The Roman Army and the Spread of Mithraism

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Year of publication 2019
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description The cause of the rapid and geographically impressive spread of Mithraism in the Roman empire from the last quarter of the 1st century CE onward is still only partially explained. Scholars had speculated about the influence of the Roman army and the popularity of Mithraism among Roman soldiers; however, a meticulously conducted demographical study of the known followers of Mithras based on Roman epigraphical data problematized this view. This paper uses a transportation network model based on ORBIS (the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World) and network analytical approach to uncover possible relationship between a network of Roman legionary fortresses and sites where the presence of Mithraism can be historically documented. To demonstrate the possible impacts of the Roman military infrastructure on the spread of Mithraism in the Roman empire, we coded all sites of documented Mithraic presence and locations of the major Roman legionary fortresses, positioned them on the transportation network and used statistical analysis to detect possible relationship between these datasets, both at the level of the whole Roman empire and regionally. Although we were not able to find, at the level of the Roman empire, a statistically significant overlap between the locations of the Roman legionary fortresses and Mithraic sites, we discovered the statistically significant presence of Mithraic evidence in nodes important on thresholded military subnetworks connecting the Roman legionary fortresses. These results support the view that the Roman army and supporting civil personnel responsible for supplying and maintenance of the Roman military infrastructure contributed to the spread of Mithraism and can partially explain the geographical distribution of archaeologically attested Mithraic evidence in the Roman empire.
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