Mithras in “Mythes fondateurs. D’Hercule à Dark Vador”

I learn via Twitter that there is an exhibition doing the rounds in France, called “Mythes fondateurs” (=foundation myths).  It seems to be largely aimed at children, which of course is one of the genuine functions of public museums.

Among the items in the exhibition is this:

Now this is plainly two figures from the cult of Mithras; Cautes, with his torch uplifted, and Cautopates with his torch pointing down.  The names of these figures are referred to in no literary text, but we know them thanks to inscriptions.

Cautes is accompanied by the dog, and Cautopates by the snake.

I was intending to add this photograph to my catalogue of Mithras photographs; but of course that is useless unless I can identify the item.  It looks as if  most of the items are from the Louvre, but some from the museum in Vienne, at which Dimitri Tilloi, the photographer, saw the exhibition.

Looking in the CIMRM, I find that a pair of torchbearers was found in Vienne in 1835, but are since “lost”.  However it is clear from the text that Vermaseren, the editor, received no cooperation at all from the museum in Vienne.  Are these the “lost” items? (CIMRM 901)  or are they from the Louvre?  But I can find no indication of a pair of torchbearers in the Louvre in the CIMRM.

It is frustrating not to know!  If by any chance any reader of this blog visits this exhibition, please photograph the card which explains the item and send me the details!

UPDATE: I have written to both museums to ask.

Mithras and the Portable Antiquities Scheme database

Another day another database, or so it sometimes seems.  But this is not a complaint!  On the contrary, it makes accessible material that no-one could ever see.

Today I learn via Cultural Property Observer of the PAS database.

The information provided by members of the public over the last 15 years is available for all to see on the PAS database. This now contains around 810,000 items and spans objects dating from the Stone Age to Anglo-Saxon, Roman, medieval, and post-medieval times. Every entry includes archaeological information on the object in question, details of where it was discovered and often incorporates notes of scholarly interest. The database provides a historical snapshot of human settlement in England and Wales and is an awesome example of what can be achieved by harnessing the power of the public.

Now that sounded interesting, so I headed over there and typed Mithras into the search box.  Three results came up, one of them interesting:

A Roman copper-alloy figurine depicting Cautopates, Mithras’ attendant who symbolises darkness. He is shown holding a torch pointing downwards in his right hand and his left hand is placed on his waist. Cautopates stands facing forwards with his head turned slightly to the right, his legs crossed at the calves and with his left hand placed on the left hip. He wears a Phrygian cap, trousers, a short-sleeved tunic, a cloak and has mid-length tousled hair. The cloak is ornamented with V-shaped motifs and grooved, curved lines on the trousers and tunic represent the folds of the cloth. The figurine is 81.5mm long, 33.9mm wide and 11.2mm thick. It is not free-standing and despite the lack of evidence for an attachment it must have been fixed to a base.

The article continues, full of useful data.  It’s undateable, of course, and comes from Yorkshire.  Usefully there are a couple of excellent photographs.  And these are downloadable!



How do we know that Mithras’ sidekicks were called “Cautes” and “Cautopates”?

Every temple of Mithras had a bas-relief at one end depicting Mithras killing the bull.  On either side stand two figures carrying torches, one with the flame pointing up, the other with it pointing down.  Every textbook refers to these as “Cautes” and “Cautopates”, although no literary text mentions either.

So how do we know that these were their names?  And which is which?

In Cumont’s Textes et Monumentes, vol. 1, p.207 we find the following statement about the torch-bearers or dadophores.  (The reader should bear in mind that in vol. 2, for some curious reason, Cumont gave the inscriptions first, with numerals; and then the monuments, with fresh numbers; and that a relief or statue with an inscription would be listed twice).

By a happy accident we know the barbarous names that the two dadophores bore in Mithraic ritual.  Two pairs of statues accompanied with inscriptions have recently come to light, and demonstrate that the being with the raised torch is named Cautes and the one with the lowered torch is named Cautopates.[5]  Elsewhere the statues themselves have not been preserved, but the pedestals on which they stood have survived, grouped in pairs, and on one is engraved the dedication Caute or Cauti and on the other Cautipati. [6]

The footnotes:

5) Monument 248 c, discovered in 1851, which bears the inscription D. I. M. Cautopati, was supposed at this period by Dieffenbach and by Ring to indicate that the dadophor with the lowered torch was called Cautopates, but that Cautes and Cautopates were synonymous.  New discoveries permit us to rectify this mistake.  Cautes and Cautopates are the two dadophores at Sarmizegetusa: mon. 140 (inscr. 259); at Heddernheim: mon. 253 i, 2, 4 (inscr. 441 b, c).

6) Aquileia: inscr. 165 a, b; Aquincum: mon. 213 d, inscr. 329, 330 — Similarly in the temple recently discovered at Pettau by Gurlitt, an altar has been brought to light with the dedication Cauti, another with Cautopati. — Were there two dedications to Caute at Heddernheim?  Cf. Lehner, Korrespondbl. Westd. Zeitsch., XVII, no. 89, p.129 — The complete list of inscriptions mentioning these deities is given in vol. 2, p. 533, col. a. — The only forms that are encountered are Caute or Cauti or Cautopati or Kautopati.  The dative Cauto and therefore the nominative Cautus does not exist (inscr. 165 a, note). — The abbreviation C. P. for Cautopati, does not prove that we should decompose this name into two words.  Rather it serves to distinguish it from Caute, for which the abbreviation is a simple C. (inscr. 371, 434).

That is a lot of material packed into a couple of lines and a couple of footnotes; but Cumont was a great man, which is why his work in some respects has yet to be superceded, 110 years later.  Let’s look at some of these references.


In vol. 2, p.283-4, under monument 140 we find these images of statues of the two figures, taken from the Mithraeum at Sarmizegetusa (see.p.280 f.) or Varhély (Gréditchjé) in Hungary in 1881-3.  Happily for us, they have inscriptions on the base.

These are described as follows:

Mithraic dadophores, in the usual costume and pose.  They carry in their right hands, one a lowered torch, the other a raised torch, but both are broken … in the left hand the first carries a scorpion, the second the head of a bull.  On the bases are inscriptions 259.

The inscriptions 259 can be found on p.135 of the same volume, where they are listed as CIL III 7922.

a) Cautopati sac(rum) | Synethus adiu[t(or)] | tabul(arii)  | v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)

b) . . . . v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)

That identifies “Cautopates” as the object of the votive offering on the first statue-altar.


Monument 253 is in vol. 2, p.372, and covers the third Mithraeum found at Heddernheim, in 1887.  There is a mistake in Cumont’s note in vol. 1; it should be item j, not i, that is referenced.  This is the stela, carved on three sides.  Cumont gives fig. 298, 290 and 291, from photographs:

Inscription 441 is vol. 2, p.155-6, transcribing the above.  On the front:

D(eo) inv(icto) Mit(hrae) | Senilius Car|antinus | c(ivis) Mediom(atricus) | v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) l(aetus) m(erito) | Sive Cracissius.

Under a representation of Mithras born from a rock are the words:

Petram g[e]ne[t]ricem.

On the right-hand side, under the torchbearer holding a torch up:


Under the person on an urn:


On the left-hand side, under the torchbearer holding a torch pointing down:


Under the eagle on a sphere:


That seems fairly final: we have the image, and a label underneath.

An afterthought: inscription 442, Friedberg, (mon. 248) reads “D(eo) I(nvicto) M(ithrae) | Cautopati” which would seem to suggest that Cautopates (and therefore Cautes also) was an aspect of Mithras himself.