One of the side-effects of empire building is that often the temporary conquerors end up absorbing into their culture the culture of those they conquered.

This process has repeated itself throughout history, and the Roman Empire was no exception. At its height it reigned through much of Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor.

One area of influence on the Romans was a colourful variety of religions and cults. One of the more famous of these cults was Christianity. Another was the cult of Mithras, who became an idol of the Roman legions following their conquests in Asia Minor.

With an Indian Vedic tradition which was ancient even in Roman times, Mithras was the god who brought people together. In this sense, he observed the conduct and pledges of men, and also watched over plant and animal life.

So Mithras was considered as a benevolent god-force.

And down the centuries, several cultures have embraced Mithras, whilst emphasising his different aspects. Whether worshipped in private or in a public ceremony, to some he is the god of the dawn bringing new life through the rising sun, to others he was the master of fertilisation and rains, and to others he was recognised through the myth of the bull slayer.

The bull slaying blood sacrifice was a deeply symbolic affair, evoking cosmic forces and regeneration through the act of shedding the eternal life-force symbolised in the blood of the bull.

The Cults of the Roman Empire by Robert Turcan,
1996 (English Transaltion), Blackwell Publishing Limited, Oxford, UK.

© David R. Durham

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