The cult of Mithras was an esoteric religion that existed in the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries CE. Known also as the Mysteries of Mithras, its origins are vague. Scholars have suggested a link with the ancient Indo-Iranian god Mitra and the Iranian Zoroastrian deity Mithra, but the full extent of the connection is swathed in controversy. Followers of Mithras are, however, believed to have taken part in various rituals, including communal meals and a complex initiation system featuring seven stages. Depictions of Mithras often show him being brought forth from a rock, eating food with the sun god Sol and fighting with a bull. Places of Mithraic worship have been found throughout the Roman Empire, including the impressive London Mithraeum (unearthed in 1954) and the Carrawburgh Mithraeum on Hadrian’s Wall. However, the rise of Christianity sent Mithraism into decline in the 4th century CE, with it eventually disappearing completely. Today, many elements of the cult provoke debate, especially as we have no written accounts left behind by its members. Resultingly, archaeology has been of huge importance in the study of Mithras and has provided new insights into Mithraism and its adherents.
Dr David Walsh works for Canterbury Archaeological Trust and is an Honorary Research Fellow of the University of Kent, where he taught Classical and Archaeological Studies for three years. He also undertook his PhD at Kent, which looked at the development and demise of the Mithras Cult in third to fifth centuries AD. David’s thesis was published as a monograph in 2018, and he has also written various articles on temples in the Roman Empire, as well as hosting a podcast ‘Coffee and Circuses’ in which he discusses with guests their work on the ancient world.
Edward Parnell lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see: https://edwardparnell.com