In the Roman empire of the second to fourth centuries, "taurobolium" [Franz Cumont derived the word from the epithet of "Artemis Tauropolos" (whom he identified with Persian Anahita, a connection no longer sustained); see Cumont, "Le Taurobole et le Culte de Bellone," "Revue d'histoire et de littérature religieuses", 6.2, 1901.] referred to practices involving the sacrifice of a bull, which after mid-second century became connected with the worship of the Great Mother of the Gods; though not previously limited to her "cultus", after 159 CE all private "taurobolia" inscriptions mention "Magna Mater". [Jeremy B. Rutter, "The Three Phases of the Taurobolium" "Phoenix" 22.3 (Autumn 1968), pp. 226-249, recognizes three phases of the "taurobolium", a first phase (ca 135-59) in which the ceremony was not linked to the cult of the Great Mother, a second expansive phase (ca 159-290) west of the Adriatic and a brief third phase (ca 376-90) confined to aristocratic pagan circles.] Originating in Asia Minor, ["There can be no doubt that the taurobolium originated in Asia Mionor", Rutter observes (Rutter 1968:227.] its earliest attested performance in Italy occurred in 134 BCE, at Puteoli, in honor of "Venus Caelestis", [Venus Caelestis, by "interpretatio Romana", denoted Tanit, the goddess of Carthage; her cult statue had been brought to Rome after the destruction of Carthage, but was returned.] documented by an inscription. ["C.I.L.", X.1596; inscription quoted by Rutter 1968:231.] .

The earliest inscriptions, of the second century in Asia Minor, point to a bull chase in which the animal was overcome, linked with a "panegyris" in honour of a deity or deities, but not an essentially religious ceremony, though a bull was sacrificed and its flesh distributed. The addition of the "taurobolium" and the institution of an "archigallus" were innovations in the cult of Magna Mater made by Antoninus Pius on the occasion of his "vicennalia", or twentieth year of reign, in 158-59. [J. Beaujeu, "La religion romaine à l'apogée de l'empire", (Paris) 1955, I. 313ff, and P. Lambrechts, "Les fêtes 'phrygiennes' de Cybèle et d'Attis," "Bulletin de l'Institut Historique Belge de Rome" (1952) pp 141-70, both noted in Rutter 1968:234 note 26. This was the moment when Attis first appeared on a Roman coin.] The first dated reference to Magna Mater in a "tauribolium" inscription dates from 160. The "vires", or testicles of the bull, were removed from Rome and dedicated at a "tauribolium" altar at Lugdunum,27 November 160. Jeremy Rutter makes the suggestion that the bull's testicles substituted for the self-castration of devotees of Cybele, abhorrent to the Roman "ethos". [Rutter 1968:235.]

Public "taurobolia", enlisting the benevolence of "Magna Mater" on behalf of the emperor, became common in Italy and Gaul, Hispania and Africa. The last public "taurobolium" for which there is an inscription was carried out for Diocletian and Maximian at Mactar in Numidia at the close of the third century; the Christian emperors would hardly have encouraged such a rite in their honour.

The best-known and most vivid description, though of the quite different taurobolium as it was revived in aristocratic pagan circles, is the notorious one that has coloured early scholarship, which was provided in an anti-pagan poem by the late fourth-century Christian Prudentius in " [http://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prudentii_Peristephanon Peristephanon] ": [ X, "Romanus contra gentiles", lines 1006-85.] the priest of the Great Mother, clad in a silk toga worn "cinctu Gabino", with golden crown and fillets on his head, takes his place in a trench covered by a platform of planks pierced with fine holes, on which a bull, magnificent with flowers and gold, is slain. The blood rains through the platform onto the priest below, who receives it on his face, and even on his tongue and palate, and after the baptism presents himself before his fellow-worshippers purified and regenerated, and receives their salutations and reverence. Prudentius does not explicitly mention the "taurobolium", but the ceremony, in its new form, is unmistakable from other contemporaneous sources: "At Novaesium on the Rhine in Germania Inferior, a blood pit was found in what was probably a Metroon," Jeremy Rutter observes.

