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This book is the first cultural history of papal authority in late antiquity.
Whereas most traditional histories posit a rise of the papacy and examine
popes as politicians, theologians, and civic leaders, Kristina Sessa focuses on
the late Roman household and its critical role in the development of the
Roman church from ca. 350 to 600. She argues that Romes bishops adopted
the ancient elite household as a model of good government for leading the
church. Central to this phenomenon was the classical and biblical figure of
the steward, the householders appointed agent who oversaw his property
and people. As stewards of God, Roman bishops endeavored to exercise
moral and material influence within both the popes own administration
and the households of Italys clergy and lay elites. This original and nuanced
study charts their manifold interactions with late Roman households and
shows how bishops used domestic knowledge as the basis for establishing
their authority as Italys singular religious leaders.

Kristina Sessa is Assistant Professor of History and Associate Director for

the Center of the Study of Religion at The Ohio State University. She
was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Rome in 20012002
and a Fellow of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at
Columbia University in 20062007. She is the author of several articles on
bishops, Christianity, and the domestic sphere.
The Formation of
Papal Authority in
Late Antique Italy
Roman Bishops and
the Domestic Sphere

The Ohio State University
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Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Sessa, Kristina.
The formation of papal authority in late antique Italy : Roman bishops and the domestic sphere /
Kristina Sessa.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
isbn 978-1-107-00106-0 (hardback)
1. Popes Primacy History of doctrines Early church, ca. 30-600. 2. Home economics.
3. Households Religious aspects Christianity. 4. Italy Church history.
5. Papacy History To 1309. I. Title.
bx1805.s47 2012
262 .1309015 dc23 2011020200

isbn 978-1-107-00106-0 Hardback

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external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee
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For Chris

Acknowledgments page ix
Abbreviations xi
Map of Late Roman Italy xiii
Roman Bishops from Peter to Gregory I xv
Introduction: Household
Management and the Bishop of
Rome . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1. The Late Roman Household in
Italy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
2. From Dominion to dispensatio:
Stewardship as an Elite Ideal . . . . . . . 63
3. Primus cultor: Episcopal
Householding in Theory and Practice 87
4. Overseeing the Overseer:
Bishops and Lay Households . . . . . . 127
5. Cultivating the Clerical
Household: Marriage, Property,
and Inheritance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174
6. Mistrusting the Bishop:
Succession, Stewardship, and Sex
in the Laurentian Schism . . . . . . . . . 208


7. The Household and the Bishop:

Authority, Cooperation, and
Competition in the gesta martyrum . . 247
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 274
Bibliography 283
Index 313


This book began as a doctoral dissertation that was completed at the

University of California at Berkeley in 2003. By all accounts, it has
undergone profound changes in the process of becoming a book, and I
owe numerous debts to many mentors, colleagues, family, and friends.
At Berkeley, my advisor Susanna Elm first introduced me to the fascinat-
ing but problematic nature of episcopal leadership. Her intellectual and
professional guidance over the years has been invaluable. Erich Gruen,
Ralph Hexter, and the late Gerard Caspary served on the committee that
advised the original dissertation. All offered me characteristically sharp
comments in their various areas of expertise that helped me to write a
much better book. While a graduate student, I also had the good fortune
to spend a year at the Centre for Late Antiquity at Manchester University,
where I studied with Kate Cooper and Conrad Leyser. Kate also served
as an external adviser on the dissertation and since then has maintained
an avid interest in the development of the project. Both read chapter
drafts (and in Conrads case, the entire manuscript) and have offered me
hospitality and advice at various points in my career. Finally, Peter Brown
kindly read the original dissertation and offered many instructive com-
ments on how to improve the study. I hope that this book shows how
much I have learned from all of my teachers.
Julia Hillner, Anthony Kaldellis, Kevin Uhalde, and Ed Watts read
chapters at different stages of development and repeatedly went beyond
the call of duty in helping me sort out interpretive problems. I owe special
thanks to my good friend Kim Bowes. In addition to reading a draft of
the entire manuscript, she helped me to hone my argument over the
years in too many ways to mention. I am also grateful to Daniel Caner,
Marios Costambeys, David Frankfurter, Caroline Goodson, Lucy Grig,
Andrew Jacobs, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe, Michele Salzman, Ann-Marie

Yasin, and the anonymous reader for Cambridge University Press for
their advice and suggestions on various matters related to this book.
Colleagues at the Claremont Colleges and The Ohio State University
have been enormously generous with their time and critical assistance.
I especially thank Greg Anderson, Lisa Cody, Theodora Dragostinova,
Lilia Fern`andez, Ellen Finkelpearl, Fritz Graf, Tim Gregory, Sarah Iles
Johnson, and Nathan Rosenstein. Greg Pellam and Elizabeth Kerr also
provided invaluable assistance with the notes and bibliography. Addi-
tionally, I am grateful to the American Academy in Rome and the
Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia Uni-
versity for extraordinarily generous fellowships in 20012002 and 2006
2007, respectively.
My family merits something more than just thanks. I can only hope
to repay them for the heroic kindness, support, and love that they have
shown me over the past ten years. My father and late mother, Joe and
Alice Sessa; my sister and brother-in-law Andrea and Ed Sayago; my
aunt and uncle Tony and Donna Sessa; and my stepmother Dale Sessa
were constant sources of encouragement. My sons Nicholas and Sam
have only known me writing this book and are owed too many weekend
afternoons to count. Sarah Kennel, Paige Arthur, and Matthew Pincus
have shown what it means to be best friends. But my greatest debt is to
my husband, Chris Otter. In addition to helping me edit the final draft,
he read every chapter in multiple stages, engaged with me on critical
points of interpretation, and put up with me obsessing about popes for a
very long time.
Finally, I would like to thank my editor, Beatrice Rehl; the staff at the
New York office of Cambridge University Press; and my project manager
Shana Meyer for their wisdom and help at all stages of the process.


Periodicals are abbreviated according to conventions in LAnnee


AA Auctores Antiquissimi
ACO Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum
CAH The Cambridge Ancient History
CC Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina
CSEL Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum
Epp. Epistulae
ERPG Epistolae romanorum pontificum genuinae et quae ad eos scriptae sunt
a S. Hilaro usque ad Pelagium II
ICUR Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae
ILCV Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres
LCL Loeb Classical Library
LK The Council of Rome: Silvester with 275 Bishops, Laurentian
LP Liber Pontificalis
MGH Monumenta Germaniae Historica
PCBE Prosopographie chretienne du Bas Empire
PG Patrologia Graeca
PL Patrologia Latina
PLRE Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire
RP Liber regulae pastoralis
SK The Council of Rome: Silvester with 284 Bishops, Version 1
SK2 The Council of Rome: Silvester with 284 Bishops, Version 2

A 10E B 15E C

a a

Praetoria VENETIA
Comum Opitergium Concordia
Castelseprio Tarvisium Aquileia
Milan Brixia Altinum
Vercellae Cremona Verona Patavium HISTRIA
45N Turin 45N
Luna FL

EN b
b Cosa
Monte Gelato
Centumcellae Veii
Rome Biferno
Ostia Valley
S. Vincenzo Sipontum
al Volturno Canusium
C A Beneventum Barium
M Venosa Egnatia
IA Brindisium
S. Giovanni
di Ruoti
40N 40N


c Land over 1000 metres c


0 100 200 300 400 km

0 50 100 150 200 miles

A 10E B 15E C

Map of Late Roman Italy from CAH, Vol. 13, p. 529

Roman Bish ops from
Peter to Gregory I

Peter, d. 67 CE Liberius, 352366

Linus, 6776 *[Felix II, 355365]
Anacletus, 7688 Damasus, 366384
Clement I, 8897 *[Ursinus, 366367]
Evaristus, 97105 Siricius, 384399
Alexander, 105115 Anastasius I, 399401
Xystus I, 115125 Innocent, 401417
Telesphorus, 125136 Zosimus, 417418
Hyginus, 136140 *[Eulalius, 418419]
Pius I, 140155 Boniface, 418422
Anicetus, 155166 Celestine, 422432
Soter, 166175 Sixtus III, 432440
Eleutherius, 175189 Leo, 440461
Victorius, 189199 Hilarus, 461468
Zephyrinus, 199217 Simplicius, 468483
Callistus I, 217222 Felix III, 483492
Urbanus I, 222230 Gelasius, 492496
Pontianus, 230235 Anastasius II, 496498
Anterus, 235236 Symmachus, 498514
Fabianus, 236250 *[Laurentius, 498506/7]
Cornelius, 251253 Hormisdas, 514523
Lucius, 253254 John I, 523526
Stephen, 254257 Felix IV, 526530
Xystus II, 257258 Boniface II, 530532
Dionysius, 259268 *[Dioscorus, 530]
Felix, 269274 John II, 533535
Eutychian, 275283 Agapitus, 535536
Gaius, 283296 Silverius, 536537
Marcellinus, 296304 Vigilius, 537555
Marcellus, 308309 Pelagius I, 556561
Eusebius, 309 John III, 561574
Miltiades, 311314 Benedict I, 57557
Silvester, 314335 Pelagius II, 579590
Marcus, 336 Gregory, 590604
Julius, 337352

Introduction: H ouseh old
Management and th e Bish op
of Rome

oman episcopal leadership in late antiquity has typically

R been studied as a public or civic phenomenon, and as a chapter in
the inexorable rise of the papacy. This book presents a new approach.
Instead of charting the growth of an exceptional ecclesiastical government
or the popes efforts to remake Rome into a Christian city, it examines the
attempts of Roman bishops to anchor their authority in domestic life.1
During late antiquity, the popes faced a fundamental and daunting task:
to persuade an exceptionally rich and high-status community of Italian
Christians to trust their judgment in some of the most central matters of
the household, from marriage, sexual relations, and slavery to property
administration. To establish their reputations as strong spiritual leaders,
Roman bishops had to convince their congregants, including their own
clergy, that they possessed a special expertise in the art and science of
household management. Domestic life and models of governing, this
book argues, were central to the formation of papal authority in late
Roman Italy.
Elite households offered the Roman church a variety of resources
material, political, and social that gave new meaning to the power
and stature of its bishops, as Charles Pietri and others have shown.2 The
household, however, also played a formative cultural role in the making
of episcopal authority. The ancient household was not a marginal female

By authority, I mean something akin to the Roman concept of auctoritas: a form of
moral and even social influence exercised by a person that was predicated on the
recognition of his or her influence by others. On the topic of authority, I have found
the more theoretical discussions of Sennett 1980, Kaufman 1983, and Lukes 1990
especially helpful.
Pietri 1978, 1981, and 1981a. See also Llewellyn 1976; Cooper 1999; and Lizzi Testa
2004: 93127.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

space only obliquely relevant to the governing of city and state. It was a
highly masculine institution, the empires primary unit of production and
wealth, and the most morally revealing realm with respect to the character
and capacities of its leaders.3 In antiquity, estate management (oikonomia)
was a discourse, a system of ideas and practices associated with the running
of a large aristocratic household.4 The system encompassed everything
from administering property and disciplining dependents to the oversight
of justice and religious order within the home. Oikonomia was also a
dynamic discourse that underwent revision in the hands of Christian
moralists. The following chapters show how late ancient discourses of
household management shaped not only the rhetorical presentation of
Roman episcopal authority but also its concrete practice.
The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy examines the
manifold ways in which Roman bishops drew upon both traditional and
emergent constructs of oikonomia to define and exercise their government
of the Roman church. The book analyzes papal authority as a form and
expression of household management in three closely related domains:
the bishops own domestic administration in Rome, the households of
subordinate Italian clerics, and the homes of elite laypeople in Italy.5
First, the bishops domestic administration is explored as both an idea and
institution. Specifically, the study traces the development of stewardship
as a model of episcopal government in theoretical discussions of the
Roman bishops responsibilities and influence. It also argues that Roman
bishops built a type of ecclesiastical household in Italy from and through
which they oversaw the church.
Second, the book investigates the rhetorical and material develop-
ments that shaped the relationship between the bishop of Rome and his
subordinate clergy. Particular attention is given to higher clerics who

See Veyne 1978; Shaw 1987; Wallace-Hadrill 1988; Shaw 1987; Cooper 1992 and
2007a; Saller 1994; and Milnor 2005. On the centrality of the household in the late
Roman economy, see Cracco Ruggini 1995 and Sarris 2006.
Throughout the book, I translate oikonomia variously as domestic administration,
household management, and estate management. Most scholars, however, use
these English phrases (and especially estate management) more narrowly to refer
exclusively to the administration of property and labor. Cf. Saller 1999: 18485. Alter-
natively, I wish to convey the broader remit of the term as it was understood by ancient
I do not consider monasteries and monastic households in any detail. This is not
to suggest that they were unimportant to Roman bishops and their exercise of estate
management. On the contrary, they present certain complexities that demand a separate


administered Romes titular churches and the suffragan bishops whose

sees fell directly within the popes ecclesiastical jurisdiction, Italia subur-
bicaria. Here the discussion focuses on the bishops endeavors to govern
the domestic life of clerics, namely their proprietary interests, sexual
habits, and marital relationships. The boundary dividing a clerical from
a lay household was remarkably fluid in late antiquity, just as it was
between the church and other contemporary domestic institutions. In
fact, Roman bishops attempted to define the clerical household as some-
thing different from its lay counterpart in order to place it more firmly
under their control.
Third, The Formation of Papal Authority describes the complex relation-
ship between the Roman bishop and the households of lay aristocratic
men and women, primarily those who owned property and/or resided in
Italy. Treating lay and clerical households separately allows us to compare
the somewhat invasive tactics that popes used to govern the homes of
clergymen with the relatively restrained techniques they employed when
intervening within lay Christian households. Specifically, we explore
how Roman bishops attempted to forge reputations as expert domestic
counselors on new and newly problematic matters involving marriage,
slavery, and private estate churches. The book also emphasizes the resis-
tance that bishops encountered when they tried to intervene within the
domestic sphere, especially (although not exclusively) from lay house-
holders. In fact, this study concludes that the popes influence on every-
day life remained limited. The late Roman householder did not cede
his authority to the bishop in religious and ethical matters, as one recent
study has suggested.6
In foregrounding the household, the present study builds on more
than fifty years of scholarship on Christianity, the late Roman aristoc-
racy, and family life.7 It takes particular direction from research that
illuminates the relationship between emergent Christian values and tra-
ditional domestic practices and ideologies what Peter Brown once
called respectable Christianity.8 As scholars have shown, Christian
values, especially those associated with asceticism, neither unmoored
nor dramatically transformed the prevailing laws and habits of domestic

Cooper 2007: ix, 2955. See also 2007a: 3233.
Gaudemet 1958; Brown 1961; Shaw 1987; Hunter 1987, 2003 and 2007; Markus 1990:
4583; Reynolds 1994; Evans Grubbs 1995; Cooper 1996 and 2007; Nathan 2000;
Salzman 2002; and Bowes 2008.
Brown 1961: 9.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

life.9 This book thus also locates dissonances between Christian ethics and
Roman household traditions (both social and legal) and elucidates how
and why Roman bishops endeavored to claim expertise over their resolu-
tion. Although scholars have explored how bishops and other Christian
moralists pressed for new formulations of domesticity, none has explained
how domestic discourses came to shape the very government of the
Moreover, rather than exclusively examining formal, prescriptive doc-
uments (e.g., treatises on marriage and virginity, Christian conduct man-
uals, and canons issued by ecclesiastical synods), The Formation of Papal
Authority privileges evidence for Roman bishops operating on all lev-
els of domestic society and engaging in both everyday and extraordinary
household events. Tax fraud on ecclesiastical estates, collecting rents from
delinquent tenants, clerics who flaunted celibacy rules and whose heirs
committed sex crimes, Christians who remarried after their spouses were
carried off into captivity but later returned home, fugitive slaves who
joined monasteries or entered the church order, and local bishops who
misappropriated the churchs wealth for their personal use are among the
many domestic matters that preoccupied late antique Roman bishops.
Their routine involvement in these issues played a formative role in the
development of their authority, even if they did not always resolve them
permanently or definitively.

Oikonomia : An Ancient Discourse

of Elite Masculine Auth ority
When Roman bishops presented themselves as experts in household
management, they drew on an ancient discourse of elite masculine
authority. By the fourth century, the term oikonomia had a range of
meanings.11 Its primary definition, and the one explored in this book,

See, for example, Evans Grubbs 1995; Cooper 2005; and Bowes 2008. In fact, recent
work has stressed how even ascetic ideologies were shaped by traditional domestic
practices. See Elm 1994; Jacobs and Krawiec 2003; and Rousseau 2005.
For example: Laeuchli 1972; Brown 1990; and Cooper 2005, 2007 and 2007b.
Hellenistic authors used oikonomia to connote the general arrangement of ones life
and actions, of political affairs or wealth in a city, or more broadly still, the good
ordering of nature and the cosmos. See Natali 1995: 9899. In ancient rhetoric,
oikonomia also was a formal literary property and principle of interpretation that
involved subordinating the individual parts of a discourse for the overall whole. See
Eden 1997: 2730. Within a Christian theological and pastoral framework, oikonomia
came to mean Gods dispensation on earth as well as a spiritual fathers temporary


was household or estate management.12 A household (Latin: domus;

Greek: oikos, oikia) in the ancient world, at least the kind owned and
administered by late Romes elite citizens, involved much more than
simply a nuclear family living together in a single abode.13 A house-
hold typically included multiple properties scattered over many different
regions as well as hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of dependents,
whose livelihoods were directly linked to the householder and his lands.
The early fifth-century domus of Melania the Younger and Pinianus, for
example, reputedly included a portfolio of properties located across the
Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Sicily, North Africa, Greece, and Egypt) and
at least 8,000 dependent laborers.14 Certainly the size of their domus was
exceptional (they were perhaps the wealthiest couple in the empire). But
its general features (multiregional land holdings and many dependents)
are representative of contemporary elite households.
Great expertise was thus needed to manage such an extensive and
complex enterprise. Consequently, oikonomia was a specialized branch of
practical knowledge and personal ethics and was also widely perceived
as a mode of government. For instance, the early imperial agronomist
Columella (ca. 470) called household management both a scientia rusti-
cationis (knowledge of agriculture) and a scientia imperandi (knowledge
of commanding others).15 Let us consider briefly the history of these
dimensions of household management: its association with a specific field
of knowledge and ethics, and its link to governing and political life.16
The discourses foundations were laid in classical Greece, when writers
invoked the household in theoretical discussions of political government
and social organization. Both Plato (ca. 428348 BCE) and Aristotle
(384322 BCE) posited the oikos as an integral part of the larger whole

adjustments to prescribed reprimands. On the latter, see Demacopoulos 2007: 12.

Oikonomia could also connote stewardship. See below.
Oikonomia was often transliterated as oeconomia in Latin. The Roman economic
vocabulary also included words such as ordo, ordinatio, dispensatio, cura, procuratio, and
administratio. See Meyer 1998: 5658.
Most scholars believe that a nuclear unit constituted the core of the Roman household.
See Saller and Shaw 1984 and Shaw 1984. Martin 1996 critiques Saller and Shaws
methods and conclusions, however, arguing that lateral relations were also central in
Roman family life. For a description of the late Roman family, see Cooper 2007:
On Melania and Pinianus wealth, see Harries 1984; Giardina 1988; Cooper 2005;
and Chapter 1.
Columella, De re rustica 11.1.6.
Meyer 1998 offers a broad survey of oikonomia in classical, late antique, and medieval
literature see.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

of the city-state.17 In Platos words, it was the starting point of the

city-state.18 Although the two disagreed over the households function
as a direct model of civic government (Plato thought that it was an apt
paradigm; Aristotle firmly rejected this position), they concurred that
its administration what Aristotle called its oikonomia was a crucial
mechanism in the foundation and preservation of a sound state.19 For
without the oikos, a city-state would lose its primary source of virtue,
wealth, and members.20
The citys dependence on the household made the householders good
exercise of oikonomia critical. Ancient thinkers were thus driven to define
precisely what good household management entailed. For example, Aris-
totle characterized household management as a mode of ruling (archen)
exercised by the householder to inculcate moderation, order, and jus-
tice within his home.21 His contemporary Xenophon (430354 BCE)
authored the first extant handbook on the subject, the Oikonomikos.22
In it he expressly identified household management as both a form of
practical knowledge (episteme ) and a concrete skill (oikonomike techne ).23
For Xenophon, household management was the domain of an elite gen-
tleman, a landowner with property, slaves, and an industrious wife whom
he educated and entrusted to manage certain (typically internal) aspects
of his oikos. The household administrators most important responsibili-
ties were to acquire wealth (chrematistike) and to maintain domestic order.
This involved everything from organizing a pantry to directing his wifes
activities and disciplining slaves.24
Hellenistic thinkers further developed several of these core ideas about
household management: a synecdochal relationship between household
and state, an association of oikonomia with the activities of a male prop-
ertied householder (especially his acquisition of wealth), and a pre-
vailing emphasis on the maintenance of order. Members of the eras
major philosophical schools authored treatises concerning household

Distilled discussions of fourth-century BCE philosophical views of the oikos appear in
Pomeroy 1994: 3340 and Cartledge 2000: 1314, 17.
Plato, Laws 720e721a.
Plato, Laws 672a, 720e721a. Aristotle, Pol. 12521261; 1280b334 and NE 1160a
See Foxhall 1989: 2244; Swanson 1992: 1631; and Gaca 2003: 4158.
Swanson 1992: 1825.
For an introduction, English translation, and commentary, see Pomeroy 1994.
Xenophon, Oec. 1.1, 6.8.
Xenophon, Oec. 8.39; 6.8.


management (peri oikonomias).25 In them, Epicureans, Stoics, and

Neopythagoreans discussed the exercise of oikonomia by the wise man,
placing special emphasis on the philosophers management of his own
wealth.26 According to the late Stoic (and teacher of Augustus) Arius
Didymus, the wise man is fortunate, happy, blessed, rich, pious, a friend
of divinity, worthy of distinction, and . . . both skilled in estate manage-
ment and the acquisition of wealth.27 For many of these thinkers, house-
hold management was both a precise field of activity with empirical rules
(techne ) and a subjective state of mind or disposition (hexis).28 Household
management, in other words, was a set of practices that defined who you
were in ethical terms.
Cicero (10643 BCE) and other Roman writers understood well these
dynamics of oikonomia. In one forensic speech, Cicero viciously attacked
the domestic administration of his clients accusers in order to impugn
their public reputations and hence cast doubt on the validity of their
charges.29 Elsewhere he argued that any strike made on his own house-
hold was itself an attack on the res publica.30 Ciceros claim was perhaps
less startling to his audience than we might think given the long-standing
connection in Greco-Roman thought between the household and the
state.31 Rome, of course, was both a commonwealth (res publica) and
the fatherland (patria), a nation of people who mythologized them-
selves as an ancient race of highly disciplined farmer-soldiers. Authors
such as Cato the Elder (234149 BCE) and Columella pushed the dis-
course in more empirical directions by writing agronomical handbooks.32
As a recent study has shown, these practical treatises were also highly

Cf. Ps-Aristotle, Oikonomia and Philodemus, Peri oikonomias. These and other treatises
are summarized and discussed in Natali 1995 and Baloglou 1998.
The accumulation of wealth by the philosopher, however, was fiercely debated among
Stoics and other philosophical sects: Natali 1995: 11926.
Stobaeus II.7, 11g (trans. Natali 1995: 114).
Natali 1995: 103; 11516.
Cicero, Pro Caelio as discussed by Leen 2000/1. As Leen shows, household manage-
ment also functioned as a rhetorical trope in ancient oratory.
Cicero, De domo sua 146. See also In Cat. 4.12 and Sallust, Bell. Cat. 52.3.
See Cicero, De officiis 1.17.54 for the domus as the foundation of civil government
and the seedbed of the state. For Cicero, domus and civitas were integral components
of the societas hominum. See De officiis 1.53.
Cf. Cato, De agr. and Columella, De re rustica. The Roman agronomical treatise
is a particular subgenre of Hellenistic household management literature, although
Xenophon had also discussed many concrete topics in the Oikonomikos. Xenophons
Oikonomikos, in fact, was well known among Latin-speaking audiences, primarily
through a now lost translation by Cicero. See Pomeroy 1994: 6973.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

moralistic works that linked estate management to a particular model

of elite masculinity and power.33 In fact, Cato himself stands among a
select group of great Roman statesmen whose austere, rural, and chaste
households were thought to exemplify the nexus between domus and res
Many elite thinkers thus believed that expertise in domestic adminis-
tration directly translated into expertise in public life. A man ought to
have his household well harmonized, Plutarch (46120) opined, who
is going to harmonize state, forum, and friends.35 As numerous studies
have shown, the Romans perceived virtually all dimensions of oikonomia,
from the physical architecture of a home to the preservation of a chaste
marriage and the education of children, as ethical variables that poten-
tially determined an elite mans capacity to lead.36 Household manage-
ment was so closely linked with public administration in Greco-Roman
culture that Tacitus drew a direct analogy between governing a domus and
governing the province of Britain.37 In so doing, Tacitus mobilized an
established tradition that the emperors themselves had helped to develop.
Augustus (31 BCE-14 CE) was a trendsetter in this regard.38 Augus-
tus showcased his expertise by treating his slaves and dependents well,
by eschewing ostentatious luxury, and most significantly, by underlining
his oversight and promotion of Roman family values.39 Scholars also
underscore the extent to which his state administration was effectively
an extension of the emperors private household.40 Indeed, the emer-
gence of a monarchical government produced a new Roman expression
of domesticity, which presented the emperor as the worlds householder
and the empire as his household.41

Cf. Cato, De agr. praef. 2 (ed. Goujard 1975: 9): When our elders praised a good man,
good farmer and good cultivator is how they praised him (Et viram bonum quom
laudabant, ita laudabant: bonum agricolam bonumque colonum). See Reay 1998.
Plutarch, Cato maior 22 and Numa 3.56 and 4.1.
Plutarch, Moralia 144 C (LCL: 2.333).
See, for example, Wiseman 1987; Shaw 1987: 1214; Wallace-Hadrill 1988; Cooper
1992 and 2007a; Eck 1997; Edwards 2002; and Milnor 2005.
Tacitus, Agricola 19.2.
Severy 2003 and Milnor 2005.
Cf. Suetonius, Aug. 34, 67, 7273, 7677. Household management was just as fre-
quently used as a tool of imperial critique. Suetonius, for example, also enumerated
Augustus many affairs as well as his penchant for debauched dinner parties.
Severy 2003.
Alfoldi 1971; Severy 2003; Milnor 2005. Cf. Seneca, De clementia 1.14.2 and 1.18.


Th e Four Principal Domains of Ancient

H ouseh old Management
When the emperors presented themselves as householders par excel-
lence, they did more than simply adopt a rhetorical stance. Household
management was an intrinsically material discourse defined largely by
concrete practices. These practices can be placed under four primary
(and overlapping) areas of activity: property administration, the ordering
of social relationships, ethical oversight, and religious care. Because we
shall return to each of the four areas throughout the book in considerable
detail, what follows is an outline meant to provide the reader with an
introduction to the discourses general parameters.
In Roman society, a householder or paterfamilias (father of the fam-
ily) was first and foremost an owner of private property. According to
the early third-century jurist Ulpian, a paterfamilias is the person within
a family who has dominion in the home (qui in domo dominium habet),
that is, who has primary ownership of all property (e.g., lands, buildings,
animals, and slaves) related to the household.42 As Richard Saller notes in
his discussion of this passage, because the holding of private property was
a right extended to all legally independent (sui iuris) men and women,43
a person did not need to be a father in the biological sense to be a
paterfamilias.44 (This meant that a woman could also be a householder or
even a paterfamilias a matter to which we shall return). Similarly, domi-
nus/a, another Latin word used to denote a householder with a primary
meaning of proprietor or owner (typically of slaves), underlines the
economic basis of domestic authority in the Roman world. Because of
this, Roman commentators on household management emphasized the
importance of financial propriety and acumen. According to Seneca (1
65), a good father of the family (bonus paterfamilias) should increase what
we have inherited. This inheritance shall pass from me to my descen-
dents larger than before.45 Conversely, a malus paterfamilias failed to
ensure his childrens financial and moral future by (for example) appoint-
ing an unscrupulous guardian to oversee them.46 A good household

On property ownership as a concept of Roman civil law, see Kaser 1971: 97; 119
26; 373 and 40010; Honore 1987; and Garnsey 2007: 18192, who argues that the
Romans saw property ownership as a legal right.
Saller 1999: 18489.
Seneca, Ep. 64.7.
Seneca, De Ben. 4.27.5.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

administrator was thus expected to master a range of complex financial

and other skills related to the oversight of agricultural estates and urban
properties, most of which were either leased to renters (conductores) or
managed directly through agents.
Because the ancient economy was largely embedded within Roman
society, a householders social powers and functions were often inextri-
cable from his financial practices.47 For instance, as Senecas emphasis on
the heirs of the bonus paterfamilias implies, paternity was tightly yoked
to property ownership in Roman culture. In his capacity as a father,
a paterfamilias theoretically exercised patria potestas over his children for
his entire life.48 Patria potestas (paternal power) was essentially an eco-
nomic power, which established a father as the legal owner of all prop-
erty and income generated by or bequeathed to his dependent children.
Paternal power also involved the householders control over his chil-
drens bodies. A father could sell or abandon his children and discipline
them corporeally.49 Children were also legally required to obtain their
fathers permission to contract a marriage. Culturally speaking, paternal
power underlined the high status of fatherhood in Roman society and
the importance that the Romans placed on obedience. But the fathers
relationship to his children was never purely autocratic.50 The central
Roman domestic value pietas underscored the reciprocal nature of
domestic relationships.51 Children were obliged to carry out their fathers
wishes, but fathers were also required to nurture, educate, and provide
materially for their children, as Senecas remark on the bonus paterfamilias
shows. This reciprocity was precisely the kind of social ordering that all
good householders were expected to foster.

Finlay 1999.
This meant that adult children could be under the power of a living father. However,
life expectancy rates and the common use of legal tools such as emancipation made
the grown man subject to patria potestas a rarity. See Saller 1994: 4369, and 12021,
and esp. tables 3.1.e and 3.2.e. Saller estimates that only 39 to 43 percent of men at
age 25 would have had a living father, a percentage dropping to 28 to 32 percent at
the age of 30.
Romans even believed that a father could kill a child in certain circumstances. On
the so-called ius necis ac vitae as a powerful cultural myth (but not a legal right), see
Thomas 1984 and Shaw 2001. The abandonment of children was more stringently
regulated in the late empire: see Evans Grubbs 1995: 271.
On the stereotype of the authoritarian Roman father, see Dixon 1992: 44; Saller 1994:
1023; and George 2005: 4142. I return to this issue in Chapter 1.
Saller 1994: 10514.


In addition to ordering their paternal relationships, householders were

expected to maintain even more complex domestic hierarchies, such
as those that structured spousal relations and the dependent labor force
of a domus. Wives in the Roman empire were not placed under their
husbands legal power (although sometimes they might have remained
under the paternal power of their fathers). As noted, they could own
property (including slaves) that was legally separate from their husbands.
Moreover, wives played authoritative roles in domestic administration,
often overseeing specific areas of daily life, such as the management of
larders and domestic slaves or the education of small children.52 Wives,
however, occupied a subordinate position within the household even if
they also exercised significant economic and social power.53 Slaves and
other dependents presented even greater challenges to the householder.
For one, they were often organized into complex micro-hierarchies,
with some legitimately exercising power over others.54 A paterfamilias
therefore had to choose his stewards and agents with great care and
discretion, because he placed them in positions of power not only over
his labor force but also over his wealth.55 He also had to discipline his
slaves carefully, using only as much physical force as was necessary lest he
breach the golden rule of moderation. Excessive discipline revealed the
householders failures as a man-in-power over himself.
Household management also involved the inculcation and perfor-
mance of core Roman values, such as pietas, castitas, and moderatio. House-
holders were expected to instill obedience in their children to the family,
gods, and the state. They also had to provide an appropriate education
and help their children to make good choices in life, such as whom to
marry or when to enter political life and go to war.56 Furthermore, a
householder had to govern his marital relationship in accordance with
particular ethical ideals, such as by ensuring his wifes chastity (i.e., sexual

The Laudatio Turiae, a late first-century BCE epitaph created by a husband for his
wife, describes her involvement in family business, the administration of property, and
so forth. See Treggiari 1991: 24344; 37479.
Cf. Plutarch, Coniugalia praecepta 11: Every action performed in a good household is
done by the agreement of the partners, but displays the leadership and decision of the
husband (trans. Russell 1999:6). See also Ulpian, Dig. 27.10.4: For piety is owed
equally to both parents, even if their power is not equal (eds. Mommsen, Krueger
and Watson 1985: 812). On wives power within their husbands domus see Treggiari
1991: 36596 and Saller 1994: 12830.
Carlsen 1995 and Chapter 1.
Carlsen 1995.
Aulus Gellius, NA 2.7.113.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

fidelity) and promoting concord in the home.57 As Catherine Edwards

has shown, there was no more publicly derided figure in Roman society
than the cuckold.58 Most significantly, the householder was supposed to
exemplify the values that he promoted in the home by carefully mold-
ing his own behavior, especially regarding bodily practices.59 An overly
luxurious banquet with too much wine and food, excessive (or passive)
sexual activity, hedonistic surroundings, and the use of too much physical
force to discipline slaves all of these traits bespoke a householder who
was not in full control of his self.60 Such a man was not fit to run a domus,
let alone assume the duty of governing city or state.
Finally, in addition to this enormous welter of obligations and tasks,
domestic management entailed religious oversight within the home.
According to Roman tradition, the householder was ultimately respon-
sible for maintaining worship of the core domestic deities (e.g., lares,
penates, and the genii) as well as any additional gods and goddesses whom
he and his family chose to cultivate.61 The most important house of a
man who owned many dwellings was the one in which he installed his
household gods a connection that reflects an association in Roman
culture between domestic religious practice and the presence of a pater-
familias.62 To be clear, a householder typically did not act as the chief
priest of the domus, personally executing all rites carried out within. On
the contrary, evidence suggests that it was the householders family and
dependents (e.g., wives, clients, even slaves) who actually performed most
of the rites on behalf of his home.63 Nevertheless, his religious oversight
extended to practices conducted on all of his estates, regardless of whether
he lived there permanently.64 With this came the task of ensuring that all
Cooper 1992. Edwards 1993: 4445, 57 (and passim).
Edwards 1993: 5357 and 4349.
Veyne 1978 and Foucault 1985: 14184 and 1986, to be read with Gaca 2003. See also
Rousselle 1988; Cooper 1992; and Edwards 2002.
Cf. Pliny, Epp. 3.14, 7.25 and 9.12; and Amm. Marc., 14.6.125; 27.11.16; and
On Roman domestic religion, see Orr 1978; Harmon 1987; and Bodel 2008. The
householders duty to oversee the cultivation of religion in the home was by no means
exclusive to Roman tradition: see Xenophon, Oec. 7.68.
Dig. 50.16.203, cited in Saller 1994: 81. Ancestral household rituals might even be
perceived as inheritable res.
Argetsinger 1992; Foss 1997; and Bowes 2008: 2148. On the role of wives and women
in Roman religion, see Boels-Janssen 1993 and Schultz 2006.
Roman agronomical treatises underline the religious dominion of the dominus: Cato,
De agr. 1.5.34, 1.43; Columella, De re rustica 11.22; and Varro, De re rustica 1.5. See
also Pliny, Ep. 9.39.


household members and dependents eschewed improper and excessive

rites, what the Romans called superstitiones.65 The householders obli-
gations to oversee religious orthopraxy became even more defined in
the late empire, when emperors and bishops called on landowners to
eradicate improper religious behavior on their properties.

Oikonomia and Gender

By all accounts, household management was a manifold set of practices
and ideas that involved everything from rent collection to the oversight of
ritual performances. Although a householder might not have personally
performed each and every task associated with the administration of a
multipropertied domus, he was ultimately responsible for delegating them
to a range of subordinates, from his wife down to the lowliest kitchen
slave. Yet a householder performed very few acts that were tied to his
sex. As noted, a paterfamilias was the households chief owner and admin-
istrator, not the father of children. Nevertheless, household management
was gendered as a masculine discourse in Greco-Roman culture; it was
a system of power and authority created by and for men.66 With few
exceptions, ancient handbooks on domestic administration were written
by male authors, aimed at male audiences, and assumed a male head of the
house.67 Moreover, despite the fact that a woman could be a paterfamilias,
her gender was routinely masked in Roman law by the jurists use of the
masculine neuter in their discussions of property management.68 The
most powerful evidence for the masculinity of oikonomia is the fact that
emperors such as Augustus regularly drew on the discourse to formulate
their official authority. It is hard to imagine such a phenomenon were
household management to have had a feminine ring. This is not to suggest
that household management could not be applied to (or even adopted by)
women. The early sixth-century Christian official Cassiodorus (ca. 490
585), for example, invoked it when he praised the widowed mother of a

Cf. Tacitus, Ann. 13.32. Few classical Roman sources explicitly outline the house-
holders authority over religious worship in his home. It is presumed but almost never
defined. See Chapter 2.
As emphasized by Cooper 1992 and 2007a: 67.
Exceptions include Pythagorean handbooks attributed to famous female figures, dis-
cussed in Natali 1995. There are also numerous early Christian conduct manuals
written for women, such as the Ad Gregoriam in palatio. See Cooper 2007: 1723,
Gardner 1995; Saller 1999: 18788; and Cooper 2007: 11114.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

recently promoted patricius for her excellence in both educating her son
and expanding the wealth of a domus that she had virtuously managed by
herself.69 In this respect, oikonomia can tell us much about women in the
household and hence about their contributions to civic life, because they
too were subject to its strictures.70 Nevertheless, it remained a discourse
of authority that was most revealing of power relations among men.

* * *
Although certain facets of household management underwent change
in late antiquity changes that concern us directly in Chapters 1
and 2 it remained a relevant and pervasive language of masculine
authority in the West. Cassiodorus early sixth-century invocation of
oikonomia is just one example among many that reveal its continued sig-
nificance in late ancient formulations of power. Thus, when Roman
bishops adopted oikonomia as a model of episcopal government, they
embraced a discourse that was part of a late Roman cultural koine. What
did it mean, however, for a bishop to present himself as an expert in a field
of knowledge principally rooted in property ownership, the discipline of
subordinates, marriage, and procreation? Could bishops be householders
in any sense of the term?

