The mithraeum under the Circus Maximus in Rome is one of the best surviving examples of this type of ancient, cavern-like subterranean temple. Mithraea such as this were used as gathering places for the adherents of Mithraism, a mystery cult that flourished in Rome between the first and fourth centuries CE. This particular temple was uncovered during the construction of a Fascist-era office building and is now open only to archaeologists and other scholars of antiquity. During this special on-site visit, our docent, a practicing archaeologist, will discuss the specifics of this particular mithraeum as well as the cult of Mithras and the other illicit religions practiced during the early years of the Roman Empire.
The layout of the Circus Maximus mithraeum exemplifies how the cult rituals were observed, from ritual feasting to the recreated act of killing and sacrificing a bull, the latter of which is a common scene depicted in ancient Roman relief sculpture. We will also visit the remains of Republican-era temples preserved nearby, sparking a conversation on how pagan monuments were often later converted into places of Christian worship.
Mithraism is our starting point and the main point of reference for the first part of the walk, but our discussion will widen into an exploration of the social, political, and cultural tensions in the early Empire. We will also consider the rise of Christianity and how this monotheistic religion eventually abolished all of the different mystery cults practiced in Rome.
Please note that due to the limited opening hours of the Circus Maximus mithraeum, this walk is subject to availability.