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E01114: Greek epitaph for a 'strong athlete of Christ', possibly a local Christian martyr. Found near Perta (Lycaonia, central Asia Minor). Probably 4th c.

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posted on 12.02.2016, 00:00 by pnowakowski
(christogram)
[Ἀλέξα]νδρος Ἀσιατι-
[κοῦ δι]άκων ἰδίᾳ μη-
[τρὶ γλυ]κυτάτῃ Τατᾳ
[καὶ γν]η̣σίῳ ἀδελφῷ
[- - -]ίωνι ἀγαθῷ ἐ-
[χέφρ]ονι φοβουμέ-
[νῳ ἁγ]νῷ παρθένῳ
[κρατ]ερῷ ἀθλητῇ
[τοῦ Χ(ριστο)ῦ] ἀνέστησεν
[μνημ]οσύνου ἕνε-
[κεν, ἐπὶ τ]ύνβῳ τ᾿ ᾧτ᾿ ἐχά-
ραξα

'Alexandros, son of Asiatikos, deacon, for his own sweetest mother Tata [and] for his dear brother [- - -]ion, a good man, prudent, reverent, a holy virgin, a strong athlete [of Christ]; he set this up as a memorial. I cut (the inscription) [on] the tomb.'

Text and translation, lightly modified: Thonemann 2011, no. 2.

History

Evidence ID

E01114

Saint Name

Unnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060

Saint Name in Source

[- - -]ίων

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Funerary inscriptions

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

324

Evidence not after

400

Activity not before

324

Activity not after

400

Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Perta

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

Perta Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Women Children Relatives of the saint Heretics

Source

Fragment of a grey marble sarcophagus. Broken and lost at the bottom, and on the right- and left-hand side. Preserved dimensions: H. 0.48 m; W. 0.45 m; Th. 0.14 m; letter height 0.017-0.022 m. The inscription is framed by a tabula ansata and is preceded by a christogram. Seen and copied by Michael Ballance in 1956 at Maydos (area of Perta). First published by Peter Thonemann after Michael Ballance's notebook copy, a photograph, and a line drawing (Ballance archive no. 1956/151).

Discussion

The inscription is the epitaph for a man, whose name is partially lost ([- - -]ion), and for his mother, Tata, composed by his brother and her son, the deacon Alexandros. Alexandros' brother is described by a series of epithets, which suggest that he was more than an average Christian, perhaps even a martyr. First, he is described as 'a holy virgin' (ἁγνὸς παρθένος), which points to his sexual abstinence. The fact that the term παρθένος was applied to a male figure may seem strange, but in fact there were other male saints (e.g. the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, John the Apostle, and Basil of Caesarea), who were regularly praised for their virginity and the epithet παρθένος belonged to their official titulature. Here it was probably applied because of the presumed membership of the deceased in a Lycaonian ascetic movement (their dedication to virginity is stressed in the polemical treatise by Amphilochios of Ikonion, see Thonemann 2011, 193). Secondly, the deceased is described as 'a strong athlete of Christ' (κρατερὸς ἀθλητὴς τοῦ Χριστοῦ); the words 'of Christ' are missing from the inscription and reconstructed, but are very likely to be correct. Thonemann notes that this expression “is particularly striking, since the phrase ἀθλητὴς τοῦ Χριστοῦ is normally used only with reference to martyrs”. He concludes, however, that the phrase is here used in a different sense, probably referring to the oppression of ascetic and charismatic movements by members of the mainstream church. The Lycaonian sects were outlawed by the emperor Theodosius I at the outset of his reign (see C.Th. XVI 5,7,3 – AD 381; XVI 5,9,1 – AD 382; XVI 5,11 – AD 383). The deceased may therefore have been a “heretical” Christian, harassed or even martyred for his opposition to these laws and to the mainstream church, and acknowledged as a martyr by people sharing his beliefs. We must note, however, that the clear technical term μάρτυς/martyr was not used by the author of the inscription (while it appears, for example, in the epitaph for Paulos, martyr of Derbe E00931). It is possible, since the deceased was almost certainly an ascetic, that his athletic contest refers to his successful contests with human frailty, seen here as something comparable to the ἄθλησις of the martyrs. Dating: probably 4th c. (based on the contents and the identification of the deceased as a member of the 4th c. Lycaonian ascetic movements).

Bibliography

Edition: Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua XI, no. 292. Thonemann, P., "Amphilochius of Iconium and Lycaonian asceticism", The Journal of Roman Studies 101 (2011), no. 2. Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae database, no. 1495: http://www.epigraph.topoi.org/ica/icamainapp/inscription/show/1495 Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (2014), 576.

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Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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