THE DISSEMINATION OF MITHRAISM IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE
IT MAY be said, in a general way, that Mithra remained forever excluded from the Hellenic world. The ancient authors of Greece speak of him only as a foreign god worshipped by the kings of Persia. Even during the Alexandrian epoch he had not descended from the plateau of Asia Minor to the shores of Ionia. In all the countries washed by the Ægean Sea, only a single late inscription in the Piræus recalls his existence, and we seek in vain for his name among the numerous exotic divinities worshipped at Delos in the second century before our era. Under the empire, it is true, mithræums are found in divers ports of the coast of Phoenicia and Egypt, near Aradus, Sidon, and Alexandria; but these isolated monuments only throw into stronger relief the absence of every vestige of the Mithraic Mysteries in the interior of the country. The recent discovery of a temple of Mithra at Memphis would appear to be an exception that confirms the rule, for the Mazdean deity was probably not introduced into that ancient city until the time of the Romans. He has not been mentioned hitherto in any inscription of Egypt or Assyria, and there is likewise nothing to show that altars were erected to him even in the capital of the Seleucidæ. In these semi-Oriental empires the powerful organization of the indigenous clergy and the ardent devotion of the people for their national idols appear to have arrested the progress of the invader and to have paralyzed his influence.
One characteristic detail shows that the Iranian yazata never made many converts in the Hellenic or Hellenized countries. Greek onomatology, which furnishes a considerable series of theophorous or god-bearing names indicating the popularity which the Phrygian and Egyptian divinities enjoyed, has no Mithrion, Mithrocles, Mithrodorus, or Mithrophilus, to show as the counterparts of its Menophili, its Metrodoti, its Isidori, and its Serapions. All the derivatives of Mithra are of barbaric formation. Although the Thracian Bendis, the Asian Cybele, the Serapis of the Alexandrians, and even the Syrian Baals, were successively received with favor in the cities of Greece, that country never extended the hand of hospitality to the tutelar deity of its ancient enemies.
His distance from the great centers of ancient civilization explains the belated arrival of Mithra in the Occident. Official worship was rendered at Rome to the Magna Mater of Pessinus as early as 204 B.C.; Isis and Serapis made their appearance there in the first century before our era, and long before this they had counted their worshippers in Italy by multitudes. The Carthaginian Astarte had a temple in the capital from the end of the Punic Wars; the Bellona of Cappadocia from the period of Sulla; the Dea Syria of Hierapolis from the beginning of the empire, when the Persian Mysteries were still totally unknown there. And yet these deities were those of a nation or a city only, while the domain of Mithra extended from the Indus to the Pontus Euxinus.
But this domain, even in the epoch of Augustus, was still situated almost entirely beyond the frontiers of the empire; and the central plateau of Asia Minor, which had long resisted the Hellenic civilization, remained even more hostile to the culture of Rome. This region of steppes, forests, and pastures, intersected by precipitous declivities, and having a climate more rigorous than that of Germany, had no attractions for foreigners, and the indigenous dynasties which, despite the state of vassalage to which they had been reduced, still held their ground under the early Cæsars, encouraged the isolation that had been their distinction for ages. Cilicia, it is true, had been organized as a Roman province in the year 102 B.C., but a few points only on the coast had been occupied at that period, and the conquest of the country was not completed until two centuries later. Cappadocia was not incorporated until the reign of Tiberius, the western part of Pontus until the reign of Nero, and Commagene and Lesser Armenia not definitively until the reign of Vespasian. Not until then were regular and immediate relations established between these remote countries and the Occident. The exigencies of administration and the organization of defence, the mutations of governors and officers, the relieving of procurators and revenue officers, the levies of troops of infantry and cavalry, and finally the permanent establishment of three legions along the frontier of the Euphrates, provoked a perpetual interchange of men, products, and ideas between these mountainous districts hitherto closed to the world, and the European provinces. Then came the great expeditions of Trajan, of Lucius Verus, of Septimius Severus, the subjection of Mesopotamia, and the foundation of numerous colonies in Osrhoene and as far as Nineveh, which formed the links of a great chain binding Iran with the Mediterranean. These successive annexations of the Cæsars were the first cause of the diffusion of the Mithraic religion in the Latin world. It began to spread there under the Flavians and developed under the Antonines and the Severi, just as did another cult practised alongside of it in Commagene, namely that of Jupiter Dolichenus, 1 which made at the same time the tour of the Roman empire.
According to Plutarch, Mithra was introduced much earlier into Italy. The Romans, by this account, are said to have been initiated into his Mysteries by the Cilician pirates conquered by Pompey. Plutarch's testimony has nothing improbable in it. We know that the first Jewish community established trans Tiberim (across the Tiber) was composed of captives that the same Pompey had brought back from the capture of Jerusalem (63 B.C.). Owing to this particular event, it is possible that towards the end of the republic the Persian god actually had found a few faithful devotees in the mixed populace of the capital. But mingled with the multitudes of fellow worshippers that practised foreign rites, his little group of votaries did not attract attention. The yazata was the object of the same distrust as the Asiatics that worshipped him. The influence of this small band of sectaries on the great mass of the Roman population was virtually as infinitesimal as is to-day the influence of Buddhistic societies on modern Europe.
It was not until the end of the first century that the name of Mithra began to be generally bruited abroad in Rome. When Statius wrote the first canto of the Thebaid, about eighty years after Christ, he had already seen typical representations of the tauroctonous hero, 1 and it appears from the testimony of Plutarch that in his time (46-125 A.D.) the Mazdean sect already enjoyed a certain notoriety in the Occident. 1 This conclusion is confirmed by epigraphic documents. The most ancient inscription to Mithra which we possess is a bilingual inscription of a freedman of the Flavians (69-96 A.D.). Not long after, a marble group is consecrated to him by a slave of T. Claudius Livianus who was pretorian prefect under Trajan (102 A.D.) (Figure 10). The invincible god must also have penetrated about the same time into central Italy, at Nersæ, in the country of the Æqui; a text of the year 172 A.D. has been discovered which speaks of a mithræum that had "crumbled to pieces from old age." The appearance of the invader in the northern part of the empire is almost simultaneous. It is undoubted that the fifteenth legion brought the Mysteries to Carnuntum on the Danube about the beginning of the reign of Vespasian, and we also know that about 148 A.D. they were practised by the troops in Germany. Under the Antonines, especially from the beginning of the reign of Commodus, the proofs of their presence abound in all countries. At the end of the second century, the Mysteries were celebrated at Ostia in at least four temples.
