MITHRAISM . The name Mithraism, with its equivalents in other languages, is a modern term for a cult known, at least to Christian writers and in later antiquity, as "the mysteries of Mithras," but for which the most neutral term is "the Roman cult of Mithras." Its usual organization was based on small, exclusively male groups that gathered for sacrificial meals in honor of the originally Indo-Iranian god Mitra/Mithra/Mithras. Owing to the virtually total loss of ancient discursive accounts, almost all important aspects of the cult are more contentious. Much of what passes as received knowledge about Mithraism has little or no evidential basis.
History of Research
The mythological compilations of the High Renaissance, particularly L. G. Giraldi's De deis gentium (1548), assembled virtually all the classical texts relating to the god Mithras, then identified with Helios-Apollo, but these provided no coherent account either of the god or of the Roman cult. However, a handful of inscribed reliefs from Rome and elsewhere showing Mithras stabbing a bull to death enabled antiquarians such as Martin de Smet/Smetius (c. 1525–1578) and Steven Pigge/Pighius (1520–1604) to correctly identify them. Throughout the early modern period to 1700, the key text was Statius Thebais 1.719f.: Persaei sub rupibus antri—indignata sequi torquentem cornua Mithram, "[Apollo addressed as the god] who, beneath the rocks of a Persian cave, twists the resistful horns—Mithras." The god's act in stabbing the bull to death was understood as an allegory of the Sun's role in furthering agricultural fertility; indeed the god himself was often interpreted as the Good Husbandman. This assumption that Mithras was simply another name for the Sun-god underpinned all important studies over the following two centuries; such progress as was made consisted in the description of new statues and reliefs, but much Mithraic imagery remained unintelligible, and thus prey to speculative evocation.
Given the essentially enigmatic character of the iconographical evidence, the device of allegorical interpretation could only be challenged by an appeal to history. Although Georg Zoega (1755–1809) had stressed the possible role of the Persian magi and the Cilician pirates mentioned by Plutarch, Pompeius 24, 631c, in transmitting the cult of Mithra from the East, a substantial effort at historicization was only possible once James Darmesteter (1849–1894) published his translation of the Iranian sacred books, the Zend-Avesta (1892–1893).
In 1889, inspired by the model of the Egyptian cult of Isis, the Belgian scholar Franz Cumont (1868–1947) advanced a view of the cult of Mithras as a syncretistic borrowing from Zoroastrian dualism, through the medium of Greek-speaking Iranian priests (magousaioi) who, he claimed, remained active in Anatolia after Alexander's conquest of the Persian Empire (336–330 bce). Although no Iranian antecedent could be found for Mithras killing a bull (rather than Ahriman, the principle of evil; or the Saoshyant, at the end of the world), much of the iconography could, he thought, be referred to Zoroastrian precedent and thus explained. Cumont's main work (1896–1899), supported by a full archaeological inventory, provoked what would now be called a paradigm shift and continued to be the dominant account until the early 1970s. Its decline was provoked by two independent developments. First, the ever more hypothetical claims made by certain Iranists, for example Geo Widengren's (1907–1996) theories about ancient, non-Zoroastrian, Iranian religion, including the role of Aryan warrior-societies (Männerbünde ) and supposed analogies with a Mazdakite revivalist sect, the al-Babakiyah, or Leroy A. Campbell's obsessively precise translation (1968) of every particular of Roman Mithraic imagery into Zoroastrian terms, tended to discredit the very idea of direct transmission. Second, it came to be realized that the Roman cult was much more independent of its presumed Iranian origins than Cumont allowed—by contrast with the cases of Cybele, Isis, and Iuppiter Dolichenus, for example, which were certainly maintained in the western Empire at least in part by actual Anatolian and Egyptian priests, there were traces in the West neither of the magi (magousaioi), nor of a fire-cult, nor of Mithra as god of the contract. As a result, with one or two exceptions, Iranists have now abandoned Mithraism to classical archaeologists and historians of Greco-Roman religion.
