image: Mithraeum located under the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome. Wikimedia commons (link).

Conventional scholars continue to debate the origin of the Roman cult of Sol Invictus Mithras, which (based upon the archaeological evidence of the mithraea) arose circa AD 100 and ends in AD 396.  Although scholars today are more circumspect in their pronouncements regarding the origins of this institution than they have been in previous decades (prior to the 1970s), it is still common for well-regarded Mithraic scholars to assert that Mithraism and Christianity were bitter rivals.

For instance, this essay published in a collection in 1994 tells us that: "Between the second and fourth centuries C.E. Mithraism may have vied with Christianity for domination of the Roman world." The author continues:
The Christians' view of this rival religion is extremely negative, because they regarded it as a demonic mockery of their own faith.  One also learns of Mithraism from brief statements in classical Greek and Roman authors.
While it is certainly true that Christian polemicists, including Tertullian, attacked Mithraism on these grounds, this does not necessarily indicate that the two systems were indeed at cross-purposes. Author Flavio Barbiero, whose work is discussed in The Undying Stars and in this previous post, has put forward a theory which argues that the cult of Sol Invictus Mithras was actually the secret society through which decisions were made and strategy enacted to gain control of the "command-and-control" centers of the Roman Empire, and that this exclusive institution, whose proceedings were kept entirely secret, operated in the background, using literalist Christianity as a public and nonexclusive shield -- one that it controlled, and one that would take the brunt of those who wanted to stand against the underground campaign.

Flavio Barbiero offers a host of evidence to support this view of events, and the conclusion that this campaign was ultimately tremendously successful -- successful to the point that it shaped European history and then world history for the following seventeen centuries, and continues to do so to this day. The following points are taken from his 2010 publication The Secret Society of Moses: The Mosaic Bloodline and a Conspiracy Spanning Three Millennia. Many of these pieces of evidence are also discussed in his 2010 article entitled "Mithras and Jesus: Two sides of the same coin" on the website of Graham Hancock. 