We cannot think of enumerating all the cities in which our Asiatic cult was established, nor of stating in each case the reasons why it was introduced. Despite their frequency, the epigraphic texts and sculptured monuments throw but very imperfect light on
(Marble group of the second century, British Museum.)
The remarkable feature of this group is that not blood, but three spikes of wheat, issue from the wound of the bull. According to the Mithraic theory, wheat and the vine sprang from the spinal cord and the blood of the sacrificed animal (see the Chapter on "The Doctrine of the Mithraic Mysteries"). T. et M., p. 228.
the local history of Mithraism. It is impossible for us to follow the detailed steps in its advancement, to distinguish the concurrent influences exercised by the different churches, to draw up a picture of the work of conversion, pursuing its course from city to city and province to province. All that we can do is to indicate in large outlines in what countries the new faith was propagated and who were in general the champions that advocated it.
The principal agent of its diffusion was undoubtedly the army. The Mithraic religion is predominantly a religion of soldiers, and it was not without good reason that the name of milites was given to a certain grade of initiates. The influence of the army may appear less capable of affording an explanation when one reflects that under the emperors the legions were quartered in stationary encampments, and from the time of Hadrian at least (117-138 A.D.) they were severally recruited from the provinces in which they were stationed. But this general rule was subject to numerous exceptions. Thus, for example, the Asiatics contributed for a long time the bulk of the effective troops in Dalmatia and Mœsia, and for a certain period in Africa also. Furthermore, the soldier who after several years of service in his native country had been promoted to the rank of centurion was as a rule transferred to some foreign station; and after he had passed through the different stages of his second charge he was often assigned to a new garrison, so that the entire body of centurions of any one legion constituted "a sort of microcosm of the empire." 1 These officers were a potent source of influence, for their very position insured to them a considerable moral influence over the conscripts whom it was their vocation to instruct. In addition to this individual propaganda, which is almost totally withdrawn from our ken, the temporary or permanent transfers of single detachments, and sometimes of entire regiments, to remotely situated fortresses or camps brought together people of all races and beliefs. Finally, there were to be found side by side with the legionaries who were Roman citizens, an equal, if not a greater, number of foreign auxilia, who did not, like their comrades, enjoy the privilege of serving in their native country. Indeed, in order to forestall local uprisings, it was a set part of the imperial policy to remove these foreign troops as far as possible from the country of their origin. Thus, under the Flavians, the indigenous alæ or cohorts formed but a minimal fraction of the auxiliaries that guarded the frontiers of the Rhine and the Danube.
Among the recruits summoned from abroad to take the place of the national troops sent to distant parts were numerous Asiatics, and perhaps no country of the Orient furnished, relatively to the extent of its territory, a greater number of Roman soldiers than Commagene, where Mithraism had struck deepest root. In addition to horsemen and legionaries, there were levied in this country, probably at the time of its union with the empire, at least six cohorts of allies (auxilia). Numerous also were the native soldiers of Cappadocia, Pontus, and Cilicia, not to speak of Syrians of all classes; and the Cæsars did not scruple even to enroll those agile squadrons of Parthian cavalry with whose warlike qualities they had, to their own cost, but too often been made acquainted.
The Roman soldier was, as a rule, pious and even superstitious. The many perils to which he was exposed caused him to seek unremittingly the protection of Heaven, and an incalculable number of dedicatory inscriptions bears witness both to the vivacity of his faith and to the variety of his beliefs. The Orientals especially, transported for twenty years and more into countries which were totally strange to them, piously preserved the memories of their national divinities, and whenever the opportunity offered, they did not fail to assemble for the purpose of rendering them devotion. They had experienced the need of conciliating the great lord (Baal), whose anger as little children they had learned to fear. Their worship also offered an occasion for reunion, and for recalling to memory under the gloomy climates of the North their distant country. But their brotherhoods were not exclusive; they gladly admitted to their rites those of their companions in arms, of whatever origin, whose aspirations the official religion of the army failed to satisfy, and who hoped to obtain from the foreign god more efficacious succor in their combats, or, in case of death, a happier lot in the life to come. Afterwards, these neophytes, transferred to other garrisons according to the exigencies of the service or the necessities of war, from converts became converters, and formed about them a new nucleus of proselytes. In this manner, the Mysteries of Mithra, first brought to Europe by semi-barbarian recruits from Cappadocia or Commagene, were rapidly disseminated to the utmost confines of the ancient world.
From the banks of the Black Sea to the mountains of Scotland and to the borders of the great Sahara Desert, along the entire length of the Roman frontier, Mithraic monuments abound. Lower Mœsia, which was not explored until very recently, has already furnished a number of them,--a circumstance which will not excite our astonishment when it is remembered that Oriental contingents supplied in this province the deficiency of native conscripts. To say nothing of the port of Tomi, legionaries practised the Persian cult at Troësmis, at Durostorum, and at Œscus, as well as at the Tropæum Traiani, which the discovery of the monuments of Adam-Klissi has recently rendered celebrated.
In the interior of the country, this cult penetrated to Montana and to Nicopolis; and it is doubtless from these northern cities that it crossed the Balkans and spread into the northern parts of Thrace, notably above Serdica (Sofia) and as far as the environs of Philippopolis in the valley of the Hebrus. Ascending the Danube, it gained a footing at Viminacium, the capital of Upper Mœsia; but we are ignorant of the extent to which it spread in this country, which is still imperfectly explored. The naval flotilla that patrolled the waters of this mighty river was manned and even commanded by foreigners, and the fleet undoubtedly disseminated the Asiatic religion in all the ports it touched.
