1,800-Year-Old Sanctuary to Mithras Found by Archaeologists in Spain – ARTnews.com

A sanctuary dedicated to the ancient god Mithras was uncovered by archaeologists excavating at the Villa del Mitra in Cabra, Spain. Remains of ritual banquets were found within the sanctuary.

Mithraism was a cult religion that became popular among the Roman Empire during the first century CE. Mithras was a Romanized form of the Iranian god of the sun and justice Mithra.

The Villa del Mitra, within the Roman city Licabrum, dates to the first century CE. The villa gets its name from a second century CE Mitra de Cabra sculpture, depicting Mithras sacrificing a bull (a symbol of death and resurrection), that was discovered in situ.

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The villa was originally excavated between 1972–3, during which a courtyard with a pond and several adjacent rooms with mosaic flooring were discovered. Later excavations conducted in 1981 unearthed the remains of a hypocaust, or subfloor heating system, as well as several coins showing Philip the Arab, Diocletian, and Valentinian II.

Archaeologists from the University of Málaga, the Carlos III University of Madrid, and the University of Córdoba have, in the most recent excavations, uncovered the remains of a Mithraic sanctuary dating to the second century CE, with a second phase of construction from the end of the third century CE.

Standard for the cult religion, the sanctuary is a rectangular room with a narrow entrance that descends several steps before leading into the main section with two stone benches flanking the walls. It measures 24 by 8 feet.

The benches would have been used by cult followers to perform rituals and hold feasts in honor of Mithras. Fragments of Roman bricks with some niches, which would have likely held tauroctony sculptures, still line the walls.

A layer of char covers the floors, which still contains fragments of pigs, birds, and rabbits, indicative of the kind of cooking done for ritual banquets.

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