Saint NameGaius, bishop and martyr of Rome : S00661
Saint Name in SourceΓάϊος
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Funerary inscriptions
Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)
Evidence not before296
Evidence not after296
Activity not before296
Activity not after296
Place of Evidence - RegionRome and region
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcSuburban catacombs and cemeteries
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Suburban catacombs and cemeteries
Cult activities - PlacesBurial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsVisiting graves and shrines
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
Other lay individuals/ people
Cult Activities - Cult Related ObjectsInscription
SourceTen partly conjoining fragments of a plaque of Phrygian marble. Two fragments belong to the left-hand part of the plaque and measure together 0.21 m x 0.22 m. Six fragments come from the right-hand part and measure 0.50 m x 0.55 m. Letter height 0.062 m. Presumed dimensions of the original, complete plaque: H. at least 0.56 m; W. c. 1.01 m, Th. 0.013 m.
The epitaph is surrounded by visitors’ graffiti.
Nine fragments were recorded by Giovanni Battista de Rossi near the so-called ‘crypt of Saint Eusebius’, between cubiculum De and staircase D in the lower part of the cemetery of Callixtus, and were presented by him in 1877. The tenth fragment was first published by Josef Wilpert in 1910. In 1964 Antonio Ferrua offered a new edition with a photograph of eight fragments. He noted that the fragment from the lower left-hand corner, with the letters ΠΡ was lost already in 1875, as recorded in the archive of de Rossi. All the other fragments are now in cubiculum De.
The inscription was included in the collections of Christian inscriptions from Rome by Carlo Carletti (1986), and Paola De Santis (2010). It has also been commented on by a number of scholars, and we give only a basic bibliography. High quality photographs are published in the Epigraphic Database Bari.
DiscussionAccording to de Rossi’s restoration the epitaph was composed for Gaius, bishop of Rome (283-296). He considered other restorations, for example Γ[ελλίο]υ Ἐ[πιγόνο]υ, but eventually stated that the plaque must be the epitaph for Gaius, as it is bigger than other inscriptions, was marked by visitors' graffiti (an apparent sign of cult), and names beginning with Γ/G are generally rare in this part of the catacombs.
The Liber Pontificalis (E00392) presents Gaius as a martyr in its second edition only; in the first edition he is termed a confessor. Our inscription names him simply as bishop, and similarly Gaius is not named ‘martyr’ in an earlier literary source for the history of the bishops of Rome, the Chronography of 354. He appears there in the list of the depositions of bishops, under the year 296 (E01051), while he is absent from the list of the commemorations of martyrs (E01052). 296 falls well before the outbreak of the persecutions of Diocletian in 303, and even de Rossi doubted in Gaius’ martyrdom. He suggested that Gaius was persecuted under Carinus, but survived (he may have had the status of a confessor).
De Rossi considered our epitaph a marker of the original place of the burial of Gaius. Later, however, he came across an epitaph for an ordinary woman, Iovina, who was said to have been buried ad domnum Gaium in a remote sector of the cemetery of Callistus, the 'Liberian region' (E04729). Trying to reconcile these two contradictory testimonies, De Rossi suggested a translation of the body of Gaius to the 'Liberian region'. Eventually, as the Martyrologium Hieronymianum mentions three different commemorations of Gaius (EXXXXX: 22 IV, 20 II, 1 July), he argued that there were two translations, and three subsequent tombs of the pope. This is, of course, a hypothesis, and, for example, already in 1907 Schneider Graziosi suggested that the tomb and epitaph of Iovina could have been originally placed in proximity of the 'crypt of Eusebius,' the find-spot of Gaius’ epitaph, and her plaque later moved to the Liberian region to be reused in somebody else's tomb. As for the different dates of the commemoration recorded in the Martyrologium, they could simply be scribal errors (e.g. X. kal. mai confused with X kal. mart.).
Louis Reekmans accepts de Rossi's identification of the plaque as the epitaph of pope Gaius (but not the hypothetical translations within the cemetery). So do other scholars. Based on the presumed dimensions of the plaque, Reekmans (1988, 211) suggested that it must have been placed at loculus 2 in crypt o11, an exceptionally large burial place.
Dating: The inscription is fragmentarily preserved, and the actual day of the deposition of Gaius is not mentioned. We learn only that it happened before the calends of May, i.e. in the second half of April. The tenth day before the calends of May (= 22 April) was restored by De Rossi, based on the date mentioned in the Depositio episcoporum in the Chronography of 354 (E01051). The year, 296, suggested for the inscription is likewise based on the identification of the deceased with pope Gaius, which is, however, correct only if this is really the original epitaph of this pope. It is of course possible that this unusually imposing and high quality inscription dates from a later monumentalization of this grave.
Epigraphic Database Bari, no. EDB6081, see http://www.edb.uniba.it/epigraph/6081
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. 10584.
Diehl, E., Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, vol. 1 (Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1925), comments to no. 961.
Marucchi, O., Epigrafia cristiana. Trattato elementare con una silloge di antiche iscrizioni cristiane principalmente di Roma (Milan: U. Hoepli, 1910), 191, no. 196.
Wilpert, J., La Cripta dei Papi e la cappella di Sainta Cecilia ne cimetero di Callisto (Rome: Desclée & C., 1910), 33, and Tav. II 7.
de Rossi, G.B., La Roma sotterranea cristiana, vol. 3 (Rome: Cromo-litografia pontificia, 1877), 115.
Carletti, C., "'Scrivere i santi:' epigrafia del pellerinagio a Roma nei secoli VII-IX", in: Roma fra Oriente e Occidente: 19-24 aprile 2001 (Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull'alto medioevo 49, Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull'alto Medioevo, 2002), 332-333.
Carletti, C., Epigrafia dei cristiani in Occidente dal III al VII secolo. Ideologia e prassi (Bari: Edipuglia, 2008), 47.
Fiocchi, N., "Itinera ad sanctos. Testimonianze monumentale del passaggio dei pellegrini nei santuari del suburbio romano", in: Akten des XII internationalen Kongresses für christliche Archäologie, Bonn 22-28.9. 1991, vol. 2 (Münster: Aschendorff; Città del Vaticano: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1995), 761, note 36.
Reekmans, L., Le complexe cémétérial du pape Gaius dans la catacombe de Callixte (Città del Vaticano: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1988), 211-212.
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), 690-698.
de Rossi, G.B., La Roma sotterranea cristiana, vol. 3 (Rome: Cromo-litografia pontificia, 1877), 260-268.
De Santis, P., Sanctorum monumenta. 'Aree sacre' del suburbio di Roma nella documentazione epigrafica (IV-VII secolo) (Bari: Edipuglia, 2010), 75-76, and note 332.
Spera, L., Il paesaggio suburbano di Roma dall'antichità al Medioevo : il comprensorio tra le vie Latina e Ardeatina dalle Mura Aureliane al III miglio (Roma: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 1999), 132.
For pope Gaius, see:
Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs. Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2018), 125, note 70, also chapter III and XI.