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E07165: Latin poem by Pope Damasus, for an inscription commemorating *Tarsicius (deacon and martyr of Rome, companion martyr of Pope Stephen, S00205) at his tomb in the cemetery of Callixtus, on the via Appia outside Rome. Written in Rome 366/384.

online resource
posted on 2018-12-14, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Damasus of Rome, Epigrammata 15 (ICVR IV, 11078)

Par meritum quicumq(ue) legis cognosce duorum
quis Damasus rector titulos post praemia reddit.
Iudaicus populus Stephanum meliora monentem
perculerat saxis, tulerat qui ex hoste tropaeum:
martyrium primus rapuit levita fidelis.                                     5
Tarsicium sanctum Christi sacramenta gerentem
cum male sana manus premeret vulgare profanis,
ipse animam potius voluit dimittere caesus
prodere quam canibus rabidis caelestia membra.

‘You who read, whoever you are, recognize the equal merit of the two
to whom Damasus the bishop has dedicated this inscription after their rewards.
The Jewish people stoned Stephen when he was instructing them
on a better course, he who carried off the trophy from the enemy:
the faithful deacon first laid hold of martyrdom.
When a raving gang was pressing holy Tarsicius to reveal to the uninitiated
the sacraments of Christ that he was carrying,
he wished rather to release his spirit, struck down,
than to betray the heavenly limbs to mad dogs.’

Text and translation: Trout 2015, 111-112, modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Tarsicius, deacon and martyr of Rome, buried on the via Appia : S02859 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030

Saint Name in Source

Tarsicius Stephanus

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Literary - Poems


  • 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

Major author/Major anonymous work

Damasan and pseudo-Damasan poems

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - cemetery/catacomb

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - Popes Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



The poems of Damasus The surviving corpus of poetry by Damasus, pope from 366 to 384, comprises about sixty poems. Almost all are in honour of saints and martyrs, and were originally displayed at the tombs of martyrs in the cemeteries and catacombs that surrounded the city of Rome. They were inscribed on large marble plaques with distinctive lettering ('Philocalian script') by the calligrapher Furius Dionysius Filocalus (see Trout 2015, 47-52). The inscriptions were an important part of the programme of monumentalisation of the sites of saintly cult initiated by Damasus (see Trout 2015, 42-47). The poems of Damasus are the first substantial corpus of texts devoted specifically to the cult of saints. They are of great importance for the history of saints' cult at Rome because, aside from what their content tells us, they can be dated so securely. If a martyr is the subject of a poem in the Damasan collection, this shows that their cult was established and formally recognised at Rome no later than the early 380s; the only comparable, but much briefer, material is that in the Chronography of 354 (E01052). By contrast, the surviving Roman saints' lives are of very uncertain date and almost certainly all later than Damasus' poems (which they sometimes used as a source: Lapidge 2018, 637-8). Survival of the poems Only a handful of Damasus' inscriptions survive intact; others partially survive in fragments, but the majority survive only through manuscript transmission, primarily via syllogae – collections of inscriptions from the martyr shrines and churches of Rome which were transcribed by pilgrims and then circulated in manuscript. The earliest of these seem to have been compiled in the 7th century, at the same time as the earliest pilgrim itineraries, and they were organised on the same basis, according to the location of inscriptions on the routes followed by pilgrims around the city. Unlike the itineraries, no sylloge survives in its original form: the extant syllogae were all compiled from earlier manuscript collections (whose traces are sometimes evident in the structure of the syllogae). The syllogae were edited by De Rossi in vol. 2.1 of the first edition of ICUR (1888), which remains the only modern edition of the syllogae as such (as opposed to the individual poems). On the syllogae containing Damasus’ poems, see Trout 2015, 63-65; Lapidge 2018, 638. The most important syllogae for the transmission of Damasus' poems are the following:    The Sylloge Laureshamensis. A manuscript produced at the monastery of Lorsch in the 9th/10th century (Vatican, Pal. Lat. 833; digitised: De Rossi (1888) believed that it contained material from four earlier collections, of which the one that he denoted Laureshamensis IV, dating from the 7th century, contained most of the Damasan material.    The Sylloge Centulensis. Produced in the monastery of St. Riquier in the 9th/10th century, held for most of its existence in Corbie, and now in the Russian National Library at St. Petersburg (Codex Petropolitanus F XIV 1).    The Sylloge Turonensis. Produced at Tours in the 7th century, but surviving only in two manuscripts from the 11th/12th century (Klosterneuburg Stiftsbibliothek Cod. 723; Göttweig Stiftsbibliothek Cod. 64 (78), digitised:    The Sylloge Virdunensis. Produced at Verdun in the 10th century (Bibliothèque de Verdun, ms. 45, digitised: 45).    The Sylloge Einsidelnensis. Produced at the monastery of Einsiedeln in the 9th century (Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek 326, digitised: It is certain that most poems in the corpus are by Damasus, either because they survive, wholly or partly, in their inscribed form or because Damasus refers to himself in the text (which he does frequently). In other cases his authorship has been assigned to poems on stylistic grounds. Since Damasus' style is quite distinctive (see Trout 2015, 16-26), this can usually be done reasonably securely, but there are instances where there is disagreement among editors as to whether poems are genuinely by Damasus.


