Matthew McCarty

Research Interests

  • archaeology and art of the Roman Empire and Iron Age Europe/North Africa
  • archaeology and society in the Roman provinces
  • ancient religion and ritual practice (especially Mithraism)
  • interplays between texts, practices, and objects
  • imperialism, colonialism, and identity in the ancient world
  • interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, comparative (especially comparison with Qin/Han China), and theoretical approaches
  • historiography of archaeology


The Materiality of Religion in the Roman World
In this monograph, I argue that since religious knowledge and its truth value in the Roman world was not predicated primarily upon sacred text or divine revelation, but upon images, objects, and environments—that religion in the Roman world was material—a history of Roman religion ought to start from “things.” This study thus responds primarily to two broad questions. The first is methodological: how can material evidence be used to understand ancient religion? The second question is historical, and builds upon the framework established by responding to the first:  how did the creation of the Roman Empire change other, potentially very different systems in the Mediterranean and beyond, and how did contact with these affect the frameworks of what I hypothesize developed as a kind of koine religion in the empire? Such a materially-oriented history of Roman religion differs substantially from more traditional, text-based accounts; understanding imperial-period “Roman religion” requires looking beyond Rome itself (where most textual accounts focus), for supposing some nucleus of “Roman religion” (as most recent studies do) both depends upon a problematic colonialist model of cultural purity and reifies what was a constantly-changing and constructed system. Instead, religion in the Roman world was dynamic, and its development, both within Rome and beyond, depended on the intensified networks of communication and exchange that were created under the empire.

Apulum Mithraeum III Project (2013-2018)
The second main leg of my research involves directing the field excavation of a mithraeum in Apulum (Romania), the first scientifically excavated mithraeum in the province of Dacia. The central questions focus on the social dynamics of ritual practices in the sanctuary as well as how such dynamics compare to those at other recently excavated sanctuaries at Apulum. Given the quantities of medieval material discovered in the mithraeum and an adjacent second century AD building, the research questions have also shifted to think about how the still visible ruins were re-purposed and re-animated post Antiquity, as well as trying to answer elusive questions about what happened in Dacia in the generations following the withdrawal of the Roman army c. 250 CE.
For more information, please visit

Between Rome and Persia: The Mithraeum at Dura-Europos
With Lucinda Dirven (Amsterdam), I assembled an international project studying the mithraeum of Dura-Europos (Syria), excavated by Yale in the 1930s, aiming to complete final publication of the sanctuary, its paintings, and its sculpture. The site offers one of the most complete assemblages of material related to Mithraism, and the chance to see how different media and practices responded to each other over the life of the temple. As such, Dura will feature as a central case study in the Materiality project.

Apulum Roman Villas Project (2018-)
My next fieldwork project, in partnership with the Institute of Archaeology of the Romanian Academy, will examine rural society and economy in Roman Dacia, beginning with excavation of a Roman villa at Oarda (Romania) identified in aerial photographs. This will be one of the first scientifically excavated villas in the entire province; the key questions driving the project are about the fine-grained diachronic processes of the formation, development, and disintegration of villa socio-economic systems in the province. Preliminary geophysical survey of the site in March 2018 has confirmed the importance and massive scale of the site. The project will also pilot a range of micromorphological analyses for studying Roman agricultural production and digital archaeological recording systems.

Forthcoming & in preparation
Empire and Worship in Roman Africa: Religion, Sacrifice and Image (Cambridge UP); forthcoming.
“Art and Authority in Ancient Rome and China: Comparing Imperial Mausolea,” in L. Tseng (ed.), The First Emperor in Global Context; forthcoming.
“Transforming Religion,” in B. Hitchner (ed.), A Companion to Roman Africa (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell); forthcoming.
“Neo-Punic Tophets,” in B. Kaufmann (ed.), Excavations at Zita (Los Angeles: Cotsen Press, UCLA Institute of Archaeology); in progress.
The Archaeology of Mithraism (Leuven: Peeters); in progress. [co-ed. with M. Egri]
The Archaeology of Ancient Cult: From Foundation Deposits to Religion in Roman Mithraism,” article-length project; in progress.

