Images from the Santa Prisca Mithraeum

In the Mithraeum under the church of Santa Prisca in Rome, there are a number of verses written on plaster around the walls, in between or above various images in the frescoes.  The frescoes themselves have been badly damaged, partly because of the poor quality of the material on which they were placed, but also because of intentional damage not later than 400 AD.

One of these verses has attracted wide attention.  It reads as follows:

Primus et hic aries astrictius ordine currit;
Et nos servasti eternali sanguine fuso;
Offero ut fiant numina magna Mithre.

The meaning is less than obvious:

Here too the ram runs in front, more strictly in line.
And you saved us after having shed the eternal blood.
I bring offerings so that the great power of Mithras may be shown.

Even Vermaseren is not sure whether this gibberish makes up one sentence or three independent sentences.  The middle line has been eagerly seized on by the headbangers, although the Mithraeum was constructed in 220 AD, and so is not evidence for any pre-Christian beliefs.

The inscription appears on the left-hand wall, at the top of the lower layer of frescoes.  The colour images sent to me by a reader and published in Mysteria Mithrae, appendix 1, are the best I have seen; far better than the wretched effort by Vermaseren.  Here’s the context in which those three lines appear:

Location of the "nos servasti" inscription on the left wall of the Santa Prisca Mithraeum

It should be immediately obvious that the wall is badly damaged.  Also some sort of graphic — is  that a head? — intrudes into the middle of the text.  Note the word “FUSO” – that last word in the crucial sentence is the clearest element we get.  Note also the next lines of the inscriptions, on the right.

Let’s add the diagram by Vermaseren:

Fig.69: "et nos servasti eternali sanguine fuso" - or is it?

And now the photograph.  Since this is long and thin, it’s in two halves; first the left, then the right.  Click on the images to get the full size.

The nos servasti inscription - left hand side

The "nos servasti" inscription - right hand half

Myself I would have thought that colour would be clearer, but  maybe not.  At all events, this is all we get.

Possibly more is visible on the wall than can be photographed.  But frankly… it’s not very good, is it?  How much of what Vermaseren read is imaginary?

4 Responses to “Images from the Santa Prisca Mithraeum”

  1. Stephen C. Carlson

    Et nos servasti eternali sanguine fuso “And you saved us with the poured out eternal blood” — Isn’t this a reference to Mithras’s slaying of the mythological bull?

  2. Roger Pearse

    Presumably so (isn’t sanguine fuso an ablative absolute? perhaps “after the eternal blood had been poured out”?). But the question (asked by Andrew Criddle) is whether the wall actually contains these words. I think the “sanguine fuso” is there. Much less sure about the rest.

  3. John Granger Cook

    In Mysteria Mithrae (ed. U. Bianchi Leiden 1979) 87-126, S. Panciera has an article on, Il materiale epigrafico dallo scavo del mitreo di S. Stefano Rotondo (con un addendum sul verso terminante …sanguine fuso). With photographs and new transcriptions, Panciera (103-105) shows that the reading servasti eternali is extremely doubtful. sanguine fuso is OK. The entire inscription will have to be reevaluated.

  4. Roger Pearse

    Thank you very much – I must get hold of that.