The poem is in hexameters. The text is preserved only in the Sylloge Laureshamensis (Vatican, Pal. Lat. 833, fol. 70r). The tomb of Tarsicius does not survive, but can be located in the cemetery of Callixtus by references in the pilgrim itineraries (see E06992, E07892). As described by Trout: 'The exact location is uncertain but is generally held to have been on the surface above the ancient third-century nucleus of the catacomb of S. Callisto known as Area 1, which contains the Crypt of the Popes (L1) as well as the Crypt of Caecilia' (Trout 2015, 112). For further discussion see the references given by Trout, and for an archaeological overview of the cemetery of Callixtus, see Spera 2004. Damasus' poem is the earliest surviving reference to Tarsicius. In his account, Tarsicius was a deacon who was attacked and martyred while carrying the Eucharistic bread; the implication is that it had been blessed by the pope, and was being taken to be used during mass in one of Rome's tituli (parish churches), as was standard practice by Damasus' time. Tarsicius' office as a deacon inspired Damasus to compare him to the deacon Stephen, the first martyr (S00030). Tarisicius never attracted significant cult, and is not the subject of a martyrdom account in his own right. However, he appears as a minor figure in the Martyrdom of Stephanus and Companions (E02514), which narrates the martyrdom of Pope Stephen I (S00205) during the persecution of Valerian in 257, but was written only in the 6th or 7th century. Tarsicius' inclusion there is almost certainly due to Damasus' poem: the account of his death reflects that in the poem (with the added miracle that the consecrated bread miraculously disappears to prevent its profanation), but, moreover, it seems likely that he only appears in the Martyrdom because its author mistakenly took the Stephen mentioned in the poem to be the pope rather than the Protomartyr (Lapidge 2018, 481); the error is explicable, since Pope Stephen was buried nearby in the cemetery of Callixtus. If the Martyrdom is discounted, there is no reason to associate Tarsicius with Pope Stephen (Damasus gives no indication as to when his martyrdom took place).


Editions and translations: Trout, D., Damasus of Rome: The Epigraphic Poetry: Introduction, Texts, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), no. 15, 111-113. Epigraphic Database Bari, EDB39523, see De Rossi, G.B., and Ferrua, A., Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, n.s., vol. 4: Coemeteria inter Vias Appiam et Ardeatinam (Vatican: Pont. Institutum Archaeologiae Christianae, 1964), no. 11078. Ferrua, A., Epigramata damasiana (Rome: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1942), no. 15. Ihm, M., Damasi epigrammata (Anthologiae Latinae Supplementa 1, Leipzig: Teubner, 1895), no. 14. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 640 (English translation). Further reading: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 477-482, 640. Spera, L., "Cal(l)isti Coemeterium (Via Appia)," in: Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae. Suburbium, vol. 2 (Rome: Quasar, 2004), 32-44.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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