Images of Mithra

Elsner, Jas. 2017. Images of Mithra (Visual Conversations In Art And Archaeology 1). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

With a history of use extending back to Vedic texts of the second millennium BC, derivations of the name Mithra appear in the Roman Empire, across Sasanian Persia, and in the Kushan Empire of southern Afghanistan and northern India during the first millennium AD. Even today, this name has a place in Yazidi and Zoroastrian religion. But what connection have Mihr in Persia, Miiro in Kushan Bactria, and Mithras in the Roman Empire to one another?

Over the course of the volume, specialists in the material culture of these diverse regions explore appearances of the name Mithra from six distinct locations in antiquity. In a subversion of the usual historical process, the authors begin not from an assessment of texts, but by placing images of Mithra at the heart of their analysis. Careful consideration of each example’s own context, situating it in the broader scheme of religious traditions and on-going cultural interactions, is key to this discussion. Such an approach opens up a host of potential comparisons and interpretations that are often side-lined in historical accounts.

What Images of Mithra offers is a fresh approach to the ways in which gods were labelled and depicted in the ancient world. Through an emphasis on material culture, a more nuanced understanding of the processes of religious formation is proposed in what is but the first part of the Visual Conversations series.

Table of Contents

1: Reconstructions: Mithras in Rome
2: Patrons and Viewers: Dura-Europos
3: Settings: Bourg-Saint-Andéol
4: Identifications: Mihr in Sasanian Iran
5: Interpretations: Miiro in Kushan Bactria
6: Syncretisms: Apollo-Mithras in Commagene
Epilogue – Quetzalcoatl and Mithra

General Editor Jas Elsner, Humfrey Payne Senior Research Fellow in Classical Archaeology and Art, Oxford University.