Notes on Mithraic legends, sanctuaries and influences in Dacian-Bulgaria and elsewhere

Forts., Volume 2; Volume 14; Volume 17
By Wolfgang Haase, Hildegard Temporini
Dacian monuments: Mithraic studies in Bulgaria

Cautes, on the left, holds a raised torch ..on the front is a dedication by one Melichrisus, slave of P. Caragonius Philopalaestrus, the conductor of the publicum portorii Illyrici in C. AD 100, the Melichrisus Stone
In Moesia and Thrace, CIMRM, the most impt find is the square stone of Novae/Steklen depicting on the lateral faces Cautes carrying a cock held upside-down and Cautopates a cock or other bird held upright (both in addition to their torches) …dates the arrival of a cult in the Danube to the 1st C. or the very beginning of the 2nd .. Cautes carries the inverted bird. The torch-bearers wear pillei not in the Phrygian style, a long ray links the raven to M.’s head. The ray extending to M. is very carefully modelled to give the impression of penetration through the vault surrounding the tauroctony…it emerges from a hollow specially cut on the inside the vault A small lion’s head is carved on the rocky cave below Sol. Note the serpent coiled around the feet of C – the torchbearer on the right bears the torch downwards and is therefore Cautopates note the course of the serpent coiled under the tunic of M. and around the bull’s rear leg.

Sol is left, Luna is right. M. holds a rhyton at the investiture of Sol

There are other discoveries at Moecia and Thrace of the 1st half of the century, establishes early foundation of the cult at Histria growing cult at Dacia, Moldavia, etc. tauroctony reliefs with pairing of torchbearers Sol and Luna. good relief at Apulum

Meaning symbolism of tauroctony and Sol and Luna and cock

The Figures round the Bull-Slayer
In the vaulted border of the cave behind Mithras there is often a raven, sometimes perched but more usually flying towards the god. He brings a message to which the god listens; in some representations Mithras is clearly looking back towards the raven. In classical literature the raven is the messanger of Apollo, and in the Mithraic ritual he is evidently associated with the Apollo like Sun-god seen in the top left-hand corner of the relief. During the course of the actual mysteries the duties of those with the grade of Raven vividly recall the bull-slaying scene; they wear raven’s masks (Fig. 5) and perform as heralds the same role as the raven performs for Mithras. The bird conveys Sol’s orders to Mithras to kill the bull, and the god carries out the order, although with an expression of anguish on his face. It grieves him to slay the magnificent beast, but like a true soldier he obeys in the knowledge that in the end life will be renewed. On several representations one ray of the seven-rayed halo round the head of Sol shines out towards Mithras and so establishes contact with the god.
Nevertheless the scene is strange because there is no doubt from the evidence that the Sun-god was considered to be inferior to Mithras. Moreover, Mithras himself was also regarded as Sol invictus. One theory has it that Sol was the mediator who, through the raven, conveyed knowledge from Ahura-Mazda or Zeus-Jupiter. A second view is that Sol was originally the superior of Mithras and both were later incorporated into one mighty sun-figure, as When Mithras and Sol ascended to heaven in their chariot. This is a difficult problem to interpret and is still by no means finally resolved.

The Moon-goddess, as well as Sol, took part in creation. She is sometimes portrayed disappearing in her ox-drawn car at the moment when the sun’s fiery chariot is rising. Usually only the upper part of the goddess is visible; she wears a diadem, and the sickle of the moon is displayed behind her head. According to Mithraic teaching the moon had the power to purify the semen of the bull and nurtured the growth of plants and herbs during the dew-laden night.
Two other figures are rarely absent from the bull-slaying. Dressed in Persian clothes similar to those of Mithras, they are placed on either side of the bull and stand perfectly still with one leg in front of the other as if taking no part in the action. In some cases, however, one of them holds the bull’s tail, apparently in order to share its magic power or to stimulate the growth of the corn ears sprouting from it. Sometimes these figures are represented as shepherds who were present at the birth of Mithras, (Fig 2) but they differ in character from Attis, for each carries a torch pointing either upward or downward, (Fig. 27) by which they illustrate the ascending or descending path of Sol and Luna, the rising and setting sources of light, life and death. Generally the bearer with the uplifted torch is placed under Luna and his companion under Sol. Their names-Cautes, symbol of the rising morning sun, and Cautopates, the setting evening sun- have not yet been linguistically explained, but their symbolism has been deduced from the various representations. At the feet of Cautes there is sometimes a crowing cock (which the Greek called the Persian bird), whose crowing puts evil spirits to flight. Sometimes Cautopates is shown sitting in a highly expressive attitude with his head resting on one hand, the very soul of sadness, contrasting with the joyful (hilaris) Cautes. In the Santa Prisca Mithraeum this symbolism is also expressed in the colour of the niches in which their images were placed. Cautes stand in an orange-coloured niche while Cautopates’ niche is painted dark blue. Some inscriptions even describe them as ‘God’ (deus) and rightly so, since we know from the writings of pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite (fourth century A.D.) that the two torch-bearers form a trinity with Mithras. Consequently Cautes represents the position of the sun in the morning (oriens), Mithras its course at midday and Cautopates its setting (occidens). Mithras may have been worshipped regularly at noon and we know that the sixteenth or middle day of the month was specially dedicated to him. The figure of Mithras symbolises not only the rising sun and the sun at its zenith but also the sinking orb; in this way Mithras’s influence and power were made manifest each day.
Source: Mithraism

