THE dominant historical fact in western Asia in ancient times was the opposition between the Greco-Roman and Persian civilizations, which was itself only an episode in the great struggle that was constantly in progress between the Orient and the Occident in those countries. In the first enthusiasm of their conquests, the Persians extended their dominion as far as the cities of Ionia and the islands of the Ægean Sea, but their power of expansion was broken at the foot of the Acropolis. One hundred and fifty years later, Alexander destroyed the empire of the Achemenides and carried Hellenic culture to the banks of the Indus. After two and a half centuries the Parthians under the Arsacid dynasty advanced to the borders of Syria, and Mithradates Eupator, an alleged descendant of Darius, penetrated to the heart of Greece at the head of his Persian nobility from Pontus.
After the flood came the ebb. The reconstructed Roman empire of Augustus soon reduced Armenia, Cappadocia and even the kingdom of the Parthians to a kind of vassalage. But after the middle of the third century the Sassanid dynasty restored the power of Persia and revived its ancient pretensions. From that time until the triumph of Islam it was one long
duel between the two rival states, in which now one was victorious and now the other, while neither was ever decisively beaten. An ambassador of king Narses to Galerius called these two states "the two eyes of the human race." 6_1
The "invincible" star of the Persians might wane and vanish, but only to reappear in greater glory. The political and military strength displayed by this nation through the centuries was the result of its high intellectual and moral qualities. Its original culture was always hostile to such an assimilation as that experienced in different degrees by the Aryans of Phrygia, the Semites of Syria and the Hamites of Egypt. Hellenism and Iranism--if I may use that term--were two equally noble adversaries but differently educated, and they always remained separated by instinctive racial hostility as much as by hereditary opposition of interests.
Nevertheless, when two civilizations are in contact for more than a thousand years, numerous exchanges are bound to occur. The influence exercised by Hellenism as far as the uplands of Central Asia has frequently been pointed out, 5_2 but the prestige retained by Persia throughout the ages and the extent of area influenced by its energy has not perhaps been shown with as much accuracy. For even if Mazdaism was the highest expression of Persian genius and its influence in consequence mainly religious, yet it was not exclusively so.
After the fall of the Achemenides the memory of their empire long haunted Alexander's successors. Not only did the dynasties which claimed to be descended from Darius, and which ruled over Pontus, Cappadocia
and Commagene, cultivate political traditions that brought them nearer to their supposed ancestors, but those traditions were partly adopted even by the Seleucides and the Ptolemies, the legitimate heirs of the ancient masters of Asia. People were fond of recalling the ideals of past grandeur and sought to realize them in the present. In that manner several institutions were transmitted to the Roman emperors through the agency of the Asiatic monarchies. The institution of the amici Augusti, for instance, the appointed friends and intimate counselors of the rulers, adopted in Italy the forms in use at the court of the Diadochi, who had themselves imitated the ancient organization of the palace of the Great Kings. 6_3
The custom of carrying the sacred fire before the Cæsars as an emblem of the perpetuity of their power, dated back to Darius and with other Persian traditions passed on to the dynasties that divided the empire of Alexander. There is a striking similarity not only between the observance of the Cæsars and the practice of the Oriental monarchs, but also between the beliefs that they held. The continuity of the political and religious tradition cannot be doubted. 6_4 As the court ceremonial and the internal history of the Hellenistic kingdoms become better known we shall be able to outline with greater precision the manner in which the divided and diminished heritage of the Achemenides, after generations of rulers, was finally left to those Occidental sovereigns who called themselves the sacrosanct lords of the world as Artaxerxes had done. 6_5 It may not be generally known that the habit of welcoming friends with a kiss was a ceremony in the
[paragraph continues] Oriental formulary before it became a familiar custom in Europe. 6_6
It is very difficult to trace the hidden paths by which pure ideas travel from one people to another. But certain it is that at the beginning of our era certain Mazdean conceptions had already spread outside of Asia. The extent of the influence of Parseeism upon the beliefs of Israel under the Achemenides cannot be determined, but its existence is undeniable. 6_7 Some of its doctrines, as for instance those relating to angels and demons, the end of the world and the final resurrection, were propagated everywhere in the basin of the Mediterranean as a consequence of the diffusion of Jewish colonies.