BA, Yale University (Classical Civilization & Art History)
MSt, University of Oxford (Classical Archaeology)
DPhil, University of Oxford (Archaeology)

Lecturer, Worcester College, Oxford (2009-2010)
Lecturer, University of Warwick (2009-2010)
Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities & Lecturer in Humanities, Yale University (2010-2012)
Perkins-Cotsen Fellow, Society of Fellows & Lecturer in Classics, Princeton University (2012-2015)




I am happy to supervise graduate students in any of the areas of my research expertise, but especially those interested in the archaeology of ancient religion or the Roman provinces. I co-direct a field project in the Roman province of Dacia (modern Romania), and welcome students to join me on excavation. If you are interested in developing research projects in any area related to my fields of interest, please do not hesitate to contact me. 





I regularly teach a range of courses at all levels, from introductory courses on Classical Archaeology, to courses on Roman archaeology, ancient religion, and Greek/Roman art. I have also developed a new course on Greek and Roman technology in its social contexts that especially welcomes undergraduate students from across the university interested in engaging with applied science and technology.

The Archaeology of Mithraism

Recent publications

2021 “The role of Iron Age settlements at Oarda – Bulza in the agricultural exploitation of the Middle Mureș Valley,” Apulum 57: 93-112. [co-auth. with A. Rustoiu, M. Egri, et al.]

2020 The Archaeology of Mithraism. New Approaches to Mithras-worship, BABesch Suppl. 39 (Leuven: Peeters). [co-ed. with M. Egri]

2020 “Introduction: Archaeologies of Mithras-Worship,” in M. McCarty & M. Egri (eds), The Archaeology of Mithraism (Leuven: Peeters).

2o20 “Apulum Mithraeum III and the Multiplicities of Mithraism,” in M. McCarty & M. Egri (eds), The Archaeology of Mithraism (Leuven: Peeters). [co-auth. with M. Egri and A. Rustoiu]

2020 “Rethinking the Dura-Europos Mithraeum: Diversification and Stabilization in a Mithraic Community,” in M. McCarty & M. Egri (eds), The Archaeology of Mithraism (Leuven: Peeters). [co-auth. with L. Dirven]

2019 “Connected Communities in Roman Mithraism: Regional Webs from the Apulum Mithraeum III Project (Dacia),” Phoenix 71: 370-392. [co-auth. with M. Egri and A. Rustoiu]

2019 “The Archaeology of Ancient Cult: From Foundation Deposits to Religion in Roman Mithraism,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 32 (2019). [co-auth. with M. Egri and A. Rustoiu]

2019 “Tophets,” in C. Lopez-Ruiz and B. Doak (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Phoenician-Punic Studies (Oxford: OUP), 311-325.

2018 “French Archaeology and History in the Colonial Maghreb: Inheritance, Presence, and Absence,” in B. Effros and G. Lai (eds), Unmasking Ideology: Colonialism and Archaeology (Los Angeles: Cotsen Press, UCLA Institute of Archaeology 2018), 359-382.

2018 “A New Mithraic Community at Apulum (Alba Iulia, Romania),” ZPE 205 (2018): 268-276 [co-auth. M. Egri, A. Rustoiu, and C. Inel as co-directors of excavation project]

2017 “Africa Punica? Inventing Child Sacrifice,” Religion in the Roman Empire 3 (2017): 393-428.

2016 “Gods, Masks, and Monstra. Situational Syncretisms in Roman Africa,” in S. Alcock et al. (eds), Beyond Boundaries: The Art of the Roman Provinces (Malibu: The Getty, 2016), 266-280.

2015 “Échos puniques en Numidie,” in D. Badi (ed.), Massinissa: au cœur de la consécration de la premier état numide (Paris & Algiers, 2015). [co-auth. with J.C. Quinn]

2014 “Religious Dedications,” Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture (Oxford: OUP 2014), 358-373.

2014 “Mithraism or Cults of Mithras? Variety in East and West,” in L. Brody (ed.), Being Roman: Roman Provincial Art (New Haven: Yale UP, 2014), 127-143. [co-auth. with L. Dirven]

2013 “Continuities and Contexts: The Tophets of Roman Africa,” Studi epigrafici e linguistici 29-30 (2012-2013): 93-118.

2012 “Berbers and Moors,” “Sahara,” “Numidia,” “Trajan’s Column,” The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell).

