Strangers to Patrons: Bishop Damasus and the Foreign Martyrs of Rome
Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies
According to Christian theology, Christians are foreigners on earth. This paper focuses on the theme of foreigners and foreignness in the epigrams of Bishop Damasus of Rome. What motivated the bishop to highlight this theme at a time when Christianity was growing “respectable” in Roman society? How did the Church integrate foreign Christians into the social fabric of the Roman town? In late fourth-century Rome, not only foreign martyrs were identified as such, but entire groups of foreigners for whom “national” enclaves were created in the catacombs. I examine the Damasian epigrams in the context of their religious substrate of “alienation” and in light of the cosmopolitan heritage of Rome. As bishop of the Nicene Catholic fraction in the Vrbs, whose enterprise aimed at making Rome a new Jerusalem in part through the “importation” of holy martyrs, Damasus sought to represent his Church at its most “universal” in the teeth of his local schismatic and/or heretical opponents. Roman tradition buttressed the universalist aspirations of Catholicism. As the largest metropolis of the ancient world, Rome was a “cosmopolis,” a melting pot of peoples, and Damasus did not remain a stranger to the Catholicity of Rome’s cosmopolitan history at a time when conflicting loyalties to ciuitas, Romanitas and Christianitas were hotly debated political, religious and cultural issues.
Keywords: foreign martyrs, bishop Damasus, epigrams, Late Antique Rome
The notion that Christians are foreigners on earth was a prevalent idea in the ancient world, as it is today.1 “God’s people” sojourn temporarily in this world, on their way to the heavenly homeland. To be a “stranger” (peregrinus), however, was more than a religious metaphor for Christians in Antiquity: it was existential evidence. If they felt alienated, this was in large part a consequence of the fact that the world had cast them out for their allegedly outlandish beliefs. “Foreignness,” therefore, was not just a matter of Christian self-perception or identity, it was also the way in which Christians were perceived by their contemporaries, Jews and Romans alike. From metaphor to social reality, “foreignness” covered a range of experience, expressing the deepest religious core of the new faith and also exposing the socio-historical context in which Christianity grew. Christians formed a diaspora of “legal aliens” in the cities of the Roman Empire, in which the new religion spread thanks to its itinerant apostles, wandering teachers, exiled leaders, and migrant martyrs.
It comes as all the more of a surprise that, following the turn which took place under the rule of Constantine, the very “strangers” who had been thrown to the lions became the patron saints of the cities in which they had suffered martyrdom. The cult of martyrs rose parallel with Christianity’s integration into Roman society. If the sudden reversal of the urban representations of the martyrs can be explained by the fact that they had already been venerated heroes in persecuted Christianity, the question still remains as to how a stranger could stand for, and represent in heaven, the ciuitas in which s/he had not enjoyed the status of citizenship and had been tortured and executed as a dangerous criminal. How would s/he guarantee the safety, prosperity, and salvation of a city in which s/he had been treated as a suspicious outsider?
This paradox was bravely addressed by the foremost episcopal impresario of the cult of the martyrs, Damasus of Rome (366–84 A.D).2 While many Late Antique bishops made a point of excavating “local” martyrs to promote them to the status of patron saints, Damasus frankly acknowledged that the martyrs of Rome, the “new stars” of the Vrbs, were almost all foreigners. Martyrs from abroad became a major success story in Late Antique Christianity.3 I focus on Damasus’ presentation of the “alienness” of the martyrs in his epigraphical poetry.4 What did “foreigner” mean for Damasus? What motivated the bishop to highlight this theme at a time when Christianity was becoming “respectable” in Roman society?
Scholars explain Damasus’ emphasis on the foreign origins of the martyrs of Rome as part of the competition among the Churches for primacy5 and his attempts to “Romanize” the martyrs as part of the upsurge of Roman patriotism at the end of the fourth century.6 Rivalries with Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople must have been a factor in the emphasis Damasus placed on the foreign origins of the Apostles Peter and Paul. But how does this account for Damasus’ emphasis on “strangers” like Saturninus of Carthage or Hermes of Greece? “Competition-theories” fail to do justice to the rich spectrum of Damasus’ allusions to the state of being a foreigner and to the subversive hierarchies in his poetry.
In late fourth-century Rome, not only foreign martyrs were identified as such, but so were entire groups of foreigners, for whom “national” enclaves were created in the catacombs. I examine Damasian epigrams in the context of their religious substrate of “alienation,” as well as in light of the cosmopolitan heritage of Rome. As the bishop of the Nicene Catholic fraction in the Vrbs, who aimed to make Rome a new Jerusalem in part through the “importation” of holy martyrs, Damasus sought to represent his Church at its most “universal,” thus going against his local schismatic and/or heretical opponents. Roman tradition buttressed the universalist aspirations of Catholicism. The largest metropolis of the ancient world, Rome was a “cosmopolis,” a melting pot of peoples, and Damasus did not remain a stranger to the Catholicity of Rome’s cosmopolitan history at a time when conflicting loyalties to ciuitas, Romanitas and Christianitas were hotly debated political, religious, and cultural issues.7
“God’s People” as Strangers
“Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help;
do not be deaf to my weeping.
I dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger,
as all my ancestors were.”8
The idea that “God’s elect” are strangers did not originate with the Christians. In the Old Testament, the “chosen people” are strangers.9 The authors of the New Testament, particularly the Apostle Peter, expound on this theme. Peter opens his first letter by addressing his readers as “God’s elect, strangers in the world,”10 and he emphasizes the “strangeness” of the Christians.11 Does Peter refer to the social alienation of the Christians following their conversion or to the social status of Christians before their conversion? Probably both. By using the term παρεπίδημος, Peter evokes Psalm 39:12, whereas πάροικος is equal to the Latin inquilinus, meaning a free person who is not a Roman citizen. Such populations could be deported anytime from any Roman town. One such expulsion occurred during the reign of Claudius, when the Jews, including Priscilla and Aquila, were expelled from Rome.12 Peter, who may have escaped the expulsion of Jews or, like Priscilla and Aquila,13 may have returned after the death of Claudius, might have known these deported Christians. “Strangers” in 1 Peter is less a metaphor for the Christian pilgrimage on earth than a description of Christian life in pagan society. If the Jews are “strangers on earth,”14 Christians are “strangers of the Diaspora,” “foreigners in exile.” The “marvellous paradox” of Christianity in the Roman Empire is the invention and perfection of “alien citizenship,”15 being at once involved in and disengaged from society: in the words of the second-century author of the Epistle to Diognetus:
[Christians] dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.16
The Constantinian turn in 313 A.D which brought an end to ancient Christianity, might have reinforced rather than subdued Christian feelings of existential alienation.17 The assimilation and acculturation of Christians in Graeco-Roman society had been on its way well before the fourth century,18 and Constantine’s privileging of the Christian Church ultimately seems to have created more problems than it solved.19 The Arian-Nicene theological debates ended in exile and persecution,20 but this time Christians persecuted Christians;21 and the soaring of the numbers of lukewarm, opportunist Christians provoked a sharp debate on Christian perfection.22 Traditional Christians felt alienated in the new Christian Empire,23 where new heresies mushroomed,24 controversies raged,25 and continuity with the past was broken26 or had to be reinvented.27 Pollutae caerimoniae, magna adulteria; plenum exiliis mare, infecti caedibus scopuli: “holy things were desecrated, adultery widespread; the sea was swarming with exiles and its rocks stained with blood.” The words of Tacitus, with which he characterized the period of upheaval that followed the death of Nero, aptly summarize the turmoil of the fourth century. Political transformation, economic interests, religious violence, and the pressures of the barbarian incursions uprooted individuals and whole populations: the late Empire was a commonwealth of displaced persons, with Italy as a “transit zone” in its center.28
By the mid-fourth century, “foreigners” constituted the majority of Rome’s population.29 To be sure, many of these foreigners had Roman citizenship and were Roman in their culture, but they had come from faraway provinces to the ancient capital of the Empire. The emperors themselves came from the Eastern provinces of Illyricum and Pannonia,30 and the imperial administration constantly shifted personnel within the boundaries of the Empire. Thus, for example, a large group of Pannonian officials worked in Rome.31 The army that patrolled the Roman world recruited soldiers from all over the provinces and increasingly from among the so-called barbarians.32 The slave trade brought various ethnic groups to Rome,33 but alongside this, intellectuals in Egypt and Syria also felt the irresistible pull of Rome,34 while Christian teachers, bishops, and ascetics, zipping through the Empire as conciliar delegates or imperial exiles, made obligatory stopovers in Rome.35 As the third-century jurist Modestinus wrote, “Roma communis nostra patria est,” yet the foreigners did not forget their homelands.36 On the contrary: they kept together and sought to memorialize the places from which they had come, thereby expressing that they were “displaced persons,” that they had come to Rome from other provinces.
