Digging for gold: the archaeology of the internet and the “Electronic Journal of Mithraic Studies” (EJMS)

Back in the 1970s, following the international conferences on Mithraic studies, a rising young scholar named Richard L. Gordon created a journal specifically for Mithras studies.  He named it the Journal of Mithraic Studies, and got contributors, and supporters, and a publisher.  There was definitely a demand for such a journal, as somewhere to report the ever-increasing flow of archaeological discoveries.  The print was just typescript, but the scholarship was excellent, and the times were right for it.

But the journal failed.  Although the volume of Mithras material is great, I have read that the field proved too small to sustain a journal.

Twenty years later, the world-wide web came along, and Dr Gordon tried again.  He created a website, the Electronic Journal of Mithraic Studies, and uploaded to it material from the old journal, plus new reports.  I don’t know the original website address, but it ended up at http://www.uhu.es/ejms/.  But this too failed.  Dr Gordon was ahead of his time, and the infrastructure and acceptance for such a venture did not exist.  So the site gradually died, and by 2016 it was gone.  The university deleted the site, and today it exists only in the Wayback When Machine archive at Archive.org.

This was a bona-fide academic site.  But it seems that there was no strategy to preserve it, and it was treated as ephemeral.

This evening I had occasion to consult a paper, on the Banjevic relief of Mithras, from volume 2 of the JMS.  Looking in the “Out-of-print” section of the archived website, I found the archaeological reports, and downloaded the right section.  The sections were all stored as zip files, containing jpgs.  Back  in 2000, the PDF format did not exist, or if it did, it was not widely used.

Next I got my 7Zip, and unpacked the zip file.  And … disaster! … the tool told me that some of the JPGs were corrupt!

Looking at the folder confirmed the problem:

The pages were partially readable; and when opened, they looked just like that – half blacked-out.  I needed pages 189-191, but 190 was one of the corrupt ones.

Archive.org takes snapshots at regular intervals.  So I hunted back, into the past, to try to find a non-corrupt version of the zip.  But it was in vain.  As soon as the files arrived on the website, they were already corrupt.  Clearly the site owners themselves had some form of problem, at that remote date, and had never checked that their files were OK.  I confess that I have never checked any file that I have uploaded, so I understand.

Resigned, I decided to OCR the pages anyway, and post online what I could read.  So I opened those files in Abbyy Finereader 14.  And then… I saw something unexpected:

The area that Windows 10 had considered corrupt, and displayed as plain white, was partially readable!  I quickly found that in fact nearly all the text could be worked out.  I have no idea what happened to produce this.  But … it was there.  In the end I only lost a couple of words of the article.

The lesson here is to use more than one tool in such a situation.

This process was really research itself.  No doubt the Journal articles might be found in some research library; but what if they had not?  What if this was an online-only journal?  Is this the future, for some of us?

A silver “votive plaque” of the 2-3rd century AD, attributed to “Mithras”

A twitter post drew my attention to an interesting item held in the British Museum since 1899.  Their catalogue page is here.  It is described as a “silver votive plaque with a figure of the god Mithras”.  Here are the pictures:

British Museum 1899,1201.3

And a zoomed in version:

Viewed up close, this is not Mithras.  Nothing about him reflects Mithraic iconography.  He is not even wearing a phrygian cap.  To me the figure looks like Attis; but I am unclear what the items that he is holding are – a dish and some sort of ball or fruit?  There seems to be an altar by his right foot, with a bird of some sort moving in front of it.  His stomach appears to be bare, which is definitely part of the iconography of Attis.

The plaque was bequeathed to the museum by Sir Arthur Wollaston Franks  in 1899.

The item is apparently catalogued in “Walters, H B, Catalogue of the Silver Plate (Greek, Etruscan And Roman) in the British Museum, London, BMP, 1921”, according to the excellent British Museum site – easily the best website of its kind known to me – and this turns out to be online at Archive.org here.  The catalogue entry is on p.59, where we read:

229. Tablet, similar. Form as the preceding. On the broad end of the leaf is a figure in relief of Mithras to the front, holding a patera in r. hand and a pine-cone in l. ; he has thick straight hair falling each side of the face, sleeved chiton and another garment over it, chlamys falling over the chest in front and caught up on the l. arm, and high boots. At his r. side is a cock to l., and behind it a small altar on which a fire burns. On the leaf are rows of raised dots.

Ht. 26 cm. Similarly acquired. Brit. Mus. Guide to Exhibition of Greek and Roman Life, p. 54, fig. 45.