On the other hand, ever since the conquests of Cyrus and Darius, the active attention of the Greeks had been drawn toward the doctrines and religious practices of the new masters of the Orient. 6_8 A number of legends representing Pythagoras, Democritus and other philosophers as disciples of the magi prove the prestige of that powerful sacerdotal class. The Macedonian conquest, which placed the Greeks in direct relations with numerous votaries of Mazdaism, gave a new impetus to works treating that religion, and the great scientific movement inaugurated by Aristotle caused many scholars to look into the doctrines taught by the Persian subjects of the Seleucides. We know from a reliable source that the works catalogued under the name of Zoroaster in the library of Alexandria contained two million lines. This immense body of sacred literature was bound to attract the attention of scholars and to call forth the reflections of philosophers. The dim and dubious science that reached
even the lower classes under the name of "magic" was to a considerable extent of Persian origin, as its name indicates, and along with physician's recipes and thaumaturgic processes it imparted some theological doctrines in a confused fashion. 6_9
This explains why certain institutions and beliefs of the Persians had found imitators and adepts in the Greco-Oriental world long before the Romans had gained a foothold in Asia. Their influence was indirect, secret, frequently indiscernible, but it was certain. The most active agencies in the diffusion of Mazdaism as of Judaism seem to have been colonies of believers who had emigrated far from the mother country. There was a Persian dispersion similar to that of the Israelites. Communities of magi were established not only in eastern Asia Minor, but in Galatia, Phrygia, Lydia and even in Egypt. Everywhere they remained attached to their customs and beliefs with persistent tenacity. 6_10
When Rome extended her conquests into Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, the influence of Persia became much more direct. Superficial contact with the Mazdean populations began with the wars against Mithradates, but it did not become frequent and lasting until the first century of our era. During that century the empire gradually extended its limits to the upper Euphrates, and thereby absorbed all the uplands of Anatolia and Commagene south of the Taurus. The native dynasties which had fostered the secular isolation of those distant countries in spite of the state of vassalage to which they had been reduced disappeared one after another. The Flavians constructed through those hitherto almost inaccessible regions an immense network
of roads that were as important to Rome as the railways of Turkestan or of Siberia are to modern Russia. At the same time Roman legions camped on the banks of the Euphrates and in the mountains of Armenia. Thus all the little Mazdean centers scattered in Cappadocia and Pontus were forced into constant relation with the Latin world, and on the other hand the disappearance of the buffer states made the Roman and Parthian empires neighboring powers in Trajan's time (98-117 A. D.).
From these conquests and annexations in Asia Minor and Syria dates the sudden propagation of the Persian mysteries of Mithra in the Occident. For even though a congregation of their votaries seems to have existed at Rome under Pompey as early as 67 B. C., the real diffusion of the mysteries began with the Flavians, toward the end of the first century of our era. They became more and more prominent under the Antonines and the Severi, and remained the most important cult of paganism until the end of the fourth century. Through them as a medium the original doctrines of Mazdaism were widely propagated in every Latin province, and in order to appreciate the influence of Persia upon the Roman creeds, we must now give them our careful attention.
However, it must be said that the growing influence of Persia did not manifest itself solely in the religious sphere. After the accession of the Sassanid dynasty (228 A. D.) the country once more became conscious of its originality, again resumed the cultivation of national traditions, reorganized the hierarchy of its official clergy and recovered the political cohesion which had been wanting under the Parthians. It felt
and showed its superiority over the neighboring empire that was then torn by factions, thrown upon the mercy of manifestoes, and ruined economically and morally. The studies now being made in the history of that period show more and more that debilitated Rome had become the imitator of Persia.
In the opinion of contemporaries the court of Diocletian, prostrating itself before a master who was regarded as the equal of God, with its complicated hierarchy and crowd of eunuchs that disgraced it, was an imitation of the court of the Sassanides. Galerius declared in unmistakable terms that Persian absolutism must be introduced in his empire, 6_10 and the ancient Cæsarism founded on the will of the people seemed about to be transformed into a sort of caliphate.
