The French island of Corsica has yielded a fascinating historical find. Road work uncovered an ancient statue made in the likeness of a pre-Christian god, found in an area that was once the Roman city of Mariana. The statue likely dates to around 100 B.C.
Road work was planned for an area that transected a plot of land close to Mariana's ruins. The local government got in touch with the French National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (INRAP) to get clearance for the road project. When INRAP investigated the area to make sure they wouldn't destroy any significant archaeological material in the process, it turned up the statue.
The excavation team was led by Philippe Chapon, an archaeologist. They started digging in November of last year. Now, the team has revealed the ruins of an entire religious sanctuary, likely built to honor Mithra. They found a room dedicated to worship, and an antichamber.
Mariana was a relatively small settlement. It saw its peak in the third and fourth centuries A.D. It was primarily a harbor town, very close to the Mediterranean Sea.
According to Chapon, the discovery is "very rare and exciting." It constitutes the first known evidence that Mithra was worshipped on Corsica. There are roughly a dozen other sites of Mithra worship in France. Most recently, archaeologists found a place of worship near Angers.
The ruin contained a number of relics, including three oil lamps and the aforementioned Mithra figure, which is made of marble. The statue was found in pieces. When it was restored, the statue shows Mithra sacrificing a bull. As the bull's blood is being spilled, a snake and a dog drink it. Notably, a scorpion is also shown pinching the bull's testicles. This was referred to in ancient times as "The Ultimate."
In addition to the statue and the lamps, researchers found bronze bells, pottery and part of a statue of a woman's head.
Mithraism may have been Christianity's primary competition for hearts and souls at the time the sanctuary was constructed. It has no written legacy, but historians can speculate about the belief system based on inferences from Mithraist artifacts. They believe it was a monotheistic religion that was probably exclusively male. It was also probably most popular among the wealthy and powerful, at least before it caught on with the proles.
Mithraism was banned by Theodosius I in 392 A.D. He declared that Christianity was the Roman Empire's religion. Mithra was consigned to history's dustbin.