Ancient Art

Shrine to the God Mithras (Mithraeum)

ca. A.D. 240

Painted plaster

162.5 x 206.4 cm (64 x 81 1/4 in.)
Yale-French Excavations at Dura-Europos
1935.100

A shrine to the god Mithras, the Mithraeum at Dura-Europos was commissioned in A.D. 168–69 by Palmyrene archers serving in the Roman army. It was renovated and enlarged in A.D. 209–11. The reconstruction on view here represents the third and final phase, dating to around A.D. 240. Unlike most Mithraea, which were underground to commemorate the god’s birth in a cave, the Dura Mithraeum was built into a private house. 

The cult of Mithras attained popularity in the Roman period among soldiers and merchants. Restricted to men, it was a mystery religion thought to include initiation, ritual banquets, and the promise of salvation after death. The primary cult image was the tauroctony, or Mithras slaying the Cosmic Bull, often paired with an image of Mithras banqueting with Sol, god of the sun (as seen in the painting at left). Other common images included events from the life of Mithras and zodiac signs.

While the subjects depicted in most Mithraea are similar, style and composition vary. The Dura Mithraeum contained two tauroctony reliefs, one above the other. The side walls showed Mithras as a mounted archer in a presentation that would have resonated with the Palmyrene archers who founded the shrine.

Culture: 
Dura-Europos (Syria)
Period: 
Roman, 3rd century A.D.
Classification: 
Paintings
Status: 
On view
Bibliography: 

Ann Perkins, The Art of Dura-Europos, 1st ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 49–52, pl. 15, ill.

Clark Hopkins, The Discovery of Dura-Europos, ed. Bernard Goldman (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979), 193–205, ill.

Christa Bauchenss-Thriedl, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, 8 vols. (Zurich: Artemis, 1981–97), vol. 6, p. 609, no. 328, pl. 358 .

Christy Cunningham, “The Conservation of the Mithraeum in the Yale University Art Gallery,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 39, no. 2 (Fall 1984): 12–15, fig. 1–5.

Handbook of the Collections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), 270, ill.

D. Jason Cooper, Mithras: Mysteries and Initiation Rediscovered (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1996), 79, 84–5, Color illus. central niche and 1935.100e cover, fig. 3, 8,9.

Lisa R. Brody and Gail Hoffman, eds., Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity, exh. cat. (Boston: McMullen Museum of Art, 2011), 31n35.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.

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