Since the 1970s, research has moved in three directions, all of which emphasize in different ways the Greco-Roman character of the cult. The first, picking up a suggestion by the Swedish scholar Martin P. Nilsson that Mithraism was the invention of an unknown religious genius, starts from the assumption that it was founded in Rome or Italy in the first century ce and stresses its integration into the hierarchical social system of the Empire (Merkelbach, 1984; Clauss, 2000). Another approach has concentrated on the enigma of the bull-killing scene, and, in a reversion to Renaissance techniques of allegory, read it as a star-map, evoking either a particular season or an identification between Mithras and a constellation (Orion, Perseus, Auriga …) (e.g., Ulansey, 1991). A third approach has emphasized the cult's local diversity in the Roman world, employing the techniques of the "new" archaeology to establish new facts—for example, the contrast between the "Italian" sacrificial diet of at least some Mithraists in the northwest Empire (chickens, piglets) and the "Gallo-German" diet of local soldiers (mainly beef), or the probable date of particular celebrations (Martens and de Boe, 2004). Such facts have little to do with belief as traditionally understood, but emphasize instead the cult's lived ritual practice. At the same time, the archaeological evidence has greatly increased both in quantity and in quality: well over sixty Mithraic temples (modern term: mithraeum ) were excavated between 1934 and 2004.
Generally speaking, Iranists have wanted to find, like Cumont, a strong Iranian kernel, an actual pre-existing Iranian cult or myth. The main obstacle here has always been the energetic filtering of nonorthodox traditions from the Pahlavi sacred books of Zoroastrianism. Moreover it is difficult to isolate a meaningful group of distinctively Iranian features of the Roman cult. Indeed, one can list only the god's name itself, the god Areimanius, and two apparently Old Persian words, nama ("Hail!") and nabarze(s), the latter of which is not recorded as such in Iranian sources but is found in the aristocratic personal name Nabarzanes. Moreover, if the cult had entered the Greco-Roman world from the eastern part of Anatolia (Cappadocia, Armenia Minor, Commagene), or from Parthia, one would have expected, as with Cybele, Isis, Iuppiter Dolichenus, and early Christianity, a clear pattern of evidence documenting its progress from east to west.
It is because it appears to provide such a bridge that Plutarch's statement that the Cilician "pirates" worshiped Mithra by means of special rites (teletai) on Mount Olympus in Lycia-Pamphylia during the late Republic (c. 67 bce), and still did so in his own day, has to many seemed so decisively important. However to single out this cult (which is not Cilician but Lycian) is to overvalue one among several attested local cults of Mithra) in Hellenistic Anatolia simply because it happens to be found in a written text and to take for granted what needs to be demonstrated, namely that Plutarch mentions it because he already knew about "our" Mithraism. While that is not absolutely impossible in the period 110 to 120 ce, it is much more likely that Plutarch was interested in Mithra(s) for the same reason that he was interested in Isis and Osiris, namely because, as a Platonist, he welcomed the late Stoic view that foreign mythologies contained traces of the truth revealed in primitive religion. However that may be, archaeologically speaking the cult is documented only 170 to 190 years later, in the mid-Flavian/early Trajanic period, more or less simultaneously in a number of widely scattered sites, sometimes in military contexts, such as at Heddernheim/Frankfurt (Germania) and Carnuntum (Pannonia); sometimes in connection with the organized collection of tolls, such as at Novae (Moesia Inferior) and Pons Aeni (Raetia); and elsewhere again in relation to private harbour activities (Caesarea Maritima, Judaea). The earliest datable evidence from Rome, of the same period, is a statue, dedicated by a trusted, evidently rich slave of the Praetorian Prefect, of Mithras killing the bull. Such a pattern provides no clear support either to any strong Iranian thesis yet proposed nor to the more recent idea that the cult was founded in Italy; nor does the idea of a transition between a Lycian mountain-top cult and a private dining cult celebrated in pseudo-caves seem especially compelling.
Three weak Iranian scenarios have been offered, two of them emphasizing the cult's interest in astral-astrological phenomena. One of these is that a group of Stoicizing philosophers in Tarsus (Cilicia) seized upon the phenomenon of the "precession of the equinoxes" (the very gradual movement of the fixed stars around the pole of the ecliptic) supposedly discovered by Hipparchus in the late second century bce. This group interpreted it as a "movement of the great cosmic axis," and made this into the central secret of a preexisting local cult of Mithras, now identified as the constellation Perseus (Ulansey, 1991). Each one of these claims has been hotly disputed; the thesis rests undeniably upon misunderstandings both of Hipparchus and of his ancient reception. The second scenario is that the cult emanated from the court of Commagene, which had both the requisite Irano-Hellenic culture and familiarity with astrological lore, and which was dispersed early in the Flavian period (72 ce) (Beck, 1998). By contrast, the third, quasi-Cumontian scenario focuses on the Mithraic magical gems and sees the origins of the Roman cult in the lore of Hellenized magi offering magical healing at centers of existing mystery-cults, such as Samothrake (Mastrocinque, 1998).
