A team of archaeologists working on the Kangelu monument in northern Iran’s Mazandaran Province has found evidence suggesting that it might have been a Mithraist temple during the Sassanid era, the Persian service of CHN reported on Wednesday.
The team recently discovered engravings depicting ibex and cypress trees, an inscription written in Pahlavi, and some structures with Mithraist architectural elements at Kangelu, which experts believed was a Sassanid fortress before the discoveries.
“Mithraist temples were usually built in caves or in lower places. A hole was made facing the sun in such structures. In initial studies, the archaeologists have identified a hole facing west in the lower part of Kangelu’s tower, which shows that a room lies beneath the tower,” team director Saman Surtiji said.
Covering an area of 50 square meters, Kangelu has been constructed in three stories with stones and “saruj”, a mortar of cement and gypsum used in Sassanid era architecture. The ruins also indicate that it had arches, transept-like extensions, and a tower protecting it against landslides.
The archaeologists have also unearthed a Sassanid burial along with silver rings with agate gems bearing engravings, which raises the possibility that the monument is a Mithraist temple. One of the gems bears an engraving of the sun with six rays of light emanating from it, symbolizing the sun or the chariot of the goddess Anahita (Anahid).
The other ring has a skillfully engraved picture of a cypress, which was respected in Mithraism.
According to Surtiji, the gem of one of the rings has engraving of an ibex, which symbolizes beneficial nature in Mithraism. Another ring has an inscription bearing the word “farakhi” or “farahi” in Pahlavi letters in an unspaced script style. Such a style dates back to the 3rd century CE when Mithraism was at its zenith in Iran and Europe.
Mithraism is the worship of Mithra, the Iranian god of the sun, justice, contract, and war in pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Known as Mithras in the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, this deity was honored as the patron of loyalty to the emperor. After the acceptance of Christianity by the emperor Constantine in the early 4th century, Mithraism rapidly declined.
The team is searching for more evidence in order to prove their theory that the structure is a Mithraist temple. If this turns out to be the case, it would be the first Sassanid era temple discovered in Mazandaran.