We are better informed regarding the circumstances of the introduction of Mithraism into Dacia. When in 107 A.D. Trajan annexed this barbarous kingdom to the Roman empire, the country, exhausted by six years of obstinate warfare, was little more than a desert. To repopulate it, the emperor transported to it, as Eutropius 1 tells us, multitudes of colonists "ex toto orbe Romano," from all the territories of Rome. The population of this country was even more mixed in the second century than it is to-day, where all the races of Europe are still bickering and battling with one another. Besides the remnants of the ancient Dacians, were found here Illyrians and Pannonians, Galatians, Carians, and Asiatics, people from Edessa and Palmyra, and still others besides, all of whom continued to practise the religions of their native countries. But none of these cults prospered more than the Mysteries of Mithra, and one is astounded at the prodigious development that this religion took during the 150 years that the Roman domination lasted in this region. It flourished not only in the capital of the province, Sarmizegetusa, and in the cities that sprang up near the Roman camps, like Potaïssa and notably Apulum, but along the entire extent of the territory occupied by the Romans. Whereas one cannot find in Dacia, so far as I know, the slightest vestige of a Christian community, from the fortress Szamos Ujvar to the northern frontier and as far as Romula in Wallachia, multitudes of inscriptions, of sculptures, and of altars which have escaped the destruction of mithræums have been found. These débris especially abound in the central portions of the country, along the great causeway that followed the course of the valley of the Maros, the principal artery by which the civilization of Rome spread into the mountains of the surrounding country. The single colony of Apulum counted certainly four temples of the Persian deity, and the spelæum of Sarmizegetusa, recently excavated, still contains the fragments of a round fifty of bas-reliefs and other votive tablets which the piety of the faithful had there consecrated to their god.
Likewise in Pannonia, the Iranian religion implanted itself in the fortified cities that formed the chain of Roman defences along the Danube, in Cusum, Intercisa, Aquincum, Brigetio, Carnuntum, Vindobona, and even in the hamlets of the interior. It was especially powerful in the two principal places of this double province, in Aquincum and in Carnuntum; and in both of these cities the causes of its greatness are easily discovered. The first-named city, where in the third century the Mysteries were celebrated in at least five temples scattered over its entire area, was the headquarters of the legio II adjutrix, 1 which had been formed in the year 70 A.D. by Vespasian from sailors of the fleet stationed at Ravenna. Among the freedmen thus admitted into the regular army, the proportion of Asiatics was considerable, and it is probable that from the very beginning Mithraism counted a number of adepts in this irregular legion. When towards the year 120 A.D. it was established by Hadrian in Lower Pannonia, it undoubtedly brought with it to this place the Oriental cult to which it appears to have remained loyal to the day of its dissolution. The legio I adjutrix, which had a similar origin, probably sowed the fertile seeds of Mithraism in like manner in Brigetio, when under Trajan its camp was transferred to that place.
We can determine with even greater precision the manner in which the Persian god arrived at Carnuntum. In 71 or 72 A.D., Vespasian caused this important strategic position to be occupied by the legio XV Apollinaris, which for the preceding eight or nine years had been warring in the Orient. Sent in 63 A.D. to the Euphrates to reinforce the army which Corbulo was leading against the Parthians, it had taken part during the years 67 to 70 A.D. in suppressing the uprisings of the Jews, and had subsequently accompanied Titus to Alexandria. The losses which this veteran legion had suffered in these sanguinary campaigns were doubtless made good with recruits levied in Asia. These conscripts were for the most part probably natives of Cappadocia, and it was they that, after their transportation to the Danube with the old rank and file of the legion, there first offered sacrifices to the Iranian god whose name had been hitherto unknown in the region north of the Alps. There has been found at Carnuntum a votive Mithraic inscription due to a soldier of the Apollinarian legion bearing the characteristic name of Barbarus. The first worshippers of the Sol Invictus consecrated to him on the banks of the river a semicircular grotto, which had to be restored from its ruins in the third century by a Roman knight, and whose high antiquity is evidenced in all its details. When, some forty years after its arrival in the Occident, Trajan again transported the fifteenth legion to the Euphrates, the Persian cult had already struck deep roots in the capital of Upper Pannonia. Not only the fourteenth legion, gemina Martia, which replaced that which had returned to Asia, but also the sixteenth and the thirteenth geminæ, certain detachments of which were, as it appears, connected with the first-mentioned legion, succumbed to the allurements of the Mysteries and counted initiates in their own ranks. Soon the first temple was no longer adequate, and a second was built, which--and this is an important fact--immediately adjoined the temple of Jupiter Dolichenus of Commagene. A municipality having developed alongside the camp and the conversions continuing to multiply, a third mithræum was erected, probably towards the beginning of the second century, and its dimensions surpass those of all similar structures hitherto discovered. It was enlarged by Diocletian and the princes associated with him in 307 A.D., when they held their conference at Carnuntum. Thus these princes sought to give public testimony of their devotion to Mithra in this holy city, which of all those in the North probably contained the most ancient sanctuaries of the Mazdean sect.
This warlike post, the most important in the entire region, seems also to have been the religious center from which the foreign cult radiated into the smaller towns of the surrounding country. Stix-Neusiedl, where it was certainly practised from the middle of the second century, was only a dependent village of this powerful city. But farther to the south the temple of Scarbantia was enriched by a decurio coloniæ Carnunti. Towards the east the territory of Æquinoctium has furnished a votive inscription to the Petræ Genetrici, and still farther off at Vindobona (Vienna) the soldiers of the tenth legion had likewise learned doubtless from the neighboring camp, to celebrate the Mysteries. Even in Africa, traces are found of the influence which the great Pannonian city exercised on the development of Mithraism.
Several leagues from Vienna, passing across the frontier of Noricum, we come upon the hamlet of Commagenæ, the name of which is doubtless due to the fact that a squadron of Commageneans (an ala Commagenorum) was there quartered. One is not surprised, therefore, to learn that a bas-relief of the tauroctonous god has been discovered here. Nevertheless, in this province, as in Rhætia, the army does not seem to have taken, as it did in Pannonia, an active part in the propagation of the Asiatic religion. A belated Inscription of a speculator legionis I Noricorum is the only one in these countries that mentions a soldier; and generally the monuments of the Mysteries are very sparsely scattered in the valley of the Upper Danube, where the Roman troops were concentrated. They are not found in increased numbers until the other slope of the Alps is reached, and the epigraphy of this last-named region forbids us to assign to them a military origin.
(Fragment from the grand bas-relief of Virunum, in Noricum. T. et M., p. 336.)
On the other hand, the marvellous extension that Mithraism took in the two Germanies is undoubtedly due to the powerful army corps that defended that perpetually menaced territory. We find here an inscription dedicated by a centurion to the Soli Invicto Mithræ, about the year 148 A.D., and it is probable that in the middle of the second century this god had already obtained a goodly number of converts in the Roman garrisons. All the regiments appear to have been seized with the contagion: the legions VIII Augusta, XII Primigenia, and XXX Ulpia, the cohorts and auxiliary alæ, as well as the picked troops of citizen volunteers.
MITHRAIC BAS-RELIEF OF OSTERBURKEN.
(Discovered in 1861 near the ruins of a Roman fort, in the Odenwald, Hesse. T. et M., Plate VI.)