One of the most interesting and moving cases involved the establishment of a “national” Pannonian cemetery within the San Sebastiano catacomb complex on the Via Appia,37 the spot where Rome’s most famous strangers, the princes of the apostles, were also celebrated. Beginning with the urban prefecture of Viventius (365–67), a Pannonian bureaucrat from Siscia (now Sisak/Sziszek in Croatia), a large number of Pannonians chose to be buried ad sanctos. Viventius’ daughter Lucceia continued to sponsor the cemetery, and she arranged the burial of a mother from Pannonia by the name of Nunita and her daughter Maximilla, a consecrated virgin (virgo ancilla Dei), in 389. Around this time, Quirinus, the martyr bishop of Siscia was buried in the Platonia mausoleum behind the apse of the Basilica of San Sebastiano, long believed to have been the temporary common (or shared) tomb of the two apostles. Quirinus’ relics in grave nr. 13 of the mausoleum were identified at the end of the nineteenth century and provoked heated scholarly debate.38
Quirinus was martyred in Savaria (now Szombathely, Hungary) during the persecutions of Diocletian after having been arrested in 309. He had attempted to flee, but was thrown to prison, where he converted his jailer, Marcellus, to Christianity. The governor of Pannonia Prima, Amantius, ordered him taken to Savaria, where, after having attempted to make Quirinus abjure his faith, he threw the bishop into the local Sibaris (Gyöngyös) Creek with a millstone around his neck. The Passio Sancti Quirini, strongly imitating the Acts of the Apostles, was probably written around 386–95.39 Quirinus’ first two miracles in Siscia and on the way to Savaria replicate the miracles of St Peter and Paul: the exemplary life and death of the bishop, successor to the apostles, is an actualization of the biblical story in the theater of Savaria and on the bridge of the Sibaris Creek. The third miracle, when Quirinus floats on the water with a millstone around his neck, spread all over the Roman Empire by the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth thanks to the Chronicle of St Jerome—himself from Pannonia—and the beautiful hymn by Prudentius, who attributed a symbolic meaning to the story. Quirinus is the only martyr in Jerome’s Chronicle from the time of the Great Persecution whose death is recounted in any detail. Another peculiarity of this text is the brief mention of Quirinus’ cult in Savaria, the first Pannonian example of a translation of relics into an intra muros basilica after 386, when a similar translation was organized by Bishop Ambrose in Milan. Archaeological research confirmed the hypothesis that Quirinus’ body was buried in the late Roman cemetery in the Eastern part of Savaria and that his relics were transferred into an intra muros basilica in the city. The translation of Quirinus’ relics provide evidence of the relationship between the cult of the saints and the pro-Nicaean bishops’ effort to eradicate Arianism in the Danubian provinces after the council of Aquileia in 381. The translation of Quirinus’ relics within Savaria and from Savaria to Rome are the first examples of relic transfer both within Pannonia and from Pannonia to Rome. Alessandro Bertolino argued that it was the presence of this Pannonian burial spot that attracted the translation and burial of St Quirinus of Siscia in the San Sebastiano catacomb sometime between 389–405, rather than the other way round.40 According to Levente Nagy, the Pannonian (or Siscian) “lobby” in Rome might not have been actively involved in the translation of Quirinus’ relics to Rome: the relics arrived in Rome due to a rescue operation after the Gothic King Radagaisus’ raid in Pannonia in 405. Be it as it may, the Pannonian martyr Quirinus of Siscia, possibly due to his assimilation both with the Roman god Quirinus as well as with the apostolic founders of Christian Rome, became one of the most venerated saints of Rome.
Did the foreigners in Rome live lives characterized by patterns of cohabitation, integration, or tension? While there must have been a great deal of assimilation,41 tension also had a long history, and it grew in intensity towards the end of the fourth century.42 Foreigners formed a heterogeneous mass of people, separated by outlook as much as by accent from one another and from the “Romans of Rome.”43 The real divide, however, ran between Roman citizens and inquilini. “Legal aliens” formed a separate legal caste subjected to exclusion.44 In 383, when famine broke out, Ammianus Marcellinus was expelled from Rome, together with thousands of people who did not have Roman citizenship. Panis was reserved for citizens only:
At last we have reached such a state of harshness that whereas not so very long ago, when there was fear of scarcity of food, foreigners were driven neck and crop from the city, and those who practiced their liberal arts (very few in number) were thrust out without a breathing space...45
Strangers among the Roman Martyrs
In defiance of Roman law, Christians who readily identified themselves as aliens valorized the status of the foreigner and made a policy of showing hospitality to strangers. Under the late fourth-century conditions of social and religious tension in Rome, it might have come as a relief to find a group that did not stigmatize strangers. The Church of Rome venerated the founders of the faith, none of whom were Romans, even less Latins. Moreover, a large percentage of Rome’s many martyrs also had been foreigners. Some of them had had Roman citizenship, others had not.