Recent discoveries also throw light upon a powerful artistic school that developed in the Parthian empire and later in that of the Sassanides and which grew up independently of the Greek centers of production. Even if it took certain models from the Hellenic sculpture or architecture, it combined them with Oriental motives into a decoration of exuberant richness. Its field of influence extended far beyond Mesopotamia into the south of Syria where it has left monuments of unequalled splendor. The radiance of that brilliant center undoubtedly illuminated Byzantium, the barbarians of the north, and even China. 6_12
The Persian Orient, then, exerted a dominant influence on the political institutions and artistic tastes of the Romans as well as on their ideas and beliefs. The propagation of the religion of Mithra, which always proudly proclaimed its Persian origin, was accompanied by a number of parallel influences of the
people from which it had issued. Never, not even during the Mohammedan invasions, had Europe a narrower escape from becoming Asiatic than when Diocletian officially recognized Mithra as the protector of the reconstructed empire. 6_13 The time when that god seemed to be establishing his authority over the entire civilized world was one of the critical phases in the moral history of antiquity. An irresistible invasion of Semitic and Mazdean conceptions nearly succeeded in permanently overwhelming the Occidental spirit. Even after Mithra had been vanquished and expelled from Christianized Rome, Persia did not disarm. The work of conversion in which Mithraism had failed was taken up by Manicheism, the heir to its cardinal doctrines, and until the Middle Ages Persian dualism continued to cause bloody struggles in the ancient Roman provinces.
* * *
Just as we cannot understand the character of the mysteries of Isis and Serapis without studying the circumstances accompanying their creation by the Ptolemies, so we cannot appreciate the causes of the power attained by the mysteries of Mithra, unless we go far back to their origin.
Here the subject is unfortunately more obscure. The ancient authors tell us almost nothing about the origin of Mithra. One point on which they all agree is that he was a Persian god, but this we should know from the Avesta even if they had not mentioned it. But how did he get to Italy from the Persian uplands?
Two scant lines of Plutarch are the most explicit document we have on the subject. He narrates incidentally that the pirates from Asia Minor vanquished
by Pompey in 67 performed strange sacrifices on Olympus, a volcano of Lycia, and practiced occult rites, among others those of Mithra which, he says, "exist to the present day and were first taught by them." 6_14 Lactantius Placidus, a commentator on Statius and a mediocre authority, also tells us that the cult passed from the Persians to the Phrygians and from the Phrygians to the Romans. 6_15
These two authors agree then in fixing in Asia Minor the origin of this Persian religion that later spread over the Occident, and in fact various indications direct us to that country. The frequency of the name Mithradates, for instance, in the dynasties of Pontus, Cappadocia, Armenia and Commagene, connected with the Achemenides by fictitious genealogies, shows the devotion of those kings to Mithra.
As we see, the Mithraism that was revealed to the Romans at the time of Pompey had established itself in the Anatolian monarchies during the preceding period, which was an. epoch of intense moral and religious unrest. Unfortunately we have no monuments of that period of its history. The absence of direct testimony on the development of Mazdean sects during the last three centuries before our era prevents us from gaining exact knowledge of the Parseeism. of Asia Minor.
None of the temples dedicated to Mithra in that religion have been examined. 6_16 The inscriptions mentioning his name are as yet few and insignificant, so that it is only by indirect means that we can arrive at conclusions about this primitive cult. The only way to explain its distinguishing features in the Occident is to study the environment in which it originated.
During the domination of the Achemenides eastern
[paragraph continues] Asia Minor was colonized by the Persians. The uplands of Anatolia resembled those of Persia in climate and soil, and were especially adapted to the raising of horses. 6_17 In Cappadocia and even in Pontus the aristocracy who owned the soil belonged to the conquering nation. Under the various governments which followed after the death of Alexander, those landlords remained the real masters of the country, chieftains of clans governing the canton where they had their domains, and, on the outskirts of Armenia at least, they retained the hereditary title of satraps through all political vicissitudes until the time of Justinian, thus recalling their Persian origin. 5_18 This military and feudal aristocracy furnished Mithradates Eupator a considerable number of the officers who helped him in his long defiance of Rome, and later it defended the threatened independence of Armenia against the enterprises of the Cæsars. These warriors worshiped Mithra as the protecting genius of their arms, and this is the reason why Mithra always, even in the Latin world, remained the "invincible" god, the tutelary deity of armies, held in special honor by warriors.
Besides the Persian nobility a Persian clergy had also become established in the peninsula. It officiated in famous temples, at Zela in Pontus and Hierocæsarea in Lydia. Magi, called magousaioi or pyrethes (firelighters) were scattered over the Levant. Like the Jews, they retained their national customs and traditional rites with such scrupulous loyalty that Bardesanes of Edessa cited them as an example in his attempt to refute the doctrines of astrology and to show that a nation can retain the same customs in different climates. 6_19 We know their religion sufficiently to be
certain that the Syrian author had good grounds for attributing that conservative spirit to them. The sacrifices of the pyrethes which Strabo observed in Cappadocia recall all the peculiarities of the Avestan liturgy. The same prayers were recited before the altar of the fire while the priest held the sacred fasces (bareçman); the same offerings were made of milk, oil and honey; and the same precautions were taken to prevent the priest's breath from polluting the divine flame. Their gods were practically those of orthodox Mazdaism. They worshiped Ahura Mazda, who had to them remained a divinity of the sky as Zeus and Jupiter had been originally. Below him they venerated deified abstractions (such as Vohumano, "good mind," and Ameretat, "immortality") from which the religion of Zoroaster made its Amshaspends, the archangels surrounding the Most High. 6_20 Finally they sacrificed to the spirits of nature, the Yazatas: for instance, Anahita or Anaites the goddess of the waters--that made fertile the fields; Atar, the personification of fire; and especially Mithra, the pure genius of light.
