Mithras was a Roman cult god of the early centuries AD. His religious cult is termed the Mithraic Mysteries, as very little information about the rites of his worship is known, with the exception of second-hand accounts, due to the Mithraists' tendency to practice in secret. It is known that he was a popular god amongst the soldiers of the Roman legions, and that membership of the cult may have been restricted to men.
Members of the Mithraic Mysteries met in underground rooms called Mithraeums, which were modeled after the key bull-slaying scene of the Mithras myth. Mithraeums have been found in modern archeological sites throughout the former Roman Empire. Similar to the Greek cult of Dionysus, the Mithraic Mysteries had a number of degrees of initiation for members, who to overcome certain tests in order to achieve a higher rank. While no written doctrine of Mithraism survives, accounts from contemporary writers suggest that members abided by a code of ethics stemming from the religion.
Mithraism is believed to have been an early rival of the fledgling Christian religion. However, it likely never achieved the same success due to its secretive and exclusive membership that appealed to male gentry and merchants. Mithraism was subsequently abandoned in the 4th century AD due to the rise of Christianity in Rome and its ban on pagan religions.
In surviving iconography, Mithras is depicted in a triad of scenes including his birth from a rock, the tauroctony, and the banquet with Sol Invictus. Because of the lack of written sources, scholars have only been able to theorize the meaning of these scenes. It is also unknown how these scenes connect, or if there are other, associated events of the Mithras myth.
The first scene, the birth from a rock, shows Mithras busting forth from the stone naked and fully-grown. He wears only a Phrygian cap on his head. His left hand sometimes bears a torch, but his right hand holds the dagger which he uses in the bull-slaying. In some cases, the god Saturn gives Mithras this dagger. Sol, the sun god, and Luna, the moon goddess, are sometimes depicted as present for his birth. Some scholars theorize that Mithras' birth was on December 25th, but there is a lack of clear evidence; the day was at the very least the feast day for Sol Invictus, who is a key figure in the Mysteries.
The second scene, the tauroctony, is the most iconic image of Mithras and shows him ritually killing a bull. The scene depicts Mithras in a cave leaning on the bull with his legs and body as he holds its head with his left hand and cuts the bull's throat with the dagger in his right. This scene is believed to be an allegory for the universe, with the cave representing the cosmos and Mithras, the bull, and the other elements of the image standing in for the constellations of the Zodiac. Some interpret historical evidence that the ancients were aware of the celestial phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes that Mithras was a personification of a new astrological age come to claim dominion over the former, represented by the constellation Taurus--the bull. The tauroctony was central to the structure of the Mithraeum, which are thought to have been constructed in its image, in addition to being found sculpted as a primary altar of worship.
The third scene is the banquet, where Mithras sits alongside Sol Invictus (lit."unconquered sun"), a form of the sun god of equal cult-like veneration, and Luna. They are depicted as feasting on the slain bull. The reenactment of this banquet is thought to have been a key celebration within the walls of the Mithraeums.
Relationship to Zoroastrianism and Mithra
Ancient historians assumed that Mithras was directly related to the Zoroastrian divinity Mithra, a position held by Franz Cumont, the first modern scholar of Mithraism. Images of the lion-headed leontocephaline statues, found at Mithraic sites, may be representations of Ahriman, the Zoroastrian embodiment of evil, as they are found dedicated to a god named "Arimanus." Alternatively, they are thought to represent time and its Zoroastrian embodiment, Zurvan, or separate deities altogether. Other writers contemporary during the Roman Empire connected Zoroaster himself to Mithras myths, citing the religious founder's role in blessing the tauroctony cave.
However, modern scholars believe that the Roman Mithras religion may have had little to do with the Persian Mithra. They cite the differences in roles between the Persian Mithra and Roman Mithras, specifically that Mithra was never associated with a bull-slaying, as a key discrepancy between the two figures. And while the names such as Mithras and Arimanus may have been imported from the Persia, there is a dearth of evidence that the Romans who began the Mithraic religion had extensive knowledge of the Zoroastrian religion.
In Shin Megami Tensei
Mithras' design in Shin Megami Tensei illustrates the mythological motif of his birth from a rock. He is naked except for his knife and cap, and his rock is patterned with astrological symbols suggesting his relationship with the Zodiac and precession of the equinoxes. Making major appearances in only three games, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, and Shin Megami Tensei IV, Mithras is classed as a demon under the volatile Tyrant race, which is at odds with his mythological origins as a god of light and catalyst for renewal.
Mithras was also erroneously named Mitra in the English localization of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. Though Mithras' name is ultimately derived from Mitra, Mitra is himself a deity of separate character from Vedic mythology. For more on this naming scheme, see the Mithra page. His name was corrected in the English version in the localization of Shin Megami Tensei IV.
Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
Mithras first appears in Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, and subsequently its 3DS remake, as a level 80 member of the Tyrant race. He can be found in random battles only in the post-game content available on the Sea Ark building's 11th floor, in the 5th and final section that guards Beelzebub. As one of the strongest demons in Soul Hackers, Mithras is one of the few to innately boast Megidola, technically the most powerful almighty spell in the game.
Mithras, along with many other Devil Summoner era demons, also appears as a card in Shin Megami Tensei Trading Card: Card Summoner.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Mithras appears as a major storyline antagonist in the Schwarzwelt's second sector, Bootes. Like the other early bosses of the game and as previously mentioned, he is classified as a Tyrant. Mithras is a level 25 demon only available as a special fusion between Bifrons, Fomorian, and Ippon-Datara after defeating him in the game's story. He is weak to Wind and has access to low-level instant-kill skills Mudo and Hama.
Mithras resides atop a huge palace standing in the center of Bootes, the sector itself intended to represent sexual excess and opulence. Mithras' palace is used by his demon minions as a chamber of torture for Zelenin and her compatriots when their ship, the Elve, crash-lands in the palace. After a failed rescue attempt by the protagonist, he too becomes captured and faces the same torture except by the intervention of the angel Mastema, who affords his and Zelenin's escape. With a feint executed by Jimenez and the other members of the Red Sprite Strike Team that allows easy entrance into the palace, the protagonist is able to confront Mithras, who chastises the human race for their own mortality and fragility before succumbing to defeat himself. Mithras appears again later in Sector Fornax where, after bemoaning his previous loss, he transforms into the Zoroastrian divinity Mithra.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Mithras appears in Shin Megami Tensei IV as a lower-level demon. As previously noted, his name will be correctly reflected in the English localization.