H ouseh old Management and th e Bish op

of Rome: Problems and Possibilities
To all the poor at the beginning of each month he generally distributed
the goods accumulated from revenues. And, at the appropriate times,
the Lords paterfamilias discerningly doled out grain, wine, cheese, veg-
etables, lard, edible animals, fish or oil . . . so that the universal church
seemed to be nothing other than a universal store house.71

Cassiodorus, Var. 3.6.6.
Historians of women and gender in late antiquity grapple with the challenge of
researching the experiences of historical female agents within a patriarchal society
through evidence that was written almost exclusively by men. Some have concluded
that womens experiences are ultimately inaccessible to modern scholars (e.g., Clark
1998). Other scholars, attuned to the complex interrelationship between rhetorical
representations of women in literature and evidence derived from more empirical
sources (e.g., Roman law and archival material), have endeavored to recover certain
dimensions of the subjectivity of real late Roman women. For an example of this
approach, see Cooper 2007.
John the Deacon, Vita S. Gregorii 2.26 (PL 75: 97). Omnibus omnino kalendis,
pauperibus generaliter easdem species quae congerebantur ex reditibus erogabat: et
suo tempore frumentum, suo vinum, suo caseum, suo legumen, suo lardum, suo


John the Deacons characterization of Gregory I (590604) offers an

important point of reference for the bishop of Romes developing domes-
tic identity. For John, a Roman deacon writing in the ninth century, the
pope was the paterfamilias of the Lords flock.72 John chose the word
paterfamilias for a reason. In contrast to the epithet papa, a Latin word for
father from which we derive the English moniker pope, paterfamilias
had a more precise meaning. As discussed, paterfamilias is the term that
the ancients used to denote the chief householder.73 The paterfamilias was
the figure who occupied the highest rung of the domestic hierarchy and
whose legal, economic, social, and religious authority was unparalleled
within his home. Johns choice of words therefore was especially fitting
for Gregory. While many details of his elevated lineage remain uncertain
(he may have been a member of the great gens Anicia), Gregory was the
owner of property in Rome and elsewhere in Italy. He had exercised his
domestic authority to its fullest extent by establishing his private house
on the Caelian Hill as a monastic retreat for other like-minded men.74
Thus, although he had no known children and probably never mar-
ried, Gregory was nonetheless a paterfamilias in the classical sense of the
Of course, John invoked another institution when he identified his
hero as the Lords paterfamilias. He was talking about Gregorys episcopate,
that is, the bishops government of the Roman church and especially of its
most vulnerable members, the poor. In framing Gregorys ecclesiastical
administration in domestic terms, John built on traditional ground. The
author of the New Testament Epistle First Timothy described an ideal
overseer of the church in the following terms:

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires

a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his
wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not
a lover of money. He must manage his own household well and see that
his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full

manducabilia animalia, suo pisces vel oleum paterfamilias domini discretissime divide-
bat . . . ita ut nihil aliud quam communia quaedam horrea, communis putaretur
John the Deacon, Vita S. Gregorii 3.12.
On the early medieval legacy of the paterfamilias, see Arjava 1998. The Latin papa
derives from the Greek, pappas. See Labriolle 1928.
Richards 1980: 25 and Markus 1997: 810.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own household,
how can he take care of Gods church?75

For this early second-century author, the ethics of estate management

had direct and immediate relevance for the construction of episcopal
authority. Their proper performance and inculcation were precisely what
distinguished a regular Christian from the man who oversaw the commu-
nity of the church. Indeed, the Christian writer applied the identical logic
to the bishops management of oikos and ekklesia as pagan authors used
for the paterfamilias administration of household and state. This should
not surprise us. New Testament authors were oriented by Greco-Roman
ideals and habits (especially domestic ones), which formed the basis of
their Christian worldviews.76 Moreover, many early Christians assem-
bled in private households, the owners of which donated resources for
the religious communitys needs.77 These practices contributed to more
elaborate metaphorical borrowings from the domestic sphere, wherein
both individual churches and the Christian oikoumene became denoted as
the house of God (domus dei or oikos theou).78 Some pre-Constantinian
bishops might have even owned the homes in which their congregations
gathered and thus acted in the dual role of paterfamilias and bishop.79
It would seem therefore that Johns description of Gregory invoked an
ancient and immutable discourse, wherein classical notions of oikonomia
provided a direct model for episcopal leadership.
However, as this book shows, a late Roman pope could not simply
be another paterfamilias with a pallium. For one, bishops ideally were
supposed to shun the earthly duties associated with the administration
of domestic life and pursue more contemplative activities that placed
them closer to the monk than to the dominus.80 For example, Gregory
frequently bemoaned his mundane episcopal responsibilities, claiming
that they tore him away from his monastic pursuits and forced him

1 Tim. 3:15.
See especially Harrill 2006 and Johnson Hodge 2010.
Cf. Acts 10:48, 16:1315, 17:67, 20:712; and Romans 16:5 and 16:23. Pre-Nicene
house churches have been extensively studied. For a recent overview of the evidence
and analysis of the social context, see Osiek and Balch 1997.
On the church as domus dei/oikos theou, see Dassmann and Schollgen 1986: 801905;
Ohly 1986: 9051063; and Meyer 1998: 6270, 189212.
Cooper 2011.
Sterk 2004.


to do the business of worldly men (saecularium hominum negotia).81 As

Conrad Leyser and others have shown, however, the stark binary drawn in
some ancient sources (and consequently, in modern scholarship) between
the active and contemplative life is misleading.82 It simplifies the more
nuanced and paradoxical thinking of bishops like Gregory and overlooks
the ways in which they synthesized an ascetic outlook with a more
mundane set of duties. In fact, household management, ostensibly the
most pragmatic mode of episcopal authority, could be assimilated to
ideals of ascetic holiness.
Nevertheless, deeply ingrained cultural assumptions challenged the
appropriation of the householders identity by a bishop. Simply put, the
paterfamilias was himself an intrinsically problematic figure in Roman
society. Kate Cooper has observed that the householder, although val-
orized in Roman society, was also regarded with much anxiety and
suspicion.83 It was a widely acknowledged fact, writes Cooper, that
the will of an individual (or alternatively, the corporate will of a family)
was not infallibly harnessed to the common good.84 In a society in
which the state relied on the domus as its primary source of wealth, peo-
ple, and virtue, a dominus who placed his interests before the common
good constituted a potential threat to the public order.85 The concern
that a householder might privilege self-interests was rooted in the realiza-
tion, articulated since Plato, that families routinely put their heirs first and
the city second.86 Consequently, a paterfamilias actions within the domus
were evaluated and regulated by his peers, his subordinates, and even by
the state. Sumptuary laws, property regulations, imperial rulings on fam-
ily planning and religious practice, a judicial system structured around
individual lawsuits, housing that provided masters with few opportunities
to escape the eyes and ears of their slaves, and numerous media for the
circulation of gossip reveal the extent to which a Roman householder
was, in Coopers words, closely watched.87

Cf. Gregory, Dial., 1. pr. 35.
See Leyser 2000: 13187 and especially Rapp 2005: 10052.
Cooper 2007a. See also Wallace-Hadrill 1988 and Riggsby 1997.
Cooper 1992: 152. See also 2007: 15051 and 2007a.
Cooper 2007a: 22.
Gaca 2003: 4348. Platos famous solution to this problem in the Republic, of course,
was to hold marriages and property in common.
Cooper 2007a.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Roman bishops encountered these same fears and anxieties when

they presented themselves as experts in domestic life. Bishops should
also know that they are priests, not lords (sed et episcopi sacerdotes se
sciant esse, non dominos), wrote Jerome (347420) to Nepotianus, who
had just left a monastery to join the clergy at Altinum where his uncle
was bishop.88 As Jeromes comment suggests, bishops potentially had
much in common with the householder, and for some critics this was
not a positive symmetry. On the one hand, bishops typically managed
large institutions replete with landed wealth and scores of dependents.
They were also men of power, leaders addressed as praelati, praesules, rec-
tores, and, of course, patres. Moreover, bishops (including at least a few
popes) were often traditional householders, with personal wealth, wives,
children, and family obligations. On the other hand, bishops theoret-
ically differed from traditional householders in two fundamental ways.
First, unlike their lay counterpart, an episcopal householder was not the
possessor of his churchs property but solely its administrator. Bishops
were thus supposed to manage ecclesiastical property with great care and
circumspection, ensuring that their financial activities were legitimate
and beneficial. Second, although men with children might legitimately
reach the top levels of the church (at least until the sixth century), they
were expected to refrain from sexual activity, and hence from producing
heirs, while holding office. We shall argue that this particular develop-
ment in the domestic life of clergy was in part a response to anxieties
surrounding the householders proclivities to place self-interests before
those of the public good. Indeed, the negative implications of house-
holding were potentially catastrophic for the bishops spiritual authority.
A bishop therefore could not adopt the householders moral influence
and concrete powers without alteration. He would have to recalibrate
the ethics of oikonomia in a manner that simultaneously established his
expertise in matters of everyday life and distinguished his authority from
the propertied and procreative paterfamilias, even if in reality he were
that man.
Roman bishops found an answer to their dilemma in a paradox, the fig-
ure of the steward.89 The steward was a key agent within the domus, whom
the householder placed in positions of authority over central domains
of administration. While lowly within society writ large (and in many

Jerome, Ep. 52.7. Nepotianus uncle was Heliodorus.
Paradox, of course, was a primary trope in early Christian literature and central to the
construction of a Christian worldview. See Cameron 1991: 15588.


circumstances, a slave), the steward was a figure of power within the

context of the household. Stewardship, in other words, was a social role
defined by dependence and authority. In this respect, it accorded well
with late ancient conceptions of spiritual authority. Like the steward, holy
men and women were simultaneously humble and exalted figures. They
were illiterate fishermen who speak the Truth, desert fathers vanquishing
demons but subsisting on a few crusts of bread, and matronae dressed in
rags doling out their fortunes to the needy. Scholars have long recognized
the emerging significance of stewardship as a distinctly Judeo-Christian
interpretation of oikonomia, especially regarding the administration of
wealth on behalf of the poor.90 More recent work has emphasized its
complicated intersection with the traditional landowning habits of late
Roman elites, who, despite prevailing ascetic ideals, were unable (or
unwilling) to renounce wealth altogether.91 For these men and women,
stewardship offered an attractive compromise. Stewardship permitted
them to engage in more traditional acts of household management while
simultaneously working on Gods behalf, administering, as it were, his
Thus when Roman bishops characterized themselves as stewards of
God, they adapted an emerging Christian model of elite domestic author-
ity that simultaneously asserted the stewards humility and power. I
am, Gregory declared to his Roman congregation in a homily on the
Gospel of Luke, the slave of the supreme paterfamilias (servus enim sum
summi patrisfamilias).92 Romes bishops, this book demonstrates, under-
stood their domestic authority in similarly subordinate terms. They were
the stewards of God, the Chief Householder, slaves chosen by him to
oversee the vast multitudes of people and properties composing the domus
dei. Just as the slave-steward oversaw his masters estate and rendered an
account of his work on the lords return, the Roman bishop would have
to present a reckoning of his religious oversight on Judgment Day before
the Lord. In various ways Roman bishops endeavored both to distinguish
themselves from more traditional householders and to assert a privileged
place in the government of souls as the Lords chief slave. This study
explains how and to what extent Romes popes accomplished these
daunting cultural tasks.

The literature on stewardship in Judeo-Christian thought is vast. Cf. Viner 1978:
145; Avila 1983: 4780; Meyer 1998: 96160; and Carrie 2006.
See Cooper 2007: 3744 and Caner 2008.
Gregory, HEv. 36.2 (CC 141: 334).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Wh y th e H ouseh old? Toward a Domestic

Model of Episcopal Auth ority
It is hardly a revelation to learn that early Christian bishops were watch-
men of a sort.93 Scholars have long discussed bishops as men placed in
positions of authority in light of their perceived moral excellence, their
oratorical prowess, and their ability to oversee the principal facets of a
Christian communitys religious life: its rituals, teachings, clergy, justice,
and wealth. Despite many truly extraordinary studies on late antique
bishops that have appeared in the recent past, virtually no attention has
been paid to the domestic nature of their oversight apart from the admin-
istration of ecclesiastical property.94 A brief note by the early medieval
historian Janet Nelson on Gelasius letter to Anastasius of 494, which
underlines the popes use of a domestic discourse to define his power vis
a` vis the emperor, constitutes the only scholarly intervention to date.95
This book therefore charts what is nearly unexplored ground. It con-
tends that domestic administration, in the broad sense understood here,
merits analysis because it helps us to better understand the development
of episcopal authority in Rome and perhaps even throughout the late
antique world.
There are three primary advantages in adopting oikonomia as both
a subject of analysis and an analytic framework for the study of late
Roman bishops. First, household management is an ancient discourse of
authority that was actually used by bishops and contemporary Christian
writers. It thus offers scholars a set of cultural parameters and a vocabulary
for interpreting the words and deeds of bishops that is both precise
and historically attested. Among other things, this approach obviates
the need for using modern interpretive categories, like Max Webers
three ideal types of leadership, which scholars often employ to describe
late Roman spiritual figures.96 This is not to suggest that the modern
disciplines of sociology and cultural theory cannot contribute to the
study of premodern religious authority. This study, for example, builds
On the bishop as the watchman see Mohrmann 1977; Hoeflich 1980; and Leyser
2000: 6063.
General studies include Jones 1960 and Aigrain 1971. On Roman bishops and property
administration, see Spearing 1918; Recchia 1978; Marazzi 1998: 4798; and Moreau
Nelson 1967.
For example: von Campenhausen 1969; Brown 1983; and Markus 1990: 256. Rapp
2005: 1618 redeploys Webers categories of charismatic and institutional leader-
ship as spiritual, ascetic, and pragmatic.


in part on the observations of Michel Foucault about relations of power

within institutions, especially on the multidirectionality of power and
the fact that even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant practices
have bearing on how power works.97 Nevertheless, it also recognizes the
heuristic importance of using late ancient systems of ideas and practices in
the analytic process. We seek to understand how Roman bishops talked
about themselves and to other householders, as well as to examine the
terms and conditions through which late Romans perceived them.
Moreover, oikonomia involved mastery of specific skills (e.g., agron-
omy, inheritance strategizing, and labor management) and was largely
predicated on property ownership. It was, we have stressed, an intrin-
sically material discourse. Consequently, we shall pay close attention
to the concrete facets of household management, especially to its legal
and social dimensions, which were highly developed in the late Roman
world. The domus was not just a metaphor for government; it was also
the cornerstone of the late antique economy. As a recent study of the late
Roman household has shown, we gain great insight into the complex
relationship between religion and daily life by examining domesticity as
both an empirical and ethical discourse.98 A similarly dual approach to
oikonomia is followed throughout the book.
Second, placing the domestic sphere at the center of analysis allows us
to examine the politics of episcopal authority from multiple perspectives,
rather than solely from the top down. To be sure, there is no shortage
of secondary literature on the relationship between the early Christian
church and private life.99 In the main, scholars have focused on the
efforts of bishops to shape personal conduct through ecclesiastical legisla-
tion, ritual punishments, and spiritual exhortation. In so doing, however,
they typically posit the bishop outside the household: he is a force look-
ing down and in, attempting to mold behavior and belief within the
domus from his lofty and highly public perch on the cathedra.100 More-
over, scholars frequently frame these measures as part of the bishops

Cf. Foucault 1994: 32648 (first published in 1982) as well as Truth and Power and
Power and Strategies in 1980: 109145. I do not mean to suggest that episcopal
oikonomia conforms to Foucaults (undeveloped) notion of pastoral power.
Cooper 2007, which builds methodologically on Cracco Ruggini 1995.
See n. 7 as well as the studies in Ari`es, Veyne, and Duby 1992.
See, for example, Laeuchli 1972; Maier 1995, 1995a, 1996, and 2005; Klingshirn 1994;
and Cooper 2007 and 2007a: 323. Burrus 1997 presents a more nuanced picture of
Priscillians interventions within elite households, but her analysis of the orthodox
bishops ultimately shares the same top down perspective as these other studies.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

success story, that is, as evidence for his expanding power over daily
life.101 While these approaches have many merits, they can disconnect
the bishop from the social world in which he was embedded, causing
us to lose sight of the fact that he too was a householder of sorts. They
also cede him far too much influence over domestic matters, even those
regarding belief and ritual practice. In fact, Roman bishops perennially
struggled to establish their religious authority over numerous areas and
practices of domestic life.
The domestic approach taken in this book examines episcopal author-
ity and domestic life from many perspectives: from the perspective of the
bishop and from the perspectives of the landowners, spouses, guardians,
agents, slaves, and coloni of Italys elite domus. To this list we must add the
suffragan bishops and clergy of Italy. Although these men were members
of the popes house, they often had households of their own. In other
words, this study investigates the Roman church and its bishops from
the top down, the bottom up, and even from side to side, since Roman
popes were enmeshed in horizontal networks as well.
Third, a domestic approach serves as a counterpoint or even a cor-
rective to past and present research on late antique bishops as emerging
civic leaders. The rise of the bishop in late ancient studies has gone
hand in hand with a focus on the development of his public power
and persona.102 It is often assumed and sometimes directly asserted that
the earliest Christian bishops were private persons, whose authority
was informal, legally undifferentiated, personal, and even domestic.103
During the period following Constantines pivotal reign, however, bish-
ops supposedly lost their more private qualities and gradually accrued
numerous distinctly public features and functions, becoming increasingly
like civic officials. In this vein, scholars have examined developments

Cf. Klingshirn 1985 and 1994; Markus 1990; L. Pietri 2002; Cooper 2007; and Green
The literature on bishops as civic leaders is vast. Cf. Mochi Onory 1933; Brown
1992; McLynn 1994; Rebillard and Sotinel 1998; Lizzi Testa 1989; Humphries 2000;
Liebeschuetz 2001; and Rapp 2005. For Roman bishops, see Pietri 1976; Green 2008;
and Salzman 2010.
Lepelley 1998: 17, describes the bishop as a personne privee, citing Gaudemet
1958: 351, and dates the private phase of the bishop from Constantine aux
grandes invasions. More typically, these private qualities are associated with the
pre-Constantinian bishop: cf. Klauck 1981; Jeffers 1991; and Bobertz 1993, whose
conclusions must be reconsidered in light of recent revelations that the Apostolic
Tradition is a fourth-century text compiled by eastern Christians.


such as the construction of public places of worship and forms of urban

liturgy,104 the granting of fiscal privileges and public honors to bishops,105
and the creation of novel forms of patronage that established the bishop
as patronus of entire urban demographics like the people and the
poor.106 These studies of the bishop as a new type of civic leader are
illuminating, but the bishops transition from a private to a public lead-
ership role was far less dichotomous than scholars sometimes imply.
Consider, for example, recent studies of the so-called episcopalis audien-
tia, the episcopal hearings. It is well established that pre-Constantinian
bishops acted as mediators of disputes and that they worked in a private
capacity as highly respected peacemakers. Many scholars then contrast
(implicitly and explicitly) the informal juridical authority of these early
bishops with the putatively more formal legal judgments cast by their
post-Constantinian counterparts.107 These later bishops, it is thought,
intervened in conflicts in a new, distinctly civic capacity as imperially rec-
ognized officials whose public legal powers were now defined by the
state. Yet as Caroline Humfress has recently demonstrated, late Roman
bishops continued to dispense justice as private persons even after the
emperors tried to clarify these juridical procedures.108 In fact, technical
discussions of dispute resolution in ecclesiastical contexts in later imperial
legislation did not transform the bishops court into a civic institution.
On the contrary, it remained what it had always been: a legitimate but
distinctly private and informal mode of dispute resolution.109
The problem in defining the bishops authority as public or pri-
vate is partly terminological. Scholars often remark that the English
words do not neatly map onto the Latin and Greek publicus/demosios and
See, for example, Pietri 1976; Krautheimer 1980; Curran 2000; and Salzman 2010.
Gaudemet 1958: 31120; 377408; Jones 1964: 8991, 118, 48081, 4912; Lizzi
Testa 2001; and Rapp 2005: 23289.
Brown 1992 and 2002; and Lepelley 1998.
Lamoreaux 1995; Harries 1999: 208 (although she also underlines the continued
significance of arbitration and other informal modes of adjudication); Liebeschuetz
1999: 115; and Lizzi Testa 2009: 528.
Humfress 2007: 155 and 2011. See also Harries 1999 on post-Constantinian bishops
as primarily arbitrators and mediators and Rapp 2005: 24350, who underlines the
differences between the judicial authority of a bishop and a provincial magistrate.
As Humfress (2011) stresses, the bishop was always a private authority whether
acting as a delegated judge, mediator, or arbitrator and his judgment like any
private persons within certain parameters had always carried weight in the Roman
legal system. Harries 1999 also emphasizes that Constantine and his successors did
not revolutionize episcopalis audientia.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

privatus/idios.110 In Latin (which concerns us most directly in this study),

publicus meant of the community or of the people, and thus closely
conforms to our modern term. Alternatively, the primary meaning of
privatus had an unfamiliar, exclusively political connotation. It referred to
a person who was neither a magistrate nor a military officer and, during
the empire, to anyone who was not the emperor.111 This would mean that
all pre- and post-Constantinian bishops were privati. More confusing still,
Roman law had a well-defined concept of private property, which was
property owned by an individual person or corporation and not by the
community (i.e., the city or the state). Here public and private often
overlapped, since both magistrates and emperors owned private prop-
erty (in the latters case, it was called the res privata). Public and private
also overlapped in the use of space. For example, at certain times of the
day, rooms in elite private houses such as bedrooms (cubicula) were used
for intimate activities like sleep, sex, and personal religious practices. At
other times, however, they functioned as reception spaces, wherein the
householder conducted business and entertained high-status guests.112
Public and private, in other words, were not oppositional categories
but relational ones. Consequently, they offer little help in clarifying any
particular model of authority or leadership.113
Given all of this, we must question the assumption that late antique
episcopal authority had evolved from an essentially private form of pas-
toral care and influence into one that was exclusively public in its nature
and extent.114 Moreover, to assert that late antique bishops were civic
leaders is to ignore the more complicated relationship between public
and private in ancient culture. Alternatively, focusing on the domestic
sphere and on household management allows us to obviate this particu-
lar teleology and evaluate episcopal authority from a public and private
perspective. The household was both a private and public space, its prac-
tices simultaneously vital to the individual property owner and the state.
Wallace-Hadrill 1994: 44; Zaccaria Riggi`u 1994; Riggsby 1997: 4754; Milnor 2005:
1627; and Cooper 2007a: 1724, who challenges the very existence of separate
public and private spheres in Roman society.
Milnor 2005: 1921.
Riggsby 1997: 3743 and Sessa 2007a.
On public and private in ancient society, see Cohen 1991: 7097 and Riggsby 1997:
4754. There is as yet no comparable study of public and private in late antiquity.
Bowes 2008: 910 criticizes the tendency of scholars to associate pre-Nicene Chris-
tianity in general with the private and post-Nicene Christianity with the public.
I extend her critique to the characterization of episcopal authority and leadership.


Just as a Roman official could not shirk his domestic obligations and
remain a man of public power, so a bishop needed to master oikonomia
in order to lead an emergent civic church.

Th e Roman Ch urch and Italy

in Late Antiquity
The present study focuses on a single episcopate and geographical region:
Rome and the central and southern territories of the Italian peninsula,
including the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. These were the
areas of Italy over which the Roman bishop exercised ecclesiastical juris-
diction (Italia suburbicaria).115 Because the Roman church was frequently
contacted by bishoprics outside its technical jurisdiction for advice on
matters of doctrine and discipline (including those relating to the domes-
tic sphere), and because it owned property beyond suburbicarian Italy
and the islands, we sometimes encounter places and people who were
not Italians or directly subject to Rome. Nevertheless, the book is a
deliberately regional study.116 It privileges sources by and about Roman
bishops and the households that they endeavored to shape and govern
from the death of pope Liberius in 366 to the death of Gregory in 604.
In certain respects, the relationship between episcopal authority and
the household is a topic that lends itself to the more synthetic approach
favored by scholars in recent years, wherein material from all over
the empire is brought together to form a single snapshot of the late
ancient world. As studies have shown, non-Roman bishops such as
John Chrysostom (ca. 397407), Augustine (354430), and Caesarius of
Arles (ca. 470542) had a great deal to say about the domestic sphere.117
Nevertheless, there is much to gain by leaving these dominant voices
aside and allowing others to be heard on the matter of households and
bishops. Moreover, the late ancient Mediterranean world was not a
homogenous entity. This was especially true during the fifth and sixth
Gaudemet 1958: 384, 44546 and Jones 1964: 884. The provinces under Romes juris-
diction were: Tuscany-Umbria, Campania, Samnium, Lucania-Bruttium, Apulia-
Calabria, and Valeria as well as the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. The sub-
urbicarian provinces of Egypt were similarly organized around the see of Alexandria,
but Rome was unique in the West.
In this respect, it offers a parallel to the excellent studies of episcopal authority in
northern Italian regions (Italia annonaria) by Lizzi Testa 1989 and Humphries 2000.
For example: Shaw 1987; Leyerle 1997; Maxwell 2006: 14476; Klingshirn 1994:
190200; and Bailey 2007.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

centuries, when certain regions (mainly in the West) experienced a

disproportionate amount of political, social, and economic upheaval.
Between ca. 400 and 600, Rome and Italy witnessed dramatic shifts
in its political organization, economic conditions, demography, urban-
ism, and in the social constitution of its aristocracy.118 For example, the
population of Rome dropped from a high of one million in the fourth
century to approximately fifty or sixty thousand by the end of the sixth.119
A range of factors contributed to these shifts. The most acutely disruptive
were the invasions and wars that began with Alarics path through Italy
in the first decade of the fifth century and continued intermittently into
the late 590s with the Lombards expansion. The Gothic War (535554),
a twenty-year conflict pitting Justinians imperial armies against the forces
of the Ostrogoths, was especially damaging to Italys tax base, infrastruc-
ture, and urbanism.120 Furthermore, over the course of the sixth century,
a once dominant senatorial aristocracy gradually lost ground and political
visibility with the rise of new landed elites.121 Whether these changes are
concomitant with absolute decline is debatable, but they unquestionably
had an impact on households and bishops, whether we are talking about
landholding or marital relations.
There is, of course, another compelling reason to choose the Roman
church and its bishops as the subjects of a study. After all, Rome is not
any see but the papacy. Since the third century, Romes prelates were
perceived to hold a position of elevated honor among bishops through-
out the Mediterranean world.122 These perceptions were codified at
later ecclesiastical councils.123 Late antique Roman bishops asserted their
churchs preeminence through rhetorical constructs such as apostolic
succession and Petrine primacy. They pronounced on matters of doc-
trine and discipline and they intended their written responses to be

See especially T. S. Brown 1984; Ward-Perkins 1984 and 2005; Barnish 1988; Wick-
ham 2005; and Christie 2006. Jones 1964 remains foundational for administrative
changes in the West.
Durliat 1990: 11517 and Meneghini and Santangeli Valenzani 2001: 23. Romes
decline in total population is part of an overall pattern in the western Mediterranean:
McCormick 2001: 40.
For an incisive discussion of these developments, see Wickham 2005: 15568, 20311
and T. S. Brown 1984: 137. Not all regions were affected in identical ways, of course.
See Marazzi 1998: 12632; Arcuri 2009; and Deliyannis 2010.
See Chapter 1.
Daley 1993.
Gaudemet 1958: 37882.


authoritative.124 They also technically governed a more expansive juris-

diction than other bishops in the West.125 Until quite recently, scholars
uniformly celebrated late antique popes both as the chief engineers of
Romes physical transformation into a Christian city and as its sole sur-
viving administrators, diplomats, and protectors.126 Historians underlined
the growing institutional independence of the papacy and the sophis-
tication of its emerging administrative machinery built by exceptional
bishops like Gelasius, one of the makers of the medieval papacy.127
New work has questioned many of these claims, however. Romes
late antique popes were by no means the unequivocal leaders of a uni-
fied Western Christendom.128 As recent scholarship has shown, churches
and clerics selectively requested and accepted Romes opinions, asserting
them as definitive when they supported their own position, rejecting
them out of hand when they conflicted.129 Moreover, even the bishops
expanding role in Romes civic governance has been reconsidered. Leos
and Gregorys respective diplomatic gestures to the barbarians have been
reassessed as one-off endeavors that more directly involved local nobles
and officials.130 Gelasius and subsequent Roman bishops did not appro-
priate the annona distributions regularly.131 Romes physical Christian-
ization was also a slow and uneven process that is irreducible to any
coordinated papal plan stretching across centuries. Even its bureau-
cracy, once commonly characterized as the papal chancellery, has been
Pietri 1976: 15371627 and Maccarrone 1991. On the decretals, a term that the
Roman church borrowed from imperial administrative practice and used to denote
its responsa, see McShane 1979: 32541 and Jasper and Furhmann 2001: 787.
Rome functioned as a court of appeals in ecclesiastical disciplinary cases and had a
special relationship to the metropolitan sees of Arles and Thessalonica. Gaudemet
1958: 397407.
Llewellyn 1971: 8384; Ullmann 1972: 5758; Pietri 1976; Durliat 1990: 13437;
Krautheimer 1999; and Guidobaldi 1998 and 2000; Green 2008; and Wessel 2008.
Poole 1915: 2 and Llewellyn 1971: 38. The anachronistic characterization of Romes
ecclesiastical administration as a machine appears even in judicious studies: cf.
Markus 1997: 123. See also Wessel 2008: 127 on Leo and an emergent papal hege-
Brown 2003: 317.
Ralph Mathisens analysis of Romes relationship to southern Gallic ecclesiastics
during the fifth century exposes this precise dynamic. See Mathisen 1989: 4468. A
new study has also revised traditional interpretations of Romes diplomatic relations
with Constantinople. See Demacopoulos 2009.
Markus 1990: 126 and 1997: 99107.
On Roman bishops and the annona, see Delogu 1993: 1213 and 2001 on the ad-hoc
participation of Roman bishops in civic administration. See also Liebeschuetz 2001:

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

downgraded to a far less sophisticated, relatively unorganized, ad-hoc

administration.132 Indeed, in making claims about Roman exceptional-
ism, we must tread with care, because the late antique Roman church had
little in common with its medieval counterpart.133 So little, in fact, that
this book henceforth refrains from using papacy, pope, or cognates
thereof, opting instead for the generic but less loaded, Roman church
and Roman bishop.134
Nevertheless, Rome was different from other sees. The present study
joins a growing discussion that emphasizes the relative weakness of its bish-
ops and the extraordinary obstacles that they encountered in attempting
to govern the Roman church.135 These limitations are discussed passim,
but let us outline two of the most significant challenges that Roman
bishops confronted. First, until 483, with the election of Felix III, no
Roman bishop hailed from the aristocracy. While a more middling social
background was not unusual for late ancient bishops, it differentiated
many Roman prelates from those in Gaul, where senators and provincial
aristocrats regularly joined the ranks of the church.136 More significantly,
it also differentiated Romes bishops from the Italian householders who
dominated local politics and resources. Despite losing its status as a cap-
ital in the late third century, Rome remained a center of high culture
and elite society, and was the largest city in the West.137 Traditional
aristocratic values and habits still pervaded, and members of senato-
rial families routinely occupied high posts in the urban and provincial

Sotinel 1998: 105126 and Toubert 2001: 617.
For a critique of the teleological assumptions built into many studies of the late
antique Roman church, see Costambeys 2000. Richards 1979: 15 voiced similar
concerns. Both debunk the once dominant thesis of Ullmann (1955 and 1972), who
contended that late antique popes collectively laid the ideological and institutional
foundations of the medieval papacy.
Of course, papatum, pontifex, and papa are attested in late antiquity. Nevertheless,
pope was not the exclusive title of Roman bishops until the later Middle Ages.
Thus Moorhead 1985 shows both the increasing use of papa as a title for the Roman
bishop during the sixth century and its continued use by non-Roman bishops well
into the ninth.
See, for example, Sotinel 1998; Delogu 2001; Rebillard 2003 (which is heavily based
on Roman evidence); Lizzi Testa 2004; and the essays in Cooper and Hillner 2007.
Uhalde 2007 and Bowes 2008: 6575 show that Roman prelates were not the only
bishops to encounter challenges.
Sotinel 1997: 196. More generally on the social backgrounds of bishops, who typically
came from the decurionate, see Gilliard 1966 and 1984; and Rapp 2005: 18399.
Matthews 1975; Gillett 2001; and Humphries 2007.


administrations, at least until the Gothic War. In other words, the status
gap between Roman bishops and the regions elite householders was
critical.138 Among other things, this gap laid the foundation for a long-
term relationship of dependence, wherein Roman bishops consistently
looked to lay magnates and officials for assistance in virtually every con-
ceivable facet of ecclesiastical governance. They provided political sup-
port during periods of controversy and schism, financial aid for building
and repairing Roman churches, and administrative help in managing the
churchs estates and protecting its officials.139
Second, Romes ecclesiastical structure was unusual and especially
unwieldy. In the suburbicarian provinces of Italy there were no metro-
politans, only bishops, making the Roman prelate the regions highest-
ranking church official. He was responsible for the consecration and
conduct of all suburbicarian bishops and their dioceses.140 These arrange-
ments undoubtedly brought much prestige to the Roman church, but
they also made its jurisdictional remit extraordinarily large in terms of the
numbers of sees technically under its tutelage. By ca. 500, the relatively
compact Italia suburbicaria encompassed nearly 200 bishoprics, with the
number dropping to about 140 at the end of the sixth century.141 We
can compare these figures to the paltry fifty-three sees in northern Italy
subject to the late antique bishop of Milan and to the mere fourteen
bishoprics that were subordinate to the prelate of Ravenna.142 Each of
these suburbicarian dioceses came with a bishop as well as several priests,
deacons, and numerous lower clergy who were all technically under
Romes jurisdiction. The Roman bishop thus likely oversaw hundreds,
if not thousands, of Italian clerics. Within the city of Rome, the bishop
governed 130 urban and suburban churches, oratories, and monasteries
(and the number increased to 168 in the seventh century).143 Here we
have better quantitative estimates of clerical personnel: the intramural
Roman churches were served by approximately seventy priests, seven
It was also less pronounced elsewhere in the empire. See Lizzi Testa 2001 and 2009:
Lizzi Testa 2004: 93170 and Pietri 1978 and 1981.
The arrangement dates to the pre-Diocletianic period, when there were no Italian
provinces. Jones 1964: 884.
Gaudemet 1958: 325, citing Lanzoni 1927: 1059.
Gaudemet 1958: 325 and Deliyannis 2010: 84. In terms of diocesan density, subur-
bicarian Italy looked more like Africa, although with an entirely different ecclesiastical
Guidobaldi 1998: 44.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

deacons, seven subdeacons, plus an undocumented number of lower

clergy, notaries, and other officials whose clerical status is uncertain.144
Furthermore, late antique Rome was a city of cathedrals and not a
cathedral city. The Lateran, whose association with the bishops residence
and administration cannot be securely documented before the early sixth
century, was by no means an insignificant basilica, but there were other
churches that rivaled its size and splendor. Many of these were either
more centrally located within the city (e.g., St. Maria Maggiore) or
situated among the martyr shrines outside its walls (e.g., St. Peters).
Finally, the Roman church owned and managed an expanding portfolio
of properties, some located as close as the Via Portuensis, others as
distantly as Gaul, Dalmatia, Sicily, and (until the mid-fifth century) North
Africa, Egypt, Asia, and the Euphrates River.145 Gods House at Rome
was no humble domus.
Although the size of the Roman church as an institution should not
be overemphasized (it was tiny compared with the late Roman impe-
rial bureaucracy), it nevertheless posed obstacles to good and effective
episcopal government.146 It is hardly surprising that so much scholarship
on the late antique Roman church has focused on the problem of unity
and on the various techniques that its bishops used to try to consoli-
date these disparate churches, clerics, and congregants into a centralized
institution.147 To a certain extent, the present study joins this conver-
sation. However, unlike most previous work it does not conclude that
Roman bishops enjoyed unmitigated success in achieving this goal or that
unity was their singular aim in adopting household management as a
discourse of government. Their achievements were limited to specific
domains of domestic life and to particular types of household practices.

Sources and Structure of th e Book

To write the history of households and bishops in late antique Italy,
one must engage with a range of sources, some of which are familiar
to readers, others perhaps less well-known outside of specialist circles.

Saxer 2001: 493632 and Pietri 1986: 109122. According to a letter of Cornelius
preserved by Eusebius (HE 6.42), the third-century Roman church had over 140
See Chapter 3.
Lizzi Testa 2004: 102 emphasizes that even by the sixth century, Roman bishops did
not fully control their local clergy.
Pietri 1961 and 1976; Geertman 19861987; Guidobaldi 1998; and S`aghy 2000.


For example, most will recognize at least some of the episcopal cor-
respondence discussed in these pages, especially those letters known as
decretals.148 These are the Roman bishops official responses to queries
posed by other clergy on weighty matters of doctrine and church disci-
pline. Roman bishops also wrote other sorts of letters, such as occasional
responses to individual householders (or more frequently, to their agents)
and the more programmatic circular epistles addressed to bishops in mul-
tiple Italian cities. While not overflowing with material on domestic
life, the correspondence of Romes bishops offers insight not only into
episcopal perspectives on household matters but also into the views of
the householders whose concerns are described in the letters. They are
not problem-free sources, however. First, their distribution across time is
uneven. Most of the letters examined in this study were written between
441 and 604, that is, between the tenures of Leo and Gregory, with
Gregorys correspondence outnumbering all others.149 While reliance
on Gregorys letters is unavoidable (especially because they offer some of
the most detailed evidence for bishops and household management), it
can be balanced by careful attention to the rich if less numerous epistles
of other bishops, such as Gelasius (492496) and Pelagius I (556561).150
Second, in most cases, the extant letters were selectively preserved and
thus demand especially careful contextualization. Because many appear
in medieval corpora of canon law, scholars sometimes misperceive their
original meaning, erroneously interpreting the letters as prescriptive,
statutory statements rather than as reactions to specific cases brought
before the bishops.151 We therefore must separate the medieval reception
of Romes episcopal correspondence from its late ancient production and

There is as yet no single comprehensive modern critical edition of Romes late
antique episcopal correspondence. Consequently, scholars must rely on numerous
different editions for the letters of individual bishops, many of which are listed in the
bibliography. In the notes, I generally identify the specific editions only in the case
of Gelasius, for whom three different collections are used.
Over 850 of Gregorys letters are extant, although this represents a fraction of the
registers original size. See Markus 1997: 15.
The same problem obtains for the public sermons. Here we encounter an even more
limited source base: Leos ninety-seven sermons and Gregorys forty-four Gospel
homilies. A small number of liturgical prayers have been attributed to Gelasius, but
his authorship is debated. Consequently, I have not considered these texts.
Cf. Kery 1999; Jasper and Fuhrmann 2001; and Wessel 2008: 39.
Recent work on the contents, production, and reception of the Theodosian Code
offers helpful insights. Like the individual laws of the CT, the popes letters were

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Readers might be less familiar with many of the anonymous sources

examined in this study. The Liber Pontificalis presents a deceptively simple
series of short biographies of Roman bishops starting with the apostle
Peter (designated as Romes first bishop). While much remains uncertain
(including when the earliest lives were first written), most of the vitae
appear to have been composed in the late fifth century and then redacted
and compiled (with new vitae added) between 530 and 546.153 T. F. X.
Noble proposed that the sixth-century editors of the Liber Pontificalis
were low-level clergy with access to the churchs archives.154 Addition-
ally, other Roman writers penned episcopal biographies, some of which
convey alternative interpretations of the bishops. One of these vitae,
known to scholars as the Laurentian Fragment, presents a highly crit-
ical account of Symmachus episcopate (498514) and his role in the
Laurentian schism (498506/7), a protracted contest for the bishopric
between Symmachus and the archipresbyter Laurentius that is the subject of
Chapter 6.
Two other anonymous sources, the so-called Symmachan Forgeries
and the gesta martyrum, are also used extensively in this study. Generally
speaking, these are narrative texts depicting real Roman bishops engaged
in fictionalized scenarios (many of which involve households) that pur-
port to be authentic historical events. The Symmachan Forgeries are
eleven documents that claim to date to the fourth and fifth centuries, but
they were almost certainly written during the Laurentian schism.155 The
gesta martyrum are a corpus of putatively eyewitness accounts of the lives
and deaths of Roman martyrs mostly from the pre-Constantinian era.
However, internal evidence suggests that the gesta were actually written

originally created as technical responses to specific cases, not as general statutes. See
Harries 2011 and Humfress 2011.
LP (ed. Duchesne 18861892, reprinted in 1955). Duchesne believed that the version
of the LP extant (and the one he edited) is a re-elaboration of a lost earlier edition
that was completed in ca. 530. He dated the compilation of this second edition to
sometime between 530 and 546, and argued that the project was again abandoned
thereafter until ca. 640. There are, however, other theories. Mommsen 1898 produced
his own edition and argued that both editions were compiled in the seventh century.
More recently, Geertman (2003) proposed that the extant edition of the LP is in fact
the first and not a second edition, as both Duchesne and Mommsen held. Geertman
holds that this first edition was produced in ca. 535 and continued forty years later.
Noble 1985 and Davis 1989: iv, who on the basis of the texts Latinity, suggest that
the authors were relatively junior officials . . . in the papal bureaucracy. For a more
literary-minded analysis of the compilers and their project, see Deliyannis 1997.
The more recent and best edition of the Symmachan Forgeries is Wirbelauer 1993.


during the fifth and sixth centuries.156 In short, both sets of anonymous
texts pretend to be something that they are not: accurate, contemporary
accounts of events in local Roman history. Whether these events actually
occurred is a legitimate question (in most cases I begin with the assump-
tion that they did not), but their historicity in this respect is not our
main concern. Our goal is to explore how these historical inventions (or
perhaps re-creations) illuminate the ideological expectations and cultural
experiences of their fifth- and sixth-century authors and audiences.
The following discussion of households and bishops unfolds in seven
chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 focus respectively on late Roman households
and household management. Chapter 1 presents a select history of the
private aristocratic domus in Italy from the late fourth to the early seventh
century. This chapter both reviews important features of domestic life
and tracks some changes with regard to the late Roman economy, the
organization of labor in large households, the social identity of elites,
and the nature and force of the paterfamilias personal authority within
the home. It is by no means a comprehensive or systematic study.157
The second chapter describes the emergence of a new model of house-
hold management, one that was oriented around stewardship instead of
ownership. Understanding this new iteration of oikonomia as a broader
cultural phenomenon is a crucial stage in the argument, because when
bishops presented themselves as stewards they borrowed a discourse that
was already associated with elite domesticity.
Chapter 3 turns to the figure of the Roman bishop and to his refor-
mulation of estate management as an episcopal discourse of authority.
The chapter explores the paradox sketched earlier in greater detail: the
emergence of ideologically and socially conflicting images of the Roman
bishop as both a private householder and the chief steward of the domus
dei. The discussion combines an analysis of theoretical statements on

Dufourcq 19101913 remains the only comprehensive study of the gesta martyrum.
I have relied primarily on the Bollandist editions published in the Acta Sanctorum
(AASS), although in a few cases critical editions are available and have been used.
Such a study is needed. Nathan 2000 is a good survey, although it takes Christianity as
the sole agent of change and has little to say about the domestic economy. Studies of
late Roman family law and the domestic sphere, such as Evans Grubbs 1995 and Arjava
1996, emphasize nonreligious influences on family dynamics, but they are ultimately
books about legal developments. More recently, Cooper 2007 pays attention to
Roman law, the economy, ethics, religion, and political structures; however, it is not
a systematic history of the late Roman household in the West and it draws primarily
on patristic sources.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Roman estate management and episcopal authority with an examina-

tion of the actual episcopal household in Rome. It also looks closely at
the bishops routine administrative practices, which identified him with
other elite householders, including the emperor. Having established the
Roman bishop as a householder-steward, the argument turns to his
exercise of oikonomia within the context of lay (Chapter 4) and clerical
(Chapter 5) households. These two chapters explore how Roman bish-
ops presented themselves as experts on emerging problems of domestic
life that affected the households of other men.
The final two chapters focus on the dynamics of the relationship
between estate management and episcopal authority. They examine this
relationship both as a source of great conflict and contention (Chapter 6)
and as the ideological foundation of a close bond linking householders
and bishops (Chapter 7). Chapter 6 explores a larger theme in Romes
episcopal history through a single ecclesiastical crisis, the Laurentian
schism (498506/7). In addition to offering a new interpretation of the
schism as a debate over estate management and episcopal authority, the
chapter underscores the tensions that sometimes erupted between bish-
ops and householders when, for example, the former attempted to exert
their influence over the latter. Chapter 7 presents alternative ways of
seeing the relationship between households and bishops. It explores a
series of literary representations in the gesta martyrum of fictional house-
holds and householders, whose imagined domestic interactions with
bishops reveal the possibilities for a more productive and pious relation-
ship. Although the gesta emphatically underline the agency of the male
aristocratic householder in the determination of his domus religious life,
they also delineate a model of trust that is grounded in acts of competi-
tive cooperation, whereby bishops and householders both gain from their
interactions while remaining in a state of tension. These stories of fabled
bishops and fictional Roman domini illuminate one important cultural
process through which bishops came to achieve a durable but delimited
presence in the domestic sphere.