Whatever the merits of these suggestions, it seems intuitively more plausible to suppose that the Roman cult developed, or was created, in the late Hellenistic or early imperial period out of the debris of ancient Iranian cult in Anatolia rather than that it was a genuine esoteric development among certain pre-Sassanian Zoroastrians somehow mediated across the culture gap between the Parthian and Roman Empires. Theophoric names, such as Mithres, Mithradates, and Mithratochmes, are widespread in Anatolia; by contrast with the case of Anāhīta, no major temple of Mithra survived the conquest, and such worship of him as continued must have been mainly private and local. Yet hints of the sporadic existence of public cult have turned up in western Anatolia, including Mithras-Helios at Oenoanda (Lycia) and a tantalizing but hopelessly fragmentary link between Mithras and the magi in relation to a temple in northwest Phrygia. One possibility is that the Mithrakana, the Iranian Fall festival, which continued to be celebrated in some places, was apparently restricted to men, and involved bull-sacrifice, provided the stimulus for the invention of a private Hellenistic cult of moral self-affirmation, of the kind known from Philadelphia (Lydia), whose rules were allegedly revealed to a certain Dionysios by Zeus Eumenes around 100 bce (Barton and Horsley, 1981).
However it is to be explained, the reappearance within the Roman cult of four themes already linked with Mithra in the Avestan Mithra-Yašt cannot be accidental: association with light, mighty strength, the bestowal of life and fortune, and knowledge of human actions. It is certainly important to remember that there is no archaeological trace of Christianity's westward progress in the first and second centuries ce, but, unlike Christianity, worshipers' relation to Mithras was to a significant degree based on vows and votive offerings, which required fixed places of worship where they could be set up. This point suggests a rapid, almost explosive, expansion in the Flavian period of one among several local Anatolian cults of Mithras, a cult which must already have been a bricolage of Iranian, Anatolian, and Hellenic themes. The scheme of the tauroctony itself is evidently borrowed from that of Nike (Victory) sacrificing, a type which experienced a marked revival in the Flavian, then in the Trajanic, period. Whether this successful cult was first practiced in Commagene, further north (Cappadocia, reduced to provincial status by Vespasian), or further west (Phrygia, Lycia) is unknown; the handful of Anatolian mithraea so far discovered are later and may be due to Roman influence.
The Roman Cult
Two main difficulties, both exemplified in the work of Cumont (and many others), have stood in the way of an adequately historical account of Mithraism. One is the unitarian belief that evidence widely scattered in space and time could legitimately be fitted together to produce an account of a single, essentially unchanging, religion; the other is its classification as an oriental mystery-cult. The first legitimated the reading of monuments from different periods as evidence for the same unchanging reality; perhaps even more seriously, texts were treated as atemporal sources, blithely disregarding the argumentative contexts within which the supposed information occurred. The second meant that Mithraism was absorbed into a larger discourse about the originality and status of pagan religious thought, whose real subject was the priority or otherwise of the truth-claims of Christianity: the category mystery-religion was an invention of German Protestant historiography of the 1880s. Although the construction of typologies, for example, that of Ugo Bianchi (1979), may help to highlight major similarities and distinctions, they necessarily depend on received views and cannot respond to the implications of new discoveries, which may be considerable in the case of cults for which, as with Mithraism, the evidence is almost entirely archaeological. Moreover, it seems advisable on principle to disregard all evidence attested solely by Christian sources and wherever possible to rely on internal Mithraic evidence, such as the verse-lines from the Santa Prisca Mithraeum in Rome, circa 210 to 230 ce (Vermaseren and Van Essen, 1965).
A Weberian model would suggest a wide initial appeal crossing social boundaries, followed by consolidation within a relatively homogeneous social stratum. The evidence, such as it is, however, indicates instead a continuous expansion of social and geographical range well into the fourth century, and a gradual acceptance as a Roman cult. A list of ninety-eight members accruing to a mithraeum in Virunum (Noricum) over a period of some eighteen years (183–201 ce) confirms that the typical urban adherent either occupied some function within imperial or local administration, as at Poetovio (Pannonia Superior), or belonged, as at Ostia, to the more prosperous urban craft-population descended from freedmen: the great majority of cognomina are Latin, implying that their holders were at least second-generation citizens; there are twenty-three Greek cognomina, two Celtic names, and only one (private) slave. Moreover, not a single woman is listed: the repeated attempts to show that women might belong to the cult are wishful thinking (Piccottini, 1994). Recent discoveries in the northwest provinces suggest that the belief that the cult was mainly attractive to soldiers is an error based on the accident of excavation: in this area, practically every vicus, even some villas (large farms), now appear to have had a mithraeum. Nevertheless, the discovery of a late second- to early third-century mithraeum inside the house of the military tribunes of senatorial rank (tribuni laticlavii ) in the permanent camp of Legio II Adiutrix at Aquincum (Pannonia Inferior) both attests to the continuation of the early association between Mithraism and the military and suggests one likely means whereby the cult eventually came to the notice of the social elite.
