The CBd
Bonner, SMA, 39.

amulets alike borrow the name of Mithra to conjure with, just as they borrowed Ereshkigal and Iao. Yet among the published amulets I find no convincing evidence that the mysteries of Mithra were penetrated by Egyptian religion.

There is no doubt, however, that Mithraism was affected, at least superficially, by the syncretism that was at work among other religions of the time. The point is well illustrated by a Mithraic tessera, which was ably interpreted by H. Mattingly in the Numismatic Chronicle (1932, pp. 54–57). The piece was originally a silver denarius of Augustus with the emperor's head on the obverse, and on the reverse, Tarpeia half buried under the shields that were thrown upon her. The whole obverse design was purposely obliterated, and also the inscription on the reverse. Thus nothing remained of the original work but the figure of Tarpeia, which was evidently left to serve as an approximate representation of the Mithraic nativity, the god born of the rock. On the erased obverse was inscribed, in letters of about the year 200, the legend Μίθρας Ὠρομάσδης Φρην, which combines Mithra's name with that of the Persian supreme deity and of the Egyptian sun-god, P-Re. In like manner such Mithraists as had a leaning towards magic sometimes added to their own highly characteristic subjects certain alien motifs which seemed to have an affinity to their system. Among them the most conspicuous is the cock-headed anguipede, which may be a symbol of a solar monotheism.


The language and the artistic tradition of Greece cement together the other elements that enter into the amulets examined here. Genuine Egyptian hieroglyphs rarely appear upon them, and Hebrew or Aramaic inscriptions are very few; even when non-Greek subjects are depicted, the accompanying legends are Greek. It is also uncommon to find any shape that is certainly of Egyptian origin; it is not easy to parallel such specimens as the inscribed scarab with extended wings in the British Museum.78 There are a very few triangular amulets,79 a good many of square or rectangular outline, some rectangular prisms, a few bead-shaped and fusiform specimens; but against these there are hundreds of the ordinary oval, or, less commonly, circular forms preferred by the Greek gem cutters.80

Two different tendencies may be observed in the designs. Certain deities retain much of their Egyptian appearance, as Osiris and the “pantheos,” which is derived from such prototypes as are illustrated in the Metternich stele;81 representations of Osiris in mummy form attended by Isis and

79 B. M. 56001, most recently discussed by H. Gressmann, Die orientalischen Religionen im hellenistisch-römischen Zeitalter, 1930, pp. 51 f., B. M. 56024; and an amulet that belonged to the late Professor C. Schmidt. For the last see Phil. Woch., 1932, Nos. 35–38, pp. 101–108 (Preisendanz), and Byz.-neugriech. Jahrb., 9 (1932), 375–378 (Bonner).

80 It may be true, however, that the elliptical form in general use among the Greeks was derived, long before the time of the magical amulets, from Egyptian scarabs of the dynastic period.

81 Budge, Gods, II, 273, top.

Last modified: 2012-11-05 10:12:40