Today’s Object of the Week is a temple dedicated to a god beloved by Roman soldiers.

TODAY’S object is perhaps one of the lesser known Roman sites associated with Northumberland and Hadrian’s Wall – the Temple of Mithras.

There are a number of interesting Roman sites to visit in the vicinity of Hexham and a few miles north west of the town at Carrawburgh are the remains of the fort of Brocolitia.

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In 1949 an important Roman find was made here when the ruin of the Mithraeum – or temple to Mithras – was discovered.

Comprised of three inscribed altars dedicated to a god called Mithras by Roman officers, it is one of the best preserved in Britain:

Mithraism, the disciplined worship of the Persian god of life, was encouraged by the Roman army and involved secret initiation ceremonies.

It was strongly opposed by Christians in later centuries and Christians were possibly responsible for the eventual destruction of the temple at Carrawbrough.

Legend has it that Mithras captured and killed a sacred bull in a cave, which Mithraic temples were intended to evoke.

According to English Heritage, the temple was probably built by soldiers at the fort around AD 200 and destroyed about AD 350.

The three altars were dedicated by commanding officers of the unit stationed here, the First Cohort of Batavians from the Rhineland.

The altars in the Temple of Mithras are replicas.

The Northern Echo: The three altars at Temple of Mithras are replicas. The originals are in a Newcastle musem. Picture: ANDREW WHITEThe three altars at Temple of Mithras are replicas. The originals are in a Newcastle musem. Picture: ANDREW WHITE

The original are in a full sized reconstruction of the interior of the Carrawburgh Mithraeum on display at The Great North Museum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Carrawburgh Roman Fort is one of 16 forts along the 73-mile long Hadrian’s Wall.

It housed a garrison of about 500 soldiers – first from South West France, later from Southern Belgium – responsible for defending the frontier of the Roman Empire from the tribes to the north.

Occupying a slight terrace of 1.4ha with views over the Northumberland National Park, Carrawburgh sits between the Roman cavalry fort at Chesters and the infantry outpost at Housesteads.

The fort’s surviving structures – including the remains of its walls – lie below the turf cover.

In comparison with other sites on Hadrian’s Wall, the fort has undergone very little archaeological investigation and so many of its stories remain untold.

Legal ownership of the fort and temple transferred to Historic England, the Government’s heritage advisor, last year – its first acquisition since it became a charity in 2015.

It was gifted to the nation by Jennifer Du Cane, whose family had cared for the site since 1950.

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