Mithras and Jesus: Two sides of the same coin (cont.)
By Flavio Barbiero
The Sol Invictus Mithras conquers the Roman empire
Written sources and the archaeological testimonies give evidence that from Domitian on Rome always remained the most important centre of the Sol Invictus Mithras institution, which had become firmly entrenched at the very heart of the imperial administration, both in the palace and among the Praetorian Guard. From Rome very soon the organization spread to the nearby Ostia, the port with the greatest volume of trading in the world, as goods and foodstuffs from every part of the Empire arrived to delight the insatiable appetite of the capital. In the course of the second and third centuries, almost forty mithraea were built there, clear evidence that the members of the institution had taken control of trading activities, source of incomparable incomes and economic power.
Subsequently, it spread to the rest of the Empire. The first mithraea to arise outside the Roman circle were built, shortly before AD 110, in Pannonia, at Poetovium, the main customs centre of the region, then in the military garrison of Carnuntum, and soon after in all the Danubian provinces (Rhaetia, Noricum, Pannonia, Mesia, and Dacia). The followers of the cult of Mithras included the customs officers, who collected a tax on every kind of transport dispatched from Italy toward central Europe and vice versa; the imperial functionaries who controlled transport, the post, the administration of finance and mines; and last, the military troops of the garrisons scattered along the border. Almost in the same period as in the Danubian region, the cult of Mithras started to appear in the basin of the Rhine, at Bonn and Treves. This was followed by Britannia, Spain, and North Africa, where mithraea appeared in the early decades of the second century, always associated with administrative centres and military garrisons.
Archaeological evidence, therefore, conclusively demonstrates that throughout the second century AD, the members of Sol Invictus Mithras occupied the main positions in the public administration, becoming the dominant class in the outlying provinces of the Empire—especially in central and northern Europe. We have seen that the members of Sol Invictus Mithras had infiltrated also the pagan religion, taking control of the cult of the main divinities, starting with the Sun.
The winning move, however, which made irresistible the success of the Mithraic institution, was that of seizing control of the army. Josephus Flavius knew, from direct experience, that the army could become the arbiter of the imperial throne. Whoever controlled the army controlled the Empire. The main aim fixed by him for the Mithraic organization, therefore, must have been infiltrating the army and taking control of it.
Soon, mithraea sprang up in all the places where Roman garrisons were stationed. Within a century, the cult of Mithras, had succeeded in controlling all the Roman legions stationed in the provinces and along the borders, at a point that the worship of Sol Invictus Mithras is often considered by historians to be the “religion” typical of Roman soldiers.
Even before the army, however, the attention of Sol Invictus had been concentrated on the Praetorian Guard, the emperor’s personal guard. It is not by chance that the second known dedicatory inscription of a Mithraic character regards a commander of the Praetorium, and that the concentration of mithraea was particularly high in the area surrounding the Praetorian barracks. The infiltration of this body must have started under the Flavian emperors. They could count on the unconditional loyalty of many Jewish freedmen who owed them everything—their lives, their safety, and their well-being. The Roman emperors were somewhat reluctant to entrust their personal safety to officers who came from the ranks of the Roman senate, their main political adversary, and so the ranks of their personal guard were mainly filled with freedmen and members of the equestrian class. This must have favoured the Sol Invictus, which made the Praetorium its unchallenged fief from the beginning of the second century on.