Monday, June 10, 2013

Hippotoxotai from Dura Europos' Mithraeum I

 I have this weakness for the eastern neighbours of the Greeks and Romans, the Persians, Medes and Sakas.
Well, for a long while I have been looking at the images from the Syrian desert found at the fortress city of Dura Europos, that was a frontier outpost under the Parthians and in  AD165  Dura was captured permanently by the Romans (note that emperor Trajan's army captured Dura during his Parthian campaign), who kept it for about a century until the fateful siege of AD 256.  Then the Sassanian warrior-king Shapur's forces captured the fortress and thus ended its history and because it was left as a ruined site then the sands of time covered the ruins and preserved its rich culture to our times, early XX century.
Interesting scholarly article on the siege's technical aspects, including the death of some Roman defenders and how it came about.
On a lighter side you could travel to Dura during the siege via some historical fiction eg British writer Harry Sidebottom wrote his series' first novel Fire in the East )Warrior of Rome)   about the siege of Dura Europos, although he changed the name of the fortress and some topography.
Also, you can get a glimpse of Dura art and culture from this short museum exhibit film
A student made mini-documentary

At Dura,  during the previous rulers and under the Roman governance, there were various temples and religious sites -  Roman, Greek, Palmyrene, Jewish and even a small Christian church and one of them was the Mitraeum - excellent site here - place of worship of Mithraism. There, during the excavations, several paintings were discovered, including a painting of Mithra on horseback, circa AD 200.
In that linear painting, Mithra, the hunter, is riding a horse, hence a horse archer -  hippotoxotai. He is painted wearing a standard Parthian costume (well, he is not wearing the typical Median coat or kantus, like the two personages at the Dura Synagogue are painted wearing. )

My own quick sketch of the original mural painting

A sketch, in progress, of a warrior with his horse

A horse - that will eventually carry the shooting hippotoxotai, just shooting at some wooden target etc. ..




Mike Blake said...


I have only just discovered your site when researching Lithuanian Tartars for a magazine article - what a splendid resource! Thanks for all your hard work and excellent paintings. I can see I will be a regular visitor.

Dario T. W. said...

Hello Mike,
Welcome to my blog - please feel free to comment.
What is your article about, ie. what aspect of their history or customs you have been researching?
I will do more writing about the Lithuanian Tatars, as the subject is dear to me and our common history is long and rather very fine, except for the Lipka episode.