The preceding two items clarify this description somewhat; they are from the same source, and are also silver votive tablets, showing Sol – definitely -, and what we are told is Luna, although why is not clear.  Both plaques have raised dots along the edge.

But the note to the “Sol” plaque adds the words: “With this were found other votive discs, now melted down.”  Of course these items come from Ottoman Turkey.  One is reminded of the way in which some of the gold found at Troy by Schliemann was stolen, and sold to a goldsmith, who melted them down and made some random Turkish-style jewellery from the metal.  So it looks as if Sir A. W. Franks purchased the items from local peasants who had uncovered them.  Whether they belong together we cannot tell.

I don’t know much about the collector, so I do not know if some travelogue exists somewhere, that explains how he acquired them.  We must just be grateful that he rescued them from the inevitable fate of precious metal in barbarous countries, and that we can look at them today.

 

The tomb of Aelia Arisuth in Libya

A few days ago a kind correspondent sent me details of the tomb of Aelia Arisuth, 8km west of Tripoli in Libya, which I have added to my digest of Mithras photographs.  It’s listed in the CIMRM as CIMRM 113.  The tomb contains two tomb niches, one for Aelia Arisuth herself, and one for her husband, Aelius Magnus, son of Juratanus.  General results from Google attribute the tomb to the 4th century AD.

The niche for Aelia Arisuth herself includes a painting of the lady, and spectacular decoration:

Tomb of Aelia Arisuth

The presence of two torch-bearers raised a question as to whether this was a Mithraic monument.  The tomb of Aelius Magnus includes the inscription “qui leo iacet”, and his wife “quae lea iacet”, both referring to “lion”, a grade of Mithraic initiate.  All the same there is nothing specifically Mithraic about this.

Sadly the revolution in Libya has damaged the monument.  The left torchbearer had a head before Col. Gadaffi was overthrown, as we can see in this older photograph:

Pre-war photograph

There are few photographs online.  I’ve not been there myself, although I visited Libya twice under the old regime as a tourist, so it was clearly not on the tourist trail, such as it was.

The lower register depicts two spinae, the columns at the end of a race-track, and chariots in between.

I was able to find a zoomed in picture of Aelia Arisuth herself, which must have been taken from life.

A fascinating monument.

From my diary

This week I have been away for a few days, staying in the Hilton hotel in the lovely English city of York.  The hotel was very central, so I could walk everywhere and did.  Every street was unique, and all had some tea-shops, so walking was hardly arduous.  It seems like I have been away forever, which is always a good sign.

Inevitably I did the usual tourist thing.  York Minster charges £11 per head for admission, a procedure which seemed slightly shocking.

I did attend Evensong as well, for which no charge was made.  The choir singing was perfect, of course, and it was nice to hear excellent cathedral music.  The psalms were sung, which I have not heard for years.

I read through the psalms recently, but I had forgotten that the translations of the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer are not those of the Authorised Version.  I was therefore taken with the two passages in psalm 59 where the wicked are said to “grin like a dog”!  Sadly “grin” is merely the archaic version of “groan”, i.e. “howl”, as in the AV and subsequent versions.

I also visited the Yorkshire Museum.  A length of Roman wall and tower stand in the grounds, but my interest was mainly in the Roman materials inside.  The collection was very well lit and this item caught my eye:

I always photo the museum label:

Claudius Hieronymianus, the legate of the Sixth Legion, paid for the construction of a temple to Serapis.

But of course my main interest was in two Mithraic monuments.  Both were much smaller than I had realised; a tauroctony, and a statue with the name of Arimanius on it.  This petite visitor helps us to realise the small scale of the items:

I also visited the magnificent medieval gate at Michelgate Bar:

Sadly I was unable to ascend the two flights of steps and get onto the wall, so I took refuge in this bar adjacent to it.

It was a good break.  I have now responded to all the week’s emails.  For the last few weeks I have been collecting a supply of ideas for blog posts.  I shall have to start digging into them!

