Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Temple of Mithras

Rebuilt remains of a temple to the Zoroastrian god Mithras.

Conspiracy theorists the world over look at major financial centers for signs of secret societies. Long before IIluminati, Masons, or even Templars had instituted their secret handshakes and hidden brotherhood - and even longer before bestselling author Dan Brown made everyone aware of them - ancient Rome had its own secret societies.

Mere blocks from the financial epicenter of the London Stock Exchange in the center of the city of London lies the reconstructed remains of a Roman temple to the Zoroastrian god Mithras, whose mystery cult was known to exist all over the empire. As would be expected of a secret society that came to power almost two thousand years ago, not much is known of the secret cult surrounding Mithras. Even in antiquity the rites were kept shrouded in secrecy, and male-only membership was proven with secret passwords and handshakes.

What we do know is that Mithras was a hero figure in a battle between good and evil, and that he is often depicted in a cave slaying a bull. He was popular with the military and political elite, so garrisons all over the Roman world were known to have temples dedicated to Mithras, called Mithraeum.
The Mithraeum in Londinium was built in the late second century, but seems to have fallen out of use by the early fourth century when the temple was filled with religious statues and apparently sealed. This temple was easily ignored; as was common with Mithraeum, it was built 18 feet below street level to create a symbolic cave emulating the one where Mithras slayed the bull.

The location of this temple to Mithras is hardly surprising, as the city of London (Westminster) is roughly in the same location as the Roman settlement in Londinium. Subsequent development in London's financial district lead to the Mithraeum being disassembled and rebuilt on Walbrook Street, where it can be seen by all at slightly above street level.

Wroxeter: 'This is how it ends: not with a hang hut a whimper'

Archaeologists have been able to corroborate Gildas' picture. Although the Roman cities were not deserted everywhere, some were abandoned at this time, or their populations shrank dramatically. In Cirencester, for example, the second city of Roman Britain, archaeologists have established that civic life continued into the 440s; the defences were repaired, flood prevention work carried out at one of the gates, and the piazza of the forum kept clean. But soon after that time, whether caused by the great plague or by the Saxon revolt, unburied bodies were found in the streets and the town seems to have contracted to a few wooden huts inside the amphitheatre.

The most vivid picture we yet possess of declining late Roman city life comes from Wroxeter near Shrewsbury. Unlike most Roman towns, Wroxeter did not become a modern city; it still lies under farmland, and is now being painstakingly uncovered. The present excavation is around the basilica of the baths complex, formerly a great brick hall the size of a cathedral nave. This centrepiece of Roman civic pride fell into disuse around 350, and was demolished to be succeeded by shanties.

To the great surprise of the excavators, however, a later phase has been discovered which shows that the area was rebuilt. The basilica area was levelled, covered with thousands of tons of carefully laid rubble, and on this base a large number of timber buildings were erected including a massive wooden hall laid on beams, 125 feet long and 52 feet wide with a narrow extension 80 feet long. This hall, with its porticoed facade, wings and steps, was the central structure of a complex of related timber buildings. South of it were rows of timber booths separated by a finely sifted gravel street roofed like a pedestrian precinct. At the upper end of the street was a series of large wooden buildings with classical facades, 'perhaps the last classically inspired buildings in Britain until Wren and the eighteenth-century revival', as the excavator has called them.

Who can have been the initiator of this drastic reorganisation of a whole city centre? It needed wealth, a high degree of organisation, and strong motivation. It was certainly not the work of demoralised peasant villagers, nor was it effected by Irish or Anglo-Saxon invaders. It has the hallmarks of Roman public works, only constructed with timber: we must surely be looking here at a complex of religious or public buildings or the private domain of some great man.

The end of this phase, the last occupation of the main area of the city, is equally intriguing. These halls were not sacked or hurriedly abandoned. They were deliberately dismantled and all useful materials taken away. When? The excavators are not sure, though a date towards the end of the fifth century is the present thinking. Why? This may be easier. Wroxeter is a large town, 200 acres with two miles of walls, and thus difficult to defend without a large fighting force. The likelihood is that the city was abandoned for a more defensible site. And if the princes of Powys had Wroxeter as their main centre up till around 500, could the city have been the base of Vortigern, who appears in the genealogies of Powys? Or could it possibly have been Arthur's base? We shall probably never know, but this massive injection of energy, capital and manpower into what was evidently a declining town suggests the influence of one of the powerful leaders struggling for control in sub-Roman Britain, a man who wished to restore something of the grandeur of Rome, albeit in timber.

The Malta Catacombs

In 1902, in the town of Paola on the island of Malta, workers making way for a new housing development stumbled across a vast subterranean complex that dated back to Malta’s prehistoric period, some 3000 years ago. The sight has since became a UNESCO world Heritage site, and was officially named the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. A more extensive archaeological survey of the site was undertaken, and it became clear that all was not as simple as it seemed. Over 30,000 human skeletons were found in burial chambers dotted across the site, including men, women and children. Many skulls had unusually widened craniums and baffled scientists in terms of ethnic origin. Stories began spreading that it was tangible evidence of a subterranean human species.

