London Mithraeum

London Mithraeum


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In September 1954 during the construction of a huge new office block for insurance firm Legal & General, builders discovered a Roman temple which sat on the banks of the long-lost River Walbrook (now a City of London street), an ancient tributary of the Thames and source of fresh water, vital to the running of the Roman city of Londinium.

At the time, The Temple of Mithras was (and remains) London’s most famous 20th century Roman discovery. It is a Roman mithraeum – a temple built by worshippers of the mysterious god Mithras – built in the late second century and seemingly disused by the early fourth when it was filled with religious iconography, sculptures and reliefs (now mostly housed in the Museum of London) and sealed. It lay untouched for the best part of 1,700 years until the aforementioned builders found it, stopped work and wondered what to do.

As did many others it transpired. The find prompted parliamentary debate inside Churchill’s cabinet and in the two weeks it was on show before being painstakingly packed up and relocated up the road, the site owners expected a hundred or so to come and see it. In fact on day one, 35,000 showed up. By the end of the week, around 80,000 had seen it and in total, close to 400,000 people saw the most famous new ‘old’ building in London.

After the temple was unsealed, archaeologists found a veritable treasure trove of magnificent sculptures and reliefs including a marble tauroctony relief dedicated by Ulpius Silvanus, a soldier of the Second Augustan Legion depicting Mithras killing a bull, marble heads of Mithras, Minerva (minus the metal helmet) and Serapis, a Greco-Egyptian god and a statuette of Mercury.

After a somewhat nomadic existence which at one point saw the priceless piece of history stored in a builder’s yard in New Malden, it was eventually relocated to it’s original location alongside an excellent new modern exhibition detailing the history of the temple.

The London Mithraeum can be found on the site of Bloomberg’s European headquarters, and now contains the temple itself as well as a host of Roman artefacts found during the excavations including fragments of Roman writing-tablets.


London Mithraeum

The London Mithraeum, or temple to Mithras (a bull-sacrificing deity A non-specific supreme being in monotheistic traditions, or a god or goddess. of friendship, contract, and order, who achieved cult status in the Roman world), was discovered during excavations in 1954. Originally built in the third century CE 'Common era', the non-religious way of saying AD ('anno Domini', or 'the year of our lord'). 'Common era', the non-religious way of saying AD ('anno Domini', or 'the year of our lord'). 'Common era', the non-religious way of saying AD ('anno Domini', or 'the year of our lord'). along the now-covered River Walbrook, which marked the boundary of Roman London and provided an important water source to many of the city's inhabitants, it was moved stone-by-stone 100 metres to Temple Court, where it was badly reconstructed at street level. However, after Bloomberg purchased the original site for its European headquarters in 2010, it decided to relocate the Mithraeum to (almost) its original position. The Temple can now be found seven metres below current street level, its entrance hidden in the Bloomberg building.

Some of the hundreds of finds on display at the London Mithraeum

It feels reasonably anachronistic to enter an almost-2,000-year-old temple through a twenty-first-century building that showcases a number of modern art installations in its foyer. However, the approach to the temple is tastefully done. Displayed at street level are hundreds of artefacts Objects made by humans that are of historical interest. Objects made by humans that are of historical interest. Objects made by humans that are of historical interest. found at the site, some of which - such as children's shoes and fragments of stylus writing tablets - are in amazing condition and truly breathtaking. Rather than simply being a cabinet display, the iPads provided turn it into an interactive experience and give considerable detail on the items. Artefact hunt and other activity sheets for children provide another way of getting the most out of the exhibit.

The sense of walking into the past increases as we progress down the stairs to Roman level, following a London timeline as we do we see where street level was throughout the ages, for example, at the time of the Blitz and the Great Fire. Another display, this time of replicas of the statues found at the site (the originals now being housed in the Museum of London), greets us at the bottom, which helps to pass the time before we are ushered into the temple space.

