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E04191: Prudentius, in his Latin Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), written c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain), addresses his poem on *Hippolytus (martyr of Rome, S00509), to Valerianus, bishop of Calahorra who asked him to record the names of the martyrs in Rome and the inscriptions on their tombs. Prudentius explains that he cannot do this, because there are either too many martyrs, or they lie in anonymous mass tombs. But among the inscriptions, he did find Hippolytus, and he will tell his story.

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posted on 20.10.2017, 00:00 by mszada
Liber Peristephanon, Poem XI.1-22


Innumeros cineres sanctorum Romula in urbe
uidimus, o Christi Valeriane sacer.
Incisos tumulis titulos et singula quaeris
nomina; difficile est ut replicare queam.
5 Tantos iustorum populos furor inpius hausit,
cum coleret patrios Troia Roma deos.
Plurima litterulis signata sepulcra loquuntur
martyris aut nomen aut epigramma aliquod,
sunt et muta tamen tacitas claudentia tumbas
10 marmora, quae solum significant numerum.
Quanta uirum iaceant congestis corpora aceruis
nosse licet, quorum nomina nulla legas.
Sexaginta illic defossas mole sub una
reliquias memini me didicisse hominum,
15 quorum solus habet conperta uocabula Christus,
utpote quos propriae iunxit amicitiae.
Haec dum lustro oculis et sicubi forte latentes
rerum apices ueterum per monumenta sequor,
inuenio Hippolytum, qui quondam scisma Nouati
20 presbyter attigerat nostra sequenda negans,
usque ad martyrii prouectum insigne tulisse
lucida sanguinei praemia supplicii.

'To Bishop Valerian on the Passion of the Most Blessed Martyr Hippolytus.

Countless are the graves of saints I have seen in the city of Romulus, Valerian, Christ's dedicated servant. You ask for the inscriptions cut on their tombs, and their individual names, but it is hard for me to be able to repeat them. Such great multitudes of the righteous did ungodly rage devour while Trojan Rome still worshipped the gods of her fathers. Many a grave is lettered and tells the martyr's name or bears some epitaph, but there are mute marbles too, which shut up the tombs in silence and only indicate the number; you may learn what masses of men's bodies lie gathered together in heaps, but read the name of none of them. I remember finding that the remains of sixty persons were buried there under one massive stone, whose names Christ alone knows, since He has added them to the company of His friends. In surveying these memorials and hunting over them for any letters telling of the deeds of old, that might escape the eye, I found that Hippolytus, who had at one time as a presbyter attached himself to the schism of Novatus, saying that our way was not to be followed, had been advanced to the crown of martyrdom and won the shining reward for suffering bloodshed.'

Text: Cunningham 1966, 370. Translation: Thomson 1953, 305-307.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Hippolytus, martyr of Rome : S00509

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom



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 - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Heretics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



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).


On the identity of Hippolytus, and his adherence to the Novatianist schism, see the discussion in E04190.


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: 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). 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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