Note that the following points are not intended to be aimed at any particular branch of Christianity as it has existed since the fourth century, but rather to shed light upon the possible origins of all of literalist Christianity, which deliberately chose to take a very different approach to the interpretation of the Biblical scriptures, and one which intentionally cut itself off from all the "pagan" traditions of the world as well as from the esoteric, gnostic, Sethian, Valentinian and Hermetic forms of Christianity which existed prior to this juncture in history.
  • Mithraism was neither a "religion" nor a "mystery cult" -- unlike other ancient religions, it was extremely exclusive and met in special mithraea which were so small that, "At most, forty people could be seated in each of them" (158). The majority of mithraea could not hold more than twenty.
  • Numerous mithraea have been found underneath ancient Christian basilica or churches, indicating that there may have been some kind of symbiotic connection between the leadership of the cult of Sol Invictus Mithras and that of the Christian church. While it is possible to explain this fact away by saying that the Christian church triumphantly took over the sites of its old rival and built churches on top of their sacred sites (as it later did around the world), there is evidence that this explanation was not the case for Mithraism and Christianity. Specifically, Barbiero notes that the Basilica of St. Peter on Vatican Hill was built above the Phrygianum, the most central mithraeum in Roman Mithraism, where the "Father of Fathers" (head of the entire order of Sol Invictus Mithras) held sway. Most significantly, the Christian Basilica of St. Peter was built by the emperor Constantine in AD 322, but the last "Father of Fathers" of Mithraism did not die until AD 384, and he continued to use the mithraeum in the Phrygianum for all those years! It would be remarkable if these two supposedly "rival religions" coexisted for even two years with their "headquarters" co-located, but the dates indicate that this coexistance lasted for sixty-two years. Barbiero writes: 
In this light, we are forced to conclude that Sol Invictus Mithras and Christianity were not two religions in competition, as we often read, but were two institutions of a different nature that were closely connected. Rather than being a simple hypothesis, this is practically a certainty. It is unthinkable that the Roman church continued to extend hospitality to the head of a rival pagan religion for more than half a century and at the heart of its most exclusive property, the basilica dedicated to the prince of apostles. The Mithraic pater patrum and the bishop of Rome must necessarily have been closely linked. 163-164.
  • As the passage just cited indicates, the title of the supreme head of the Mithraic organization was pater patrum, or "Father of Fathers." The Mithraic system had a hierarchy of seven Mithraic grades, with the highest being the Pater or "Father" (the head of any particular mithraeum). The head of the entire system, of all the Mithraic "lodges," was the "Father of Fathers," or pater patrum (pa-pa, for short). It is most significant that, after the death of the last Mithraic pater patrum, in AD 384, the bishop of Rome adopted this same title, which is still used to this day (and which is rendered in English "the Pope," but in Italian and Spanish is still papa). This evidence is discussed in Barbiero, 163 and elsewhere.
  • As part of the same discussion, Flavio Barbiero notes that specific aspects of Mithraic ritual and attire were adopted into the rituals of Christianity, including the distinctive headgear of Christian bishops, which is still called a mitre, a word with linguistic connections to Mithras or Mitra.   
  • There is powerful evidence of early prominent Christian leaders who were also members of the Sol Invictus Mithras organization, right up to the point that they declared themselves Christians, or took holy orders to become high-ranking leaders of Christianity. The most prominent of these whom Barbiero notes is the emperor Constantine himself (Barbiero, 166-167). Others include St. Ambrose, whom Barbiero notes "passes directly from being a pagan to being bishop of one of the most important sees of the period" (166). St. Ambrose was the son of a father who was a member of Sol Invictus Mithras, as was the Christian apologist and polemicist Tertullian (AD 160 - AD 225), as well as church fathers St. Jerome and St. Augustine (Barbiero 167-168). This fact is highly significant and indicates that these early Christian "Fathers" were descended from the same family lines that Barbiero discusses in his thesis.
  • Constantine continued minting coins with clear Sol Invictus symbology and imagery, even after his vision of the heavenly "Chi-Rho" sign in some cases minted coins containing both sets of symbology, Christian and Mithraic. This is a clear indication that the two systems were not actually seen as antagonistic, at least during the early stages of establishing Christianity as official to the empire (later, Mithraism would be dismantled and the family lines would use Christianity as their open system of control, the "underground" mechanism of Sol Invictus Mithras having served its purpose). This use of Sol Invictus symbology on his coins is discussed in Barbiero page 165, and is also attested to in the notes to a translation of the works of the Christian polemicist and apologist Eusebius (c. AD 260 - c. AD 340). On page 207 of this edition of the works of Eusebius, we read a note from the editor to Eusebius' mention of a chi-rho coin which informs us that Constantine claimed to have seen the Christian chi-rho sign in the sky "resting over the sun," and that thereafter Constantine "continued to commemorate [the sun] on his coins as Sol Invictus (see Bruun, 'Sol'), whether out of numismatic conservatism (Barnes) or as a sign of solar monotheism."
  • There is evidence that early Christian leaders saw reverence to the sun as not at all incompatible with Christianity, with Pope Leo in a famous passage in his Christmas sermon of AD 460 declaring that: "This religion of the Sun is so highly respected that some Christians, before entering the basilica of St. Peter the apostle, dedicated to the one true living God, after climbing the steps that lead to the upper entrance hall, turn towards the Sun and bow their heads in honor of the bright star" (cited in Barbiero, 161). Tertullian also writes that "it is a well-known fact that we pray turning towards the rising sun" (Ad Nationes 1.13, cited in Barbiero "Two sides of the same coin," page 3). This connection between the sun and the "one true living God" described in the sermon by Pope Leo is in keeping with Constantine's use of both Sol Invictus imagery and Christian "chi-rho" symbology on his coins (Constantine evidently did not see anything contradictory or conflicted about the use of both).
  • In AD 386, a decree by the emperor Aurelian changed the name of the Christian day of worship from "the day of the sun" (Sunday being the first day of the week, in a significant change from the seventh-day Sabbath of antiquity) to "the day of the Lord" (Barbiero, 237).
  • The spread of the mithraea throughout the western empire (particularly in the vicinity of army barracks and organs of the government bureaucracy) parallels the spread of Christianity. Barbiero writes, "Wherever the representatives of Mithras arrived, there a Christian community immediately sprang up" ("Two sides of the same coin," page 9). Early bishop's sees were located in Britannia, Gaul, Spain, and North Africa -- the same places that legions were located and which are the sites of mithraea (Ibid).
  • Barbiero traces the progress through which the new Roman class of equites or "equestrians," to which the descendents of the family lines who had come to Rome with Titus and Vespasian after the fall of Judea belonged, gained access to the Senate and then progressively grew more and more powerful in the Senate. Dedicatory inscriptions reveal that as this process took place, more and more senators were members of Sol Invictus Mithras. However, upon the death of the last pater patrum of Sol Invictus Mithras, Flavio Barbiero notes that the entire Senate, that "stronghold of the cult of Mithras, discovered that it was totally Christian" (163, see also 241). In other words, the transition was remarkably smooth and bloodless -- indicating that Mithraism and Christianity were not at all the bitter rivals that the conventional narrative often paints them as being. They were, as Barbiero says, "two sides of the same coin."
These are by no means all the pieces of historical evidence which Flavio Barbiero musters to support his assertion that the institutions of Sol Invictus Mithras and literalist Christianity actually worked "hand in glove." Further, while this is a central part of his overall theory, there is much more to the theory, and that "much more" is itself supported by still further extensive evidence from other aspects of history.

In short, there is so much evidence to support this thesis that it simply cannot be ignored, and deserves careful consideration by everyone who wishes to explore the possible reasons for the suppression of the ancient celestial system of allegory which (I believe) was meant to preserve and to convey a sophisticated shamanic-holographic cosmology that was once widespread around the globe and which flourished in "the west" right up until the fourth century AD. The loss of this ancient wisdom, an inheritance belonging to all of humanity, is an absolutely watershed event in human history, and one which continues to impact our lives right up to the present day.

Special note: if you have not yet seen it, you might be interested in this previous post discussing possible connections between Mithraism and the later Knights Templar.