Thus the basis of the religion of the magi of Asia Minor was Mazdaism, somewhat changed from that of the Avesta, and in certain respects holding closer to the primitive nature worship of the Aryans, but nevertheless a clearly characterized and distinctive Mazdaism, which was to remain the most solid foundation for the greatness of the mysteries of Mithra in the Occident.
Recent discoveries 6_21 of bilingual inscriptions have succeeded in establishing the fact that the language used, or at least written, by the Persian colonies of Asia Minor was not their ancient Aryan idiom, but
[paragraph continues] Aramaic, which was a Semitic dialect. Under the Achemenides this was the diplomatic and commercial language of all countries west of the Tigris. In Cappadocia and Armenia it remained the literary and probably also the liturgical language until it was slowly supplanted by Greek during the Hellenistic period. The very name magousaioi 1 given to the magi in those countries is an exact transcription of a Semitic plural. 6_22 This phenomenon, surprising at first sight, is explained by the history of the magousaioi who emigrated to Asia Minor. They did not come there directly from Persepolis or Susa, but from Mesopotamia. Their religion had been deeply influenced by the speculations of the powerful clergy officiating in the temples of Babylon. The learned theology of the Chaldeans imposed itself on the primitive Mazdaism, which was a collection of traditions and rites rather than a body of doctrines. The divinities of the two religions became identified, their legends connected, and the Semitic astrology, the result of long continued scientific observations, superimposed itself on the naturalistic myths of the Persians. Ahura Mazda was assimilated to Bel, Anahita to Ishtar, and Mithra to Shamash, the solar god. For that reason Mithra was commonly called Sol invictus in the Roman mysteries, and an abstruse and a complicated astronomic symbolism was always part of the teachings revealed to candidates for initiation and manifested itself also in the artistic embellishments of the temple.
In connection with a cult from Commagene we can observe rather closely how the fusion of Parseeism with Semitic and Anatolian creeds took place, because
in those regions the form of religious transformations was at all times syncretic. On a mountain top in the vicinity of a town named Doliche, a deity was worshiped who after a number of transformations became a Jupiter Protector of the Roman armies. Originally this god, who was believed to have discovered the use of iron, seems to have been brought to Commagene by a tribe of blacksmiths, the Chalybes, who had come from the north. 6_23 He was represented standing on a steer and holding in his hand a two-edged ax, an ancient symbol venerated in Crete during the Mycenean age and found also at Labranda in Caria and all over Asia Minor. 6_24 The ax symbolized the god's mastery over the lightning which splits asunder the trees of the forest amidst the din of storms. Once established on Syrian soil, this genius of thunder became identified with some local Baal and his cult took up all the Semitic features. After the conquests of Cyrus and the founding of the Persian domination, this "Lord of the heavens" was readily confounded with Ahura Mazda, who was likewise "the full circle of heaven," according to a definition of Herodotus, 6_25 and whom the Persians also worshiped on mountain tops. When a half Persian, half Hellenic dynasty succeeded Alexander in Commagene, this Baal became a Zeus Oromasdes 1 (Ahura Mazda) residing in the sublime ethereal regions. A Greek inscription speaks of the celestial thrones "on which this supreme divinity receives the souls of its worshipers." 6_26 In the Latin countries "Jupiter Caelus" remained at the head of the Mazdean pantheon, 6_27 and in all the provinces the temples of
[paragraph continues] "Jupiter Dolichenus" were erected beside those of Mithra, and the two remained in the closest relations. 6_28
The same series of transformations took place elsewhere with a number of other gods. 6_29 The Mithra worship was thus formed, in the main, by a combination of Persian beliefs with Semitic theology, incidentally including certain elements from the native cults of Asia Minor. The Greeks later translated the names of the Persian divinities into their language and imposed certain forms of their mysteries on the Mazdean cult. 6_30 Hellenic art lent to the Yazatas that idealized form in which it liked to represent the immortals, and philosophy, especially that of the Stoics, endeavored to discover its own physical and metaphysical theories in the traditions of the magi. But in spite of all these accommodations, adaptations and interpretations, Mithraism always remained in substance a Mazdaism blended with Chaldeanism, that is to say, essentially a barbarian religion. It certainly was far less Hellenized than the Alexandrian cult of Isis and Serapis, or even that of the Great Mother of Pessinus. For that reason it always seemed unacceptable to the Greek world, from which it continued to be. almost completely excluded. Even language furnishes a curious proof of that fact. Greek contains a number of theophorous 1 (god-bearing) names formed from those of Egyptian or Phrygian gods, like Serapion, Metrodoros, Metrophilos--Isidore is in use at the present day--but all known derivations of Mithra are of barbarian formation. The Greeks never admitted the god of their hereditary enemies, and the great centers of Hellenic
civilization escaped his influence and he theirs. 6_31 Mithraism. passed directly from Asia into the Latin world.
