This rite was introduced at Rome when
the worship of Syrian and Persian deities was established or extended there
under the Antonines (Capitol. M. Ant. Phil.
2.265), and especially that of Mithras, the
Persian sun-god, which lasted down to the end of the third century (Lamprid.
9; Hieronym. Ep.
57, vol. 4.2, p.
591), and of Cybele in its later development [compare MEGALESIA
]. A temple of the
Magna Mater where these rites of taurobolium
were celebrated stood on the Vatican, and a portion of St. Peter's is built
over its site (C. I. L.
6.494-564): a Mithraeum or temple of
Mithras stood in the Campus on the edge of the seventh region and the
(ib. 749-754); another on the
Esquiline (ib. 748); others in different parts of Italy, as Ostia (Burn,
Rome and Campagna,
371). Priesthoods were established
with elaborate grades and strange titles, κόρακες,
Tertull. de Cor.
15). Whether this worship was
coloured by an engrafting of a perverted Christianity, it is not our purpose
here to inquire (see Tertull. de Praescr. Haeret.
27, 8; Pressensé, Hist. des Trois Premiers
2.2, pp. 12-20). A special feature of [p. 2.763]
these mysteries was the baptism of blood from a
slaughtered bull or ram (taurobolium
), which was supposed to
regenerate those who were so sprinkled. In the reign of Julian persons of
the highest rank and the great priesthoods of the state participated [SACERDOS
p. 576]. We find a
description of the ceremonies in Prudent. Peristeph.
10.1011-1050: the persons who were to be so consecrated to regeneration,
wearing the mitra
with a golden circlet and the
were placed beneath a
platform upon which a bull or ram decked with garlands and having gilded
horns was slain: the blood flowing through the chinks in the platform
streamed over those beneath, each of whom was supposed to return home
“taurobolio in aeternum renatus” (C. I. L.
6.510). Numerous ancient reliefs represent these rites (see cut under ACINACES; Zoega, Bassirel.
103; Baumeister, Denkm.
p. 925). The votive altars have
symbols on them: e.g.,
on one found on the Vatican
and dedicated to Cybele by a xv. vir Julius Italicus, A.D. 305, is engraved
a pine-tree with a syrinx, pedum, tympana, and the heads of a bull and ram
and the words “taurobolium percepi” (C. I. L.
6.497): on an altar to Mithras of the year A.D. 376, two pine-trees, under
which respectively are bound a ram and a bull, in the branches hang pedum,
fistulae, and sistra. This is dedicated by Ulpius Faventinus: “Augur,
pater et hieroceryx Dei solis invicti Mithrae, archibucolus Dei Liberi,
hierophanta Hecatae, sacerdos Isidis,” and the inscription
concludes with the lines--
Vota Faventinus bis deni suscipit orbis
Ut mactet repetens
aurata fronte bicornes,
which probably means that the ceremony is to be renewed in twenty
years (ib. 504). Especially un-Roman in its phraseology is one which a
praefectus urbis dedicates, A.D. 374, to Mater Magna, Hermes, and Attis
Menotyrannus, “diis animae suae mentisque custodibus” (ib.
499). The taurobolium
was introduced not only
in the rites of Mithras and Cybele, but also in those of Venus Caelestis
(C. I. L.
10.1546). For further details, see Marquardt,
3.87 ff.; Pressensé, l.c.;
Lanciani, Ancient Rome,