What the "stayers" created - Symbols and a Legacy
In “The “Open-Air” Mithraeum” we considered the concept and practicalities of creating other than an indoor Mithraeum. Earlier in the web page “Builders and Worshippers” we explored who could initially have devised the Symbols and placed them on the Symbol Stones thus creating the first “Outdoors” Mithraea in Pictland. Many of the early Stones are in the vicinity of known Roman Establishments – there may be as yet undiscovered Roman establishments in the vicinity of other early Stones e.g. in the Spey valley. From extensive mapping of Roman Camps and Pictish Stones, the analysis of the location and incidence of Symbols plus the active practice of Roman Mithraism the conclusion is that it was around the Severan period that Symbol Stones appeared.
The “when” aspect of the “start point” has been discovered. Who created these first Stones and exactly where are the next stages of finding the overall “start point”.
Arriving, Going, Staying
“Arriving” and “going” can be seen in the various presences of the Roman military (and no doubt others such as traders and civilian supporters) in Pictland between 79 and 212 (over 130 years). The withdrawal of the army, Caracalla’s settling for “peace” with the Caledonians, members of the army being pensioned off at the end of their service and potentially others not required to go to the army’s next destination could all result in people “staying”. With the Roman army having a proportion of members who were soldiers and auxiliaries from wide areas of the Empire (anywhere other than Rome) perhaps there was reduced resentment by the local population making “staying” a positive option.
A time gap of over 90 years followed with no history of Roman Empire inspired aggression in Pictland – four generations of freedom from Roman interference for the indigenous population, for whatever peaceful incomers there may have been and for “stayers”. Seemingly sometime around this period northern tribes coalesced to become the Picts – a name that first appeared much later in writings by Eumenius in 297. In 296/7 Emperor Chlorus started the repair and re-manning of the Hadrianic frontier then prosecuted war against the Picts in 306.
The Roman presence in Pictland around the 212 period was short – about three years. In that time there would have been many troop movements across the areas shown in “Locations of Roman Establishments in Pictland” most likely restricting any settling down except, perhaps, for those operating the larger camps. This gives two options for who might have created Pictish-Mithraism – those who have been “arriving and going” or “stayers”?
At any given time the military personnel may have thought their presence could be long term as a successful invading force. In that case they could have built Mithraea as had happened elsewhere in Britannia and Europe. But there is no archaeological evidence of Mithraea in Pictland – not discernible in ruins or outlines of establishments or artefacts such as statuary. An alternative in wishing to continue pursuing the Mysteries of Mithras could be the creation of carvings as we now see on the Symbol Stones but the prevailing environment would not have been conducive – this time was not a time of peace so freedom of movement and activity for military personnel was probably much restricted.
This leads to the source of the carved Symbols being people with the intimate knowledge of Roman Mithraism. In other words the “stayers”. As mentioned earlier if these were people arguably of an ethnicity acceptable (or at least not objectionable) to the local population then there would have been the opportunity for them to practice their religious belief, most likely to extend its reach.
Having concluded that ex-Roman Army “stayers” with Mithraic knowledge remained in Pictland the challenge is to determine a location for the physical “start point” for a Symbol Stone, or Stones, to qualify for being sufficiently feature rich to be used as place to practise the religious belief.
The First Stone – or Stones
The locations of the Severan Establishments and nearby Stones in Pictland are in two broad areas – the Gask Ridge & Glen Blockers and Muiryfold to Kintore. Considering their relative content of Establishments and Stones, there is a higher correlation between a Roman presence and the early Symbol Stones in the Muiryfold to Kintore geography. Within that geography 14 of the 27 Stones are in the vicinity of Durno with 46 of the 87 Symbols. Just under half of the Symbols in the vicinity of Durno are at or near Rhynie – around 10 miles distant. In Stone and Symbol volume terms the Durno area would appear to be a prime contender for finding the location of the First Stone(s) but the largest Severan establishments are at Muiryfold and Kintore (aka Deer’s Den).
Maybe a better way of determining which Stone or Stones could have been the first carved by the “stayers” is by considering the range of Symbols, especially those that convey the principles of Roman Mithraism - the greater the range the more that can be explained.
The “top five” Symbols for all Class 1 Stones are – V-Rod & Crescent, Mirror, Z-Rod & Double Disc, Pictish Beast and Comb.
To narrow down the options, as a first search Stone locations with three or more of these Symbols are Bourtie, Clatt, Daviot, Logie Elphinstone, Rhynie, Inverurie, Keith Hall, Kintore (Castle Hill), Tillytarmont and Fyvie.
Some of these locations have multiple instances of the selected Symbols and additional Symbols – Clatt, Rhynie and Tillytarmont. Each of these locations has the range of Symbols over more than one Stone. The Clatt Stones are fragments – so there may have been further Symbols. Rhynie has eight Stones currently in a number of locations. Tillytarmont has five Stones all found at Donaldson’s Haugh at the confluence of the rivers Isla and Deveron.
The author’s previous investigations, before discovering the Roman Army Connection, considered Tillytarmont to perhaps have a function equivalent to a “cathedral” – this idea was also explored for Rhynie, Aberlemno and St Vigeans but the latter two do not have exclusively Class 1 Stones.
With the broad selection of Symbols concentrated in a small space and located between two rivers the case for Tillytarmont having a purpose well beyond that of a stand-alone Symbol Stone is strong. When all the Stones stood together at the same time there would have been an opportunity to introduce the basics of the Mysteries of Mithras through to more esoteric aspects by progression through the Mithraic grades.
Tillytarmont is put forward as the location of the First Stones.
Who created the Symbols?
Whoever it was would have needed a thorough knowledge of Roman Mithraism, an ability to pictorially communicate the principles involved, to check to see that they can be interpreted by initiates then have them recorded on long-lasting material. In the same way that the originator of Roman Mithraism has remained a mystery in itself, what also is still left as a mystery is who came up with the original translation of the principles of that religious belief into the carvings on the Pictish Symbol Stones. Retaining the secrets of the Mysteries has been done very effectively – it has taken over 1500 years to decode.
Quite simply the Stones themselves, everything they represent and the answers to the questions at the outset of this book – “Why So Intriguing?” But it is most likely that some people now have a connection, around 70 generations on, with the people who designed the Symbols, carved the Stones and practised the version of Roman Mithraism that the author has titled Pictish-Mithraism.