CIMRM 1400. Tauroctony from Sterzing in
the Tyrol. Colour is modern.
A feature of every Mithraeum was a depiction of Mithras, in the act of killing the bull. This is known as the tauroctony in modern literature.1 These vary in detail, as may be seen by looking at the gallery of images, but the main features may be seen very clearly in the coloured version of CIMRM 1400, right.
The oldest known representative of the tauroctony scene is CIMRM 593 from Rome, 2 a dedication of a certain Alcimus, slave steward/bailiff (servus vilicus) of T. Claudius Livianus, who is identified with T. Iulius Aquilinus Castricius Saturninus Claudius Livianus, the praetorian prefect under Trajan. It dates to the first quarter of the 2nd century. 3
1. Basic structure of the tauroctony
2. Was the taurobolium associated with Mithras?
The taurobolium was an ancient ritual associated with the cult of Cybele in all but five of the inscriptions that record it. In its latest form, recorded by Prudentius, it involved standing in a pit under a metal grill, on which a bull was killed, thereby experiencing a shower of blood.
The literary and epigraphic sources for the taurobolium have been collected by Duthoy.6 None of them make any reference to Mithras. The ritual is associated with the cult of the Great Mother, the Magna Mater, Cybele. Duthoy makes the point that the ritual of a baptism in bull's blood, as described by Prudentius, seems to be a late evolution, probably in competition with Christianity.7
There is, therefore, no evidence associating the taurobolium with Mithras.10
The association is widely supposed, probably because it is suggested implicitly in English by Franz Cumont, who suggested that the cults of Cybele and Mithras were associated, and included a discussion of the taurobolium.11 In the complete French text of the TMMM, however, in a footnote not included in his abbreviated version, Les mysteres de Mithra and so not translated in the English, he explicitly rejected the idea that the taurobolium was part of the Mithraic liturgy.12