CIMRM Supplement - Mithraeum. Island of Ponza, Italy.

The Zodiac. From: here.

Modern reconstruction of the zodiac. From: here.

Plan of the Mithraeum.

Drawing of the zodiac.

Section of Mithraeum.

Section of Mithraeum.

The (empty) cult niche.

Map of the island of Ponza.

Diagram of location of Mithraeum.

Drawing of entrance to Mithraeum.

Some time before 1866, a Mithraeum containing the remains of a zodiac was discovered on the tiny Italian island of Ponza. It was investigated in 1969 by Maarten Vermaseren.1 The most interesting feature is a zodiac in the ceiling.

The Mithraeum is situated under the Palazzo Tagliamonte in the Salita Scalpellini, and may be entered through the building that housed the photographic studio of the late D'Arco Biagio, Corso Carlo Pisicane 19. The original entrance to the cave, via its northern side, is now partly obstructed by the foundations of the Palazzo. It is currently accessed by a flight of 8 steps leading down to a platform, from which the cave can be entered.

The chamber is irregular (L. 10.9m, W. 6.9-6.45m). At the western end is the cult niche, which is stuccoed with dark red. There is a pilaster on either side of it. A ridge across the back of the niche, at the height of 1m, is probably the remains of the dais on which the cult image stood. The tauroctony was probably of stucco and is lost, but an area of black paint, from the cave element of the tauroctony, remains on the left hand side. There are remains of Sol in his quadriga at top left; on the right, but lower, the figure of Luna standing in a chariot may be seen, drawn by a single horse looking back at Luna. Below the horse is a primitive Cautopates. To the right of this, on the pilaster, looking right, are the remains of a figure in Phrygian cap kneeling with arms outstretched, possibly part of the water-miracle. The right hand side of the niche is coloured red and has no figures. The left hand side (d) is a primitive Cautes, wearing a tiara. At his right is a cock turned to the left. The general quality of the work is low.

The usual benches / podiums are on the north and south walls, although rather irregular. The floor is made of stamped earth.

On the vault, in front of the niche, is a high-quality stucco relief of the zodiac. The zodiac is painted yellow and has deteriorated towards the cult niche, but is otherwise well-preserved. In the centre is the Great Bear, and below it the Little Bear. Inside a second circle is a snake. Outside this is a third circle divided into the 12 signs of the zodiac. Two further figures are depicted outside, one blowing a long horn. These may be regarded as wind gods.

The divisions of the zodiac suggest a date of the 3rd century AD.2

At some point in antiquity or later, a cross has been cut into the wall above a water font, opposite the entrance, at the beginning of the left wall of the cave. There is no evidence of deliberate destruction of the temple.

Coordinates: 40° 54' 00" N, 12° 57' 42" / 40.9000° N, 12.9667°3


  • M.J.Vermaseren, Mithriaca II: the Mithraeum at Ponza. Leiden: Brill, 1974. 38p. + pl. I - XXXIV.

1Vermaseren, p.5: "Near the second port (now that of S. Maria) a Mithraeum was discovered about a century ago. It has however remained comparatively unknown and neglected." and states that the zodiac is mentioned in an unpublished manuscript from 1866.
2Vermaseren, p.13, n.2: "See now: H. G. Gundel- R. Büker in PWRE S.v. Zodiakos. Der Tierkreis in der antiken Literatur und Kunst (München 1972), X A, cols 461 ff; about the divisions that became usual in the second century A.D. see col. 702."
3Thanks to John W. Brandt who supplied these.

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