The early archaeological evidence in the West confirms that three fundamental features of the cult were already established on its appearance in the Roman world: Mithras's cult title as (Deus) Sol Invictus Mithras, "Mithras, the divine never-vanquished Sun"; the interpretation of Mithras's act of killing the bull in both a cosmological and an anthropological sense; and a highly original conception of the mithraeum as sacred space, ambiguous between natural cave and human construct, between temple-cella and sacrificial dining room, and between a meeting place and a coded representation of the cosmos as a whole. Although the earliest evidence for a narrative that framed and commented on the central bull-killing act is late-Antonine, parts of it must have existed long before: the earliest evidence (140–160 ce) for an initiation ritual is the representation on a krater from Mainz (Germania Superior) of a seated member of the highest grade, Pater (Father), aiming an armed bow at a cowering naked initiand, in a clear reference to Mithras's mythical act in shooting an arrow to produce a stream that gushes from a rock (Beck, 2000). This in turn suggests that one motive for representing scenes of the sacred narrative was to establish mythic charters or analogies for initiatory and other ritual events. On the other face of the Mainz vessel is the earliest surviving representation of at least three of the grades: Miles (Soldier), Pater, and Heliodromus (Messenger of the Sun), who form a procession moving to the left. The rear is taken up by a smaller, fourth figure with a raised staff, perhaps a Corax (Raven). This procession has been interpreted as a ritual reenactment within the mithraeum of the sun's course along the ecliptic (Beck, 2000).
All this suggests that what was initially attractive about the cult of Mithras was its integration of a distinctive (albeit generically familiar) cosmogony and cosmology with an image of a physically and morally steadfast hero, submissive to the will of the gods, a sort of Persian Herakles. One of the few genuinely internal statements we possess, from the Santa Prisca Mithraeum in Rome, runs: Atque perlata humeris tuli[t] m[a]xima divum, "And he has borne on his shoulders the gods' behests, to the very end" (Vermaseren and Van Essen, 1965: 204–205, line 9). Mithras offered a model, directed exclusively at men, of personal submission. This model was enforced, in evidently dramatic ways, by the humiliation, pain, and fear to which initiates were exposed, as on the Mainz vessel, and still more clearly in the podium paintings at S. Maria Capua Vetere (c. 220–240 ce) (Vermaseren, 1971).
At the same time, the death of the bull was interpreted as salvific: another (damaged) line at S. Prisca reads: Et nos servasti … sanguine fuso, "And you have saved us … by shedding (the) blood" (Vermaseren and Van Essen, 1965: 217–221, line 14). This salvation could be understood in different ways. In the early second century it was probably evoked primarily in the usual sense of divine protection and guidance. Salvation no doubt continued in some contexts and geographical areas always to be understood in those traditional terms. However, a generation later than the Mainz vessel, the Middle Platonist philosopher Celsus alludes (Origen, Contra Celsum 6.22) to an elaborate Mithraic scheme of a ladder representing the soul's ascent to the fixed stars (c. 175–180 ce). In the mid-third century the Neo-Platonist philosopher Porphyry cites a certain Euboulus for the claim that the Persian prophet Zoroaster was the first to dedicate a cave to Mithras, "creator and father of all," a cave which was artfully marked out with the symbols of the cosmos whose demiurge was Mithras (De antro 6); and the related claim that North and South (of the mithraeum ) were associated with the entry and departure of souls into and out of the world (De antro 24). Turcan has argued that such claims represent a systematic distortion of Mithraic belief by Platonists for their own purposes (Turcan, 1975). Beck, on the other hand, has urged that Porphyry's data are to be taken at face value: the Mithraists designed and constructed their mithraeum as an image of the cosmos so as to be able to reenact a ritual of the descent and return of souls (Beck, 2000). The image of Mithras killing the bull is, inter alia, a representation of Mithras "seated at the equinoxes" (De antro 24). It is also a kind of explanatory commentary on the two central, albeit enigmatic, claims of Mithraism, that Mithras both is and is not identical with the Sun (Deus Sol Invictus Mithras ), and that the universe is sustained by the "harmony of tension in opposition" (Beck and Gordon, 2005).
