"The cult of Mithra"

The cult of Mithra or Mithras, a god originally of Persian origin was one of a number of eastern cults (Christianity being another, as was the worship of Isis) which spread extensively across the Roman Empire in the late 1st and early 2nd Centuries AD. Mithraism in particular, which seems to have been exclusively male, gained a significant following in the Roman army, and its distinctive underground temples, built to resemble a cave, and always with a central image of Mithras slaying a bull, are found in many garrison towns. The cult is mentioned by Plutarch, Cassius Dio and others but they can tell us little about it since they were not themselves initiates. The 3rd/4th Century author, Porphyry tells us rather more, and this is probably Yourcenar's main source here, but Porphyry was writing at a time at which Mithraism was in decline, so his account may not reflect the beliefs and practices of Hadrian's time.

 

Mithras relief from Neuenheim, Germany
GNU Free Documentation LicenseMithras relief from Neuenheim, Germany - Credit: Thomas Ihle