(b Aalst, Jan 3, 1868; d Woluwe, Brussels, Aug 20, 1947).
Belgian archaeologist and religious historian. Educated in Ghent, Bonn, Berlin and Paris, he taught at the University of Ghent from 1896 to 1910. He made a fundamental contribution to the understanding of the complexity of ancient paganism and its symbols, and he travelled widely in Syria and Turkey in search of ancient astrological drawings and symbols. Other important early works of this prolific scholar focused on the influence of ancient oriental cults, particularly Mithraism, on the Roman world and on Christianity. He developed an interest in pagan representations of the afterlife and collected widely dispersed information for his great work Recherches sur le symbolisme funéraire des Romains. This broke decisively with the tradition of romantic scholarship, which had concentrated on style, aesthetic quality and dating: Cumont marshalled his impressive archaeological knowledge to present a scientific categorization of the material remains of ancient funerary art, including sculpture, painting and sarcophagus reliefs, together with a penetrating and influential analysis of the selection and meaning of the artistic themes used....