Marianne is one of the symbols of the French Republic and embodies the Republic as much as the flag.

Marianne represents the permanence of the values that underpin citizens’ attachment to the Republic: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. A Marianne is a bust of a woman wearing a Phrygian cap. In this article we will focus on the origins of this cap.

This cap was worn for the first time in France at the cafe Le Procope which was a meeting place for revolutionaries. It was like those, which were worn by slaves freed in the Roman Empire, slaves to whom their owner gave freedom and whose sons became full citizens. Since ancient times, the Phrygian cap was already a symbol of freedom.

The oldest remains of this cap belong to Mithra, the Armenian divinity of the Sun, friendship, oath and contracts. Mithraism was the most widespread religion in Europe before Christianity. The statues of Mithra, which we have got  from this period, represent Mithra wearing a Phrygian cap and a floating cape; He is kneeling on the primordial bull with a dagger in his right hand pulling the bull’s head back with the other hand.

During the French Revolution, the first Phrygian caps appeared on the heads of the French, a few months after the storming of the Bastille. They were made of red cloth, and matched the striped clothes of the most fervent revolutionaries, the sans-culottes. Almost identical caps were wearing the sailors of the Mediterranean, and it is possible that the revolutionaries from the south brought them to Paris. Wearing the Phrygian cap was indeed a way to display patriotism.

Near her feet we also meet tables of the Law and the Declaration of Human Rights presented to the world. The name Marianne seems to come from the name Marie-Anne which had tremendous popularity in the 19th century. The revolutionaries adopted it, because they wanted to symbolize the change of regime.

The commune of Paris (1871) developed the cult of the revolutionary fighter with bare bust wearing the red Phrygian sans-culottes cap, but it was not named Marianne. Under the 3rd Republic (1875-1940), two models were competing, the spiked statue and the Phrygian cap statue. The first represented a moderate Republic, the second, which people call Marianne, a Revolutionary republic. Gradually the Republic settled, and busts were multiplying in town halls and schools. A model was more or less imposed: it was a bust of a woman with a young and calm face, sometimes wearing the crown of ears or, most often, a Phrygian cap. It was necessary to wait until 1897-98 so that the 3rd Republic restores, and symbol of the Phrygian cap appeared  on its currencies.

Where was Phrygia?

Phrygia was a kingdom located in the center of Asia Minor on the Armenian area, in the west of Cappadocia and separated from the Aegean by Lydia.

It is believed that the Phrygians were Indo-European people originated from Thrace, around 1200 BC, who invaded the Hittite empire to settle there. Its capital was in Gordion, situated not far from Ankara, and the famous city of Troy was also one of them, but the borders of its territory varied in different periods of time. Their kings were sometimes called Gordias,  and sometimes Midas; one of the Midas, who reigned between 725 and 676 BC., was the subject of legends among the Greeks, because of its wealth. The kingdom was desolated around 695 BC. by the invasions of the Cimmerians, Indo-European nomadic people from the Balkans. The Phrygian state never recovered and gradually fell under the domination of its neighbor Lydia.

The name of “Phrygian cap” is due to the Greeks who called it also “oriental cap”. Thus this cap was not proper for the Phrygians. A lot of tribes, both those of Cappadocia in the west and the Scythians (Sakas) of Central Asia, wore this cap. These traces are mainly evident in the representations of this cap and its variants on the low-reliefs of Persepolis. In addition, according to Chinese stories, a zoroastrian merchant from Samarkand, who traveled to China in the 8th century AD, wore a typical Sogdian clothes, including a Phrygian cap.

Who was Mithra?

The name Mithra derived from the avestan language. He was the most important solar deity of the Aryan people. In Sanskrit he is Mitra, and in modern Armenian he has become Mehr, who was regarded as the deity of sun, love, friendship and oath.

Indeed, Mithraism attracted slaves and free people, the fact that it insisted on notions such as truth, honor, courage and fraternity and that it required discipline, made Mithra the deity of soldiers and traders. A lot of temples and places of pilgrimage throughout the Empire were dedicated to him.

The worship of Mithra was spread throughout the Roman Empire from Spain to the Black Sea, going up to Scotland in the north and descending to the Sahara. Many vestiges have been found in Great Britain, Italy, Romania, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Armenia, Syria, Palestine, Switzerland (Martigny), and France (Bordeaux, Bourg Saint Andéol in the Ardeche, in Alsace, Metz, and elsewhere).

In Rome itself, a series of temples were scattered throughout the city, but they were destroyed by Christians. Today there are about forty temples in Rome, while there were three times more at that time.

According to Ernest Renan, “If the growth of Christianity had been stopped by some deadly disease, the world would have been Mithraist.” The Romans named Mithra Deus Sol invictus, which means undefeated sun. The Roman emperor Commodus (AD 161-192) was also a follower of Mithra’s cult, and during the  Aurelian reign (270-275) Mithraism was proclaimed as the official religion of the Empire and the emperor the earthly incarnation of the Sun.