The lights come back up after the Mithraeum experience

When booking the (free) tickets for the Mithraeum, I found it strange that the tickets were timed. I began to understand why as the dark space we were shown into gradually lightened to reveal not just the remains of the temple but also - through clever use of light and smoke - the walls, columns, and their shadows as well. The audio of background chatter and Latin chanting added further substance to what was an inspiring and extraordinary way to experience the Roman temple. It was an exceptional and brilliantly sympathetic approach to recreating the atmosphere of the ancient cult's temple and its rites, inducing awe and a sense of spirituality in all those watching.

I was almost surprised when the lights came up and brought me back to the present. We were given a few minutes (more would have been welcome) to wander around the lit temple and to take pictures, before making our way back up to street level and the present. It was a short visit - it is a small museum - but it left me with an overwhelming feeling of having witnessed an historical event. It is, obviously, not exact: there are no written testimonies of Mithraic rites to inform the show, which is based on supposition, archaeological evidence, and comparisons with other cults and religions. Yet, the experience was emotional and created an impression even more so on my children, who left wide-eyed and open-mouthed. And it is this sense of wonder, of having actually witnessed something occult and historic, that makes the London Mithraeum worth visiting: they have brought the (much-moved) foundations of an ancient building back to life.


We don&rsquot know a huge amount about Mithras &ndash the cult who worshipped him were incredibly secretive and only four temples to Mithras have been discovered in the UK to date.

According to legend, Mithras was born from a rock in a cave and had impressive reserves of strength &ndash using it to kill a divine bull and nourish mankind for the rest of eternity. In other words, he was a pretty important dude.

Mithras

The scene of Mithras killing the bull is known as tauroctony &ndash experts interpret it as a symbol of fertility and creation. Worshippers recreated the cave setting by building their temples underground.

While he was originally a Perisian God, Roman soldiers took to worshipping Mithras in a religion known as the Mysteries of Mithras. It was a male-only religion and shrouded in secrecy.

It is thought that his worshippers gathered in darkened temples dedicated to him to perform animal sacrifices and drink in his honour. The temple we see today aims to capture some of that mystery and experience.


Visiting the London Mithraeum - Going Underground in Ancient Londinium

London, the proud capital of the United Kingdom, is visited by millions of tourists every year and is famous for its rich history and historical landmarks. Magnificent castles, medieval prisons, art and history museums as well as countless opportunities for shopping and good food make visitors feel that there is always something new to explore - even if you stay for weeks. For many visitors to London, and the UK in general, the history of medieval kings and queens are of particular interest, and the Tower of London is a must-visit for every first-timer in London. However, the city of London has a much more ancient origin, stretching back centuries before Henry VIII and his six wives, and traces of this forgotten world can still be seen in several places in the city. In this article, we will explore the ancient underground temple known as the London Mithraeum.

Londinium, as the city was called in ancient times, was founded by the Romans after they conquered the island in 43 CE and became one of the most important towns in Roman Britain. One of the best-preserved sites from this time is the London Mithraeum, an underground temple dedicated to Mithras, a divinity brought to Britain through the Roman world from the easternmost part of the empire. The Temple of Mithras is located in the heart of the City of London, in a museum called Bloomberg SPACE, which is in the building housing Bloomberg’s European headquarters.

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Londinium & Mithraism

After the Roman emperor Claudius (r. 41- 54 CE) and his legions conquered the part of the British Isles now known as England, a settlement called Londinium was established along the shores of the River Thames, as well as a bridge giving access from the land to the south of the river. The settlement expanded rapidly from the late part of the 1st century CE and became the biggest city in Roman Britain and an important commercial port. During the Roman period (up to the 5th century CE) a lot of changes took place in British society and culture including engineering and architecture, politics, trade and religion and spiritual practice. The change in religious practice included adaptations of new gods and goddesses included in the Roman pantheon, but also other divinities from other parts of the empire. Of these, archaeologists have found remains of a temple dedicated to Isis, the Egyptian goddess and Mithras the Persian sun God and “Lord of Light”.

The cult of Mithras first appeared in Rome during the 1st century CE and spread throughout the empire. To modern scholars, the cult is still steeped in mystery as very few written records of the faith and procedures are available. What is known is a patchwork of archaeological finds and some writings by Christian writers.

