In the Cave of Mysteries: Analyzing Ritual Space within the Roman Cult of Mithras through the examples of Santa Prisca, Walbrook, and Carrawburgh

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Antikens kultur och samhällsliv

Abstract:

The Mysteries of Mithras, dedicated to the eponymous Persian divinity, was one of several mystery cults of the ancient world. It flourished during the second and third centuries CEthroughout the Roman Empire, but with special frequency in Italy and the frontier provinces along the Rhine and Danube. Those initiated into the Mysteries met in special cult rooms or complexes knownto themas "caves", but which in modern research are most commonly referred to as mithraea(s. mithraeum). Their defining features are a central aisle flanked by podiawith a cult niche at the far end, typically displaying the bull-slaying Mithras. Since the late 19thcentury, the research of the cult has traditionally concerned itself with issues regarding the cult'sorigins as well as its doctrines and beliefs. However, it has been noted that this traditional approach includes an undervaluing of both the role of ritual within the Mysteries and the design of the mithraeumwith regards to the enacted rituals.By instead focusing on these shortcomingsthe present study will suggest a practice-oriented way of viewing the role of ritual within the cultand how this might have related to the physical space of the mithraeum.

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