Cumont on the end of the cult of Mithras

I’ve been at it again.  I’ve done some more on the Wikipedia article on Mithraism.  This time I updated the section on when the end came, and they had to put their bull away.  Manfred Clauss says that the deposits of coins left as offerings in Mithraea all stop by 400 AD.  He gives an example of the Mithraeum at Pons Sarravi, where the place was wrecked and the coins scattered contemptuously across the floor.  The latest dated coins?  Theodosius I (d. 395).

The article had a statement by Cumont that the cult may have survived into the fifth century in remote valleys in the Vosges.  As ever with Wikipedia, Cumont’s exact words were not given.  But there was a reference to the English version, his “Mysteries of Mithra”, p. 206.  This said:

A few clandestine conventicles may, with stubborn persistence, have been held in the subterranean retreats of the palaces. The cult of the Persian god possibly existed as late as the fifth century in certain remote cantons of the Alps and the Vosges. For example, devotion to the Mithraic rites long persisted in the tribe of the Anauni, masters of a flourishing valley, of which a narrow defile closed the mouth.”

OK, but no reference given.  So I went searching for “Anauni” – that can’t be a common word.  Nor was it.  A search in the US version of Google books brought up the French text of the same passage, this time in Textes et Monumentes vol. 1, Cumont’s full-length real publication, on p.348. 

Quelques conventicules clandestins purent s’obstiner encore à s’assembler dans les souterrains des palais [5]; le culte du dieu perse put se survivre au Ve siècle dans certains cantons perdus des Alpes ou des Vosges [6]. Ainsi, rattachement aux rites mithriaques persista longtemps dans la tribu des Anauni, maîtresse d’une florissante vallée dont un étroit défilé ferme l’orifice [7].

5) Les vers de Paulin de Nole cités t. II, p.32, ont été écrits dans les dernières années du IVe siècle. Vers 400, Prudence attaque encore le culte du Soleil (Contr. Symmach., I, 309 ss.). – Sur la persistance des pratiques paiennes à Rome au Ve siècle, voir les curieuses tablettes magiques publiées par M. Wunsch, Sethianische Verfluchungstafeln, 1898, p. 53 s.

[The poem of Paulinus of Nola cited in vol. 2, p. 32, was written in the last years of the 4th century.  Around 400 Prudentius attacked the cult of Sol again (Contra Symmachum I, 309 f). — On the persistence of pagan practices at Rome in the 5th century see the curious magical tablets published by M. Wunsch…]

6) Le mithréum de Sarrebourg ne parait avoir été détruit qu’en 395, cf. mon. 273ter y, (t. II, p. 618).

[The Mithraeum of Sarrebourg only seems to have been destroyed in 395, cf. mon. 273, vol. 2, p.618].

7) Un récit du martyre de St Sisinnius (AA. SS., 29 mai, p. 44), parle comme suit de la religion de l’Anaunie : “Alexandria putabatur, Anagnia, privatis religiosa portentis, numerosa daemonibus, biformis Anubibus, idolis multiformis semihominibus, quod est legis irrisoribus, plena Isidis amentia, Serapidis fuga.” Mais les monuments nous ont appris que le culte du Val di Non n’était pas celui d’Isis, mais de Mithra; cf. supra, p. 269, n. 6. [=”6) Téurnia, inscr. 400, cf. 417″] – St Sissinius souffrit le martyre en 397, mais les habitants qui mirent à mort le missionnaire et ses compagnons, persévèrent certainement encore quelque temps dans le paganisme.

Reference 6 is to the coins in the Mithraeum at “Sarresbourg”, i.e. Pons Sarravi.  And are they fifth century?  No, they are not.

But what about reference 7?  Now I can’t make sense of the syntax of the Latin, despite knowing most of the words!  They all seem to be in the ablative!  Let’s try…

A story of the martyrdom of St. Sisinnius (Acta Sanctorum, 29 may, p. 44) speaks as follows of the religion of the Anauni: “It was thought at Alexandria, Anagnia (?), after predictions of the abolition of private religion, by numerous demons, two-formed Anubises, many-formed half-human idols, because there is for the mockers of the law, happy in the madness of Isis, in the exile of Serapis.”  But the monuments tell us that the cult of the Val di Non was not that of Isis, but of Mithra.

Then there is a ref. to monument 400 in vol. 2, which I have looked up:

400. Teurnia (St Peter in Holz). CIL, III, 4736. Dans les jardins du comte Porzia à Spital.
Colonne à six pans.
Cauti | L(ucius) | Albius | Atticus | et C(aius) | Albius | Avitus.

This seems to be dedicated to Cautes.  Then Cumont continues:

St. Sissinius suffered martyrdom in 397 but the inhabitants who put to death the missionary and his companions certainly still persevered in paganism for some years.

OK.  That’s more evidence than I had expected.  But of course we have no real idea of the date of that inscription… do we?  It’s still not that clear.


4 thoughts on “Cumont on the end of the cult of Mithras

  1. You may find helpful an article called “The End of Mithraism” in the journal called Antiquity 69/263 (June 1995) 358-62. This article summarizes the bibliography which has in general supplanted Cumont (though the recent book of R. Beck is more comprehensible). What is remarkable about the archaeological evidence for the end of Mithraism is how poor it is – very few of the Mithraea which were excavated in the 19th century were examined with a view to understanding the circumstances in which they ceased to be used.

  2. Thank you very much for this tip! I don’t have access to the article unfortunately, but possibly someone else may.

    I suppose that archaeology didn’t really exist in the 19th century as a discipline. Everyone had to learn somehow, how things should be done. A pity that it was on this, tho!

  3. Thanks for the interesting comments on Mithraism & your work on Wikipedia.

    I expect in 150 years, when archeologists can read the composition and placement of individual molecules in situ, they will lament the gross destruction of irreplaceable evidence in the 20th and 21st centuries…

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