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Understanding the Status of the Cult of Mithras in the Tetrarchic Period: A Socio-Archaeological Approach

Walsh, David (2016) Understanding the Status of the Cult of Mithras in the Tetrarchic Period: A Socio-Archaeological Approach. Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal, 1 . pp. 141-152. E-ISSN 2515-2289. (doi:10.16995/TRAC2015_141_152) (KAR id:62902)


A number of inscriptions from the Tetrarchic period indicate that various Mithraic communities received the patronage of governors, duces and even the emperors themselves. Such support for a so-called mystery cult is striking given that in other cases the imperial government failed to restore the temples of more traditional cults that had fallen into decay. In this paper I will demonstrate that such anomalous building activity associated with mithraea is evident in proceeding generations, for while the construction and repair of temples generally declined significantly in the third century mithraea continued to be erected and maintained unabated throughout this period. I then go on to argue that there is evidence to indicate Mithraic congregations took the conscious decision to divide upon reaching a certain number followers, hence why newly constructed mithraea continued to remain small in size and are often to be found in close proximity to pre-existing mithraea. By applying sociological theory, it is clear that such circumstances provided the ideal situation in which to foster a particularly high level of commitment among the Mithraists, thus making them willing to continue contributing to the construction and repair of mithraea even when resources became scarce, while other cults that had a popular, but less committed following, saw their temples fall into disrepair. When the imperial government provided for support for various Mithraic communities in the Tetrarchic period this was not due to any religious reasons, but rather as a political move designed to channel this commitment into support for their own rule.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.16995/TRAC2015_141_152
Uncontrolled keywords: Roman; Mithras; Archaeology
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DE The Greco-Roman World
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: David Walsh
Date Deposited: 21 Aug 2017 13:46 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:47 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Walsh, David.

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