Mithras and Arimanius

The Mithraic altar stone at the Yorkshire Museum, York.

These two Roman Gods represented opposites - good and evil, creation and destruction, light and dark.  They are intimately associated with each other but York is the only place in Europe where you can see original carvings of them both together.

Mithras was a particularly popular god, first worshipped in Persia, and possibly brought to York at the in the time of Septimium Severus the emperor from North Africa.  The followers of Mithras joined a male cult which gave them access to about 400 secret temples across the empire where ceremonial feasts took place.  Examples in Britain have been found in London and at Hadrian's Wall. 

One of these temples - called a 'mithraeum' - was in the Micklegate area of York.  In 1776 an altar stone dedicated to Mithras was dug up when a large new house was being built. 

These carvings follow a similar pattern, showing Mithras wearing a distinctive cap and slaughtering a bull, to represent his power over nature.  He is surrounded by a number of other figures, including torch-bearers representing day and night and other gods - the sun and the moon. 

The bull is being tormented by a dog and a serpent, traditionally associated with Arimanius.  Arimanius, being the death-giver, appears to have been a much less popular god to worship but a statue of him has been found in York.  This could be interpreted as evidence of devil-worship in the Roman city.  However the statue was found in the same general area as the Mithras stone and is most likely associated with the same Mithraic cult.

The statue is of a man's body with wings, a snake around his waist and carrying the keys of heaven.  Arimanius is thought to have occupied the space between earth and Mithras' kingdom, restricting the access of mortals to heaven. 

Arimanius is usually depicted with the head of a lion.  The head is missing from the York statue but what this one does have, unlike any other, is a name carved into its base.  This is how we know the god was called 'Arimanius'.


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