a long series of Latin Christian inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome dating from the second half of the third century. The Christian stones of third-century Phrygia were often hewn in the shape of pagan funerary altars, with relief carvings of the dead and their families, with symbols of the trades they practised and with carved recesses atop the altar for sacrificial offerings to the dead. But there were also differences, as for example in the curses against breaking open the tomb that normally appeared at the end of the inscription. Departing from the conventional pagan curse, which required the tomb-breaker to pay a fine to the temple treasury and sometimes called upon subterranean divinities to punish the violator, Christian inscriptions often say simply, 'he shall be accountable to the living God.' This formula originated in the town of Eumeneia in Phrygia, where Christians outnumbered pagans, to judge from the preponderance of such inscriptions in the later third century. Christianity was not a religio licita ('lawful religion'). With the threat of persecution always in the air, Christian monuments displayed tact. A striking example of this is the funerary altar inscription of Abercius in the territory of Hieropolis. It is a rhetorical tour deforce in terms of its semantic ambiguity, yet is clearly Christian. It expresses theological ideas in everyday Greek, and mentions Abercius' contacts with the Christian communities in Rome and Syria.3 Purely Christian nekropoleis ('cities of the dead') also existed, providing a venue for a more vivid, and sometimes more militant, expression of the social and cultural fact of Christianity. There are, for example, the 'Christians to Christians' inscriptions of rural Phrygia. Others make use of the 'chi-rho', a ligature which was originally used as an abbreviation for the name of Christ, but which became a Christian victory symbol after 312. Where inscriptions lack Christian phrases and symbols, the burden of proof is on the epigraphist who seeks to prove that a text (and dedicatee) is Christian.

When one turns from Rome and Asia Minor, the epigraphic evidence becomes more limited. The number of datable pre-Constantinian inscriptions is very small. Christianity first identified itself with Greek language and thought at Antioch in Syria. Christian inscriptions are plentiful in its rural territory, but the series does not begin until the second quarter of the fourth century. Most cities in Roman Africa had bishops presiding over small communities, but the dated third-century epigraphic evidence is confined to a small number of towns.4 The pre-fourth-century Christian community at Tipasa is known

4 Mullen, Expansion of Christianity, 320-6.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment