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Ritual of taurobolium (1)

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02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

4th century CE
Roman Empire
Christian-Roman poets

The Christian Latin poet Prudentius describes the ritual of taurobolium, which was practiced with various modifications in the worship of the Great Mother and Attis.

Prudentius, Peristephanon 10.1011-1050:
Deep down into the pit the priest descends, his temples with elaborate ribbons bound and crowned with gold; his sacerdotal robe is made of silk, and in old Roman style tight round his waist traditionally girt. Across the pit is laid a board of planks too loosely joined in careless workmanship and in its surface holes are cut and drilled; the wood is riddled through, and everywhere the eye discovers crevices and cracks. The formidable bull with lowering brow whose horns and withers are with garlands decked is presently escorted to the spot; his forehead glitters with the trembling gold and little golden discs flash on his flanks. The victim is thus quite rigged up to die and with the sacred spear they penetrate its chest; the wound gapes wide and pours in mighty waves, a stream of gushing blood over the wood, an all-pervading odor spoils the air. Through thousand fissures now the shower drips of sordid fluid down the dismal pit and on his head the priest catches the drops with utmost care, his vestment soiled with blood and all his body dabbled with the gore, nay, bending backwards he presents his face, his mouth and cheeks now to the scarlet flood; his eyes he washes in the gory flow. He moistens then his palate and his tongue and sucks and sips and gulps the somber blood. The bloodless rigid boy of the beast is dragged away now from its wooden bed; the priest, a gruesome sight, emerges from the pit and shows his head, his soggy bloody beard, his ribbons and his robe, drenched with the blood. Defiled by the atrocious sacrifice, polluted by his recent horrid bath he is respectfully, but from afar, saluted because the crowd has seen how in his tomb a bull’s inferior blood has washed him clean.

Source (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Prudentius, Peristephanon 10.1011-1050


Vermaseren 1977, 102-103Vermaseren, Maarten J. Cybele and Attis. The Myth and the Cult. London: Thames and Hudson 1977 (pp. 102-103).

Amar Annus

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Illustrations (click an image to view the full-size version in a new window)

Fig. 1: Modern impression of a brown agate Neo-Assyrian cylinder seal, ca. 7th century BCE, from the Schoyen Collection (MS 1989). It depicts Gilgamesh and Enkidu slaying the bull of heaven.
Fig. 2: Roman marble group of Mithras slaying the bull. Rome, 2nd century CE. Photo courtesy of the British Museum.