Mysterious Sanctuary Linked to Mithraism Found on French Island
An ancient sanctuary dedicated to the god Mithra was excavated in Lucciana on east coast of Corsica. The site was excavated by France’s National Institute for Preventative Archaeology (INRAP) in advance of roadwork planned in the neighborhood. This is the first ever sanctuary discovered on the French island.
Sanctuary Discovered in Ancient Roman City
A team of archaeologists sent to Corsica by the INRAP, started excavating the site back in November 2016 to make sure that no important archaeological ruins are hiding there, before the local authorities start digging. The remains of the ancient city of Colonia Mariana are within the municipal boundaries of Lucciana, but this specific area had not been excavated before. The team’s director, Philippe Chapon, suggests that this little Roman town reached its prime during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, when it flourished as a commercial harbor and became a significant “meeting point” for maritime trade between the people of Mediterranean. After three months of hard work at the site, the archaeologists revealed that they have unearthed and identified a worship room and its antechamber.
According to Chapon the finds appear to have been part of a religious sanctuary dedicated the Indo-Iranian deity Mithra, "This is a very rare and exciting find. It is the first time we find evidence that Mithraism was practised in Corsica. There are only a dozen similar sites known in all of France, the last one having been excavated near the city of Angers in 2010", he told IBTimes UK . Chapon and his team also uncovered several relics, including three oil lamps, and three broken pieces of marble structure depicting a scene from the religion's mythology: the sacrifice of a bull by Mithra. Other artifacts that were unearthed included a female head made of marble, bronze bells, and pottery.
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A relief depicting Mithra slaying the bull. Royal Ontario Museum. ( CC BY 2.0 )
God Mithra and the Mithraic Mysteries
Mithra was a Zoroastrian deity who was in charge of covenants and oaths. He was the god of light, purity, goodness, truth, and occupied an important place in the faith of the ancient Aryans. The name of this god was adapted into Greek as Mithras. There are various opinions on the spread of the Mithra 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 4th 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 1st century BC the cult of Mithra penetrated into Rome, and in the 3rd 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 Europe, with the newly found structure in Corsica being added to the long list.
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On the left, the head of Apollo/Mithra/Helios/Hermes, Mount Nemrut - West Terrace. (Mount Nemrut - West Terrace/ CC BY 2.0 )
Antagonism and Tensions with Christians
The fact that Mithraism entered the western world around the same time as Christianity caused tension and hostility between the followers of the two religions. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about this ancient religion, due to the fact that there are not any saved documents describing Mithraism. What we know for sure, however, is that when Emperor Theodosius I proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the Byzantine Empire in 392, he showed no mercy to paganists and violently forbad the practice of any other religion, including Mithraism.
Maybe that explains why some of the artifacts found in the Corsica sanctuary bear clear signs of damage which was sustained during antiquity. Even though that is just a theory, it is possible that such religious temples were viciously attacked and damaged by Christian worshippers just like what happened with numerous ancient Greek and Roman religious temples and sanctuaries .
Some of the artifacts found at the site, including pieces of broken marble depicting a scene with Mithra. (Carole Heiligenstein /Corse Net Infos )
Top Image: The excavation site at Mariana, Corsica. Source: Denis Gliksman/INRAP