The date of the Mithraeum of San Clemente in Rome

Someone online told me today that the Mithraeum underneath the church of San Clemente in Rome was first century.  Of course I knew that Mithraic archaeology starts ca. 100, so I wondered what date the Mithraeum really was.

The Mithraeum was discovered by an Irish father, Fr. Joseph Mullooly, whose publication Saint Clement (1873) is online[1] says that the Mithraeum was discovered in 1869, but because of ground water excavation only became possible in 1914, that it is “of the early third century” and gives references of E. Junyent, Il titolo di San Clemente in Roma (1932), p.66-81; Vermaseren Corpus 1.156-59; and Nash (?) 2.75-78.  It is  unfortunate that none of this material is accessible online.  It would be useful to know more.

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, there is mention in JSTOR in an American journal of a 1915 article by Franz Cumont:

In C. R. Acad. Insc. [?] 1915, pp.203-211 (3 figs) F. Cumont reports on “recent archaeological work in the cellar of the church of Saint Clement in Rome.  This church rests upon the foundations of a temple of Mithra built at some unknown date in  a large house of the time of Augustus.  After much trouble water was diverted from the site which is now dry and open to inspection.  Part of a heavy wall belonging to the republican period can now be seen. Recent discoveries include a fountain which stood before the temple; numerous remains of animals, especially of wild boars; and part of the altar discovered in 1859.  It is inscribed CN. ARRIVS. CLAVDIANUS | PATER POSUIT. and dates from the end of the second century A.D.  The head of a solar deity found in 1869 is of the same date.

Don’t you just hate abbreviations?  Thanks to Google and some guessing, it seems to be ” Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Inscriptions”.  Thankfully French journals are starting to come online, thanks to, and the CRAI is here.  A  bit of poking around and the article proves to be Découvertes nouvelles au Mithréum de Saint-Clément à Rome.   But it doesn’t give us much.

The need for access to the Vermaseren’s CIMRM online remains acute.

  1. [2]
  2. [1]Fr. Joseph Mullooly, Saint Clement, Pope and martyr, and his basilica in Rome, Rome, 1873.[/ref].  A recent topographical dictionary[2]Lawrence Richardson, A new topographical dictionary of ancient Rome, p.257: preview here.

18 thoughts on “The date of the Mithraeum of San Clemente in Rome

  1. Actually… if you want a really extensive description of that particular Mithraeum, I’m pretty sure that Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels aka whatever her real archaeologist name is… um, Barbara Mertz) has a long detailed bit about it in one of her Rome thriller novels. (Because going to a dark underground archaeological site is great for suspense.)

    I _think_ it’s the Jacqueline Kirby novel, The Seventh Sinner, but it might be the Vicky Bliss novel, Street of the Five Moons. They were written about the same time and I read them about the same time, so my memory’s not helping me here.

    Of course, I realize that a novel without a research bib. in the back is not helping much! 🙂

  2. Thank you for the info — I wasn’t aware of these details.

    I have actually been to the San Clemente Mithraeum myself, and heartily recommend a visit!

  3. Now you know my secret shame… I read nonfiction to improve my understanding of fiction! Heh.

    I sure would love to go to Rome, but it’s a bit harder to do if you live in the US. Maybe someday.

    (Mind you, as products of the 60’s and 70’s, the books include 60’s and 70’s archeological and art history theory. But that’s actually kind of amusing in itself. I’m not much for Seventies Gothics and romantic thrillers, but Peters/Michaels/Mertz gives full value. That’s even before you get onto her Egyptology mystery novels, which was when she really starting going from ubiquitously prolific to coining money.)

  4. You should certainly go to Rome. Go on a tour, I suggest, so there are lots of like-minded people with you. Yes, it’s further: but Rome is not like other capital cities, and the experience is not to be missed.

  5. There are heaps of catholic tours( which are very popular),and I’m sure you’d love.
    Even if you have to travel a long way…it’s worth it. There’s nothing quite like Rome, and if it’s at all posible… Roger said, “the experience is not to be missed”.

  6. Nash is The pictorial dictionary of ancient Rome, 2 vols. (Praeger, 1968). So vol. 2, pp. 75-78.
    I should have the two volumes of CIMRM in hand soon, and may be able to check Richardson out this evening.

  7. Re. Richardson, nevermind. I see that it is from the Google Books version (?) of that that you got your three citations.

  8. You’ve probably uncovered what you needed by now, but just in case you haven’t, I happen to be doing a short research paper on the mithraeum at San Clemente. I’m still looking for details on certain things myself, but this is what I have so far:

    Leonard Boyle claims that the mithraeum is in a first century insula that was later used for Mithraic purposes in the late second century ( Leonard Boyle, A Short Guide to St. Clement’s Rome, 4th edition (Rome: Collegio San Clemente, 1972), 7 and 66-67).

    More recently, Federico Guidobaldi has written that the construction of that first century building can be dated to the reign of Domitian: “… l’edificio del Mitreo fu costruito verso la fine del regno di Domiziano e cioè all’incirca tra il 90 e il 96 d.C…” (Federico Guidobaldi, San Clemente: Gli Edifici Romani, La Basilica Paleocristiana e Le Fasi Altomedievali, San Clemente Miscellany IV, 1 (Rome: Collegio San Clemente, 1992), 41).

    I’m still going through Guidobaldi’s chapter on the mithraeum to see what else can be known about its date, but it’s proving difficult to find information because I can’t read Italian all that well.

  9. Very interesting – thank you! That sounds entirely reasonable. I appreciate the references.

    On Italian, what I would do is to scan the pages in, OCR them at 400 dpi, and pop the text into Goigle Translate. Which has got rather good for Italian very recently. You’ll have to work at the raw output but it will help a lot!

  10. Love to see your paper when it’s done.

    If you don’t have OCR software, pop the page images over and I’ll make them into a searchable PDF.

  11. Found it! Guidobaldi opts for a late second century date for the installation of the Mithraeum.

    Guidobaldi, 93: “È molto più difficile stabilire la cronologia delle fasi successive ed in particolare quella corrispondente all’installazione del Mitreo. Non si dispone infatti di dati oggettivi che possano precisare la data di queste importanti modifiche, che l’opinione più comune colloca alla fine del II o all’inizio del III secolo; in base alle pitture della scuola mitraica mi sembra però che si possa propendere per una datazione agli ultimi decenni del II secolo piuttosto che ai primi del III.”

    I do not have OCR software. I will gladly scan the pages if you’d like though; right now I’m working out of the book which I acquired via ILL, but when I return to campus I can utilize my library’s scanner. And you are certainly welcome to read my paper when I am finished. I must admit though, it’s for an elective class and I am rather worn out from the recent completion of my senior thesis on Galen’s De differentiis febrium.

  12. That’s very nice – end of c.2/start of c.3 but very hard to date.

    Don’t bother about sending me stuff unlesd it helps you; it’s a tiring time of year and I had no wish to add to your burdens!

  13. Oh, it’s no burden at all! I just know that you are much more knowledgeable on the subject of Mithraism than I am, so I hope not to incur your scholarly wrath for my shortcomings =)

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