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Bill Thayer
Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.
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Separation of Church and State
(CIL VI.31929)


A Roman inscription.
Transcribed and expanded:
1

Vettio Agorio Praetextato Viro Clarissimo

PONTIFICI VESTAE

QVAESTORI

PONTIFICI SOLI

CANDIDATO

QVINDECEMVIRO

PRAETORI VRBANO

5

AVGVRI

CORRECTORI TVS-

TAVROBOLIATO

CIAE ET VMBRIAE

CVRIALI

CONSVLARI

NEOCORO

LVSITANIAE

HIEROFANTAE

PROCONSVLI

10

PATRI SACRORVM

ACHAIAE

PRAEFECTO VRBI

PRAEFecto PRAETorio II

ITALIAE ET ILLYRICI

CONSVLI

DESIGNATO

Translated:
To Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, clarissimus,
pontifex of Vesta,

quaestor
candidatus

pontifex of the Sun,
augur,

corrector of
Tuscia and Umbria

tauroboliatus,
curialis,

governor
of Lusitania,

neocorus,
hierophant,

proconsul
of Achaia,

Father of Mysteries.

urban prefect

twice praetorian prefect
of Italy and Illyricum,

consul designate

currently (Sep 2000)
in the Museo Nazionale Romano Palazzo Altemps, Rome

No one should take the titles of my pages too seriously; years ago when I started this site, I had an idea that each page should have a title, so now they have titles. This being said . . . The fairly uncommon columnar format of this inscription does put all Praetextatus's religious posts on the left, and his secular positions on the right. Since it's clearly intentional, it becomes legitimate to ask why.

And here is where we have a piece of terrific good luck. We actually know who this man was, and the curious question solves itself.

Vettius Agorius Praetextatus was one of the political leaders of the pagan intellectual movement in an increasingly Christian late imperial Rome. Now while it was not quite as bad to be a pagan in Christian Rome as it had been to be a Christian in pagan Rome — not only you were not tortured or killed, but you could have the distinguished career we read in the inscription above — it did take courage. In the face of the Christian juggernaut, Praetextatus, his activist wife Fabia Aconia Paulina, and a circle of friends including the statesman and writer Symmachus, used mostly religious and cultural means to fight the rearguard battle for Roman classical religion and ideals: literary works, statues, the restoration of temples.

Vettius died in A.D. 384, and within a hundred years, everything he fought for would be lost: it was a different world. In the Saturnalia, a work published half a century later by Macrobius, we have a sort of an epitaph of Praetextatus and his group, in which they are presented as philologists and men of culture, which is very likely true.

St. Jerome's epitaph, maybe predictably, was less kind: in a letter to a friend, he said that the year's consul designate was now in hell.

With all those explosive passions on both sides, this inscription stands out as an example of pride but tolerance: despite their natural tendency to mix, keep the religion and the politics separate, folks. The first workable partial solution would not be institutionalized until 1787 and the United States Constitution.


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Page updated: 26 Feb 13