Mithra (Avestan: 𐬀𐬭𐬚𐬌𐬨 Miθra, Old Persian:
𐎷𐎰𐎼 Miça) is the
Divinity (yazata) of
Covenant, Light, and Oath. In addition to being the
Mithra is also a judicial figure, an all-seeing Protector
of Truth, and the Guardian of Cattle, the Harvest, and of The Waters.
The Romans attributed their
Mithraic mysteries (the mystery religion
known as Mithraism) to "Persian" (i.e. Zoroastrian) sources relating
to Mithra. Since the early 1970s, the dominant scholarship has noted
dissimilarities between the Persian and Roman traditions, making it,
at most, the result of Roman perceptions of (Pseudo-)Zoroastrian
2 In scripture
3 In inscriptions
4 In tradition
5 In Manichaeism
6 See also
Avestan common noun miθra along with the Vedic common noun mitra
Proto-Iranian *miθra, from the root mi- "to bind", with
the "tool suffix" -θra- "causing to." Thus, etymologically
miθra/mitra means "that which causes binding", preserved in the
Avestan word for "Covenant, Contract, Oath".
Middle Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian etc.), miθra
became mihr, from which
New Persian مهر mihr, Kurdish mehr and mir,
Wazirwola (Pashto) mērə/myer, and Armenian mihr/mher
Mithra is mentioned by name once in the
Yasna 46:5, the
Gathas is the oldest texts of
Zoroastrianism and traditionally
Zoroaster himself, however,
Mithra is not mentioned by
name in the
Yasna Haptanghaiti, a seven-verse section of the Yasna
liturgy that is linguistically as old as the Gathas. As a member of
the Iranian Ahuric Triad, a feature that only
Ahura Mazda and Ahura
Berezaiti (Apam Napat) also have,
Mithra is an exalted figure.
Rashnu "Justice" and
Mithra is one
of the three judges at the Chinvat Bridge, the "Bridge of Separation"
that all Souls must cross. Unlike Sraosha,
Mithra is not, however, a
Psychopomp, a guide of souls to the place of the dead. Should the Good
Thoughts, Words and Deeds outweigh the Bad,
Sraosha alone conveys the
Soul across the Bridge.
Divinity of Contract,
Mithra is undeceivable, infallible,
eternally watchful, and never-resting.
Mithra is additionally the
protector of cattle, and his stock epithet is "of Wide Pastures." He
is Guardian of the waters and ensures that those pastures receive
enough of it.
The lack of Mithra's presence in the texts was once a cause of some
consternation amongst Iranians. An often repeated speculation of the
first half of the 20th century was that the lack of any mention (i.e.,
Zoroaster's silence) of
Mithra in these texts implied that Zoroaster
had rejected Mithra. This ex silentio speculation is no longer
followed. Building on that speculation was another series of
speculations, which postulated that the reason why
Zoroaster did not
Mithra was that the latter was the supreme god of a
bloodthirsty group of daeva-worshipers that
However, "no satisfactory evidence has yet been adduced to show that,
before Zoroaster, the concept of a supreme god existed among the
Iranians, or that among them Mithra – or any other
divinity – ever enjoyed a separate cult of his or her own
outside either their ancient or their
Avestan Hymn to
Mithra (Yacht 10) is the longest, and one of the
best preserved, of the Yashts.
Mithra is described in the Zoroastrian
Avesta scriptures as "
Mithra of Wide Pastures, of the Thousand Ears,
and of the Myriad Eyes," (Yandasna 1:3), "the Lofty, and the
Everlasting... the Province Ruler,"(
Yasna 1:11), "the Yazad
(Divinity) of the Spoken Name" (
Yasna 3:5), and "the Holy," (Yasna
3:13). The Khorda
Avesta (Book of Common Prayer) also refer to
Mithra in the Litany to the Sun, "Homage to
Mithra of Wide Cattle
Pastures," (Khwarshed Niyayesh 5), "Whose Word is True, who is of
the Assembly, Who has a Thousand Ears, the Well-Shaped One, Who has
Ten Thousand Eyes, the Exalted One, Who has Wide Knowledge, the
Helpful One, Who Sleeps Not, the Ever Wakeful. We sacrifice to Mithra,
The Lord of all countries, Whom
Ahura Mazda created the most glorious,
Of the Supernatural Yazads. So may there come to us for Aid, Both
Mithra and Ahura, the Two Exalted Ones,"(Khwarshed Niyayesh 6-7),
"I shall sacrifice to his mace, well aimed against the Skulls of the
Daevas," (Khwarshed Niyayesh 15). Some recent theories have claimed
Mithra represents the Sun itself, but the Khorda
Avesta refers to the
Sun as a separate entity – as it does with the Moon, with which the
Sun has "the Best of Friendships," (Khwarshed Niyayesh 15).
Although there is no known Mithraic iconography in the Achaemenid
period, the deity is invoked in several royal Achaemenid
In Artaxerxes II's (r. 404 - 358 B.C.) trilingual (Old Persian,
Elamite and Babylonian) inscription at Susa (A2Sa) and Hamadan (A2Hc),
which have the same text, the emperor appeals to "Ahuramazda, Anahita,
Mithra protect me against all evil", and in which he beseeches
them to protect what he has built.
Behistun inscription of
Darius I (r. 522 - 486 B.C.)
invokes Ahuramazda and "the Other Gods who are", this inscription of
Artaxerxes II is remarkable as no
Achaemenid king before him had
invoked any but
Ahura Mazda alone by name. Boyce suggests that the
reason for this was that Artaxerxes had chosen
his patron/protector Divinities.
Mithra has invoked again in the single known inscription of Artaxerxes
III, A3Pa, found at Persepolis. In that inscription, that emperor to
appeals to "Ahuramazda and the God
Mithra preserve me, my country, and
what has been built by me."