If Mithras's heroic feat of subduing and killing the bull began as a hunt, it ended as a sacrifice, the primal sacrifice, which established the terms of the asymmetrical relationship between gods and men. It also offered a distinctive myth of the origin of cosmic order and civilized life (fire, agriculture). Ethically, the cult seems to have imposed strict self-discipline (Porphyry, De antro 15); soteriologically, it offered the promise of a gradual, differentiated, self-identification with Mithras. For example, the bull-killing scene has rightly been seen as representing an epiphanic moment (Zwirn, 1989); the grade Leo (Lion) evidently had a mystic link with that animal, which exists simultaneously on earth and in heaven (the constellation) and appears in numerous, albeit to us unintelligible, contexts in the iconography; the Pater in the procession scene at S. Prisca is represented as the god receiving the initiates. The principal ritual means of this self-identification was the shared sacrificial meal, which alluded to that eaten by Mithras and Helios/Sol (the Sun-god) immediately after the butchery of the bull, on a couch (kline ) covered by its skinned hide, during the course of which the gods ate the grilled splangkna (heart, liver) and drank pure, unmixed wine. The krater containing this wine appears together with a snake and a lion on many German reliefs, and usable reproductions of it have been found widely in mithraea, such as at Tienen (Belgica), where the vessel was constructed in such a manner that the heated wine and water could be poured (or sucked) through the snake's mouth. The vine itself could be given a Mithraic meaning: on a probably Syrian relief now in the Israel Museum, Mithras, who, being born from a rock, had no mother whose milk he could drink, is depicted as a baby drinking the juice extruded from bunches of grapes—the wine of the feast is the civilized version of that primitive, natural juice.
Mithraism thus constituted an elaborate, self-conscious, meritocratic form of the cult community widespread in the western Roman Empire, whose most striking feature was that, despite being supra-regional (indeed, in the northwest and northeast provinces, virtually universal), it tenaciously retained its private character, and (except in military contexts) resisted absorption by the religio-political rhetoric of public religious institutions. Its self-consciousness as a cult is epitomized by the fact that, despite the marked regional variation, individuals could and did pass from one end of the Empire to the other and find a cult of Mithras recognizably the same as that which they already knew: there are several examples of miniature reliefs suitable for packing in one's luggage and several examples of reliefs fabricated in the Danube area but found in Germany, Italy, and Israel.
Another source of self-consciousness was the sense of being a foreign cult: relatively unhampered by implication in local (politico-social) meanings, Mithraism was able constantly to reinvent itself, not least among those with intellectual pretensions. An important recourse here was astronomy-astrology; another was the Greco-Roman reception of Persia. Statius, writing in the decade 80 to 90 ce, knew already that the bull was sacrificed inside a Persian cave, and we have no reason to doubt Euboulus's statement (mid-third century) that the cult claimed to have been founded by the Persian sage Zoroaster. The systematic association that Celsus attests between planets and metals looks typical of the occultic preoccupation with (fanciful) list-making, whereas both Euboulus and a certain Pallas, cited by Porphyry, De abstin. 4.16, evidently tried to explain Mithraism by invoking metempsychosis and soul-journeys, beliefs which they knew to be "Persian" probably because they, or their sources, found them in pseudonymous texts purportedly by Zoroaster (the so-called Zoroastrian pseudepigrapha). At the same time there is evidence that some mobeds (Zoroastrian priests) in the Sassanian period did indeed believe in metempsychosis. The "Mithras Liturgy" in the Great Paris magical codex, which gives every appearance of including a mystic vision of the god, may also have been influenced by such ideas (Betz, 2003).
Mithraists themselves certainly drew upon analogous texts: the existence of a Mithraic god Areimanius, known from Rome and Aquincum, is best explained as a back-formation within Roman Mithraism owed to familiarity with descriptions of Persian religion by historians such as Theopompus and philosophers such as Eudemus of Rhodes and Hermippus "the Callimachean." These accounts commonly represented Ahriman as Hades, god of the Underworld (de Jong, 1997). The Persian magi are cited in the mithraeum at Dura-Europos (Syria) as authority for the idea of "fiery breath," possibly in relation to the end of the world, but more probably in relation to punishment for sin. The most striking example of a reference to Iranian ideas, however, is a fresco (c. 370–380 ce) in the mithraeum of Hawarti/Huarte near Apamea (Syria), where a group of ghastly decapitated human and demonic heads is depicted strung along a city-wall, each pierced, like representations of the evil eye, by a spear. The simplest explanation is that they evoke the descriptions of Mithras's savage destruction of the enemies of religion, human and demonic, in the Mithra-Yašt, and that this is an example of late Mithraic borrowing—self reinvention—from authentic Sassanian Zoroastrianism. Such knowledge was probably passed through frontier cities such as Nisibis, which was ceded to the Sassanians in 363 ce, but continued even thereafter to be an important commercial and cultural bridgehead.
