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Ancient Cult Temple May Be Site of War with Early Christians

Archaeologists working on the French island of Corsica have discovered an ancient temple believed to have been built by a mysterious ancient cult. Corsican construction crews were digging roadworks in 2016 when they came across the ruins of an ancient structure below ground. French archaeologists were called in, and it was determined that the ruins once belonged to a temple used by followers of Mithraism, an ancient sacrificial cult. Little is known about this mysterious religion, but it is believed to have been based on the worship of the god Mithra which began in Persia. Roman soldiers came into contact with Persian cultures in the east and eventually brought the belief system back to Europe with them. 

Excavations of the temple began in November 2016.

Excavations of the temple began in November 2016.

The temple was built to hold close to four hundred people and was built where the Roman city of Mariana once stood. The temple has been dated to around 100 BCE. While excavating the temple, the archaeologists discovered a marble altar which depicts a dog and a snake drinking the blood of a sacrificed bull while a scorpion pinches the bull’s testes. Yikes. Other finds include bronze bells, pottery, oil lamps, and a female head carved from marble. These guys knew how to party.

A marble relief depicting a bull being sacrificed.

A marble relief found at the site depicting a bull being sacrificed.

Mithraism appeared at roughly the same time Christianity did but died out suddenly, leaving no written record of the cult’s fate. The sudden appearance of Christianity and almost simultaneous disappearance of Mithraism have led to some speculation that there might have been conflicts between the two groups. Damage to some of the artifacts found in the temple is believed to support this religious war theory.

A bronze bell found in the ruins which was likely once worn by a sacrificial cow.

A bronze bell found in the ruins which was likely once worn by a sacrificial cow.

Other Mithraic temples have been discovered elsewhere in Europe, but this is the first one found on Corisa, showing that the little-understood This find comes on the heels of several other recent discoveries which show that the religious practices in ancient Rome were more diverse than is typically depicted in Roman mythology.

The reasons for the cults sudden demise remain a mystery.

The reasons for the cults sudden demise remain a mystery.