Artabanus II of Parthia
Artabanus II of Parthia (ca. 128-124 BC). The Hellenistic
depiction on the reverse shows the king kneeling before an Apollo-like
god, which is thought to be Mithra.
Ardashir II (3rd century CE bas-relief
at Taq-e Bostan, Iran. On the left stands the yazata
raised barsom, sanctifying the investiture.
Zoroastrian calendar, the sixteenth day of the month and the
seventh month of the year are dedicated to and are under the
protection of Mithra. The Iranian civil calendar of 1925 adopted
Zoroastrian month-names, and as such also has the seventh month of the
year named "Mihr". The position of the sixteenth day and seventh month
reflects Mithra's rank in the hierarchy of the Divinities; the
sixteenth day and seventh month are respectively the first day of the
second half of the month and the first month of the second half of the
year. The day on which the day-name and month-name dedications
intersect is (like all other such intersections) dedicated to the
divinity of that day/month, and is celebrated with a Jashan (from
Avestan Yasna, "Worship") in honor of that Divinity. In the case of
Mithra, this was Jashan-e Mihragan, or just
Mihragan for short.
Mithra is distinct from the divinity of the
Sun, Hvare.khshaeta (literally "Radiant Sun", whence also Middle
Persian Khorshed for the Sun). However, in
Mithra evolved from being an all-seeing figure (hence vaguely
associated with the Sun) into a divinity co-identified with the Sun
itself, effectively taking over Hvare.khshaeta's role. How or when or
why this occurred is uncertain, but it is commonly attributed to
conflation with Babylonian
Shamash and/or Greek Apollo, with whom
Mithra shares other characteristics (e.g. a judicial function). This
characteristic is part of Mithra's Indo inheritance since the Indic
Rigveda have solar divinities that are not distinct from Mithra/Mitra,
and in the Atharvaveda,
Mitra is associated with sunrise, Sun
Salutation is a daily yogic activity worldwide even in current times
and is preceded by chanting 'OM Mitraya Namaha' as 'Mitraya' is the
dative of the name 'Mitra,' one of the 108 Names for Lord Surya/Sun
Royal names incorporating Mithra's (e.g., "Mithradates") appear in the
dynasties of Parthia, Armenia, and in Anatolia, in Pontus and
The youthful Apollonian-type
Mithra is found in images from other
countries of Iranian culture in the Parthian period, such as Commagene
in the Roman-Parthian border and the
Kushan Empire on the Indo-Iranian
Persian and Parthian-speaking Manichaeans used the name of Mithra
current in their time (Mihryazd, q.e. Mithra-yazata) for two different
The first, called Mihryazd by the Persians, was the "Living Spirit"
(Aramaic rūḥā ḥayyā), a savior-figure who rescues the "First
Man" from the demonic Darkness into which he had plunged.
The second, known as Mihr or Mihr Yazd among the Parthians, is the
"Messenger" (Aramaic īzgaddā), likewise a savior figure, but one
concerned with setting up the structures to liberate the
when the First Man had been defeated.
The second figure mentioned above, the Third Messenger, was the helper
and redeemer of mankind, and identified with another Zoroastrian
divinity, Narisaf (derived from Pahlavi Narsēh from Avestan
Nairyō.saȵhō, meaning 'Potent Utterance', the name of a Yazata).
Citing Boyce, Sundermann remarks, "It was among the Parthian
Mithra as a Sun God surpassed the importance of
Narisaf as the common Iranian image of the Third Messenger; among the
Parthians the dominance of
Mithra was such that his identification
with the Third Messenger led to cultic emphasis on the Mithraic traits
in the Manichaean God."
Unrelated to these Mihrs are Parthian and Sogdian Mytr or Mytrg.
Although sharing linguistic roots with the name Mithra, Werner
Sundermann established that those names denote Manicheanisms
equivalent of Maitreya.
^ Beck, Roger (2002-07-20). "Mithraism". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online
Edition. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
^ Boyce 2001, p. 243, n.18.
^ a b c d "AVESTA: YASNA (English): Chapters 0-8". avesta.org.
^ a b c d "AVESTA: KHORDA AVESTA: Niyayeshes (Litanies)".
^ a b c d Franz Grenet, “MITHRA ii. ICONOGRAPHY IN IRAN AND CENTRAL
ASIA,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at
(accessed on 19 May 2016).
^ Sundermann, Werner (1979), "The Five Sons of the Manichaean God
Mithra", in Ugo Bianchi, Mysteria Mithrae: Proceedings of the
International Seminar on the Religio-Historical Character of Roman
Mithraism, Leiden: Brill
^ Boyce, Mary. (1962) On
Mithra in the Manichaean Pantheon. In
Henning, Walter B. and Yarshater, Ehsan (eds.), A Locust's Leg:
Studies in Honour of S. H. Taqizadeh, London CS1 maint: Extra
text: authors list (link)
^ Sundermann, Werner (2002), "
Mithra in Manicheism", Encyclopaedia
Iranica, Costa Mesa: Mazda Pub
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mithra.
Boyce, Mary (2001), "
Mithra the King and Varuna the Master",
Festschrift für Helmut Humbach zum 80., Trier: WWT,
Malandra, William (1983), An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
Schmidt, Hans-Peter (2006), "
Mithra in Old Indian and Mithra
in Old Iranian", Encyclopaedia Iranica, OT 10, New York:
Jacobs, Bruno (2006), "Mithra", Iconography of Deities and Demons in
the Ancient Near East (PDF), (Electronic Pre-Publication), Leiden: U
Zürich/Brill, archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-06-21 .
Dumezil, Georges (2008), Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European
Representations of Sovereignty. New York: Zone Books.
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