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Christian Grave-Inscriptions from the Familia Caesaris

  • PAUL McKECHNIE

Abstract

In this article I shall republish a small corpus of epitaphs from the Roman imperial household, with apparently Christian features. These texts have not previously been published together. The dating of these inscriptions will be discussed, and inferences about the Christian community in the imperial service during the Severan period will be drawn from the points of comparison which can be made between the texts.

It has long been known from literary sources that there were Christians in the emperors' service in these years. For the generation after Justin Martyr's death, Christian literature provides three references to Christianity in the familia Caesaris. Hippolytus says that Callistus, later to be bishop of Rome, was the slave of Carpophorus, a Christian ‘of the emperor's household’ during the reign of Commodus (180–92). Irenaeus, writing in that reign, refers in the course of a theological argument to ‘those in the royal palace who are believers’, without giving any hint about the number of Christians involved. Then in the 190s Tertullian's Apologeticum lists the palace along with other commanding heights of Roman life in which, he asserts, Christians have established a presence. By this time it was evidently well-known in Christian circles, including in the provinces, that there were Christians in the familia Caesaris: of these three authors, only Hippolytus was based in Rome where the imperial household was centred.

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