Networks of the Roman Cult of Mithras


The origins of the Roman cult of Mithras remain an unsolved puzzle. Since the Cumontian scenario (Cumont 1913), which holds that the Mithraic cult spread from ancient Persia to the Roman Empire, was abandoned due to increasing criticism, various alternative hypotheses have been presented. Some of these still assume that the formation of the cult took place in Asia Minor (e.g. Will 1978, Turcan 1993, Gordon 1978, Beck 1998). Others can be seen as a more radical departure from the Cumontian view and offer candidate regions more distant from ancient Persia, e.g. Bosporan Kingdom (Beskow 1978), Balkan Peninsula (Wikander 1951) or Rome/Ostia (Clauss 2000). However, the oldest archaeological evidence for the cultʼs existence does not unequivocally support any of these hypotheses; consequently, we cannot easily decide which of these scenarios of the origins of the Mithraic cult should be accepted as historically more likely. We argue that the analysis of the diffusion of Mithraic communities over the Mithraic network might possibly shed some light on the formation process of the Roman cult of Mithras and lead to the identification of a geographic region from where the cult probably began to spread, given its late distribution across the Roman Empire. The results of such an analysis may help scholars to evaluate competing scenarios of the Mithraic origins and to partially overcome the problem of the lack of relevant evidence. We assume that a quantitative network analysis of the spatial and temporal distribution of the archaeological and epigraphical evidence related to the Roman cult of Mithras may shed light on the process of the formation of the Roman cult of Mithras. This may lead to an identification of a geographic region from where the cult most likely started to spread. Results of such an analysis can help historians to better evaluate competing scenarios of Mithraic origins and partly “bridge“ lacunae caused by the lack of relevant evidence (Aleš Chalupa, in collaboration with Eva Výtvarová, Jan Fousek and Tomáš Hampejs).

Text: Aleš Chalupa (email: