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date: 29 January 2023

catacombs, Christianlocked

catacombs, Christianlocked

  • Ian Archibald Richmond,
  • Jocelyn M. C. Toynbee
  •  and Leonard V. Rutgers


A term derived from κατὰ κύμβας, a locality close to the church of St Sebastian on the *via Appia, 3 miles south of Rome. The name may refer to the natural hollows across which the road passes or to an inn-sign, but was in use in the 4th and 5th cents. ce for the Christian cemetery associated with St Sebastian's in the form ad catacumbas or catacumbae. This famous cemetery consisted of a series of narrow underground galleries and limited number of tomb-chambers cut in the volcanic rock. The walls of the galleries are lined with tiers of up to seven simple coffin-like recesses (loculi) for inhumation, holding normally one but sometimes up to four bodies apiece and sealed with a stone slab or tiles. Tomb chambers tend to be more monumental, containing wall paintings and arcosolia (arched) graves. The early Christian catacombs were designed as large communal cemeteries from the outset and were used for burial from the late 2nd through early 5th cent. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the Jewish catacombs of Rome (see catacombs, jewish) may have served as an example.


  • Christianity
  • Roman Material Culture

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