There it spread with lightning rapidity from the time it was first introduced. When the progressive march of the Romans toward the Euphrates enabled them to investigate the sacred trust transmitted by Persia to the magi of Asia Minor, and when they became acquainted with the Mazdean beliefs which had matured in the seclusion of the Anatolian mountains, they adopted them with enthusiasm. The Persian cult was spread by the soldiers along the entire length of the frontiers towards the end of the first century and left numerous traces around the camps of the Danube and the Rhine, near the stations along the wall of Britain, and in the vicinity of the army posts scattered along the borders of the Sahara or in the valleys of the Asturias. At the same time the Asiatic merchants introduced it in the ports of the Mediterranean, along the great waterways and roads, and in all commercial cities. It also possessed missionaries in the Oriental slaves who were to be found everywhere, engaging in every pursuit, employed in the public service as well as in domestic work, in the cultivation of land as well as in financial and mining enterprises, and above all in the imperial service, where they filled the offices.
Soon this foreign god gained the favor of high functionaries and of the sovereign himself. At the end of the second century Commodus was initiated into the mysteries, a conversion that had a tremendous effect. A hundred years later Mithra's power was such that at one time he seemed about to eclipse both Oriental and Occidental rivals and to dominate the
entire Roman world. In the year 307 Diocletian, Galerius and Licinius met in a solemn interview at Carnuntum on the Danube and dedicated a sanctuary there to Mithra, "the protector of their empire" (fautori imperii sui).}
In previous works on the mysteries of Mithra we have endeavored to assign causes for the enthusiasm that attracted humble plebeians and great men of the world to the altars of this barbarian god. We shall not repeat here what any one who has the curiosity may read either in a large or a small book according to his preferences, 6_33 but we must consider the problem from a different point of view. Of all Oriental religions the Persian cult was the last to reach the Romans. We shall inquire what new principle it contained; to what inherent qualities it owed its superiority; and through what characteristics it remained distinct in the conflux of creeds of all kinds that were struggling for supremacy in the world at that time.
The originality and value of the Persian religion lay not in its doctrines regarding the nature of the celestial gods. Without doubt Parseeism is of all pagan religions the one that comes closest to monotheism, for it elevates Ahura Mazda high above all other celestial spirits. But the doctrines of Mithraism are not those of Zoroaster. What it received from Persia was chiefly its mythology and ritual; its theology, which was thoroughly saturated with Chaldean erudition, probably did not differ noticeably from the Syrian. At the head of the divine hierarchy it placed as first cause an abstraction, deified Time, the Zervan Akarana of the Avesta. This divinity regulated the revolutions of the stars and in consequence was the absolute master of
all things. Ahura Mazda, whose throne was in the heavens, had become the equivalent of Baal Samin, and even before the magi the Semites had introduced into the Occident the worship of the sun, the source of all energy and light. Babylonian astrology and astrolatry inspired the theories of the mithreums as well as of the Semitic temples, a fact that explains the intimate connection of the two cults. This half religious, half scientific system which was not peculiarly Persian nor original to Mithraism was not the reason for the adoption of that worship by the Roman world.
