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Mithraeum I, III and V in Poetovio (Ptuj, Slovenia)

September 17, 2022

For those who are familiar with the Roman cult of Mithras it is not surprising, that Poetovio, one of the most important Roman settlements of south Pannonia (today in Slovenia) was a central place in the diffusion of the cult in the 2-3rd century AD. The quantity and quality of the Mithraic finds from Poetovio is extraordinary: since 1898 at least 5 mithraea were identified (although the functionality of the building known as mithraeum IV is problematic and the mithraeum V was poorly documented). Vermaseren in the 1950’s in his monumental corpus of Mithraic finds was able to indentify almost 130 Mithraic finds from the 3 known sanctuaries (CIMRM 1487-1618). The material of the so-called mithraeum IV and V were later published in the catalogue of the lapidar in 1988 and in numerous later studies analysed sporadically (see here a summary from 2018 by M. Gojkovici).

The first three mithraea discovered in the end of the 19th and early 20th century is no doubt, served as a mithraeum.

Mithraeum I was founded probably in the early 2nd century by the first generation of Mithras worshippers (if the cult was founded in the Flavian period and expanded in the early Trajanic period between 80 and 100 AD). The first mithraeum – which is much smaller than the third one – has some unique particularities, such as the beautifully decorated altars, a representation of Mithras Taurophoros or two identical texts on two statue bases (representing probably the founder of the first mithraeum). It is closely related to the Publicum Portorii Illyrici as P. Beskow and Tóth István argued already in the 1980’s. Although the altars were found in the mithraeum, their current position (for example Mithras Taurophoros inside the podium) does not reflect their original purpose.

Mithraeum III discovered in 1913 in a villa and domestic building complex area. Vermaseren presumed, that east to the mithraeum there was a temple of Magna Mater, however the functionality of the large building next to the mithraeum was never certainly established by excavation. The mithraeum is monumental, one of the largest mithraeum in the Roman Empire. Built in 2 phases at least, the building has its glory in the late 3rd century, around 260 AD, when vexillations from Potaissa and Apulum, the two legionary centres of Dacia stationed in Poetovio and transformed radically the innner sacred geography of the sacralised space. The altars dedicated almost exclusively by soldiers here reflects the emerging importance of Mithras as a protecting god of the Roman army and imperial power.

Mithraeum V was discovered in 1987 in the area of the Student Dormitory of modern Ptuj. The finds are clearly suggesting the presence of a mithraeum, however the building was poorly documented. A part of the finds are kept in the reception of the Hotel Mitra in Ptuj.

More exeptional photographs you can find on the webpage of Ortolf Harl: HERE. The photographs cannot be published in official academic papers or blogs without mentioning the source. My photos were made during the international conference entitled “Contextualising “Oriental Cults” organised by the Faculty of Humanities, Department of Archaeology of the University of Zagreb, 15-17th September 2022. Photographs with personal portraits cannot be used from this blog without the permission of the author.

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