Recent scholarship has called into question the reliability of Prudentius' description. It is a late account by a Christian who was hostile to paganism, and may have distorted the rite for effect. [ [http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2003/2003-02-32.html Antonía Tripolitis, "Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age" (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans) 2002.] ] Earlier inscriptions that mention the rite suggest a less gory and elaborate sacrificial rite. Therefore, Prudentius' description may be based on a late evolution of the "taurobolium". [Robert Duthoy, "The Taurobolium", Leiden 1969.]

The "taurobolium" in the second and third centuries was usually performed as a measure for the welfare of the Emperor, Empire, or community; H. Oppermann [Oppermann, in "RE" 5A, (1934) s.v. "taurobolium".] denies early reports that its date was frequently 24 March, the "Dies Sanguinis" ("Day of Blood") of the annual festival of the Great Mother Cybele and Attis; Opp [ermann reports that there were no "taurobolia" in late March. In the late third and the fourth centuries its usual motive was the purification or regeneration of an individual, who was spoken of as "renatus in aeternum", "reborn for eternity", in consequence of the ceremony. ["Corp. Insc. Lat." Vi. 510-512.] When its efficacy was not eternal, its effect was considered to endure for twenty years. It was also performed as the fulfilment of a vow, or by command of the goddess herself, and the privilege was not limited by sex or class. In its fourth-century revival in high pagan circles, Rutter has observed, "We might even justifiably say that the taurobolium, rather than a rite effectual in itself was a symbol of paganism. It was a rite apparently forbidden by the Christian emperors and thus became a hallmark of the pagan nobility in their final struggle against Christianity and the Christian emperors." [Rutter 1968:242.] The place of its performance at Rome was near the site of St Peter's, in the excavations of which several altars and inscriptions commemorative of "taurobolia" were discovered.

A criobolium, substituting a ram for the bull, was also practiced, sometimes together with the "taurobolium;". [Rutter 1968:226.]

"Encyclopaedia Brittanica" 1911, under the influence of Sir James George Frazer's "The Golden Bough", suggested "The taurobolium was probably a sacred drama symbolizing the relations of the Mother and Attis (q.v.). The descent of the priest into the sacrificial foss symbolized the death of Attis, the withering of the vegetation of Mother Earth; his bath of blood and emergence the restoration of Attis, the rebirth of vegetation. The ceremony may be the spiritualized descent of the primitive oriental practice of drinking or being baptized in the blood of an animal, based upon a belief that the strength of brute creation could be acquired by consumption of its substance or contact with its blood. In spite of the phrase renatus in aeternum, there is no reason to suppose that the ceremony was in any way borrowed from Christianity."



* Duthoy, Robert. "The Taurobolium: Its Evolution and Terminology". (Leiden: E.J. Brill) 1969.
* Esperandieu, "Inscriptions de Lectoure" (1892), pp. 94 if.
* Hepding, Hugo. "Attis, Seine Mythen und Sein Kult" (Giessen, 1903), pp. 168 if., 201
* Showerman, Grant. "The Great Mother of the Gods", "Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin", No. 43; Philology and Literature Series, 1.3 (1901).
* Zippel, "Festschrift zum Doctorjubilaeum, Ludwig Friedländer", 1895, p. 489 f.
* [http://www.lochanpress.com Christ and the Taurobolium - Lord Mithras in the genesis of Christianity] , D.K. Malloch, Lochan, 2006, ISBN: 978-0-9540786-1-4.

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  • taurobolium — /tawr euh boh lee euhm/, n., pl. taurobolia / lee euh/. 1. the sacrifice of a bull, followed by the baptism of neophytes in the blood, as practiced in the ancient rites of Mithras or Cybele. 2. Fine Arts. a representation of the killing of a bull …   Universalium

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