Remarkably, the earliest Roman martyr list (depositio martyrum)46 preserved by the Chronograph of 354 included the feasts of three non-Roman (Carthaginian) martyrs: St Perpetua, St Felicitas and St Cyprian. The depositio martyrum, compiled before 336, is the oldest extant document about the cult of the Christian martyrs venerated in the Church of Rome. The list records the burial date (day, month, year) of forty-seven martyrs. In the cases of people who were martyred in Rome, it also mentions their burial places in the cemeteries and catacombs situated along the great roads leading out from Rome. The presence of the three great saints of Carthage in the liturgical calendar of the Church of Rome was taken as a sign by scholars that the cult of the saints spread from Africa to Italy.47
The martyrs were the stars of early Christianity. They followed Christ and conquered death. Their deaths were their birthdays (natales martyrum) in heaven: this explains the joyous commemoration and cheerful celebration of their heroic passing away among Christians to the present day. The annual celebration of the martyr’s heavenly birthday included the reading of the story of the martyrdom from the acts or from the passio, and the Eucharistic ritual. By including the Carthaginian martyrs, whose tombs and relics were in Africa, in the liturgical cycle of the martyrs venerated in Rome, the depositio martyrum indicates that the passions of these martyrs were regularly read in the churches of the Vrbs and that a local Roman veneration evolved if not around their relics, then around their memory. Thus, St Cyprian of Carthage had his own Roman cult center in the Cemetery of Callixtus on the Via Appia. This is important because it shows that in fourth-century Rome a “spiritualized” commemoration of the martyr ran parallel to the increasingly “material” veneration of the holy martyrs at the holy tombs. 48 That the tomb of the martyr was no longer a simple site of commemoration but a source of supernatural aid is attested by the note in the list according to which the martyr Silanus’ corpse was stolen by the schismatic Novatians (hunc Silvanum martyrem Novatiani furati sunt). Despite this development, foreign martyrs whose bodily presence could not be secured in Rome still enjoyed spiritualized veneration in the liturgy.
Star Strangers: St Peter and St Paul
Bishop Damasus of Rome drew on this martyr list when establishing the monumental commemoration of the saints in Rome.49 Some scholars claim that Damasus wrote the depositio martyrum in stone.50 Remarkably, Damasus chose to stress that the apostles Peter and Paul were not Romans:
You should know that holy men once dwelt here,
Whoever you are who seek at the same time the names of Peter and Paul.
The East sent its apostles, a fact we freely acknowledge.
By virtue of their martyrdom – having followed Christ through the stars
they reached the heavenly asylum and the realms of the righteous –
Rome has earned the right to claim them as her own citizens.
These things Damasus wishes to relate in your praise, O new stars.51
The message of this highly subversive epigram seems rather straightforward: the apostles were Easterners (discipulos Oriens misit), but earned Roman citizenship by shedding their blood for Christ in Rome. The idea that martyrs acquire Roman citizenship through blood is a literal presentation of the Roman law of ius sanguinis (right of blood): the abstract concept of the law is fulfilled by the martyrs word-by-word. Damasus, however, subverts the Roman concepts, merges ius sanguinis with another Roman legal term, the ius soli (right of soil), as well as with the Christian understanding of death as a new birth. The martyrs earn citizenship by dying in the Vrbs. Ius sanguinis and ius soli alike, however, define rights acquired at birth (rather than at death) in Roman law.52 Death, however, is a (re)birth in Christianity and life expands beyond death. The apostles, now Roman citizens, continue to live on in the “realms of the righteous.”53
It is worth mentioning that the “foreignness” of the apostles is an abstract “uprootedness” in this epigram. They come from the distant Orient: in this statement, there is nothing about the lack of Roman citizenship. The apostles, people who came from an unspecified East (nothing is said about Jerusalem or the Holy Land), became naturalized Roman citizens. This is a religious message: one is at “home” nowhere but with Christ. Damasus evokes Christian and Jewish religious traditions of “being foreign” to and in the world, and the artistry of this evocation lies in the fact that any allusion to “foreignness” is liable to echo, for Christians, the teaching of the Apostle Peter quoted above. It also recalls Rome’s failure to show hospitality to strangers, behavior squarely opposed to the teachings of Jesus: “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”54 An existential foreignness pervades the epigram. Christians are strangers on earth longing for their true home: “For you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”55
