When the Orient arrived at the gates of Rome, it brought with it a rather discrete deity. This god was born to a virgin on the 25th of December. He was frequently represented as an infant, seated upon the knee of his mother before a group of kneeling wise kings who offered gifts. He was the god of love, “the messiah,” “the good shepherd,” “the savior,” at once both god and man. He had twelve disciples and performed miracles. His cult had a purification ritual, followed by a confirmation process, through which the follower would receive the necessary powers to combat evil. There was a sacred meal of bread and wine, the base of a ceremony for the health of mind and body. Sundays were sacred, holy days. He preached ascetics, principally abstinence and renunciation. The cult believed in both a paradise and a hell, and in the immortality of the soul, a last judgment, and a resurrection of the dead. This god himself had been resurrected, three days after his death, an event that was celebrated every year, on the day of his birth.
This god was called Mithra, originating in distant Persia, and his cult spread throughout the empire, reaching its furthest borders. A rather small yet significant temple was constructed as far away as England, near Hadrian’s Wall, which I have had the pleasure of visiting myself. The cult had a great many followers among the soldiers of the time, and among those of a modest means. While never secret, the services were often held in subterranean temples, largely out of preference. The arrival of Mithra within the empire was followed by the appearance of yet another deity, one whose characteristics bear a striking resemblance to those of the Zoroastrian divinity.