The importance of the main land routes, ports and rivers was to faciliate the transport of troops and merchandise, but at the same time the great rivers formed a natural defence line and castra or castella, bigger or smaller fortresses, were often established along them before civilian settlements. The remains of these defence lines (limes) are to be found along the Euphrates, in Africa, in Dacia and Moesia along the Danube, in Germany along the sinuous course of the Rhine and in Britain between the Solway and Tyne, where Hadrian constructed a vallum or wall against the hostile Picts-and in all these places evidence of the Mithras cult is to be found, in the most distant outposts and in the furthest corners of the empire. In the Crimea on the Black Sea, at an important crossroads, it is recorded that beneficiarii (soldiers with special privileges) erected a Mithraeum, although the exact site is as yet unknown. In the last ten years Mithraea have been discovered at Rudchester and Carrawburgh, while the Walbrook Mithraeum in London shows a certain general similarity to the sanctuary at Merida in Spain and to another in Rome, on the Aventine below the present church of Santa Prisca. A follower of Mithras living in the Jewish quarter of Rome on the far side of the Tiber owned property in Ostia, where he had his name engraved on an altar dedicated to the god. At Dieburg and Stockstadt in Germany there are Mithraea containing statues of Mercury with his purse, a form less unusual in the East (e.g. at Commagene) where Mithras was occasionally invoked in the same breath with Hermes-Mercury. In the Aventine Mithraeum the followers of the god were shown in procession offering their gifts. They were mainly people of Eastern origin, as is evident from their names; their hair is short and their beards are cut close around the jaw. The painter has endowed each individual with a lively personality and the work shows considerable stylistic originality.
… a grade called ‘Vulture’ to a supposed origin in the word ‘hidden’. The first explanation is gramatically impossible, but the second has in its favour the evidence of a painting at Santa Prisca where the Nymphus is seen wearing a bridal veil during the mystical marriage with Mithras.

Corax, the Raven

Symbols of the Raven

In the legend of the bull-slayer the Raven has the role of the messenger who comes to entrust Mithras with his mission. He takes the place, as it were, of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, and bears as his emblem the caduceus, the magic staff of Hermes-Mercury. On the Ostia a cup has been added, and although in the Santa Prisca version the Raven in the procession of the seven grades has unfortunately been lost, beside its place can still be read the words: Nama Coracibus tutela Mercurii, ‘Hail to the Ravens under the protection of Mercury‘. The Raven symbolises the air and at the initiation he must have undergone certain rituals relating to this element, rituals which are called corvina or coracina sacra and which qualify the initiate as a ieros koras or ‘divine Raven’. We sometimes find this adjective sanctus used in connection with other grades too, but particularly with the Pater, the Father or head of the community. When attending a service, the Raven wears a raven mask (Fig. 5.).

Who then was his god Mithras?

Born of a rock, Mithras was a Sun God. He killed the Great Bull, represented in every underground mithraeum (temple), by a sculpture or bas relief depicting him kneeling on the bulll, pulling back its head, and stabbing the beast. From the animal’s body, as Franz Cumont has written, came forth not only the multitude of useful plants and herbs growing on earth but also “all the beneficent [animals] on earth”.

As a mystery religion, information about its practices is not over-abundant. However, we do know the virtues required of adherents, and they were certainly admirable: chastity, courage, faithfulness, and military brotherhood being the most striking. Social rank counted for nothing in this religion and women were not admitted to the ranks of worshippers.

Mithran rituals included initiation ceremonies, sacred feasts, and celebrations of the birth of the Sun God on 25th December. The seven-stage priesthood began with the rank of crow and continued upwards through occult (sometimes rendered bridegroom, adepts of this rank being veiled) soldier, lion, Persian, solar messenger, and father. John holds the penultimate rank, which we style as runner of the sun. He is content to remain at that level, not having the time to devote to religious matters were he to advance further due to other, more public, duties on behalf of Justinian.

It appears during Mithraic ceremonies those at various levels wore clothing or headgear identifying their rank within the religion. Mithraic underground temples had sacred statuary as well as representations of Mithras slaying the Great Bull. A fire burnt on their altars and offerings were made to the sun each day.

Mithrans believed in an afterlife, reached by fighting their way past seven gates, each featuring guardians who had to be passed to continue upward. It was very much a soldier’s religion and there are striking parallels with Christian beliefs and rituals or even masonry, though these similarities have long been a controversial topic.

Mithras Religion This is necessarily only a brief outline of our protagonist’s religion, which colours his life, thoughts, and actions to a great extent, but those who are interested in representations of Mithras, along with scholarly works and other articles about this religion, may like to consult our webpage featuring such information at

One thought on “Notes on Mithraic legends, sanctuaries and influences in Dacian-Bulgaria and elsewhere

  1. […] Dacian monuments: Mithraic studies in BulgariaForts., Volume 2; Volume 14; Volume 17 by Wolfgang Haase, Hildegard Temporini […]

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