The Eastern martyrs were Romanized thanks to their heroism. Yet again, Damasus draws on and subverts a Roman concept: the idea that Romanitas equals heroism.56 Pious Aeneas was another Oriental stranger whose heroism led him to find a new country for his gods.57 Damasus’ cruelly executed martyrs are the founding heroes of Christianity in Rome.58 Damasus’ Romanization of the Christian martyrs negotiates identity and difference on various levels, from the aristocratic, Virgilian language of the epigrams to the emphasis on the martyrs’ “otherness” and the attribution of Roman citizenship. Romanitas for Damasus is a spiritual virtue: it is the strength of the soul that makes man Roman. The notion of Roman victory is internalized: it refers no longer to military might, but to inner endurance. Romanitas is not a legal identity, but a spiritual disposition. The Romanness of the apostles becomes an obverse “martyrdom in exile.” The bishop integrates foreign martyrs into the history of Rome—no small achievement in a city so self-consciously proud of its past!59 It might have been Damasus’ tongue-in-cheek answer to the promotion of the prestige of the “Romans of Rome” by the pagan prefect Symmachus.60 More importantly, it reveals shifting notions of Romanitas in the late fourth century.61 Damasus gave to Christian “Romans of Rome” their own heroes, foreigners praised in elegant Latin elogia in the language of the most Roman of all Roman poets, Virgil.62 In the catacombs’ meandering “halls of fame,” the martyrs became Roman patriots who mark themselves out with their heroic behavior. It is essential to note in this context that the virtue Damasus extols most in the martyrs of Rome is peacefulness and peacemaking, not bravery. As opposed to martyrial poetry that indulges in graphic descriptions of the martyrs’ defiance of death and endurance of torture and suffering,63 Damasus has little to say about physical pain: for him, the martyrs are the quintessential peacemakers. Peace, incidentally, happens to be the most Roman of Roman virtues. Damasus’ message of peace thus conveys a political message of unity.
Peter and Paul did not come to Rome for Roman citizenship (one of them had it already). They came for something higher. The bishop subversively turns established hierarchies upside down, first by stating that it is not the martyrs that are honored by the bestowal Roman citizenship, but rather the Vrbs is honored by the presence of the martyrs, citizens of heaven; secondly, by asserting that there is something higher than Roman citizenship: citizenship in the heavenly Kingdom.
Rome saw the apostles die and thus earned the right to call them its citizens (Roma suos potius meruit defendere cives). The competition, particularly with Antioch, is transparent: the two apostles resided in Antioch before coming to Rome, and Antioch developed a special Petrine tradition celebrating the apostle’s presence in the city.64 Remarkably, there is no mention of the foundation of the Church of Rome by Peter in Damasus’ epigrams. As opposed to the Liberian catalogue of 354, Damasus does not present Peter as the first bishop of Rome, but echoes the traditional view of the apostle’s Roman activity as recorded by Irenaeus of Lyons and Eusebius of Caesarea.65 The topography of this epigraphy is symbolic: it is placed neither in the Vatican nor on the Via Ostiensis, but rather in the ancient Roman cult place of the basilica Apostolorum in the San Sebastiano catacomb on the Via Appia (that would soon become, as we have seen, the national cemetery of other “Easterners,” this time from Pannonia). Damasus’ return to the concelebration of the apostles is triggered less by traditionalism than by the need for unity in a time of division: the synergy of the two apostles offers an actual, ever valid model of collaboration between churchmen of very different temperaments. The concordia apostolorum, as presented by Damasus, is promoted as a political model in the Church of Rome and also as a useful model of Christian civic behavior.66
The new citizens of Rome, however, do not reside in the Vrbs: after their martyrdom, they soar to the palace of Heaven. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”67 Damasus exalts the “new stars” (nova sidera) of Rome in the ancient language of stellar afterlife. Becoming a star after one’s death, however, was a privilege reserved for emperors in Rome.68 The subversive twist makes the Oriental strangers equal and even superior to the emperors: St Peter and Paul do not idly light the night sky, as imperial constellations do, but rather actively care for Rome’s inhabitants.
