Saint NamePontianus, bishop and martyr of Rome : S00169
Saint Name in SourceΠοντιανός
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Funerary inscriptions
Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)
Evidence not before236
Evidence not after250
Activity not before236
Activity not after250
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 CustomsCeremonies at burial of a saint
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
Cult Activities - Cult Related ObjectsInscription
SourceSix conjoining fragments of a marble plaque. H. 0.455 m; W. 0.93 m. Letter height c. 0.04 m.
Found in 1909, under the pavement of cubiculum Ab by Orazio Marucchi and Joseph Wilpert (area of the Crypt of the Popes). Now in cubiculum Aa. First published by Josef Wilpert in 1910. Revisited by Antonio Ferrua and reedited by him in 1964. High quality photographs are published in the Epigraphic Database Bari.
DiscussionThe inscription is the epitaph for Pontianus, bishop of Rome exiled to Sardinia under the emperor Maximinus Thrax (235). The Liber pontficalis, written in the 530s, preserves a short account of his exile, saying that he eventually died a martyr's death, beaten by clubs (E00341). The same record says that his body was brought back to Rome by pope Fabianus, and buried in the Cemetery of Callixtus, where our inscription was found. Remarkably, Pontianus was the earliest of the bishops of Rome buried in the 'Crypt of the Popes'. However, as his body was brought to Rome some time after his death, his burial was actually preceded by that of pope Anteros.
It has been suggested that the term martyr, clearly visible in the epitaph of Pontianus, was added later, by a different hand. Having carefully examined the stone, Antonio Ferrua confirmed the different lettering, and shallower carving of this word.
Another inscription found in the Cemetery of Callixtus was considered by Giovanni Battista de Rossi to be an invocation of Pontianus, and therefore testimony to his cult (E04738). That text, however, is probably a graffito authored by a visitor named Pontianus rather than a prayer addressing the pope.
Dating: The epitaph is usually presented as the original epitaph erected to Pontianus by Fabianus. Hence, it must date to the pontificate of Fabianus, 236-250. Interestingly, the epitaph does not record the date of the deposition of Pontianus, unlike the presumed epitaph for pope *Gaius (E04739). Epitaphs for 3rd c. popes, however, rarely record the dates of their depositions; for a remarkable exception, see the epitaph for pope *Cornelius (E04644).
Epigraphic Database Bari, no. EDB1697, see http://www.edb.uniba.it/epigraph/1697
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. 10670 (with further bibliography).
Diehl, E., Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres, vol. 1 (Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1925), no. 953.
Marucchi, O., Epigrafia cristiana. Trattato elementare con una silloge di antiche iscrizioni cristiane principalmente di Roma (Milan: U. Hoepli, 1910), 189, no. 190.
Wilpert, J., La Cripta dei Papi e la cappella di Sainta Cecilia ne cimetero di Callisto (Rome: Desclée & C., 1910), 2, 18, 28, and Fig. 1.
Carletti, C., Epigrafia dei cristiani in Occidente dal III al VII secolo. Ideologia e prassi (Bari: Edipuglia, 2008), 36.
Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs. Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2018), 188, note 36.
Trout, D., Damasus of Rome: The Epigraphic Poetry: Introduction, Texts, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 115.