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E04190: Latin poem on the martyrdom of *Hippolytus (martyr of Rome, S00509), composed by Prudentius, writing c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain). The poem, part of his Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), is an account of the visit of Prudentius to the tomb of Hippolytus on the via Tiburtina, and contains an account of the saint's martyrdom in Ostia (the port of Rome). Overview of Peristephanon XI

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posted on 2017-10-20, 00:00 authored by mszada
Liber Peristephanon, Poem XI


Prudentius addresses his poem to Valerianus, bishop of Calahorra, who asked Prudentius to record in Rome the names and tomb inscriptions of the saints. They were so numerous that Prudentius could not do so. Moreover, some of the saints were buried in anonymous mass graves. However, among the inscriptions, Prudentius found one dedicated to Hippolytus, who once had been a presbyter in the schism of Novatus but later was martyred. When he was being led to death by his persecutors, he was asked which doctrine should be followed, and he advised to shun the teachings of Novatus and he confessed that he was wrongly attached to them. By this, he converted his congregation to the orthodox faith.

Then he was brought before the emperor who was at the time in Ostia. He had already persecuted Christians in Rome, and now he moved to the nearby districts. Christians were brought before him from prison and tortured by being hung on a claw, but not one agreed to sacrifice to the pagan gods. Therefore, the ruler decided to kill the Christians – one was to be beheaded, another group consumed by fire, another put on board of a leaky boat. While he was giving orders, Hippolytus was presented to him. The emperor condemned him to death by being torn apart by wild horses. Hippolytus' feet were fastened by nooses to the untamed horses violently incited by whips and pricks. Hippolytus said his last words and the horses dragged him along the rocky and thorny ground. The body of Hippolytus was shattered and little bits of it remained on the rocks, bushes and branches, the earth was wet with his blood.

Prudentius says that the scene of the martyrdom is depicted on the wall above the tomb. The painting shows also the people gathering the pieces of torn flesh, wiping the blood-soaked sand with their clothes and using sponges to gather the blood. They managed to gather all the pieces of his body, nothing remained in the place of his martyrdom. Hippolytus was buried outside the walls of Rome in a place described in detail by Prudentius. An altar was also set in the tomb to which people came to receive sacraments as well as to present their supplications. Prudentius asserts that he himself obtained a favour from the martyr. The shrine containing the body is described and the devout practices of the pilgrims (kissing, pouring out balsams, etc.). A lot of people gather on the feast of the saint – they come from Rome, Alba, Picenum, Etruria, Samnium, Campania, Capua and Nola. They not only gather in the tomb of Hippolytus but also in a nearby church which is very rich with their gifts. Prudentius informs Valerianus that the feast of Hippolytus is celebrated in Rome on the Ides of August (that is, on the 13 August) and he advises him to do the same in Spain so that it bring grace, along with the feast of Cyprian, Celidonius, and Eulalia. He wishes that Valerianus one day be taken up to heaven to join company with Hippolytus.

Text: Cunningham 1966, 370-378. Translation: Thomson 1953, 305-323. Summary: M. Szada.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Hippolytus, martyr of Rome : S00509 Emeterius and Celidonius, soldier martyrs of Calahorra (Spain), ob.? : S00410 Eulalia, martyr of Mérida (Spain), ob. 303/305 : S00407

Saint Name in Source

Hippolytus Celidonius Eulalia

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Poems


  • 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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Eucharist associated with cult

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Descriptions of images of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Monarchs and their family Other lay individuals/ people Heretics

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - blood


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).


Poem 11, written in elegiac distichs, is devoted to the martyr Hippolytus, buried on the via Tiburtina outside Rome. His martyrium has been excavated; for the results see Guarducci 1977 and Bertonière 1985. Prudentius knows the tradition, also present in Epigram 35 of Damasus (E07187), that Hippolytus was a Novatianist presbyter who eventually converted his people to the orthodox faith. We do not know whether this tradition has any factual basis and there is a strong suspicion that the martyr Hippolytus as he was known to Prudentius was in fact an amalgamation of two or more persons (Malamud 1989, 80-81). There were attempts to identify the martyr Hippolytus with Hippolytus of Rome, the 3rd century author of the Refutation of All Heresies, and with the presbyter Hippolytus sent into exile with Bishop Pontianus of Rome (it is uncertain whether these two Hippolyti were one or two persons). The latter Hippolytus (the same person as Hippolytus of Rome, the author?) died, however, certainly in 235 (Liber Pontificalis 19), while the Novatianist schism started in 251. Brent 1995 (368-373) supposed that the tradition that Hippolytus was a Novatianist might have been created because the cultic centre of Hippolytus on the via Tiburtina was close to the actual tomb of Novatianus (on the tomb itself, Brent 1995, 374-377). Prudentius does not call Hippolytus a Novatianist, but says that he belonged to the schism of Novatus (scisma Nouati attigerat). The Novatian schism started in 251 in the aftermath of the persecution of Decius. Novatianus and his followers took rigorist views toward the lapsed. The new bishop of Rome, Cornelius, did not agree with them and he did not approve the ordination of Novatianus as a presbyter in 251. Later, a certain presbyter of Carthage, Novatus, rebelled against Cyprian of Carthage because he considered him too rigorist. He went to Rome and though in Carthage he took the lax positions against Cyprian, he communicated in Rome with the Novatianists. Novatianus of Rome and Novatus of Carthage are frequently confused in the sources (for example, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.43). It is worth mentioning the correlation between the name of the martyr, Hippolytus, literally meaning 'unleasher of horses', but which could be interpreted also as 'destroyed by horses', and the way in which he is martyred. Possibly the tradition of the martyr Hippolytus is also somehow linked with, or inspired by, the classical story of Hippolytus, son of Theseus, who dies falling from his chariot (see Grimal 1987, s.v. Hippolytus).


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: Bertoniere, G., The Cult Centre of the Martyr Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina (B.A.R. International Series; Oxford, 1985). Brent, A., Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century: Communities in Tension before the Emergence of a Monarch-Bishop (Leiden: Brill, 1995). Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013). Grimal, P., Dictionary of Classical Mythology (Oxford, 1987). Guarducci, M., "La statua di "sant'Ippolyto"," in: Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum 14 (1977), 17-30. 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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