From Citizens to Brothers in Christ
The idea that martyrdom leads to the acquisition of Roman citizenship emerges in two other Damasian epigrams dedicated to foreign martyrs who similarly assure intercession between the faithful and God. Saturninus of Carthage died in Rome and thus became Roman. In the epigram placed above Saturninus’ tomb in the catacomb of Thraso on the Via Salaria Nova, Damasus contrasts the religious conception of the heavenly abode (incola Christi) and Roman citizenship (Romanum civem) with the Carthaginian origins of the martyr:
Dwelling now with Christ, he was an inhabitant of Carthage before.
At the time when the persecution’s sword cut at our mother’s holy innards,
he changed his homeland and his name and race by means of his blood.
His martyrdom made him a Roman citizen.
Wonder of wonders: his remarkable end was afterwards a lesson.
While he tears at your holy limbs, Gratianus howls like the Enemy;
As he spewed out his poisons saturated with bile,
He was unable to compel you, saint, to deny Christ:
He himself merited to depart converted by your prayers.
This is the admonition of Damasus the suppliant: venerate the tomb. 69
The confrontation of Carthage with Rome is interesting. Carthage was a prestigious Christian city with universally acclaimed martyrs, such as St Cyprian, and with a sophisticated martyr piety that hardly found anything in Rome to envy.70 The topic of changing homelands and acquiring Roman citizenship at the price of blood is enriched with the graphic representation of the martyr’s confrontation with his persecutor. Suffering for Christ optimizes the powers of the martyr. His virtue makes Saturninus Roman, while his Roman opponent loses his humanity.71 In his interaction with the Roman authorities, the alien Saturninus proves to be a true Roman, and Gratian, the prefect of Rome, a sub-human monster. He can be saved by the martyr alone: thanks to Saturninus’ powerful intercession, Gratian converts to Christianity.
A martyr of Greek origin, Hermes was buried on the Via Salaria Vetus in the catacomb of Basilla. He too changed his country through his act of self-sacrifice:
A long time ago, as rumor has it, Greece sent you;
You changed your fatherland by shedding your blood, love of the law
made you a citizen and brother; having suffered for the holy name,
resident now with the Lord, you serve the altars of Christ.
I ask, renowned martyr, that you favor the prayers of Damasus.72
Hermes’ suffering for the “holy name” makes him not only a citizen, but a “brother,” on whose intercession with God Damasus can count. The martyr is a well-known human face in the world to come. The epigram affirms the rise of the dead to the heavenly court, a fundamental component of the cult of the saints, and radiates the warmth and joy that the faithful experience in finding a “brother” in the other world who extends a helping hand over the believer, both in this world and in the afterlife.73
From praise for the peregrini Peter and Paul and the heroism of Saturninus of Carthage, Damasus comes to extol Hermes of Greece the patronus. These foreigners are not just examples of faithful perseverance and heroic love from ancient times, but also are unceasingly active patron saints of the Church of Rome. The Roman citizenship that they gained enables them to act as intercessors in heaven for the faithful, both before and after death. By making clear reference to the foreign origins of the martyrs, the epigrams of Bishop Damasus of Rome evoke an impressive range of religious, cultural, and political issues that preoccupied the society of fourth-century Rome. Some were new questions. How could tradition be preserved? How could changes be adopted? Others belonged to the oldest layer of the Christian faith. How could one live as a “stranger on earth”? The unique blend of these traditions makes Damasus’ poetry intriguing and powerful. The bishop’s chief enterprise consisted of identifying the martyrs of Rome, and this amounted essentially to the compilation of a collective history of the Church of Rome.74 Damasus not only integrated foreign martyrs into this story, he also chose to be vocal about the foreignness of the martyrs. To write the history of the “church of the martyrs” and to enlist alien martyrs into one’s own faction can be interpreted as an indication of the practical urgency of community building in Rome. Damasus brought home with extraordinary confidence and purposefulness the Nicene belief that the local church is the Body of Christ. By including all believers, past and present, foreign and homegrown, in his commemoration, Damasus made tangible the communio sanctorum, the Eucharistic fellowship of all believers and their participation in the Resurrection Body.
Damasus’ sophisticated combination of orthodoxy and Christian tradition, universalism and local aristocratic interests, and religious mystique and concrete politics inscribed a remarkably high-caliber Catholic Christianity into the history of Rome and fashioned a Roman Catholic self-perception that left the door wide open to strangers, now venerated as Rome’s own patron saints.75 The evocation of the foreign origins of the martyrs was a compliment to the history of the Church of Rome by a bishop who did so much to Romanize it.76 “Romanization” in Damasus, however, did not mean closeting oneself in the tradition of Roman patriotism, but rather opening up Roman traditions to a Christian future.
