April 2011 Event: ‘Looking for Mithra in Malta’

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Frances-Bonnici-with-Claudia-Sagona250Dr Claudia Sagona (right) with Mrs Frances BonniciDr Claudia Sagona M.O.M., a Senior Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Melbourne, has written extensively on Malta's ancient past. She recently delivered a lecture to the Maltese Historical Association on 'Looking for Mithra in Malta', the topic of her latest book.

The cult of Mithra reached the height of its popularity in the second and third century AD in Roman territories after quiet beginnings in the highlands of eastern Turkey sometime in the first century BC.

Mithra bookcoverDr Sagona's book 'Looking for Mithra in Malta'The Mithraic cult reached many parts of the Roman world and it is unlikely that Malta was immune to this popular, yet private and exclusive cult. There is every possibility that Mithraic practices filtered into the islands sometime after the archipelago came under Roman domination in 218 BC at the start of the Second Punic War.

Dr Sagona spoke about evidence she has found on the presence of the cult in the Maltese islands. She discussed objects with Mithraic iconography that have recently come to light, often uncovered during building works, in places like Rabat. A number of these objects, for example, are now part of the collection at the museum at St Agatha's in Rabat.

There is also evidence in the Maltese islands of Mithraic places of worship, known as 'mithraea'. These have been found in numbers throughout the Roman world and the most convincing cultic site in the Maltese archipelago is located at Ras il-Wardija perched on the west coast of the island of Gozo. In addition to funerary sites with possible Mithraic architectural traits - at Ħal-Resqun, Salina Bay and Tal-Kandija for instance - there are early church structures, at places such as Tas- Silġ, comprising simple stone buildings and natural caves that might have served an earlier, Mithraic purpose.

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