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E04418: Latin poem on the martyrdom of *Agnes (virgin and martyr of Rome, S00097) composed by Prudentius, writing c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain). The poem, part of his Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), gives an account of the young virgin Agnes, who refuses to sacrifice to the pagan gods. She is put in a brothel but no one dares to take her virginity. Eventually, she is beheaded by a soldier and her soul is taken to heaven. Overview of Peristephanon XIV

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posted on 2017-11-30, 00:00 authored by mszada
Liber Peristephanon, Poem XIV


The tomb of Agnes is located in Rome. She is praised as a saint having a double crown – one of virginity and the other of martyrdom. She is presented as a patron saint of the Romans but she also protects strangers who turn to her for protection (see $E04509).

Agnes is a very young girl who refuses to sacrifice to the pagan gods although being prompted to it in different ways. But as she is staunch in her refusal, the persecutor decides to put her in a brothel so that she will lose her virginity. Agnes is placed at a corner of the square as a prostitute but no one dares to approach her. One man who gives her a lustful look, is struck by a lightning, loses his senses and is half-dead. She later prays for him and his health is restored (see $E04510).

Eventually, a soldier with a naked sword comes to kill her, and she greets him as the only lover who could please her. Through the act of martyrdom Agnes is married to Christ. The soldier beheads Agnes, she dies instantly without pain and her soul is taken to heaven. She observes the world beneath her and derides its vanities. Finally, God crowns her with a double crown of virgin and martyr. The poem ends with a prayer of the poet to Agnes for purity of heart.

Text: Cunningham 1966, 386-389. Translation: Thomson 1953, 339-345.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Agnes, virgin and martyr of Rome : S00097

Saint Name in Source


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

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives



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 is written in a curious metre – alcaic hendecasyllable κατὰ στίχον. Normally, it was used only in the alcaic stanza (two first verses of the alcaic stanza are hendecasyllables). The use of this metre is not, however, the innovation of Prudentius. In 398, Claudian used it to compose the epithalamium for the wedding of the Emperor Honorius. Therefore, the poem on Agnes was certainly composed after this date. Probably, Prudentius consciously used the metre associated with love poetry in the poem that explores the topics of sex and chastity.


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: Delehaye, H., "Cyprien d'Antioche et Cyprien de Carthage," Analecta Bollandiana 39 (1921), 314-322. Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013). 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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