Chapter 1

Th e Late Roman H ouseh old

in Italy

he domestic sphere was central to ancient conceptions of

Tpower and authority. Classical thinkers stressed the inextricable con-

nections between a mans ability to conduct his household affairs and

his capacities as a public leader. In Tacitus words, keeping a household
ordered and its members well behaved was a task often found as difficult
as the governing of a province.2 Householders were expected to master
four principal domains of estate management: property administration,
the social ordering of dependents, their family members ethical instruc-
tion and oversight, and the ritual cultivation of the gods. Those who
succeeded were lauded by their peers and revered by their subordinates;
those who failed were ridiculed in letters between friends, critiqued in
moral treatises, and accused of nefarious crimes in public courts. The
aristocratic household was simply too central an institution in Roman
society to leave unexamined.
As a system of ideas and practices that defined domestic and civic
expertise, household management was a pervasive and enduring dis-
course. Management of ones household remained part of an imperial
language of power and governed thinking about elite authority well into
the sixth century. According to Ammianus Marcellinus, Julian (361363)
exercised good oikonomia at a politically sensitive moment during the
initial days of his reign. Requiring a legitimacy boost following Con-
stantius death, Julian showcased his moral rectitude by reordering the
imperial palace at Constantinople. He rid the court of excessive luxu-
ries and ejected corrupt staff, from the eunuch praepositus sacri cubiculi

See the Introduction to this book.
Tacitus, Agricola 19.2.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

down to the barbers and cooks.3 Elsewhere, Ammianus presented sting-

ing critiques of the Roman senatorial aristocracy that foregrounded their
failures in the realm of estate management. He caricatured their dinner
parties as immoderate, their litters as too laden with gold, their reading
choices as banal, their treatment of clients as fickle, their clients as greedy
and obsequious, and their control over household slaves as extreme.4 He
also belittled their oversight of land and claimed that Romes noblemen
greatly exaggerated their wealth.5
More than a century later, Cassiodorus, a Christian senator and official
in Theodorics court, invoked oikonomia in a letter written in the kings
name to one of Romes most eminent aristocrats, Q. Aurelius Mem-
mius Symmachus.6 Theodoric hoped to cajole Symmachus into paying
for some costly public repairs, and Cassiodorus aimed to persuade the
senator by emphasizing his homes beauty and order. Since you have
taken such care for private building as to create public works of a sort
in your own dwelling, he wrote, it is right that you be known as he
who maintains Rome in its wonders, which you have embellished by the
beauty of your houses . . . Your buildings proclaim your character.7 Else-
where, Cassiodorus outlined the political aptitude of a newly appointed
patricius by drawing attention to his widowed mothers excellence in
administering his childhood home.8
Household management also inspired at least one late antique agro-
nomical treatise: Palladius Opus agriculturae. Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus
Palladius was likely a Gallo-Romano aristocrat who lived in Italy and
wrote in the fifth century, perhaps between 460 and 480.9 Although he
worked in an established tradition (he was certainly familiar with Col-
umella), Palladius produced a unique description of the seasonal workings
of an Italian praetorium during the second half of the fifth century.
Household management, however, was not a static discourse. In late
antiquity, new permutations emerged, presenting alternative paradigms

Amm. Marc., 22.4. Cf. 30.9.2, where Ammianus describes Valentinians double culti-
vation of pudicitia at home and in public.
Amm. Marc., 14.6; 27.11.16; and 28.4.1127.
Amm. Marc., 14.6.10.
Cassiodorus, Var. 4.51. For Symmachus, see PLRE 2: 104446 (Symmachus 9).
Cassiodorus, Var. 4.51.1 (CC 96: 177): Cum privatis fabricis ita studeris, ut in laribus
propriis quaedam moenia fecisse videaris, dignum est, ut Romam, quam domuum
pulchritudine decorasti, in suis miraculis continere noscaris . . . mores tuos fabricae
loquuntur . . . (Trans. adapted from Barnish 1992: 79).
Cassiodorus, Var. 3.6.6.
On the texts author and date, see Martin 1976: viixx and Vera 1999.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

of domestic administration. This chapter introduces the institution of the

aristocratic domus in late ancient Italy, paying particular attention to its
concrete practices and structures. It examines changes in land manage-
ment, the relations of power that defined the domestic community, the
parameters of domestic authority, and the habits of religious life within
the domus. Regarding the last development, this chapter considers the
potential influence of emergent Christian values on elite domestic reli-
gious practice. Italian elites were deeply conservative when it came to
their cultural and social habits. Recent studies have demonstrated that
they embraced ideals like ascetic renunciation at a relatively late moment
(largely after 400) and only after grafting them onto preexisting norms.10
These more empirical developments serve as a foundation for (and some-
times as a counterpoint to) assessing specific ideological changes in the
following chapter, namely the emergence of stewardship as an alternative
model of oikonomia.


Late Romans regarded estate management as an empirical discipline
partly focused on the administration of property. For centuries, the own-
ership of farms, urban housing, and other forms of real estate constituted
the basis of wealth and social standing. Property continued to orient
household management in late antiquity, despite the fact that dominium
(absolute legal ownership) became largely indistinguishable in western
property law from possessio, a concept originally denoting actual pos-
session irrespective of legal right.11 Regardless of whether one legally
owned the land or simply controlled it, property management, which
involved everything from rent collection and agronomy to investment
speculation and inheritance strategizing, was the single most important
domestic practice for elite Romans. Landholding remained significant
during the fifth and sixth centuries even when political turmoil and
the gradual erosion of imperial infrastructures generated new habits and
Let us begin with a brief sketch of land management in Italy from
ca. 350 to 450. During this time, the most elite Roman householders
Bartlett 2001 and Cooper 2007b.
Levy 1951: 1934, 6163. Not every form of tenure implied ownership, however.
Although long-term leases (emphyteusis or ius privatum), especially those for imperial
estates, almost always implied possession, short-term leases (conductio-locutio) did not.
See Levy 1951: 4449.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

owned properties scattered all over the empire. A moderately wealthy

senator like Q. Aurelius Symmachus (365402) had estates in the sub-
urbs of Rome, Lazio, Campania, Samnium, Apulia, Lucania, Sicily, and
the North African province of Mauritania Caesarea.12 An even wealth-
ier household, like that of Melania and Valerius Pinianus, had a simi-
lar portfolio, with additional holdings in Spain, Gaul, and Greece, and
the fourth-century senator Petronius Probus reputedly owned land in
almost every part of the empire.13 Some of these agricultural estates were
organized around sumptuous villa complexes like the Villa Romana del
Casale (Piazza Armerina) in Sicily and San Giovanni di Ruoti in Basil-
icata. These country houses were elaborately decorated with mosaics
and included apsidal reception spaces and private baths.14 The most elite
householders also typically owned urban real estate, ranging from hilltop
mansions in Rome to baths, insulae, and more modest dwellings.15
The scattered, variegated nature of their holdings is reflected in book-
keeping practices. Late Roman householders grouped their properties
into various administrative units, namely, the patrimonium or res, the
massa, and the fundus. These terms denoted holdings of differing sizes,
not necessarily territorially contiguous, that were owned by a single pater-
familias in a particular region.16 Although some individual holdings were
no larger than a few acres, others were vast, even encompassing small
villages whose residents worked on the landlords estates.17 According to
her biographer, Melania owned a mega-estate near Rome that included
a villa and 62 hamlets (villulae), each supposedly inhabited by 400 agri-
cultural workers (servi agricultures).18 The elite late antique household was
therefore not a single proprietary unit but a portfolio of homes, farms,
urban properties, and even small villages.

Vera 1986: 23438.
Gerontius, Vita sanctae Melaniae iunioris 11, 19 (Greek); Hist. Laus. 61; and Amm.
Marc., 27.11.1.
Carandini, Ricci, and De Vos 1982, and Small and Buck 1994.
On elite urban housing in Rome, see Guidobaldi 1986 and 1999. Symmachus owned
at least two houses in Rome, one on the Caelian Hill (thought to be his principal
residence) and a second in Trastevere. Symmachus, Epp. 3.12, 3.14, and 7.1819 cited
in Vera 1986: 234. See also Hillner 2004: 191226.
Vera 1999a: 9911025 and Jones 1964: 78587.
Jones 1964: 78889.
Gerontius, Vita S. Melaniae iunoris 18 (Latin). These figures, if correct, compute
to more than 24,000 slaves on her Rome-based holdings alone, a suspiciously high
number even for someone of Melanias stature. The Hist. Laus. 61 records a more
modest 8,000 slaves for her Roman properties.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

Transregional property holding on this scale generated staggering

incomes for the owners. Olympiodorus of Thebes, who visited Rome
just after Alarics sack of the city in 410, claimed that a modest aristocrat
collected total annual revenues from his land (in cash and kind) of 1,300
pounds of gold; a moderately wealthy senators annual income was 2,000
pounds of gold; and an extremely rich householder might make approx-
imately 5,300 pounds a year.19 This income probably reflects rental fees,
although late Roman aristocratic householders practiced two different
forms of land management.20 Householders might directly employ stew-
ards to oversee farming, labor, and production on individual estates: here,
the profits went straight to the dominus pockets. Alternatively, house-
holders could lease individual estates to renters (conductores) on a long- or
short-term basis and derive income through rents and tax collecting.21
In the latter, indirect, type, a percentage of the payments (perhaps up to
one-third) were often rendered in kind.22 As landlords, therefore, Roman
domini still had interest in the productivity of their leased estates. Most
historians of the late Roman economy maintain that the second form
of property management (i.e., leasing) was the more common in Italy.23
Recent work, however, suggests that landowners increasingly combined
direct and indirect management, perhaps even on the same estate.24
Although late Roman householders governed through agents and
intermediaries (see below), they were not idle absentee landlords. If
Symmachus letters are any indication, an elite householder visited cer-
tain rural estates with some frequency, especially those located relatively
close to Rome.25 Ancient commentators on estate management often
emphasized the importance of the householders constant surveillance of
Olympiodorus, Fr. 41.2.
Vera 1983: 48991; Sarris 2004: 30607; and Wickham 2005: 162. Alternatively, Banaji
(2009: 68, n. 24) argues that Olympiodorus figures refer to total returns, and not only
to rents.
Jones 1964: 78892; Vera 1983: 489533; and Whittaker and Garnsey 1998: 30507.
Olympiodorus, Frg. 41.2, discussed in Vera 1983: 48991.
For indirect management as the norm, see Vera 1983 and 1999: 255; Wickham
2005: 25980; and Giardina 2008: 75253. Alternatively, Banaji 2009 argues for the
continuity of slave labor (in practice if not in law) on directly managed estates in the
late Roman and early medieval West. Whittaker and Garnsey (1998: 306) allow for the
existence of directly managed estates using slaves or bonded tenant farmers (coloni).
On the so-called bipartite estate, see Sarris 2004: 30407 and Wickham 2005: 263,
27280. These studies challenge the view that the bipartite manor was an early
medieval development.
Vera 1986: 260. Whittaker and Garnsey 1998: 30103 and Wickham 2005: 26465
and 27072 even argue for intensified control by late Roman landlords.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

his estates, even if this service were conducted by proxies. As Pliny the
Elder put it, Since husbandry depends upon labor, this is the reason
for the saying of our forefathers that on a farm the best fertilizer is the
masters eye.26 Palladius would have heartily agreed with Plinys senti-
ment. His Opus agriculturae argued that a good landlord kept a watchful
eye on his tenants and investments.27 A landlord did not always con-
duct surveillance personally, however. Instead, he communicated orders
and decisions through notaries and agents, who used Italys road systems
and shipping lanes to deliver information, transport goods, and collect
revenues.28 The householders management of a transregional portfolio
required safe passage and extensive mobility. Recent work also suggests
that Italian agribusiness (as in Egypt, Gaul, and Spain) was closely tied to
the tax system and the provisioning of the imperial army (the annona).29
Consequently, many traditional practices of elite property management
necessitated a stable, functioning state.30
When Italys imperial governing structures began to erode during the
later fifth and sixth centuries, certain aspects of private land adminis-
tration therefore changed. From ca. 450, property management in Italy
began to lose its transregional dynamics and gradually became a more
localized practice.31 The wealthiest landlords continued to own multiple
properties, but these were now concentrated geographically around fewer
larger farms that were increasingly self-sufficient.32 Barbarian invasions
temporarily disrupted the interregional networks on which household-
ers relied, whereas the rise of barbarian kingdoms reduced the geo-
graphical scope of private landholdings. North Africa fell to the Van-
dals in 439, cutting off those properties from their owners. Sicily was
under Vandal control from 440 until 488, when it was reconquered by
Odoacer, the new barbarian king of Italy. Barbarian control of the Italian

Pliny, HN 18.8.
Wickham 2005: 268.
Vera 1986: 256 and Sarris 2009: 4.
Wickham 2005: 163; Bowes 2010: 8599; and Costambeys 2009 for similar patterns
in early medieval Italy.
Wickham 2005: 16364.
Wickham 2005: 20411 and Costambeys 2009.
Sfameni 2004: 366 and Whittaker and Garnsey 1998: 301 posit falling numbers of large
estates and landowners. Noye 2007: 18691 contrasts the fate of small and medium-
sized farms (which largely disappear) with larger ones that absorb new populations
and continue to function. Nevertheless, the shift was gradual. Palladius assumed that
domini possessed land in several regions and appears to have owned property outside
of Rome and in Sardinia. See Vera 1999: 284.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

peninsula from 476 to 535 produced some of the most significant shifts in
the administration of private land. The Scirian Odoacer (476492) and
his Ostrogothic successors, the Amals (492536), preserved many late
Roman political and fiscal structures, enabling some elite Roman house-
holders to continue their traditional practices of land ownership and
management.33 However, the permanent presence of barbarians in Italy
did adversely affect the portfolios of private domini. Settlement agree-
ments for the Ostrogoths included the expropriation of private land (up
to one-third from any given landowner) and the allocation of shares to
barbarian federates and the kings favored officials.34 Moreover, during
the Gothic War, Totila gave coloni land formerly owned by their landlords
and siphoned rents from owners to the royal fisc.35 Of course, not all elite
householders lost their estates, and some might have benefited from the
situation. A few probably reaped financial advantages from property loss
if that loss meant a decrease in tax payments.36
Justinians conquest of Italy briefly raised the possibility that a reconsti-
tuted imperial government might restore the security and fiscal structures
that had enabled earlier aristocratic householders to administer widely
scattered property with relative ease. Although his Pragmatic Sanc-
tion of 554 called for new measures intended to support the ailing
Roman aristocracy, Justinian ultimately failed to reverse the economic
trends described here.37 In fact, the Lombard invasions of 568569 trans-
formed trends toward regional holding into the status quo. While it is
highly unlikely that the Lombards slaughtered every senatorial house-
holder whom they encountered (as Paul the Deacon famously claimed),
their establishment of several independent kingdoms within the penin-
sula destroyed any remaining political unity in Italy.38 Consequently, by
Cracco Ruggini 1995: 34959; Moorhead 1992: 3265; and especially Barnish 1986:
Like most scholars, I interpret the thirds as portions of private estates taken from
Roman owners and redistributed as shares to the barbarians. See Barnish 1986 contra
Goffart 1980.
Cracco Ruggini 1995: 33738 citing Procopius, Gothic War 3.6.57, 3.13.1.
Barnish 1986: 177. Land also came onto the market as a result of instability, offering
owners opportunities to expand their holdings. Cf. Maximus of Turin, Serm. 18.3.
Among other measures, Justinian reversed Totilas policy of diverting rents paid to
Roman landowners and returned properties that were illegally handed over to coloni.
See Jones 1964: 291.
Tax collection, however, continued in areas of the peninsula remaining under Byzan-
tine control post-554, and there is some evidence that the Lombards collected taxes.
Nevertheless, as Wickham notes (2005: 115), Italys sixth-century wars seriously
undermined the peninsulas politico-economic coherence.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the late sixth century most householders managed fewer (but often large)
holdings dispersed within limited areas, sometimes even within a single
municipality.39 In fact, the Roman church was among the few landown-
ers to maintain transregional portfolios.40
In conjunction with the geographical contraction of property hold-
ings, there was a gradual polarization of the landowning classes. Remain-
ing wealth was funneled into the hands of local possessores.41 Some parts
of Italy were certainly more economically robust than others during this
period of political disintegration.42 The southern regions and Sicily fared
particularly well during the sixth century, as the continued occupation
and agricultural output of large villa complexes such as San Giovanni in
Ruoti show.43 In fact, the archaeology of agrarian settlements in south-
ern Italy demonstrates that a reduction in the number of villas and the
rise of more self-sufficient farms cannot be equated with economic cri-
sis, at least on the local level.44 Overall, however, material evidence,
such as the abandonment and/or subdivision of urban housing and villas,
and changes in ceramics distribution, suggests that the entire peninsula
experienced varying degrees of material decline and a more uneven
distribution of remaining resources.45 There was less wealth, writes
Federico Marazzi, but that which existed had few reasons or possibil-
ities by which to circulate in Italy outside the circuit controlled by the
potentes, who were at this time able to accumulate a higher percentage of
the overall available wealth.46
Italian landowners social identity was also in flux during the fifth
and sixth centuries. As T. S. Brown has shown, Justinians reestab-
lishment of imperial rule over (parts of ) Italy created the conditions
for the rise of a militarized elite in the early seventh century, whose
landownership tipped the scales further away from the more traditional
model of Roman aristocracy and toward a new paradigm of local landed

Wickham 2002: 122 and 2005: 163. There were exceptions. Cf. Cethegus, who had
lived in Rome but later retired to Sicilian property in the 550s (PLRE 2: 28182)
and Rusticiana (PLRE 3: 110102), who lived in Constantinople but owned estates
in Sicily in the late sixth century.
Chapter 3.
Wickham 2005: 16268 and 20406; Marazzi 1998a: 12632; and Whittaker and
Garnsey 1998: 299302.
Marazzi 1998; Noye 2007; and Arcuri 2009: 14.
Wickham 2005: 20405; Noye 2007; and Arcuri 2009.
Arcuri 2009: 3367 synthesizes recent research.
Wickham 2005: 20405 with bibliography and Paroli 2001 for the city of Rome.
Marazzi 1998: 132.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

power.47 The emergence of a militarized landowning elite was one stage

in a more deeply rooted development that had an impact on estate man-
agement: the erosion of traditional markers of aristocratic group identity
and the emergence of new indexes. For centuries, elite Romans had
claimed membership in one of two groups, the senatorial or equestrian
aristocracies. Aristocratic affiliation, which had been partly based on
property ownership, was also predicated on birth, office holding, and the
possession of cultural knowledge (paideia).48 During the later fifth and
sixth centuries, some of these markers became increasingly insignificant
for establishing elite identity in Italy. Although ancestry and the display of
cultural capital continued to play some role in aristocratic self-definition
through the end of the sixth century, senatorial status became tied to
public office holding on an unprecedented level.49 Diocletians admin-
istrative reforms created a larger, more centralized civil administration,
whereas Constantines establishment of a second senate in Constantino-
ple allowed hundreds of eastern curiales to achieve a coveted place in the
empires highest social order.50 By the late fourth century, the equestrian
stratum had disappeared, and the expanded senatorial ordo was divided
into three ranks, with only the lowest grade (the clarissimate) inheritable.
By the middle of the fifth century, membership in the senate was lim-
ited to illustres, men who achieved the highest possible grade within the
senatorial ordo, which was now attainable solely through office holding.51
These political developments did not sound the death knell for the
senatorial elite in Italy, however. As John Matthews study of West-
ern aristocracies and the courts of the Valentinian emperors shows,
many traditional senatorial households took advantage of the new system
and came to exert unprecedented power over the political and cultural
resources of Rome and Italy.52 Whether this situation constituted a pri-
vate takeover of western government has been questioned, but it did
encourage extraordinary acts of elite display in Rome.53 Some early
fifth-century Roman senators, for example, reorganized the statuary of
preexisting fora to showcase their personal honor and even created new
ones, which they embellished with images and inscriptions honoring

T. S. Brown 1984: 54554, 61108.
See Garnsey and Saller 1987: 11218.
On ancestry, see T. S. Brown 1984: 23, n. 5 and 24, n. 6.
Jones 1964: 52730 and Heather 1998: 18889.
Jones 1964: 52930 and Giglio 1990: 2946.
Matthews 1975.
Wormald 1976: 21626, a review of Matthews 1975.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

their family members.54 Even after 450, numerous Italian senatorial fam-
ilies (e.g., the Anicii, the Petronii, the Rufii, and the Decii) successfully
obtained top civilian administrative posts and hence the highest senato-
rial honors, generation after generation.55 Inscriptions on the seats of the
Colosseum demonstrate the self-confidence of these later Italian elites,
showing a local aristocracy obsessed with traditions of protocol, rank,
and order.56 Being a senatorial aristocrat still had considerable political
import and cultural meaning.
Numerous novi homines now sat among these blue-blooded senators,
however.57 These were men without an aristocratic name or reputation
for paideia but who had achieved status and wealth through holding
office and owning land. Shifts in landholding patterns meant that a range
of newcomers (e.g., Ostrogothic soldiers and their families, Lombard
dukes, previously undistinguished Roman landowners who served their
barbarian kings well) became the owners of valuable property in a period
when wealth was more unevenly distributed than ever before. Conse-
quently, new nomenclatures of nobility and rank emerged in Italy. When
Theodoric made demands on cities other than Rome, he addressed
his correspondence to three tiers of notables: the honorati, persons with
claim to higher senatorial ranks; the possessores, the citys major landown-
ers, who were also undoubtedly officials (although without senatorial
status); and the curiales, who still appear in our sources as late as Gregorys
time.58 After the Gothic War, this order gave way to one dominated
by men of official senatorial rank and/or of major local landed wealth
(i.e., the honorati and possessores), who were subsequently denoted with
more generic terms of nobility, such as proceres, optimates, and maiores.59
As one historian observes about Italian elites in the sixth century,

On the former phenomenon, see Machado 2006: 15792; on the latter, Matthews
1975: 35657.
See Matthews 1975: esp. 35761 and 38687; Barnish 1988: 12055; and Wickham
2005: 15661. Such openings to official power declined in number after the Gothic
Barnish 1986: 179 and Orlandi 1999: 24963.
The family of Cassiodorus, based in the Apulian city of Squillace, is the most famous
example of the nouveau riche elite. For others, see T. S. Brown 1984 and Noye 2007:
Liebeschuetz 2001: 125. Rome continued to be governed by the senate until the
580s. Theodoric typically addressed its ruling elite either collectively as fathers of the
senate (patres conscripti) or in terms of their specific senatorial rank or honorary title,
such as patricius. Cf. Cassiodorus, Var. 1.4.1 and 18 (CC 96: 13, 16).
Liebeschuetz 2001: 127.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

We can only say that there were many nobles, but some were more
noble than others.60


The careful cultivation of farms was not the only way in which late
Roman householders derived moral authority and social power. Their
status as masters of oikonomia was also tied to the oversight of the dozens,
hundreds, and even thousands of dependents, who constituted an elite
late antique domus. As noted, Melania the Younger might have owned
anywhere from 8,000 to 24,000 slaves on her Roman suburban prop-
erties alone.61 While hers is an exceptional case, all elite landowners
were required to manage the human resources that composed their
household. The Romans had long idealized the domestic sphere as a
perfectly ordered pyramid effortlessly administered by its head, a single
male paterfamilias.62
In many respects, the familial structure and dynamics of the elite
Roman domus remained unchanged in late antiquity. Households were
still organized around a nuclear core and structured around marriage,
children, and generating heirs.63 Ascetic ideals, which sometimes encour-
aged men and women to abandon their marital or natal families and join
alternative domestic structures, did not fundamentally erode the tradi-
tional structure of late Roman family life. Marriage and procreation were
the principal choices of the Christian silent majority, a point to which
we shall return.64
Furthermore, the paterfamilias remained the households center, con-
tinuing to hold his (or her) position as the domus primary owner and
administrator. In fact, the paterfamilias status in late Roman society was so
significant that in 539 Justinian concluded that any man elected bishop
must automatically become a paterfamilias, even if he still had a living
father or grandfather.65 In addition, studies of patria potestas, the fathers

Barnish 1988: 122.
See above, n. 18.
For the paterfamilias, see the introduction.
Shaw 1984 and Cooper 2007: 107111.
For the phrase, see Harrison 1996.
Justinian, Nov. 81.3. Justinians legislation built on an earlier law passed in 472 by
Anthemius and Leo, which granted clergy the right to acquire and possess property
even if they were in potestate. See CJ 1.3.33 (34).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

legal and economic rights over his dependent children, have shown that
the concept of paternal power remained legally relevant through the end
of the sixth century.66 Nevertheless, despite the remarkable stability of
the paterfamilias and his domestic authority in the late Roman empire,
scholars have posited a hardening of his authority within the domus, or
conversely, a diminishment of his power over certain dependents. We
shall return to these historiographical developments later.

The Wider Domestic Community: High-Status Tenants,

coloni, and Slaves
In addition to wives and children, a late Roman household was organized
around intersecting networks and hierarchies of tenants and laborers.
Elite householders typically leased many if not most of their properties
to tenants, who took charge of the farming, production, and administra-
tion. As landlords, householders counted on tenants not only to provide
steady income but also to cultivate their land productively, because rents
were often paid partially in kind. The relationship between landlord and
tenant was especially heterogeneous, since vertical relations coexisted
with lateral networks. Sometimes, the conductores were elite landowners
in their own right, who leased large estates and effectively controlled all
aspects of their administration. Here a householder might be linked to
his conductor through ties of friendship and/or family, which were more
symmetrical than hierarchical.67 In most cases, however, the tenants were
free peasants and even slaves who rented relatively small tracts of land and
whose relationship with the possessor was less symmetrical.68 Scholars
debate the social and legal dynamics connecting these tenants to their
landlords. Much of the disagreement concerns the difference between
late Roman slavery and the colonate, that is, between tenants or farm
workers who were legally enslaved (servi) and tenants and laborers who
were not legally enslaved but who were bound for tax administrative
purposes to remain on the land where they lived and worked (i.e., coloni,
adscripti, and originarii).69 Some scholars argue for empirical differences
in the experiences of servi and coloni with regard to their subordination

Arjava 1996: 4852 and 1998: 14765.
Of course, the landlord could have been the emperor, as was common on estates with
emphyteutic leases.
Whittaker and Garnsey 1998: 2947 and Jones 1964: 7912.
For general discussions of the late antique colonate, see Jones 1964: 78992 and
Garnsey and Whittaker 1998: 283296.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

to the landlord in light of their distinct legal statuses. Alternatively, oth-

ers conclude that the line separating the two became increasingly faint
during the later fifth and sixth centuries.70 Consequently, they maintain,
some landlords treated their coloni as servile workers and regularly dis-
ciplined them with physical beatings as if they were slaves.71 In either
case, the elite householder undoubtedly treated the bonded tenant as a
dependent, even if his dependency was less absolute than a slaves.
Slavery, however, remained a distinct form of labor in late antique Italy.
Virtually everyone from the wealthiest senatorial aristocrat to the modest
farmer owned slaves. Slaves were regularly employed as domestics within
urban households and villas, and for numerous duties on rural estates,
especially those involved in the manufacture of products like olive oil.72
It is unclear to what extent, if at all, late Roman Italian householders
used slaves on a large scale for agricultural work, however.73

The Householders Intermediaries:

Stewards and Domestic Agents
Between the householder and his tenants and slaves stood numerous
intermediaries, domestic agents and stewards who undertook routine
tasks like rent collection and who helped to resolve problems arising on a
given property. On the Apion estates of Egypt, householders mobilized
a highly organized hierarchy of paid domestic officials ranging from the
lowly estate bailiff to the chief household administrator, the antigeouchos.74
Similarly, the imperial res privata was organized according to an elaborate
pyramid, which assigned salaried administrators to oversee the emperors
personal properties at diocesan, provincial, and estate levels.75 Although
Grey 2007 delineates the distinctions in fourth- and fifth-century imperial legislation
between slaves and coloni, with the latter identified through their fiscal function rather
than through their social subjugation to the landowner. Alternatively, Sirks 2008 argues
on the basis of Justinianic legislation that the legal differences between a colonus and a
slave gradually disappeared and landlords treated them indiscriminately. Banaji 2009:
6678 looks forward to the sixth and seventh centuries where, in post-Roman Gaul
at least, the term mancipia referred to both unfree slaves and free coloni.
Giardina 2008: 7512; Sirks 2008; and Banaji 2009.
See Melluso 2000 for the Justinianic period and Rotman 2004 for the late Roman
and Byzantine East. Harper 2011 appeared too late for consideration in this study.
For the continued use of agricultural slavery in the late Roman West, see Banaji
2009: 72. Alternatively, Vera 1999: 2879 and Wickham 2005: 2629 argue for its
Sarris 2006: 8690.
Delmaire 1989.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

hierarchies of domestic agents also managed Italian estates, their common

organization (if a single paradigmatic hierarchy existed) remains unclear.
In contrast to regions like Egypt, where archival evidence has enabled
scholars to reconstruct the administrative tiers of several households, our
present knowledge of the managerial structure of an Italian domus is
limited.76 The following discussion of domestic stewardship and agency
as a social institution in late Roman Italy is thus preliminary, but it
provides some social context for our discussion of stewardship as an
emerging ethical system in later chapters.
Late Roman householders seem to have managed their private business
through two different sets of intermediaries.77 The first were the house-
holders principal assistants, the notarii. These were his emissari padronali,
personal representatives entrusted with sensitive information and special
duties, who worked closely with the householder.78 Symmachus, for
example, relied on several different notarii to relay information to and
from himself and his estates.79 The second were agents and stewards who
helped the householder to manage business on individual holdings. The
procurator was traditionally among the highest-ranking of the paterfamilias
estate agents. He oversaw other agents and slaves and acted as the land-
lords primary representative on his properties.80 In some late Roman
households, the procuratores in turn were supervised by another level
of administration, associated with figures like the vicedominus and/or the
maiordomus, the former of which was also a domestic official in the Ostro-
gothic court.81 The Regula Magistri, a late fifth-century monastic rule,
lists both of these figures among the maiores familiae who in place of the
dominus, the lesser family members fear.82 In some cases, the vicedominus
might have had a more expansive remit than the procurator, functioning as
a sort of estate generalist, whereas the procurator was assigned to oversee
specific properties.83
Actores (or actionarii) also frequently appear in the Italian sources. On
early imperial Roman estates and households, actores were in charge
Sarris 2006 and Mazza 2001.
Here I follow Vera 1986: 2567, whose observations are based on Symmachus letters.
Vera 1986: 2567.
Vera 1986: 256, n. 102103, citing Symmachus, Epp. 4.60; 6.33; and 9.11.
Mentioned in brief by Palladius, Opus agriculturae 1. 36. See Aubert 1996: 1834 and
Vera 1999: 289.
Jones 1964: 254, 2601. The vicedominus was an agent of the kings personal estates:
Cassiodorus, Var. 5.14.8 and FIR2 III 99, discussed by Delmaire 1989: 6912.
Regula Magistri 11.1720.
Gregory, Ep. 9.84 and Jones 1964: 1118, n. 44.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

of financial transactions and acted as cashiers or bookkeepers for the

dominus.84 In late antiquity, their duties evidently shifted to rent collec-
tion and the general oversight of coloni.85 Landowners typically employed
multiple actores, who traditionally were members of a procurators staff;
however, functional distinctions between these two types of agents seem
to have disappeared in the later fifth and sixth centuries.86 Householders
also employed agents to oversee domestic finances. The dispensator could
have been the domestic equivalent of a chief financial officer, although
precisely how his duties and area of activity differed from the creditarius,
another attested late Roman domestic agent with financial responsibili-
ties, is unclear.87
Finally, farm bailiffs also appear in several late Roman documents. In
his Opus agriculturae, Palladius refers to the agri praesul, a figure whom
Domenico Vera plausibly identifies with a vilicus.88 As Palladius wording
suggests, the bailiff performed supervisory duties on a specific estate,
including overseeing labor.89 In fact, Jerome explicitly contrasted the
more limited domain of the vilicus (a single villa) with the broader domes-
tic remit of the dispensator who was in charge of not a single farm but
of the money as well as the produce and all things, which the domi-
nus possesses.90 Unfortunately, Jerome did not in turn differentiate the
duties of the dispensator from those of the procurator or actor.
The sociolegal status of domestic agents in late Roman Italy remains
poorly understood. In the late Republic and early empire, virtually all
private agents and domestic stewards were slaves, with the notable excep-
tion of procuratores, who were often freedmen. Alternatively, during late
antiquity, many seem to have been free or even freeborn, although how
their legal status translated into social position is unclear. Evidence from

Carlsen 1995: 125134.
Carlsen 1995: 1334.
Later fifth- and sixth-century Roman bishops, for example, routinely addressed letters
to actores but never to procuratores, suggesting that the former assumed the role once
held by the latter.
Earlier sources identify the dispensator with financial duties: Gaius, Inst. 1.122. Jerome
(Ep. 121.6.69) equated the dispensator with the oikonomos and the vilicus. A fictional
creditarius appears in the Passio S. Stephani 7 (AASS Aug. I: 140).
Palladius, Opus agriculturae 1.6.18 and Vera 1999: 289.
There appears to be continuity between the early and late Roman household, as
suggested by Jeromes notice (Comm. in Ep. ad Titum 1.7 [PL 26: 571]) that the vilicus
is a slave who commands other slaves who are his equal. See Carlsen 1995: 70101
and Vera 1983: 512.
Jerome, Ep. 121.6.69.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the Ravenna papyri, for example, suggests that vilici on Italian estates
(at least those in the north during the sixth century) were of relatively
low status and occupied a social position analogous to the colonus.91 In
other words, they were legally free but subordinate to their possessor. The
relationship between procuratores and actores and the householders whom
they represented is more complex. Several laws in the Theodosian Code
prescribe corporeal punishment for actores and procuratores who commit
crimes on their landlords properties,92 implying a relatively low social
position for these agents.93 Alternatively, other sources intimate that some
domestic agents were of middling or even relatively high social status.94
Curiales, for instance, were legally forbidden from acting as procuratores,
a law that suggests their demand in that particular capacity.95 Actores
also commonly interacted directly with heads of state and high church
officials, including the bishop of Rome.96 Such access underscores the
elevated status not only of the householder whom the agents repre-
sented but also of the agents themselves. Thus while an actor might have
occupied a subordinate place within one mans household, he was also
potentially a man-in-power, wielding authority over stewards within his
own household.
Additionally, householders sometimes turned to occasional represen-
tatives for domestic assistance. While these individuals acted as ad-hoc
agents on behalf of a dominus, they clearly did not occupy a subordinate
place in his domus. For example, the Roman bishop Pelagius I (556
561) turned to a comes named Gurdimerus in 559 for assistance on one
of the churchs estates just outside of Rome.97 Given his position, it is
unlikely that Gurdimerus was a permanent actor of the Roman church or
that his collaboration was anything but a temporary arrangement.98 In
other cases, householders looked to friends or distant relatives for help
in matters irresolvable by a hired agent or slave-steward. For example,
Gregorys friend Rusticiana, who was also possibly a distant relation,

Cracco Ruggini 1995: 408, and n. 522, 4089.
Cf. CT (407) = CJ 1.5.4.
Jones 1964: 790 presumes that actores and procuratores were commonly freedmen or
slaves of the owner.
Carlsen 1995: 142 and Vera 1999: 289.
CT 12.1.92 (382) and Theodosius II, Nov. 9.1 (439) in Jones 1964: 791.
Cf. Cassiodorus, Var. 4.35. For Roman bishops and actores, see Chapter 4.
Pelagius, Ep. 76. On Gurdimerus as an agent of the Roman church, see Marazzi 1998:
95 and Moreau 2006: 89.
Pace Moreau 2006: 89.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

turned to the bishop and the Roman churchs extensive ecclesiastical-

domestic networks in southern Italy to help her to resolve several legal
and administrative problems on her Sicilian estates.99 Rusticiana was liv-
ing at Constantinople and thus could not personally intervene, and her
actores had evidently been unable to handle matters on their own. As we
shall see in Chapter 3, the Roman bishop routinely looked to bishops
and lay elites for assistance in managing the churchs estates in a manner
that paralleled the habits of lay householders.

Late Roman Domestic Authority: More Coercive

or Progressively Limited?
By all accounts, late antique elite possessores were powerful people, even
if a sixth-century householder held less land and managed fewer bod-
ies than his early fifth-century counterpart. Because domestic authority
continued to be practically and legally oriented around property hold-
ing, oikonomia remained an especially relevant discourse of authority,
despite the fact that other traditional signs of aristocratic status such as
birth became increasingly irrelevant. To what extent, however, was the
householders domestic authority transformed in late antiquity?
For many historians, the political, economic, and social shifts sketched
earlier also radically transformed social relations within the home. Late
antique domini, they contend, exercised power over subordinate house-
hold members (children, wives, and slaves, as well as clients and coloni)
with a coercive force and authoritarian manner that was unseen in previ-
ous centuries.100 As Kim Bowes has shown in a recent historiographical
discussion, this argument has its roots in Michael Rostovtzeff s assump-
tion that the demise of robust local government and civic life in the
late empire led to the monopolization of power and resources by a rel-
atively small number of elites.101 With few controlling the lions share
of the wealth and political connections, most late Romans were drawn
into steeply vertical power structures. According to this interpretation
of late Roman society, local possessores provided protection from tax

Gregory, Ep. 9.84. Jones 1964: 7901 offers parallel examples of this phenomenon
from the East. For the Roman churchs ecclesiastical-domestic networks, see
Chapter 3.
Cf. Shaw 1987; Thebert 1987; Ellis 1988 and 1991; Marcone 1998: 3613; Cooper
2007: 15260; Dossey 2008; and Sirks 2008. Landowners are also said to have domi-
nated local civic government: Liebeschuetz 2001.
Rostovtzeff 1926: 449ff, highlighted in Bowes 2010: 16 and 26.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

collectors or marauding barbarian armies but in turn came to exercise

more coercive forms of patronage (i.e., patrocinium) and paternal power.
Scholars have identified this highly authoritarian vision of late antique
social relations in numerous sources, from Augustines commentaries on
the Psalms and Ammianus critiques of the Roman senatorial aristocracy
to the architecture and decor of late antique houses.102
This rather extreme reading of late Roman domestic authority requires
nuance, however. Recently, Bowes has suggested that late Roman social
relations cannot be reduced to a single vertical model. According to
Bowes, late Roman social relations were primarily focused around inter-
elite competition, which intensified following the Diocletianic
reforms.103 Thus, she contends, when late ancient domini introduced
more hieratic architectural elements into their homes (e.g., apsidal recep-
tion halls), they hoped to emphasize their superior status over other
householders, and not over their clients and tenants. Moreover, house-
holders, we recall, relied on different types of agents and stewards to help
execute their domestic administration; some were subordinates, but oth-
ers were clearly peers. In this respect, an elite Roman domus was defined
by multiple intersecting domestic networks rather than by a single up-
and-down hierarchy of power.
What many of these assessments of social relations misrecognize is
the cultural meaning of literary depictions of authoritarian household
management.104 The rhetorical constructions of the despotic house-
holder in sources such as Ammianus Res Gestae and Salvians On the
Government of God were guided by the ancient discourse of oikonomia.105
By drawing attention to the householders excessive mistreatment of his
dependents, Ammianus and Salvian wished to criticize his moral failings
and hence undermine his public reputation. At stake in these vignettes
was not the coercion of a client, but the householders standing with

Cf. Augustine, Enn. Psalm 18.2.6, 32.2.6 and Serm. 349.2; and Amm. Marc., 27.11.1
6 and 28.4.1127. Other frequently cited texts include Libanius, Or. 47 and Salvian,
De gubernatione dei 5 along with imperial legislation such as CT 11.24 and CJ 11.54.
For interpretations of domestic space and decoration in this vein, see Thebert 1987
and Ellis 1988 and 1991, with the judicious criticism of Bowes 2010: 3560.
Bowes 2010: 6183. On the intensification of interelite relations in late antiquity, see
Heather 1998.
Cf. Shaw 1987: 5. In contrast, see the highly nuanced interpretations of De Bruyn
(1999: 26673 and 28086) on Augustines discussions of domestic authority and
Carrie 2007: 22 makes the same observation regarding the depiction of possessores and
tenants in the writings of fourth- and early fifth-century Italian bishops.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

respect to other domini. In short, these sources reveal the critical sig-
nificance of horizontal relations of power within a heated, competitive
environment, and not the rise of a harsher and more steeply hierarchical
domestic sphere.
These general observations about late Roman social relations hold
true for scholarly claims regarding the late Roman husband or fathers
domination of social relations within the family.106 As Richard Saller
has shown, albeit for an earlier period, reciprocity and not coercion
was the central dynamic driving intradomestic power relations.107 The
ideal was not to discipline and punish but to educate and persuade
through the male householders own self-example of pietas, castitas, and
moderatio. This is not to suggest that late Roman householders in Italy
did not whip their slaves, beat their young children, or physically abuse
their wives. Many certainly did such things, but there is no reason to
think that they used coercive force more often or with greater intensity
and social acceptance than their classical counterparts.108 Even if certain
domestic relations became asymmetrical in new ways, as Cooper has
recently proposed regarding elite husbands and their lower status wives,
these shifts did not necessarily produce more cruelty and violence.109
Such extreme householding had serious public consequences, as the
writings of Ammianus and Augustine show. Highly traditional cultural
expectations regarding the householders oversight of family members
and dependents, which valorized moderation and restraint, remained
operative in late antique Italy.110
Another reason to question arguments for an empirical hardening of
social relations in late antiquity is the fact that other studies have observed
the opposite dynamic: the rising number of limitations on the late ancient
householders powers, especially over his adult children. As Antti Arjava
has shown, paternal power remained legally viable and highly relevant in
both the eastern and western parts of the empire through the late sixth

Shaw 1987 and Dossey 2008 describe the late antique father/husband in the West as
a coercive authoritarian, who beat his children and wife to maintain the hierarchical
ordering of the home. Both rely heavily (and in Shaws case, entirely) on Augustines
writings, however. What these authors ultimately might show is that Augustines
views on family life were atypical.
Saller 1994. For the importance of reciprocity in late Roman Italian social relations,
even between masters and slaves, see Cooper 2007: 107, 11442.
De Bruyn 1999: 28086.
Cooper 2007: 15260.
I pursue this argument more fully in Chapter 2.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

century.111 He has also stressed, however, that it was increasingly recog-

nized in law as a set of property rights relevant largely to a householders
oversight of young children.112 Emancipation became more common-
place in late antiquity, particularly in the West, where it was seen as
especially appropriate for adult children over the age of twenty.113 He
concludes that this and other legal developments reflect long-held social
beliefs that patria potestas as a form of proprietary power was only appli-
cable to minors.114 Arjavas study correlates with the observations of
Theodore de Bruyn that Augustine envisioned young children as the
primary subjects of paternal beatings.115 This qualified understanding of
late Roman paternal power might help us to understand the potentially
awkward situation outlined in a recent study of the late Roman family, in
which a sons success in the imperial administration brought him wealth
and social status that outstripped his fathers.116 In the main, fathers
expected only to dominate their very young and adolescent children and
not their adult sons, who were householders in their own right.
Whereas studies often draw dire pictures of late antique household
management in the West as increasingly authoritarian, violent, and coer-
cive, the evidence generally suggests stasis rather than radical change.
Nevertheless, this study contends that one domain of oikonomia became
newly significant in late Roman calculations of elite masculine author-
ity: the oversight of religious practice. The following section lays some
groundwork for this argument by means of a general discussion of Chris-
tianity and its practice within the late Roman household in Italy.