2011 Roman art sections, in D. Fortenberry et al. (eds), The Art Museum (London: Phaidon, 2011).

2011 “Representation and the ‘meanings’ of ritual change: the case of Hadrumetum,” in A. Chaniotis (ed.), Ritual Dynamics in the Ancient Mediterranean (Heidelberg: Heidelberger Beiträge und epigraphische Studien, 2011), 197-228.

2010 “Beyond models and diffusion, centres and peripheries: art in Roman Africa,” Proceedings of the 11th International Colloquium on Roman Provincial Art (2011), 495-504.

2010 “Soldiers and stelae: votive cult and the Roman army in North Africa,” in M. della Riva (ed.), Incontri tra Culture nel Mediterraneo Antico (Bolletino di Archeologia Online 1; Rome: Ministero per i Beni Culturali, 2011).

2010 “Réseaux d’idées : routes romaines et géographie religieuse dans l’Afrique du nord,” AfrRom 18 (Rome: Carocci, 2010), 833-848.

2007 Various catalogue entries, Art For Yale II (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery).

2006 Ancient Bronzes: A Guide to the Yale Collection (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery).

rev. of F. Baratte, Die Römer in Tunisien und Libyen (Mainz 2012). BMCR (18 Aug. 2013).

rev. of J. Freed, Bringing Carthage Home: The Excavations of Nathan Davis, 1856-1859 (Oxford 2011). BMCR (30 May 2012).

rev. of N. Belayche, A. Mastrocinque (eds), Les mystères de Mithra (Rome 2013). BMCR (20 Nov. 2015).

rev. of M.S. Hobson, The North African Boom : Evaluating Economic Growth (Portsmouth, RI 2015). BMCR (4 April 2016).

rev. of B. D’Andrea, Bambini nel limbo (Rome: EFR). BMCR 2019.1.53. 

rev. of S. James, The Roman Military Base at Dura-Europos (Cambridge 2019). BMCR 2020.04.52. 

rev. of D. Walsh, The Cult of Mithras in Late Antiquity (Leiden: Brill).” BMCR 2019.08.23. 


