Barberini Mithraeum

Fresco with Mithras Tauroctonos under a vaulted ceiling simulating a grot

Within the area pertaining to the National Gallery of Ancient Art, in the basement of the Palazzina Savorgnan di Brazzà, is an important monument of the Roman imperial period, the so called Barberini Mithraeum.

It is a small edifice which, by reusing earlier buildings of the 2nd century CE, was dedicated to the cult of Mithras, the solar deity of Iranian origin who initially presided over agreements and deals, then assumed a more overtly military profile and, for this reason, was particularly widespread among the roman legions, in the Middle and Late Empire.

The environment, discovered in 1936 and consisting of a rectangular hall covered with a barrel vault and equipped with benches arranged along the sides (the so called praesepia) has a complex and interesting fresco decoration: in the upper part, the heavenly vault with the zodiacal signs; around, ten pinakes (small paintings) telling the history and the sacred feats of Mithras; then, the personifications of Sol (the Sun) and Luna (the Moon). Attention converges on the central scene of the taurobolium where Mithras, flanked as usual by Cautes and Cautopates, ritually kills the bull.

The painted surfaces of the monument are currently undergoing a delicate restoration work.