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Bronze plaque of Mithras slaying the bull

Mithras Tauroctony on bronze exposed at the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
17 Jun 2009

Tauroctony at the MET
Andreu Abuín

Mithras, unusually looking forward rather than over his shoulder, stabs the bull whose blood gushes from the wound. The snake leaps up to drink it, with the dog doing the same to the right. The scorpion grabs the bull's genitalia. To the top left is Sol, with rayed crown; to the right Luna with a crescent. Six holes have been punched in the plaque.

The cult of Mithras was very popular throughout the Roman Empire and was followed especially by soldiers. It was one of several eastern cults that spread rapidly as a result of the pax Romana (Roman peace); others included the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus, Manichaeism and, of course, Christianity. Shrines dedicated to Mithras have been found at sites as far apart as Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain and Dura Europos on the River Euphrates in Syria. This plaque may well have decorated the wall of such a Mithraeum (place of worship). Busts of Sol (the Sun) and Luna (the Moon) watch over the ritual scene of Mithras slaying the bull, aided by a dog, snake, and scorpion.


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