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3 January 1868|
20 August 1947 (aged 79)|
|Alma mater||University of Ghent|
|Awards||Francqui Prize (1936)|
Franz-Valéry-Marie Cumont (3 January 1868 in Aalst, Belgium – 20 August 1947 in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre near Brussels) was a Belgian archaeologist and historian, a philologist and student of epigraphy, who brought these often isolated specialties to bear on the syncretic mystery religions of Late Antiquity, notably Mithraism. Cumont was a graduate of the University of Ghent (PhD, 1887). After receiving royal travelling fellowships, he undertook archaeology in Pontus and Armenia (published in 1906) and in Syria, but he is best known for his studies on the impact of Eastern mystery religions, particularly Mithraism, on the Roman Empire. Cumont's international credentials were brilliant, but his public circumspection was not enough. In 1910, Baron Edouard Descamps, the Catholic Minister of Sciences and Arts at the University of Ghent, refused to approve the faculty's unanimous recommendation of Cumont for the chair in Roman History, Cumont having been a professor there since 1906. There was a vigorous press campaign and student agitation in Cumont's favor, because the refusal was seen as blatant religious interference in the University's life. When another candidate was named, in 1912, Cumont resigned his positions at the University and at the Royal Museum in Brussels, left Belgium and henceforth divided his time between Paris and Rome.
He contributed to many standard encyclopedias, published voluminously and in 1922, under stressful political conditions, conducted digs on the shore of the Euphrates at the previously unknown site of Dura-Europos; he published his research there in 1926. He was a member of most of the European academies. In 1936 Franz Cumont was awarded the Francqui Prize on Human Sciences. In 1947, Franz Cumont donated his library and papers to the Academia Belgica in Rome, where they are accessible to researchers.
His works include
After his death, critics of his interpretation of Mithras as the descendant of the Iranian deity Mithra began to be heard, and surfaced at the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies in Manchester England, 1971. Modern interpretation of Mithras as the astronomical bull-slayer have continued to move away from Cumont's interpretations, though his documentation remains valuable.
In 1997 the Royal Library, Brussels, observed the fiftieth anniversary of Cumont's death appropriately, with a colloquium on syncretism in the Merranean world of Antiquity. In 2010 the Belgian publisher Brepols started an ion of Cumont's collected works. The volumes are published in two series as 'major' and 'minor' writings identified by the acronyms BICUMA and BICUMI.