So general a diffusion prevents us from telling exactly from what side the foreign religion entered this country, but it may be assumed without fear of error that, save possibly at a certain few points, it was not imported directly from the Orient, but was transmitted through the agency of the garrisons on the Danube; and if we wish to assign absolutely the circumstances of its origin we may take it for granted, with every likelihood of truth, that the eighth legion, which was transferred from Mœsia to Upper Germany in the year 70 A.D., first practised there the religion which was soon destined to become the preponderating one of this country.
Of all countries Germany is that in which the greatest number of mithræums, or places of Mithraic worship, has been discovered. Germany has given us the bas-reliefs having the greatest dimensions and furnishing the most complete representations; and certainly no god of paganism ever found in this nation as many enthusiastic devotees as Mithra. The Agri Decumates, a strip of land lying on the right bank of the Rhine and forming the military confines of the empire, together with the advance posts of the Roman military system between the river Main and the fortified walls of the limes, have been marvellously fertile in discoveries. North of Frankfort, near the village of Heddernheim, the ancient civitas Taunensium, three important temples have been successively exhumed (Figs. 13, 14), three others existed in Friedberg in Hesse and three more have been dug out in the surrounding country. On the other side, along the entire course of the Rhine, from Augst (Raurica) near Basel as far as Xanten (Vetera), passing through Strassburg, Mayence, Neuwied, Bonn, Cologne, and Dormagen, a series
PLAN OF A MITHRÆUM DISCOVERED AT HEDDERNHEIM.
A. Pronaos with colonnade.--B. Entrance to stairway.--CC. Sacristy (apparatorium?)--D. Vestibule.--E. Benches ranged along the sides.--F. Space reserved for celebrants.--G. Apse containing the sacred images. (T. et M., p. 370.)
of monuments have been found which show clearly the manner in which the new faith spread like an epidemic, and was disseminated
REVERSE OF THE GRAND MITHRAIC BAS-RELIEF OF HEDDERNHEIM, GERMANY.
into the very heart of the barbarous tribes of the Ubians and Batavians.
The influence of Mithraism among the troops massed along the Rhenish frontier
BAS-RELIEF OF NEUENHEIM, NEAR HEIDELBERG, GERMANY.
This monument, which escaped mutilation at the hands of the early fanatics, was discovered in 1838 in a cave near Neuenheim, a village on the southern slope of the Heiligenberg, near Heidelberg, by workmen who were laying the foundation of a farmhouse. It is interesting as distinctly showing in a series of small bas-reliefs twelve important scenes from the life of Mithra, including the following: His birth from the rocks (top of left border), his capture of the bull, which he carries to the cave (right hand border), his ascent to Ahura-Mazda (top border). The second scene from the top of the left border is likewise interesting; it represents Kronos (Zervan) handing to Zeus (Ahura-Mazda) the scepter of the government of the world.
is also proved by the extension of this religion into the interior of Gaul. A soldier of the eighth legion dedicated an altar to the Deo Invicto at Geneva, which lay on the military road from Germany to the Mediterranean; and other traces of the Oriental cult have been found in modern Switzerland and the French Jura. In Sarrebourg (Pons Saravi) at the mouth of the pass leading from the Vosges Mountains, by which Strassburg communicated and still communicates with the basins of the Mosel and the Seine, a spelæum has recently been exhumed that dates from the third century; another, of which the principal bas-relief, carved from the living rock, still subsists to our day, existed at Schwarzerden, between Metz and Mayence. It would be surprising that the great city of Treves, the regular residence of the Roman military commanders, has preserved only some débris of inscriptions and statues, did not the important rôle which this city played under the successors of Constantine explain the almost total disappearance of the monuments of paganism. Finally, in the valley of the Meuse, not far from the route that joins Cologne with Bavay (Bagacum), some curious remains of the Mysteries have been discovered.
From Bavay, this route leads to Boulogne (Gesoriacum), the naval base of the classis Britannica or Britannic fleet. The statues of the two dadophors, or torch-bearers, which have been found here and were certainly chiselled on the spot, were doubtless offered to the god by some foreign mariner or officer of the fleet. It was the object of this important naval station to keep in daily touch with the great island that lay opposite, and especially with London, which even at this epoch was visited by numerous merchants. The existence of a mithræum in this principal commercial and military depot of Britain should not surprise us. Generally speaking, the Iranian cult was in no country so completely restricted to fortified places as in Britain. Outside of York (Eburacum), where the headquarters of the troops of the province were situated, it was disseminated only in the west of the country, at Caërleon (Isca) and at Chester (Deva), where camps had been established to repel the inroads of the Gallic tribes of the Silures and the Ordovices; and finally in the northern outskirts of the country along the wall of Hadrian, which protected the territory of the empire from the incursions of the Picts and the Caledonians. All the stations of this line of ramparts appear to have had their Mithraic temple, where the commander of the place (præfectus) furnished an example of devotion for his subordinates. It is evident, therefore, that the Asiatic god had penetrated in the train of the army to these northern regions, but it is impossible to determine precisely the period at which he reached this place or the troops by whom he was carried there. But there is reason for believing that Mithra was worshipped in these countries from the middle of the second century, and that Germany served as the intermediary agent between the far Orient
"Et penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos."
At the other extremity of the Roman world the Mysteries were likewise celebrated by soldiers. They had their adepts in the third legion encamped at Lambæse and in the posts that guarded the defiles of the Aurasian Mountains or that dotted the frontiers of the Sahara Desert. Nevertheless, they do not appear to have been as popular to the south of the Mediterranean as in the countries to the north, and their propagation has assumed here a special character. Their monuments, nearly all of which date from later epochs, are due to the officers, or at least to the centurions, many of whom were of foreign origin, rather than to the simple soldiers, nearly all of whom were levied in the country which they were charged to defend. The legionaries of Numidia remained faithful to their indigenous gods, who were either Punic or Berber in origin, and only rarely adopted the beliefs of the companions with whom their vocation of arms had thrown them in contact. Apparently, therefore, the Persian religion was practised in Africa almost exclusively by those whom military service had called to these countries from abroad; and the bands of the faithful were composed for the most part, if not of Asiatics, at least of recruits drawn from the Danubian provinces.
