CIMRM Supplement - Leaf from papyrus codex with catechism. Hermopolis, Egypt.

P. Berol. 21196

There is a collection of papyri at Berlin, probably from the excavations of O. Rubensohn at Hermoupolis (modern al-Ashmunein) in 1906. Boxes of the finds have never been opened. William Brashear was able to identify this fragment as a portion of a codex, containing a question-and-answer dialogue relating to initiation into a cult. The presence of the rare word "leontion" (known from a Mithraic inscription) and references to the "Leo" grade of initiation led him to identify it as a manual for the prospective initiate.

7 x 9 cm in size. 4th century.


Brashear transcribes this as follows:4


7. bo/qrw|, bothros: a cavity, trench, or a pit for offering libations to the dead (c.f. Porphyry, de antro, 6). May refer to the man-sized pit found in the Carrawburgh mithraeum which in size and shape resembles a coffin. Possibly the emergence of the initiate from the earth might be part of a ritual in some way. Trenches and pits also appear in a magical context. Alternatively perhaps a sacrifical pit.

8. leoti/w|: literally leontion = "a little lion"; but more likely Leont<e>ion, a cult-centre for members of the Leo grade of Mithraic initiates. And a shrine or temple is the obvious answer to the question "where" on line 7.

9. Death: the initiate is depicted lying on the ground, as if dead, in the fresco in S. Maria Capua Vetere.

9. Mention of a belt.

7. sw[th=roj, "saviour": this may refer to the liberator, who releases the hands of the bound initiate in the frescos; or, as Soter is a standard epithet of deities, to Mithras himself.

8. path/r, "father": Extensive use as title in sacred and secular organisations: see Dieterich 147-155; Reitzenstein 40-41; Tran Tam Tinh 169.6; Franz Poland, Geschichte des griechischen Vereinswesens 1909, repro Leipzig: Zentral-Antiquariat der DDR 1967, 371-373.

9. e)ge/nou le/wn, "did you become a lion": The literature on the Mithraic grade of Leo is extensive. See, for example, Carl Wilhelm Vollgraff, "Le role des Lions dans la communaute mithriaque", in: Hommages a L. Herrmann (Coll. Latomus 44), Brussels 1960, 777-785; Gordon, Doctrines 241; id., Reality, esp. 32-37,46-48; Hinnells in: Hinnells II 301-302; Merkelbach, Mithras, passim; Campbell 264-266, 309-310; Vermaseren, van Essen 156-157, 224-232; Jackson, Meaning, Lion passim; Simonini 157-159; Spada 639-{548; E. Francis, Ciotta 53 (1975) 43-66; Ciotti; Clauss.

10. Probably refers to an initiatory banquet.

It has been suggested that the document contains the questions and answers, each very terse, together with an explanatory comment.


  • William M. Brashear, A Mithraic Catechism from Egypt (P. Berol. 21196), in: Tyche Supplementband 1, 70 p. 2 plates. Vienna: Holzhausen, 1992.

1Brashear, p.5.
2Ciotti = Umberto Ciotti, "Due iscrizioni mitriache inedite", in: Hommages à Maarten J. Vermaseren I-III, Leiden: Brill 1978; vol. I, 233-246.
3Brashear, Forward.
4Transcription based on that on Nova Roma website, and some corrections made. Retrieved 23 May 2014.

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