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.
Philippa Adrych read Classics as an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford. She then proceeded to an MPhil in Roman History, and is now a DPhil candidate on the Empires of Faith project. She works on the historiographic problems of the study of Mithras in the Roman world from an object-based perspective. Robert Bracey joined the British Museum in 2008 where he conducts research on the South and Central Asian coins collection. His research focuses particularly on the Kushan Empire (north India and Central Asia from the first to fourth centuries AD). He worked on the Empires of Faith research project from 2013 to 2015, and is currently working with the ERC-funded project Beyond Boundaries. Dominic Dalglish studied for a BA in Ancient History and MA in Classics at the University of Durham before moving to Oxford to do a Masters in Classical Archaeology in 2010. He is now a DPhil candidate at Wolfson College, Oxford, working on the movement of religious ideas in the Roman Empire, particularly through material culture, as part of the British Museum's Empires of Faith project. Stefanie Lenk is a DPhil candidate researching classical imagery in late antique baptismal spaces in the western Mediterranean at Wolfson College, Oxford, as part of the British Museum's Empires of Faith research project. She previously studied history of art, history, and curating at the Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Universita degli Studi di Firenze, Courtauld Institute of Art, and Oxford University. Rachel Wood is a postdoctoral researcher on the British Museum's Empires of Faith project and a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. Her current research focuses on religious iconography in the Sasanian period, in particular on questions surrounding cultural interaction and local reinterpretations of images. Her DPhil, from Lincoln College, Oxford, explored interactions, continuity, and change in the art of the Hellenistic East (c.330-100 BC).