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The cult of Mithras was the most prominent of the new oriental religious movements to be established in Britain during the Roman era, and Mithraea (sanctuaries to Mithras) have been found in London, Carrawburgh, Inveresk, Caerleon, and Segontium. The cult, for males only, originated in Persia and involved the worship of the sun-god Mithras. Mithraism was an exclusive cult where the members had to possess the same qualities as Mithras of physical stamina and endurance, and it seems also that the members were mainly from the higher ranks of society army officers and rich merchants. It is also believed that the members of the cult were concerned with astrology, and idols and figures of the different zodiac signs are found in the mithraeums. Mithras legacy was that he wrestled the great divine bull. He was sent by the Iranian creator-god Ahura Mazada to slay the bull in a cave, and succeeding in doing so Mithras, with the help of the bull’s blood, revitalized the earth and humankind.

In the first centuries CE Mithraism was, by Roman Christians, seen as a dangerous competitor, as they were both monotheistic religions celebrating the sun/son sent by the creator God to bring salvation and guide and teach people the right path. However, there was one distinct difference - Mithraism was a dualistic religion, and while some Christian sects, such as the Gnostics, were also dualistic, the Roman church that triumphed as the “victorious” church was strictly monotheistic where no evil god was equally powerful and independent as the creator god. Mithras was the god of light, but he also encompassed some of the darkness of the universe in him.

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Mithras was, for example, born in a dark subterranean cave, which is symbolized in many of the Mithraea that were sunken into the ground. In these subterranean temples, the sacred rites were held in darkness only lit by candlelight. The Mithraeum in London was built on the site where the museum now is, on the banks of the Walbrook river around 240 CE – and was abandoned sometime during the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century CE)

A Sacred Site Under the Bloomberg Building

The temple to Mithras in London is amongst the best-preserved in Britain, and the site is finally open to visitors after many years of conservation and research. The site was first discovered in the 1954 CE during digging and conservation work done on a building bombed during WWII. Parts of the temple and artefacts have been on display previously, but now the majority of the remains and objects are back in the original place and can be experienced as close as possible to how it must have been almost 2000 years ago.

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The museum is an inspirational concept where the owners of the overlying building have taken it upon them to preserve the site and make it accessible to the general public. This has led to the museum having free entry (although you have to book a time slot for entry) and a modern museum with the newest from visualization technology. A surprisingly well-working combination of ancient history, business and technology!

You enter the museum on the ground floor of the tall office building, and it feels more like you are about to enter a business meeting than a site buried in the ground for millennia. After entering the museum space, the first thing you can study is a wall exhibiting several Roman artefacts found on the site. Amongst these are pots, writing tablets - some of the oldest found in Britain, mosaics, coins and so on. You can learn more about the specific items and their history by making use of one of the many tablets available to visitors. Worksheets are also available for children, making this museum a fun experience for the whole family!

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When you have studied the objects and learned a bit more about life in Roman Londinium, you walk down the steps and descend to the mid-level of the museum. Here you can learn more about the cult of Mithras by studying the reconstruction of three central objects from the site a model of the Mithraeum ruins, the tauroctony and the head of Mithras.

The tauroctony depicts the scene where Mithras slays the bull and this is the central icon of the cult. In the scene, Mithras is turning his head away as he slays the bull, and scholars still debate whether the scene depicts a battle or a sacrifice. This scene and icon would have been an important part of the main altar of the Mithraeum - the original sculpture is now on display at the Museum of London.

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The reconstruction of the head of Mithras is based on a sculpture found on the site in 1954 CE (now on display at the Museum of London). The head of the young god is believed to have been part of a larger sculpture depicting the bull-slaying scene. As in most imagery, Mithras wears his soft conical 'Phrygian cap', which originated in Phrygia (now Turkey).