Finally, in Spain, the country of the Occident which is poorest in Mithraic monuments, the connection of their presence with that of the garrisons is no less manifest. Throughout the entire extent of this vast peninsula, in which so many populous cities were crowded together, they are almost totally lacking, even in the largest centers of urban population. Scarcely the faintest vestige of an inscription is found in Emerita and Tarraco, the capitals of Lusitania and Tarraconensis. But in the uncivilized valleys of Asturias and Gallæcia the Iranian god had an organized cult. This fact will be immediately connected with the prolonged sojourn of a Roman legion in this country, which remained so long unsubjugated. Perhaps the conventicles of the initiated also included veterans of the Spanish cohorts who, after having served as auxiliaries on the Rhine and the Danube, returned to their native hearths converted to the Mazdean faith.
The army thus united in the same fold citizens and emigrants from all parts of the world; kept up an incessant interchange of officers and centurions and even of entire army-corps from one province to another, according to the varying needs of the day; in fine, threw out to the remotest frontiers of the Roman world a net of perpetual communications. Yet this was not the only way in which the military system contributed to the dissemination of Oriental religions. After the expiration of their term of service, the soldiers continued in their places of retirement the practices to which they had become accustomed under the standards of the army; and they soon evoked in their new environment numerous imitators. Frequently they settled in the neighborhood of their latest station, in the little towns which had gradually replaced in the neighborhood of the military camps the shops of the sutlers. At times, too, they would choose their homes in some large city of the country where they had served, to pass there with their old comrades in arms the remainder of their days. Lyons always sheltered within its walls a large number of these veteran legionaries of the German army, and the only Mithraic inscription that London has furnished us was written by a soldier emeritus of the troops of Britain. It was customary also for the emperor to send discharged soldiers to some region where a colony was to be founded; Elusa in Aquitania was probably made acquainted with the Asiatic cult by Rhenish veterans whom Septimius Severus (193-211 A.D.) established in this region. Frequently, the conscripts whom the military authorities transported to the confines of the empire retained at heart their love for their native country, with which they never ceased to sustain relations; but when, after twenty or twenty-five years of struggle and combat, they returned to their native country, they preferred to the gods of their own city or tribe, the foreign deity whose mysterious worship some military comrade had taught them in distant lands.
Nevertheless, the propagation of Mithraism in the towns and country districts of the provinces in which no armies were stationed was due in great measure to other agencies. By her continued conquests in Asia, Rome had subjected to her domination numerous Semitic provinces. After the founding of the empire had assured peace to the entire Roman world and permanently insured the safety of commerce, these new subjects, profiting by the special aptitudes of their race, could be seen gradually concentrating in their hands the entire traffic of the Levant. As the Phœnicians and Carthaginians formerly, so now the Syrians populated with their colonies all the shores of the Mediterranean. In the Hellenic epoch they had established themselves in the commercial centers of Greece, and notably at Delos. A number of these merchants now flocked to the vicinity of Rome, settling at Pozzuoli and at Ostia. They appear to have carried on business in all the maritime cities of the Occident. They are found in Italy at Ravenna, Aquileia, and Tergeste; at Salonæ in Dalmatia, and as far distant as Malaga in Spain. Their mercantile activity even led them into the distant interior of these countries at every point where there was the least prospect of profit. In the valley of the Danube they penetrated as far as Sarmizegetusa and Apulum in Dacia, and as far as Sirmium in Pannonia. In Gaul, this Oriental population was particularly dense. They reached Bordeaux by the Gironde and ascended the Rhone as far as Lyons. After occupying the banks of this river, they flocked into the interior of the province, and Treves, the great capital of the north, attracted them in hordes. They literally filled the Roman world. Even the later invasions of the barbarians were impotent to dampen their spirit of enterprise. Under the Merovingians they still spoke their Semitic idiom at Orleans. Their emigration was only checked when the Saracens destroyed the navigation of the Mediterranean.
The Syrians were distinguished in all epochs by their ardent zeal. No people, not even the Egyptians, defended their idols with such great pertinacity against the Christians. So, when they founded a colony, their first care was to organize their national cults, and the mother country frequently allowed them generous subsidies towards the performance of this pious duty. It was in this manner that the deities of Heliopolis, of Damascus, and Palmyra first penetrated to Italy.
The word Syrian had in popular usage a very vague significance. This word, which was an abbreviation of Assyrian, was frequently confounded with it, and served to designate generally all the Semitic populations anciently subject to the kings of Nineveh, as far east as, and even beyond, the Euphrates. It embraced, therefore, the sectaries of Mithra established in the valley of this river; and as Rome extended her conquests in this quarter, the worshippers of the Persian god necessarily became more and more numerous among the "Syrians" who dwelt in the Latin cities.
Nevertheless, the majority of the merchants that founded the commercial houses of the Occident were servitors of the Semitic Baals, and those who invoked Mithra were generally Asiatics in humbler conditions of life. The first temples which this god possessed in the west of the empire were without doubt mainly frequented by slaves. The mangones, or slavemongers, procured their human merchandise preferably from the provinces of the Orient. From the depths of Asia Minor they drove to Rome hordes of slaves purchased from the great landed proprietors of Cappadocia and of Pontus; and this imported population, as one ancient writer has put it, ultimately came to form distinct towns or quarters in the great capital. But the supply did not suffice for the increasing consumption of depopulated Italy. War also was a mighty purveyor of human chattels. When we remember that Titus, in a single campaign in Judæa (70 A.D.), reduced to slavery 90,000 Jews, our imagination becomes appalled at the multitudes of captives that the incessant struggles with the Parthians, and particularly the conquests of Trajan, must have thrown on the markets of the Occident.
But whether taken en masse after some great victory, or acquired singly by the professional traffickers in human flesh, these slaves were particularly numerous in the maritime towns, to which their transportation was cheap and easy. They introduced here, concurrently with the Syrian merchants, the Oriental cults and particularly that of Mithra. This last-named god has been found established in an entire series of ports on the Mediterranean. We signalize above all his presence at Sidon in Phœnicia and at Alexandria in Egypt. In Italy, if Pozzuoli and its environs, including Naples, have furnished relatively few monuments of the Mysteries, the reason is that this city had ceased in the second century to be the great entrepôt from which Rome derived its supplies from the Levant. The Tyrian colony of Pozzuoli, at one time wealthy and powerful, complains in the year 172 A.D. of being reduced to a small settlement. After the immense structures of Claudius and Trajan were erected at Ostia, this latter city inherited the prosperity of its Campanian rival; and the result was that all the Asiatic
PLAN OF A MITHRÆUM DISCOVERED IN OSTIA, AT THE MOUTH OF THE TIBER.