Mithras in Greece – some new locations

An article online by Michael Petropoulos, “Roman interventions in the city-plan of Patras”,[refP.65, online here.[/ref], contains a paragraph about Mithras.  This I found by googling for “Μίθρα”.  The article is in Greek, but thanks to the miracle of Google Translate, we can get an idea of its contents:

Μία ακόμη ανατολική λατρεία, αυτή του Μίθρα, αν και δεν αναφέρεται από τον Παυσανία, επιβεβαιώνεται εντούτοις από την ανεύρεση αναγλύφου που φέρει παράσταση Μίθρα Ταυροκτόνου και λατινική επιγραφή 152. Και η εισαγωγή της λατρείας του Πέρση Θεού οφείλεται στους Ρωμαίους βετεράνους στρατιώτες 153, στους οποίους ο Αύγουστος παραχώρησε γαίες 154. Και αυτή η λατρεία, όπως και της Ίσιδος, είναι γνωστή και στο Αίγιο, όπου εντοπίστηκε πρόσφατα το λατρευτικό του σπήλαιο 155, το οποίο δημοσιεύτηκε από τη συνάδελφο Ε. Κόλια. Αν, πράγματι, η λατρεία του Μίθρα ήλθε στην Πάτρα με τη ρωμαϊκή μορφή της, όπως υποστηρίζει ο Ν. Παπαχατζής, τότε και ο ναός αυτός πρέπει να βρισκόταν στην περιοχή της αγοράς, σύμφωνα με όσα έχομε ήδη υποστηρίξει. Ένα υπόγειο καμαροσκέπαστο κτήριο στις οδούς Ηλείας 6 και Παναγούλη 156, ανάμεσα στην Aedes Augustalium και το κτήριο με την επιγραφή του Αγρίππα Ποστούμου στην οδό Λόντου 24, αν και δεν βοηθούν τα κινητά του ευρήματα, εντούτοις μπορεί να θεωρηθεί ότι πρόκειται για το Μιθραίο, μόνον εξαιτίας της υπόγειας μορφής του.

Which comes out as:

Another Eastern cult, that of Mithras, although not mentioned by Pausanias, is nevertheless confirmed by the finding of an embossment featuring a Mithras Tauroctonus, and a Latin inscription. 152  The introduction of the worship of the Persian God is due to the Roman veteran soldiers,153, to whom Augustus gave land 154. This cult, like that of Isis, is also known in Aigio, where his cult 155, which was published by E. Kolia, was recently located. If, indeed, the cult of Mithras came to Patra in its Roman form, as N. Papachatzis argues, then that temple should have been in the market place, according to what we have already argued. An underground vaulted building on the streets of Ilia 6 and Panagouli 156, between the Aedes Augustalium and the building with the inscription of Agrippa Kostomou at 24 Lontou street, although its movable finds are of no assiatnce, can be considered to be the Mithraeum, purely because of its underground form.

The non-Greek references for the tauroctony:

  • HERBILLON J., Les cultes de Patras, Baltimore-London (1929)
  • RIZAKIS A.D. 1998, Achaie II: La cité de Patras: Épigraphie et Histoire, (ΜΕΛΕΤΗΜΑΤΑ 25), Αθήνα. Online here.
  • OSANNA M. 1996, Santuari e culti dell’ Acaia antica, Napoli.

And for the Aigion Mithraeum:

  • KOLIA Ε., “Eine Kulturgrotte des Mithras in Aigion. Aspekte der Mithrasverehrung in Achaia”, AM 118 (2003), 398-427.

The Rizakis article tells us that  Vermaseren caught this one, that it is CIMRM 2351-2.  Fortunately I already have some details on this here.

“Persia and the Bible” … and Mithras?

Review: E. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, Baker publishing (1990).  Paperback ISBN: 9780801021084. Available from: Amazon.com.

Dr Yamauchi attended the second conference on Mithras studies in Tehran, back in the 1970s.  Coming across my pages on Mithras, which referenced a couple of his papers, he kindly sent me a copy of this 1990 volume which includes a chapter on Mithras.

The volume itself is a survey aimed at Old Testament students in the USA.  It provides an overview of Persian history, religion, archaeology and culture, but not as a standalone, but rather from where it impinges on the history of the bible.  I have not read most of this, but at points it has to descend to e.g. explaining the events of the battle of Marathon – sure sign of students being the audience!  But I did skim the chapter on Zoroastrianism, about which I know a little.  This was really very well done, in a short compass, and laid out the literary sources and the key doctrines more clearly in a short compass than any source that I have seen so far.  The footnoting is copious, and well done.

The chapter on Mithras is almost an annex, really.  I think perhaps it reflects the need of the teaching environment, and functions as a round-up of “Persian” related stuff that students may enquire about, including Sol Invictus.  It starts with the assumption of the great Franz Cumont, that Roman Mithras and Persian Mithra were in fact the same deity; but then reviews the scholarship, and indicates how this has changed in what was then the recent past.  The overview of Mithra is solid, as is the material treating Mithras, and the student comes away equipped to deal with whatever is necessary.  So … useful to have.