Houses, as has been noted, were religious spaces in the ancient world.
The cultivation of divine powers within the home was long seen as
Arjava 1996: 4852 and 1998: 14765.
Arjava 1996: 4152 and 1998: 1613. See also Nathan 2000: 1449.
Arjava 1998: 1612.
Arjava 1998: 1513.
De Bruyn 1999.
Cooper 2007: 239. However, in positing disastrous trickle-down effects of the Dio-
cletianic reforms on the households balance of power, Cooper does not consider
the possibility that fathers were also beneficiaries of this new system and thus were
vital agents in their sons successes. As John Lydus autobiographical account of the
sixth-century Constantinopolitan system shows, men still relied on their fathers and
local family connections for entry into and advancement within the ranks. See Kelly
2004: 4451.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

vital to its material productivity, the health of its members, and its future
prosperity.117 Recent work suggests that the practice of domestic religion
in Roman households was remarkably eclectic and even personalized.118
In addition to the three primary gods (the lares, the penates, and the
genius of the paterfamilias), ancient households worshiped deities that were
selected individually by family members, ostensibly with the approval of
the paterfamilias. In fact, domestic religion was carried out through the
very social hierarchies that defined the domestic sphere.119 The phys-
ical remains of lararia in low-access rooms like kitchens implies that
slaves performed household rites presumably on behalf of their masters,
whereas literary evidence shows that clients honored their patrons genii
on the occasion of their birthdays.120 Villas were also sites of intense
religious activity. Householders constructed altars, shrines, freestanding
temples, and monumental tombs on their estates.121 Religious rituals,
the writings of the agronomists show, were deemed essential to the pro-
ductivity of farms and were performed with many stages of agricultural
production.122 These rites and buildings were not simply an exercise in
familial self-promotion, but . . . part and parcel of land management.123
In many respects, Christianity did not fundamentally transform the
practice of domestic religion.124 Elite householders in Rome and else-
where considered it their privilege to bring the worship of Christ into the
home and to integrate it into traditional rhythms of religion and house-
hold management. For example, many welcomed spiritual experts in a
manner that recalls the patronage of domestic philosophers.125 Jeromes
letters present anecdotes about Roman clergy lining up outside the bed-
room doors of Roman matronae in a perverted salutatio.126 The authors
sarcasm aside, aristocratic Christian householders unquestionably sup-
ported spiritual experts within their homes, which functioned as sites
of religious discussion and perhaps even debate.127 Jerome was himself

Bodel 2008.
Bowes 2008: 1848.
Foss 1997 and Argetsinger 1992.
Bowes 2008: 337.
Cato, De agr. 1.2, 83, 134 and Columella, De re rustica 2.21.25.
Bowes 2008: 37.
Bowes 2007 and 2008.
Clark 2007.
Jerome, Ep. 22.16, 28.
Later fourth-century aristocratic householders hosted individuals whose ideas were
deemed heretical by orthodox officials. See Lizzi Testa 2004: 1913 for the Anician

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the beneficiary of such patronage and acted as a spiritual tutor to several

late fourth-century Roman Christian households.128 He seems to have
developed a niche market: the biblical education and ascetic training of
elite women. Nevertheless, there was nothing especially feminine about
this phenomenon. In the early sixth century, Dionysius Exiguus (ca. 470
544), the biblical exegete, textual expert, and specialist on the liturgical
calendar, had close relationships with several Italian households, includ-
ing that of Julianus Anicius, to whom he dedicated his first collection of
Roman episcopal letters.129
Late Roman households were also active sites of Christian ritual
practice.130 Buried beneath the modern basilica of SS. John and Paul
on the Caelian Hill in Rome lie the remains of a fourth-century, mul-
tistoried domus.131 The house appears to have had two different ritual
spaces. The first was situated within a small courtyard with a fountain
and featured an elaborately painted marine scene with a female figure that
could be a goddess (Isis or Venus) as well as an altar ostensibly used for
polytheistic rites. The second was a nook constructed on the landing of
a central staircase, probably several decades after the courtyard, in the late
fourth century. The three walls of the area were decorated with images,
one perhaps of a martyrdom scene and another depicting a family of
donors making an offering; a niche was built into the central wall. These
images strongly suggest that the space was created by and for a Chris-
tian family. A recent analysis underscores the implications of the spaces
miniature dimensions and its physical situation within the house.132 On
the one hand, it was separated from other rooms and situated in a rel-
atively low-access area of the house (although far more accessible to a
public visitor than a kitchen lararium). The space thus provided a few
family members with an intimate, personalized place to pray or perform
domestic rituals. On the other hand, its proximity to the more high-
access courtyard, perhaps once (or still?) the scene of sacrifices to other

patronage of Luciferians in Rome during the tenure of Damasus. Priscillians,

Arians, and Origenists were also widely supported by individual households.
See Clark 1992: 1939, Burrus 1997: 79101; and more generally Maier 1995, 1995a
and 2005.
Rousseau 1978: 11424 and Clark 1992: 1142.
Momigliano 1960: 234 and Pietri 1981a: 4423.
Brenk 1995, 1999 and 2003: 82113; and Bowes 2008.
Brenk 1995 and Bowes 2008: 8892. As Brenk shows, the house beneath SS. John
and Paul was not a so-called domus ecclesiae, although a church was constructed over
it in the early fifth century.
Bowes 2008: 902.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

gods, highlights the continuities between pagan and Christian forms of

domestic religious practice.133
Textual evidence confirms that elite Christian householders used their
urban and rural domus for ritual activities. According to her biographer,
Melania the Younger often retreated to a domestic chapel in her Roman
mansion for nocturnal vigils, whereas several correspondents of Jerome
and Gregory created monasteries in their houses.134 The latter devel-
opment was a social and not a material phenomenon, because there is
no evidence of monastic architecture in Italy (such as existed in Egypt)
until the early Middle Ages.135 Meanwhile, sometime during the tenure
of Damasus (366384), Ambrose of Milan (337397) conducted a pri-
vate mass in the home of a matrona in Trastevere, where the bishop
also healed a bath attendant (most likely one of the ladys clients).136
Roman hagiographical sources imply that households ritually distributed
the reserved Eucharist, while the letters of later fifth- and sixth-century
Roman bishops bear witness to the construction and use of churches on
rural estates.137
Estate management, in other words, came to be expressed in terms of
the householders Christian responsibilities in the home. A late fourth-
or early fifth-century bronze lamp in the shape of a boat with figurines of
Peter at the stern and Paul in the bow directly connects a householders
domestic authority to his religious obligations.138 The lamp was discov-
ered in the seventeenth century among the remains of a grand domus
on the Caelian Hill that might have belonged to Melanias father-in-law,
Valerius Severus.139 An inscription on the lamp, however, leaves no doubt
that its original owner was so named: Dominus legem dat Valerio Severo
This may cohere with broader patterns sketched by David Frankfurter in a new study,
tentatively entitled Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity.
I thank the author for allowing me to read this material prior to its publication.
Gerontius, Vita Melaniae iunoris (Greek) 5 (ed. Gorce 1962: 134). For house monas-
teries, see Jerome, Ep. 127 and Gregory, Epp. 3.17 and 6.44. Gregory founded a
monastic community in his Caelian domus.
Pani Ermini 1981.
Paulinus, Vita sancti Ambrosii 10.1.
Passio SS. Polychronii, Xysti, Laurentii et Hippolyti 30. On villa churches, see Chap-
ter 4.
Now at the Museo Archeologico in Florence. Colini 1944: 2538 and Brenk 1999:
Brenk 2003: 113 and Lega 2003. For this Valerius, see PLRE 1, 7489 cited in Brenk
1999: 81 and Bowes 2008: 789. This would make him the urban prefect of 382.
Hillner, however, 2003: 1403 has voiced doubts about connections between this
particular house on the Caelian Hill and the family of Melania.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Eutropi vivas (the Lord gives the law to Valerius Severus. May you live,
Eutropius!).140 In these words, the text boldly proclaimed Valerius role
as both a guardian of the Lords law and the religious gubernator of his
household. Valerius, the inscription suggests, received a divine mandate
from the true and all-powerful dominus to oversee his spiritual precepts
and practical rules (the lex) within the home. Moreover, the lamps naval
design and its prominent display of Romes founding apostles linked the
inscriptions exhortation to a broader ecclesiastical duty: Valerius must
govern the conduct of the law in his domus in a manner that paralleled
Peter and Pauls oversight of all Roman Christians. Regardless of whether
Valerius commissioned the lamp personally (the most likely scenario) or
received it as a gift, the object demonstrates old and new assumptions
about religion and domestic authority.141
The same conservative impulses that characterized the attitudes of
elite Italian householders towards the integration of Christian images
and practices within the home distinguished their reactions to ascetic
renunciation and clerical careers. As stressed in the Introduction, the
relationship between material renunciation and domestic practice was far
less antithetical than once believed. Even the most ardent supporters of
celibacy, communal living, and poverty found middle ground between
the imagined world of the apostles and the realities of elite household
management. The marriage of Christian renunciatory ethics to oikono-
mia progressed differently across the various regions of the late empire,
however. Compared with their Gallic counterparts, Italian aristocratic
Christians did not wholly reject the fundamental domestic practices that
had defined elite life for centuries, namely procreation, property own-
ership, and the power of the paterfamilias.142 Rather than leaving their
households to join island monasteries or to sit atop pillars in scorch-
ing heat, Christian aristocrats of Italy creatively combined ascetic ideals
with their traditional obligations as householders. In Italy, the ascetic
householder was the norm.143
Householders chose from a range of possible combinations of asceti-
cism and estate management. On one end of the spectrum, we find

ILCV 1592.
Contra Brenk 1999: 77, I see no reason to assume that the lamp was a gift from
the Roman bishop or to read its iconography as Romano-papal. The ship was a
metaphor for government in general and not for the bishops church uniquely.
See Markus 1990: 21322 and especially Bartlett 2001, whose observations are devel-
oped further by Cooper 2005 and 2007b.
Cooper 2005; 2007; and 2007b.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

Melania and Pinianus, the famous early fifth-century senatorial aristo-

crats who dedicated themselves to an extreme ascetic lifestyle grounded in
ideals of sexual and material renunciation. After the deaths of two infants
and Melanias father, the couple embraced celibacy and announced their
intentions to liquidate their property and donate the proceeds to reli-
gious causes. This was an enormous undertaking given the extraordinary
size of their combined property holdings. Despite the intensity with
which the couple embraced these ascetic ideals, they lived them within
the context of a marital household that was replete with dependents and
organized around traditional practices of domestic administration.144 The
slaves reliance on their owners for security and a decent quality of life
was underscored when some threatened to revolt on receiving word that
their owners planned to manumit them as part of their ascetic program.145
The couples total lack of concern for their dependents welfare betokens
a deeply traditional attitude toward slaves as well as their own dominant
position at the top of the domestic hierarchy. The celebrated Christian
couple remained entrenched in a continuous career of estate manage-
ment, even as they renounced the material and social trappings of their
original domus.146
On the other end of the spectrum stands Venantius, a Sicilian mag-
nate and correspondent of the Roman bishop Gregory. As a young
man, when the demands of estate management were arguably less heavy,
Venantius left Sicily for Constantinople, where he joined a community
of ascetic scholars that included Gregory, then the apocrisiarius of the
Roman church. After concluding that family life was more appealing
than a monastic vocation (a decision perhaps made for Venantius by his
parents), he returned to his native Sicily, where he married, fathered
two daughters, and played the twin roles of paterfamilias and local official
until his death in ca. 602.147 His life recalls in reverse that of several early
fifth-century Roman ascetics addressed in Jeromes letters.148 Marcella,
for instance, practiced renunciation only after becoming a widow, when
her independent legal status and propertied economic position provided

See above, n. 13, 18. On Melania and Pinianus highly traditional (and deeply callous)
attitudes towards their slaves, see Lepelley 19978. See also Giardina 1988; Trout 1999:
5470; and Cooper 2005.
Lepelley 19978: 213.
Cooper 2005: 267.
For Venantius, see, for example, Gregory, Epp. 6.423, 11.189, 25.
It also might follow Gregorys life in reverse if Gregory had been urban prefect of
Rome before adopting an ascetic regime. Markus 1997: 134.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

her with choices that she did not have as a married woman.149 At this
point, she declared her suburban villa a place of ascetic retreat, where
she lived with several similarly dedicated women. According to Jerome,
they organized their day around periods of prayer and vigil and traded
their expensive food and clothing for simpler fare and attire.150 Even as a
childless celibate with an austere household, however, Marcella did not
completely abandon classical habits of oikonomia. Although Jerome claims
that she desired to will her fortune to the poor, Marcella acquiesced to
her mothers wishes and left it to her brothers children. Monasticism was
still very much a traditional domestic experience in late Roman Italy.151
Italian aristocratic households embraced clerical careers and involve-
ment in ecclesiastical business with even greater circumspection. Few
members of elite households joined the ranks of the clergy before the
mid-fifth century, and it was not until the very late fifth century that
an aristocratic clerical community emerged in Rome.152 This chronol-
ogy throws grave doubts on Jeromes famous claim that the late fourth-
century pagan senator Praetextatus was willing to convert to Christianity
if he could be made the bishop of Rome.153 What is more, members
of Romes most eminent citizens expressed relatively little interest in
ecclesiastical business until ca. 450.154 The first recorded participation
of senatorial aristocrats in church matters was a hearing of Manicheans
held in Rome during the tenure of Leo (441461).155 Given the fact
that the imperial government had condemned Manicheanism, however,
the senators attendance at the trial does not necessarily imply their col-
laboration in exclusively ecclesiastical business.156 We must wait until

Aristocratic widows were expected to remarry and reproduce. Christian exhortations
to celibacy theoretically challenged these expectations. Marcella thus rebuffed social
pressures by choosing to remain a widow, but as a legally independent property owner
she was in a very strong position to make such a choice.
Jerome, Ep. 127.
This seems to have been the case elsewhere in the Mediterranean, at least for female
ascetic households in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. See Elm 1994 and
Rousseau 2005.
Pietri 1981a; Sotinel 1997; and Bartlett 2001.
Jerome, Contra Ioannem Hierosolymitana 8.
The involvement of Roma matronae in the return of Liberius from exile is an excep-
tion. See Lizzi Testa 2004.
Leo, Serm. 16. See Wessel 2008: 121 and Maier 1996.
Cf. CT 16.5.35, 38, and 4041. Valentinian, Nov. 18 (445) refers to the senates
participation in Leos Roman tribunal.

The Late Roman Household in Italy

the 480s for definitive proof of senatorial participation in an exclusively

church matter.157

Household management in late Roman Italy closely resembled classical
oikonomia. Although the size and geographic distribution of their port-
folios might have changed, fifth- and sixth-century elite householders
administered their properties through older mechanisms of leasing and
direct management. Regardless of whether the household in question
belonged to a landlord or high-status tenant, slaves continued to clean,
cook, and run errands, while a labor force of coloni and other workers
(perhaps slaves) grew grapes, picked olives, harvested wheat, and pro-
duced the goods sold at market. Late Roman householders in Italy also
continued to rely on stewards and agents, men in positions of power over
material resources and other household members but still subordinate to
their lord.
Moreover, the householders domestic authority did not fundamen-
tally change in late antiquity. A paterfamilias remained responsible for the
behavior of his family members and for the social ordering of his home,
and this responsibility sometimes warranted the use of physical force.
The late antique dominus was no more or less coercive than his second-
century counterpart, however. He also continued to exert influence over
the religious rhythms of his domus. In fact, the adoption of Christianity
by members of Italys elites did little to alter the material and practi-
cal mechanisms through which householders undertook these duties.
Householders still used their houses as ritual places and asserted their
domestic authority as a form of religious expertise. Even the rising pop-
ularity of asceticism among Italys elite did not upset the central place
of household management in society. On the contrary, it might have
enhanced it.
Domestic administration was recalibrated in late antique Italy, however.
The inscription on Valerius Severus boat-shaped lamp Dominus legem
dat Valerio Severo Eutropi vivas suggests a new and unprecedented role for
householders. As the recipient of the law from the ultimate lord and
householder, Valerius Severus was expected to govern his domus just as
Peter and Paul governed the larger church. Although late Republican and

See Chapter 3.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

early imperial domini had always been obligated to ensure piety within
their domus, their religious authority was not so finely tuned. The next
chapter examines how Christian authorities variously recast oikonomia so
that it resonated with emergent ideals regarding wealth, bodily discipline,
ritual practice, and the cultivation of ethics in the home.

Chapter 2

From Dominion to Dispensatio :

Stewardsh ip as an Elite Ideal

For there is not one of your slaves, male or female, for whom you may
believe that you will not have to render an account before God. For
to this end mortals were made masters over other mortals, that they
might receive the care of the image of God during his sojourn in the
world and might keep safe the riches destined for souls, which daily
the plunderer of all that is good troubles himself to snatch away . . .
By this exemplum you will secure your own salvation and that of those
over whom you have been worthy to rule.1
uring late antiquity, christian householders in italy were
D asked to reconceive their authority. Authors such as the anonymous
writer of the Ad Gregoriam in palatio, a late fifth- or early sixth-century
Christian conduct manual for matronae, exhorted householders to envi-
sion their administration in terms of dispensation rather than dominion.
They were to behave not as earthly lords and property owners but as Gods
most trusted earthly agents. As stewards placed by God in supervisory
roles over his property and people, they were to undertake household
tasks with a view toward final judgment.
Many Christian thinkers understood oikonomia as a form of steward-
ship, that is, as a discourse of salvation oriented around the earthly house-
holders temporary and solicitous oversight of Gods land and people.
Scholars have long discussed stewardship as a distinctly Judeo-Christian
Ad Gregoriam in palatio 18 (ed. Morin 1913: 42021): Non erit enim ullus servo-
rum ancillarum tuarum, pro quo te autumes rationem deo minime reddituram. Ad
hoc enim domini hominum homines facti sunt, ut imaginis dei in hoc mundo pere-
grinantis tutelam exciperent, et divitias animabus debitas conservarent, quas cottidie
invasor bonorum elaborat eripere . . . Hoc enim exemplo et teipsam salvam facies, et
eas quarum domina esse meruisti. (Trans. with some modification from Cooper 2007:

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

conception of wealth management that posited material property as Gods

possessions.2 The focus on material wealth is certainly warranted by the
sources. As this passage from the Ad Gregoriam shows, Christian moralists
emphasized the financial component of stewardship, especially regard-
ing the use of riches to care for the poor. Stewardship and assistance
to the socially dislocated (e.g., the poor, orphans, widows) were closely
intertwined in late antique religious thought on oikonomia.3
When understood in terms of stewardship, however, household man-
agement had far more expansive and problematic implications for late
Roman householders implications that most scholars have not ade-
quately addressed. For example, stewardship applied to all aspects of
household management, not just the administration of wealth and the
care of the poor.4 As we have noted, a bonus paterfamilias demonstrated
his excellence through a wide range of practices. The ethical training of
children, the balanced control of his and his wifes bodies, the cultivation
of gods on behalf of his domus, and the ordering of subordinates (like
slaves) were equally important. Furthermore, the Judeo-Christian recon-
ceptualization of oikonomia did not replace the more classical Greco-
Roman model, wherein dominium (or possessio) served as the foundation
of domestic authority and estate management. The two coexisted in late
antiquity and not without tension. Stewardship thus presented a paradox
for the Christian householder: How could one be the Lords steward and
the earthly paterfamilias of multiple estates and hundreds of dependents?
This question received two different but ultimately reconcilable
responses from Italian theorists of oikonomia. On the one hand, thinkers
such as Ambrosiaster (fl. 366384) and the Roman bishop Leo (441461)
underlined the social implications of stewardship: for them, it delimited
an earthly householders authority. Stewardship, they recognized, effec-
tively constituted a demotion for the Roman paterfamilias within a
cosmic hierarchy, subordinating him to a more powerful dominus, God,
the ultimate owner of the earth and overseer of its people. In fact,
stewardship might be concomitant with slavery, as several Gospel para-
bles emphasized. On the other hand, authorities posited that stewardship
expanded the earthly householders authority over the ethical and reli-
gious domains of oikonomia. By drawing attention to a householders
traditional responsibility for his dependents piety and spiritual health,
See the Introduction.
See especially Meyer 1998 and Caner 2007.
Modern scholarship has focused largely on wealth management. On Christian charity
and care of the poor, see Brown 2002.

From Dominion to Dispensatio

stewardship accentuated the dominus influence over his households ethical

behavior and religious life. Although contradictory on many levels, these
two interpretations of stewardship might overlap, because the steward
had always been a powerful figure within the household, even if he was a
mere slave within Roman society at large.


Stewardship was neither uniquely Christian nor specifically late antique.
The Greek oikonomia, which in certain contexts meant stewardship,
was often rendered in Latin as dispensatio, a word that connoted order-
ing, administration, or even distribution, and was closely associated with
wealth management.5 Stewards were typically the householders most
trustworthy servants, doing everything from supervising day-to-day agri-
cultural activities to administering household accounts and conducting
business deals. The stewards highly sensitive roles in the oversight of
domestic properties and finances afforded them high status and relatively
extensive powers within the household.6 This was despite the fact that, in
the classical period at least, most were slaves or freedmen. In late antiquity,
stewardship remained an important form of domestic labor and oversight,
although it ceased to be performed largely by slaves.7 Thus when late
antique moralists fashioned the earthly householder as a dispensator, they
imagined a domestic agent who was probably not a slave, who legiti-
mately wielded power within a domus but who was always subject to the
will of a dominus.
Nevertheless, for Christians accustomed to governing their domus as
the recognized possessors of lands and people, the stewardship of the
Scriptures did not neatly map onto their social experiences. Passages
in the Hebrew Bible present the physical world not simply as Gods
creation but as his property.8 According to Leviticus, The land must not
be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and
my tenants [Vulgate: coloni]. Throughout the country that you hold as
a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.9 God,

Meyer 1998: 3536. See also TLL V.I, s.v. dispensatio, II.A.1.
In Roman comedy and moral philosophy, the steward was often associated with tyranny
and the abuse of power. See Harrill 2006: 1045.
Chapter 1.
Cf. Gen. 24; Ex. 3: 710; Duet. 15: 4, 19:10, 25:1926:1; and Ps. 37.
Lev. 25: 2324.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the Bible taught, had given humans his worldly properties temporarily to
oversee and cultivate so that they would flourish. Gospel parables similarly
characterize God as the householder and invite readers to identify with
the Lords stewards. In Luke 12:4148 (cf. Matthew 24:4551), good and
bad stewards administer their masters home during his absence: Who
then is the faithful and wise steward (Vulgate: dispensator), whom the
master (dominus) will set over his household of slaves (suam familiam) to
give them their portion of food at the proper time?10 Emphasizing the
stewards domestic importance, the parable concludes with a harrowing
moral. When the lord returns unannounced, he will hold his stewards
accountable for their administration. Here the Gospels accurately reflect
Greco-Roman legal practice. Slave-stewards had to present their master
with a reckoning of their administration, especially of their householders
finances, as a prerequisite for manumission.11 In the parable, the good
steward who worked in anticipation of his householders return is blessed
with expanded responsibilities. But the wicked steward, who used his
masters absence as an excuse to abuse his power over other slaves and
deplete his masters wealth, receives a severe beating.12
Later New Testament sources similarly invite readers to identify with
the steward, although in a manner that defined his authority more con-
cretely. The so-called Haustafeln (Household Codes), which some
argue were modeled on Hellenistic treatises peri oikonomias, simultane-
ously depict the householder as a man having power over others and as a
slave of God.13 Passages such as Colossians 3:184:2, Ephesians 5:226:9,
and First Peter 2:183:7 present blueprints for an ideal ordering of the
household according to Greco-Roman hierarchies (i.e., husband-wife,
father-child, master-slave) and a highly traditional ethic of reciprocity.14
The Household Codes exhort husbands, wives, children, and slaves to
accept and perfect their positions within the household. In this respect,

Lk 12:42.
On slave accounting prior to manumission: Dig., 35.1.82 and 40.4.22, dis-
cussed in Buckland 1908: 49496 and Bradley 1994: 161.
Cf. Mk 13:3437 for God as an absentee landowner, who will return unannounced
and whose slaves must always be prepared for a reckoning of their work; and Mt. 25:14
34, the parable of the talents, wherein the master rewards stewards who maintain or
increase wealth entrusted to them.
Balch 1988: 2550 and Balch and Osiek 1998: 18283. Alternatively, Harrill 2006:
9497 argues that New Testament sources simply reflect pervasive social constructions
of the domestic order and do not reinterpret any particular Hellenistic text.
Balch 1981 and 1988; Balch and Osiek 1998.

From Dominion to Dispensatio

they affirm the householders traditional exercise of domestic authority

by establishing order in the home. As J. Albert Harrill recently observed,
however, the codes simultaneously assert an alternative asymmetrical
relationship, wherein God is the ultimate Householder and the earthly
husband-father-lord is his slave-steward.15 For example, in the letter to
the Ephesians, fathers must raise their children in the discipline and
instruction of the Lord, and although slaves should obey their earthly
masters, earthly masters should do the same to them, and forbear threat-
ening, knowing that he who is both their master and yours is in heaven,
and that there is no partiality with him.16 Elsewhere in the New Testa-
ment this recalibrated model of household management is applied to the
administration of earthly possessions. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly
to one another, wrote the author of First Peter. As each has received a
gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards (kaloi oikonomoi; Vulgate:
boni dispensatores) of Gods varied grace. . . . 17

Th e Reception and Remaking

of Stewardsh ip in Late Roman
Ch ristian Th ough t
Biblical discussions of domestic management as stewardship in the
Roman social sense of the term profoundly affected subsequent gen-
erations of Christian thinkers. The Bible was, after all, a primary subject
of Christian study and homiletic presentation in late antiquity, even if
it was also a collection of texts that had been extensively mediated by
Greco-Roman culture and social practice. Scholars have long noted that
patristic writers reiterated the biblical assertion that all property ultimately
belonged to God and that earthly householders were overseers and not
owners.18 Everything belongs to God, wrote Ambrose (c. 337397) in
a commentary on Second Corinthians, both the seeds and the seedlings
that grow at his nod, and are multiplied for the use of mankind. It is
God, therefore, who gives these things and he himself who orders them

Harrill 2006: 85117.
Ephesians 5: 216: 9. Cf. 1 Peter 2: 163: 7 and Colossians 3: 184: 1.
1 Peter 4: 910.
Viner 1978: 145; Avila 1983: 4780; Meyer 1998: 96160; Karayiannis and
Drakopoulou Dodd 1998: 163208; and Cooper 2007b: 17778. Carrie 2007: 24
also notes this ideas ubiquity, although he describes mans earthly relationship to the
property as a form of usufruct.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

to be shared with those who need them. . . . 19 Most early Christian

thinkers thus did not categorically reject private property.20 They instead
emphasized the importance of using private property, which belonged
to God, to achieve appropriate ends.
The emphasis on the proper use of property returns us to the ethics of
household management. How could an elite householder be a steward
in a society in which property holding remained the basis of a mans
domestic powers? What did these intellectual shifts imply for oikonomia
as a discourse of elite masculine authority? Sometimes it implied noth-
ing at all. In many texts, stewardship functioned as a metaphor for the
administration of Christian principles or doctrine and thus had little
to do with actual domestic government. As Ulrich Meyer observes, the
Christian translation of oikonomia from a discourse based on ownership
to one tantamount to stewardship was often allegorized and thus robbed
of its more chilling implications for the exercise of earthly authority
in the home.21 Consider Jeromes letter to the Gallic matrona Algasia,
in which he interpreted the Gospel parable of the dishonest steward.22
In the letter, Jerome referred directly to Xenophons Oikonomikos (or
rather, to Ciceros Latin translation of it) and drew a technical distinction
between the domain of the Roman vilicus (a single farm) and that of
the Greek oikonomos (the administration of the entire household writ
large, dispensationem universae domus).23 However, despite Jeromes discus-
sion of stewardship as a social practice (the letter provides rare insight
into different forms of late Roman stewardship), he nevertheless used
the parable to make a doctrinal point about Paul and the law. Paul,
he explained, was the ultimate steward of Gods house (on the Greek
model), who correctly administered the law to the Gentiles and to the

Ambrose, Comm. 2 Cor. 9.1011 (PL 17: 31314): Omnia dei sunt, et semina et
nascentia dei nutu crescunt, et multiplicantur ad usus hominum: deus ergo quae dat,
ipse et iubet de his communicari eis, qui indigent.
Avila 1983: 8598 and Karayiannis and Drakopoulou Dodd 1998: 19597. Some also
idealized communal property as part of a prelapsarian state or apostolic community.
See Swift 1979 and Ganz 1995.
Meyer 1998: 7179; Toneatto 2006; and Carrie 2007: 1920.
Jerome, Ep. 121.6, discussed in Meyer 1998: 7182 and 9699.
Jerome, Ep. 121.6.69 (CSEL 56: 2223). As Meyer notes, Xenophon made no such
distinction. Jerome might have cited a qualification in Ciceros now lost translation.
Jeromes own interpretation was itself based on an exegesis of the passage by
Theophilus of Alexandria (d. 412), with whom Jerome frequently corresponded.

From Dominion to Dispensatio

Delimiting th e H ouseh olders Auth ority:

Stewardsh ip as Subordination
The idea that a mans subordinate position in the cosmic order affected
his earthly rule as the dominus of a household was not utterly lost on
late Roman thinkers, including Jerome. Christian discussions of estate
management as stewardship typically used a very concrete social vocab-
ulary, which rooted the relationship between earthly steward and divine
householder in the domestic sphere.25 Jerome chose the Latin dispensator
to denote the steward in his translations of Luke 12:4148 and First Peter.
He likely preferred dispensator to other possibilities (e.g., vilicus, procurator,
agens) because the dispensator was among the householders most trusted
slaves, whose domain, the finances of the entire domus, was central to
estate administration. Similarly, in his translation of the passage from
Leviticus cited previously, Jerome used colonus to designate the tenant
who oversees Gods property in his absence.26 Although slavery and ten-
ancy were not interchangeable, the dispensator and the colonus occupied
relatively low positions within society writ large. Both also had asymmet-
rical relations with their owner/landlord, regardless of their precise legal
status. In fact, Jerome was quick to indicate that the good paterfamilias was
actually a slavish steward, who must recognize the Lords mastery over
his earthly wealth and administration. Your possessions are no longer
your own but a stewardship entrusted to you (dispensatio tibi credita est),
he reminded the wealthy householder-bishop Paulinus of Nola (354
431).27 Christian writers within and beyond Italy were equally at home
with defining God as a householder.28 Preaching to a late sixth-century
audience, Romes bishop Gregory denoted God as both dominus and
paterfamilias: Who can we better take to be the paterfamilias than our
Creator, who rules over those he created, and governs his elect in the
world in the same way as a dominus does those subject to him in his
house?29 By explicitly depicting God as a slave master and head of the

Meyer 1998: 3334.
Salvian of Marseilles also used tenancy as a metaphor to describe the earthly house-
holders relationship to his property. See Cooper 2007c: 178.
Jerome, Ep. 58.7.
De Bruyn 1999: 25658.
Gregory, HEv. 19.1 (CC 141: 143): Quis vero patrisfamilias similitudinem rectius
tenet quam conditor noster, qui regit quos condidit, et electos suos sic in hoc mundo
possidet, quasi subiectos dominus in domo? Cf. Gregory, HEv 36.2 (CC 141: 334)
where God is the summus paterfamilias. Obviously dominus (lord) was a common

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

house, Gregory reinforced the overlap between the cosmic hierarchy and
everyday life.
A distinctly biblical social realist hermeneutics of stewardship par-
ticularly resonated with Christian thinkers in Rome and Italy. Jeromes
contemporary, the late fourth-century Roman writer (and perhaps priest)
known as Ambrosiaster, explored the social implications of mans sub-
ordinate status in a discussion of slavery. In many late Roman Christian
readings of slavery, mans enslavement could be interpreted on three dif-
ferent levels: as a fact of life (what Peter Garnsey calls legal slavery);
as a moral state, in the sense that one is enslaved to the passions or sin;
and as an act of free will that defined the Christian, since Christians will-
ingly subjugate themselves as slaves to Christ.30 However, while church
fathers typically distinguished the allegorical notion of universal spiritual
enslavement from the concrete social institution, Ambrosiaster denied
any neat separation. In his commentary on Colossians, Ambrosiaster
explicitly delimited the authority of earthly slave owners by referring to
them as quasi domini.31 In his opinion, a masters domination of slaves
was incomplete, because God alone exercised absolute authority over all
bodies and souls: Thus [God] shows that they are not true masters, but
only like an image; for they are masters of bodies and not of souls. For
only the Lord and invisible author of things, God, is as much master of
bodies as of souls. . . . 32
In the hands of Roman bishops, such delimitations of domestic author-
ity had even greater potential impact. A model that underlined Gods
dominion and the householders subordinated administration was highly
relevant to the formulation of ideal lay conduct within the church and
thus could be relevant to individual salvation. For example, Leo fre-
quently enjoined his congregation to give to the poor.33 In one ser-
mon delivered in 444, he framed his request in terms of stewardship.
Just as spiritual riches are gifts from God, so are earthly and material

epithet for God and did not necessary link him to the earthly figure. But Gregorys
use of it alongside paterfamilias was clearly intended to invoke its sociolegal meaning.
Garnsey 1996: 122.
Lunn-Rockliffe 2007: 1045. I thank the author for pointing this detail out to me.
Ambrosiaster, Ad Col. 4:1.3 (CSEL 81.3: 202): ostendit ergo dominis, quia non vere
sunt domini, sed quasi per imaginem; corporem enim, non animorum sunt domini.
Solus enim dominus et auctor rerum invisibilis deus tam corporibus quam animis
dominatur. . . .
Of Leos ninety-six extant sermons, forty deal with charity and almsgiving. See Finn
2006: 14759 and Neil 2007.

From Dominion to Dispensatio

possessions part of his largess.34 Leo explained that God may justly seek
an account of those things which he has not so much handed down for
their possession, than he committed for their stewarding (dispensanda).35
The earthly steward of Gods possessions must be benevolent and gen-
erous (benivolis et largis) and must not squander or hoard, so that the
material for good work should not become an occasion of sin.36 In
many ways, Leos presentation of wealth management followed classi-
cal lines: wealth was a means, not an end, and should be administered
by solicitous attention to investment and growth. Leo thus evaluated the
householders performance of estate management according to axiomatic
principles, whereby the practice of oikonomia indicated the moral charac-
ter of the paterfamilias. Nevertheless, the stakes of good and bad oikonomia
had changed. At risk was not only a householders public reputation,
but also his spiritual health and future. In Leos view, a householder
who failed to recognize his subordinate status and steward Gods gifts
in the proper fashion faced grave consequences, because poor adminis-
tration was tantamount to sin. As in the Lukan parable, Leos God the
Householder demands an accounting from his stewards, just as earthly
masters did from slaves entrusted with domestic authority over finances
and labor an analogy so carefully drawn in Leos sermon that no late
Roman householder could have missed it. Concluding with an agricul-
tural metaphor that likened Judgment Day to the harvest, Leo explained
how ones salvation rested on his proper cultivation of Gods property:
And the present, therefore, is the time for sowing, and the moment of
retribution is the time of the harvest, when each one shall reap the fruit
of his seeds according to the amount of his sowing.37
For Leo, stewardship offered a solution to the perennial concern
in ancient society with the householders proclivities to privilege self-
interest over the common good. By recasting oikonomia as a mode of
dependent administration, the bishop might persuade a paterfamilias to

Leo, Sermon 10.1.
Leo, Sermon 10.1 (CC 138: 40): ut merito rationem eorum quaesiturus sit, quae non
magis possidenda tradidit, quam dispensanda commisit.
Leo, Sermon 10.1 (CC 138: 40): Muneribus igitur dei iuste et sapienter utendum
est, ne materia operis boni fiat causa peccati. Leo also proclaimed here and in other
sermons that almsgiving (i.e., the proper use of Gods possession) might bring about
the expiation of sin. Cf. Sermon 10.2 and 12.4 with Ramsey 1982: 24147 and Green
2008: 82.
Leo, Sermon 10.2 (CC 138: 4344): Praesens itaque vita tempus est sationis, et retri-
butionis tempus est messis, quando unusquisque seminum fructum secundum sationis
suae percipiet quantitatem.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

put the needs of the community before those of his own household.
In so doing, however, Leo helped to redefine the social ordering of the
domestic sphere, at least from a cosmic perspective. When authorities
such as Jerome, Ambrosiaster, Leo, and Gregory proclaimed that the
earthly householder was not an owner of property and people, but a
slavish administrator of goods and souls all ultimately beholden to God,
they demoted the householder. To be sure, this was hardly the first time
in Roman history that the householders domestic power and influence
were delimited. The paterfamilias had always been subjected to manifold
forms of supervision.38 In a sense, all that Christian moralists did in mak-
ing the earthly paterfamilias a slavish steward of God is to add another
layer of oversight. An extra rung in the domestic hierarchy did not nec-
essarily translate into expanded episcopal influence over the household,

Accentuating Oikonomia : Stewardsh ip

as Responsibility and Salvation
This mitigated view of domestic authority coexisted with an interpreta-
tion that amplified the householders religious and ethical responsibilities
within the home. Many of the authors cited previously also underscored
the householders duty to ensure the spiritual well-being of all men and
women associated with his domus. A model of oikonomia grounded in
stewardship thus accentuated a householders authority, by emphasizing
his obligation to govern his domus religious life. As stated, stewards were
also men-in-power, placed in positions of authority over others and in
many cases entrusted with overseeing their masters material wealth, even
if they were slaves and their legitimacy to dominate and direct others was
always circumscribed.

Traditional Expectations of the Householders Ethical

and Religious Oversight
Of course, householders and not stewards had traditionally shoul-
dered the responsibility for inculcating good behavior within their domus.
Aulus Gellius reasoned that children must always obey their fathers in
matters that were in themselves neither honorable nor base, but are to
be approved or disapproved exactly according to the manner in which


From Dominion to Dispensatio

we perform them . . . .39 With their ethical expertise, householders tra-

ditionally were also vested with an informal juridical authority. During
the early empire, householders privately settled certain issues involving
family members within the context of domestic councils.40 To what
extent domestic councils persisted in the late Roman period is unclear
(our evidence for them largely fades after the early second century).41
Nevertheless, late antique domini were expected to manage their homes
according to exacting ethical standards and to act as informal judges
within their homes. The domestic sphere remained a legitimate and
common context for the resolution of disputes, especially those involv-
ing family property, and civil authorities encouraged the dispensation of
justice intra domum.42
Moreover, classical Roman householders also exercised a form of reli-
gious authority within the home. Cultivation of the family gods was
perceived as essential to the continuity of the generations. According to
Cicero, each paterfamilias was obliged to preserve the ancestral religious
traditions handed down to him and to pass these along to his own chil-
dren.43 The proprietary dimensions of domestic religion would suggest
that the paterfamilias wielded considerable authority over the religious
life of his home. Cato, Columella, and Pliny highlighted the paterfamil-
ias superior religious authority by stressing the limited capacity of his
vilicus/a to execute rites without permission, since, they presumed, the
master must ultimately oversee his estates rites. Mostly, however, Roman
authors did not define the parameters, precise duties, and implications
of the householders domestic religious authority very carefully. Indeed,
the clarity with which Roman legal sources delineated patria potestas and
dominion stands in stark opposition to the opaque (and in Roman law,
nonexistent) treatment of a householders domestic religious powers.44
This does not mean that religious knowledge and influence were not
important components of classical oikonomia. In fact, the householders

Aulus Gellius, NA 2.7.1113 (trans. Rolfe 1927: 147).
See Volterra 1948; Treggiari 1991: 26670; and especially Thomas 1990.
Evans Grubbs 1995: 21314. Further study is needed on the continued use of domestic
consilia in late antiquity. One possible piece of evidence is CT 9.15.1 (= CJ 9.31.1), a
decision issued by Valens and Valentinian in 365 that extended the right to discipline
minors to elder family members.
Evans Grubbs 2005; Harries 1999; and Humfress 2011. See the Introduction.
Cicero, De leg. 2.27, 4753.
Bodel 2008: 261 and Bowes 2008: 42 judiciously acknowledge the presumptive nature
of claims that householders directly oversaw all religious choices and practices in their

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

religious knowledge and influence might have been so well understood

that systematic discussion was unnecessary. Nevertheless, the paucity of
analyses and prescriptive statements in classical Roman literature that
concretely defined the obligations and stakes of the householders reli-
gious oversight contrasts sharply with the spotlight placed on them in
Christian and other late Roman sources.

