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Mithra killing bull on relief

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Mithra killing bull on relief
Mithra killing bull on relief

Roman relief from the 3rd century CE showing Mithras killing a bull. When the photo was taken, the object was on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

Mithras was a Persian sun god who gradually became popular in Rome and expanded his followers from the 1st century CE. In Persian mythology, he is considered the assistant of Ahuramazda. The cult of Mithras was celebrated in caves carved in the rock. Various animals were sacrificed to him and then eaten. Mithras was depicted as a young man in a tunic, with a Phrygian cap on his head, killing a bull.

The sculpture is made of Carrara marble. The deity was depicted with his head turned, stabbing a knife into the animal’s throat. The relief also shows a dog licking the blood of an animal (a symbol of prosperity), sprinkled blood sticking a sting into the genitals of a bull, and turning the victim’s tail into an ear of wheat.

On both sides of the stage, we also see the so-called Cautes and Cautopates, probably two personifications of the god – one holds a torch pointing downwards (symbolizes the setting of the sun;); the second up (sunrise). At the top, on the left, we see a bust of the Sun with a crown on its head, from which one of the rays hits Mithra; on the right, a bust of the Moon. A raven, the bird of Mithra, is also seen in front of the Sun.

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