Some Notes on Mithras

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jan 14, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends!

    Often a coin is only the begin of an extensive search for information. This happens to me here too! It starts with a tiny coin from Kios, but it gave reason to deal finely with Mithras. This was my wish already for a long time especially because of its close relation to Christianism and because here in Germany are found several ancient Mithraea, e.g. at Saalburg/Taunus.

    1st coin:
    Bithynia, Kios, 325-300 BC
    AE 13, 1.57g, 180°
    obv. Head of Mithras, wearing tiara orthe, r.
    rev. K - I
    Kantharos, with two vine-grapes hanging down from it, all in wreath of grain-ears
    ref.: SNG Copenhagen 382
    Very rare, about VF
    2nd coin:
    Pontos, Trapezos, Caracalla, AD 198-217
    AE 27, 11.05g, 150°
    struck AD 205-208 (year 153)
    obv. AV(?) KA M AV - ANTΩNIN[OC]
    Laureate head r.
    rev. TPAΠ - ZOVNTIΩN / E PNΓ (PΓ ligate)
    Mithras, wearing Phrygean bonnet, riding on horse r., burning altar before
    ref.: cf. Rec. Gen. 29, pp. 111-112 (but tree behind!)
    F/good F, dark green-brown patina
    ex Stephen M. Huston FPL 102, august 1990, lot 12
    ex Garth R. Drewry coll.
    ex CNG electronic auction 160, 14. Feb. 2007, lot 136
    History and development of Mithraism:
    The mithraism existed over a period of nearly two thousand years. It is understandable that it has changed in these long times and has made a development from its primary role in the Indo-Iranian domain, over the religion of the Parthian kings to the Roman mystery religion. Yes, looking at it closely, there are traces of Mithraism in Christianism today, as we will see!

    Primary Mithras is an Indo-Iranian god. His name litterally means something like 'contract', or as person 'mediator of the contract'. In the Iranian religion of Zoroaster (c. 7th century BC) he was regarded metaphysically as mediator between Ahuramazda and Ahriman, between the principle of Good and Evil. He was guardian of the contractual law and the Iranians were known to have sworn by Mithras. In this role he appears in a contract of king Mattiwaza from Mittani with Suppililiuma from Hattusa, king of the Hetits.

    Cosmological seen he was the aspect of the early, bright day. He is called too 'far looking, always waking and thousand-eyed'. The connection between his light-nature and law-keeping is supplemented by the cosmologic-solar relation to the pasture land rich in water and cattle (see oxen of Helios). Even though Mithras primary was the mediator between brightness and darkness, heaven and earth, good an evil, which was expressed in the mysteries by the cock, announciating the early morning, and the snake, symbolizing earth, water and underworld, he later was equated with the Baylonian Samas and the Greek Helios-Apollo, and so getting solar aspects. According to some scientists the mythological killing of the moon bull by 'the sun' Mithras should be seen in this connnection too. Thus this symbolic nucleus was already disposed in the primal Iranian phase.

    As 'strong armed' leader of the warlike male companionships of ancient Iran, Mithras, the 'Avenger of Injustice', adopted features of the martial rulers. The riding and bow-shooting Mithras from Dura Europas was the representative of the military side of the Mithras rites and its risidues of royal and male companionships. This is pointing back to the god of royal dynasties, to whom at the autumnal season-festival Mithrakana horses, symbolizing solar power of the ruler and heavenly primordial order, were sanctified. Though Mithras was named not until Artaxerxes II in the inscriptions of Achaemenids together with Ahura Mazda and Anahita (Anaitis), the above mentioned features have connected him very early with the crown. Mithras has connected the king with the men who were fighting for him. Artaxerxes II (405-359 BC) and Artaxerxes III (359-338 bC) both have worshipped him officially. Dareios III the luckless Great-King and adversary of Alexander the Great has prayed before the battle of Gaugamela 331 BC to the sun, to Mithras and the holy fire, asking for divine support. His bitter defeat didn't interfere with the proximity to the guardian god Mithras. Mithradates IV of Pontos (120-63 BC), the famous adversary of Rome, traced back his name to Mithras as did his ancestors. Also the royal cult of Antiochos of Commagene (c. 70-35 BC) stood completely in the sign of Mithraism.

    He was a celestial god of fate and the donator of solar brightness of happiness. The occurence of the term mitra- in Pontic and Indo-Greek ruler names, as well as the royal investiture scenes on the relief of Nemrud Dagh from Antiochos of Commagene, where the god wears the tiara orthe, and on the Sassanidian rock paintings of Taq-i-Bostan and Teng-i-Saoulek, where Mithras is depicted with a radiated nimbus, show that these conceptions are effective in the course of a syncretistic fusion with the sun-god Helios.

    Sometime the god starts his way to the West and he came in contact with the Greek philosophy, he was molded greek. When this occured we don't know for sure. The Hellenistic mysteries emphasized besides the demiurgic, life and fertility donating deed of the tauroktonos (the bull-slayer) the soteriologic function of the guardian god Mithras. Mithras was seen as Redeemer and Saviour. This function was already preformed in ancient Iran as it could be seen in the west Iranian names Mithrbocht (= redeemed by Mithras) or Mithrobouzantes (= owning salvation by Mithras). Therefore a non-Iranian origin of the Mithras mysteries must be denied. On the other side the ancient relation of Mithras to the purifying fire is the premise for the eschatologic acting of the world destroyer Mithras (= Helios-Phaethon), where the primary dualism of Mithras (Phaeton) and Sol occurs, which could increase to the battle between both as it could be seen on the reliefs of Osterburken or Virunum. The mystic paradoxon of the soteriologic and the eschatologic role of Mithras is integrated in the Zervantic-Babylonian Aion-speculation of the late ancient times.. The light-god Mithras (genitor luminis), as Sol invictus successful victor over the powers of darkness becomes the cosmic renewer being mixed with the indigenous Phanes-Protogonos. The ancient myth of the celestial rock birth, which is close to the Agdistis circle of Asia Minor, leads from the general suggestion of a mountain god, who comes down from his height, to the Epiphany of the Awestic Light-Mithras of the mountain. Sol Mithras Invictus then gave opportunity to worship simultanously several gods which are related to the sun. To these important elements appears as essential ritual act the slaying of the bull, the tauroctony. This could be interpreted as collective sacrificing meal which is known from ancient hunting communities. The ancient Iranian mythology knows the tauroctony too as act of creation from which then the world with all its diversity originates.

    3rd coin:
    Cilicia, Tarsos, Gordian III, AD 238-244
    AE 33, 21.52g, 0°
    in l. and r. field Π - Π
    Bust, draped and cuirassed, radiate, r.
    rev. TAPCOV M - HTPOΠOΛ[- E - ΩC]
    in l. field M / K (one above the other)
    in r. field A / B / Γ (one above the other)
    Mithras, in short military cloak and waving chlamys, as sun-god with radiate crown,
    kneeling with l. knee on back of a bull, pulling with l. hand its head backwards and
    holding in raised r. hand the sacrificing knife (so-called tauroctony)
    ref.: BMC 258
    very rare, F/F+
    Because of its bad shape I have added a sketch of the rev.!
    The mystery cult of the late Roman Empire:
    There is a report of the first appearence of Mithraism in the Roman Empire by Plutarch. He states that the Mithraism was common at the Cilician pirates and when Pompeius defeated the pirates 67 BC it became known to the Roman soldiers. This matches the opinion of Ulansey that at this time Tarsos was the origin of the Roman Mithraism. It was a religion of traders, slaves and especially of the soldiers. There was no social discrimination in Mithraism, but that is known in other mysteries cults too. However it was not allowed for women! Its most important characteristica were

    (1) The virginal birth in a rock cave.
    That's the reason that all Mithraea (the Mithras sanctuaries) are always subterranean.

