Abstract

Pope Damasus (366&ndash:384) was the impresario of the late antique cult of the martyrs at Rome. Damasus celebrated the martyrs with epigrams written in Virgilian hexameters which he had engraved in exquisite lettering on their tombs. This article investigates the specifically Roman context of these activities as a means of shedding new light on Damasus' purposes. The enhancement of the cult of the Roman martyrs was more than a stage in the process of christianisation, creating Christian but still distinctively Roman holy patrons for the urbs. It was also directed against rival Christian traditions, including Nicene splinter groups such as the Ursinians and Luciferians who contested Damasus' election. The epi grams allowed Damasus to inscribe very specific and carefully shaped meanings on strategic and often contested sites within the Christian topography of Rome. By placing the Damasan epigrams in the context of a bloody ecclesiastical factionalism in Rome, this paper argues that these very public celebrations of the martyrs were used to promote concord and consensus within the Catholic community in Rome.