Stewardship as Intensive Religious and Ethical Oversight

Christian and other late Roman sources emphasized the householders
religious and ethical authority to an extent and in contexts unseen in
classical texts. Authors not only yoked these two domains of household
management (similar to the Jews, Christians did not readily distinguish
ethical conduct from religious belief ). They also framed their administra-
tion in a new fashion. Failure to oversee his domus ethics and rites came
to have concretely defined consequences both here and in the hereafter.
Two very early Roman Christian sources, First Clement (ca. 90) and
the Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 100150), envision the householder as the
primary ethical and spiritual authority in the home, who holds ultimate
responsibility for all errors committed by dependents. The Shepherd of
Hermas emphasizes that the salvation of Hermas entire household hinges
on his personal authority to uphold Gods commandments in his home:
Now I say to you [Hermas], if you do not keep [the commandments],
but neglect them, you will not have salvation, neither you nor your
children nor your household.45 Similarly, according to the writer(s) of
First Clement, those householders who fail to inculcate the proper moral
precepts (e.g., affection for God over others, humility, and obedience),
face bodily and/or spiritual death.46
Late Roman emperors also accentuated and defined the householders
ethical and religious influence. Imperial legislation urged the paterfamilias
to exercise his authority over domestic religion with particular solicitude.
Numerous imperial laws issued in the later fourth and fifth centuries
banned unorthodox practices and assemblies in urban homes and on
the grounds of rural estates.47 For example, a law issued by Arcadius,

Shepherd, Mand. 12.3.6 (trans. Osiek 1998: 53).
1 Clement 1:3.
For example, CT 16.5.3 (Valentinian and Valens at Trier, 372); 16.5.8 (Gratian, Valen-
tinian and Theodosius at Constantinople, 381); (Honorius and Theodosius
at Constantinople, 415); (Honorius and Theodosius at Constantinople, 415).
See Bowes 2008: 19196.

From Dominion to Dispensatio

Honorius, and Theodosius II at Rome in 407 and later included in the

Justinianic Code singled out the dominus as ultimately responsible for
all unorthodox practices carried out on his estates.48 Any dominus who
knowingly permitted such groups to meet at his villas would find his
property expropriated by the fisc. (Needless to say, the state did not
envision householders as stewards.) If the dominus were ignorant of the
meetings, his stewards (actores or procuratores) were deemed responsible
and would be punished in a manner befitting their lower status (i.e.,
corporal punishment). Nevertheless, the householder would suffer from
the actions of his dependents. Another provision in the ruling required
intervention by local officials in such cases an act that would publicize
the crime committed by the householders agents.49 Thus even a dominus
who was personally pious and unaware of illegal events on an estate lost
his reputation as a bonus paterfamilias if his agents acted impiously. Finally,
tenants (conductores) were also required to practice extreme vigilance over
the people and property they governed.50 Among other things, this
confirms that they too were deemed householders by the state and as
such expected to maintain the orthodoxy of their domus. These and
similar laws on religion within the private household reflect a growing
consensus among late Roman emperors that householders should bear
the lions share of religious responsibility over their vast households.
With biblical discussions of household management, these rulings
attuned fifth- and sixth-century Christian authorities to the heightened
importance of ritual and ethical oversight in the daily performance of
oikonomia. In a sermon preached during the early fifth century, Maximus
of Turin sternly reminded every landlord of his duties to ensure that his
farm laborers (rustici) did not perform sacrifices on his property. When
an underling sacrifices, Maximus declared, he sins not merely in his
own regard but also implicates his landlord who does not forbid him,
and he certainly would not have sinned if he had forbidden him. . . . 51
The landlord, he continued, would be contaminated were he to con-
sume food cultivated by a sacrificing rusticus, and the devil would inhabit
his entire estate were such rites performed.52 Maximus concluded the
sermon by providing his householders with a physical description of the

CT explicitly refers to the provincial governors responsibility to try all
reported crimes and mete out the appropriate penalties.
Cf. CT 15.5.21 (at Constantinople, 392) and (at Ravenna, 414).
Maximus, Serm. 107.1 (CC 23: 420). (Trans. adapted from Ramsey 1989: 236).
Maximus, Serm. 107.2.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

farmhand who was actually a soothsayer or devotee of Diana. He had

long unkempt hair, bared breast, legs exposed beneath a mantle, and a
long sword in the fashion of a gladiator. The bishops parting advice:
Find such a man and immediately expel him from your property.53
In certain respects, Maximus discussion of idolatry on northern Ital-
ian estates recalls advice given by Cato and Columella, who expressly
warned the dominus to take care that his slave stewards (vilici) did not
perform illicit rites or permit unknown soothsayers on his property.
Maximus, however, underlined the repercussions of a landlords religious
laxity far more precisely than the classical agronomists.54 A householder
who knowingly or unknowingly permitted dependents to perform sac-
rifices on his estates should expect the spiritual contamination of his
property, the growth of dangerous crops that could not be consumed by
a good Christian landlord, and Satans perpetual presence on the estate.
Whether Maximus outlined these implications in light of the imperial
edicts discussed previously or similar laws prohibiting pagan rites is diffi-
cult to know.55 The bishop, in contrast to the state, held the householders
directly accountable regardless of their knowledge of the practices. Nev-
ertheless, the sermon expresses an emerging Christian model of estate
management, wherein householders were obliged to oversee the ritual
activities of their dependents with novel care and concern. Failure to
maintain orthopraxy on an estate was tantamount to its ruin.
As we shall see, such a heavy-handed approach to lay household man-
agement was not favored by Romes bishops or by writers who addressed
individual Italian patresfamilias of especially high status. Nevertheless, they
shared Maximus assumptions that household management involved an
especially fastidious oversight of ethics and religious practices, and that
its proper exercise had spiritual implications.56 For example, the anony-
mous author of the Epistula ad Demetriadem de vera humilitate, attributed
by some to Prosper of Aquitaine and tentatively dated to 435, linked the

See also Maximus, Serm. 108, delivered the following Sunday. Here Maximus warned
that even landlords residing in the city were responsible for religious activities occur-
ring on their estates.
Maximus also assumed that the householders in his audience managed their estates
through tenancy. By contrast, the agronomists had envisaged a directly administered
Laws against soothsayers and pagan practices include CT 9.16.12 (Constantine and
Licinius, 319) and 16.10.12 (lares and penates) and (general sacrifices in the
home), issued by Theodosius, Arcadius, and Honorius at Constantinople in 395.
See Ambrosiaster, Comm. In ep. ad Ephesios 5.28, who held that husbands have a special
responsibility to discipline their wives so that they be religious and holy women.

From Dominion to Dispensatio

stewardship of wealth to the ethical care of household members and

their spiritual health.57 The letter was written for the Anician heiress
Demetrias, a consuls daughter and one of Italys most prominent
householders.58 Demetrias was renowned for both her virginity (she
was dedicated by her mother Anicia Juliana in 413) and her wealth,
which she never fully renounced. Indeed, Demetrias stands among the
ascetic householders discussed in the previous chapter. The author of
the De vera humilitate offered advice on how she might combine these
roles and stewardship oriented his response.59 According to the author,
householders of means were expected to perform their stewardship in
both a material and ethical manner. They must treat their possessions
exclusively as the goods of the poor, in a kind of stewardship (procu-
ratione) for church use . . . in order that the Lords slave household may
be supplied with what is necessary for food and clothing.60 Simulta-
neously, the householders performance of procuratio involved preserving
order and discipline within the domus. Householders, the author wrote,
should be seeing to it that in their own households all are cherished in
kindness and controlled by good discipline under a just and holy man-
agement (sub iusto sanctoque moderamine). For the Apostle says, If anyone
does not take care of his relatives and especially of his household, he has
denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).61
The authors invocation of this verse from First Timothy is significant.
The biblical quote recapitulated the classical axiom that linked household
management to morality and the public good. However, in this case, the
axiom connoted something rather different for its author about the exer-
cise of oikonomia. First, Demetrias administration is literally expressed as
stewardship (procuratio) rather than as authority based on possession. She
On the dating and authorship of the De vera humilitate, see Krabbe 1965: 56. Recent
discussions include Jacobs 2000; Cooper 2007b: 18283; and Kurdock 2007: 21423.
Demetrias was also the subject of letters by Jerome, Augustine, and Pelagius. See
Jacobs 2000 and Kurdock 2007.
Kurdock 2007: 21423 and Cooper 2007b: 18184. Cooper also reads this letter as
a discourse on stewardship, although she focuses on the treatment of material wealth
and its implications for asceticism.
De vera humilitate 5 (ed. and trans. Krabbe 1965: 15859): qui possessionibus suis non
aliter quem rebus pauperum praesunt et ecclesiasticae utilitati sub quaedam procura-
tione famulantur, elaborantes singuli pro suarum virium portione, ut ad victum atque
vestium familiae Dei necessaria conferantur . . .
De vera humilitate 5 (ed. and trans. Krabbe 1965: 159): et simul prospicientes ut
in domibus ipsorum sub iusto sanctoque moderamine omnes et benignitas foveat et
disciplina contineat; dicente apostolo: Si quis autem suorum et maxime domesticorum
curam non habet, fidem negavit, et est infideli deterior.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

exercised a subordinated domestic authority, although one carrying sig-

nificant powers within an earthly domus. Second, the householders very
identity as a Christian is tied directly to her performance of household
management. For this author, to be an elite Christian was to be a good
procurator, a person of power and authority whose household contributed
directly to church life. Conversely, the householder who failed in stew-
ardship was worse than an unbeliever and should expect both public
ridicule and perhaps even divine damnation.
Preaching shortly after Demetrias ostensibly received this letter,
Romes bishop Leo spoke pointedly about household management in
terms of the paterfamilias religious and ritual obligations toward his
dependents. In a sermon delivered during the 442 Lenten season, Leo
declared that Gods mercy might be gained not only by almsgiving and
fasting but also by the proper ethical management of the household. In
addition to financial sacrifices, householders might win honors or other
crowns if the following ethics were upheld in the home:

If wantonness were repelled, if drunkenness were renounced and the

carnal desire conquered by the laws of chastity . . . if, lastly, the conduct
of masters and of slaves were so well ordered that the rule of the one
is milder and the discipline of the other is more obedient. By this
performance, dearly beloved, Gods mercy will be gained, and with the
charge of sin wiped out, the most venerable Easter will be devoutly

For Leo, the obligations of Christian stewardship differed little from

classical duties of household management. These obligations encom-
passed the moral discipline and education not only of the householder
but also of his wife and slaves. The domestic virtues that Leo exhorted
householders to embrace were in fact highly traditional: control over
sexual passions through faithful marriages, sobriety, and the exercise of
moderation in the master/slave relationship. The sermon also presented a
distinct framework for evaluating their inculcation, however. Leo situated
oikonomia within the celebration of Easter, the early churchs most holy
festival of atonement and rebirth. In this respect, Leos Lenten homily of
Leo, Sermon 40.5a (CC 138A: 22930): . . . si pellatur lascivia, si abdicetur ebrietas,
et carnalis concupiscentia castitatis legibus edometur . . . si denique dominorum atque
servorum tam ordinati mores sint, ut et illorum potestas mitior, et istorum sit disciplina
devotior. Hac igitur observantia, dilectissimi, obtinebitur misericordia dei, et abolito
peccato reatu, religiose venerandum pascha celebrabitur. (Trans. adapted from Feltoe
1895: 15556).

From Dominion to Dispensatio

442 figuratively recast household management as a set of ritual practices

that, when performed correctly during the Easter season, garnered Gods
misericordia and potentially wiped out (abolitum) the householders sin.
In Leos mind, the domestic sphere was linked to the churchs liturgical
rhythms, and its cultivation was a veritable penitential performance that
might bring about the expiation of sin and hence prepare the domus for
future glory.63 As he remarked in a later Lenten sermon, And what is
more suitable to the Christian faith than that there should be a forgive-
ness of sins, not only in the church but also in the homes of all men?64
For Leo, the householder shouldered an enormous responsibility in his
ethical oversight, for his familys salvation rested on his ability to govern
their behavior.
Leo, however, did not overlook the implications of good stewardship
for the householders earthly authority. In the same sermon, he noted
several acts of clementia typically performed by the emperors during Lent,
such as the release of prisoners and the relaxation of debts. He then
presented them to his audience as suitable exempla for the conduct of
more ordinary domestic administrators. Let Christian people, therefore,
imitate their princes, and be incited to domestic gentleness by these royal
examples. For it is not right that private laws should be severer than
public laws.65 Here, Leo both echoed and inverted sentiments voiced
by classical theorists like Seneca in the De clementia, wherein the late Stoic
thinker (and elite householder) used oikonomia as a discourse of authority
for the young emperor Nero.66 Whereas Nero was exhorted to mimic
the good paterfamilias in his exercise of imperial power, here Christian
domini are encouraged to imitate the emperors. Leos analogy between
imperial and domestic administration certainly has a long history, much
of which was constructed by the emperors themselves. Nevertheless,
it underscored the dual significance of stewardship for the Christian
householder: it was a model of estate management that could elevate his

Here I mean everyday penance and not the more formal liturgical rite that was also
known in this period. See Rebillard 1994 and Uhalde 2007: 11634.
Leo, Sermon 49.5 (CC 138A: 289, dated to 457): Quid autem convenientius fidei
christianae quam ut non solum in ecclesia, sed etiam in omnium domibus fiat remission
Leo, Sermon 40.5a (CC 138A: 23031): Imitentur ergo christiani populi principes suos,
et ad domesticam indulgentiam regiis incitentur exemplis. Non enim fas est privatas
leges austeriores esse quam publicas.
Cf. Seneca, De clementia 1.14.2 and 1.18. I am not suggesting that Leo cited Seneca
directly or even had the De clementia in mind when he wrote the sermon; I simply
wish to underline the parallels between Leos thought and that of classical Romans.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

standing both within a public forum (i.e., to be more like the emperor)
and secure his households spiritual health within the house of God.
A similar reorientation of household management appears in the Ad
Gregoriam in palatio, the late Roman conduct manual whose advice to the
Christian matrona Gregoria opened this chapter. Although its authorship
remains debated, it was ascribed early in its textual history to Bishop
John, perhaps of Constantinople.67 Whether the author was a bishop
(named John or otherwise) is unclear, but he certainly speaks to Grego-
ria with great spiritual authority. As did Leo and the author of the De
vera humilitate, the author highlighted the duty of lay Christians to fol-
low Gods commandments in the home, which are expressed as tasks of
household management.68 Especially interesting, however, is his assump-
tion that all figures of power within a household, including a wife with
a living husband (the situation imagined in the Ad Gregoriam), must
embrace stewardship and undertake its ethical obligations.
For example, one chapter narrates a comical anecdote about a Chris-
tian couple from Palestine, whose bickering had escalated into their
pelting each other with loaves of bread.69 After a counseling session with
a bishop, the couple asked him to bestow penance on them. Instead of
telling Gregoria to follow suit when faced with marital troubles, however,
the author exhorted her to stoically endure marriage and her husbands
anger and sexual demands. In so doing, he explained, she performed a
daily sacrifice that constituted her wifely contribution to the ordering
of the Christian home.70 As a domina, Gregoria was also urged to keep
[Gods] commandments in the treatment of her slaves. In the passage
cited at the beginning of the chapter, the author reminded Gregoria of
her duty as mistress to provide for her slaves material needs and to avoid
using overly harsh discipline. Gregoria is told that she will have to render
an account of her actions as a domina at a tribunal presided over by God.
In this particular instance, the author of the Ad Gregoriam might have
engaged in a double entendre, since both masters and stewards were
expected to render an account of their management. Under Roman

On its authorship, dating, and provenance, see Cooper 1996: 10811 and 2007: 4445.
In some manuscripts, the text is attributed to John Chrysostom. Another strand of
scholarship originating with the editorial work of Dom Morin associated the text
with Arnobius the Younger.
For the gendered implications of the text, see Cooper 1992: 10811, 11943 and
2007: 4455 and passim.
Ad Gregoriam in palatio 8.
Cooper 1992: 11643 and 2007: 18398.

From Dominion to Dispensatio

law, masters were legally obligated for any delicts committed by their
slaves and hence could be summoned to answer for their administration
in court.71 Alternatively, slave-stewards were also required to present
a reckoning of their household business before manumission. In other
words, Gregorias accounting before God reflected both her spiritual
status as a slave-steward and her traditional social role as a domina. The
enormity of Gregorias double responsibility as both earthly domina and
Gods steward is further emphasized in the final sentence of the passage:
she is responsible for her own salvation and that of those placed by the
Lord in her care.72
No one understood the implications of this recasting of oikonomia
better than Gregory, Romes bishop from 590 to 604. In one particularly
arresting passage in the Liber regulae pastoralis, Gregorys handbook
on pastoral preaching for clergy (although a treatise on authority in its
own right), he discussed the proper means of admonishing subordinates
(subditi) and those in power (praelati).73 Using the father/son relationship
as his working metaphor, Gregory claimed that praelati, like fathers,
shoulder the more onerous burden because they must simultaneously
correct themselves and their children, that is, those in their power.
Preachers, he explained, should encourage all men-in-power to become
like heavenly creatures in their circumspection full of eyes within and
round about (Ezek. 1:18; Rev. 4:6) . . . so that they are both eager to
please the internal judge within themselves and, while offering externally
examples of life, they also detect those things that must be corrected in
For Gregory, domination was a terrifying exercise in both self-control
and spiritual discipline. Above all, it was a matter of watchfulness both
of others and of the self.75 Here Gregory vividly invoked both Ezekiels
description of the four winged cherubim, who guard Gods throne, and
the four living creatures of Revelations 4:6, who flank the Lords celestial
seat, underlining their extraordinary powers of vision as creatures who
For Roman laws governing noxal liabilities, see Buckland 1908: 599603.
See Cooper 2007: 12234, who emphasizes this point and examines possible con-
nections between the depiction of domestic slavery in the Ad Gregoriam and specific
issues regarding slaveholding in late Roman law.
Gregory, RP 3.4.
Gregory, RP 3.4 (ed. Judic 1992: 27880): caeli animalia in circuitu et intus oculis
plena . . . ut cuncti qui praesunt intus atque in circuitu oculos habeant, quatinus et
interno iudici in semetipsis placere studeant, et exempla vitae exterius praebentes, ea
etiam quae in aliis sunt corrigenda deprehendant.
Watchfulness was a topos in Gregorys thought. See Leyser 2000: 16063.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

are full of eyes within and round about. Such an image emblematized
the double watchfulness that men with power over subordinates should
constantly maintain. Whereas others emphasized the fathers role as a
moral exemplum in the home and household governance as an index of
his character, late Roman Italian moralists conceived domestic authority
as a form of penetrating vision, trained simultaneously on others and
within ones own heart and soul.76
Gregory too expounded on the day of reckoning, when God would
demand an account from all householders of their actions. He discussed
this moment in his ninth homily on the Gospels, a sermon presumably
delivered before a Roman audience sometime between 590 and 592.77
Here he offered an extended reading of Matthew 25:1430, the parable of
the talents. The parable describes a master who distributes three different
sums to three different slaves (denoted as servi both in the biblical text
and Gregorys exegesis) before leaving the household. On his return, he
demands a reckoning of the sums: the slaves who invested their masters
money and increased it were rewarded; the one slave who simply dug a
hole and buried his money was rebuked. In the sermon, Gregory honed
in on the masters return. Expressly likening the master to God and thus
his congregants to the servi, Gregory proclaimed that, [t]he dominus who
dispensed the talents returns to demand an account, because he who now
generously bestows spiritual gifts makes a rigorous examination of merits,
and he takes into account what everyone has received, and weighs up the
gain we bring back from his gifts.78 Gregorys use of a vivid, concrete
language of financial oversight to describe final judgment underlines the
extent to which he intended his words to fall heavily on the hearts and
minds of Roman householders. Oikonomia was their discourse, and as a
man of means himself, it was a system of ideas and practices that Gregory
understood well.
When read together, these texts show how the earthly exercise of
household management became linked inextricably to religious goals

Cf. Ad Gregoriam in palatio 18, where Gregoria is exhorted to be both her own witness
and judge.
Gregory, HEv. 9. On the date and possibility that a notary and not Gregory

delivered some of his homilies, see Etaix 1999: v-x.
Gregory, HEv. 9.1 (CC 141: 60): Sed dominus, qui talenta contulit rationem positurum
redit, quia is qui nunc pie spiritalia dona tribuit, districte in iudicio merita exquirit,
quid quisque accepit considerat, et quod lucrum de acceptis reportet pensat. (Trans.
adapted from Hurst 1990: 128).

From Dominion to Dispensatio

and cosmic ends. Householders have become stewards, mandated by

God to oversee the behavior of their subordinates with great solicitude
and to administer their resources with the aim of helping the poor. A
householders failure or success in these endeavors would be evaluated
not only by peers and imperial officials, but also at Judgment Day, when
God scrutinized his or her exercise of household management. Moreover,
while unquestionably subordinate to God within a cosmic hierarchy, a
Christian householder-steward remained very much a figure of power
within the domus. In this respect, he bore a striking resemblance to the
flesh-and-blood dispensator who both lorded over others and served a
lord. Despite, or perhaps because of, its humble associations, the lan-
guage of oikonomia developed and employed by these authors retained
its elitism and authority. For many late Roman Italian thinkers, stew-
ardship was a defining mark of a more conservative brand of aristocratic
Christianity, which valorized a middle ground between extreme ideals
of ascetic renunciation and traditional norms of domesticity. It was also
a potential path to salvation, because its proper exercise could expiate
sin, as Leo and others proclaimed. In short, the recasting of oikonomia as
stewardship did not fundamentally erode the discourses elite resonances.
It remained a system of ideas and practices associated with the empires
most powerful people and continued to function as a barometer of their
moral worth on earth and presumably in heaven.

However self-evident this model of oikonomia might have sounded to
some, it carried rather paradoxical implications for domestic authority.
Stewardship never replaced dominion as the legal, social, and economic
basis of domestic administration in late antiquity. Even the most pious
Christian householders, who theoretically perceived themselves as the
slave-stewards of Gods property, still conducted their affairs as holders of
land and people. Late Roman Christian moralists were hardly unaware
of this dissonance. In fact, they drew attention to the numerous problems
that stewardship engendered for a Christian householder in an owner-
ship society. Remember Ananias and Sapphira who from fear of the
future kept what was their own, and be careful for your part not rashly
to squander what is Christs, Jerome warned Paulinus in the letter cited
previously. Do not, that is, through poor judgment give the property of

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the poor to those who are not poor, lest, as the wise man said, generos-
ity be lost through generosity.79 The householder-steward would need
guidance in navigating the challenging terrain set before him, especially
if he were a clergyman.
For some, the problem with stewardship was not its social implications
but the many opportunities it afforded to exploit the Lords resources.
According to the anonymous author of De divitiis (On Riches), a
treatise once attributed to Pelagius and now thought to have been penned
by a Sicilian cleric in the mid-fifth century, stewardship was little more
than a convenient fiction for householders who acquired wealth through
dubious means.80 Consequently, the author advised Christians not to
accumulate excess wealth for any reason, even to enrich their children,
but to accrue and transmit to their heirs only the bare minimum needed
for survival.81 An extreme form of autarky might provide a check on
a stewards potential misuse and misappropriation of Gods riches, and
hence keep him from committing sin.
Although more optimistic about the possibilities of stewardship in late
Roman society, Gregory was also acutely aware of its potential pitfalls. He
was especially attuned to the great difficulties householders faced when
asked to trade their traditional identity as domini for the more humble,
indeed humiliating, roles of servi and operarii (workmen as Gregory
elsewhere denoted Gods earthly stewards in another sermon).82 For
Gregory, it was crucial that householders understood the nature of and
stakes in their new elite identities as slavish agents laboring in Gods
domus. Elsewhere in the Liber regulae pastoralis, Gregory directed preach-
ers to approach the earthly landowner qua steward by underlining his
subordination to God. They must admonish householders so that they
acknowledge that the heavenly Lord established them as stewards (dis-
pensatores) of temporal resources . . . And when they consider that they
have been appointed for the service of those to whom they dispense
what they have received, by no means let a swelling [from pride] elate
their minds, but let fear repress it.83 Like other Christian theorists of

Jerome, Ep. 58.7 (CSEL 54: 537): id est, ne inmoderato iudicio rem pauperum tribuas
non pauperibus et secundum dictum prudentissimi viri liberalitate liberalitas pereat.
De divitiis 6.3.
De divitiis 20.23.
Gregory, HEv 19.2.
Gregory, RP 3.20 (ed. Judic 1992: 382): . . . ut a celesti domino dispensatores se pos-
itos subsidiorum temporalium agnoscant; et tanto humiliter praebeant, quanto et
aliena esse intellegunt quae dispensant. Cumque in illorum ministerio quibus accepta

From Dominion to Dispensatio

household administration, Gregory maintained that the earthly house-

holder was not a dominus but a dispensator called on to manage his Lords
property carefully and solicitously. Gregory also enumerated the distinct
challenges of this role to the earthly householder. For Gregory, pride was
the most troublesome side effect of successful stewardship, a position that
reveals the bishops Augustinian heritage. But he also outlined additional
problem areas for the Christian dispensator. His list included the fol-
lowing hazards: that they may err in determining how much, on whom,
and on what to spend Gods wealth; that their investments on behalf of
God could prove unprofitable; that they torment those who ask for help
by delaying a response; that their duty to offer gifts is accompanied by
unseemly moroseness; and most frightening of all, that they attribute to
themselves the virtue of their generosity.84 Indeed Gregory understood
better than most that the reformulation of oikonomia as a discourse of
elite stewardship would present problems for householders.

Classical discourses of household management not only remained rele-
vant through the end of the sixth century; they flourished. In a period
when other criteria of elite status were waning, this traditional ideo-
logical framework accrued ever more significance. As late as the early
seventh century, oikonomia continued to offer elite Italians a system of
ideas and practices on how to be good gentlemen. Oikonomia did not
remain unchanged, however. This chapter describes two key develop-
ments in the late Roman conceptualization of household management:
the privileging of stewardship over possession as the basis of domestic
administration, and the assimilation of the householders traditional ethi-
cal authority to inculcate values and teach proper behavior with distinctly
religious goals. In this respect, we may speak of an accentuation of the
householders religious authority in the domus to a degree unknown to
classical householders. The late antique householder and his subordi-
nates (e.g., his wife) were charged not only with the onerous duty of
shoring up their familys earthly reputation but also with the responsi-
bility of ensuring its salvation. To claim that the stakes were higher
within the Christian exercise of oikonomia is injudicious, but it is surely

largiuntur constitutos se esse considerant, nequaquam eorum mentes tumor sublevet,

sed timor premat.
Gregory, RP 3.20.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

correct to underline the differences between Leo and Gregorys visions

of household management and those articulated by earlier theorists, such
as Aristotle, Cicero, and Plutarch.
Material changes in the domestic economy and in the constitution of
the households social order were connected to these shifts in religious
thought and ethical perception. The shrinking horizons (and portfolios)
of Italys elite landowners might have encouraged them to focus more
intensely and personally on the resources that they still commanded: the
men, women, and children who depended on their landlords property
and protection and who provided the vital labor needed to drive pro-
duction and pay rents. Patrocinium has typically been characterized as an
abusive and authoritarian development in late Roman social relations.
Like all social relationships, however, it was a reciprocal system that made
demands on the householder as well. Anicia Demetrias, for instance,
erected a church dedicated to the proto-martyr St. Stephen on a sub-
urban estate that she owned on the Via Latina about three kilometers
outside of Rome.85 Leo, bishop at the time, took an interest in her new
building, but the evidence suggests that its control remained firmly in
Demetrias hands during her lifetime.86 By all accounts, this and other
private churches that dotted Italys cities and countryside were extraor-
dinarily complex institutions, especially in regards to their oversight.87
Nevertheless, their popularity among elite Italian householders suggests
that some took the mandate of stewardship seriously and endeavored to
provide a religious infrastructure for their dependents, many of who lived
closer to the dominus than ever before.
It is no coincidence that Roman bishops were among the primary
architects of this particular (and for some, probably peculiar) model of
household management. As we shall see, they too were both household-
ers and stewards. To a greater extent than lay domini, Romes bishops
grappled with the paradoxes and challenges that this combination of
roles engendered. How a bishop could be a householder-steward and
how he might exercise his domestic authority in relation to other mens
households are the fundamental questions examined in the chapters to
An inscription records her foundation: ILCV I.1765.
ILCV I.1765 states that Leo had assigned a local presbyter to serve Demetrias church
after her death. See also LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 47).
See Chapter 4.

Chapter 3

Primus Cultor : Episcopal

H ouseh olding in Th eory
and Practice

n late antiquity, excellence in household management was

construed as a mark of holiness in a bishop. Nowhere is this axiom
apparent than in Gregorys Dialogues, the late sixth-century bishops
account of sanctity and the miraculous in contemporary Italy. In the
Dialogues, we meet saints such as Boniface of Ferentino, who produced
enough wine for the poor and the bishops household from a lean harvest
of grapes picked from his churchs small vineyard.1 Bonifaces supernatural
estate management evidently also included pest control. When the garden
was infested with caterpillars, the bishop commanded the bugs to stop
eating these vegetables! and they obeyed.2 Elsewhere, Gregory extolled
Frigdianus of Lucca and Sabinus of Piacenza for redirecting the swollen
rivers of their dioceses away from the churchs fields.3 The presence of
episcopal householders in the Dialogues with ascetic superstars such as
Benedict of Nursia and the bearded widow Galla was not accidental.
For Gregory and his predecessors, acts of domestic administration could
signal saintliness in a bishop.
Roman bishops regarded the elite domus as a model of good govern-
ment. To lead the church, they had to be seen as expert estate man-
agers, men who could be trusted with the orderly and ethical oversight
of property and people. The fact that bishops were religious leaders,
men associated with heightened spiritual (even miraculous) authority,
does not mean that they were not also masters of oikonomia. Household
management offered prelates a system of ethical and practical knowl-
edge applicable to the mundane tasks of running a major ecclesiastical

Gregory, Dial. 1.9.25.
Gregory, Dial. 1.9.15.
Gregory, Dial. 3.9.13, 10.23.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

institution and to the harder job of forging moral preeminence. Its his-
torical significance equals (and perhaps even surpasses) more familiar
paradigms of Roman episcopal authority, like Petrine primacy and apos-
tolic succession. In late Roman Italy, Peter was not only the princeps
apostolorum but also the primus cultor, Gods first caretaker, who solici-
tously cultivated the Lords lands and souls.4


An overseer (episkopos), wrote the author of First Timothy 3:5, must
manage his own household well and see that his children obey him with
proper respect. For if anyone does not know how to manage his own
family, then how can he care for Gods church? In the same man-
ner that contemporary writers such as Plutarch and Tacitus connected
domestic management with the government of public life, this early
second-century Christian author posited oikonomia as the primary eth-
ical framework for assessing a bishops capacity to oversee the church.
As we have seen, late Roman discussants of oikonomia recommended a
revised model of domestic administration: it both recast the householder
as a steward and underlined his religious oversight of the domus. Whereas
lay householders were encouraged to embrace these new domestic ethics,
Christian bishops were expected to perfect them. Oikonomia as a form
of stewardship shaped how numerous Roman thinkers and especially
bishops conceived the nature and practice of ecclesiastical leadership.

Hippolytus on Callistus as the Inept Steward of the Church

When Hippolytus (ca. 170230) adopted oikonomia as a discourse of
episcopal authority in the early third century, a single orthodox bishop
ministered Romes Christians and his leadership over a centralized local
church was recognized both within the city and abroad.5 Previously, each
semi-independent Christian community had multiple leaders (sometimes
called episkopoi), who were given administrative responsibilities, including
financial duties.6 Although first and second-century texts emphasize the

Gregory, HEv. 31, discussed further below.
La Piana 1925 dates the monarchical episcopate to the late second century, whereas
Brent 1996 dates it to the early third.
Jay 1981 and Lampe 2003: 359412.

Primus Cultor

Roman overseers roles in the collection and distribution of alms, the

provisioning of hospitality, and the care of orphans and widows, none
frames their charge in terms of stewardship or householding, or identifies
the bishop with the paterfamilias.7 Significantly, Hippolytus employed the
language of household management to describe the man who might have
been Romes first monarchical bishop, Callistus (217223).8
Callistus was Hippolytus great rival in the city, and the latters invoca-
tion of oikonomia appears as a mode of invective. His attack on Callistus
leadership took the form of a moralizing critique of the bishops abilities
to administer property and oversee his congregants behavior. According
to Hippolytus, Callistus had been a household slave (oiketes) of a Christian
imperial freedman, in whose name he established a banking business with
deposits from other Christians in the community.9 Instead of monitoring
the money carefully like a good steward, however, Callistus squandered
it and tried to flee the city to escape his master and investors. Later, as
bishop, Callistus administration proved more noxious still. In addition to
permitting twice- and even thrice-married men to enter the clergy and
already-ordained clerics to marry, Callistus allowed unmarried women
to have sex with free and enslaved partners and to consider themselves
married even to servile companions. Hippolytus even claimed that
some women had abortions to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies
by slaves or other socially inappropriate fathers.10
Hippolytus depiction of Callistus drew on classical conceptions of
household management as an ethical framework for evaluating character
and fitness to govern. The productive administration of property and the
prudent discipline of dependents (especially their sexual behavior) were
crucial domains of oikonomia that all householders should master. How-
ever, Hippolytus portrait of Callistus also reflects a new application of
an emerging Christian paradigm of domestic administration sketched in
the previous chapter. Here, financial stewardship and the householders
ethical responsibilities are core criteria for assessing the legitimacy of
Lampe 2003: 399400. I thus disagree with Jeffers 1991: 12127, who argues that
episcopal authority in late first- and second-century Rome was conceived in terms
of paternalism and household management. Moreover, the distinctly paternalistic
framework of episcopal authority developed by Ignatius of Antioch (cf. Eph. 5.2;
Mag. 7.1; and Trall. 7.2) is significant but anomalous for the time. See Schollgen 1988
contra Klauck 1981. It also had no influence on early Roman writers.
Brent 1996.
Hippolytus, Ref. ad haers. 9.12.
Hippolytus also accused Callistus of doctrinal errors, like radical theological modalism
and performing second baptisms.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

a bishop to lead. Hippolytus expressly likened Callistus to the bad stew-

ards of the biblical parables, who were punished for squandering or
hoarding, rather than increasing, their masters wealth.11 He also built
on assumptions about the householders duty to maintain moral order
within the domus, in this case by guarding the social and sexual behavior
of women in his charge. Moreover, he connected these assumptions to
an ecclesiastical framework. Callistus, he asserted, had failed to maintain
order within the churchs ranks by permitting ethically unqualified men
(at least in Hippolytus opinion) to gain and hold clerical positions. It is
significant that Hippolytus indignation was aimed not at Callistus servile
background but at his moral negligence and ineptitude as a steward. The
fact that Callistus might have actually been a slave-steward is probably
no more than a coincidence. It did, however, give Hippolytus attacks
rhetorical traction and might have encouraged him to forge broader con-
nections between Callistus ecclesiastical leadership and his exercise of

Post-Constantinian Developments: The Bishop of Rome

as Gods Chief Householder-Steward
Hippolytus portrait of Callistus is the earliest extant depiction of a
Roman bishop in the guise of the householder-steward. Nevertheless, it
adumbrates an emerging tradition in late Roman thought. From the later
fourth century, Roman bishops and their supporters turned to oikonomia
as a new and especially suitable discourse of episcopal authority.
Ambrosiaster, the Roman exegete who was active at the time of Dama-
sus (366384), affirmed the relevance of oikonomia for defining episco-
pal authority and broadened its meaning. In his commentary on First
Timothy 3:5, Ambrosiaster explained how the bishop who manages his
own household correctly will be judged suitable to become a rector.
For he who is trustworthy in small things, is also in great things (Lk
16.10).12 By calling the bishop a rector, Ambrosiaster emphasized his
civic face and public stature, since rector was a term for a man who leads
and governs not only politically (i.e., the governor of a province) but
also morally and judicially, as an authority who casts judgment on a

Cf. Lk 12: 4148/Mt 24:4551 and Mt 25: 1430, both discussed in Chapter 2.
Ad Tim. prima 3.5 (CSEL 81.3: 264): Manifestum est quia tunc potest idoneus rector
futurus probari, si prius domum suam recte gubernaverit. Qui enim in minimis fidelis
est, et in magnis [fidelis est].

Primus Cultor

community.13 Ambrosiaster, however, also carefully contextualized the

rectors power and influence within the frame of stewardship. The Lukan
tag in the passage derives from the parable of the so-called dishonest
steward, the slave-steward (Vulgate: vilicus) who shortchanged his master,
although ultimately to his masters advantage, and who is consequently
commended for prudence in using the things of this world to secure a
better future.14 Ambrosiasters rector was thus also an expert steward, who
demonstrated his capacity to lead through his excellence in administering
Gods house. Although the entire world belongs to God, Ambrosiaster
concluded, the church may nevertheless be called His house, whose
rector is presently Damasus.15
As Ambrosiasters discussion suggests, Roman authors, and especially
Roman bishops, articulated episcopal authority through ideas and idioms
that resonated with broader developments in household management dis-
cussed in the previous chapter. However, their adaption of oikonomia as
an episcopal discourse also required careful revision. If an elite model of
divinely mandated stewardship and religious oversight in the home were
recommended for all householders, then Romes bishops would have to
develop their own distinct brand of domestic expertise. They accom-
plished this task through four principal strategies: by emphasizing their
asceticism in domestic practices, by underlining the uniquely expansive
remit of their moral and juridical authority to render an account for
the whole of the domus dei, by foregrounding their embodiment of the
political and social paradoxes that stewardship engendered for household-
ers, and by claiming to be exceptional guardians of the churchs material

Bishops as Ascetic Householders

The embrace of celibate marriage (or virginity) constituted one obvious
and important way in which the clergy might distinguish their stew-
ardship from other domini-dispensatores. As David Hunter has shown,
the adaption of ascetic principles to Roman clerical discipline was

For rector as moral authority and judge, see Cicero, De re publica 2.29.51, 5.4.6 and
Ecclesiasticus 10.14; 2324. Damasus used rector as a term for a bishop in his inscribed
poems on Roman martyrs (cf. Epigrammata 99, 117, 124). Whether Ambrosiaster chose
the epithet because Damasus favored it warrants further study.
Lk 16: 113.
Ad Tim. prima 3.15.1 (CSEL 81.3: 270): ut cum totus mundus dei sit, ecclesia tamen
domus eius dicatur, cuius hodie rector est Damasus.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

motivated partly by the need to compete with other contemporary

spiritual authorities, some of whom had renounced marriage and sex-
ual activity altogether.16 Beginning in the later fourth century, although
existing as an ideal since at least the early third (cf. Hippolytus comments
on twice- and thrice-married clerics), higher clergymen (i.e., bishops,
priests, and deacons) in Rome and Italy were expected to perfect old and
new ethics of married life.17 Any man aspiring to the upper grades of
the clergy could have only one wife (and she only one husband), and all
had to forgo all sexual relations following ordination. For example, in his
commentary on First Timothy, in which Ambrosiaster emphasized the
importance of stewardship as a foundation for the bishops government
of the church, he also presented an early defense of clerical celibacy.18
Roman bishops were expected to demonstrate their asceticism in other
areas of domestic life as well. All householders had to act as hosts, invit-
ing friends, colleagues, and clients for meals and other leisure activities.
Bishops were no exception. Providing hospitality to Christians in need
was a mark of excellence in a bishop.19 Hospitality, however, was among
the more perilous ethical minefields that Roman bishops navigated in
their guise as householder-stewards. We must assume that Romes prelates
routinely entertained the privileged and were frequently invited to dine
with them. When participating in such quotidian social situations, they
had to strike a balance between studied graciousness and radical self-
denial. Bishops therefore were expected to avoid certain dining and
entertainment rituals that might compromise their reputations as men
of exemplary self-control. For example, in a short encomium of Gela-
sius (492496), the early sixth-century monk Dionysus Exiguus praised
the Roman bishop for his habit of eschewing slothful leisure (desid-
ioso otio) and inappropriately luxurious dinner parties.20 According to
Dionysius, Gelasius was the perfect abstemious host, who somberly dis-
couraged sumptuous convivia and likened such practices to physical and
moral disease. An excessively grand and boisterous dinner party thrown
by a bishop violated ethical and even financial principles. In 559, Pelagius
I (556561) rebuked the bishop of Syracuse and his priests for misusing

Hunter 1987 and 1999.
A fuller discussion of clerical marriage appears in Chapter 5.
Ambrosiaster, Ad Tim. prima 3:1213, discussed in Hunter 1999: 14552.
Cf. Passio S. Pancratii 2, in which the late third-century bishop Gaius welcomes
Pancratius and his uncle Dionysius, two Christian refugees from Phrygia, into his
house on the Caelian Hill.
Dionysius Exiguus (PL 67: 232).

