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Article

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.

Article

Bryan Ward-Perkins

The first Christians met in the private houses of the faithful. Gradually, as local Christian communities became more established both in numbers and in wealth, they might acquire their own church-houses, using them specifically as places of worship and for other religious activities, such as the granting of charity and the instruction of converts. Externally these buildings looked just like other private houses, though internally they might be adapted for their new function, for instance by combining rooms to create a large enough space for worship. The best example of an early church-house is that excavated at Dura-*Europus on the Euphrates: an ordinary town house, built around ce 200, adapted for Christian use before 231, and destroyed when the city walls were reinforced in 257. Before the conversion of Constantine I, and his conquest of the empire between 312 and 324, some Christian communities may already have commissioned halls specifically for worship, and certainly small shrines, such as the 2nd-cent. aedicula over the supposed tomb of St Peter in Rome (see vatican), were already being built over the bodies of the martyrs.

Article

George Ronald Watson and Andrew Lintott

Crucifixion seems to have been a form of punishment borrowed by the Romans from elsewhere, probably *Carthage. As a Roman penalty it is first certainly attested in the *Punic Wars. It was normally confined to slaves or non-citizens and later in the empire to humbler citizens; it was not applied to soldiers, except in the case of desertion. *Constantine I abolished the penalty (not before ce 314). Two inscriptions of the 1st cent. ce from *Cumae and *Puteoli have been found containing the contract of the undertaker both of funerals and of executions of this kind (see lex(2), ‘lex libitinaria’). The general practice was to begin with flagellation of the condemned, who was then compelled to carry a cross-beam (patibulum) to the place of execution, where a stake had been firmly fixed in the ground. He was stripped and fastened to the cross-beam with nails and cords, and the beam was drawn up by ropes until his feet were clear of the ground. Some support for the body was provided by a ledge (sedile) which projected from the upright, but a footrest (suppedaneum) is rarely attested, though the feet were sometimes tied or nailed.

Article

nimbus  

George M. A. Hanfmann and Roger Ling

A circular cloud of light which surrounds the heads of gods or emperors (Serv. on Aen. 2. 616, 3. 587) and heroes. The belief that light radiates from a sacred or divine person is a common one and the nimbus only a special form which was developed in classical religion and art. Assyrian art, for instance, represents some gods with rays around their shoulders, and Greek art shows deities of light, such as *Helios, with a radiate crown. Greek vases and Etruscan mirrors of the 5th cent. bce afford the earliest examples of nimbus, often combined with the crown of rays. This hybrid form is also found at *Palmyra in the 1st cent. ad. Under the Roman empire the plain, smooth form tends to prevail. In Pompeian wall-paintings (see pompeii) it is still associated primarily with the deities of light, such as *Apollo-Helios and *Diana, but almost all pagan gods of any importance are occasionally represented with a nimbus; in the 2nd and 3rd cents.

Article

Vatican  

Bryan Ward-Perkins

Vatican, an extramural area of the city of Rome, on the right bank of the *Tiber around the mons Vaticanus. In the early empire the Vatican was the site of an imperial park (the horti Agrippinae); and of entertainment structures, the Naumachiae (see naumachia), where mock sea-battles were exhibited, and the Vatican *circus, where *Gaius(1) set up a great obelisk from Heliopolis and which was traditionally the site of the martyrdom of St Peter. There was also an important shrine of *Cybele (or the Magna Mater) attested in inscriptions; and along the two roads that crossed the area, the via Cornelia and the via Triumphalis, were cemeteries. A group of mausolea on the foot-slopes of the mons Vaticanus were excavated under St Peter's in the 1940s, and within this cemetery (directly under the high altar of St Peter's) was found a small 2nd-cent. shrine, marking the probable burial-site of Peter, apostle and first bishop of Rome.