Barton, S. C., and G. H. R. Horsley. "A Hellenistic Cult-Group and the New Testament Churches." Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 24 (1981): 7–41.
Beck, Roger L. "Mithraism since Franz Cumont." In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, edited by Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, II 17.4, 2002–2115. Berlin, 1984.
Beck, Roger L. Planetary Gods and Planetary Orders in the Mysteries of Mithras. Études préliminaires, 109. Leiden, 1988.
Beck, Roger L. "The Mysteries of Mithras: A New Account of Their Genesis." Journal of Roman Studies 88 (1998): 115–128.
Beck, Roger L. "Myth, Ritual, Doctrine, and Initiation in the Mysteries of Mithras: New Evidence from a Cult-Vessel." Journal of Roman Studies 90 (2000): 145–180.
Beck, Roger L., and Richard L. Gordon. Mysteries of the Unconquered Sun: The Cult of Mithras in the Roman Empire. Oxford, 2005.
Betz, Hans-Dieter. The "Mithras-Liturgy": Text, Translation, and Commentary. Tübingen, Germany, 2003.
Bianchi, Ugo. "Prolegomena: The Religio-Historical Question of the Mysteries of Mithra." In Mysteria Mithrae, edited by Ugo Bianchi pp. 3–47. Études préliminaires 80. Rome, 1979.
Clauss, Manfred. Cultores Mithrae: Die Anhängerschaft des Mithras-Kultes. Stuttgart, 1992.
Clauss, Manfred. The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries. Edinburgh, 2000. English translation with revisions of Mithras: Kult und Mysterien. (1990). The most balanced introduction, with ample illustrations and an updated bibliography of English-language publications.
Cumont, Franz. Textes et monuments relatifs aux Mystères de Mithra. Brussels, 1896–1899. The "Conclusions" alone translated by T. J. McCormack as The Mysteries of Mithra (New York, 1913 and continually reprinted). Monumental, but now of only historical importance.
De Jong, Albert. Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 133. Leiden, 1997.
Martens, Marleen, and Guy de Boe, ed. Roman Mithraism: The Evidence of the Small Finds. Archeologie in Vlanderen, Monogr. 5. Brussels, 2004.
Mastrocinque, Attilio. Studi sul Mitraismo (Il Mitraismo e la magia). Rome, 1998.
Merkelbach, Reinhold. Mithras. Königstein, Germany, 1984. Well-illustrated, but very speculative.
Nock, Arthur Darby. "The Genius of Mithraism." Journal of Roman Studies 27 (1937): 108–113, reprinted in Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, edited by Z. Stewart, pp. 452–458. Oxford, 1972. Still well worth reading.
Piccottini, Gernot. Mithrastempel in Virunum. Aus Forschung und Kunst, 28. Klagenfurt, Austria, 1994.
Turcan, Robert. Mithra et le mithriacisme. Paris, 2000 . A concise, reliable survey, with good bibliography and excellent appendices, but under-illustrated.
Ulansey, David. The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries: Cosmology and Salvation in the Ancient World. New York and Oxford, 1991 . A tendentious popular revelation of "the truth" about the cult of Mithras.
Vermaseren, Maarten J. Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentorum Religionis Mithriacae, 2 vols. The Hague, 1956–1960. The fundamental catalogue of the archaeological remains, now however rather seriously out of date.
Vermaseren, Maarten J., and C.C. Van Essen. The Excavations in the Mithraeum of the Church of S. Prisca in Rome. Leiden, 1965.
Vermaseren, Maarten J. Mithriaca I: The Mithraeum at S. Maria Capua Vetere. Études préliminaires, 16.1. Leiden, Netherlands, 1971.
Widengren, Geo. "Reflections on the Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries." In Perennitas: Studi in onore di A. Brelich, pp. 645–668. Rome, 1980.
Zwirn, Stephen. "The Intention of Biographical Narration on Mithraic Cult-Images." Word and Image 5 (1989): 2–18.
Richard Gordon (2005)