Double-faced Mithraic relief. Rome, 2nd to 3rd century CE (Louvre Museum).
Mithras killing the bull (c. 150 CE; Louvre-Lens)
Rock-born Mithras and Mithraic artifacts (Baths of Diocletian, Rome)

Mithraism, also known as the Mithraic mysteries, was a mystery religion centered on the god Mithras that was practiced in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to the 4th century CE. The religion was inspired by Iranian worship of the god Mithra, though the Greek Mithras was linked to a new and distinctive imagery, and the level of continuity between Persian and Greco-Roman practice is debated.[1] The mysteries were popular among the Roman military.[2]

Worshippers of Mithras had a complex system of seven grades of initiation and communal ritual meals. Initiates called themselves syndexioi, those "united by the handshake".[3] They met in underground temples, now called mithraea (singular mithraeum), which survive in large numbers. The cult appears to have had its centre in Rome,[4] and was popular throughout the western half of the empire, as far south as Roman Africa and Numidia, as far north as Roman Britain,[5] and to a lesser extent in Roman Syria in the east.[4]

Mithraism is viewed as a rival of early Christianity.[6] In the 4th century, Mithraists faced persecution from Roman Christians and the religion was subsequently suppressed and eliminated in the empire by the end of the century.[7]

Numerous archaeological finds, including meeting places, monuments and artifacts, have contributed to modern knowledge about Mithraism throughout the Roman Empire.[8] The iconic scenes of Mithras show him being born from a rock, slaughtering a bull, and sharing a banquet with the god Sol (the Sun). About 420 sites have yielded materials related to the cult. Among the items found are about 1000 inscriptions, 700 examples of the bull-killing scene (tauroctony), and about 400 other monuments.[9] It has been estimated that there would have been at least 680 mithraea in Rome.[10] No written narratives or theology from the religion survive; limited information can be derived from the inscriptions and brief or passing references in Greek and Latin literature. Interpretation of the physical evidence remains problematic and contested.[11]


The term "Mithraism" is a modern convention. Writers of the Roman era referred to it by phrases such as "Mithraic mysteries", "mysteries of Mithras" or "mysteries of the Persians".[1][12] Modern sources sometimes refer to the Greco-Roman religion as "Roman Mithraism" or "Western Mithraism" to distinguish it from Persian worship of Mithra.[1][13][14]

Etymology of Mithras

Bas-relief of the tauroctony of the Mithraic mysteries, Metz, France.

The name Mithras (Latin, equivalent to Greek "Μίθρας"[15]) is a form of Mithra, the name of an Old Persian god[16][17] – a relationship understood by Mithraic scholars since the days of Franz Cumont.[18] An early example of the Greek form of the name is in a 4th-century BCE work by Xenophon, the Cyropaedia, which is a biography of the Persian king Cyrus the Great.[19]

The exact form of a Latin or classical Greek word varies due to the grammatical process of declension. There is archaeological evidence that in Latin worshippers wrote the nominative form of the god's name as "Mithras". However, in Porphyry's Greek text De Abstinentia (Περὶ ἀποχῆς ἐμψύχων), there is a reference to the now-lost histories of the Mithraic mysteries by Euboulus and Pallas, the wording of which suggests that these authors treated the name "Mithra" as an indeclinable foreign word.[20]

Related deity-names in other languages include

Iranian "Mithra" and Sanskrit "Mitra" are believed to come from an Indo-Iranian word mitra meaning contract / agreement / covenant.[26]

Modern historians have different conceptions about whether these names refer to the same god or not. John R. Hinnells has written of Mitra / Mithra / Mithras as a single deity worshipped in several different religions.[27] On the other hand, David Ulansey considers the bull-slaying Mithras to be a new god who began to be worshipped in the 1st century BCE, and to whom an old name was applied.[28]

Mary Boyce, a researcher of ancient Iranian religions, writes that even though Roman Empire Mithraism seems to have had less Iranian content than historians used to think, nonetheless "as the name Mithras alone shows, this content was of some importance".[29]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Mitraïsme
العربية: ميثرائية
azərbaycanca: Mitraizm
български: Митраизъм
bosanski: Mitraizam
català: Mitraisme
čeština: Mithraismus
Cymraeg: Mithras
Deutsch: Mithraismus
eesti: Mitraism
Ελληνικά: Μιθραϊσμός
español: Mitraísmo
Esperanto: Mitraismo
euskara: Mitraismo
فارسی: مهرپرستی
français: Culte de Mithra
한국어: 미트라교
Bahasa Indonesia: Mithras
italiano: Mitraismo
lietuvių: Mitraizmas
Limburgs: Mithraïsme
Lingua Franca Nova: Mitraisme
مازِرونی: میترائیسم
Nederlands: Mithraïsme
日本語: ミトラ教
polski: Mitraizm
português: Mitraísmo
slovenščina: Mitraizem
کوردی: میتراییزم
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Mitraizam
svenska: Mithraism
Türkçe: Mitraizm
українська: Мітраїзм
中文: 密特拉教