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The object presented here comes from Carnuntum, the Roman army camp and city situated on the Danube between Vienna and Bratislava. The bas-relief depicts a scene of a bull being killed by Mithra. The deity, dressed in a Roman tunica and wearing a Phrygian cap, is kneeling and supporting the animal with his left knee.

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The object presented here comes from Carnuntum, the Roman army camp and city situated on the Danube between Vienna and Bratislava. The bas-relief depicts a scene of a bull being killed by Mithra. The deity, dressed in a Roman tunica and wearing a Phrygian cap, is kneeling and supporting the animal with his left knee. With his left hand he is raising the head of the bull, while in his right hand he is holding a dagger with which he is killing the animal, stabbing it in the back. To avoid seeing his victim, the god has his head turned in the opposite direction. The ritual is assisted by two youths — Cautes and Cautopates — holding burning torches (Dadophors); they are placed on the opposite sides of the depiction. One of the torches is directed upwards, the other one downwards. It is a symbolic depiction of the equinox. Cautes with his torch raised symbolises the spring equinox, whereas Cautopates with his torch lowered symbolises the autumn equinox. The youths are dressed identically to Mithra. The position of the crossed legs was interpreted as an allusion to the point of the intersection of the Equator with the ecliptic, the point of spring and autumn. A dog, a snake and a scorpion are also depicted in the scene; their interpretation, however, is not clear. They can be symbols of a constellation or, as proposed by Franz Cumont, motifs derived from the Iranian mythology. The upper strap of the depiction is flanked by symbols of the sun (the bust of a man in a radiate crown) and the moon (the bust of a woman with a crescent on her head). At the bottom of the relief along the entire length runs an inscription in Latin.

Elaborated by Krzysztof Babraj (Archaeological Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Mithraic relief

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