Description Mithras was a Persian creation god, as well as the god of light. Mithraism, the mystery religion associated with him, spread throughout the Roman Empire. Initiation into Mithraism was restricted to men and was especially popular with soldiers in Rome and on the northern frontier during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. According to the Persian myth, the sun god sent his messenger, the raven, to Mithras and ordered him to sacrifice the primeval white bull. At the moment of its death, the bull became the moon, and Mithras's cloak became the sky, stars, and planets. From the bull also came the first ears of grain and all the other creatures on earth. This scene of sacrifice, central to Mithraism, is called the Tauroctony and is represented as taking place in a cave, observed by Luna, the moon god, and Sol, the invincible Sun god, with whom he became associated in Roman times. Mithras is generally depicted flanked by his two attendants, Cautes and Cautopates, and accompanied by a dog, raven, snake, and scorpion. On the front of this two-sided intaglio is the scene of Mithras slaying the primeval bull. Mithras, dressed in Phrygian clothing, kneels upon the bull with one leg while stabbing it with a dagger. Also present are images of Sol and Luna, a raven, a scorpion, a snake, and a dog. The back depicts Abraxas, a cock-headed, snake-tailed Near Eastern deity.
Examined in preparation for case retro-fit and re-installation.
- Early Christian and Byzantine Art. Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore. 1947.
Provenance Marlborough Collection; Henry Walters, New York; inherited by Sadie Jones (Mrs. Henry Walters), New York, 1931; Mrs. Henry Walters Sale, Joseph Brummer, New York, 1942; purchased by Walters Art Museum, 1942.
Inscriptions [Transcription] On shield on left arm: Іαω
Credit Museum purchase [formerly part of the Walters Collection], 1942
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