CIMRM 346 - Sacrificial bones from San Clemente, Rome

See also: CIMRM 338 Mithraeum; 339-340 Altar and inscription; 341 Cippus and inscription; 342 Fragments of torchbearers; 343 Sol; 344 Rock-birth; 345 "The good shepherd"; 346 Sacrificial bones; 347-348 Inscriptions.

Nolan writes (p.226): "After removing the layer of old Roman cement, which was as hard as flint and which covered the floor to a depth of al out six inches, we came upon some square and some oblong enclosures surrounded by light walls constructed of brick, of pieces of tufa, and fragments of marble, and covered with a layer of plaster. These enclosures, especially the oblong ones, seemed very like tombs; ... It was not yet a month since all this part had been under water, and now the earthy material remained a mass of soft mud. Carefully, and bit by bit were the contents of these enclosures removed. There seemed to have been no order or arrangement in the materials which filled up these tomb-like receptacles ; pieces of terra-cottti tiles, fragments of tufa and of marble, part of a phial, a few fragments of very fine terracotta vases, a lamp such as those found in the Catacombs but without any symbol - - Christian or otherwise , lumps of carbonised wood reduced now to a soft black pulp, and a quantity of animal bones, principally head-bones, were found mixed up together in one of these enclosures. Some of the bones are large jaw-bones most of which are furnished with well-preserved teeth, and two very large wild boar tusks with a number of smaller ones also form part of the collection.

It now became apparent that whatever may have been the original use of these tomb-like enclosures, they were last used as receptacles for the bones of animals --of the animals, no doubt, which had been sacrificed to the pagan deity Mithras, for the apartment in which these bones were found adjoins, on one side, an ambulacrum which seems to have served as a kind of atrium to the temple of Mithras, constructed about the third century and probably in the time of the fierce persecutions when Christian Oratories were freely confiscated and handed over to pagan worshippers. It therefore seems beyond doubt that this room was used as a deposit for the bones of the animals sacrificed to Mithras. But ther the apparent tombs were once the tombs of Christians and afterwards defiled by the worshippers of Mithras cannot be determined until, at least, the excavations will have been pushed further. One thing we know, however, and this on the evidence of the greatest living authority on the subject, is that our collection of bones of animals sacrificed to Mithras is the largest and most interesting ever discovered. ...

We give here a reproduction of a photograph which we have made of all such bones so far unearthed at S. Clemente, reserving for another work a fuller notice of the discovery."

CIMRM entry

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