BB. Benches ranged along the sides.--C. Entrance.--D. Exit leading to the Baths of Antoninus.--E. Elevated choir bearing the sacred images.--F. Stairway.--G. Retiring room.--HH. Niches for statues.--II. Supporting walls.
The inscription trace in the mosaic of the pavement reads: Soli invict(o) Mit(hræ) d(onum) d(edit) L Agrius Calendio. (T. et M., p. 240)
religions soon had here their chapels and their congregations of devotees. Yet none enjoyed
Fig. 17. SILVANUS.
Mosaic in a niche of the vestibule of the mithræum of Fig. 16, in Ostia, near the Baths of Antoninus. Silvanus holds in one hand a fir branch, in the other a hatchet. See the Chapter on "The Doctrine of the Mithraic Mysteries."
greater favor than that of the Iranian god. In the second century, at least four or five spelæa had been dedicated to him. One of them, constructed at the latest in 162 A.D., and communicating with the baths of Antoninus, was situated on the very spot where the foreign ships landed (Fig. 16), and another one adjoined the metroon, or sanctuary in which the official cult of the Magna Mater was celebrated. To the south the little hamlet of Antium (Porto d'Anzio) had followed the example of its powerful neighbor; while in Etruria, Rusellæ (Grosseto) and Pisæ likewise accorded a favorable reception to the Mazdean deity.
In the east of Italy, Aquileia is distinguished for the number of its Mithraic inscriptions. As Trieste to-day, so Aquileia in antiquity was the market in which the Danubian provinces exchanged their products for those of the South. Pola, at the extremity of Istria, the islands of Arba and Brattia, and the sea-ports of the coast of Dalmatia, Senia, Iader, Salonæ, Narona, Epidaurus, including Dyrrachium in Macedonia, have all preserved more or less numerous and indubitable vestiges of the influence of the invincible god, and distinctly mark the path which he followed in his journey to the commercial metropolis of the Adriatic. (See Frontispiece.)
His progress may also be followed in the western Mediterranean. In Sicily at Syracuse and Palermo, on the coast of Africa at Carthage, Rusicada, Icosium, Cæsarea, on the opposite shores of Spain at Malaga and Tarraco,
STATUES OF TORCH-BEARERS (DADOPHORI)
From the same mithræum at Ostia, now in the Lateran. See the Chapter on "The Doctrine of the Mithraic Mysteries."
Mithraic associations were successively formed in the motley population which the sea had carried to these cities. And farther to the north, on the Gulf of Lyons, the proud Roman colony of Narbonne doffed its exclusiveness in his favor.
In Gaul, especially, the correlation which we have discovered between the spread of the Mysteries and the extension of Oriental traffic is striking. Both were principally concentrated between the Alps and the Cévennes, or to be more precise, in the basin of the Rhone, the course of which had been the main route of its penetration. Sextantio, near Montpellier, has given us the epitaph of a pater sacrorum, and Aix in the Provence a presumably Mithraic representation of the sun on his quadriga. Then, ascending the river, we find at Arles a statue of the leontocephalous Kronos who was worshipped in the Mysteries; at Bourg-Saint-Andéol, near Montélimar, a representation of the tauroctonous god sculptured from the living rock near a spring; at Vaison, not far from Orange, a dedicatory inscription made on the occasion of an initiation; at Vienne, a spelæum from which, among other monuments, has been obtained the most unique bas-relief of the lion-headed god hitherto discovered. Finally, at Lyons, which is known from the history of Christianity to have had direct relations with Asia Minor, the success of the Persian religion was certainly considerable. Farther up the river, its presence has been proved at Geneva on the one hand and at Besançon and Mandeure on the Doubs, a branch of the Saone, on the other. An unbroken series of sanctuaries which were without doubt in constant communication with one another thus bound together the shores of the great inland sea and the camps of Germany.
Sallying forth from the flourishing cities of the valley of the Rhone, the foreign cult crept even into the depths of the mountains of Dauphiny, Savoy, and Bugey. Labâtie near Gap, Lucey not far from Belley, and Vieu-en-Val Romey have preserved for us inscriptions, temples, and statues dedicated by the faithful. As we have said, the Oriental merchants did not restrict their activity to establishing agencies in the maritime and river ports; the prospect of more lucrative trade attracted them to the villages of the interior, where competition was less active. The dispersion of the Asiatic slaves was even more complete. Scarcely had they disembarked from their ships, when they were scattered haphazard in every direction by the auctioneers, and we find them in all the different countries discharging the most diverse functions.
In Italy, a country of great estates and ancient municipalities, either they went to swell the armies of slaves who were tilling the vast domains of the Roman aristocracy, or they were afterwards promoted to the rank of superintendents (actor, villicus) and became the masters of those whose miserable lot they had formerly shared. Sometimes they were acquired by some municipality, and as public servants (servi publici) they carried out the orders of the magistrates or entered the bureaus of the administrations. It is difficult to realize the rapidity with which the Oriental religions were in this way able to penetrate to regions which it would appear they could never possibly have attained. A double inscription at Nersæ, in the heart of the Apennines, informs us that in the year 172 of our era a slave, the treasurer of the town, had restored a mithræum that had fallen into ruins. At Venusia, a Greek inscription Ἡλίῳ Μίθρᾳ was dedicated by the steward of some wealthy burgher, and his name Sagaris at once proves his servile rank and Asiatic origin. The examples could be multiplied. There is not a shadow of a doubt that these obscure servitors of the foreign god were the most active agents in the propagation of the Mysteries, not only within the limits of the city of Rome itself, and in the other great cities of the country, but throughout the entire extent of Italy, from Calabria to the Alps. We find the Iranian cult practised at Grumentum, in the heart of Lucania; then, as we have already said, at Venusia in Apulia, and at Nersæ in the country of the Æqui, also at Aveia in the land of the
Vestini; then in Umbria, along the Flaminian road, at Interamna, at Spoletum, where one can visit a spelæum decorated with paintings, and at Sentinum, where there has been discovered a list of the patrons of a collegium of Mithraists; likewise, in Etruria this religion followed the Cassian way and established itself at Sutrium, at Bolsena, and perhaps at Arretium and at Florence. Its traces are no less well marked and significant to the north of the Apennines. They appear only sporadically in Emilia, where the provinces of Bologna and Modena alone have preserved some interesting débris, as they do also in the fertile valley of the Po. Here Milan, which rapidly grew to prosperity under the empire, appears to be the only locality in which the exotic religion enjoyed great favor and official protection. Some fragments of inscriptions exhumed at Tortona, Industria, and Novara are insufficient to prove that it attained in the remainder of the country any wide-spread diffusion.
