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Roman Limestone Head of Mithras

An ancient Roman limestone head of the god Mithras. His long curled locks of hair are covered by a forward-leaning Phrygian cap with beaded decoration. From a sculptural group, possibly depicting the famous scene of the god slaying a bull.

Palmyra.

Ca. 2nd – 3rd century AD.

Height: 10 1/4 in. (26.1 cm).

Mithraism was an ancient Roman mystery cult that worshiped the god Mithras. Subterranean sanctuaries of the deity featured the iconic scene of the tauroctany, an image of Mithras slaying a sacred bull, as its centerpiece. Although the worship of Mithras was widespread across the Roman Empire, few details are known about the cult for certain. Mithras was identified as a sun god, and may have been connected with the ancient Persian god Mithra. The Roman Mithras is always depicted in non-Roman attire, including the distinctive Phrygian cap. His attendants Cautes and Cautopates wore similar dress.

cf.: cult reliefs of Mithras slaying the bull excavated at Dura-Europos, now in the Yale University Art Museum, inv. nos. 1935.97 and 1935.98. A inscription in Palmyrene script on one of the reliefs identifies the dedicator as the commander of a unit of Palmyrene archers. A statue from Sidon in the Louvre, inv. no. AO 22257, depicts Mithras carrying the bull on his shoulders.

Formerly in a French private collection, Nice, acquired in the 1930’s.

Inv#: 6053

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