Primus Cultor

church funds to pay for prandia enormia.21 Similarly, in a 592 letter to

Natalis of Salona, Gregory sternly reminded the Dalmatian bishop that
banquets should be held for the sake of charity, not for the purpose of
engaging in malicious gossip or debating secular affairs.22

Rendering Accounts for Earthly Members of the Domus Dei

Fortunately, a chaste marriage and ascetic table were not the only prac-
tices that might separate the episcopal householder-steward from other
experts. While other householders might have overseen expansive mul-
tipropertied estates, Romes bishops claimed to be the watchmen and
stewards of all households within the domus dei. A radically inclusive
understanding of stewardship appears frequently in the writings of the
mid-fifth-century Roman bishop, Leo, especially in letters and sermons
addressed to other bishops. In a letter written in 446 to the bishops
of Mauritania Caesariensis, Leo reminded his fellow prelates that they
were responsible for any disorder in the Lords Household (in domini
domo) which arose from their ordination of inappropriate men to the
episcopate.23 In several sermons, he also expressly characterized bishops
as the dispensatores of alms.24
Leos most definitive discussion of episcopal authority as a form of
elevated and singular stewardship appears in a sermon celebrating the
anniversary of his consecration. In 445, before an audience that included
visiting Italian clergy, he discussed the bishops responsibility as pastores
to render an account (reddituros rationem) of their congregants collec-
tive conduct.25 As mentioned previously, to render an account was a
task widely associated with stewardship and the domestic sphere in late
antiquity, and there is little doubt that Leo meant to associate the bishop
precisely with these cultural referents. In using this precise wording,
however, Leo almost certainly also meant to invoke Hebrews 13:17. In
that passage, the exact phrase appears in relation to the religious leaders
(Vulgate: praepositi) of the community, who are charged with render-
ing an account of their subjects conduct on Judgment Day. In the

Pelagius, Ep. 25.
Gregory, Ep. 2.44. Cf. Pelagius, Ep. 25.
Leo, Ep. 12.2. See also Gelasius, Ep. 14.26 (ed. Thiel 1868: 377) to the bishops of
Lucania, Bruttium, and Sicily (ca. 494).
Leo, Sermons 45.3 and 90.3.
Leo, Sermon 5.2 (CC 138: 2223): sciantque se pro commissis sibi ovibus reddituros
esse rationem, nobis tamen cum omnibus cura communis est. . . .

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

verse from Hebrews, the Christian denizens addressed in the treatise are
told to obey (oboedite) and subject themselves (subiacete) to their praepositi
because of their leaders unique authority to render a final reckoning of
their behavior. Leos bishop, in other words, was simultaneously a slave-
steward and a man-in-power responsible for an accounting of the entire
Christian community. No lay householder-steward except perhaps the
emperor could make a similar claim.
That the emperor potentially challenged the bishops claim to a more
expansive jurisdiction over the domus dei was not lost on Leos successor,
Gelasius. In his famous letter Duo quippe sunt addressed to the emperor
Anastasius in 494, Gelasius differentiated the emperors domain from that
of bishops using the discourse of oikonomia.26 According to Gelasius, the
auctoritas sacrata pontificum was the weightier and more onerous because
it involved the rendering of an account at divine judgment for these
same kings of men.27 In the letter, Gelasius too used the phrase rationem
reddere with its juridical and domestic connotations and identified it as
the exclusive burden of the bishop.28 In Gelasius view, it was precisely
the bishops weightier economic responsibilities as the Lords steward
and chief assessor of earthly conduct that distinguished his authority from
other elites and placed him in a privileged position over emperors.29

Primus Cultor: The Paradoxical Authority of the Episcopal

Any late Roman confronted with the figure of the householder-steward
would have been struck by the deeply paradoxical nature of this particular
construct of estate management. Although stewards exercised power and
authority in a limited sense, they were by definition subordinates, agents
of another more significant lord. How most rationalized their reposition-
ing within the cosmic order remains an open question. In the writings of

An observation first made by Nelson 1967.
Gelasius, Ep. 12.2 (ed. Thiel 1868: 350): In quibus gravius est pondus sacerdotum,
quanto etiam pro ipsis regibus hominum in divino reddituri sunt examine rationem.
Nelson 1967 and Meyer 1998: 170, who also linked the passage to oikonomia.
Alternatively, Nelson 1967 suggested that Gelasius meant to invoke the legal authority
of the paterfamilias in this passage. No Roman bishop, however, expressly linked the
householders (or bishops) expanding religious authority to the principle of noxal
liabilities (wherein fathers/masters were legally responsible for the crimes of their
slaves and sons), which Nelson argues lies behind Gelasius logic. Although Nelsons
interpretation is certainly possible, one that stresses the bishops role as steward is closer
to the biblical and emerging patristic traditions.

Primus Cultor

one Roman prelate, Gregory, this very ambivalence served as the foun-
dation for the bishops unique and exemplary authority over other clergy
and men.30 Gregorys bishop is a cultor and an operarius (workman), two
terms that he (and others) used to denote the episcopal agent who took
care of Gods house.31 More concrete still, he is the Lords household
slave. I am the slave of the supreme paterfamilias (servus enim sum summi
patrisfamilias), Gregory proclaimed in a homily on the Gospel of Luke.32
At the same time, Gregorys bishop was also a ruler (rex), a superior
(praelatus), a governor (rector), and a member of the order of leaders
(ordo praepositorum).33 He was, in other words, a man-in-power whom
earthly circumstances placed over others.
Gregorys emphasis on the bishops subordination and dominance res-
onates with his general theory of authority. For Gregory, authority was
inherently paradoxical; it was a burden that God placed on certain men
that they must exercise with great humility.34 These ambivalences inspired
Gregory to fashion an alternative apostolic paradigm for the episcopate.
In a homily on the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:613), Gregory posed
a rhetorical question to his Roman audience: What does the man who
looked after the fig tree represent but the order of those who are in charge
of others (praepositorum ordo)? His next move in the sermon was both
expected and highly significant. While they preside over the church,
he explained, they without question take care of the Lords vineyard.
The apostle Peter was the first cultivator (primus cultor) of his vineyard.
We, unworthy men, follow insofar as we labor to instruct you by teach-
ing, intervening and rebuking.35 To a certain extent, Gregorys sermon
reprises familiar themes. Gregorys bishop is a cultor and a praepositus, a
humble caretaker of the fields and a man-in-power over others, who
As discussed earlier, Ambrosiaster also underlined the paradox of the bishop as rector
and steward. The fact that Gregory frequently invoked the rector in both his speculative
and more pragmatic writings (see below) suggests a closer connection between the
two Roman thinkers than has been acknowledged.
Cultor: Gregory, HEv. 31.3 and operarius: HEv. 17 (CC 141: 271, 118). Cf. Leo, Ep.
4.2, for the bishop as a field laborer and Ennodius, Carm. 1.9.15461 for Epifanius of
Pavia as cultor of the Lords fields.
Gregory, HEv. 36.2 on Lk 14: 1624.
Cf. RP 2.67 and HEv. 31.3, discussed in Markus 1997: 2833.
Mayvaert 1977: 5; Markus 1997: 301; Straw 1988; and especially Leyser 2000: 16187.
Gregory, HEv. 31.3 (CC 141: 271): Quid vero per cultorem ficulneae nisi praepos-
itorum ordo exprimitur? Qui dum praesunt ecclesiae, nimirum dominicae vineae
curam gerunt. Huius enim vineae primus cultor Petrus apostolus exstitit. Hunc nos
indigni sequimur, in quantum pro eruditione vestra docendo, deprecando, increpando

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

bore the ominous duty of bringing a morally recalcitrant congregation

to the threshold of the Lords kingdom. The allusion to Peter as the
orders founder and chief exemplum, however, suggests a program of
distinction, which would differentiate bishops from others who might
lay claim to this particular paradox. Although it is doubtful that Gregory
intended his comments in this local sermon to carry weight in ecumenical
debates over Roman primacy, he undoubtedly hoped that refashioning
Peter as the primus cultor would inspire all bishops and clergy to carry out
their unique but demanding mandate: to instruct, intercede, and reprove.
As often as we correct someone for his sin, Gregory concluded, it
is as if we are digging around a barren tree, owing to it the proper

The Bishop as Trustful Steward of Material Possessions

Finally and most controversially, Roman bishops claimed special exper-
tise regarding the administration of material property, especially wealth
donated to their church by elite members of their congregation. The
management of property and movable items like liturgical vessels con-
stituted a major component of the bishops quotidian domestic practice.
It was also a distinct facet of his ideological claims to excellence as a
householder-steward. For example, Gelasius emphasized that all clergy
(including priests and deacons) must abide by the classical principles of
oikonomia to increase, rather than diminish, the value of the properties
with which they had been entrusted by their community.37 His successor
Symmachus (498514), when accused of violating this precise precept of
household management, emphatically underlined his own trustworthi-
ness as a steward of God, who was divinely appointed to oversee and
protect his churchs wealth.38 Similarly, Gregory assuaged the anxieties
of his most elite donors by reminding them that he was a good steward,
who would have to render [his] accounts before the fearful judge, not
only for the wealth of S. Peter, but also for [their] possessions.39
The suspicion that bishops might not be trustful stewards of ecclesias-
tical gifts was pervasive among late antique Italians. It evidently inspired

Gregory, HEv. 31.5 (CC 141: 272): Quoties ergo aliquem de peccato suo corripimus,
quasi ex culturae debito circa infructuosam arborem fodimus.
Gelasius, Ep. 15.2 (ed. Thiel 1868: 37980).
Acta syn. a. DII (sic) (MGH AA 12: 448).
Gregory, Epp. 7.23, to the patricia Theoctista, the emperor Maurices sister. Cf. 7.25,
to Theodore, an imperial physician in Constantinople, both dated to 597.

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writers of distinctly pro-episcopal texts to construct narratives of Roman

bishops as outstanding overseers of material wealth. In one, the Liber Pon-
tificalis, the fourth-century bishop Silvester (314-335) is portrayed as both
a solicitous steward of church donations and a private householder who
channels his own wealth to the church. According to his vita, Silvester
not only baptized Constantine but also worked closely with the emperor
to establish numerous imperial basilicas in the city, all of which were
heavily endowed with extensive properties and valuable liturgical objects
donated by members of the imperial family.40 In fact, the biography
contains donation lists that scholars believe are authentic transcriptions
of the original fourth-century records.41 The particular preservation and
organization of this material in the vita was not simply a function of
the writers antiquarian sensibilities. Rather, it reflected their interests in
forging a particular model of episcopal authority. By presenting the dona-
tion lists in their original form and subsuming the foundations within the
framework of Silvesters tenure, the compilers constructed an image of
an ordered domestic administration under the bishop of Rome. Silvester,
they implied, had carefully and scrupulously maintained the donations
as they were originally earmarked by the donor. Silvester thus emerges from
his vita as the trustworthy guardian of Constantines interests and as the
governor of an institution that solicitously protected its most elite patrons
gifts. At the same time, the Liber Pontificalis also emphasized Silvesters
activity as a donor. According to his vita, Silvester established a Roman
church presumably on property that he owned, for which Constantine
furnished gifts.42 While constituting a new form of civic evergetism, the
episcopal foundation of churches also highlights the bishops good use of
his private resources. In directing their wealth to religious ends, Silvester
and his successors established themselves as boni patresfamilias.
Another powerful source shaping Roman attitudes toward their
bishops financial stewardship and discipline was the passion narrative
of the third-century bishop Xystus II (25758) and his archdeacon Lau-
rentius. The story of Xystus martyrdom, his entrusting of the churchs
property to Laurentius, and Laurentius subsequent death on the grill
was among the most famous late antique hagiographic legends, with
versions told by Ambrose, Prudentius, and the fifth- or sixth-century
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 17087).
Pietri 1978: 31921 and Marazzi 1998: 2542. The LP also transcribes lists for Con-
stantinian foundations in Ostia, Capua, Albanum, and Naples.
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1: 187). For clerical donors in Rome, see Hillner 2006. On
the tituli, see Chapter 6.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

anonymous Roman author of the Passion of SS Polychronius, Xystus,

Laurentius and Hippolytus.43 According to this last version, Xystus had
been imprisoned and sentenced to death but was able to secure a final
meeting in carcere with Laurentius. There, Laurentius pleaded with Xystus
that the bishop spare his own life and allow Laurentius to be executed in
his place so that the community would not be without a leader: Where
are you going, father, without your son? To where do you hasten, holy
sacerdos, without your deacon?44 Xystus responded in kind, twice call-
ing Laurentius his son, and transferring to him (tradere) the churchs
property (facultates ecclesiae vel theasauros), which the bishop commanded
Laurentius to administer in the bishops absence. On one level, the scene
simply dramatizes the ecclesiastical relationship between a bishop and
his archdeacon: the former was the higher official, with unique ritual
powers, whereas the archdeacon was the bishops primary assistant in
liturgical and administrative matters. On another level, the passion also
recast the ecclesiastical order as a domestic relationship, whereby bishop
and archdeacon relate to one another not only as higher to lower cleric
but also as father to son, paterfamilias to heir. It imagines the Roman
church in distinctly domestic terms, as a traditional household char-
acterized by landholding and dynastic relationships, the oversight and
possessions of which might be handed down personally from the bishop
to a loyal servant of the church. Among other things, the idealized rela-
tionship of Xystus and Laurentius presented a powerful counterexample
to accounts of bishops abusing their privileged access to ecclesiastical


Stories of legendary episcopal estate managers like Xystus and Silvester
resonated with late ancient readers precisely because the Roman church
was also a household of sorts. Scholars have long recognized the churchs
status as a property-owning institution and have studied its mechanisms
of land management. Both its proprietary interests and its bishops activ-
ities as estate managers reflect the Roman Sees material affinities with
Ambrose, De officiis, 1.41.2047 and Prudentius, Peristephanon 2 and the Passio SS.
Polychronii, Xysti, Laurentii et Hippolyti. On the relation of these earlier versions to the
later Roman text, see Verrando 1990: 18487.
Passio SS. Polychronii, Xysti, Laurentii et Hippolyti 13 (ed. Delehaye 1933: 8183): Quo
progrederis sine filio, pater? Quo, sacerdos sancte, sine diacono properas?

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an elite domus. Historians have not emphasized the churchs domestic

orientation, however. Instead, they typically characterize its ecclesiastical
administration as a machine that bore little relation to the bishops con-
crete knowledge and practice of oikonomia.45 Whereas extensive atten-
tion has been paid, for example, to parallels in epistolographic practices
between the Roman church and imperial court,46 no one has examined
an arguably more fundamental similarity: just as the emperors personal
household was closely intertwined with the business of public govern-
ment, so was the bishops domus intimately connected to the management
of the church.
The close relationship of the bishops household to the administrative
functions and spaces of his church was widely recognized in late antiquity.
According to the Regula Magistri, the ordering of authority in the church
directly paralleled the ordering of authority in a human household (in
hominis domo).47 Meanwhile, an official missive of the Ostrogothic king
Theodoric referred to matters concerning the Lateran treasury or indeed
the household (de arca vero vel domo Lateranensi), thereby suggesting that
the two institutions were linked spatially and perhaps also shared practices
and personnel.48 More explicitly still, in the late sixth century, Gregory
described the Roman churchs dependent clergy and tenants as members
of its familia ecclesiastica.49 The bishops church was thus also a household,
albeit with spaces, members, and practices that mapped imperfectly onto
traditional models.

The Bishops Residences and Administrative Headquarters

Where did the bishop of Rome live? As Theodorics notice demonstrates,
an area of the Caelian Hill associated with the toponym Lateranus, long
known for its luxury housing and the site of a Constantinian basilica, was
the location of both the churchs financial headquarters (arca50 ) and an

See the Introduction for bibliography.
Cf. McShane 1979: 32541 and Mathisen 1997: 24351.
Regula Magistri 11.1635.
Anagnosticum regis (MGH AA 12: 426).
Gregory, Epp. 1.42 and 5.31 discussed in brief by Recchia 1978: 17, n. 33.
Arca typically designated the treasuries of the praetorian and urban prefectures: Del-
maire 1989: 6 and Chastagnol 1960: 77; 31620; 34145. It is unclear whether this was
Theodorics term or one used by Roman church officials. Later in the sixth century,
there were arcarii (treasurers) of the Roman church, suggesting its adoption of civic
nomenclature. Cf. Pelagius, Ep. 83 and De Rossi, BAC (1883): 3, 521.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

episcopal residence (domus), at least in the early sixth century.51 In fact,

there is no evidence to support the pervasive assumption that Constantine
had built the bishops headquarters and house when he constructed the
basilica Constantiniana in the 320s.52 While it is possible that a house in
the region had served these functions since the early fourth century,
the evidence dates only from about 500. Moreover, in striking contrast
to other late Roman Sees such as Ravenna, archaeologists have yet to
discover any physical remains of this building or buildings.53 We thus
have no idea what the bishops Lateran house looked like, how large
(or small) it was, when and by whom it was first established, or where
precisely it was located.
Moreover, Roman bishops might have possessed and inhabited mul-
tiple dwellings and thus did not live exclusively in a single official
Lateran episcopium. According to his vita in the Liber Pontificalis, Sym-
machus built two episcopia flanking St Peters basilica.54 Unfortunately,
the text fails to supply several crucial details, such as precisely when he
established the houses or whether they were new constructions. During
the Laurentian schism (498-506), Symmachus lost control of the Lateran
arca vel domus to his rival Laurentius for several years (in fact, the return
of these buildings to Symmachus was the primary subject of Theodorics
letter cited earlier). Most scholars thus reasonably interpret the episcopal
housing at St. Peters as an emergency measure.55
It is also possible that Symmachus establishment of dual episcopia
St. Peters reflects a more normative feature of episcopal household-
ing, whereby bishops personally possessed other domus in the city and
did not reside at the Lateran at all times (if at all). Several late Roman
prelates, such as Silvester and Damasus in the fourth century and Gre-
gory in the late sixth, owned properties in Rome, and in Gregorys case

Contra Liverani 1999: 52249 and 2004: 2022. His attempt to identify a third-century
aedes Laterani with the fourth-century bishops house is unpersuasive. However, he
is clearly correct that the Fausta of domus Fausta in Laterano could not have been
Constantines wife, as generations of earlier scholars claimed.
Cf. Krautheimer 2000: 1101 and 1987: 16; de Blaauw 1994: 110; Christie 2006: 99;
Miller 2000: 18; and Luciani 2000: I.10222. For more judicious opinions, see Pietri
1976: 668; Curran 2000: 9496; and especially Augenti 2004.
On late antique episcopia in Italy see Miller 2000: 1653; on Ravenna, see Deliyannis
2010: 10001. It is conceivable that such evidence lies unexcavated beneath the
modern Ospitale di San Giovanni in Laterano.
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 262): Item episcopia in eodem loco [St Peters] dextra
levaque fecit.
Duchesne 1955: 1. 267, n.26. Alchermes 1995.

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the property definitively included a house.56 Although Gregory probably

lived at the Lateran at times during his tenure as bishop, he had already
founded a monastic community in his Caelian domus before his conse-
cration in 590 and thus could have moved between these two houses,
especially given their physical proximity.57 Moreover, according to the
fifth- and sixth-century gesta martyrum, earlier Roman bishops resided all
over the city. The Passion of St. Pancratius placed the residence of the
bishop Cornelius (251-53) on the Caelian Hill (thus perhaps consistent
with a Lateran location, although the text does not make the connection
explicit).58 Alternatively, the Passion of St. Susanna located the house
of Gaius, another third-century prelate (283-96), on the Esquiline.59
Although our sources could simply be confused on the matter, they
might also accurately depict the multiplicity of private episcopal resi-
dences in Rome, perhaps even after the creation of the Lateran arca vel

Membership: Who Composed the Bishops Household?

The possibility that Roman bishops also lived in their private households
raises questions about the membership of the episcopal domus. Typically,
historians have focused on the rank and duties of lay and clerical officials,
men with defined posts whose relationship to the bishop was purely
ecclesiastical. By contrast, there has been very little consideration given
to the presence of wives, children, wards, or slaves.60 Roman bishops
surely surrounded themselves with nonfamilial advisers and attendants to
an extent that distinguished their own household not only from those of
elite lay domini but also from those of local clergy and most provincial
Italian bishops. The evidence, however, offers numerous hints that people
more traditionally associated with a late Roman family were also part of
the Roman episcopal household.
It is difficult to assess whether Roman bishops lived with their natal
or marital families, because no late antique source states that they did.

Coates-Stephens 1996 shows that early medieval bishops also owned houses all over
Rome, raising the possibility that some also continued to reside in their private domus.
Ancient elite householders who owned multiple dwellings frequently moved between
them. There is no reason to think that this cultural habit played no part in the lives of
landowning bishops such as Gregory.
Passio S. Pancratii 2.
Passio S. Susannae 2.
Cf. Richards 1979: 287306; Pietri 1986: 10922; and Sotinel 2003: 10524.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

This is a curious silence. The apostle Peter was widely believed to have
fathered a daughter (Petronilla), and this tradition was popular in Rome
during the fifth and sixth centuries.61 Moreover, although the Council of
Nicaea forbade clergy from living with subintroductae, it permitted them
to reside with mothers, aunts, and sisters; it also did not expressly exclude
wives from this list.62 At least three Roman bishops had sired children and
thus were ostensibly married at some point. Anastasius I (399401/2) was
almost certainly Innocents father (401/2417), Silverius (536) was the son
of Hormisdas (514523), and Felix III (483492) had several daughters
and was probably Gregorys (590604) great-great-grandfather.63 There
is also substantial epigraphic evidence that many Roman priests and
deacons were married, had children, and remained closely linked to
their natal and marital households.64 These inscriptions are relevant for
assessing the membership of episcopal households, since every late ancient
Roman bishop had formerly been either a priest or deacon in the city.
Outside Rome, there were many married bishops, some of whom had
children. Not only had Paulinus of Nola himself wed early in life (later
famously embracing conjugal celibacy), but he had also attended the
wedding of a bishops son, Julian, the future bishop of Eclanum.65 Julians
father, the bishop Memor, was present, with another prelate, Aemilius of
Beneventum, who might have been the brides father. Chapter 5 explores
evidence that further attests to the common existence in Italy of local
bishops with wives and children.66
The dearth of sources bearing witness to the marriages and chil-
dren of Romes bishops could be partly explained by ideology. New
ascetic frameworks for the clerical household strictly discouraged sexual
Cf. Acta SS. Nerei ed Achillei 15.
Nicaea, c. 3. On subintroductae, see Elm 1994: 16264.
According to Jerome (Ep. 130.16.2), Anastasius was the father of Innocent, which is
confirmed in LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 220), although without note of Anastasius
episcopal title. The LP also reports that they were buried in the same cemetery,
which Anastasius is said to have owned (LP, ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 218 and 222). For
Hormisdas as the father of Silverius, see LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 290) and ILCV
984. For Felix IIIs family, see below; for his relation to Gregory, see Markus 1997: 8
and PCBE 2.777, though with doubts expressed by Pietri 1981a: 435, n. 84.
Chapter 5.
On Paulinus relationship to Julian of Eclanums family, see Trout 1999: 21516. We
know of Paulinus presence at the wedding because he composed an epithalamium in
honor of it.
Sotinel 2006, which deals extensively with this development, came to my attention
too late to be considered in any detail for this study. However, her conclusions in
many cases closely parallel mine.

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relations among married clergy and in cases privileged virginity and

celibacy. Later, Justinianic legislation barred men with wives, children,
and grandchildren from attaining the episcopate, and these laws were
known in the West.67 Our sources, then, would have been predisposed
toward obscuring wives and children had they existed.68 Biological and
social factors also could have been at play. As their typically short tenures
suggest, most Roman bishops were probably consecrated relatively late
in life. In fact, a man technically had to be at least thirty-five years old to
obtain the episcopate in Rome.69 A late consecration date would have
enabled men to marry and father children before entering the higher
grades of the clergy and reaching the episcopate.70 Some of these men
could have been widowers with adult children who no longer lived with
them. Late Roman Christians, we recall, often moved between tradi-
tional and ascetic households at various points in their lives. There is no
reason to think that Roman bishops did not have similarly dynamic life
histories, even if our sources have omitted traces of their earlier domestic
It also might be significant that two of our three episcopal fathers
were aristocrats. Claire Sotinel has shown that fourth- and early fifth-
century Roman bishops (whose families can be identified) arose either
from nonaristocratic clerical families or from households of curial status.72
This social trend shifted in the late fifth century, when a growing number
of Italian senatorial aristocrats and provincial elites became bishops. Felix
III was probably the first Roman bishop related to a senatorial family.73
During the sixth century, there were at least six and possibly eight high-
born Roman bishops who attained the episcopate almost successively:
Hormisdas (51423), Felix IV (526530), Boniface II (530532), Aga-
pitus (535536), Silverius (536), Vigilius (537555), John III (561574)

See CJ (528); 1.3.47 (531); Nov. 123.1 (546) and 137.2 (565), discussed in
Chapter 5.
Cooper 2007: 6 stresses that the transmission of late antique religious sources by
medieval monastic scribes meant that ascetic-oriented texts were given preference
over those that revealed the worldlier aspects of church life.
Richards 1979: 24968. On age requirements, see Faivre 1977: 299370.
Keenly observed by Heid (2000: 324) for late antique clergy in general.
Gregory is the only Roman bishop who openly discussed his natal family. See HEv.
38.15 on his aunts Tarsilla and Aemiliana.
Sotinel 1997: 193204.
See ICUR I, pp. 3713 for the collective epitaph of Felixs wife Petronia (d. 472),
whose name is aristocratic and whose daughter, Paula (d. 484), is identified as a
clarissima femina. See Richards 1979: 2357.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

and Gregory (590604).74 Three of these senatorial bishops (Felix III,

Agapitus, and Gregory) were possibly from the same family.75 While not
all were from the highest levels of the aristocracy (Hormisdas and his son
Silverius were Campanian and probably members of the provincial aris-
tocracy), these bishops had distinctly different social backgrounds than
their predecessors.
As noted, many Roman bishops, including several socially elite
prelates, also had relatives in the local clergy. According to the Liber
Pontificalis, Boniface Is (418422) father was a local presbyter from an
unknown church, Felix IIIs father was the priest of the titulus Fasciolae,
the father of Anastasius II (496498) was a presbyter from Romes fifth
ecclesiastical region, and Agapitus was a priests son at the titular church of
SS. John and Paul.76 Vigilius had ordained his nephew Rusticus as a dea-
con, and Hormisdas was related by blood not only to Silverius (his son)
but also to Gerontius, the primicerius notariorum (i.e., the highest-ranking
notary in the Roman ecclesiastical administration) in the administration
of Pelagius I.77
Although none of these connections amounts to a papal dynasty (and
in the cases of Boniface I, Felix III, and Agapitus, their fathers were likely
long dead by the time they became bishops), the sharp rise in numbers of
senatorial bishops and elite clerical families during the later fifth and sixth
centuries is significant. It reflects shifting attitudes towards the episcopate
and clerical offices as career choices that were socially compatible with

Ennodius described Hormisdas as pious, wellborn and rich (Ep. 8.33), suggesting
that he and his son Silverius were provincial aristocrats. Boniface II was the son of
Sigibuld, perhaps the Sigisvultus who was consul in 437 (LP [ed. Duchesne 1955: 1.
281]; PLRE 2.1010). Vigilius was the son of the consul John, who held the posts
of comes sacrarum largitionum, vicarianus of Rome, and praetorian prefect under the
Ostrogoths (LP [ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 297]; PLRE 2.60910). John III, son of vir
illustris Anastasius, perhaps governor of Flaminia and Picenum Anonarium from 523
526 (LP [ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 305]). Agapitus and Gregory were probably from
the same family: Markus 1997: 8 and Richards 1979: 236. Gregory had been urban
prefect in 573 and was possibly an Anician: see Markus 1997: 810 and PLRE 3, 1545.
Richards 1979: 242 hypothesizes that Felix IV might also have been a member of the
provincial aristocracy.
Markus 1997: 810.
Boniface: LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 227); Felix III: LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1.252);
Anastasius II: LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 252) and ICUR n.s. II.4149; Agapitus: LP
(ed. Duchesne 1955: 1, 287).
Vigilius and Rusticus: Richards 1979: 241; Hormisdas and Gerontius: ILCV 1312.
On notarii of the Roman church, see Teitler 1983: 89ff and Sotinel 2003: 107, 113.

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contemporary aristocratic attitudes toward public and private life.78 The

expectations of such men toward family and the episcopate would have
been different from their nonaristocratic counterparts. Many were likely
pressed into early marriages, as was customary among high-status fami-
lies, thus leaving them ample time for a second career as a clergyman.
More important, they would have been reared in a world in which ties
of kinship, friendship, and clientage were lifelong and could have tran-
scended emerging church institutions, such as the steeply hierarchical
clerical cursus, which distinguished among clergy according to rank and
powers. Indeed, clerical dynasties were the norm elsewhere in the west-
ern Mediterranean.79 The entry of such men into the Roman episcopate
would have engendered a far more complex model of an ecclesiastical
household, wherein the bishop was responsible not only for his spiritual
brethren but also for men and women to whom he was related by other
bonds, such as blood, friendship, and guardianship.
For example, noble boys and even girls were entrusted to Roman bish-
ops, both informally for short periods of time and on a permanent, legal
basis. The correspondence between Symmachus and the Gallo-Roman
aristocrat Ennodius (473521, then a deacon of Milan) includes letters
of introduction, several of which recommend young boys (adolescentes)
of high birth, including his nephew Parthenius and another highborn
lad named Beatus.80 Precisely what Ennodius envisioned as Symmachus
guardianship is difficult to reconstruct, but he clearly expected Sym-
machus to take responsibility for the boys welfare while they pursued a
religious education (sancta studia litterarum) in Rome.81 There is nothing
in Ennodius letters to suggest that the boys in question were actually
fatherless, thereby requiring legal guardians, or that Symmachus charge
was anything other than temporary and informal.82 In fact, in the cases of
Parthenius and Beatus, Ennodius had also written to three high-ranking

There are also possible political explanations for this sudden run of socially elite
bishops. Richards (1979: 24044) discusses Justinians preference for urban aristocrats
to fill the ranks of the Roman episcopate.
See Rapp 2005: 19599 and below.
Through correspondence, Ennodius introduced several young men to Symmachus:
the sons of a layman named Laurentius; Parthenius; Beatus; and an unnamed boy
(Ennodius, Epp. 4.22, 5.10, 3.38, and 8.32 respectively).
Kennell 2000: 4446 also considers the relationship to have been informal.
Male and female children younger than twenty-five years (the legal age of majority)
were required to have an official guardian. See Arjava 1996: 1168.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

senatorial aristocrats in Rome asking for precisely the same favor.83 The
likelihood that Symmachus was not an aristocrat by birth did not seem
to trouble Ennodius, thus suggesting that the informal guardianship of
elite wards was slowly emerging as an activity associated institutionally
with the Roman bishops household.
Interestingly, there might have been other ecclesiastical circles of young
boys formed around important clergymen in Rome. In another letter,
Ennodius introduced presumably the same Beatus to Hormisdas, then a
Roman deacon and himself likely a provincial aristocrat. He exhorted
Hormisdas to be his individual guardian (esto specialis tutor) while Beatus
was in Rome.84 Elsewhere Ennodius introduced another young man
to Hormisdas, hoping that the deacon would use his influence with
Symmachus to place the boy in the bishops care.85 The oversight of
noble wards is thus one way in which the bishops household closely
resembled those of elite laymen. More significantly, it demonstrates how
it might be located within existing aristocratic networks of family and
Whereas Symmachus guardianship was informal, other Roman bish-
ops supported children and adolescents, including girls, in their house-
holds more formally.86 Vigilius assumed official guardianship of his niece
Vigilia after her fathers death in 539 at the hands of the Ostrogothic king
Witiges and arranged a marriage for her.87 Vigilia was almost certainly
not legally independent and thus required a male guardian, who was
typically an agnatic kinsman. The text does not specify the precise form
of Vigilius guardianship, that is, whether it was tutela or cura, although
both primarily involved the economic oversight of the wards property,
as well as parental duties such as arranging marriages or even physical
discipline.88 Similarly, in 601 Gregory lobbied imperial authorities to

They were: Anicius Acilius Aginantius Faustus, Luminosus, and Anicius Probus Faus-
tus iunior or niger. See Ennodius, Epp. 5.9, 1112.
Ennodius, Ep. 8.39.
Ennodius, Ep. 8.33.
The Council of Chalcedon, c. 3 permitted clergy to act as legal guardians; however,
Justinian later prohibited all bishops and monks from assuming the legal duties of tutores
or curators: Nov. 123.5 (546). Roman bishops appear to have been either unaware of
or unfettered by his law.
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 297). Vigilia was the daughter of Reparatus, the former
urban prefect of Rome (527) and praetorian prefect of Italy (538539). See PLRE 2:
93940. According to the LP, Vigilius promptly had her husband killed.
Tutela was required for all fatherless children under the age of puberty (fourteen
for boys, twelve for girls). Cura minoris, a more informal, consensual arrangement,

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win guardianship (denoted as cura in the letter) of the two daughters of

his late friend Venantius, a lay patricius from Syracuse whom, we recall,
Gregory had known as a monk in Constantinople.89 Close ties of friend-
ship (rather than kinship) prompted Gregory to intertwine his own domus
with that of his late friends. Like Vigilius, Gregory was eager to marry
his wards off and directed the young girls to read the Bible for advice on
how to be good wives.90
The episcopal household was also formed around bonds of servitude.
Like all elite householders, Roman bishops were slave owners and exer-
cised the same power over their bodies and behavior as any lay dominus.
For example, Gregorys letters reveal a familiar range of treatment: slaves
might be beaten, sold, exchanged, manumitted, and defended from harsh
discipline.91 Although some bishops like Gregory went out of their way
to help slaves enter monasteries (which technically required their manu-
mission), they were equally willing to return an insubordinate slave to his
former owner, especially if that owner were another church.92 Gregory
even sent slaves to lay householders as gifts.93 Such a practice underscores
the extent to which episcopal householders still perceived the slave as the
masters possession. By the late sixth century (if not earlier), the episcopal
households slave population was large enough to require its own steward,
whom Gregory called the ecclesiasticae familiae maior.94 Gregory described
one such agent, a cruel man named Peter, who likely held the post under
Pelagius II (579590).95
Peters stewardship was not a unique position in the Roman church.
In fact, numerous stewards and attendants administered the bishops
household in Rome. During Vigilius tenure in the mid-sixth cen-
tury, the bishop ordered a Roman priest named Ampliatus to serve as

involved young adults who were not sui iuris and under 25. However, the two forms
were increasingly assimilated in late antiquity: Beaucamp 1990: I. 46 and Arjava 1996:
1157. Tutela mulierum, the lifelong guardianship of adult women, became largely
obsolete in late antiquity, but there is some evidence of its continued practice. See
Arjava 1996: 11823.
Gregory, Epp. 11.25, 59. For Gregorys relationship to Venantius, see Chapter 1.
Gregory, Ep. 11.59. It is thus surely incorrect that the girls were consecrated as nuns
by their parents as in PCBE 2.2: 2256.
Cf. Gregory, Epp. 3.18; 4.26; 6.10, 32; 9.30, 205 and 210. On Gregorys attitude
toward slaves, see Serfass 2006.
Gregory, Epp. 5.28 and 9.108. For fugitive slaves joining monasteries and churches,
see Chapter 4.
Gregory, Ep. 7.27.
Gregory, Dial. 4.37.11.
Gregory, Dial. 4.37.11.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

his vicedominus.96 The vicedominus, as mentioned earlier, was a high-level

domestic steward, who acted on behalf of private landowners in property-
related business.97 Here, Ampliatus appointment seems to have been an
emergency measure. According to the Liber Pontificalis, Vigilius named
the priest to the post just after Justinian arrested and deported him to
Constantinople for alleged collusion in the deposition of his predecessor,
Silverius. In this instance, the vicedominus probably functioned as the de
facto overseer of the episcopal household at Rome. Ampliatus likely had
access to its coffers and administered its quotidian needs during Vigilius
lengthy absence from Rome, from 545 until his death in 555.98 His duties
also could have included management of the churchs estates, the more
usual function of the vicedominus in elite households, especially because
domus and arca were closely associated in Rome.99 We do not hear of
a vicedominus again until the late sixth century, however, when Gregory
appointed a deacon named Anatolius to this position and entrusted him
with the financial stewardship (disponendum) of Romes episcopium.100
This chronology suggests that before 545 and under more normal
circumstances thereafter until the 590s, Roman bishops had overseen the
quotidian financial aspects of their household without the assistance of
such an official. Many hypothesize that the archdeacon effectively fulfilled
the same domestic duties that were later assumed by the vicedominus, but
there is no evidence for this assertion.101 Alternatively, Roman bishops
might have relied on lay stewards or even family members, including their
wives or sisters, to oversee the daily functions of the episcopal household.
In fact, the proceedings of the Roman Council of 595 tell us that
lay boys and secular men (laici pueri ac saeculares) routinely attended the
bishops most intimate needs (ad secreta cubiculi servitia).102 The reference
appears in relation to Gregorys reformation of this particular service,
whereby he decreed that certain men chosen from among the clergy and
monks should undertake the ministerium cubiculi pontificalis.103 Although
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 297).
Chapter 1.
Richards 1979: 14345.
Suggested by Richards 1979: 298.
Greg. Ep. 1.11.
Richards 1979: 299 and Saxer 2001: 599600.
Gregory, Ep. 5.57a = Council of 595, c. 2 (MGH Epistolae 2: 363).
Gregory, Ep. 5.57a (MGH Epistolae 2: 363): De qua re praesenti decreto constituto,
ut quidam ex clericis vel etiam ex monachis electi ministerio cubiculi pontificalis
obsequantur. . . .

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the passage offers little insight into the precise domestic roles or social
position of these attendants, it shows that free laypeople traditionally were
among the bishops regular personal staff.104 It also reveals that, by the
late sixth century, Roman bishops used the term cubiculum to refer to
the most intimate aspects of the bishops household (e.g., his daily reg-
imen of washing, eating, and sleeping). These are especially interesting
developments given the fact that cubiculum, in addition to simply mean-
ing bedchamber, was also a synonym for the personal household of
the emperor or king.105 Gregorys decision to re-staff his cubiculum with
clergy and monks seems to have been a unique move, however.106 Until
Gregory, there is no evidence that Roman bishops lived exclusively with
monks and clerics or in a community organized around ascetic regimens,
such as those that Eusebius of Vercelli and Augustine had established in
the fourth and early fifth centuries.107

Th e Episcopal H ouseh old in Action: Th e

conventus and th e patrimonia
An institution increasingly characterized by aristocratic family ties and
the presence of wards, slaves, and specially designated stewards and atten-
dants, late fifth- and sixth-century Roman episcopal households had
many similarities with other elite domus of the day. Unlike a traditional
household, however, whose management exclusively served the private
interests of its owner and head, the episcopal household was also closely
intertwined with officials and functions of ecclesiastical administration,
whose remit was not strictly confined to domestic tasks. The bishops
inner circle went beyond family members and stewards and included
advisors, who assisted the bishop in some of his most important routine
duties involving the care of the church writ large. This final section exam-
ines the bishops household in relation to two key domains of episcopal
managerial practice: the conventus and the patrimonia.

Homes Dudden 1905: 246 and Markus 1997: 123.
Jones 1964: 42425.
His decision to replace the lay attendants with monks and clergy is often seen as
part of the clericalization of Romes ecclesiastical organization. (e.g., Faivre 1977:
35960). However this strikes me as overstating its impact, especially since Gregorys
successors continued to use laypeople. See Llewellyn 1974.
On Eusebius of Vercellis community, see Jenal 1995: 1215; on Augustines, see
Zumkeller 1989.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

The Bishops conventus: A Quasi-Domestic Domain

of Church Administration
An early sixth-century forgery produced during the Laurentian schism
illuminates the relationship between the bishops household and the
administrative duties of his church. This text purports to be the acta
issued by a Roman council convened by Constantine and the bishop
Silvester at the Baths of Trajan in 324.108 According to one canon,
Roman bishops were prohibited from holding small meetings (conven-
ticula) without the attendance of the entire clergy and laity. The same
canon, however, states that the following tasks were undertaken appropri-
ately by the bishop within the context of a meeting (conventus) without
broad public participation: the oversight of promotions within the church
ranks; the distribution of revenues among the clergy; the mediation of
disputes between clergy; the inventorying of the churchs property; the
handling of welfare for orphans, widows, and the needy; the preach-
ing of apostolic teachings; visits with the sick; devotion to prayer; and
trips to the tombs of the martyrs.109 While baseless in its claims to be
a genuine fourth-century ruling, the passage nevertheless illuminates
many routine activities of early sixth-century bishops and hints at the
context of their performance. The authors contrasted such episcopal
meetings or even courts (conventus also had juridical connotations),
where the bishop conducted church business and undertook contempla-
tive activities, to publicly attended assemblies, which necessarily included
all Roman clergy and people. We can infer from this distinction that the
episcopal conventus was a relatively intimate occasion involving a smaller
group of people, the men (and perhaps women) composing the bishops
inner circle.
In 600, Probus, an abbot of a Roman monastery and an old friend
of Gregorys, formally requested the bishops permission to make a will
for his personal property.110 Probus presented his petition in the sort of
meeting that was commonplace in the bishops household administration.
In addition to Gregory, eleven Roman titular priests, several deacons and
lower clergy, the secundarius notariorum (the second highest-ranking notary

Wirbelauer 1993: 968 (introduction) and 32441 for the text (LK) with German
translation. On the Symmachan Forgeries, see Chapter 6.
LK, c.14 (ed. Wirbelauer, 330).
Gregory, Ep. 11.15. On Probus, see Gregory, Dial. 4.13, 20.1 and Epp. 9. 44 and 68.
His monastery is referred to as both St. Reparatus (Dial. 4.13) and SS. Andrew and
Lucia (Ep. 11.15).

