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E04694: Latin graffiti with the names of *Calocerus and Parthenius (martyrs of Rome, S00679), arguably recording the date of the deposition of their bodies. Found in the lower part of the cemetery of Callistus, in the crypt named after the two martyrs (probably their tomb). Via Appia, Rome. Probably late 4th-early 5th c.

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posted on 2018-01-25, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Inscription A:
Scratched in the plaster. Cursive script. Large letters, c. 5-6 cm high.

De Rossi’s reading:

tertio idus Fefru[a]

perhaps idus Fefrua[rias] Reekmans

'On the third day before the ides of February’ (= 11 February)

Ferrua’s reading:

tertio ibid. (sic) Se

t(embris) Va

ibid. = idib(us) Felle

'On the third day before the ides of September, Va' (= 11 September)

Inscription B:
Written in charcoal. Seen by de Rossi, not recorded by Ferrua. The contents of the inscription are very dubious. The possible meaning was not discussed by either de Rossi or Ferrua.


possibly Δ or Α

Inscription C:
Scratched in the plaster. Different hand and script than Inscription A. Squarish capital letters. Letter height c. 1.5 cm.

Parten[i] martiri
Calo[c]eri martiri

'Of Parthenius, martyr. Of Calocerus, martyr.'

Text: ICVR, n.s., IV, no. 9543a-c = Reekmans 1988, 220-221, and Reekmans 1992, 704.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Calocerus and Parthenius, martyrs of Rome : S00679

Saint Name in Source

Partenius, Calocerus

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Graffiti Inscriptions - Funerary inscriptions Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Suburban catacombs and cemeteries

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

Suburban catacombs and cemeteries Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


The inscriptions are on the plaster of the so-called 'crypt of the martyrs Parthenius and Calocerus' (chamber o13) in the lower part of the cemetery of Callistus. The crypt has two large niches for bodies (loculi 15 and 16) in the west wall, and a smaller rectangular niche of uncertain purpose (possibly for a lamp). There were probably a least three more regular loculi in the crypt. The graffiti are to the left of the doorway. Louis Reekmans notes that Inscription C is on blocks used to repair the entrance and walls of the sepulchral chamber. This restoration is likely to have happened in the late 4th c. Another restoration, with the use of massive peperino tuff blocks was dated to the 6th or 7th c. It is supposed that the crypt was an active place of cult at least by that period. The crypt underwent a major refurbishment in 1859, and has lost much of its original masonry. First published by Giovanni Battista de Rossi in 1867. Revisited, and published again by Antontio Ferrua in 1964. As the inscriptions were considered important for the study of the cult of the two martyrs, Ferrua stresses that he examined them very carefully. He offered a different reading of Inscription A than than that of de Rossi, but was unable to find Inscription B (on the same wall according to de Rossi).


Giovanni Battista de Rossi presented these inscriptions as referring to the Roman martyrs Calocerus and Parthenius. According to the account of their martyrdom, they were brothers of Armenian origin educating a daughter of a Roman senator. They were reportedly martyred in the mid-3rd c. under the emperor Decius. This martyrdom belongs to the so-called 'epic' passiones which were composed several centuries after the persecutions they describe, and whose details are of little credibility (see E02486 and Lapidge 2018, 573-581). Calocerus and Parthenius are, however, also mentioned in the list of commemorations of the burials of martyrs belonging to the Chronography of 354 (E01052). Their cult was, therefore, present in Rome already in the mid-4th c. The relevant entry says that the deposition of their bodies in the cemetery of Callistus was celebrated on 19 May, and that they were martyrs, surprisingly, under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian in 304. The two saints are also recorded in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, where one of the dates of their commemoration is congruent with that of the Chronography of 354 (19 May: EXXXX; other dates in the MH are: 11 February [see E04675], and 18 April [see EXXXXX], see also Lapidge 2018, 574, note 2), but in the MH they are again ascribed to the reign of the emperor Decius. There the two martyrs are also described as eunuchs of the imperial couple, a praepositus sacri cubiculi and primicerius, thus senior court officials. De Rossi believed that Inscriptions A and C were meant to be read together, and while A gave the presumed date of the deposition of the holy bodies (which he read as 11 February), B was a later addition by a visitor to the crypt or an artisan, unhappy with the fact that the original inscription said nothing about the names of saints buried there. Inscription A was used by de Rossi to argue for a translation of the bodies of the two martyrs during the persecutions of Diocletian, to protect them from possible desecration by the oppressors. 11 February, the date given in Inscription A, and in the Martyrologium, was in his opinion the day of that translation, different from the date of their martyrdom which he placed under Decius. In this way de Rossi wanted to explain the differences between ancient records. This tentative construction has rightly been criticised as implausible (see, e.g., Reeksman 1988, 221). Antonio Ferrua carefully re-examined the graffiti, and pointed out that Inscriptions A and C are located c. 16 cm from each other, which is a considerable distance. This suggests that they were not meant to be read together, and Inscription C is not a completion of Inscription A. It may be a marker of the tomb, as suggested by Louis Reekmans (1992, 706). More importantly, Ferrua offered a different date for Inscription A, which he read as 11 September. This reading is accepted as the correct text in the Epigraphic Database Bari, but rejected by Louis Reekmans (1992, 704; 1988, 221). Based on the drawing presented by Ferrua, it is difficult to decide which reading is correct, but it should be noted that this drawing does not entirely support Ferrua's new reading. Furthermore, we must remember that 11 February is one of the alternative dates of the commemoration of Calocerus and Parthenius as specified by the MH, and Ferrua does not discuss this coincidence. We support Reekmans' objection that De Rossi's identification of the date as 11 February should not be hastily dismissed. Reekman suggests that Inscription A with the date may be actually later than C with the names of martyrs. Could it be an anonymous visitor's record, telling us that he or she venerated the martyrs on the day of their feast? Dating: Antonio Felle in the EDB places the inscriptions in the late 4th - early 5th c.


Edition: Epigraphic Database Bari, no. EDB19928 and EDB20634, see ttp:// De Rossi, G.B., Ferrua, A. (eds.) Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, n.s., vol. 4: Coemeteria inter Vias Appiam et Ardeatinam (Vatican: Pont. Institutum Archaeologiae Christianae, 1964), no. 9543a-c. Diehl, E., Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, vol. 1 (Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1925), no. 1999. de Rossi, G.B., La Roma sotterranea cristiana, vol. 2 (Rome: Cromo-litografia pontificia, 1867), 210-219, and Tav. XXXIII. Further reading: Delehaye, H., Commentarius perpetuus in Martyrologium Hieronymianum (AASS Novembris II/2, Brussels, 1931), 262. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs. Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2018), 573-581; for the inscription, see p. 575, note 5. Pietri, Ch., Roma Christiana. Recherches sur l'Eglise de Rome, son organisation, sa politique, son idéologie de Miltiade à Sixte III (311-440), vol. 1 (Rome: Ecole française de Rome, 1976), 369, n. 4. Reekmans, L., Le complexe cémétérial du pape Gaius dans la catacombe de Callixte (Città del Vaticano: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1988), 218-223 and Plate XXIV-XXVIII; for the crypt, see 157-172. Reekmans, L., "Les tombeaux des papes Gaius (283–296) et Eusèbe (309 ou 310) et des martyrs Calocerus et Parthenius dans la catacombe de Callixte. Aperçu d’une recherche", in Memoriam sanctorum venerantes. Miscellanea in onore di Monsignor Victor Saxer (Città del Vaticano: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1992), 689–709 (esp. pp. 704-707, and fig. 5). Styger, P., Römische Märtyrergrüfte (Berlin: Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1935), 123.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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