Neither did the Persian mysteries win the masses by their liturgy. Undoubtedly their secret ceremonies performed in mountain caves, or at any rate in the darkness of the underground crypts, were calculated to inspire awe. Participation in the liturgical meals gave rise to moral comfort and stimulation. By submitting to a sort of baptism the votaries hoped to expiate their sins and regain an untroubled conscience. But the sacred feasts and purifying ablutions connected with the same spiritual hopes are found in other Oriental cults, and the magnificent suggestive ritual of the Egyptian clergy certainly was more impressive than that of the magi. The mythic drama performed in the grottoes of the Persian god and culminating in the immolation of a steer who was considered as the creator and rejuvenator of the earth, must have seemed less important and affecting than the suffering and joy of Isis seeking and reviving the mutilated body of her husband, or than the moaning and jubilation of Cybele mourning over and reviving her lover Attis.
But Persia introduced dualism as a fundamental principle in religion. It was this that distinguished
[paragraph continues] Mithraism from other sects and inspired its dogmatic theology and ethics, giving them a rigor and firmness unknown to Roman paganism. It considered the universe from an entirely new point of view and at the same time provided a new goal in life.
Of course, if we understand by dualism the antithesis of mind and matter, of reason and intuition, it appeared at a considerably earlier period in Greek philosophy, 6_34 where it was one of the leading ideas of neo-Pythagoreanism and of Philo's system. But the distinguishing feature of the doctrine of the magi is the fact that it deified the evil principle, set it up as a rival to the supreme deity, and taught that both had to be worshiped. This system offered an apparently simple solution to the problem of evil, the stumbling block of theologies, and it attracted the cultured minds as well as the masses, to whom it afforded an explanation of their sufferings. just as the mysteries of Mithra began to spread Plutarch wrote of them favorably and was inclined himself to adopt them. 6_35 From that time dates the appearance in literature of the anti-gods, 1 6_36 under the command of the powers of darkness 6_37 and arrayed against the celestial spirits, messengers or "angels" 6_38 of divinity. They were Ahriman's devas struggling with the Yazatas of Ormuzd.
A curious passage in Porphyry 6_39 shows that the earliest neo-Platonists had already admitted Persian demonology into their system. Below the incorporeal and indivisible supreme being, below the stars and the planets, there were countless spirits. 6_40 Some of them, the gods of cities and nations, received special names:
the others comprised a nameless multitude. They were divided into two groups. The first were the benevolent spirits that gave fecundity to plants and animals, serenity to nature, and knowledge to men. They acted as intermediaries between gods and men, bearing up to heaven the homage and prayers of the faithful, and down from heaven portents and warnings. The others were wicked spirits inhabiting regions close to the earth and there was no evil that they did not exert every effort to cause. 6_41 At the same time both violent and cunning, impetuous and crafty, they were the authors of all the calamities that befell the world, such as pestilence, famine, tempests and earthquakes. They kindled evil passions and illicit desires in the hearts of men and provoked war and sedition. They were clever deceivers rejoicing in lies and impostures. They encouraged the phantasmagoria and mystification of the sorcerers 6_42 and gloated over the bloody sacrifices which magicians offered to them all, but especially to their chief.
Doctrines very similar to these were certainly taught in the mysteries of Mithra; homage was paid to Ahriman (Arimanius) lord of the somber underworld, and master of the infernal spirits. 6_43 This cult has continued in the Orient to the present day among the Yezidis, or devil worshipers.
In his treatise against the magi. Theodore of Mopsuestia 6_44 speaks of Ahriman as Satan. 1 At first sight there really is a surprising resemblance between the two. Both are heads of a numerous army of demons; both are spirits of error and falsehood, princes of darkness,
tempters and corrupters. An almost identical picture of the pair could be drawn, and in fact they are practically the same figure under different names. It is generally admitted that Judaism took the notion of an adversary of God 6_45 from the Mazdeans along with portions of their dualism. It was therefore natural that Jewish doctrine, of which Christianity is heir, should have been closely allied to the mysteries of Mithra. A considerable part of the more or less orthodox beliefs and visions that gave the Middle Ages their nightmare of hell and the devil thus came from Persia by two channels: on the one hand Judeo-Christian literature, both canonical and apocryphal; and on the other, the remnants of the Mithra cult and the various sects of Manicheism that continued to preach the old Persian doctrines on the antagonism between the two world principles.
But a theoretical adherence of the mind to dogmas that satisfy it, does not suffice to convert it to a new religion. There must be motives of conduct and a basis for hope besides grounds for belief. The Persian dualism was not only a powerful metaphysical conception; it was also the foundation of a very efficacious system of ethics, and this was the chief agent in the success of the mysteries of Mithra during the second and third centuries in the Roman world then animated by unrealized aspirations for more perfect justice and holiness.
