Bookmark and Share

Open the online Arabic language course

Other spellings: Mitra, Mithras

Roman version of Mithra slaying the sacred bull.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Roman version of Mithra slaying the sacred bull.

God of Indo-Iranian religion. He was the god of light and wisdom, and appears also to have been the god of oath and mutual obligation.
The cult of Mithra originated from the Mesopotamian kingdom of Mitanni in the 2nd millennium BCE. Some theories reconstruct his origin to India, mentioned first time around 1400 BCE.
Mithra would become perhaps the most important religious export item throughout the next 1500 years, being passed on to every major civilization of the eastern Mediterranean Sea and deep into Europe, reaching as far as the British Isles. He was important in Zoroastrianism, with the Greeks and had his own dedicated cult within the Roman Empire. Many see Mithra as one of the models for Christianity's Jesus.
In its Babylonian and Assyrian versions in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, Mithra was nothing less than the god of the sun. The dominating myth relating to Mithra was where he slain a divine bull, from which all good plants and animals came. This myth would follow him through all later developments.
Mithra had an annual celebration, relating to his birth. This occurred around winter solstice, and would at some time in history be fixed to December 25, linking him to the construction of the Christian festival of Christmas.
Mithra is mentioned in the Zoroastrian writings, although not by Zarathustra himself, as the chief yazata, which is a benevolent spirit. Zoroastrianism placed Mithra as a lesser deity than Ahura Mazda, but would in a later theological stage define him as Ahura Mazda's earthly representation. His function was to protect the souls and see them safe on their journey to Paradise.
Around 400 BCE the Zoroastrians provided for Mithra a mother, Anahita. In a temple from 200 BCE she was referred to as "The Immaculate Virgin Mother of Lord Mithra".
The Zoroastrian version of Mithra survived the longest in Armenia, which also became the first country to embrace Christianity as state religion.
The Greeks came from the 4th century to identify Mithra with the Greek sun god Helios. For the Greeks, the slaying of the bull was a central motive.
In its Roman shape, Mithra was named Mithras. From the 3nd century CE he became identified with the god Sol Invictus, which also incorporated the popular cult of Apollo. In 274, the cult of Sol Invictus was made official.
The Roman mythology of Mithras can only be reconstructed from surviving imagery and indirect accounts. Mithras is represented as closely associated with the creation of the cosmos. What is most possibly a depiction of Mithras, we see him being born from an egg while 12 signs of the zodiac surround him. In total, Mithraic iconography relates closely to heavenly objects.
Followers of Mithras were subject to strict regulations in their battle for the victory of light and truth.
In other accounts Mithras dies, is buried in a cave and then resurrected. The cave plays another important role as being the place where Mithras slain the sacred bull. The cave would in Roman Mithraism become the hall of congregation for members of the cult.

By Tore Kjeilen