    (2) The initiation, a kind of baptism, by the taurobolos
    Here the nephyte stood in a deep cavity and a bull was slaughted above him so that he was lavished with its blood. This was seen as the transition to a new life.

    (3) The 7 steps to highest consecration (7 sacraments!)
    There were 7 grades starting from Raven up to Pater. They were symbolized by planets, elements and different depictions on the tauroctonies.The neophyte could ascend by rigorous examinations and a question and answer ritual. A kind of catechism was known for that. As highest rank of Pater he was the representative of Mithras himself.

    (4) The Holy Communion
    This occurs to mention the last meal of the Master with his disciples. Bread and a mixture of wine and water was handed. The consecrated wafers were wearing a cross!

    (5) The resurrection and the life after death
    It consisted in the participation in the ascension which was done by Mithras and Sol, and the following unification with the divine.

    (6) The court in afterlife, reward and punishment
    The Mithraism was a ethical religion which demanded from its believers purity,
    chasteness and self-control.

    Diocletian, Galerius and Licinius have consecrated temples to Mithras. The Mithraism was wide spread as far as Spain and Britain. The largest document regarding the Mithraism was written by Julian II, the last pagane emperor, for the birthday of Mithras, December 25. He has done the taurobolium for himself and as Pater he was member of the highest rank. But for Julian all the different deities only were names for the highest divine idea. So Mithras and his cult only were parts of this plurality.

    As we have seen the Mithraism has many parallels to Christianism, not only the date of 25. of December, which was adopted by Christianism for its Christmas. The great theologian Carl Schneider once has said: "What was beautiful and superior in the sun cult was adopted by Christianism; Helios became Christ." Apostle Paul was born in Tarsos and he will have known the Mithraism. But wether and how far this has an impact on his religion is disputed.

    Why Christianism succeeded and Mithraism perished? To answer this whe have to look at the differences:
    - In Mithraism there was no self-sacrificing of the god.
    - It was not allowed for women to join the mystery, a great drawback, especially when we look at the important role of women in the early Christianism.
    - The cult was strictly hierarchical arranged contrary to the early Christianism (This later was changed!)
    - And the most important fact: Mithraism was a mystery cult. There was no mission whereas in Christianism mission really was commanded!
    - Furthermore especially the Mithraism was heavy chased by Christianism. Its mithraea were destroyed, there priests often killed (so the bones of the slain priest were found in the mithraeum of the Saalburg) and churches were built over the mithraea (f.e. San Clemente in Rome). AD 378 Mithraism was definitely forbidden in the Roman Empire but could be found in isolated regions until 7th century.

    I have added
    a) the pic of a tauroctony from the Louvre
    b) the pic of a altar of Mithras from London, where the identification of Mithras with Sol Invictus could be seen (But this is disputed!). It was possible to install a light behind the altar so that the corona shined in bright lustre.

    (1) Der kleine Pauly
    (2) Karlheinz Deschner, Dreimal krähte der Hahn
    (3) Hans Kloft, Mysterienkulte der Antike

    Internet Sources: nice! nice!

    Best regards
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 14, 2019
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Nice article. Thank you.
  4. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    I don't know why but the pic of the Mithras altar in London has vanished. Here it is again:

    b) the pic of a altar of Mithras from London, where the identification of Mithras with Sol Invictus could be seen (But this is disputed!). It was possible to install a light behind the altar so that the corona shined in bright lustre.

    Best regards
    Parthicus and Alegandron like this.
  5. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE

    Nice write-up @Jochen and super coins. I have always been fascinated by this religion.

    My little Mithras

    Bithynia Kios 250 BCE AE11 1.06g Laureate hd Mithra r Kantharos 2 grape bunches hanging K-I below within a wreath SNG Cop 382
    Bing, Parthicus, Marsyas Mike and 2 others like this.
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