Mithra slaying the bull. Royal Ontario Museum

The Cult of Mithra: Sacred Temples, and Vedic Legends, and Ancient Armenian Understanding

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Mithra was the god of light, purity, goodness, truth and occupied an important place in the faith of the ancient Aryans.

The Spread of Mithra

There are various opinions on the spread of the Mithra (or Mithras, Mitra) cult, but the most reliable one is the first written protocol about the Mithraic cult from 14th century BC.

In the treaty text signed between the powerful kingdom of Mitanni (Mitanni was situated in the North of Armenian Plateau) of king Shativaza (unknown-1350 BC), and the Hittite king of Suppiluliuma (1380-1346 BC) we can see the name of Mithra. So the Mithraic cult was mentioned in Persian cuneiform inscriptions and in the Indian Vedic texts since the fourth century BC.

As a result of the religious revolution of Ardashir II, the Sassanid King of Persia in 395 AD, the cults of Mithra and Anahita, the Iranian goddess, were imported to Persia and combined with Zoroastrianism. In the first century BC the cult of Mithra penetrated into Rome, and in the third century AD this religion had become international and spread from India to the Black Sea, from the Balkans to Britain and Spain. Now there are more than four hundred Mithraic temple ruins throughout the Europe.

So at first, in fourth century BC this cult spread from the Armenian Plateau to South Persia and India and in first century BC to North-West Europe.

Temples of Mithra

In Upper Armenia, the main temple of Mithra (or Mihr) was at built in the village of Bagaritch, Derjan region (eastern Turkish territories). The temple of Garni was also dedicated to the cult of Mithra.

The Temple at Garni dedicated to Mithra.

The Temple at Garni dedicated to Mithra. (Via Lilit Mkhitaryan)

In the city of Artashat, Mithraic temple ruins have been unearthed which were built from black marble and reconstructed in the first century AD by Tiridates I, King of Armenia of the Arsacid Dynasty.

A statue of Mithra sits near the tomb of Antiochus I on Mount Nemrut (southeastern Turkey). He can be seen sitting in the left side of Aramazd, creator god in pre-Christian Armenian myth.

The ruins of Mount Nemrut, East terrace, Gods of Commagene.

The ruins of Mount Nemrut, East terrace, Gods of Commagene. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Mithra statue at Nimrut. (Via Lilit Mkhitaryan)

In the ancient Armenian “Daredevils of Sassoun” epic also we can see the character of Mithra.

In ancient sculptures Mithra often was portrayed as a powerful young man with a Phrygian or Armenian cap who kills a sacred bull, called the tauroctony.

Mithras killing the bull.

Mithras killing the bull. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In the Armenian pantheon Mithra was the god of the light and purity. It’s believed that a temple dedicated to Mithra also has been found in Armavir, the ancient capital of Armenia.

The cult of Mithra began to disappear in the fourth century BC.

Mithraic Legends

According to Armenian ancient beliefs, 365 saints are living in the heart of the Sun and each of them is the owner of one day of the year, appointed in order to prevent evil.

It is said that within the salty sea (Lake of the Van), there was a rock, and when heaven was darkened the light fell on the rock and shortly after was born Mithra, almost naked but with a Phrygian hat on his head, and torch in his left hand, and it illuminated the world. By killing the bull, Mithra was creating the world from its parts.

Mithra rising from the rock. Rome, marble, 180–192 AD

Mithra rising from the rock. Rome, marble, 180–192 AD ( Public Domain )

Strabo chronicled that during the ruling of Achaemenid Empire the Armenian Satrap donated 20,000 horses to the annual Mithra celebration. The observations dedicated to Mithra were celebrated by Armenians in the Month of Areg, which coincided with Iranian month of Mithra. The Armenian seventh month is named Mehekan and each month’s eighth day was called Mithra.

Born of Rock

Mithra, the god of light, kindness and contracts was indeed born from the very rock—this characteristic is affirmed either by archaeological finds or by the Geghard temple in Armenia, which is carved into the rocky landscape.

In 1953-54 during research in Eskikale (Turkey) a tunnel was unearthed which reached depths of 160 meters (525 feet) consisting of a long mountain slope ending with two circular rooms. It is similar to the tunnel at Bagaritch in Upper Armenia with the temple complex dedicated to Mithra.

Comments

perhaps the bull represents a prehistoric civilization which vanished in the "Great Flood" circa 9500BC. from the High Caucuses a new civilization would expand into the void through Anatolia
& the Levant & outward. The darkening of the heavens may refer to the eclipse which marked the event("Great Flood")

I believe the bull is symbolic of the astrological age of Taurus.

What I find interesting is the reluctant sacrifice of the bull by Mithras. That would mean he was identified with what we call the stellar constellation Orion as he confronts nearby Taurus. I'm guessing, then, that the Pleiades would be symbolic of the blood or Ka of the slain Taurus.

I thought Mithras was related to Apollo, the Roman Sun God that was worshipped by Constantine the great during the 4th Century BCE?

Moonsong's picture

There was no mention of the cult of Mithras in Italy – specifically in Rome. Last year I visited Rome and there were a couple of statues and shrines both in the catacombs beneath the city and in the suburban ancient ruin of Ostia Antica. Intersting to see how the cult of worship spread.

- Moonsong
--------------------------------------------
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde

In Iran we have a Mehr/Mihr/Mithra month (seventh month of Persian calendar) . Mithra and Anahita are an Iranic god and godess and Ahuramazda is great god for Iranian Zoroastrians

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