It is certainly remarkable that we have unearthed far richer booty in the wild defiles of the Alps than in the opulent plains of upper Italy. At Introbbio, in the Val Sassina to the east of Lake Como, in the Val Camonica, watered by the river Oglio, altars were dedicated to the invincible god. But the monuments which were consecrated to him especially abound along the river Adige (Etsch) and its tributaries, near the grand causeway which led in antiquity as it does to-day over the Brenner pass and Puster-Thal to the northern slope of the Alps into Rhætia and Noricum. At Trent, there is a mithræum built near a cascade; near San-Zeno, bas-reliefs have been found in the rocky gorges; at Castello di Tuenno, fragments of votive tablets carved on both faces have been unearthed; on the banks of the Eisack, there has been found a dedicatory inscription to Mithra and to the Sun; and Mauls finally has given us the celebrated sculptured plaque discovered in the sixteenth century and now in the museum at Vienna.
The progress of Mithraism in this mountainous district was not checked at the frontiers of Italy. If, pursuing our way through the valley of the Drave, we seek for the vestiges which it left in this region, we shall immediately discover them at Teurnia and especially at Virunum, the largest city of Noricum, in which in the third century two temples at least had been opened to the initiated. A third one was erected not far from the same place in a grotto in the midst of the forest.
The city of Aquileia 1 was undoubtedly the religious metropolis of this Roman colony, and its important church founded many missions in the surrounding region. The cities that sprang up along the routes leading from this port across Pannonia to the military strongholds on the Danube almost without exception favorably received the foreign god: they were Æmona, the Latobici, Neviodunum, and principally Siscia, on the course of the Save; and then toward the north Adrans, Celeia, Poetovio, received him with equal favor. In this manner, his devotees who were journeying from the shores of the Adriatic to Mœsia, on the one hand, or to Carnuntum on the other, could be received at every stage of their journey by co-religionists.
In these regions, as in the countries south of the Alps, Oriental slaves acted as the missionaries of Mithra. But the conditions under which their propaganda was conducted were considerably different. These slaves were not employed in this country, as they were in the latifundia and the cities of Italy, as agricultural laborers, or stewards of wealthy land-owners, or municipal employees. Depopulation had not created such havoc here as in the countries of the old civilization, and people were not obliged to employ foreign hands for the cultivation of their fields or the administration of their cities. It was not individuals or municipalities, but the state itself, that was here the great importer of human beings. The procurators, the officers of the treasury, the officers of the imperial domains, or as in Noricum the governors themselves, had under their orders a multitude of collectors of taxes, of treasurers, and clerks of all kinds, scattered over the territory which they administered; and as a rule these subaltern officers were not of free birth. Likewise, the great entrepreneurs who leased the products of the mines and quarries, or the customs returns, employed for the execution of their projects a numerous staff of functionaries, both hired and slave. From people of this class, who were either agents of the emperor or publicans whom he appointed to represent him, are those whose titles recur most frequently in the Mithraic inscriptions of southern Pannonia and Noricum.
In all the provinces, the lowly employees of the imperial service played a considerable part in the diffusion of foreign religions. just as these officers of the central power were representatives of the political unity of the empire in contrast with its regional particularism, so also they were the apostles of the universal religions as opposed to the local cults. They formed, as it were, a second army under the orders of their prince, and their influence on the evolution of paganism was analogous to that of the army proper. Like the soldiers, they too were recruited in great numbers from the Asiatic countries; like them, they too were perpetually changing their residence as they were promoted in station; and the lists of their bureaus, like those of the legions, comprised individuals of all nationalities.
Thus, the imperial administration transferred from one government to another, along with its clerks and quartermasters, a knowledge of the Mithraic Mysteries. In a characteristic discovery made at Cæsarea in Cappadocia, a slave, probably of indigenous origin, an arcarius dispensatoris Augusti (a clerk of the imperial treasury), dedicates in very good Latin an image of the Sun to Mithra. In the interior of Dalmatia, where the monuments of the Persian god are rather sparsely scattered for the reason that this province was early stripped of its legions, employees of the treasury, the postal and the customs service, left nevertheless their names on some inscriptions. In the frontier provinces especially, the financial agents of the Cæsars must have been numerous, not only because the import duties on merchandise had to be collected here, but because the heaviest drain on the imperial treasuries was the cost of maintaining the army. It is therefore natural to find cashiers, tax-gatherers, and revenue-collectors (dispensatores, exactores, procuratores), and other similar titles mentioned in the Mithraic texts of Dacia and Africa.
Here, therefore, is the second way in which the Iranian god penetrated to the towns adjoining the military camps, where, as we have seen, he was worshipped by the Oriental soldiers. The general domestic service, as well as the political functions, of these administrators
and officers, was the cause of the transportation of public and private slaves to all garrisons; while the constantly renewed needs of the multitudes here assembled attracted to these points merchants and traders from all parts of the world. Then again, as we have pointed out, the veterans themselves afterwards settled in the ports and the large cities, where they were thrown in contact with merchants and slaves. In affirming categorically that Mithra was introduced in this or that manner in a certain region, our generalization manifestly cannot lay claim to absolute exactitude. The concurrent causes of the spread of the Mysteries are so intermingled and intertwined, that it would be a futile task to attempt to unravel strand by strand the fibers of this entangled snarl. Having as our sole guide, as we frequently do, inscriptions of uncertain date, on which by the side of the name of the god appears simply that of an initiate or priest, it is impossible to determine in each single case the circumstances which have fostered the progress of the new religion. The more fleeting influences are almost absolutely removed from our ken. On the accession of Vespasian (69 A.D.), did the prolonged sojourn in Italy of Syrian troops, who were faithful worshippers of the Sun, have any lasting results? Did the army which Alexander Severus (222-235 A.D.) conducted into Germany, and which, as Lampridius has recorded, 1 was potentissima per Armenios et Osrhœnos et Parthos (viz., very largely composed of Armenians, Osrhœnians, and Parthians), impart a new impulse to the Mithraic propaganda on the banks of the Rhine? Did any of the high functionaries that Rome sent annually to the frontier of the Euphrates embrace the beliefs of the people over whom they ruled? Did priests from Cappadocia or Pontus ever embark for the Occident after the manner of the missionaries of the Syrian goddess, in the expectation of wresting there a livelihood from the credulity of the masses? Even under the republic Chaldæan astrologers roamed the great causeways of Italy, and in the time of Juvenal the soothsayers of Commagene and Armenia vended their oracles in Rome. These subsidiary methods of propagation, which were generally resorted to by the Oriental religions, may also have been put to profitable use by the disseminators of Mithraism; but the most active agents of its diffusion were undoubtedly the soldiers, the slaves, and the merchants. Apart from the detailed proofs already adduced, the presence of Mithraic monuments in places where war and commerce were, constantly conducted, and in the countries where the vast current of Asiatic emigration was discharged, is sufficient to establish our hypothesis.