Studying the model of the temple (the original is also at the Museum of London) created by an archaeologist during the excavation also brings more insight into the mystical site. The temple consisted of a central nave and side aisles, separated by seven pairs of columns. Some have suggested that the columns represent the seven grades of initiation into the cult: Raven, Male Bride, Soldier, Lion, Persian, Courier of the Sun and Father. At the end of the nave was the altar with the tauroctony icon. You can also see the outline of a well that was located in one of the side aisles. The well provided water for rituals and ceremonies and is one of the few surviving ceremonial features at the site.

Finally, it is time to visit the temple. When you are ready, the museum hosts will let you in in smaller groups every 20 minutes. Entering the temple, it is complete darkness. Then an interactive sequence begins to play, meant to stimulate your different senses to feel as though you have travelled 1800 years back in time. As the sequence begins the ritual greeting between the pater (father) and the cult members can be heard, while the light is gradually being turned on. In front of you, the ruins of the temple become increasingly more visible as you are left with the feeling of truly visiting a subterranean sacred temple.

When the sequence is finished you are free to walk around and explore the site and study the features you learned about previously in the museum. Little is known about the actual religious practice in the temple, but it most likely included votive offering, feasts, and purifying rituals. It is believed that the feasts and rituals were elaborate and some of the members might have worn special clothing and possibly masks. When standing in the temple only the imagination limits the visions of what rituals might have taken place here underground almost 2000 years ago.

The London Stone

After visiting the London Mithraeum, on your way to lunch or maybe a visit to the Tower of London, there is one more mysterious artefact you should see before leaving the area and one not so often visited by tourists. Just around the corner from the Bloomberg building, on Cannon Street, you can see the London Stone. The stone’s origin is unknown, but its importance as a landmark throughout London’s long history is almost incomparable, especially when thinking about the simplicity of the stone. Historians and scientists alike have failed to trace the stone's original purpose, but a myriad of legends are connected with this oolitic limestone - amongst others that its “survival” and protection is crucial for the continued existence of the city itself.


A Sacred Site Under the Bloomberg Building

The temple to Mithras in London is amongst the best-preserved in Britain, and the site is finally open to visitors after many years of conservation and research. The site was first discovered in the 1954 CE during digging and conservation work done on a building bombed during WWII. Parts of the temple and artefacts have been on display previously, but now the majority of the remains and objects are back in the original place and can be experienced as close as possible to how it must have been almost 2000 years ago.

Artifacts found on the site of the London Mithraeum. The Mithraeum was built on the banks of the Walbrook river around 240 CE, and was abandoned sometime during the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century CE) / Photo by Wanda Marcussen, Creative Commons

The museum is an inspirational concept where the owners of the overlying building have taken it upon them to preserve the site and make it accessible to the general public. This has led to the museum having free entry (although you have to book a time slot for entry) and a modern museum with the newest from visualization technology. A surprisingly well-working combination of ancient history, business and technology!

You enter the museum on the ground floor of the tall office building, and it feels more like you are about to enter a business meeting than a site buried in the ground for millennia. After entering the museum space, the first thing you can study is a wall exhibiting several Roman artefacts found on the site. Amongst these are pots, writing tablets – some of the oldest found in Britain, mosaics, coins and so on. You can learn more about the specific items and their history by making use of one of the many tablets available to visitors. Worksheets are also available for children, making this museum a fun experience for the whole family!

The London Mithraeum Museum over the Mithraeum ruins dating from c. 240 – 4th century CE. The ruin is now on display in its original location in the City of London. / Photo by Wanda Marcussen, Creative Commons

When you have studied the objects and learned a bit more about life in Roman Londinium, you walk down the steps and descend to the mid-level of the museum. Here you can learn more about the cult of Mithras by studying the reconstruction of three central objects from the site a model of the Mithraeum ruins, the tauroctony and the head of Mithras.

The tauroctony depicts the scene where Mithras slays the bull and this is the central icon of the cult. In the scene, Mithras is turning his head away as he slays the bull, and scholars still debate whether the scene depicts a battle or a sacrifice. This scene and icon would have been an important part of the main altar of the Mithraeum – the original sculpture is now on display at the Museum of London.