It was Aurelian who in 274 declared 25th December as the birthday of the deity (natalis solis invicti). However, when Constantine I (274-337 AD) adopted Christianity in 312 AD, Mithraism lost its influence and, after a brief renewal this cult disappeared. A philosopher and a poet, who had embraced Mithraism, tried to restore the cult of the Sun. Ironically, he was killed in 363 AD., during the fight against the Persians in Mesopotamia.

Despite the disappearance of Mithraism, it somehow inspired Christianity, especially with regard to Christmas, as it was Mithra’s date of birth. The most important holiday of the Mithra religion was at the winter solstice, which is considered to be the birthday of Mithra and the victory day of light over darkness. Indeed, from the winter solstice the days get longer with the rise of the Sun towards the North. But the choice of December 25 by the Romans for the winter solstice is due to an error made during the reform of the Roman calendar. In fact, Julius Caesar established a new calendar composed by the astronomer Sosigene. This calendar set the beginning of the seasons: spring to March 25, summer to June 24, autumn to September 24 and winter to December 25. But those dates were one or two days behind the reality. Surprisingly, the first Christians did not celebrate on December 25 and did not know the date of Christ’s birth.

The Gospel of St. Mark, which is considered to be the oldest, does not speak about the life of Christ, and the only two Gospels that talk about his birth, those of St. Luke and St. Matthew, never give a date of his birth. In any case, according to the Gospel of Luke (2: 8), in the birthday of Christ “in the same region there were shepherds living in the fields, and keeping their flock during the night.” Now, the month December in Palestine is generally rainy and cold; at this time of the year the shepherds do not leave their pasture herd. The first mention of the feast was found in the 2nd century AD by Clement of Alexandria who tells us that the baptism of Christ was celebrated on January 6 or 10. However, from the first half of the 4th century, the feast of the Epiphany brought together both baptism and the birth of Christ. A 4th century papyrus, which was discovered in Egypt contains the oldest Christmas liturgy, celebrated on the night of January 5th to 6th.

In sum, the fixed date of 25 December was decided by Pope Julius 1st in 340. This choice seems to have been eminently tactical. Mithraism was rich in elements that originated during centuries and sometimes even millennia of Indo-European culture, unlike the new religion of Christ which came from Palestine. Consequently, the first christian romans, abandoning the cult of Mithras, remained there for a long time still very attached, this is the reason of the presence of many Mithraic rituals in Christianity.For instance, Mithraism sacralised Sunday, which was considered to be the day of the Sun. In the same way, bread and wine were sacred in the Eucharist. Mithra was born from a rock in the presence of shepherds. In addition, Christian baptism, the use of music and bells as well as holy water come from the cult of Mithras. As for the clergy, he borrowed the title of “father” from the priests of Mithra, despite the formal prohibition of Christ: “Do not call anyone your Father on earth, for you have only one, the Heavenly Father “(Mt 23: 9). It is not surprising, therefore, that the miter, the hat of the bishops, reminds Mithra, and that the papal headdress – the tiara (a word of Persian origin), derives from the frigium or Phrygian cap.  However, pagan and christian cults in Rome coexisted and mingled peacefully until the 4th century.

It was at this period of time that the celebration of Christmas took shapes and that 25 December was chosen as the date of birth of Christ. For a long time the church has taken pagan rituals into account for converting people. Paganism did not disappear overnight, because the pagans, especially the aristocracy resisted.

Indeed, the Church, while maintaining the pagan customs, changed the name to better impose Christian worship. However, when Christianity gained power and became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the cult of Mithra was no longer tolerated: The followers of Mithraism were even accused of Satanic falsification of the holiest rituals of Christians. Finally, the Christian calendar was established in the 6th century, specifically in 525, by the Dionysius Exiguus , who fixed the date of birth of Christ and the origin of the Christian calendar. During the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties (3rd century BC to the 7th century AD), it had a prominent place even in the Zoroastrian religion. After the Islamic invasion in the 7th century, Mithra seems to be one of the elements of the Iranian resistance movements and traces of the red cap can be found until the 15th century.

Mithra has also been a source of inspiration for mystics and especially for great poets like Hafez de Shiraz (14th century). Today, the Iranians have not forgotten Mithra. Each year they celebrate his birth on December 21st, on the day of the winter solstice, which they call “Yalda night” (Yule among the Scandinavians). In addition, the seventh month of the Iranian solar calendar is devoted to Mithra, hence they named it “Mehr”, as the great festival of Mehregan, which marks the beginning of autumn. With the return of the Iranians to their ancient cultural values, these holidays have become more important in recent years.

What a fabulous and epic cap!. Throughout the ages, it has remained common both for the gods and people, witnessing so many crucial events in the history of humanity.

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