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International conference on Mithras and other mystery cults

June 21, 2016

The international conference organized by Attilio Mastrocinque, Patricia Johnston, Alfonsina Russo and László Takács was one of the largest gatherings focusing on the cult of Mithras in the last decades. It was a collaboration of several institutes from Italy, USA and Hungary and was part of a series of similar workshops and conferences, initiated by the above mentioned organisers few years ago.

With more than half hundred participants, the majority of the papers were focusing on the specific and general patterns of the mysteries of Mithras, presenting new finds, archaeological reports and general discussions on various old or new aspects of the cult. Beside this, several articles were dealing with the Isiac cults, Magna Mater, the Samothraken cults, Adonis, Attis and other divinities too. Although a majority of the scholars were from religious studies and ancient history, archaeology of religion and classical philology were also represented by few contributions.  Unfortunately, none of the three, most influential Mithraic scholars were present (R. Gordon, M. Clauss, R. Beck), although the contributions of R. Gordon and R. Turcan were presented in absentia. Several “big” names of Mithraic studies (S. Gasparro, Ch. Faraone, A. Mastrocinque, L. Martin) were present however.

From a historiographic and methodological point of view, the contributions reflected the “crisis” and eclecticism of Mithraic studies, once self-defined as a sub-discipline of Roman religious studies, now struggling to find its position between the cultural-historical approach and the cognitive studies. While in some papers, the long time ago deconstructed and questioned “doctrine” of F. Cumont was highly present, some papers presented new waves of methodological approaches, such as the Lived Ancient Religion or the cognitive studies. The papers reflected also the long term influence and durability of some studies written by D. Ulansey, R. Gordon, R. Beck and M. Clauss. Surprisingly few papers presented new results from recently excavated mithraea, although a Supplement for CIMRM would be essential on an Empire scale.  In this sense, the panel focusing on the Danubian provinces offered probably the most numerous case studies with new archaeological sources. Among the recently found mithraea, the sanctuary from Kempraten was the only one presented.

Due to the various schools and theoretical backgrounds, the conference didn’t have a coherent methodological framework and didn’t really offer significantly new results such as happened in some influential Mithraic conferences (Tehran 1975, Tienen 2002). Despite of this, it definitely represents an important step in the historiography of this sub-discipline and was a good example for international collaboration and presented the recent state of research.

The conference was organized in three different places in Tarquinia, Vulci and Marino, which proved a remarkable coordination of various institutions, local authorities and a large number of staff, which need to be acclaimed. The participants of the conference visited the recently recuperated statue of Mithras Tauroctonos from Tarquinia, the mithraeum of Vulci and Marino and the Etruscan necropolis of Tarquinia too.

Above you find some photos from the conference.

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