The islands earliest inhabitants engaged in human sacrifice to appease their god of the underworld, who they believed dwelled beneath the island itself. The name they gave to him roughly translates as ‘Serpent’. When Saint Paul was shipwrecked on the island as recorded in the bible, he documented this, and even claimed to have been bitten by the serpent himself. He also spent a great deal of time there converting the people from their primitive worship of a reptilian deity to Catholicism. It is believed, by some scholars, that the human sacrifices were involuntarily cast down into the catacombs, to be devoured by the serpent and prevent the islanders from incurring his wrath.

Rumors of a cover-up, by the Maltese government and other authorities, are rife with stories including the scrubbing of texts and ancient drawings from the catacomb walls, and the mysterious and sudden death of the sites first head archaeologist. The underground complex still hasn’t been fully explored. A British embassy worker in the 1940’s, gave an account of foraying into the sites lowest room on the last level, after convincing the tour guide to allow her access to an area usually off limits to the public. Upon entering a small portal in the wall she claimed to have seen 20 reptilian beings covered in white hair on a ledge across from her. One raised his palm and subsequently her candle extinguished. She made a quick exit but upon returning some days later she was told that the guide who had shown her the portal had never been employed at the site and no such portal existed.



The type site of the Harappan (Indus) civilization, Harappa is a major city located in the Punjab, south asia, and is thought to have been at its height between 2500 and 2000 b.c. Harappa was recognized as an archaeological site in 1826, but research had to wait for nearly a century when, between 1920 and 1921, Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni of the Archaeological Survey of India began to explore the site. M.S. Vats continued the work during the time before the beginning of World War II, and after the war, sir Mortimer Wheeler, during his time at the Archaeological Survey of India, dug for a season in 1946. Another long hiatus in activity was broken in 1986 when George Dales began excavations here.


One of the most fascinating yet mysterious cultures of the ancient world is the Harappan civilization. This culture existed along the Indus River in present day Pakistan and India. It was named after the city of Harappa which it was centered around. Harappa and the city of Mohenjo-Daro were the greatest achievements of the Indus valley civilization. These cities are well known for their impressive, organized and regular layout, road and street network, drainage and step-wells for water. Over one hundred other towns and villages also existed in this region. Only part of this language has been deciphered today, leaving numerous questions about this civilization unanswered.

The Harappa civilization existed by the banks of Indus river for more than 3000 years ending somewhere around 2000 - 1500 BC. Their trade activities included both exchange of goods as well as paying by money which was represented by bronze coins that were found at the site during the excavation. Their trade with Mesopotamia took place both by road and river as they had floating goods carriers for the purpose.

The Harappans used chisels, pickaxes, and saws. The saws they used had undulated edges so that dust escaped from the cut that they were sawing. These tools were most likely made of copper, as copper tools and weapons have been found at Harappan sites.

By far the most exquisite but most obscure artifacts unearthed to date are the small, square steatite seals engraved with human or animal motifs. Large numbers of the seals have been found at Mohenjo-daro, many bearing pictographic inscriptions generally thought to be a kind of script. Despite the efforts of philologists from all parts of the world, and despite the use of modern cryptographic analysis, the script remains undeciphered. It is also unknown if it reflects proto-Dravidian, proto-Sramanic (Jain), non-Vedic (non-Hindu or non-Brahmnic), or is perhaps related to Brāhmī script. Similar Brāhmī inscriptions can be found at various Jain sites of present day Tamil Nadu in India.

Each city in the Indus Valley was surrounded by massive walls and gateways. The walls were built to control trade and also to stop the city from being flooded. Each part of the city was made up of walled sections. Each section included different buildings such as: Public buildings, houses, markets, and craft workshops.

Houses and other buildings were made of sun-dried or kiln-fired mud brick. These bricks were so strong, that they have stood up to thousands of years of wear. Each house had an indoor and outdoor kitchen. The outdoor kitchen would be used when it was warmer (so that the oven wouldn’t heat up the house), and the indoor kitchen for use when it was colder. In present day, village houses in this region (e.g. in Kachchh) have two kitchens (outdoor and indoor). They use indoor kitchen mostly as store house and use as cooking place only when there is raining outside, otherwise prefer using outdoor kitchen. This is because people use dry shrub and cow dung as cooking fuel which is very smoky and makes indoor cooking difficult.

Some believe that they were overrun by the war-like Aryans, the Indo-Europeans who, like a storm, rushed in from Euro-Asia and overran Persia and northern India. Some believe that the periodic and frequently destructive flooding of the Indus finally took its toll on the economic health of the civilization. It is possible that the periodic changes of course that the Indus undergoes also contributed to its decline. All we know is that somewhere between 1800 and 1700 BC, the Harappan cities and towns were abandoned and finally reclaimed by the rich soil they had sprung from.