This week: Mithras

There are some things we can say with certainty about the Roman god Mithras. We know, for instance, that this wonderfully enigmatic deity flourished between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, but was inspired by the much more ancient Indo-Iranian god Mithra. We know that his cult was popular among Roman soldiers and merchants, who attended secretive torchlit rituals in cave-like underground temples now known as ‘mithraea’. We know that Mithraism had a serious spiritual side, but also acted as a social network, with worshippers undergoing a complex system of initiations, and partaking of communal ritual meals. And we know…

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Animal habits

One common motif is that of a knight in armour engaging in combat with a snail. Another is that of the killer rabbit, shown wielding sword, axe, or bow and arrow as it fights against those hunting it.…

Evolution in the air: the urban conundrum

The human ape, with our big, social brain, is well suited to a life of dense social interaction. So, when faced with limited resources and growing populations, similar solutions tend to present themselves – in very different corners of the planet.…

Ancient newsreels

It portrays a ferocious Maya chief clad in a jaguar skin, with a jaguar’s head on his own, spearing an unfortunate captive. First seen by an outsider in 1946, the paintings are as close a reflection as you are likely to see of life in an elite Maya centre.…

War Classic: The Campaigns of Napoleon

Chandler sees Napoleon as a gifted improviser whose operations were nonetheless underpinned by certain consistent principles. Amongst his key skills as a commander were a personal charisma that inspired and moulded others to his will…

Falconer figurine

What is it? This small, carved figurine depicting a falconer was discovered in Oslo, Norway. The object, made of bone, antler, or…

Why the Armada failed

It was one of the greatest disasters in Spain’s history, yet it came within hours of success. Here,…

Ramming speed

Patrick Boniface takes a look at the role of the ram in naval history.…