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in the church), and five bishops visiting Gregorys household (from as

far away as Toulon and as close as Capua) were present. Before handing
down his favorable decision, Gregory consulted privately with the entire
Here we are examining a conventus in action, the closed meeting in
which the bishop conducted specific tasks of ecclesiastical business, like
juridical hearings of individual cases involving, in this example, a local
abbot and his personal property.111 At such events, Roman bishops appar-
ently did not rely on a permanent, well-defined set of administrative
officials or Roman clergy. Rather, they looked to an ad-hoc assemblage
of advisors, who varied in terms of their numbers, experience, function,
and relationship to the bishops domus and church. We therefore find in
attendance at Probus hearing both a senior notary in the ecclesiasti-
cal scrinium and Menas of Toulon, a second-time visitor to the bishops
house, on whom Gregory also relied for information about the monks
of Lerins.112 In this respect, the ecclesiastical conventus at Rome shared
much with the private domestic hearings conducted by householders,
in which they dispensed justice in consultation with a group of other
patresfamilias on certain crimes committed by family members.113 House-
holders were accustomed to adjudicating conflicts intra domum, and the
state encouraged private dispute resolution. Moreover, the dispensation
of justice was among the late antique bishops most distinctive duties,
even if it was limited to the adjudication of disputes involving religious
officials (like monks) and ecclesiastical matters. On one level, therefore,
Probus hearing before Gregory accords well with recent evaluations of
episcopalis audientia as an extralegal mode of dispute settlement, in which
private men resolved conflicts.114 It also demonstrates the increasingly
complex and, as we shall see, potentially dangerous nature of the
conventus as a semisecret, semiopen forum for episcopal activities.
In addition to its function as a social space for the dispensation of
justice within the church, the conventus was also a site associated with
the determination of episcopal succession. Numerous late fifth- and

Contra Pietri 1986: 108, Probus hearing did not take place within the context of a
Roman synod. Pietris conclusion that the titular clergy of Rome shrank to eleven
in number by ca. 600 must therefore be reconsidered.
Gregory, Ep. 11.9. For Menas less than auspicious first visit to Rome sometime
between 599 and 600, see Ep. 9.224. Gregory had recalled him in light of his poor
performance as bishop.
Chapter 2.
Humfress 2011.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

sixth-century Roman bishops chose their own successors within the

context of relatively intimate domestic meetings without consultation
of the whole of the Roman clergy or people. For example, Simplicius
(468483) made arrangements for the appointment of his successor just
before his death in 483 in consultation with a few clerics and at least one
senator.115 More intimately still, Felix IV gathered a small group of clergy
and senators around his deathbed in 530, from which he announced the
name of his successor (Boniface II).116 As we shall see, the secret elements
of the conventus did not always serve a bishops interests. Whereas emperors
and kings routinely mixed private interests with the perpetuation of their
regime, bishops who did so potentially placed their reputations as holy
estate managers in peril.117 Prelates were routinely accused of sinful and
illegal activities within these contexts, such as the misappropriation of
church property. A later chapter examines several solutions to the spatial
and ethical ambiguities of the conventus, one being the appointment of
lower clergy to watch over the bishops conduct of church business.118
Finally, the conventus was also a social setting in which Roman bishops
conducted more contemplative spiritual pursuits. The spurious Silves-
trian council, we recall, described it as an appropriate space for scriptural
instruction, prayer, and visiting martyr shrines. For these more leisured
and personal activities, Roman bishops also relied on attendants and inter-
locutors to assist them in matters of translation, scriptural exegesis, and
the composition of letters and sermons. Figures like Jerome, who worked
with Damasus, and Dionysius Exiguus, who had close connections to
Gelasius, John I, and Hormisdas, are often inaccurately called secre-
taries or even clients to their Roman bishops, thereby suggesting that
their relationships were purely administrative or steeply asymmetrical.119
They are better seen as counselors, men who spent time in the bishops
household and sometimes developed close relationships with him but
who did not work for him in any official administrative capacity or nec-
essarily even view him as their patron.120 Moreover, these men were also

On the senator Basilius and his role in the production of the scriptura of 483, see
Chapters 5 and 6.
See Duchesne 1883 and Richards 1979: 1223.
Jones 1964: 25357 (Ostrogothic court) and 36773 (imperial court).
Chapter 5. Secrecy was also historically problematic for the reputations of Roman
officials. See Riggsby 1997.
Cf. Kelly 1975: 823 and Richards 1979: 86, 116.
Even Jeromes Latin translation of the Bible was more a personal project for Damasus
than an official program of his episcopate.

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often involved in the religious life of other aristocratic households.121 In

this respect, their participation in an episcopal domus was also important
socially, because they could provide links between the bishop and other
eminent households.

Administering the Patrimonia

According to the forged Silvestrian canon cited earlier, a conventus was the
appropriate site of the bishops conduct of financial business. The Roman
church was a large and sophisticated economic institution managed by a
hierarchy of domestic officials. Although the practices of property man-
agement performed by Roman bishops were not always identical to those
of senatorial landowners or the imperial household, their administrative
mechanisms, observes Roberta Mazza, were informed by a very sim-
ilar economic-administrative logic.122 Before examining this logic, we
should ask how the Roman church came to be an owner of private
property, and how its bishops related legally to the patrimony of their

The Church as a Property Owner and the Bishop as Administrator:

Legal Developments
The legal status of the church as a property-owning entity and the bishops
relationship to its wealth are among the least understood developments
in early Christian history. Before the early fourth century, there is no
conclusive evidence that the state recognized the Christian church or
individual churches as legal personalities capable of owning property.123
Individual Christians clearly held land, buildings, and other properties
that they used for assembly meetings and perhaps to generate money for
the ritual and other social needs of the community.124 In fact, even the
burial sites of Roman Christians were individually owned in this period
and were not part of the corporate property of the church, as scholars
once thought.125 The history of the churchs corporate ownership of

Chapter 2.
Mazza 2006: 704. See also Ziche 2006 and Wickham 2005: 26971.
As Cooper 2011 emphasizes, scholars do not foreground the lack of evidence for the
second and third centuries often enough.
Lampe 2003: 36970.
Rebillard 1993 and 1997.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

property is considerably less clear, however. In 270, the emperor Aurelian

arbitrated the case of the deposed Antiochene bishop Paul of Samosata
and his unlawful possession of a church-related building, denoted in
Eusebius account as the house of the church (ekklesias oikos).126 Among
other things, Pauls possession of the disputed property suggests that
bishops exercised enormous de facto power over properties associated
with their church, because Paul (rightly or wrongly) had been able to hold
on to a building even after his deposition.127 Although Eusebius reported
that Aurelian ruled with the Antiochenes against Paul, his presentation
of the event presents few insights into the legal nature of the houses
ecclesiastical ownership. In fact, no source from this period illuminates
the legal basis of the pre-Constantinian churchs property-holding status.
As a corporate institution, it probably had no such recognized status at
this time.128
The legal circumstances of Christian communities changed in mani-
fold ways in the early fourth century with the end of the Great Persecu-
tion and the rise of Constantine. In 311, Galerius proclaimed Christian-
ity to be a licit religion and called for the members rebuilding of their
places of worship.129 Other contemporary imperial leaders, Constantine,
Licinius, and Maxentius, also righted some of the wrongs committed
by their predecessors and demanded the return of property confiscated
from Christians. In the so-called edict of Milan of 313, Constantine
and Licinius legislated the restoration of all possessions of their corpo-
rate right, that is of the churches, not individual persons (ad ius corporis
eorum id est ecclesiarum, non hominum singulorum), we command all these
to be returned . . . to the aforementioned Christians, that is to the body
and their assemblies (id est corpori et conventiculis eorum).130 Elsewhere,
Constantine commanded the return of properties belonging to the
catholic churches (katholikai ekklesiai), thus implying (but not expressly

Eusebius was the first to use this phrase to denote a generic church building, not a
house church as scholars have often claimed. See Sessa 2009. There was nothing
exceptional about Christians seeking legal recourse at the imperial court in the late
third century. The emperor had long functioned as an arbiter of disputes among
private citizens. See Millar 1971: 14.
Eusebius, HE 7.2730.
Scholars in fact continue to debate the precise legal capacity in which ante-pacem
churches owned property. See Thomas 1987: 713 and Marazzi 1998: 2024.
Eusebius, HE 8.17 and Lactantius, De mort. pers. 34.
Lactantius, De mort. persc. 48.9 and Eusebius, HE 10.5.11. Alternatively, in an edict of
311, Maxentius called for the return of properties to the Christians as a collective
of individuals, and not as a single body (Eusebius, HE 9.10).

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defining) their institutional ownership.131 In 321, he issued a law (CT

16.2.4) permitting individual people to leave legacies to the sanctissimo
catholicae et venerabilique concilio.132 Finally, in 330 Constantine transferred
ownership (dominium) of a public building in Cirta to the ecclesia catholica
in an attempt to compensate an angry group of Numidian bishops after
a Donatist community took over their church.133
Constantine therefore recognized the Christian church as a corpo-
rate property-owning entity, even if his rulings failed to establish clearly
and definitively the precise juridical nature of its proprietary status. In
using words such as corpus, conventicula, concilium, and ecclesia catholica to
denote the churchs legal personality, Constantine drew on a fuzzy social
and philosophical vocabulary, and not on a terminology established in
Roman law.134 Presumably Constantines intentions were clear enough
to Christians and civil officials, because churches were henceforth rec-
ognized as property-holding entities. As Jean Gaudemet noted long ago,
however, laws like CT 16.2.4 established the fact of ecclesiastical owner-
ship without clearly defining it.135
Constantines actions also failed to clarify a related matter: how exactly
was the bishops oversight legally defined? Did his bishops church admin-
ister all the ecclesiastical foundations and properties located within his
diocese, or only some of them? Historians typically assert that the
post-Constantinian bishop was recognized as the principal administrator,
although not the owner, of all wealth attached to the public ecclesiastical
foundations situated within his jurisdiction.136 In its general outline, this
model seems accurate, but the precise legal parameters of the bishops
administrative powers and his churchs proprietary remit remained poorly
defined throughout most of late antiquity. The bishops at Chalcedon in
451 brought some clarity to the matter when they ruled that no orato-
ries or monasteries could be established in a city without the bishops
permission.137 Later Justinian drew a distinction between what schol-
ars call the bishops church (i.e., the churches and other ecclesiastical
institutions that were served by the bishops own clergy and financed

Eusebius, HE 10.5.15.
Cf. CT 16.2.4 = CJ 1.2.1 (321).
Epistula Constantini de basilica catholis erepta, discussed in Thomas 1987: 13.
See Hillner 2007: 23748 for discussion of the language and related scholarship.
Gaudemet 1958: 299300. Marazzi 1998: 503 also emphasizes ambiguity.
Gaudemet 1958: 299311 and Jones 1960 are the most widely cited authorities in
this vein.
Council of Chalcedon (451), c. 4.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

from his central fund) and those private ecclesiastical institutions with
their own separate sources of funding and administration.138 However,
these legal developments did not fully resolve the ambiguities inherent
in a system encompassing different types of ecclesiastical foundations.
The coexistence of private foundations and bishops churches gener-
ated confusion among Christian householders and bishops alike. What
is more, despite attempts by civic and ecclesiastical authorities to erect
boundaries between a bishops personal patrimony and the wealth of his
church, some bishops continued to treat ecclesiastical property as if it
were part of their own domus. This is one of the reasons why the clergy
at Chalcedon resolved to require the appointment of a clerical steward
(oikonomos) in each see, whose chief duty was to oversee the bishops
financial transactions.139

Romes Patrimonies: Domestic Administration in Action

The concern among emperors and churchmen to define ecclesiastical
property and the bishops relationship to it was grounded in the sim-
ple fact that all major post-Constantinian churches were landowners. In
the case of Rome, its patrimonies were accrued largely through dona-
tion, but it probably also engaged in direct purchasing, especially given
the sixth-century upheavals in Italian landownership.140 The extent and
geographical distribution of its landholdings recall major senatorial port-
folios. For part of the fourth and fifth centuries, the Roman church
owned estates located all over the Mediterranean, thanks largely to gifts
presented to Rome by Constantine and members of his family. Accord-
ing to the donation lists in the Liber Pontificalis discussed above, the
church possessed estates in Rome, Italy, Africa, Gaul, Asia, Egypt, and
even Mesopotamia.141 Sources dating to the later fifth and sixth cen-
turies suggest a more restricted geography, however. From Gelasius late
fifth-century tenure to the end of Gregorys episcopate in the early sev-
enth, the church continued to own estates in northern Italy, southern
Gaul (primarily around Arles), Dalmatia, and even in one part of North
Africa. Nevertheless, most of its properties were located in the central

Jones 1960.
Council of Chalcedon (451), c. 26. This canon as well as the bishops relationship to
his personal wealth and his churchs property are discussed in detail in Chapter 5.
On landownership in sixth-century Italy, see Chapter 1.
See n. 41 and 42.

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and southern regions of Italy (e.g., the Roman suburbs of Latium, Cam-
pania, Bruttium-Lucania, Apulia-Calabria, Tuscany, Picenum, and south
along the Via Appia) as well as on Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica.142 Most
of these regions lay within the Roman bishops ecclesiastical jurisdiction
(Italia suburbicaria). Moreover, they were sixth-century Italys most eco-
nomically prosperous areas.143 Thus, despite suffering property losses in
certain regions during the Lombard invasions (e.g., Istria, Liguria, and
Tuscany), the Roman church remained a large-scale, transregional prop-
erty owner during this later period, even if the church also witnessed the
compression of its lands to regions of Italy and the Mediterranean that
were relatively close to Rome.144
It is difficult to know the precise size and extent of the churchs hold-
ings within any single area. For example, it is thought that in Gregorys
time the church owned some 400 estates in Sicily (approximately 800,000
hectares).145 According to calculations made by Lellia Cracco Ruggini,
this would have placed some 100,000 coloni under Romes administra-
tion, who with their families could have numbered nearly 500,000.146
These numbers are rough (and speculative) estimations, but they demon-
strate that the later fifth- and sixth-century Roman church administered
hundreds, if not thousands, of separate units and managed a labor force
potentially numbering in hundreds of thousands. In terms of size, it
probably rivaled and perhaps surpassed virtually any private domus in the
region, although it was also likely dwarfed by very upper elite eastern
households, such as the Apiones, and by the private holdings of the
imperial family.
In the most concrete sense of the term, then, the Roman church was
also a domus, a household oriented around the administration of prop-
erty. Consequently, Roman bishops engaged in many routine activities
similar to those performed by traditional patresfamilias. Among the most
Aigrain 1971: 7179; Recchia 1978: 1113; and Marazzi 1998: 11147.
Chapter 1.
Aigrain 1971: 718.
Jones 1964: 789 and Cracco Ruggini 1980: 493; 517, citing Gregory (Ep. 2.50). To
be clear, Gregory did not directly state that the Roman church owned 400 Sicilian
estates. Rather, he ordered the subdeacon Peter to divide 400 healthy mares into
two parts, giving one half to the conductores and the other to the condoma (farmers
collective, as suggested by Martyn 2004: 229, n.162). Depending on the size of the
collective and how many estates it oversaw, the figure in reality could have been
significantly lower or higher.
Cracco Ruggini 1980: 493, who estimates 250 colonate families inhabited a single
estate. Her estimations are reiterated by Vera 1983: 510.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

fundamental were bookkeeping practices.147 Between the late fifth and

mid-sixth century, Roman bishops began using established domestic ter-
minology and administrative principles to organize the various units of
the churchs property. For example, by the mid-sixth century and pos-
sibly from as early as the late fifth, the Roman church used the term
patrimonium in the common administrative sense to refer to estates that
were grouped on the basis of geography and managed as a unit.148 As
mentioned earlier, this term had long been used domestically and in
the courts of the emperor and Ostrogothic kings.149 Furthermore, the
Roman church evidently kept a master accounting book(s) that recorded
all the revenues collected by its agents from the churchs estates as well
as its expenditures. At some point, bishops began to call these books the
polypticha, the form of which appears to have been similar to the admin-
istrative registers used by both private and imperial estate managers.150
Of course, other features of the churchs accounting techniques reflect
its distinctly ecclesiastical obligations and needs. From at least the 470s,
all revenues were distributed according to a four-part division.151 The
so-called quadripartitum divided the returns equally among the bishop, the
clergy, the maintenance of church buildings, and the care of pilgrims and
the poor.152 The bishop ultimately oversaw the execution of the division,
but as noted earlier, his financial activities were in turn overseen by
other clerics. Moreover, the quadripartitum effectively limited the bishops
discretionary funds to one quarter of the churchs annual income. This
might have required some bishops to dip into their own personal coffers
to maintain their accustomed style of living an economic situation that
potentially further blurred the distinction between the bishops private
household and his church.

Mazza 2006: 7068.
On the development of the term within the context of the Roman church, see
Moreau 2006: 8284. Scholars debate whether Gelasius or Vigilius first used the
term in this precise manner.
Jones 1964: 41127.
Mazza 2006: 706. Gelasius is credited with the creation of the polypticha by John
the Deacon (cf. Vita S. Gregorii 2.24), but the term does not appear in late Roman
sources until the episcopate of Pelagius II (e.g., Ep. ad Gregorium diaconum [MGH
Epistolae 2: 44041]). Pietri 1978: 333, n. 68; Richards 1979: 3145; Aigrain 1971:
717; and Moreau 2006: 81, n. 10 and 91.
Interestingly, the earliest evidence for the quadripartitum is an Egyptian text produced
between 350 and 450. See Wipszycka 1972: 1312.
Simplicius, Ep 1.2. Cf. Gelasius, Epp. 14.27, 15.2 and 16.2 (ed. Thiel 1868: 37881).
On the quadripartitum, see Jones 1960 and Marazzi 1998: 6569.

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As was true for all elite domus of the day, the Roman church gener-
ated much of its income through rent collection.153 Romes conductores
also ranged in terms of their social status, although one recent study of
Gregorys managerial practices argues that this bishop at least preferred to
rent to low-status people.154 There is also some evidence for the bishops
direct administration of properties.155 In both cases, however, the bishop
needed representatives on the ground to collect rents and taxes as well as
to manage the legions of free, bonded, and servile laborers who worked
Romes fields, produced its farm products, and lived with their families
on its estates. Like any elite household, the Roman patrimonies were
administered through networks of intermediaries, men entrusted with
the task of managing the day-to-day business of property ownership on
their bishops behalf.
Scholars of Romes ecclesiastical patrimonies have typically focused on
the emergence of two chief administrative agents in the sixth century: the
defensor and the rector. Defensores ecclesiae had been important church offi-
cials (and usually laymen, it seems) since the fourth century.156 Previously,
the Roman church used defensores for legal assistance (a function that was
itself an ecclesiastical permutation of the judicial office of the defensor
civitatis). By the sixth century, the church assigned them to deal pri-
marily with the financial, fiscal, labor, and legal matters arising on estates
located within a particular patrimonium.157 A letter by the bishop Agapitus
dated to 535 presents the first reference to a defensor in this capacity, who
served as intermediary between the Roman bishop and those who rented
and labored on Romes estates.158 Much later, Gregory organized the

Recchia 1978: 4855 and Mazza 2006: 7047. These rents were probably received in
both cash and kind, just as they were on lay-owned estates, although further study
is needed on this critical aspect of the churchs economic practices. The church
also received income through donations and almsgiving: see Simplicius, Ep. 1.2 and
Gelasius, Ep. 14.27 (ed. Thiel 1868: 176, 378).
Mazza 2006: 706. According to Mazza, Gregory preferred low-status conductores
because they were less likely to be absentee overseers of the properties. Such a
preference, she notes, would have differentiated the Roman churchs practice of
locutio-conductio from the imperial households.
Mazza 2006: 704.
Sotinel 2003: 11112.
On their functions to 450, see Sotinel 2003: 1104.
Agapitus, Ep. 7 = Caesarius of Arles, Ep. 16, discussed in Moreau 2006: 86. The
Roman church had long relied on defensores to assist them in legal matters. See Sotinel
2003: 110112. For the defensor and patrimonial administration, see Recchia 1978:

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

defensores into a schola with distinct grades.159 Defensores likely relied in

turn on notaries to help them to process what was undoubtedly a great
deal of paperwork.160
Gregory might have also pioneered the use of the term rector to denote
the bishops chief ecclesiastical agent of a particular patrimony. His letters
are filled with allusions to rectores, men like the subdeacon Peter, who
was in charge of running the churchs two Sicilian patrimonies from 590
to 592. Some have suggested that Gregory created the rectores as a distinct
corps of ecclesiastical officials. He used the term not as a title of a new
office, however, but in reference to the agents administrative functions
and, more significantly, his ethical responsibilities.161 Rector, we recall,
is a term that Gregory and other writers used in theoretical works on
clerical authority to denote a man-in-power, who was both a leader and
a judge. In fact, both the rector and the defensor had ethical and disciplinary
duties. Like the late Roman imperial defensor civitatis, these ecclesiastical
administrators were expected to protect the most vulnerable members of
the churchs domus, namely, its coloni and rustici.162 Moreover, they were
to serve as the bishops representative in the oversight of the clergy in
that particular patrimonium and were thus frequently called on to police
clerical behavior.163
That Roman bishops adopted an alternative nomenclature for denot-
ing their chief domestic agents is highly significant. It speaks to their
desire to distinguish the bishops men from those agents who served
private or imperial/regal domini. Defensor and rector were more seman-
tically weighty epithets than dispensator, actor, or even procurator. They
both shielded the bishops stewards from the specter of servitude and
implied that his agents possessed ethical, juridical, and even civic author-
ity. As the chief overseer of such men, the rector rectoris, if you will, the
Roman bishop could differentiate his own routine property management
of the domus dei from the quotidian administration of non-ecclesiastical
households. Whereas centralized channels of ecclesiastical administra-
tion brought certain logistical advantages (it was obviously easier for the

Gregory, Ep. 8.26.
Recchia 1978: 4245.
Recchia 1978: 2526, n. 2.
Aigrain 1971: 71920. Gregory was especially persistent in voicing these expectations
to his administrators. See Ep. 1.42.
Chapter 5.

Primus Cultor

bishop to manage the churchs patrimonies in a given area through a

few appointed representatives), they also served pointed ideological pur-
poses. The good administration of rectores and defensores, each assigned
to specific regions and each carrying out their prelates orders on com-
mand, emphasized the bishops excellence in the preservation of order
and prosperity, the guiding principles of oikonomia.
The formulation of a distinct terminology to designate the bishops
chief administrative agents was an important development in the mak-
ing of the bishops household, but it co-existed with his use of a more
ad-hoc system of estate management. Romes bishops do not appear to
have established extensive bureaucracies to administer their properties, as
the Apiones did to manage their estates in Egypt.164 Instead, the church
typically relied on preexisting networks of bishops, non-Roman clerics,
and lay magnates. Their roles in the administration of Romes estates
were often assigned on a case-by-case basis and they generally did not
possess any particular title or epithet.165 In fact, this arrangement seems
to have been the norm before the late sixth century. Even the emperor
might be petitioned to assist the bishop of Rome in his administrative
duties. A letter from Celestine (422432) asked Theodosius II to pro-
tect Romes ownership of certain possessiones in Asia against the aggressive
interests of local parties.166 Mostly, however, the bishop looked to clerical
contacts as well as regional elites, some of whom were also state offi-
cials. Gelasius called on Honorius of Salona to intercede on the Roman
churchs behalf when the sons of a deceased conductor refused to hand
over property belonging to their fathers landlord, Rome.167 In another
letter, the same bishop thanked a layman named Agilulphus, possibly the
comes Dalmatiae, for his protection of Romes property in Dalmatia.168 In
a third letter, Gelasius looked to a local deacon for assistance in creating
an inventory of the Roman praedia situated in Picenum.169 In southern
Gaul, where the Roman church owned a small number of estates around

On the Apiones, see Mazza 2001 and Sarris 2006.
See Spearing 1918: 2139; Recchia 1978: 2555; and Pietri 1986, although none
of these authors emphasizes that the Roman bishop took advantage of preexisting
networks to help him administer the patrimonies.
Celestine Ep. 23 dated to 432, discussed in Moreau 2006: 8081.
Gelasius, Frg. 28.2 (ed. Thiel 1868: 499500).
Gelasius, Frg. 2 (ed. Thiel 1868: 484). Nothing is known of this Agilulphus outside
of Gelasius letter, which is fragmentary.
Gelasius, Ep.4 (ed. Ewald 1880: 10).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Arles, Rome employed a string of local aristocrats and Arlesian bishops to

oversee their patrimony from at least the middle until the very late sixth
century.170 In all of these cases, the bishops representatives were neither
social inferiors nor ecclesiastical subordinates, but men of equal or even
superior social status. They assisted the Roman bishop; they did not
serve him.
Alternatively, Roman prelates also tapped into the suffragan ecclesias-
tical networks in Italy for on-the-ground assistance in managing Romes
estates. Thus, in Italia suburbicaria, provincial bishops were frequently
placed in charge of a particular patrimony. Bishop Maurus of Praeneste
oversaw Romes Tiburtine patrimony between 552 and 558, whereas
Julian of Cingulanum (modern Cingoli in Le Marche) watched over
Romes Picene estates from 556 to 561.171 Both of these examples date
to the tenure of Pelagius I, who was left with the difficult task of reorga-
nizing the churchs property holdings following the Gothic War, which
ended in 554. The destruction wrought by the twenty-year war in the
peninsula might have made the use of local bishops as administrative
agents a more practical (and even necessary) choice.
A bishops success in property management thus depended on the abil-
ities and dedication of his agents. The idea was undoubtedly to select a
trustworthy and able representative, such as Gregorys friend the subdea-
con Peter, who oversaw the two Sicilian patrimonies from 590 to 592.
The absence of explicit guidelines or job requirements, however, made
the selection process inherently risky. For example, Vigilius appointed
a man named Sebastianus to oversee the churchs Dalmatian estates in
545.172 He was a layman whom the bishop hastily ordained a deacon just
before Vigilius unplanned departure for Constantinople. Sebastianus
duties were twofold: he was to watch over the administration of the
Roman patrimony in Dalmatia and keep his ear close to the ground in
the hope that he would gather information about the churches in the
region, many of which had sided against Rome in the Three Chapters
Controversy. It turned out, however, that Vigilius had not made a good

Placidus, father of Sapaudus (bishop of Arles), administered lands around Arles under
Pelagius I. Under Pelagius II, the Arlesian bishop Licerius of Arles was the overseer;
he was succeeded by a local patricius named Dynamius. When Dynamius fell out of
favor with the Frankish court, Gregory replaced him with a Roman priest.
Pelagius, Epp. 14, 8384.
Vigilius, Ep. 14.8, discussed in Moreau 2006: 88.

Primus Cultor

choice. In addition to harboring some inappropriate doctrinal views (he

apparently aligned with the Illyrians and Constantinople on the Three
Chapters matter), Sebastianus failed to prevent Honorius of Salona from
making illicit ordinations and even neglected to collect rents.
As it ended badly for all parties involved, Sebastianus brief tenure as
the bishops chief agent in Dalmatia underscores the absence of profes-
sional standards in the bishops household and also reveals the extent to
which the churchs domestic duties coincided with its doctrinal interests.
Householders were responsible for religious practices occurring on their
estates; however, they were not obliged to guard against incorrect beliefs
in another diocese. Here is one rather obvious way in which the bishops
estate agents differed from their senatorial or imperial counterparts.
Despite their extensive reliance on agents, Roman bishops were still
remarkably interventionist a characteristic that placed them closer to the
private aristocratic householder than to the imperial lord.173 Their letters
record involvement in a wide and deep range of administrative activities:
personally issuing receipts to local bishops, defensores of the church, and
even conductores for revenues collected from Romes patrimonia; offering
detailed directions on the sale of livestock and the prices of farm products;
directly reprimanding individual clergymen and clerical officials who
defrauded the conductores and coloni or otherwise abused their power;
intervening in specific property disputes involving conductores and their
heirs; and dictating precise figures on the amount of taxes that their
agents and the conductores were permitted to levy on the rural workers
and hence protecting them from oppressive treatment.174 Roman bishops
often interacted directly not only with their renters but also with their

Wickham 2005: 248, 26871. Roman bishops were not unique in this regard. Gregory
Nazianzus claimed that Basil personally inspected all the lands of the churches in his
diocese. See Or. 43.58.
Gelasius: Ep. 31: receipt issued by Gelasius for revenues (thirty solidi) collected from
the fundus Claculas; Ep. 32: revenues (thirty solidi) from an unspecified fundus (ed. Thiel
1868: 44748). Pelagius: Ep. 83: Receipt to Julianus of Cingulanum for payment for
revenues from Picenum estates; and Ep. 84 letter to the bishop Julianus of Cingulanum
with specific directions about how to deal with compensating laborers on church
estates. Gregory: Epp. 1.42: letter to Peter, rector of Romes Sicilian estates, detailing
tax calculations, treatment of renters and laborers as well as directions for resolving a
dispute between a subdeacon and the vilica of a local noblewoman; 2.50: directions
to Peter for the sale and rendering of livestock; and 9.43: orders to the defensor
Scholasticus to pay back wages to a colonus working as a domestic in a church-owned
house in Catania.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

renters representatives. Gelasius worked with the agents of a conductor

named Urbicus but directly with another conductor named Vincomalus
(possibly a Roman titular priest175 ). No detail seems to have been too
small for the bishop. One letter already mentioned records Pelagius
request to the Roman comes Gurdimerus to cut the grass on a lot so
that it could be seeded.176 Another, penned by Gregory in 601, shows
that Roman bishops extended similarly detailed directives to the financial
management of other Italian churches.177
Such letters reveal episcopal estate management at its grittiest. They
present a bishop who endeavored to appear not as the households distant
overseer, but as its ever-present micromanager. If their behavior is any
indication of their self-understanding as bishops, Roman prelates desired
to be known as expert householders, men thoroughly schooled in the
most material aspects of estate management, that is, those involving
property, agriculture, labor, and production. Although the steward might
have been the bishops moniker in theoretical treatises and sermons,
paterfamilias was their preferred identity when it came to actually running
the church. Nevertheless, as the chief slave-steward in charge of the
Lords house, Romes bishops went to great lengths to protect their
dependents, the thousands of men, women, and children who lived
and labored on the churchs estates. Such protection was not solely a
function of Christian ideals that valorized charity and pious benevolence.
As his predecessors did, Gregory could protect his rustici so directly and
efficaciously precisely because he was a man-in-power who headed one
of the largest households in all of Italy.178

Household management played a formative role in shaping the ideal and
reality of the Roman bishops authority in late antiquity. In many respects,
the bishops household bore a striking resemblance to the domus of con-
temporary elites. Both were structured around hierarchical and vertical

For the identification of the conductor Vincomalus with a presbyter tituli Crescen-
tianae under Symmachus, see PCBE 2. 23012, although with reservations voiced by
Moreau 2006: 82.
Pelagius, Ep. 76.
Gregory, Ep. 11.22 addressed to Pascasius of Naples in 601.
Cracco Ruggini 1995: 252ff presents a far more realistic and socially grounded dis-
cussion of Gregorys administration than most other scholars, who typically praise
Gregorys concerns as reflective of his Christian sensibilities (e.g., Recchia 1978).

Primus Cultor

relations of power and included members related by birth, friendship,

guardianship, dependency, and servitude. Much of the concrete busi-
ness of land administration seems to have been practiced in similar ways.
Moreover, both the bishop and the lay paterfamilias were increasingly
encouraged to identify with the slave-steward of the Bible and to carry
out their earthly acts of domination with an eye toward their ultimate
lord and master, God.
There were also significant differences between the bishops house
and the traditional lay domus. As Theodorics passing comment implied,
domus and arca were intertwined both conceptually and concretely, so
much so that the boundaries separating the bishops personal household
business from his oversight of the church were extraordinarily thin. In
this respect, the emperors household, an institution that was also funda-
mentally interconnected with public officials and management, is an apt
comparandum, yet Gelasius and his fellow bishops would have undoubtedly
bristled at this comparison. For them, episcopal stewardship was espe-
cially sacred and significant. Romes bishops consistently emphasized the
unique nature of their oversight, the fact that they were Gods chosen
agents tasked with the more onerous and extensive duty of rendering
an account of the entire communitys conduct.
Finally, let us recall Gregorys exchange with Natalis of Salona on the
subject of bishops and dinner parties.179 In his letter to the bishop of
Salona, Gregory stridently rejected Natalis defense of conviviality at the
bishops table. Although important, Gregorys strong ascetic sensibilities
were not the only factors guiding his reaction. In addition to owning
property in the vicinity of the diocese, the Roman church had long
endeavored to assert its authority over the Illyrian churches (with varying
degrees of success).180 What is especially interesting about this particular
exchange between Rome and Salona is the fact that Natalis initiated it:
he had written to Gregory with his own exegetical defense of convivial
banqueting as an appropriate activity for holy bishops and had asked for
Gregorys opinion on the matter. Gregory was largely unimpressed with
Natalis argument, but these details are less important than the framework
within which the two men expressed their views. Both Natalis (now lost)
letter and Gregorys response underline an important development in the
nature and exercise of Roman episcopal authority that had been taking

Gregory, Ep. 2.44.
Caspar 193033: 2. 20611, 43742 and Markus 1997: 15661. On Roman patri-

monies in Dalmatia and their probable situation around Salona, see Skegro 2004.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

shape over the course of the past three centuries. The ethics of oikonomia,
in both their classical and emerging Christian form, had come to frame
the way that late Romans regarded the bishop of Rome. His successes
and strengths, as well as his failures and weaknesses, were increasingly
assessed according to ideals of domestic administration.

Chapter 4

Overseeing th e Overseer:
Bish ops and Lay H ouseh olds

oman bishops faced an impasse when they tried to exercise

R influence over the lay household. They and other authorities
encouraged traditional domini to take a leading role in the religious life
of their homes. For centuries, ancient householders had recognized their
responsibility to ensure that the gods were properly cultivated and wor-
shipped in perpetuity, duties that they solemnly fulfilled even if they
did not personally execute every rite. Christianity did little to alter this
dynamic, although it did foreground the centrality of religious obser-
vance for oikonomia in an unprecedented fashion. The inscription on
the bronze boat-shaped lamp created for Valerius Severus illustrates this
new emphasis. The epigraph proclaimed that Valerius received the law
from God and with it the obligation to oversee its proper observance
in his home.1 Rather than situate Severus duties within an ecclesiastical
framework, however, the lamp mentions no church officials. Severus
name appears with figurines of Peter and Paul, founding fathers of the
Roman church to be sure, but hardly papal signatures, as some have
concluded. In fact, Severus lamp underlines the challenges that Roman
bishops faced when they tried to establish their presence within tradi-
tional elite homes. If householders were the original experts and divinely
appointed stewards of the domestic sphere, then what role remained for
bishops to play in the governing of a lay Christian domus? On what
grounds might they claim authority to oversee the overseer?
This chapter examines the efforts of Roman bishops to develop exper-
tise in certain areas of domestic life. It explores how they involved them-
selves in the resolution of highly ambiguous legal and ethical matters in
the lay home. To be clear, Romes bishops did not replace the dominus as

Chapter 2.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the primary decider of difficult household questions. Lay householders

remained powerful ethical authorities as well as crucial overseers of reli-
gious activities in their homes. Bishops, however, could offer the family
something that lay patresfamilias could not: a reputation for spiritual dis-
cernment and a perceived familiarity with both religious ethics and civil
law. As Kevin Uhalde has shown, late Roman bishops endeavored to be
seen as exceptional judges, who were especially adept at discerning
certain spiritual and secular obscurities.2 We suggest that Roman prelates
wanted to appear not as exceptional judges but as exceptional domes-
tic counselors or troubleshooters, who offered advice on seemingly
intractable problems involving the intersection of civil law, Christian
ethics, and the domestic sphere.3 In this respect, bishops might play a
domestic role that largely complemented the lay paterfamilias traditional
obligations to order and discipline his domus.


Scholars stress that marriage underwent few (if any) fundamental changes
in late antiquity.4 Christianity did not erode its cultural significance as
the most elemental form of human association and the primary build-
ing block of the state, nor did it transform the experience of marriage
for most late Roman families.5 Although we cannot speak of marriages
transformation in the late empire, we can nevertheless identify ways in
which it became problematic to a degree unknown by earlier Romans.
Christianity introduced ethics and practices that did not always cohere
with traditional Greco-Roman mores of marriage and married life.6
For example, the churchs denigration of divorce and the equation of
remarriage with adultery meant that first marriages acquired a signifi-
cance unfamiliar to most Romans. Asceticism also produced changes in
marriages daily rhythms by encouraging husbands and wives to abstain

Uhalde 2007: 1012, 4476.
Harries 1999: 198 refers to bishops as universal troubleshooters. Here I restrict this
role to the domestic sphere.
On the fluid nature of Christian marriage in late antiquity and its continuities with
classical practices, see Evans Grubbs 1995; Reynolds 2001; Hunter 2003; and Cooper
2007: 1445 and 1605.
Cf. Augustine, De civ. dei 19:1617. Christians could also be hostile to marriage. Cf.
reactions to Jovinians valorization of marriage as recently explored by Duval 2003 and
Hunter 2007.
See Cooper 2007:145 and Reynolds 2001: 12155 for the discordance between Chris-
tian attitudes toward marriage and Roman legal traditions.

Overseeing the Overseer

from sexual relations. In addition, the tumultuous events of the fifth and
sixth centuries catalyzed unprecedented social instability for Italian fam-
ilies. Nearly two centuries of barbarian invasions and a twenty-year war
disrupted daily life in virtually every conceivable way. Marriages were
sometimes directly affected, such as when Italians were carried off into
captivity leaving spouses and children behind.
All of these developments and pressures created opportunities for bish-
ops to claim a distinct and new type of domestic expertise. To a certain
extent, late Roman Christians expected their bishops to be knowledgeable
about marriage and sex. Fifth- and sixth-century handbook traditions,
like the Enchiridion of Sixtus and the Ad Gregoriam in palatio, portrayed
bishops dispensing advice on sexual relations and the married state.7 A
bishops reputed wisdom in these domains would have also derived from
his participation in marital disputes, whether as a judge or arbiter at eccle-
siastical hearings or as a marriage counselor to individual families.8 By
the early seventh century, a Roman bishop might pronounce on the most
intimate aspects of married life. How long must a married couple wait
after having sex before they might receive communion? Ought women
who were menstruating, pregnant, or who had recently given birth be
turned away from the altar? Such were the questions that the mission-
ary Augustine posed to Gregory in 603.9 Gregorys remarkably detailed
responses (replete with an excursus on the benefits of breastfeeding and
the evils of wet nurses) demonstrate the Roman bishops fluency in these
particular areas of estate management, which had become increasingly
entangled with the church.
It is this very entanglement, however, that demands our close atten-
tion. Roman bishops did not accrue a reputation for marital knowledge
without great effort. Some adopted punitive tactics like excommunica-
tion and penance as a means to enforce the churchs position on, for
example, the sins of remarriage or adultery, especially when disciplining
the households of clergy.10 But coercion was not the only tool in the

The Sentences of Sixtus 230b; 2313; and 235 (Chadwick1959: 1263). The Christian
version of the text was traditionally ascribed to the third-century Roman bishop
Xystus II. The Ad Gregoriam in palatio was attributed to a bishop John, whose
identity remains uncertain. See Chapter 2.
Rapp 2005: 251 presents non-Roman evidence for late ancient bishops acting as
marriage counselors.
Gregory, Ep. 11.56a (MGH Epistulae 2: 33143).
Cf. Ad Gallos episcopos 11.56; Siricius, Ep. 1.813; and Innocent, Epp. 2.46; 6.1, 4;
and 38.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

bishops box. He could also use more constructive ritual and rhetorical
approaches to build his reputation as a holy expert on matters of mar-
riage and sex among Italian lay households. Specifically, Roman bishops
endeavored to achieve this difficult goal by acquiring a reputation for
knowledge in two areas of marriage and sex that had become newly
problematic: the ambiguous significance of nuptial blessings, and the
remarriage of Christians whose spouses were taken into captivity but
then returned to the household.

Nuptial Blessings and the Veiling of Brides11

Theoretically, Roman marriage was a straightforward affair: two families
of appropriate rank and relationship agreed to join their son and daughter
in a union. Once the children were of age (twelve for a girl, fourteen
for a boy), their marriage was predicated solely on their mutual consent
to be married.12 Mutual agreement to be married was all that the law
required for the recognition of a iustum matrimonium. Conversely, the
removal of consent was all that divorce required in the late Republic
and empire. Although former spouses bickered over property and the
return of dowries, their divorce was as simple as their next marriage
in the eyes of the law.13 Even when Constantine and later Christian
emperors placed new restrictions on divorce, they did not alter the fun-
damental legal principle guiding Roman marriage.14 The mutual con-
sent of both families (especially their fathers or guardians) and the two
people joined in the union remained the central tenet of a legitimate
In practice, however, Romans experienced a far richer and more
complex process when they wed. Betrothals were sometimes multiyear
arrangements, with their own distinctive ceremonial attributes, like the

I do not consider the veiling of virgins, which was also an increasingly important
rite for bishops. Among other things, it brought them into contact with some of
the regions most illustrious families. Liberius (35266), for instance, veiled Ambroses
sister. See Hunter 1999.
Treggiari 1991: 3757 and Evans Grubbs 1995: 140147. Cf. Dig. 35.1.15, where
Ulpian underscored that consent, and not sexual union, establishes a legal marriage.
There was no single procedure for formalizing divorce in Roman law, although it
might involve presenting the spouse with a written repudium. See Evans Grubbs 1995:
Evans Grubbs 1995: 22860. These new restrictions and penalties had an impact
mostly on unilateral divorces, especially for women.
Gaudemet 1987: 5860 and Reynolds 2001: 2238.

