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The “mithraeum” in the Museum of Sibiu

April 26, 2019

The Bruckenthal Museum – which is the oldest public museum of today Romania (Transylvania) – has a very rich Roman collection. The oldest part of the archaeological collection – inscriptions and figurative monuments – comes from the period of Samuel von Bruckenthal, the founder of the museum, who  – as a governor of Transylvania – was a passionate intellectual, intersted in ancient history too. He collected Roman statues, inscriptions and glyptic material from all the places of Roman Dacia and even beyond.

Among the first objects arrived in the collection of Bruckenthal, there were the Mithraic finds from Apulum, discovered in 1786 by Franciscus Kastal (or Kaftal), who was responsible for the salt-trade in Marosprortus (Partos today), south part of the Colonia Aurelia Apulensis. He discovered probably the first mithraeum of Dacia, at least the fascinating material suggest an intact sanctuary: a beautiful Mithras Tauroctonos representation (signum), a middle-sized relief, a statue base and possibly the most stunning Mithras Petrogenitus representation from Dacia too.  The discovery was mentioned by Bartalis Antal in his history of Roman Dacia few years later.

Kastal sent the finds to one of his relatives in Sibiu, who later donated the spectacular material to Bruckenthal. Today, these finds are in the Altemberger House in the Roman Lapidarium, where an artificial mithraeum was established to immitate the mysterious environment of a Mithraic sanctuary.

As in many museums where a mithraeum is reconstructed or recreated, the “Sibiu mithraeum” has objects from the discovery of Kastal but several other pieces too from Apulum and other Roman settlements of Dacia.

Because this material is so exceptional and the discovery itself was mentioned by literary sources and it is the very first mithraeum which was documented in Dacia, this recreated sanctuary in the museum would need a serious and professional rebranding and reorganisation. Obviously, there is no hope and chance for such amazing investment, as we can see in the London Mithraeum, but there are some really good examples with minimal investment (3-4000 euro) and great effects for tourists and students too.

I would reorganize the the podia which is too large and would be useful to establish a pronaos in front of the entrance. The space needs a new light-system too, to establish the ancient, mysterious dark spelaeum feeling of the sanctuary. There must be 2-3 bigger posters with beautiful photos and reconstructions, drawings perhaps about Mithras and his mysteries and the cult in Roman Dacia. Audio-visual effects would help to recreate also the mystery aspect of the cult.

I hope we can manage that in the future.

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