A sentence of the Emperor Julian, 6_46 unfortunately too brief, tells us that Mithra subjected his worshipers to "commandments" 1 and rewarded faithful observance both in this world and in the next. The importance
attached by the Persians to their peculiar ethics and the rigor with which they observed its precepts, are perhaps the most striking features of their national character as manifested in history. They were a race of conquerors subject to a severe discipline, like the Romans, and like them they realized the necessity of discipline in the administration of a vast empire. Certain affinities between the two imperial nations connected them directly without the mediation of the Greek world. Mazdaism brought long awaited satisfaction to the old-time Roman desire for a practical religion that would subject the individual to a rule of conduct and contribute to the welfare of the state. 6_47 Mithra infused a new vigor into the paganism of the Occident by introducing the imperative ethics of Persia.
Unhappily the text of the Mithraic decalogue has not been preserved and its principal commandments can be restored only by implication.
Mithra, the ancient spirit of light, became the god of truth and justice in the religion of Zoroaster and retained that character in the Occident. He was the Mazdean Apollo, but while Hellenism, with a finer appreciation of beauty, developed the esthetic qualities in Apollo, the Persians, caring more for matters of conscience, emphasized the moral character in Mithra. 6_48 The Greeks, themselves little scrupulous in that respect, were struck by the abhorrence in which their Oriental neighbors held a lie. The Persians conceived of Ahriman as the embodiment of deceit. Mithra was always the god invoked as the guarantor of faith and protector of the inviolability of contracts. Absolute fidelity to his oath had to be a cardinal virtue
in the religion of a soldier, whose first act upon enlistment was to pledge obedience and devotion to the sovereign. This religion exalted loyalty and fidelity and undoubtedly tried to inspire a feeling similar to our modern idea of honor.
In addition to respect for authority it preached fraternity. All the initiates considered themselves as sons of the same father owing to one another a brother's affection. It is a question whether they extended the love of neighbor to that universal charity taught by philosophy and Christianity. Emperor Julian, a devoted mystic, liked to set up such an ideal, and it is probable that the Mithraists of later paganism rose to this conception of duty, 6_49 but they were not its authors. They seemed to have attached more importance to the virile qualities than to compassion and gentleness. The fraternal spirit of initiates calling themselves soldiers was doubtless more akin to the spirit of comradeship in a regiment that has esprit de corps, than to the love of one's neighbor that inspires works of mercy towards all.
All primitive people imagine nature filled with unclean and wicked spirits that corrupt and torture those who disturb their repose; but dualism endowed this universal belief with marvelous power as well as with a dogmatic basis. Mazdaism is governed throughout by ideas of purity and impurity. "No religion on earth has ever been so completely dominated by an ideal of purification." 6_50 This kind of perfection was the goal of the aspiration and effort of believers. They were obliged to guard with infinite precaution against defiling the divine elements, for instance water or fire, or their own persons, and to wipe out all pollution by
repeated lustrations. But, as in the Syrian cults of the imperial period, these Mithraic rites did remain simply formal, mechanical and of the flesh, inspired by the old idea of tabu. Mithraic baptism wiped out moral faults; the purity aimed at had become spiritual.
This perfect purity distinguishes the mysteries of Mithra from those of all other Oriental gods. Serapis is the brother and husband of Isis, Attis the lover of Cybele, every Syrian Baal is coupled with a spouse; but Mithra lives alone. Mithra is chaste, Mithra is holy (sanctus), 6_51 and for the worship of fecundity he substitutes a new reverence for continence.
However, although resistance to sensuality is laudable and although the ideal of perfection of this Mazdean sect inclined towards the asceticism to which the Manichean conception of virtue led, yet good does not consist exclusively in abnegation and self-control, but also in action. It is not sufficient for a religion to classify moral values, but in order to be effective it must furnish motives for putting them into practice. Dualism was peculiarly favorable for the development of individual effort and human energy; here its influence was strongest. It taught that the world is the scene of a perpetual struggle between two powers that share the mastery; the goal to be reached is the disappearance of evil and the uncontested dominion, the exclusive reign, of the good. Animals and plants, as well as man, are drawn up in two rival camps perpetually hostile, and all nature participates in the eternal combat of the two opposing principles. The demons created by the infernal spirit emerge constantly from the abyss and roam about the earth; they penetrate everywhere carrying corruption, distress, sickness
and death. The celestial spirits and the supporters of piety are compelled constantly to baffle their ever renewed enterprises. The strife continues in the heart and conscience of man, the epitome of the universe, between the divine law of duty and the suggestions of the evil spirits. Life is a merciless war knowing no truce. The task of the true Mazdean consisted in constantly fighting the evil in order to bring about the gradual triumph of Ormuzd in the world. The believer was the assistant of the gods in their work of purification and improvement.
