation of the
enlarge our knowledge, for instance by 1llustranng
rheme of the gigantomachy from Greek mythology into the Mithras cult.

Particularly important is the first demonstrable rendition in visible form of


a central element of the Mithras mysteries, the struggle between good and
evil: 'What can now be seen is a city wall with an arched gate. Over the top
of the wall, there is a row of hideous and dreadful heads, with shaggy hair and
grinding teeth. Each is struck by a long yellow line, apparently a ray of light.

One of the heads has already fallen to the ground outside the gate. N o doubt

the gates of Hell are being assailed here by Mithras himself, in a scene emirely
,
new in the documentation. 31 This leads back to the proximity of Mithras to
Christ, which was articulated at the beginning of this arride. Both deal with

problems between Good and Evil; both, as deities of the light, were engaged in
overpowering darkness, a concept which played a central role in both religions.
lt is to be hoped and expected that future work at Doliche/Dlk and at

Hawarti will throw further light on the relationship between these two most
important religions of late antiquity.

In a recent study Eberhard Sauer describes che Mithras mysteries as 'che


'u
most hated cult and the first victim of the Christian persecution of pa ganism .
Sauer's central idea, that 'Mithraism did not die a natural death; there was
active Christian euthanasia when the cult was
not yet morrally ill',-H ':ill
prvoke more discussion,.\4 and has
already been treated in an
review by R. Gordon.35 At this
point 1 would like to note only the following.
Undoubtedly the sanctuaries of
Mithras were a special butt of Christian l red,
above ali because of the
indisputable similarities between these rwo rehgions.
N evenheless, the downfall
of Mithraism can only be und erstood
background of th
. .
elo p in
e genera 1 Rornan rel1g1o
us policy as it began to de'Y' .
the fourth cent
. d . of che
ee eonsta .
urY sm
.
nt me the Great the exclusive auns
Chnst1. ans receive
.
1 l ro t h
d th e po mea
1 suppo
ulnmate >1 et
.
rt
This
of
the
state.
suppress1on and
.
.
\6
destrucuon o f ali
pagan cults, including M1thr<1ism:

exhausive
a

againsc ce

178

i"

Notes

'

, "J.,u im

. .
and Chrts. tza
nzty

112

late anti.qui.ty

. Hinnels 1975; Duch csne - G u Hl r; 1 i n u8: S


chwercheim
. 1979;
1 cf
Beck 1984, 1998;
94
.
ach
ke
19
lb
er
M
4;
99
Hinneis I
Renan 1923, 579.
.

940; Prmm 194 3 ' 281 f..


. , B urkere 1994 11
cf. Harnack 1924,
.

'
.
174)
cla1ms
thac
90,
rhere
(19
was no compecmon
Clauss
b
etw
een che two re11g1on
.
. s
. .
.
d'mg to see M'ich ras and Christ as a 1
ea
l
mis
1s
Jt
at
. .
tern
auv
and rh
es
he
a
'
rgues
.
thar ch1s v1ew
. .
an perspecnve which perceives eomp . .
etmon thac d1d
. noc ex1st
reflects a Chnsu
fcor che
.
.
.
M1thras. However, from che Christian pomt
of v1ew the cult of M"lthras 1
followers of
d"d

.
'
1so M simon
ose a threat wh.ICh th e y h ad to attack. Cf. for discussion
a
' 'Mirhra, nva1
P
'
du Christ?, in Duchesne-Guillemin 1978, 457_78.
.
Justin, dial. 70, and Origen' Contr:'11 eeIsum VI 21-4
5 cf. for example
; on Ongen's
.
' h ra1sm, see Paincer 1994, 215-24.
n al knowled ge o fM1r
J

perso
6

For che sources see Leipoldt and Grundmann 1966 93 f.., and Meyer 1999, 207-10
.
.
.
.
The cexcs of che Fathers agamst M1thra1sm are reviewed by Col pe 1973, 29-43

7 cf. Cumont 1896-99 and Vermaseren 1956-19 60.


8 cf. Lease 1980.
9

cf. Clauss 1986.

11

Widengren 1960, 62-81, and Widengren 1961.

'
12

13

cf. Grill 1903; Patterson 1921; and Schtze 1960.


Schwercheim, 1979, 71 f.

cf. for example M. Gerver, 'The iconography of che cave in Christian and Mirhraic

tradition', in Bianchi 1979, 579-95.


14

IS

16

17

Socraces, Historia ecclesiastica III 2.

ep. 107, 2.

cf. Clauss, 1990, 177.

cf. Forrer 1915 (cf. Vermaseren 1956-60, 1335-75); Vermaseren 1965, 33-6 and

Nicholson 1995.
18

19

Winrer 1999, 365-79.

For Doliche, see Wagner 1982.


he is one of che largesr sanccuaries of chis god
2 C onsequendy, che Mithraeum of Dolic
rhe
in che whole Roman empire and also one of che very few preserved caves, used for
niches and
cult of Michras. Irs very good condirion, che culc relief, sacrificial croughs, culc
Water basins may widen our knowledge ofrhis mysrery culr.
21

22

Theod. Hist. eccl. V 4.

arz and Winrer,


A decailed pre lim inar y rep ort will be given by Schtte-Maisch

forrhcoming 2000. An extensive monograph is in preparacion.


er 2000.
23 Ergec, Schucte-Maischatz and Winr
ld
CPh 86 (1991) 48-63 and l. Hu
24 For two conrrary reviews, see N.M. Swerdlow,
Zetsche/M. Koppl, Germana 74 (I 996) 291-8.
25

Beck 1998, 121 n. 35.

rren Klces auc h


im Wescen pakrizie
des
n
g
U
ru
_
rsp
ieb
der
g
el
.
9
19 8, 27 Ma
6 G
chos und semen Krets
nicht urk undlich bel egt sein, so sprichc doch vides fr Anno
als "Stifterfigur"
.
2

27

Jacobs 1999.

80 no. 248) and


At Perge (S. ahin, Die Inschri.ften von Perge I, 278(Arslan 1999, 425).
is

179

CtTtc1a

nter
Engelbert Wi

'
K Dorner, Mirhr;:"
. . 1 975, S ehmeJa 1975; F. .
.
i> c f. Schwcrrheun
m 1984 .
.
. 1978 ' l 23-33; Ouchesne-G u111em

mtn
u1lle
Duchesn e-G
.
liko wski 1999, 201
' Gaw
, 203 wirh fig . 4
.11 Gawlikowski 1999
'z Sauer 1996, 79 .
.1J

Sauer 1996, 80.

,,mmagene' .
,

in

o 1 erance was not the only re ason e


62 argues rhar Chnsnan un
ro r
3581995
son
Nicho
e a
.l4
ror
a
peace
ples
exam
able
a
a!
b
sever
n
ro
donment
fMithras He points
rhe en d ofrhe cu1t o

of Mithraea.
vermama 7 6 ( 1998) 379 (
uss, r
another review, see M . Cla
.1 Gordon 1999; for
26.
3< cf. also Turcan 1993, 209-2

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