Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus

Written by Katie Parla on March 29, 2009

Beside the Circus Maximus, an ex-pasta factory and current Rome Opera scenery storage facility sits atop the ruins of a sanctuary dedicated to the god Mithras. Buried 25 feet beneath the modern city, the 2nd century place of worship was adapted from a preexisting public building of the 1st century. The rooms of the original structure were converted into the sacrificial and ritual areas where followers of the god Mithras would venerate their god, make sacrifices, and participate in a ritual meal of bread and wine. Though scholars debated its origins, it seems the Mithraic cult came to Rome in the 1st century BCE from Persia, brought back by Roman soldiers who had been fighting in the east. Although the Mithras worshipped in Rome is not identical to the Mithra of Persia, there are enough similarities to imply that they are somehow related.

The Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus is one of the many places in Rome that reveal the complex urban stratification of the city. Sitting at a depth of nearly three stories underground today, the building was built on top of, filled in with Tiber silt and debris, and forgotten about until its rediscovery in the 19th century. To book a tour with exclusive access to the Mithraeum of the Circus Maximus, click here.

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