The seven initiations of Mithras in a bronze plaque in Budapest

In the Budapest National Museum, there is a rather splendid bronze plaque depicting a tauroctony.  Julianna Lees has uploaded to Picasa this photo, which I came across this evening.  (I hope that link works, by the way: for some reason it isn’t at all obvious what the URL is).  She gives the date of the item as 213 AD.

While looking at it intently, something caught my eye.  Along the bottom are seven figures (you’ll have to click on the image to see it full size).

Now the number seven in the cult of Mithras always reminds us of the seven grades of initiation.  Is this, perhaps, what we are looking at?

Notice that all of them seem to be wearing armour.  And each of them has something different over their right shoulder.  The third from the left has horns on his head and has something — a torch over his shoulder.  The third from the right has a caduceus behind him and a winged helmet.  The middle one seems to have a bird on his head — a crow?

I am by no means sure of what I am looking at.  But once again it highlights the possibility of gaining more information from a comparative study of the monuments.

7 thoughts on “The seven initiations of Mithras in a bronze plaque in Budapest

  1. What a interesting artifact.
    Many Indo-European pantheons have seven great Gods at the top of the heap, a family core. So are we looking at Mithras in the guise of…?
    The ‘crow’ may be a raven, scavenger of battlefields, I notice that as well as armour each figure has a different weapon; Mithras a was popular cult with Roman soldiers.

  2. The comment on the photo is correct in the identification of Mercury and Diana (Moon). The other five of the seven head shots are the other five planets. That would seem to be the most Occam-immune suggestion. ‘Planets’ in the ancient sense of ‘wanderers’ of course, which included the Sun and the Moon. I would suspect that the central figure is the Sun, flanked by Moon and Mercury.

  3. According to Manfred Clauss, The Roman cult of Mithras (p.85-86) the heads represent the planets in the order of the days of the week: Satrun-Sol-Luna-Mars-Mercury-Jupiter-Venus.

  4. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the seven initiations aren’t associated with the seven planets and days of the week.

    Saturn/Pater, Helios/Heliodromus, Perses/Moon, Leo/Mars, Miles/Mercury, Nymphus/Jupiter, Corax/Venus.

    Some seem to fit better than others, although I’m not sure what crows would have to do with Venus. (Unless it’s that crows yell “Cras, cras!”)

  5. Perhaps so.

    It all highlights how a database of images would be really useful to have.

    I was thinking that it would help a lot if the CIMRM — out of print — were actually online. I wonder what Brill would take to sell the copyright?

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