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E00946: Latin poem on the martyrdom of *Romanos (martyr of Antioch, S00120) is composed by Prudentius, writing c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain). The poem, part of his Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), is an elaborate account of the tortures and miracles that occurred around the saint's death. Overview of Peristephanon X

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posted on 2015-12-07, 00:00 authored by mszada
Liber Peristephanon, Poem X


Prudentius addresses Romanus and asks him for his help in composing the poem – see $E00947.

During the reign of Galerius, Christian cult is suppressed and churches are being desecrated. In Antioch, Romanus warns his fellow Christians that the soldiers of the emperor want to enter the church. As a leader of the community he is arrested and tortured. His status as a nobleman makes the judge change the way he is punished: instead of having his flesh cut with claws, he is beaten. During the tortures Romanus describes in detail and condemns the pagan rites in Rome and in diverse sanctuaries, and denounces pagan cults at length. He praises God and the Christian religion. His persecutor is outraged by the long speech and tries to force Romanus to venerate the pagan gods and pray for the emperor. In return Romanus offends the emperor and, on the persecutor's order, the soldiers cut his flesh with swords. Romanus claims that he doesn't care about pain and is looking forward to death. The persecutor, annoyed by Romanus' eloquence, orders the torturer to wound his mouth.

With his cheeks cut, Romanus still argues with the persecutor. He asks him to choose an innocent boy aged seven, who would indicate which religion is true: the pagan or the Christian. The chosen boy declares his faith in Christ and admits that it was his mother who taught him the Christian religion. In revenge the persecutor orders the boy to be tortured in his mother's sight. The public is moved by this scene and only the mother shows no sorrow; when the boy asks for water, she encourages him rather to drink from the living spring – Christ. She reminds him of the story of the *Seven Maccabean Brothers and their mother who saw them being tortured. The child is uplifted and laughs. The persecutor lets him be placed in prison and orders Romanus to be tortured further. Finally, he lets Romanus be burnt and the boy beheaded, so that they die together. The mother carries her son to the place of execution. As the pyre is built, Romanus announces that a miracle is going to happen and that he will not die from fire. Indeed, heavy rain extinguishes the flames. The persecutor decides that Romanus should die through dismemberment. He calls for a surgeon who first cuts out his tongue. A renewed attempt is made to force Romanus to sacrifice to the pagan gods, but the martyr withstands the attempt. In spite of being deprived of his tongue, he speaks, praising the miracle and Christ. The persecutor calls the doctor, accuses him of fraud and does not listen to his explanations. He also suspects that the blood covering the martyr is not his own. To this Romanus answers with a speech in which he mocks the pagan rites of taurobolium, hecatomb, self-mutilations linked with the cult of the Magna Mater, and argues that pagans are violent and like to hurt innocent people like himself. After the speech, the enraged governor orders Romanus to be taken away from the court and killed, he is dragged to the prison and there the executioner breaks his neck.

The governor sends the written record of the events to the emperor but the poet says that they were destroyed by the passage of time while the words of God are indestructible. In heaven, an angel wrote down all the words of Romanus, made the exact pictures of his wounds, and measured the blood that poured from every one. This book is kept in the heavenly register and will be read on the Day of Judgement. At the end, the poet expresses hope that at the Day of Judgement he will be saved thanks to the prayers of Romanus.

Text: Cunningham 1966, 330-369. Translation: Thomson 1953, 226-229. Summary: M. Tycner.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Romanos from Caesarea, martyr in Antioch, ob. 303 : S00120 Maccabean Brothers, 2nd-century BC Jewish martyrs in Antioch : S00303

Saint Name in Source

Romanus Maccabei

Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Iberian Peninsula

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Calahorra Osset Osset Osen (castrum) Osser castrum

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracles experienced by the saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Soldiers Monarchs and their family Torturers/Executioners Women Children Physicians Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–after 405) was a Christian aristocrat from Calahorra in the Spanish province of Tarraconensis. He was a high official in the imperial bureaucracy in Rome, but withdrew from public life, returned to Calahorra, and dedicated himself to the service and celebration of God. Most of what we know about his biography comes from the preface to the ensemble of his works, which can be reliably dated to 404 (Cunningham 1966, 1-2), and other autobiographical remarks scattered throughout his works (for a detailed discussion, see Palmer 1989, 6-31). He composed several poetical works, amongst them the Peristephanon (literally, On the Crowns [of the Martyrs]), a collection of fourteen poems of different length describing martyrdoms of saints. We do not know exactly at which point in his literary career Prudentius wrote the preface (possibly at the very end, just before publication); for attempts at a precise dating of the Peristephanon, see Fux 2013, 9, n. 1. The poems in the Peristephanon, written in elegant classical metres, deal mainly with martyrs from Spain, but some of them are dedicated to saints of Rome, Africa and the East. The poems were widely read in the late antique and medieval West, and had a considerable influence on the diffusion of cult of the saints included. In later periods they were sometimes used as hymns in liturgical celebrations and had an impact on the development of the Spanish hymnody. Some indications in the poems suggest that they were written to commemorate the saints on their feast days, but Prudentius probably did not compose them for the liturgy of his time. Rather, they probably provided 'devotional reading matter for a cultured audience outside a church context' (Palmer 1989, 3; see also Chapter 3 in her book).


The poem on Romanus is the longest in the Peristephanon (over a thousand lines, while the whole collection has about three-and-a-half thousand lines). The manuscript tradition suggest that initially it was treated as a separate book (Palmer 1989, 5). For a detailed study of the poem, see Hanke 1983. The poem is written in the iambic trimeter.


Editions of the Peristephanon: Cunningham, M.P., Prudentii Carmina (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 126; Turnhout: Brepols, 1966), 251-389. Bergman, J., Prudentius, Carmina (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 61; Vienna, 1926), 291-431. Translations of the Peristephanon: Eagan, C., Prudentius, Poems (Fathers of the Church 43; Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1962), 95-280. English translation. Thomson, H.J., Prudentius, vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library; London Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann; Harvard University Press, 1953), 98-345. Edition and English translation. Further reading: Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013). Hanke, R., Studien zum Romanushymnus des Prudentius, (Frankfurt am Main, Bern, New York: Peter Lang, 1983). Malamud, M.A., A Poetics of Transformation: Prudentius and Classical Mythology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989). Palmer, A.-M., Prudentius on the Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). Roberts, M., Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs: The "Liber Peristephanon" of Prudentius (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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