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  • Nate Scharping

An Ancient Roman Cult’s Rituals Included Feasting, Fire, and Floor Cleaning

To uncover new clues about the secretive world of Mithraism, scientists considered evidence right at their feet.


Credit: Kharmacher, Public Domain/Wikimedia


Inside the chamber it is dark, and the flickers of torchlight play across the features of the men gathered. The meal over, they sit relaxed on long stone benches that face each other in the narrow nave. Their god has left them for the time being, but embers of the fire that brought him to share the feast still glow red on the altar nearby. Soon, the devout will gather and burn the scraps, including chicken bones and suckling pig carcasses picked clean of meat. Then they will disperse the ashes across the floor and pace deliberately back and forth over them. The ritual completed, the men will walk out with charcoal-blackened feet—a mark of their cult that will remain unstudied for millennia.


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