The worshipers of Mithra did not lose themselves in a contemplative mysticism like other sects. Their morality particularly encouraged action, and during a period of laxness, anarchy and confusion, they found stimulation, comfort and support in its precepts. Resistance to the promptings of degrading instincts assumed the glamor and prestige of warlike exploits in their eyes and instilled an active principle of progress into their character. By supplying a new conception of the world, dualism also gave a new meaning to life. This same dualism determined the eschatological beliefs of the Mithraists. The antagonism between heaven and hell was extended into the life hereafter. 6_52 Mithra, the "invincible" god who assisted the faithful in their struggle against the malignity of the demons, was not only their strong companion in their human trials, but as an antagonist of the infernal powers he insured the welfare of his followers in the future life as well as on earth. When the genius of corruption seizes the corpse after death, the spirits of darkness and the celestial messengers struggle for the possession of the soul that has left its corporeal prison. It stands
trial before Mithra, and if its merits outweigh its shortcomings in the divine balance it is defended from Ahriman's agents that seek to drag it into the infernal abyss. Finally it is led into the ethereal regions where Jupiter-Ormuzd reigns in eternal light. The believers in Mithra did not agree with the votaries of Serapis who held that the souls of the just reside in the depths of the earth. 6_53 To them that somber kingdom was the domain of wrong-doers. The souls of the just live in the boundless light that extends above the stars, and by divesting themselves of all sensuality and all lust in passing through the planetary spheres 6_54 they become as pure as the gods whose company they enter.
However, when the world came to an end the body also was to share in that happiness because it was believed as in Egypt that the whole person would enjoy eternal life. After time had run its course Mithra would raise all men from the dead, pouring out a marvelous beverage of immortality for the good, but all evil doers would be annihilated by fire together with Ahriman himself.
* * *
Of all the Oriental cults none was so severe as Mithraism, none attained an equal moral elevation, none could have had so strong a hold on mind and heart. In many respects it gave its definite religious formula to the pagan world and the influence of its ideas remained long after the religion itself had come to a violent end. Persian dualism introduced certain principles into Europe that have never ceased to exert an influence. Its whole history proves the thesis with which we began, the power of resistance and of influence
possessed by Persian culture and religion. These possessed an originality so independent that after having resisted in the Orient the power of absorption of Hellenism, and after having checked the Christian propaganda, they even withstood the destructive power of Islam. Firdusi (940-1020) glories in the ancient national traditions and the mythical heroes of Mazdaism, and while the idolatry of Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor has long since died out or degenerated, there are votaries of Zoroaster at the present day who piously perform the sacred ceremonies of the Avesta and practise genuine fire worship.
Another witness to the vitality of Mithraic Mazdaism is the fact that it escaped becoming a kind of state religion of the Roman empire during the third century. An oft-quoted sentence of Renan's says: 6_55 "If Christianity had been checked in its growth by some deadly disease, the world would have become Mithraic." In hazarding that statement he undoubtedly conjured up a picture of what would have been the condition of this poor world in that case. He must have imagined, one of his followers would have us believe, 6_56 that the morals of the human race would have been but little changed, a little more virile perhaps, a little less charitable, but only a shade different. The erudite theology taught by the mysteries would obviously have shown a laudable respect for science, but as its dogmas were based upon a false physics it would apparently have insured the persistence of an infinity of errors. Astronomy would not be lacking, but astrology would have been unassailable, while the heavens would still be revolving around the earth to accord with its doctrines. The greatest
danger, it appears to me, would have been that the Cæsars would have established a theocratic absolutism supported by the Oriental ideas of the divinity of kings. The union of throne and altar would have been inseparable, and Europe would never have known the invigorating struggle between church and state. But on the other hand the discipline of Mithraism, so productive of individual energy, and the democratic organization of its societies in which senators and slaves rubbed elbows, contain a germ of liberty.
We might dwell at some length on these contrasting possibilities, but it is hard to find a mental pastime less profitable than the attempt to remake history and to conjecture on what might have been had events proved otherwise. If the torrent of actions and reactions that carries us along were turned out of its course what imagination could describe the unknown regions through which it would flow?
147:1 Zeu~c O?romásdhc