Head of Mithras in Phrygian cap (CIMRM 815), from Walbrook Mithraeum in Londinium, CE 180-220. (Museum of London, Britain). Depicted as a handsome youth, Mithras wears his usual Phyrgian cap. His eyes are turned away from the deed of slaying the bull, from whose blood flowed eternal life. The head probably formed part of a life-size bull slaying scene that stood in the apse of the Mithraeum at Londinium. / Photo by Carole Raddato, Flickr, Creative Commons

The reconstruction of the head of Mithras is based on a sculpture found on the site in 1954 CE (now on display at the Museum of London). The head of the young god is believed to have been part of a larger sculpture depicting the bull-slaying scene. As in most imagery, Mithras wears his soft conical ‘Phrygian cap’, which originated in Phrygia (now Turkey).

The well at the Mithraeum in London. The Mithraeum was built on the banks of the Walbrook river around 240 CE and was abandoned sometime during the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century CE). / Photo by Wanda Marcussen, Creative Commons

Studying the model of the temple (the original is also at the Museum of London) created by an archaeologist during the excavation also brings more insight into the mystical site. The temple consisted of a central nave and side aisles, separated by seven pairs of columns. Some have suggested that the columns represent the seven grades of initiation into the cult: Raven, Male Bride, Soldier, Lion, Persian, Courier of the Sun and Father. At the end of the nave was the altar with the tauroctony icon. You can also see the outline of a well that was located in one of the side aisles. The well provided water for rituals and ceremonies and is one of the few surviving ceremonial features at the site.

Finally, it is time to visit the temple. When you are ready, the museum hosts will let you in in smaller groups every 20 minutes. Entering the temple, it is complete darkness. Then an interactive sequence begins to play, meant to stimulate your different senses to feel as though you have travelled 1800 years back in time. As the sequence begins the ritual greeting between the pater (father) and the cult members can be heard, while the light is gradually being turned on. In front of you, the ruins of the temple become increasingly more visible as you are left with the feeling of truly visiting a subterranean sacred temple.

The Mithraeum in London was built on the site where the London Mithraeum Museum now is, on the banks of the Walbrook river around 240 CE, and was abandoned sometime during the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century CE) / Photo by Wanda Marcussen, Creative Commons

When the sequence is finished you are free to walk around and explore the site and study the features you learned about previously in the museum. Little is known about the actual religious practice in the temple, but it most likely included votive offering, feasts, and purifying rituals. It is believed that the feasts and rituals were elaborate and some of the members might have worn special clothing and possibly masks. When standing in the temple only the imagination limits the visions of what rituals might have taken place here underground almost 2000 years ago.


Mithraeum

A Mithraeum is a Mithraic temple, erected in classical antiquity by the worshippers of Mithras. Most Mithraea are dated between 100 B.C. and A.D. 300, mostly in the Roman Empire.

The Mithraeum was either an adapted natural cave or a building imitating a cave below an existing building.

A Mithraeum is usually a singular entrance or vestibule, which stands opposite from an apse-shaped wall.

The wall held a pedestal altar often in a recess with raised benches along the sidewalls for the ritual meal.

Many mithraea that follow this basic plan are scattered over much of the Roman Empire’s former territory. Later many became converted to crypts beneath Christian churches.

In Britain, these were located where the legions were stationed along the frontiers.

Marble relief depicting Mithras slaying the bull, found at the Mithraeum, Museum of London

One of the crucial artifacts discovered at Mithraeum is a white marble relief depicting Mithras slaying the bull. The central medallion depicts the bull-slaying scene, and around the border are 12 signs of the zodiac.

The sun (‘Sol’) and moon (‘Luna’) are depicted in the top corners, the two wind gods in the bottom.

The inscription indicates that “Ulpius Silvanus, initiated into a Mithraic grade at Orange, France, paid his vows to Mithras,” This repayment of vows was perhaps by building a temple to Mithras in London.


Past Events

Join us for a fun family day where children can create their mosaics inspired by the Romans, explore the museum using our free family activity pack full of games, puzzles and quizzes and access additional activities via Bloomberg Connects.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE is reopening with art installation The Budge Row Bibliotheque by Adam Dant.