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1 Greer, “Alien Citizens.”
2 Reutter, Damasus, Bischof von Rom; Trout, Damasus of Rome.
3 The list of foreign martyrs venerated at the place of their martyrdom is endless. To name a few: Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome, the forty martyrs (of Sebaste) in Constantinople, St Irenaeus (of Smyrna) in Lyon, St Martialis (of Jerusalem) in Limoges, St Vitalis (of Milan) in Ravenna, St Demetrius (of Sirmium?) in Thessaloniki, St Quirinus (of Siscia) in Savaria (Szombathely) and Rome. Scholarship, however, is scarce on this issue: Fux, “Les patries des martyrs”; Tóth, “Sirmian martyrs in exile”; for a later period, see Efthymiadis, “D’Orient en Occident”; Lequeux, “Hélène d’Athyra,”; Maskarinec, “Foreign Saints at Home”. Scholars focused on the translation and importation of relics, not on the veneration of foreign martyrs in the places where they died. On Holy Land relics: Clark, “Translating Relics”; for translations: Heinzelmann, Translationsberichte; Caroli, “Bringing Saints to Cities”. On medieval thefts, see the classic work of Geary, Furta sacra.
4 On the rise of martyr cults in Late Antiquity, see Brown, The Cult of the Saints; Roberts, Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs; Lamberigts and Van Deun, Martyrium; Grig, Making Martyrs.
5 Shotwell and Ropes Loomis, The See of Peter; Meyendorff, The Primacy of Peter; Daley, “Position and Patronage.”
6 Sogno, Q. Aurelius Symmachus; Fux, “Les patries des martyrs,” 371.
7 Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture; Boer, Romanitas et Christianitas; Martin and Cox Miller, The Cultural Turn; Sághy, “Fido recubans.”
8 Psalm 39:12.
9 Gen. 23:4; Leviticus 19:34; Psalms 39:12.
10 1 Peter 1:1.
11 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:11.
12 Acts 18:2.
13 Romans 16:3.
14 Psalm 119:19.
15 Greer, “Alien Citizens.”
16 Epistle to Diognetus 5:5.
17 Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity; Cameron, Christianity.
18 Brakke, Deliyannis and Watts, Shifting Cultural Frontiers; Mitchell and Nuffelen, Monotheism; Salzman, Sághy, and Lizzi Testa, Pagans and Christians. For the debate on pagan-Christian assimilation, see Herrero de Jáuregui, “Christian Assimilation”; Roessli, “Assimilation chrétienne.”
19 Brown and Lizzi Testa, Pagans and Christians.
20 Vallejo Girvés, “L’Europe des exilés.”
21 Meyendorff, Imperial Unity.
22 Wimbush and Valantasis, Asceticism; Vogüé, Histoire littéraire.
23 Guinot and Richard, Empire chrétien.
24 Pourkier, L’hérésiologie.
25 Galvão-Sobrinho, Doctrine and Power; Clark, The Origenist Controversy; Berndt and Steinacher, Arianism; Shaw, Sacred Violence.
26 Tronzo, The Via Latina Catacomb.
27 Johnson and Schott, Eusebius of Caesarea.
28 Gennaccari, “L’Italia come luogo di transito.”
29 Curran, Pagan City; Grig and Kelly, Two Romes; Twine, “The City in Decline.”
30 Lenski, Failure of Empire; Alföldi, Az utolsó nagy pannon császár.
31 Matthews, Western Aristocracies; Kovács, “A sopianaei születésű Maximinus.”
32 Jones, The Later Roman Empire; Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops.
33 Harper, Slavery.
34 Schall, “Plotinus”; DePalma Digeser, “Lactantius, Porphyry”; Kelly, “The New Rome and the Old”; Ross, “Ammianus.”
35 Pietri, “La question d’Athanase”; Duval, Jérôme entre l’Occident et l’Orient; Kaufman, “Augustine, Martyrs.”
36 For an interesting parallel of imperial alienation in the sixteenth century see Bartels, Spectacles of Strangeness.
37 Bertolino, “Pannonia terra creat.” The Pannonian martyr St Quirinus is celebrated by Prudentius, Peristephanon 7, probably in relation to Pannonian and “Damasian” circles. I thank Pierre-Yves Fux for this reference.
38 De Waal, Die Apostelgruft ad Catacumbas an der via Appia.
39 Nagy, Pannoniai városok, mártírok, ereklyék, ch. 4.
40 Bertolino, “Pannonia terra creat.”
41 Andrade, “Assyrians, Syrians”; Goffart, “Rome, Constantinople.”
42 Auerbach, “The Arrest of Petrus Valvomeres.” Auerbach does not refer to this, but the redhead Petrus’ surname strongly suggests that he was a Christian.
