Bloomberg recreates mystery Roman temple

The Roman Temple of Mithras, built in about 240AD in what has become the heart of the City of London, has been recreated beneath the new London headquarters of Bloomberg, the New York based financial markets and software giant.

In a seven year operation archaeologists from the Museum of London have excavated the Queen Victoria Street site, and replaced the temple remains in their original position so that a museum cold be created around them. Entry to the London Mithraeum is free.

The excavation has unearthed 14,000 objects, and 600 of them are displayed in a single glass case, one of the largest ever created. They include the earliest writing found in England – and the first financial document – in an IOU precisely dated to 8th January 57AD. It also bears the first known reference to “Londinium”.

Six hundred items from 14,000 finds are displayed here

“London has a long history as a crossroads for culture and business, and we are building on that tradition” said Michael Bloomberg, founder of the company. “As stewards of this ancient site and its artefacts, we have a responsibility to preserve and share its history. And as a company that is centred on communication – of data and information, news and analysis – we are thrilled to be part of a project that has provided so much new information about Roman London”. 

The earliest known writing tablet, where the writer scored through the wax onto the wood, on January 8th AD57

The cult of Mithraism, which began to appear in the later stages of the Roman empire is devoted to the god Mithras and probably had its origins in Persia, has fascinated scholars for centuries. It involves the killing of a bull by the god and its blood germinating growth with the blessing of the sun. It was popular among soldiers and merchants, and was exclusively male who, it is believed, indulged in ceremonies that involved chanting, drinking and banqueting. Worshippers called themselves syndexioi, or handshakers. It was a cult for ordinary men, and the conical hat Mythras is always seen wearing is the sort that was worn by feed slaves.

Artist Judith Dobie's impression of the inside of the temple

A relief of the god slaying a bull was found near the site in the 19th century, and the temple itself was discovered in 1954 when the marble heads of Mythras was discovered on the last day of the excavation. The remains were dismantled and assembled 100 yards away, and have now been reassembled on its original site, now seven metres below ground level. Some of the building has been recreated by using Roman bricks from other sites and recreating ground surfaces mouldings. The rest of the temple has been made with lighting technology, the images based on archaeological mapping.

“London is a Roman city yet there are few traces of its distant past that people can experience first-hand” said Sophie Jackson of Museum of London Archaeology and the lead archaeological consultant for London Mithraeum. “London Mithraeum is not only a truthful presentation of the archaeological remains of the temple of Mithras; it is a powerful evocation of this enigmatic temple and a fantastic new heritage attraction for the capital”.

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