Conference Papers

“Mithraic Networks: A View from UBC’s Excavations at Apulum Mithraeum III,” CAC Annual Meeting, Calgary (May 2018).
“Glocalizing a Cult: The Mithraeum at Dura-Europos,” AIA/SCS Annual Meeting, Boston (January 2018).  [co-auth. with Lucinda Dirven]
“The Mithraeum of Dura-Europos,” The Archaeology of Mithraism: New Perspectives, Alba Iulia (November 2017). [co-auth. with Lucinda Dirven]
“Apulum Mithraeum III,” The Archaeology of Mithraism: New Perspectives, Alba Iulia (November 2017). [co-auth. with A. Rustoiu and M. Egri]
“Situating an Emperor: Tombs and Authority in Ancient China and Rome,” keynote address, Age of Empires exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (April 2017). [available as video:, beginning at 51:30]
“Ritual dynamics and information technologies: the case of Mithraism,” AIA/SCS Annual Meeting, Toronto (January 2017).
“Response: from empires to nations in Roman provincial archaeology,” Unlocking the Roman Provinces, Toronto (January 2017).
“Africa Punica?” SBL Annual Meeting, San Antonio (November 2016).
“Apulum Mithraeum III,” Unitate, continuitate şi independenţă în istoria poporului roman, Alba Iulia (November 2016). [co-auth. with M. Egri, A. Rustoiu, and A. Dragan).
“Comparing Imperial Mausolea and Imperial Authority in China and Rome,” The First Emperor in a Global Context, NYU Shanghai, Shanghai (May 2016).
“Demystifying the mysteries of Mithras: Apulum Mithraeum III Project,” AIA – Vancouver Chapter, Vancouver (April 2016).
“Mithraism and religious change: a view from Apulum Mithraeum III,” RAC 2016, La Sapienza, Rome (March 2016).
“Lambs of God: the sacredness of little lives in Punic and Roman Africa,” University of Alberta, Edmonton (February 2016).
“Empire, Personhood, and Child Sacrifice,” ISAW, New York (December 2015)
“Child sacrifice and Africa in the Roman Empire,” University of Victoria, Victoria (October 2015).
“Glocalization and the making of Roman Africa,” Simon Fraser University, Burnaby (October 2015).
“Mithras din Apulum,” Zilele Academice Clujene, UBB/Romanian Academy, Cluj-Napoca (May 2015). [co-auth. with M. Egri and A. Rustoiu]
“Apulum Mithraeum III,” VIII. Fiatal Római Korosok Konferenciája, Targu Mures (May 2015). [co-auth. with M. Egri and A. Rustoiu]
Neo-Punic Africa and the invention of tradition,” Brown University, Providence (April 2015).
“On the edges of empire: geographies of culture in the Roman world,” Princeton University, Princeton (March 2015)
“The invention of child sacrifice in Roman Africa,” University of Chicago, Chicago (March 2015).
“Civilization and sacrifice: French imperialism and archaeology in Tunisia,” Unmasking Ideologies: The Vocabulary and Symbols of Colonial Archaeology, University of Florida, Gainesville (January 2015).
“Arhitectura şi structura internă a Apulum Mithraeum III,” Si Deus si Dea, UBB, Cluj (October 2014). [co-auth. with M. Egri and A. Rustoiu]
“Echoes of the Punic world: language, institutions, and religion,” Massinissa: au cœur de la consécration de la premier état numide, Constantine (September 2014). [co-auth. with J.C. Quinn]
“Apulum Mithraeum III: Raport preliminar,” Cetatea Bationarǎ de tip Vauban Alba Carolina, Universitatea 1 December 1918, Alba Iulia (September 2014).
“Ritual dynamics in North African sanctuaries: between local and global,” Santuari mediterranei tra Oriente e Occidente. Interazioni e contatti culturali, CNR, Rome (June 2014).
“The mysteries of Mithraism: ancient religion and new excavations at Apulum,” University of Calgary, Calgary (March 2014).
“From Baal Hammon to Saturn?” Congresso Internazionale di Studi Fenici-Punici, Sant’ Antioco (October 2013).
“Art, archaeology, and religion in the Roman provinces,” Being Roman, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (September 2013).
“When objects aren’t texts: Mithraism’s challenge to semiotics,” Double Stories – Double Lives. Reflecting on Textual Objects, Yale University, New Haven (March 2012).
“Heritage, historiography and the (g)localization of the Roman provinces,” The Persistence of Heritage: Cultural Legacies in the Roman Provinces, Then and Now, Getty Research Institute (January 2012)
“Invisible images,” Current Work in Roman Art & Archaeology, Brown University, Providence (August 2011).
“Visual environments and religious knowledge in Roman North Africa,” Wissen von Religion: Religion in Modernisierungsprozessen, Universität Erfurt, Erfurt (September 2010).
“Describing dedicants: the votive epigraphy of Punic and Roman Tunisia,” Epigraphy Workshop, Oxford University, Oxford (May 2009).
“Modelling the movement of motifs: the case of Roman North Africa,” XI Coloquio Internacional de Arte Romano Provincial: Roma y las provincias: modelo y difusión, Merida (May 2009).
“La production des images religieuses, le transfert de la connaissance religieuse: iconographie et conception dans les stèles votives,” Africa Romana, Olbia (December 2008).
“Soldiers and Stelae: Votive Exchange in Roman North Africa,” XVII International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Rome (September 2008).
“Ritual and Religious Thought in Punic and Roman North Africa,” STAGE Scottish Classics Postgraduate Conference, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh (June 2008).
“Thinking in and about votive ritual: a North African case study,” New Approaches to Votive Religion, Oxford University, Oxford (May 2008).
“From Memento to Magic, from Egypt to Gaul: Mobility of Meaning in Small Bronzes,” Challenging Frontiers: Mobility, Transition and Change, Oxford University, Oxford (April 2008).
“Addressing the Gods at Thugga,” Oxford-Princeton Classics Seminar, Princeton University, Princeton (January 2008).
“Inscribing Images, Making Meaning: Art, Text and Memory in Pausanias,” History: From Ancient to Modern, Athens Institute for Education and Research, Athens (December 2007).
“Sites, Sights, and Sacred Souvenirs: Reconsidering Early Byzantine Pilgrimage Art,” Byzantine Archaeology and Art Seminar, Oxford University, Oxford (October 2007)
“Appropriation and Appropriateness: The Polyxena Sarcophagus,” Greek Art and Culture: Origins and Influences, University of Haifa, Haifa (May 2007).