43 Augustine, for example, had a strong African accent: Augustine, Confessions 5, 23.
44 Mathisen, “Peregrini, Barbari.”
45 Ammianus, Res Gestae 14, 6, 19.
46 Mommsen, Chronica minora, 1:71–2; Divjak and Wischmeyer, Das Kalenderhandbuch; Burgess, “The Chronograph of 354.”
47 Saxer, Morts, martyrs, 17.
48 See Cox Miller, The Corporeal Imagination.
49 Saxer, “Damase,” 67.
50 Pietri, Roma christiana, 1:673.
51 Damasus, Epigram 20 (English translation by Dennis E. Trout, see Trout, Damasus of Rome):
Hic habitasse prius sanctos cognoscere debes,
nomina quisque Petri pariter Paulique requiris.
Discipulos Oriens misit, quod sponte fatemur;
sanguinis ob meritum Christumque per astra secuti
aetherios petiere sinus regnaque piorum:
Roma suos potius meruit defendere cives.
Haec Damasus vestras referat nova sidera laudes.
52 Marotta, “Ius sanguinis.”
53 The relationship between life and death is shown by the late fourth-century “city gate” and “columnar” sarcophagi’s micro-architecture, reflecting the heavenly abode in the world to come. Thomas, “‘Houses of the dead’,” 387.
54 Matthew 25:35.
55 Augustine, Confessions, 1, 3.
56 Toll, “Making Roman-Ness”; Efrossini Spentzou, “Eluding ’Romanitas’.”
57 Gibson, “Aeneas as hospes.”
58 Trout, “Damasus and the Invention of Early Christian Rome.” By the fifth century, Romulus and Remus had come to be regarded as criminals, and Peter and Paul, the spiritual brothers, as the true founders of Rome in Leo Magnus, In Natali apostolorum Petri et Pauli, Tractatus 69 / LXXXII: “Isti sunt sancti patres tui verique pastores, qui te regnis caelestibus inserendam multo melius multoque felicius condiderunt, quam illi quorum studio prima moenium tuorum fundamenta locata sunt: ex quibus is qui tibi nomen dedit fraternal te caede foedavit.”
59 Cracco Ruggini, “Intolerance.”
60 Salzman, “Reflections on Symmachus’ Idea of Tradition”; Ebbeler, “Religious Identity.”
61 Maskarinec, “Who were the Romans?”
62 Trout, “Damasus and the Invention of Early Christian Rome.”
63 Roberts, Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs.
64 Brown and Meier, Antioch and Rome; Zwierlein, Petrus und Paulus; competition for primacy remained a hot topic for centuries to come. For visual evidence see Van Dijk, “Jerusalem.”
65 Sághy, “Codex to Catacomb.”
66 Pietri, “Concordia Apostolorum.”
67 2 Timothy 4:7.
68 Cannadine and Price, Rituals of Royalty; Gradel, Emperor Worship.
69 Damasus, Epigram 46: Incola nunc Christi, fuerat Carthaginis ante.
Tempore quo gladius secuit pia viscera matris,
sanguine mutavit patriam, vitamque, genusque
Romanum civem sanctorum fecit origo.
Mira fides rerum: docuit post exitus ingens.
Cum lacerat pia membra, fremit Gratianus ut hostis,
postea quam fellis vomuit concepta venena,
cogere non potuit Christum te, sancte, negare,
ipse tuis precibus meruit confessus abire.
Supplicis haec Damasi vox est: venerare sepulcrum.
70 The Roman cult of the martyrs is often derived from North African practice: Delehaye, Les origines du culte des martyrs; Saxer, Morts, martyrs.
71 On the making of “otherness” see Smith, “What a Difference a Difference Makes,” 15.
72 Damasus, Epigram 48: Iam dudum, quod fama refert, te Graecia misit.
Sanguine mutasti patriam, civemque fratremque
fecit amor legis. sancto pro nomine passus,
incola nunc Domini, servas qui altaria Christi,
ut Damasi precibus faevas, precor, inclyte martyr.
73 Brown, The Cult of the Saints, chapter 1.
74 Sághy, “Poems as Church History.”
75 Brown, “Enjoying the Saints.”
76 Shepherd, “The Liturgical Reform of Damasus I,” 861–63; Lafferty, “Translating Faith,” 21.