The absence of these monuments in other regions is also clear proof of our position. Why are no vestiges of the Persian Mysteries found in Asia Propria, in Bithynia, in Galatia, in the provinces adjoining those where they were practised for centuries? Because the production of these countries exceeded their consumption, because their foreign commerce was in the hands of Greek ship-owners, because they exported men instead of importing them, and because from the time of Vespasian at least no legion was charged with the defence or surveillance of their territory. Greece was protected from the invasion of foreign gods by its national pride, by its worship of its glorious past, which is the most characteristic trait of the Grecian spirit under the empire. But the absence of foreign soldiers and slaves also deprived it of the least occasion of lapsing from its national religion. Lastly, Mithraic monuments are almost completely missing in the central and western parts of Gaul, in the Spanish peninsula, and in the south of Britain, and they are rare even in the interior of Dalmatia. In these places also no permanent army was stationed; there was consequently no importation of Asiatics; while there was also in these countries no great center of international commerce to attract them.
On the other hand, the city of Rome is especially rich in discoveries of all kinds, more so in fact than any of the provinces. In fact Mithra found in no other part of the empire conditions so eminently favorable to the success of his religion. Rome always had a large garrison made up of soldiers drawn from all parts of the empire, and the veterans of the army, after having been honorably discharged, flocked thither in great numbers to spend the remainder of their days. An opulent aristocracy resided here, and their palaces, like those of the emperor, were filled with thousands of Oriental slaves. It was the seat of the central imperial administration, the official slaves of which thronged its bureaus. Finally, all whom the spirit of adventure, or disaster, had driven hither in search of fame and fortune flocked to this "caravansary of the universe," and carried thither their customs and their religions. Collaterally, the presence in Rome of numbers of Asiatic princelings, who lived there, either as hostages or fugitives, with their families and retinues, also abetted the propagation of the Mazdean faith.
Like the majority of the foreign gods, Mithra undoubtedly had his first temples outside of the pomoerium, or religious limits. Many of his monuments have been discovered beyond these boundaries, especially in the vicinity of the prætorian camp; but before the year 181 A.D. he had overleaped the sacred barriers and established himself in the heart of the city. It is unfortunately impossible to follow step by step his progress in the vast metropolis. Records of exact date and indubitable origin are too scarce to justify us in reconstructing the local history of the Persian religion in Rome. We can only determine in a general way the high degree of splendor which it attained there. Its vogue is attested by a hundred or more inscriptions, by more than seventy-five fragments of sculpture, and by a series of temples and chapels situated in all parts of the city and its environs. The most justly celebrated of these spelæa is the one that still existed during the Renaissance in a cave of the Capitol, and from which the grand Borghesi bas-relief now in the Louvre was taken. (See Fig. 4.) To all appearances, this monument dates from the end of the second century.
It was at this period that Mithra emerged from the partial obscurity in which he had hitherto lived, to become one of the favorite gods of the Roman aristocracy and the imperial court. We have seen him arrive from the Orient a despised deity of the deported or emigrant Asiatics. It is certain that he achieved his first conquests among the lower classes of society, and it is an important fact that Mithraism long remained the religion of the lowly. The most ancient inscriptions are eloquent evidence of the truth of this assertion, for they emanated without exception from slaves or freedmen, from soldiers active or retired. But the high destinies to which freedmen were permitted to aspire under the empire are well known; while the sons of veterans or of centurions not infrequently became citizens of wealth and influence. Thus, by a natural evolution the religion transplanted to Latin soil was bound to wax great in wealth as well as in influence, and soon to count among its sectaries influential functionaries at the capital, and church and town dignitaries in the municipalities. Under the Antonines (138-180 A.D.), literary men and philosophers began to grow interested in the dogmas and rites of this Oriental cult. The wit Lucian parodied their ceremonies ; and in 177 A.D. Celsus in his True Discourse undoubtedly pits its doctrines against those of Christianity. At about the same period a certain Pallas devoted to Mithraism a special work, and Porphyry cites a certain Eubulus who had published Mithraic Researches 3 in several books. If this literature were not irrevocably lost to us, we should doubtless re-read in its pages the story of entire Roman squadrons, both officers and soldiers, passing over to the faith of the hereditary enemies of the empire, and of great lords converted by the slaves of their own establishments. The monuments frequently mention the names of slaves beside those of freedmen, and sometimes it is the former that have attained the highest rank among the initiates. In these societies, the last frequently became the first, and the first the last,--to all appearances at least.
One capital result emerges from the detailed facts which we have adduced. It is that the spread of the Persian Mysteries must have taken place with extreme rapidity. With the suddenness of a flash of gunpowder, they make their appearance almost simultaneously in countries far removed from one another: in Rome, at Carnuntum on the Danube, and in the Agri Decumates. Manifestly, this reformed church of Mazdaism exercised on the society of the second century a powerful fascination, of which to-day we can only imperfectly ascertain the causes.
But to the natural allurements which drew crowds to the feet of the tauroctonous god was added an extrinsic element of the highest efficacy: the imperial favor. Lampridius 1 informs us that Commodus (180-192 A.D.) was initiated into the Mysteries and took part in the bloody ceremonies of its liturgy, and the inscriptions prove that this condescension of the monarch toward the priests of Mithra created an immense stir in the Roman world, and told enormously in favor of the Persian religion. From this moment the exalted dignitaries of the empire are seen to follow the example of their sovereign and to become zealous cultivators of the Iranian cult. Tribunes, prefects, legates, and later perfectissimi and clarissimi, are frequently mentioned as authors of the votive inscriptions; and until the downfall of paganism the aristocracy remained attached to the solar god that had so long enjoyed the favor of princes. But to understand the political and moral motives of the kindly reception which these dignitaries accorded to the new faith, it will be necessary to expound the Mithraic doctrines concerning the sovereign power and their connection with the theocratic claims of the Cæsars.