Showing posts with label Rome. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rome. Show all posts

25 December 2015

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

Roman Imperial repoussé silverdisc of Sol Invictus (3rd century), found at Pessinus (British Museum)
The birthday of the unconquered sun marked the end of the Saturnalia since 274 AD when Aurelian apparently wanted to revive a much older cult of the Sun in Rome.

Saturnalia was originally a holiday created by Emperor Augustus to celebrate Saturn, on 17th December -- my birthday! It then developed into a week-long festival, the craziest week in ancient Rome, where people made merry with food, wine and more and even slaves were allowed to indulge in excesses that would have been punished by death at any other time.

The date coincides, closely enough, with the shortest day of the year (which the Romans believed to be 25 December whereas we know it is 21 December). Light prevails over darkness and days start getting longer again, an occasion to celebrate indeed.

Then the Christians took it over during the reign of Emperor Constantine, who had accepted Christianity as a religion of the Empire. The Church decided that Christ had chosen to be born on the shortest day of the year, after which light again starts to prevail, to symbolize his contribution to the rebirth of humankind.

I feel it's too bad that the ancient tradition of Saturnalia is gone. Not so much for the sake of Saturn, of course. But rather for what it symbolized: fun and naughtiness for a week but strict rule of Roman law for the whole year!



23 December 2012

Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome

Today I have visited a small secret of ancient Rome. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring off the beaten track ancient Rome.


Una descrizione in italiano e istruzioni per la visita sono presenti su questo sito. Consiglio anche un sito completo su Roma antica sotterranea.


Description

In 1934 the Augustinian Fathers accidentally discovered a Mithreum, a place of cult consecrated to the God Mithra, under the Church of Santa Prisca. The Mithreum was built using the walls of a house dating back to the first century A.D. and of a building of the second century with two naves on which the church was built later.

There is a niche in the rear wall bearing an inscription in the vault that proves the Mithreum was already in use in the year 202 A.D.. The statue of the cult representing Mithra killing a bull and a Saturn lying down built with fragments of amphorae covered with stucco are placed in the niche. The Mithreum was destroyed violently around 400 A.D., probably by the Christians before the Church of Santa Prisca was built. (From Romacapitale)

The Mithraeum later became a Christian church


My visit

Very appropriately I visited on 23rd December, which is when the Romans celebrated the cult of the sun god venerated in Mithraism. We were a small group of six and were led into the chamber by our tour guide and a custodian.

Statue of Coates symbolizing the dawn of the sun
It is possible to take photographs in the Mithaeum but without a flash.