The book is now more than 25 years old, so the bibliography is doubtless a little dated.   The prose style is quite dense, and I found it hard going.  But there is quite a lot of useful information in a relatively small compass.

A new Mithras inscription from Dacia

Csaba Szabo writes to say that a new Mithraic inscription was recovered by the police in Romania in 2015.  His blog post about it is here.  He has published the inscription at Academia.edu here,[1] which is very useful as otherwise it might be very difficult to get hold of.

The inscription is on a half-column, which reminds one rather of the item in the museum at Caerleon.

 The inscription reads:

Invicto
Mythrae
Diosco
rus ° Marci (s. or f.)
v(otum) ° s(olvit) ° l(ibens) ° m(erito)

I.e. To the unconquered Mithras, Dioscorus of Marcus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.  The “of Marcus” probably indicates servus (i.e. slave of Marcus) but possibly filius (i.e. son of Marcus).

The text is identical with that of an altar found at Apulum in 1852 (CIMRM 1943), and even the paleographic features.

Invicto / Mythrae / Diosco/rus Marci (servus) / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)

So there can’t be much doubt that they were erected by the same person, and perhaps at the same place.  Unfortunately the find-spot of the new inscription was not disclosed by – or perhaps known by – the collector.

  1. [1]Csaba Szabó, Imola Boda, Victor Bunoiu, Călin Timoc, “Notes on a new Mithraic inscription from Dacia”, in: Mensa rotunda epigraphica Napocensis, Cluj-Napoca 2016, p. 91–104.

Temple of Mithras discovered at Mariana in Corsica

A previously unknown temple of Mithras has been discovered in Corsica, in Lucciana, on the site of the Roman colony of Mariana.

Tauroctony. From the Mariana Mithraeum.

French website l’Express carries the story with more care than most, from which I learn of the following details.

Mariana, a Roman colony founded around 100 BC, reached its peak in the 3rd or 4th century.  The excavations are in the peripheral area of the city, according to the Inrap (National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research) communique.  The sanctuary consists of a Mithraeum and its antechamber.

The main cult chamber as usual consists of a central aisle, dug out, with two raised benches on either side, surrounded by a lime-coated wall.  Two vaulted brick niches are present in the thickness of the benches.  One still contained three intact oil lamps.

Oil lamps from Mariana Mithraeum

At the top of the corridor was the bas-relief of Mithras, of which three fragments were found.  Other marble elements were found, including the head of a woman.  Two bronze bells, many broken lamps, and some jars of fine paste could be liturgical furniture.

Mariana Mithraeum – bronze bell

A plaque of bronze and another of lead bear inscriptions which remain to be decyphered.  The exact causes of the destruction of the sanctuary are unknown.

There is more stuff at the Inrap site here.

Temple of Mithras discovered at Diyarbekir in SE Turkey?

A news report in Turkish newspapers suggests that a Mithraeum may have been discovered.

DCIM100GOPRO

Dec. 27, 2016: Excavations at Zerzevan Kalesi in the Cinar district of Diyarbekir suggest that there is an underground temple of Mithras, a mysterious cult of the Roman period.

Excavations were started in 2014 at Zerzevan castle, located on a hill near the Mardin Road in the Cinar district of Diyarbekir.  The excavations conducted by the Dicle University Archaeology Faculty revealed underground churches, secret passages, shelters, soldiers’ houses, rock tombs, altars, water cisterns, jewelery, bronze coins and much military and medical equipment.

It is thought that the fortress, located on the eastern border of the Roman empire, was built to protect the trade and military route passing close by, known to the Persians as the Way of Kings and used originally by the Assyrians.  The fortress was built in the 3rd century AD and continued in use until 639 when it was taken by the Islamic armies under the leadership of Khalid bin Walid.

Zerzevan castle is the first Roman-period excavation in the region, and the excavator, Assoc. Dr. Aytac Coskun, thinks that the studies carried out over a large area will answer many questions about the Roman presence in the area…

“Zerzevan has an underground church, altar, hidden passages and cisterns, as well as a new structure which we have discovered.  We have not yet fully examined this.  We are only looking at a small section.  We think that it is very likely a Mithras temple because of its structure and some features.  Our excavation period has ended because of winter.  We will start again in February.  Then we will find out.  It will be the first temple of Mithras in this region.”

Very interesting indeed.  There is a tendency for any underground structure to be labelled a “temple of Mithras”; but Dr Coskun sounds as if he knows what he is doing.

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.