Join us for a live, virtual tour of the artwork, hear from the artist and discover the City’s history as Dant brings his drawings to life. Responding to Bloomberg’s unique position in the area, The Budge Row Bibliotheque encapsulates 2,000 years of the everyday life and times of Budge Row.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE hosted a live stream storytelling session with renowned children’s author Caroline Lawrence as she explored the mysteries of the Roman temple of Mithras and read excerpts from the time travel adventure book the ‘Time Travel Diaries’.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE hosted a fascinating talk by Mithras expert Dr David Walsh, a lecturer in Classical and Archaeological Studies at the University of Kent, exploring the origins, development and the eventual decline of Mithraism.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE hosted an interactive family event where children had the opportunity to meet a Roman soldier, learn about Roman society and create hand puppets!

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE in partnership with MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and Architecture Education Specialists Our Hut, hosted an exciting family event exploring the many layers of London’s past, examined through the archaeology of ‘inventive vents’ – underground ventilation shafts.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE hosted a family workshop where children had the opportunity to design and create accessories inspired by real Roman artefacts and learn the significance of jewellery to the Romans.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE, in partnership with Notre Dame University and British poet Josephine Balmer, hosted an event as part of the nationwide humanities festival, Being Human.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE hosted a fun, hands-on family event where children had the opportunity to feel the thrill of an archaeological excavation by digging through our special in-door trenches to locate real Roman artefacts.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE participated in this year’s Emerge Festival, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to handle real Roman artefacts, enjoy guest lectures from Mithras expert David Walsh and visit the immersive Temple of Mithras experience.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE hosted a family workshop to encourage creativity where families were invited to make clay sculptures inspired by our latest art installation, Human Activity by Daniel Silver.

London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE, in close collaboration with the City of London, hosted a Roman London Family Quest linking three of the city’s top Roman sites. Visitors journeyed between London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE, Billingsgate Roman House and Baths and London’s Roman Amphitheatre, following a fun bespoke map which highlighted Roman points of interest en-route. Each site hosted family craft activities and quests for visitors to complete.


Mithraeum

A Mithraeum (Latin pl. Mithraea) , sometimes spelled Mithreum, is a Mithraic temple, erected in classical antiquity by the worshippers of Mithras. Most Mithraea can be dated between 100 B.C. and A.D. 300, mostly in the Roman Empire.

The Mithraeum was either an adapted natural cave or cavern, or a building imitating a cave. When possible, the Mithraeum was constructed within or below an existing building, such as the Mithraeum found beneath Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. While a majority of Mithraea are underground, some feature open holes in the ceiling to allow some light in, perhaps to relate to the connection of the universe and the passing of time. The site of a Mithraeum may also be identified by its singular entrance or vestibule, which stands opposite from an apse-shaped wall in which a pedestal altar at the back stood, often in a recess, and its "cave", called the Spelaeum or Spelunca, with raised benches along the side walls for the ritual meal. Many mithraea that follow this basic plan are scattered over much of the Roman Empire's former territory, particularly where the legions were stationed along the frontiers (such as Britain). Others may be recognized by their characteristic layout, even though converted as crypts beneath Christian churches.

From the structure of the Mithraea it is possible to surmise that worshippers would have gathered for a common meal along the reclining couches lining the walls.

Finally, the ubiquity of the Mithraeums’ distinctive banqueting benches implies the ubiquity of the cult meal as the liturgie ordinaire. [1]

The Mithraeum primarily functioned as an area for initiation, in which the soul descends and exits. The Mithraeum itself was arranged as an "image of the universe". It is noticed by some researchers that this movement, especially in the context of mithraic iconography (see below), seems to stem from the neoplatonic concept that the "running" of the sun from solstice to solstice is a parallel for the movement of the soul through the universe, from pre-existence, into the body, and then beyond the physical body into an afterlife.

