Mithras and Ormazd in Britain

I have continued to add material to the new Mithras pages.  In particular I am trying to track down photographs, drawings, anything on the monuments. I’m having quite a bit of luck in doing so, although I can see that I might have to do some photography trips.

One item today caught my eye.  It’s CIMRM 827.  It’s a silver denarius, found at St. Albans in Hertfordshire in the UK, the site of Verulamium.  But it’s been tampered with.  It was found in a layer of debris from 150-200 AD.

Originally it showed Tarpeia on one side.  This is the Roman woman who betrayed Rome to the Gauls in return for money.  The contemptuous Gauls then killed her by throwing their heavy shields onto her in a pile.  Here’s an example:

But now it looks like this:

Or better this:

(Isn’t it curious how Vermaseren’s photograph, the first one, doesn’t look right?)

The inscription has been removed from the reverse, leaving just a picture of someone buried under shields.  This looks very like Mithras rock-born.

But the obverse has been smoothed down, and an inscription added: MITHRAS OROMASDES, in a circle.  In the centre is the word PHREN.

Oromazdes is, of course, the Greek form of Ormazd, Ahura Mazda, the chief deity of Zoroastrianism, who appears under that name at the peculiar hierotheseon at Nemrud Dag, built by Antiochus I of Commagene to honour both Greek and Persian gods (and himself).  “Phren” is apparently a solar name from Graeco-Roman magic – Phre, equivalent to Re, the Egyptian term for the sun[1].  So this item — an amulet, a pass to the Mithraic meeting, whatever it may have been — ties together some very interesting ideas.  I don’t know of another genuine Mithraic item that mentions Ormazd.  And the link to magical material may be relevant to the appearance of Mithras in the Greek Magical Papyri.

So … not an afternoon wasted, in any sense.

  1. [1]H. D. Betz, The Greek magical papyri in translation, vol. 1., p.338: “Phre: See Ra.” “Ra (Re, Phrē): The Egyptian god of the sun (P)rē, without the definite article. Re means simply ‘sun’, while Prē, the form of the god’s name from the New Kingdom onward, means ‘the sun’. See Bonnet, RARG 626-30, s.v. ‘Re’.”

3 thoughts on “Mithras and Ormazd in Britain

  1. I’m not sure I follow. Are these “before and after” shots of a forgery, or are these two different coins?

  2. This is a genuine Roman item found with other Mithras items in an archaelogical dig. Originally it was a standard Roman coin. But a Mithras cultist in antiquity modified it to depict a Mithraic scene.

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