history - Roman Mithraeum



The Rudchester Mithraeum was a Roman Temple to the god Mithras. Nothing is visible of the Mithraeum now - the only stone structure visible in the field is clearly the "spring"marked on the maps:

But in the late second or early third century AD the mithraeum stood approximately 12m x 6m about 137m South and West of the fort - about 200ft west of the spring.

The mithraeum was excavated in 1953 and a full account is presented by Gillam, Harrison and Newman in "The temple of Mithras at Rudchester" Archaeologia Aeliana Series 4, Volume 32, 1954 pp176-219 available in the library on the top floor of the Great North Museum; Hancock. There is an excellent photograph which I will ask to show here - it It may have looked like the temple at Brocolita Mithraeum at Carrowburgh, further west along the wall:

This is a map of the site from Archaelogia Aeliana drawn br R. F. Gillam from www.tertullian.org:

The site was discovered in 1844 when the local farmer uncovered a statue and five altars. The statue was broken up (and subsequently lost), but the altars were all saved. A head of either Cautes or Cautopates, the twin torch-bearers and comapnions of Mithras:

and 3 pilars are on display at the are on display in the Great North Museum:

This drawing was made by John Bell and is available onwww.tertullian.org:

1) DEO /L SENTIUS / CASTUS / (centurio) LEG VI D(ono) P(osuit).
To the god. Lucius Sentius Castus, centurion of the 6th legion gave this.

2) DEO INVICTO / MYTRAE P(ublius) AEL(ius) / TITULLUS PRAE(fectus) / V(otum) S(olvit) L(aetus) L(ibens) M(erito).
To the invincible god Mithras, Publius Aelius Titullus, prefect, gladly, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

3) DEO SOLI INVIC(to) / TIB(iberius) CL(audius) DECIMUS / CORNEL(ius) ANTO/NIUS PRAEF(ectus) / TEMPLE(um) RESTIT(uit). To the Invincible Sun. Tiberius Claudius Decimus Cornelius Antonius, Prefect, restored the temple.

4) SOLI / APOLLINI / ANICETO / [Mithrae] APON[I]US ROGAT[I]ANUS [PRAEF(ectus) V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito ?]

5) No inscription.

J.P. Gilliam relocated the shrine and excavated it in 1953. He identified two phases of use with two successive temples on the same site.

The Mithraeum Phase I
The first temple was built in the late second or early third century AD. Orientated east to west, the shrine formed a rectangle 12 x 6.02m in size with a small apse in the west end-wall. The plan was typical of mithraic temples in that it consisted of a central nave flanked by low benches. The building was constructed in stone with clay used to bond the blocks. A roughly-built narthex (or ante-chapel) was later added to the outside of the east wall, 3m in depth and 6m in width. It was placed asymmetrically in line with the south wall so that there was no direct view from the front entrance into the temple. Similarly to the shrine at Carrawburgh this ante-room contained a low stone bench which may have been used in initiation rites. The east wall, however, was built over a baddly-filled in pit and the subsequent subsidence caused the collapse of the structure.

The Mithraeum Phase II
The mithraeum was rebuilt soon after, but without the ante-room. Access was now directly into the shrine from the outside and it is unusual that the community would not have wanted at least some form of ante-chamber especially as they also reduced the free space within the shrine by extending the benches. The interior of the shrine was remodelled to include a stone podium in front of the apse (presumably for the tauroctony) and the lengthening of the benches. A new roof system was also put in with wooden posts standing in front of the benches. Five small uninscribed altars were found inside the nave and the remains of a water-basin were recovered about two-thirds of the way along the northern bench.
Gilliam found two heads of Cautes and Cautopates and speculated that this was the result of a deliberate decapitation of the statues. The lack of any trace of the tauroctony was also used to argue for a deliberate desecration of the shrine, however in the absence of any single fragment of it and without knowing what the statue smashed in 1844 was of, it is hard to say for sure. Certainly pottery evidence spread over the temple shows that it temple was out of use by the mid-fourth century.
All the finds and altars were placed in the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, however they are in the process of being moved to the new Museum of the North.

JP Gilliam, I MacIvor & E Birley. 1954. 'The Temple of Mithras at Rudchester'. Archaeologia Aeliana (4th series) XXXII, 176-219

Daniels, C. 1989. Mithras and his Temples on the Wall pp16-19.
Gilliam, J.P., MacIvor, I & Birley, E. 1954. 'The Temple of Mithras at Rudchester'. Archaeologia Aeliana
(4th series) XXXII, 176-219

Text adapted from theWikipedia page.