Similarly, the Persians call the place a cave where they introduce an initiate to the Mysteries, revealing to him the path by which souls descend and go back again. For Eubulus tells us that Zoroaster was the first to dedicate a natural cave in honour of Mithras, the creator and father of all… this cave bore for him the image of the cosmos which Mithras had created, and the things which the cave contained, by their proportionate arrangement, provided him with symbols of the elements and climates of the cosmos [trans. Arethusa edition] [1]


London Mithraeum - History

Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in London will be located on one of the UK’s most significant archaeological sites – a temple dedicated to the Roman god Mithras. As stewards of the ancient site and artifacts, Bloomberg is creating an innovative museum experience that will change the way we encounter archeology.

This video explores the history of that site and the mysterious cult of Mithraism, and provides a sneak peek at the forthcoming exhibition.

Video produced by Nextshoot Productions.

Read more related stories

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Thousand Artefacts and Dubbed the Most Important City of London Dig Ever

English: Remains of the Temple of Mithras These temple remains are close to Queen Victoria Street which can be seen in the background. The temple was built during the Roman occupation of London in the second century AD. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When archaeologists were called to a site in the City of London where an ugly office block and a bar once stood, they were sceptical that it held any secrets.

Yet six months into the dig on Bloomberg Place, a three-acre site close to Mansion House tube station, experts believed they have stumbled across the most important find of Roman London artefacts in recent memory and have dubbed it the “Pompeii of the north”.

Sophie Jackson, from the Museum of London Archaeology (Mola), is managing the site. She said: “We have a huge amount of stuff from the first four hundred years of London. It will tell us so much about the people of London. We will get names and addresses, things we’ve never had before. It’s really exciting.”

Archaeologists have so far discovered 8,000 objects and expect that to rise to 10,000 by the time the project is finished. These include writing tablets, clothing, jewellery and pottery as well as parts of buildings that will help build a picture of thriving London life from around 40 AD to the fifth century.

Ms Jackson said: “Why the site is so incredibly important is the preservation of archaeological finds which are normally decayed, or lost or destroyed on other sites.” The reason many of the objects are so well-preserved is that one of London’s lost rivers, the Walbrook River, ran under the site, with the damp conditions preserving the objects.

Michael Marshall, Roman find specialist at Mola, said the findings would “completely transform” understanding of Roman London. “There are very few civilian sites. This is the largest assemblage discovered in London.”

Bloomberg is building its new headquarters on the site and in late 2010 started demolition of Bucklersbury House, build in 1952.

English: Relocated ruins of the Mithras temple in London (discovered in 1986). See article: London Mithraeum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was that original development – which made the discovery of the Temple of Mithras on the site – that had led the archaeologists to believe there would be little of historical value left.

Ms Jackson said: “We thought that construction had removed all the archaeology on the site. We thought: ‘What a shame, it’s all gone.’ Then we found that around the edges, archaeology survives.”

Yet, the newly uncovered treasures include 250 leather shoes, writing tablets that may give clues to names and addresses of Roman Londoners, as well as several items never seen before.

This included a stitched leather furnishing never before seen in Roman discoveries and an amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator’s head.

Over 150 fragments of writing tablets have been discovered in one room – in what was described as similar to finding an abandoned filing cabinet – with information written on or scratched into them about people who lived in London at the time.

Archaeologists expect to double the number of names known in London to over 30, although nothing is certain. Mr Marshall said: “It’s an amazing accident when the text survives.”

Ms Jackson added: ““These are really exciting there are only 14 references to London in all of Roman literature.”

The objects ended up in the ground generally from two ways, people throwing objects into refuse pits, or throwing them into the river as offerings.

The wetness of the ground proved particularly fortuitous, helping preserve the organic remains, and Mr Marshall called it the “best site in London” for Roman remains.

“No oxygen could get at the organics, so wood, leather, horn, and occasionally textiles survive in these conditions. The rest of the city of London doesn’t get that water logging. It gives us a picture of what it would have been all over the whole city.”

The Temple of Mithras, which was dismantled and moved down the road in 1954, will also return as part of the building works. It will be restored to the original site with a viewing area built into the new Bloomberg headquarters


Watch the video: Londoners