Overseeing the Overseer

fiances presentation of an engagement gift (the arra) to the brides family

or the ritual sealing of the sponsalia with a kiss. Both rites became increas-
ingly significant in late antiquity.16 There was also a wide range of rituals
associated with the wedding itself: the brides donning of a floral crown
and flame-red veil (the flammeum) and the ceremonial procession of the
bride from her natal home to the grooms house (deductio ad domum).17
These rituals publicly and symbolically established the marriage before
an audience of witnesses. Some weddings included expressly religious
components, such as sacrificial offerings to the gods (the confarreatio),
the taking of auspices, and wedding hymns.18 The fact that a Roman
marriage was legally predicated on nothing more formal than an agree-
ment, however, meant that its ritualized expression had a varied, fluid
history, differing from region to region, perhaps even from household to
To a great extent, the Christian wedding is something of a mis-
nomer in late antiquity, because most evidence for nuptials performed
for a Christian couple describes elements that are consistently Roman.
For example, Tertullian (ca. 160220) artfully mixed Christian metaphors
with technical (and wholly classical) Roman terms used to connote vari-
ous aspects of a wedding, like the offering of a wedding day sacrifice and
the seal placed on the written marriage documents. As Hunter observed,
Tertullians description clearly falls short of a distinctly Christian nup-
tial rite.19 We know from Augustine that many North African Christian
families composed formal marriage contracts (tabulae nuptiales) just as
their classical counterparts had, which recorded items such as the brides
dowry, the increasingly common groom gift (donatio ante nuptias), and
any property that either party owned when entering the union.20 Chris-
tians also welcomed the composition and recitation of epithalamia at their
weddings, some of which were even authored by bishops. Paulinus of
Nola composed an epithalamium in 403 to honor the marriage between
the son and daughter of his two friends, Bishop Memor of Beneventum

Anne 1941: 87153; Gaudemet 1987: 578; Evans Grubbs 1995: 17283; Arjava 1996:
556. On the exchanging of a kiss to seal the betrothal contract (first noted by
Tertullian and presumed as normative in CT 3.5.6 [319]), see Anne 1941: 6385 and
Evans Grubbs 1995: 1701.
Treggiari 1991: 163, 1667.
Treggiari 1991: 214
Hunter 2003: 6971.
Treggiari 1991: 165 and Evans Grubbs 1995: 1457. On the tabulae nuptiales or matri-
moniales, see Hunter 2007a.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

and Bishop Aemelius of Capua, as did the sixth-century Pavian bishop

Ennodius for his friends children.21 As these examples suggest, clerical
participation was perhaps the only criterion distinguishing a Christian
from a non-Christian wedding.
Neither the late Roman church nor state developed universal require-
ments in this regard, however.22 Consequently, the degree of clerical
intervention varied enormously. For example, Hunter has argued that
the role of bishops at Christian weddings in North Africa was minimal
and largely involved the witnessing of the signing and sealing of the tabulae
nuptiales.23 In Italy, some bishops participated in a more active, ritualized
manner, through the offering of blessings for the couples union and/or
through the performance of a veiling ceremony.24 These latter rites and
their relation to the process of marrying posed the greatest hermeneutic
quandaries for Christians.
Although sources dating from the late fourth century mention nuptial
blessings and veiling, they offer few (and sometimes conflicting) details
about what they entailed. In most texts only girls appear to have been
veiled, but Paulinus epithalamium implies that both the bride and groom
received this particular blessing.25 It is presumed that bishops were the
primary celebrants of nuptial rites, but in some cases the celebrant is
simply denoted as sacerdos, opening up the possibility that priests also
performed veiling ceremonies.26 According to one fifth-century Roman
source, the rites were performed in an ecclesiastical setting.27 Ambrosi-
aster claimed that nuptial blessings were restricted to first marriages and
were possibly prohibited for subsequent unions.28 This would make sense
given the growing consensus among church fathers in the West that

Paulinus, Carm. 25 and Ennodius, Carm. 1.4.
In fact, the Byzantine state did not require a church ceremony as a precondition for a
valid marriage until the tenth century. See Laiou 1985.
Hunter 2003.
For general discussion of nuptial blessings and veiling, see Anne 1941: 182219 and
Ritzer 1970: 22337.
Paulinus, Carm. 25.22730. Paulinus description of nuptial veiling, however, is neither
empirical nor representative. In writing the epithalamium, he was not recording an
event but composing a poem. More significantly, the two bishops who performed the
veiling ceremony, Memor and Aemilius, were also likely the fathers of the bride and
Ambrose, Ep. 19 and Paulinus, Carmen 25.22730 presume bishops, but two Roman
sources, Siricius, Ep. 1.5 and Praedestinatus 3.31, denote the celebrant as sacerdos.
Praedestinatus 3.31.
Ambrosiaster, Ad 1 Cor. 7:40. See also Ad 1 Tim. 3:12 and 5.3 and Quaes.127.3 (CSEL
50: 400).

Overseeing the Overseer

first marriages were special, and second marriages (especially those

following divorce) were tantamount to adultery. The wealthy divorcee
Fabiola performed a spectacular public penance at St. Peters, presumably
under the direction of Damasus, where she wiped her soul clean of this
precise sin.29
While Roman bishops might assist marital sinners in the penance pro-
cess, they were equally concerned with helping them and their families
avoid the sin altogether by making a good first match. Traditionally, it
was a bishops reputed ability to scrutinize a potential union, to ascertain
whether it was conducted for the right reasons, that most recommended
his participation in the process of marrying. For example, Ignatius of
Antioch (d. ca. 98117) suggested that Christians contract their union
with the judgment of the bishop, in order that the marriage be according
to the Lord and not according to lust.30 Similarly, Tertullian claimed
that Christians do not allow secret marriages but only those conducted
openly before the church (apud ecclesiae), lest they risk being judged
as nothing more than opportunities for fornication.31 Bishops and other
clerics could somehow distinguish between a union formed for procre-
ation and one connived solely for sexual purposes. To some extent, the
participation of bishops and clergy in the validation of a good union
recalls the informal matchmaking roles performed by Roman aristocrats
like Pliny and Symmachus, who were asked to comment on the appro-
priateness or viability of certain eligible men or women on behalf of
interested friends and family.32 They too would have been expected to
judge the character of the two potential spouses. There is also evidence
that bishops worked as matchmakers in the more traditional sense of the
term, although this evidence does not pertain to Rome.33
What ultimately distinguished late Roman bishops from their lay
counterparts was the development of a ritualized expression of their
approval: the offering of blessings for the couple and the veiling of the
bride. These were symbolic gestures that could be more easily monop-
olized than measured advice from an experienced friend. Thus Siricius
(384399) letter to Himerius of Tarragona and an anonymous tract from a

Jerome, Ep. 77.
Ignatius, Ep. 5.2 (trans. Lake 1: 232).
Tertullian, De pudicitia 4.4.
Noy 1990 and Sogno 2010.
The Epistola Clementis, cc. 78 associated priests (but not bishops) with arranging
marriages, while Possidius, Vita S. Augustini 23 suggested that some bishops in North
Africa engaged in matchmaking. See also Brown 1990: 589 and Arjava 1996: 30.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

fifth-century Roman writer known as Praedestinatus situate these rites

within a framework designed to publicize the bishops approval of the
union.34 By the sixth century, nuptial blessings were probably fairly com-
monplace in Roman and suburbicarian churches, although there is no
evidence to suggest that bishops required them for lay households as they
did for men wishing to marry and enter the ranks of the clergy.35 Nup-
tial rites might have even begun to be integrated into the liturgy during
this period. The so-called Veronense Sacramentary, a seventh-century book
containing mass formularies that could have originated in sixth-century
Rome, includes numerous prayers possibly used by Roman clergy to
bless the couple.36
With the steady use and perhaps even standardization of nuptial rites
in Italy, one would assume that their social meaning and spiritual force
had also become regularized. However, the fact that marriage contin-
ued to be based on mutual consent meant that interpretations of nuptial
blessings remained fluid. There are no late Roman imperial laws or eccle-
siastical canons that delineated precisely how the brides veiling related
to the validity of a marriage or where exactly it fit within the process of
marrying. One of the unintended effects of the rites proliferation was
the creation of a new source of confusion for Christians who wanted
to marry. How binding were the blessings, especially if they were con-
ducted in lieu of additional, but arguably more traditional, nuptial rights?
Did the Roman church view the veiled and blessed desponsata as already
married and hence unable to contract a union with another man? Alter-
natively, was the corporeal state of virginity a more significant criterion
for establishing a womans eligibility for a legitimate marriage? These
were precisely the conundrums that late fifth- and sixth-century Roman
bishops attempted to resolve. Their responses reveal how Roman bishops
carefully defined their own authority as experts on the nebulous topic of
nuptial blessings and their relationship to traditional Roman indexes of a
consensual marital union.
Confusion surrounded nuptial rites from their earliest attestation in the
Roman sources. Siricius brief discussion of coniugalis velatio appears in a
response to queries of Himerius of Tarragona, who was perplexed as to

Siricius, Ep. 1.5 and Praedestinatus, 3.31.
See Chapter 5.
Sacramentarium Veronense 11051110 (eds. Mohlberg, et al. 1966). For possible connec-
tions between these formularies and Ambrosiasters writings, see Frisch and Hunter

Overseeing the Overseer

what these rites actually meant.37 On the subject of conjugal veiling,

he wrote to Himerius in 385, you have asked whether someone can
marry a girl who was betrothed to another. By all means we forbid this
to be done since that blessing, which a sacerdos imposes on an girl who is
about to marry (nupturae), is a kind of sacrilege among the faithful if it is
violated by any transgression.38 Modern scholars have been equally per-
plexed by Siricius answer. Some interpret him to mean that a girl who
reneged on an engagement to marry another man could not then receive
the nuptial blessing from the bishop.39 This plausible reading is based on
the assumption that the nuptial rites blessed the marriage (and not the
betrothal), either on the day of or shortly before its consummation.40 As
other scholars have observed, however, the Latin suggests that Siricius saw
the veiling as a blessing of the betrothal agreement, even if it were not a
separate engagement ritual of the type seen in the Middle Ages.41 The
blessing is given not to the girl who is marrying, but to the one who
will marry. What Siricius asserted, then, was that a girl who has already
received the coniugalis velatio is not free to marry another man.42 Siricius
interpretation of the nuptial blessing resonates with the heightened sig-
nificance given to the betrothal (and to betrothal gifts) as a distinct part
of the marriage process in fourth-century imperial legislation.43 More
important for the history of Roman episcopal authority, this interpreta-
tion would provide another reason for householders to seek a bishops
participation in the marriage process, because his blessing was given not
to their childrens union or its future productivity, but to the parents
choice of a match. In this respect, a bishops moral scrutiny would come
directly into play through his performance of a ritual that was unavailable
to most other advisers, whom a family might otherwise consult when
contracting a marriage for their child.

Himerius had originally posed his queries to Siricius predecessor Damasus, who
evidently died before answering them.
Siricius, Ep. 1.5 (PL 13.1138): De coniugali autem velatione requisisti, si desponsa-
tam alii puellam, alter in matrimonium posit accipere. Hoc ne fiat, modis omnibus
inhibemus: quia illa benedictio, quam nupturae sacerdos imponit, apud fideles cuius-
dem sacrilegii instar est, si ulla trangressione violetur.
Anne 1941: 1945. Ritzer 1970: 2301.
Ritzer 1970: 2267, 231. There is some basis for this interpretation in Paulinus
wedding hymn (Carmen 25), where the two bishops veil their children at a ceremony
clearly intended to celebrate their marriage.
As argued by Evans Grubbs 1995: 17980 and Reynolds 2001: 3212.
Reynolds 2001: 3212.
Anne 1941: 293306. Evans Grubbs 1995: 15683.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

A century later, Gelasius too pronounced on the matter of nuptial

veiling, although he was dealing with a specific domestic crisis. Hostilius,
a comes from Campania, had complained to Gelasius that a young girl,
probably the comes relative and/or ward (the letter does not specify44 ),
had married a cleric or church official (ecclesiae homo) under conditions
that Hostilius considered suspicious.45 He claimed that she had been
abducted by the man and married to him without any of the rites that
late Romans traditionally performed to publicize mutual consent for the
match.46 Leaving aside for now Hostilius claim that the puella had been
rapta, let us examine his charge that the marriage was illegitimate because
it lacked certain rites.47
In an angry letter addressed directly to the comes, Gelasius categorically
rejected the laymans charge of the marriages impropriety. He pointed
not only to the girls reception of engagement gifts (acceptis arris) but
also to her participation in a veiling ceremony (velamine etiam capitis
iam peracto).48 The latter, Gelasius argued, was a far more certain and
solemn way to demonstrate the marriages legitimacy than lewd revelries
and songs (lasciviam et ponpam [sic] nuptiarum et symphonyas [sic]). Here
Gelasius ostensibly referred to the sexually charged ritual of the deductio in
domum.49 In fact, the absence of pompa nuptiarum might have been what
raised Hostilius suspicions about the marriage. More to the point, for
this lay Italian householder, nuptial veiling was not a defining rite in the
marriage process. Whereas Hostilius emphasized rites that publicized the
imminent consummation of a marriage, Gelasius (like Siricius) stressed
the betrothal stages. Gelasius made his case by distinguishing between
valid and invalid nuptial rites, that is, between betrothal gifts and nuptial
veiling on the one hand and something akin to the racier deductio ad
domum on the other. By drawing this distinction, Gelasius did more than
simply dismiss Hostilius complaint and advocate for the legitimacy of the
marriage. He elevated the emerging Christian custom of nuptial veiling

Of course, it is also possible that Hostilius acted as an agent on behalf of another
household, but no mention of a third party is made in the letter.
The identity of the unnamed man of the church remains unknown. Gelasius likely
employed the phrase (which was not a standard title or epithet) simply to denote a
cleric or official attached to his church in Rome. This is how Gregory used the phrase
in a 595 letter to the Frankish queen Brunhilde. Cf. Ep. 6.5.
Gelasius, Ep. 73 (ed. Ewald 1880: 5623).
On the abduction charge, see Chapter 6.
Gelasius, Ep. 73 (ed. Ewald 1880: 562).
On Gelasius implied association of the latter with the deductio in domum, see Ritzer
1970: 221.

Overseeing the Overseer

to the same status as engagement gifts, asserting that both were equally
solemn indices of marital intent and mutual consensus.
Of course, both men were correct in their interpretations of the mar-
riage. There was no single set of late antique laws or traditions that
demarcated the ritual parameters of marrying. Gelasius tactics were
therefore entirely rhetorical: to distinguish between proper nuptial
rituals and improper practices in a manner that established his own
authority in determining what constituted a marriage. In addition to
being sexually suggestive, the rites preferred by Hostilius were not per-
formed within a church or under a clerics aegis. In fact, the Roman
bishop tried to privilege an ecclesiastical context further by obviating
the fact that Hostilius was likely the girls guardian. Gelasius was not
making canon law but competitively asserting his own expertise. Hostil-
ius was a high-ranking public official, perhaps a member of Theodorics
court.50 He was also known to Gelasius as a critic of his church, and
the bishop of Rome had complained about the comes in another letter.51
Much was at stake here, not least the status of a clerical marriage. It
would not reflect well on Gelasius stewardship were an ecclesiae homo
to have conducted an illicit marriage.52 Moreover, both parties might
bring the dispute before Theodoric.53 Given the legal and ritual ambi-
guity of marital rites, Gelasius was undoubtedly concerned to establish
his authority over this household crisis as definitively as possible. Hence
he took an imperious tone, contending that bishops were fitter for navi-
gating the shifting contours of marriage than traditional experts, lay elite
householders. Whether his tactics were successful is uncertain.
At this particular moment in the late fifth century, a Roman bishop
invoked nuptial veiling as a legitimate and legitimating rite tantamount to
more traditional practices of establishing a marriage. Just fifty years later,
another Roman bishop drew a rather different conclusion. In a letter to
a bishop called Marcellus dated to March of 559, Pelagius responded to a
query regarding the legitimacy of a potential marriage of a cleric named

As suggested by Caspar 193033: 2.7376. PLRE 2: 527 and PCBE 2.1: 10189 are
more circumspect, stating only that he was a comes.
Gelasius, Ep. 8 (ed. Ewald 1880: 511). Hostilius had apparently supported clergy who
were of low social status and had been improperly ordained.
This was not the only time when a layman challenged Gelasius oversight of the
clerical household. See Chapter 6 for the adulterous cleric whose crimes precipitated
Gelasius letter to Roman senators on the Lupercalia.
In fact, at the end of the letter Gelasius threatened to do precisely this (as well as to
excommunicate Hostilius). See Chapter 6.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Valentinus to a mulier with a complicated past. Although, Pelagius

wrote, she had been veiled before to another man, she nevertheless did
not marry him, but remains a virgin . . . 54 As it happened, the man to
whom she had been originally betrothed had died, and now Pelagius
was asked to decide whether she might once again obtain the nuptial
blessings in the context of a new match.
Given the fact that the vir in question was a low-level cleric, Pelagius
was perhaps under pressure to find a loophole. As is discussed at length
in Chapter 5, men who aspired to higher ecclesiastical offices (bish-
ops, priests, deacons, and subdeacons) could not wed previously married
women. Pelagius thus found a way around the impasse: her virginal status,
he explained, held greater significance than the veiling ceremony, which
might be repeated under extenuating circumstances. Pelagius insisted to
Marcellus that he could find nothing in the established canons that might
hinder the clerics future marriage, or for that matter the (re)veiling of
the mulier. In contrast to Gelasius tactics, which underscored the bind-
ing nature of the veiling rite and equated it with time-honored, publicly
legislated practices like the exchange of engagement gifts, Pelagius effec-
tively demoted it to an optional practice, important for the establishment
of an engagement perhaps but not concomitant with marriage. It is inter-
esting to note that although Pelagius cited ecclesiastical law as his guide,
his decision about the implications of veiling actually followed imperial
legislation far more closely, which viewed the death of the sponsus or
sponsa as the termination of the agreement.55
The decisions given by Siricius, Gelasius, and Pelagius do not allow
us to formulate a single, coherent papal position on the meaning of
nuptial rites and the veiling of brides for late Roman marriage practices.
On the contrary, they reveal a fluid, polysemous set of traditions. More-
over, they attest to a predilection among Roman bishops to prioritize
their own expertise on the meaning of nuptial blessings over the con-
struction of a consistent policy. In each case, the bishop responded to a
problem created by the addition of a new Christian element to an already
nebulous area of domestic life. While all Romans agreed that marriage
rested on consent and that consent required some form of publicity, no
single set of laws or traditions existed regarding its ritualization. Christian
nuptial rites thus did not necessarily clash with Roman traditions, but
Pelagius, Ep. 57 (eds. Gass`o and Batlle 1956: 14952): Caritati tuae quae observare
debeat significare curavimus, id est, ut Valentinum clericum, quo, cui mulier cum alio
antea velata, non tamen ei nupta, sed virgo permanens . . .
Evans Grubbs 1995: 163 and Arjava 1996: 546.

Overseeing the Overseer

their relative significance had to be interpreted. This was especially true

when the validity of the marriage was itself in question (as we saw with
both Gelasius and Pelagius). Roman bishops thus seized opportunities to
define these problems in their own terms and to demonstrate to clergy
and laymen alike that they knew precisely how to steer couples and their
families through the maze of hermeneutic possibilities that marrying
engendered. Their responses, although not delivered to emperors, kings,
or even to bishops of prominent sees, nevertheless indicate the Roman
bishops interest in developing knowledge about societys micro-relations
of power, those domains of everyday life over which they hoped to
exercise authority.

Ursas Return: Captivity and Remarriage56

Perhaps during the Visigothic siege of Rome in late August of 410, a
Roman Christian named Ursa was abducted and carried off into captivity.
Her husband, a man named Fortunius, undoubtedly mourned the violent
loss of his wife. But rather than await her possible return, he decided
to remarry. Much to his surprise, however, Ursa reemerged in Rome
sometime later and sought out her husband, only to find that she had been
replaced. In need of assistance, Ursa approached the bishop of Rome,
Innocent, hoping that he would be sympathetic to her predicament and
help to reinstate the original marriage. Innocent agreed to assist the poor
woman and executed what was likely his only option: he wrote a letter
to an aristocratic lay householder named Probus to see if he might coax
Fortunius to return to his first wife.57
Abduction of Romans by barbarian armies was a violent but fairly
common event in antiquity, especially in the western regions of the
empire during the fifth and sixth centuries. In fact, Innocents successor
Leo also wrote a letter in 458 on the subject of captivity and the remar-
riage of wives whose husbands had been kidnapped.58 In this case, Leo
responded to queries from his colleague Nicetas of Aquileia, whose city
had been ransacked by the Huns in 452. Much of what we know about
the phenomenon comes from the writings of bishops, who famously
mobilized their financial resources to help families to ransom kidnapped

A fuller treatment of captivity, remarriage, and Roman episcopal authority appears in
Sessa 2011.
Innocent, Ep. 36.
Leo, Ep. 159.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

relatives and friends. As William Klingshirn has demonstrated, this partic-

ular form of episcopal assistance represents one important way in which
bishops both established ties to individual households and expanded their
own reputations as civic and ecclesiastical leaders.59 Yet however cele-
brated this act of episcopal charity might have been, it did not necessarily
end the familys pain and suffering. As Ursas story poignantly shows,
abduction inflicted damages on a domus that could not be remedied
through the bishops payment of a ransom. The kidnapping of a spouse
obviously interrupted a marriage, but how precisely was a Christian sup-
posed to handle the legal and religious ambiguities created by abduction?
Was it legitimate to seek a new spouse, or was captivity concomitant
with divorce (after all, the kidnapped spouse might still be alive among
the barbarians), thus rendering remarriage religiously inviolable for the
Christian? And what if after years of separation and a new marriage the
abducted spouse miraculously returns, as did Ursa? Roman bishops such
as Innocent and Leo endeavored to play a privileged role in the definition
and resolution of these domestic dilemmas.

Captivity, Return, and (Re)Marriage in Roman Law: The Ius Postliminii

Before examining the bishops responses, it is important to establish
that, in the eyes of the state, Fortunius and the wives of Aquileia acted
licitly when they forged new unions. Leo actually alluded to the relevant
law in the letter to Nicetas: the ius postliminii. Postliminium outlined the
legal status of a Roman citizen who was captured by a foreign power,
held in captivity in a land beyond the empires civil boundaries, but
subsequently returned to Rome. In Roman law, captivity under a foreign
power was concomitant with the total negation of citizen rights and was a
state theoretically equated with slavery.60 Consequently, a Roman citizen
captured by an enemy temporarily lost all property, paternal authority,
and conubium, the right to contract a legal marriage.61 If a man or woman
had been legitimately captured (and did not willingly flee to the enemy)
and found his or her way back to Roman territory, citizenship was

Klingshirn 1985. See also Osiek 1981 on pre-Nicene paraenetic traditions on captivity
and ransom.
On the ius postliminii, the legal status of captives and their technical assimilation with
slaves, see Buckland 1908: 291317; Kaser 1971: I.1135, 2901 and II.12932, 1745;
and Watson 1991: 3754.
Treggiari 1991: 44.

Overseeing the Overseer

automatically reinstated under the ius postliminii, with the recovery of

all property and citizen rights everything, that is, except a marriage
formed before the abduction.62
Because marriage rested on consent more than any other principle, a
returning captive could not force a spouse to revive the marriage; mutual
agreement for the match had to be reconfirmed.63 A late Roman law
on postliminium issued in 366 similarly made no mention of the rein-
statement of marriages, suggesting that the classical exclusion of coniugia
from recoverable objects and rights remained intact.64 In fact, in the
event that enemy forces captured ones husband or wife, a spouse could
remarry without incurring penalties, although in late antiquity there
might have been an accustomed waiting period when the captives status
was uncertain.65 In the sixth century, however, Justinian altered the right
of postliminium: marriages continued as long as the captive was thought
to be alive. When the captive spouse was known to be alive, marriages
could be dissolved only after incurring legal penalties (i.e., the loss of
betrothal gifts or dowry).66 If the survival of the captive were uncertain,
Justinian ruled that a spouse could remarry after a waiting period of five
years without punishment.

Correlating Roman Law and Christian Ideal in a Time of War

Justinians 536 revision of the law undoubtedly reflected a broader con-
sensus that marriages ought not be dissolved so hastily. When Innocent
and Leo were grappling with the problem of returning Christian captives
and remarriages, however, they did not have Justinians ruling. To be sure,

Recovery of property: Dig. 49.12.2 and CJ 8.50(51).1819. Loss and recovery of patria
potestas: Inst. 1.12.5. No recovery of marriage: Dig. 49.12.8;; 24.2.1; and See Buckland 1908: 2967 and Watson 1991.
Treggiari 1991: 44. Cf. Tryphonius, Dig. (eds. Mommsen and Kruger
1985: 4.889): A husband does not receive back his wife by right of postliminium in
the same way that a father recovers his son, but the marriage may be reinstated by
agreement (Non ut pater filium, ita uxorem maritus iure postiliminii receipt: sed
consensu redintegratur matrimonium).
CT 5.7.1 (Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian, issued at Reims).
The question of a prescribed waiting period for remarriage in the context of captivity
is especially challenging, partly because it involves two opinions (Paul, Dig. 49.15.8
and Julian, Dig. 24.2.6) that were interpolated by postclassical editors. As suggested in
Sessa 2011, the waiting periods before remarriage prescribed in these two opinions
could reflect late Roman social practice on the ground.
Justinian, Nov. 22.7 issued in 536 and reaffirmed in Nov. 117.12 of 542.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

both were aware of and perhaps even (in Leos case at least) knowledge-
able about the legal principles and practices governing postliminium.67
Nevertheless, for them the issue turned on how one might correlate
emerging Christian principles governing the marital bond with the legal
status of the union and the practical realities at hand. Although there
was no universal model of Christian marriage in late antiquity, the
Gospels and Pauls letters offered some ethical guidelines on divorce and
remarriage: the former was clearly denounced, and the latter was tanta-
mount to adultery.68 A marriage, Christian authorities emphasized, was
a permanent joining of man and woman based on the biblical model of
Adam and Eve that symbolized both Gods creation of humanity and
the union of human beings with Christ.69 In another letter dated to
405, Innocent expressly stated that spouses who remarry while their for-
mer partners were alive commit adultery.70 Neither Innocent nor Leo
would stake their arguments on captivity and remarriage solely (or even
primarily) on the grounds of the indissolubility of marriage, however.
Instead they presented idiosyncratic solutions, which both established
compatibilities between Christian ethics and civil law and reflected the
fact that marital practices remained highly fluid in this period.71 More-
over, their responses showcase how tumultuous political events, such as
a barbarian attack on a major city, exacerbated a relatively old domes-
tic problem in a new and acute manner. Although Leo and Innocents
predecessors theoretically faced the identical dilemma (the Roman legal
position and biblical ethics predate the fifth century), they probably did
not encounter broken marriages on the same scale as two bishops in a

Innocent to Probus on the Overlapping Domains of Christian Ethics

and Roman Law
For Innocent, the primary challenge in restoring Ursas marriage was to
persuade the man who possessed the authority to resolve the dispute:
Probus. While the letter offers little information about the addressee,

See especially Reynolds 2001: 1348; Pietrini 2002: 220235; and Dunn 2007.
Nautin 1974: 24359 and Reynolds 2001: xxii-xxviii.
Reynolds 2001: 121131; 281311.
Innocent, Ep. 6.6 to Exsuperius of Toulouse.
My interpretation thus departs from previous analyses of captivity and remarriage in
the letters of Innocent and Leo, which frame the matter as a problem of Christian
versus secular reasoning on remarriage. See, for example, Noonen 1973; Reynolds
2001: 12142; and Dunn 2007: 1156.

Overseeing the Overseer

Innocent referred to Probus as domine fili merito illustris, thereby suggesting

that he was both a Christian and a high-ranking senator. Several scholars
have identified this Probus with Flavius Anicius Petronius Probus, a
known Christian and ordinary consul of 406.72 A recent study of the
letter has argued convincingly that Innocent wrote to Probus not in light
of any magisterial power that he might have wielded over Fortunius,
but because of his domestic relationships to Ursa and Fortunius, who
were perhaps his clients, tenants, or freedmen.73 It is also possible that
Probus had been the one to redeem Ursa from her captives, which
would have made Ursa even more dependent on Probus.74 Moreover,
Innocents relationship to Fortunius (if one even existed) would have
been strained because he was advocating for his former wifes position.
The Roman bishop, in other words, intervened in this domestic affair
solely as Ursas counselor, hoping that her patron, Probus, would take
up Innocents position and urge Fortunius to reunite with his first wife.
Epistle 36 therefore reflects the limits of Innocents authority to enforce
his opinions within a lay household.75 The letter demonstrates that an
early fifth-century Roman bishop still had to work through traditional,
preexisting channels of domestic government to achieve his goals within
the context of lay households.
Innocents self-presentation was therefore critical, since he needed to
forge an argument that would appeal to and hopefully persuade a man
who was an expert in household management and its ethical ordering.
The extent to which he knew the fine points of postliminium is debat-
able, but on one level his argument rested on its irrelevance.76 It was

Cf. PLRE 2.9134 (= Probus 11) and PCBE 2.2, 1842 (= Probus 5).
Dunn 2007: 111, 1201, contra Noonen 1973: 36.
A redeemer had a legal lien on the redeemed that amounted to enslavement for five
years or until the ransom was fully repaid. See Buckland 1908: 31117 and Levy 1963.
It is unlikely that Innocent had sat in judgment of the dispute between Ursa and
Fortunius within the context of an episcopal hearing. The consent of both parties
was necessary for a bishop to assume the role of judge or arbiter in conflicts, except
those of a strictly religious nature. Surely Fortunius would not have agreed to allow
a Christian bishop to resolve his marriage dispute. See Harries 1999:195, 2023. Pace
Reynolds (2001: 133), a dispute over captivity and remarriage remained a civil matter
in ca. 41017.
Innocent implied familiarity with postliminium when writing, For although [the
marriage] had been properly established, the assault of captivity would have made
a stain on the marriage of Ursa and Fortunius, if the holy decrees of religion did
not provide for it. Ep. 36 (PL 20: 602): Nam bene constituto matrimonio inter
Fortunium et Ursam captivitatis incursus fecerat naevum, nisi sancta religionis statuta

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

not the emperors law, Innocent explained, but the holy decrees of reli-
gion (sancta religionis statuta) that could resolve the matter of Fortunius
remarriage and Ursas abandonment. These, he implied, would uphold
the first and only the first marriage. Innocent did not entirely reject the
applicability of Roman law to his case, however; on the contrary, he
recognized that it offered him some leverage. In the letter, he presented
the fact that Fortunius had not divorced Ursa as further proof of the
singular legitimacy of their marriage: For which reason, my lord, son,
deservedly illustris, we determine that, with the support of the Catholic
faith, that one is the marriage, which had been previously constituted
by divine grace; and the agreement with the second woman, since the
prior one is alive and has not been dismissed through divorce, cannot be
legitimate by any means.77
Precisely what Innocent meant by invoking divorce has long perplexed
scholars, especially because elsewhere he categorically condemned it.78
There are at least two possible explanations. First, he might have wished
to underline Ursas castitas and good character by emphasizing that her
husband had not divorced her for adultery or other less serious faults.79
Adultery was the only reason for separation that early church fathers
accepted and that Constantine allowed as a legitimate causa repudii for
husbands who wanted to divorce unilaterally.80 Second, Innocents refer-
ence to divorce also could refer to a common (albeit legally unnecessary)
practice of divorcing a kidnapped spouse before remarriage.81 Regard-
less of Innocents precise reasoning for invoking divorce, its rhetorical
function would have been identical: the absence of evidence for legal
separation in this particular case constituted yet another reason for Probus
to uphold the first marriage between Fortunius and Ursa.
Innocent, Ep. 36 (PL 20: 603): Quare, domine fili merito illustris, statuimus, fide
catholica suffragante, illud esse coniugium, quod erat primitus gratia divina fundatum;
conventumque secundae mulieris, priore superstite, nec divortio eiecta, nullo pacto
posse esse legitimum.
See n. 70.
Dunn 2007: 1178, although he does not draw attention to the moral implications of
Innocents point.
On the so-called Matthean exception, see Reynolds 2001: 173226. However, as
Dunn notes (2007: 11718), Innocent did not actually employ the Matthean argu-
ment here or in his other comments on adultery (e.g. Ep. 6). On Constantines
divorce legislation of 331, see Evans Grubbs 1995: 2356. Moreover, in ca. 41017,
the Roman government treated unilateral divorce relatively permissively, as Julian
had repealed Constantines restrictions and Honorius had yet to introduce his more
stringent measures in 421.
I explore this possibility in Sessa 2011.

Overseeing the Overseer

Innocent thus demonstrated knowledge of two different ways of

resolving the problem of captivity and remarriage: a traditional Roman
method involving postliminium and divorce, which severed their marriage
and freed Fortunius to remarry; and a new Christian method based on
the Catholic faith, which held that the first marriage was still valid,
and the second null and void.82 What he argued for, however, was not
the justice of the latter option over the venality of the former. Rather,
Innocent proposed a synergistic solution. He urged the dominus to see
compatibility between the Christian injunctions on the divine sanction
of marriage and the absence of divorce and to conclude from this rea-
soning that the marriage between Ursa and Fortunius had never been
severed. The bishop also underscored to Probus his careful investigation
of the matter. No one, he assured, could be found to deny Ursas claim
to be Fortunius first wife. Innocent thus took it upon himself to do
the dominus household business, although in a manner that distinctly
highlighted his own status as a counselor. He conducted an investigation
into a domestic dispute between two dependents, and he considered
two different sets of legal options. Most significantly, Innocent reached
a resolution that showcased his familiarity with Roman family law and
found common ground between the traditional civil and the emerging
ecclesiastical legal systems.83

Toward an Episcopal Oikonomia: Leo on Captivity and the Recovery

of Marriage
Unlike Epistle 36, which engaged Innocent directly in a single domestic
dispute, Leos Epistle 159 presented the bishops measured advice on
the dilemma of broken marriages and captivity as a broader, regional
phenomenon involving numerous households. Leo, we noted, responded
to the queries of a fellow bishop, Nicetas of Aquileia, whose city had been
recently sacked by Attilas army. Like Innocent, Leo underlined both the
dire straits of the times and the fact that the wounds which have been
inflicted by enemy attacks might be healed largely through the logic of

Innocent, Ep. 36 (PL 20.603): illud esse coniugium, quod erat primitus gratia divina
Ep. 36 is the only extant letter by a Roman bishop addressed to a layman on a domestic
matter before the late fifth century. Dionysius Exiguus even included it in the first
Roman collection of episcopal correspondence. Cf. Decreta Innocentii papae 37 (PL 67:

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

religion.84 Indeed, Leo opened his discussion by citing several biblical

passages that Christian authorities believed stressed the indissolubility of
marriage, such as Matthew 19:6. He also pushed this ethical theme in a
new direction, by assimilating the Christian valorization of the marital
union with the legal principles of postliminium:

But since we know that it is written that a woman is joined to a man

by God (Proverbs 19.14) and again we are aware of the precept that
what God has joined, man may not separate (Matthew 19.6) we are
bound to hold that the compact of lawful marriages must be renewed,
and after the removal of evils inflicted by the enemy, to each what was
lawfully had must be restored; and we must take every pains that each
should recover what is his own.85

Whereas Innocent based his argument on the integrity of Fortunius

and Ursas marriage, Leo focused his response on the theme of recov-
ery. Circumstances might have sundered these families, he reasoned, but
bishops have an obligation to restore them. If men recover their slaves,
houses, and properties when they return from captivity, should they
not also receive back their marriages so that what had been disturbed
through wartime necessity be restored by the remedy of peace?86 While
quoting precisely those biblical passages on the indissolubility of mar-
riage that made postliminium irrelevant, Leos response highlighted the
husbands right of restoration as outlined in Roman law.87 The fact that
he was concerned with the recovery of married wives (and not married
husbands) also helped Leo to make his case. Although wives were not
literally perceived as their husbands property in late Roman society, their
subordinate status within the household certainly buttressed Leos argu-
ment. Needless to say, Innocent did not suggest to Probus that Fortunius
might be recovered like a slave. In short, Leo looked to correlate the spirit
of the biblical precept with the more actionable approach offered by civil
Leo, Ep. (PL 54: 1136): ut vulnera quae hostilitatis adversitate illata sunt,
religionis maxime ratione sanentur.
Leo, Ep. 159.1 (PL 54: 1136): Sed quia novimus scriptum, quod a deo iungitur mulier
viro (Prov: 19.14), et iterum praeceptum agnovimus ut quod deus iunxit homo
non separet (Mt: 19.6), necesse est ut legitimarum foedera nuptiarum redintegranda
credamus, et remotis malis quae hostilitas intulit, unicuique hoc quod legitime habuit
reformetur, omnique studio procurandum est ut recipiat unusquisque quod proprium
est. Trans. adapted from Feltoe 1894: 103.
Leo, Ep. 159.2 (PL 54: 1137): ut quod bellica necessitate turbatum est pacis remedio
Reynolds 2001: 136 and Pietrini 2002: 22834.

Overseeing the Overseer

legislation. Insisting on marriages indissolubility backed the Christian

bishop into a corner; arguing for the restoration of temporarily aban-
doned marriages opened new doors for his intervention in this sensitive
area of domestic life.88
In looking to resolve problems of captivity and remarriage, Leo and
Innocent tried to distinguish their still uncertain domestic authority from
the more certain power of the householder and even the civic official.
By all accounts, the status of a captives marriage was far more ambiguous
within a Christian context than outside of it, regardless of any confusion
over the legal necessity of divorce. The law of postliminium stated explicitly
that consent from both partners was necessary for the reinstatement of a
marriage after the return of a spouse from captivity. By insisting that this
was also a matter of sancta religionis statuta, Leo and Innocent complicated
matters: the problem would have to conform to these decrees as well.
Whereas a householder and public official like Probus would be expected
to have expertise in the secular treatment of broken marriages, he could
hardly claim to outdo a bishop when it came to knowledge of the
holy decrees of religion. By redefining the problem of captivity and
remarriage as both secular and religious, Innocent and Leo transformed
it into a matter that only a bishop could resolve.

Th e Treatment of Slaves with in

Th e Ch ristian H ome
The presence of slaves within a Christian household created various new
problems for householders. Certainly no late Roman author, Christian
or otherwise, ever challenged slaverys legitimacy or utility. Late antique
Christians, including clergy, continued to sell and own slaves, and in some
cases to discipline them brutally.89 Perplexing problems nevertheless arose
for Christian slave owners in fifth- and sixth-century Italy. How should
a Christian householder deal with the presence of enslaved concubines
in households? What recourses were available to the Christian domina
or dominus whose slave or colonus fled to seek a new life as a monk or
cleric? More broadly still, how should a Christian householder ideally
treat his or her slaves and tenant laborers? Since at least the third century,
It also might have boosted Leos legitimacy with respect to other bishops in the region
of Venetia et Histria, where Leo lacked direct jurisdiction, a possibility explored in
Sessa 2011.
There were, of course, legal limitations on the masters treatment of slaves. See Melluso
2000: 13748.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Christian bishops had involved themselves in the slaveholding practices

of their congregants, primarily through their roles as official witnesses
at manumissions.90 Over the course of the fifth and sixth centuries,
however, Romes bishops developed a more defined expertise in resolving
precisely those problems listed here. As they understood well, a reputation
for knowledge in this highly sensitive domain of domestic life could
embed the bishop within certain networks of the household.

Areas of Confusion and Contestation: Slavery as Metaphor,

and the Christian Slave
Although no Christian author questioned slaverys legality or clamored
for its abolition, they nevertheless debated its ethics and religious sig-
nificance. As noted in a previous chapter, slavery obtained a range of
responses from Christian writers.91 Some, like Augustine, viewed slavery
as a distinctly postlapsarian condition, created by the Fall. In this respect,
slavery was an egregious punishment that God had designed to remind
mankind of its sin.92 Others, including many Roman bishops, frequently
adopted slavery as a metaphor that described humanitys humility and
mans natural subordination to God, the true dominus. Gregory, we recall,
even went so far as to call himself the slave of the Lords paterfamilias.93
A third position, however, not necessarily exclusive of the first two, was
also possible. Some church fathers such as Gregory and Leo also viewed
slavery in classical terms, as a temporary earthly role but not an innate or
natural state.94 In short, no consensus existed among patristic authorities
about what slavery meant for Christians.
The fact that many slaves and coloni were also baptized probably created
far more vexing issues for the Christian householder than the absence of
hermeneutic unanimity among church fathers.95 Although it is impossi-
ble to say how many slaves and tenant laborers were also Christians, liter-
ary evidence suggests that wealthy landowners sometimes converted their
dependents en masse.96 The gesta martyrum often portrayed the baptism
See CT 4.7.1 (321), discussed in Rapp 2005: 23940.
Chapter 2.
Gaudemet 1958: 564; Garnsey 1996: 21319; Rotman 2004: 1901.
Cf. Gregory, HEv 36.2 (CC 141: 334). On slavery as metaphor, see Garnsey 1996:
Gregory, RP 3.5 and Leo, Serm. 40 and 44.
Baptism did not automatically result in manumission, however, as it would in the
eighth-century Byzantine empire. See Rotman 2004: 196.
Rotman 2004: 187.

Overseeing the Overseer

of large domestic populations (slave or perhaps colonate), and in some

cases even provided figures.97 According to the sixth- or early seventh-
century Passion of St. Alexander, Romes bishop Alexander baptized
1,250 men (with their wives and children) owned by one dominus in a sin-
gle day on the grounds of the mans estate.98 The fifth- or sixth-century
Passion of St. Clement similarly recounts Clement of Romes baptism
of 423 men, women, and children belonging to a household, whereas
the contemporary Passion of St Stephen portrays the bishops conver-
sion of 60 dependents owned by a tribune.99 Although these narratives
and figures are fictional, they presuppose a culture in which landowners
routinely converted their dependents in large numbers.
Of course, precisely how historical slave owners and landlords brought
about conversion is hard to reconstruct. In the gesta, baptisms of depen-
dents appear suspiciously as unproblematic, violence-free occasions. To
what extent masters and landlords forced their slaves and coloni to con-
vert is difficult to gauge, but some undoubtedly relied on coercive
measures.100 The dependents legal and social status also might have been
factors. A free and relatively well-off colonus was undoubtedly more dif-
ficult to convert (if he were unwilling) than one who was bound to his
landlord in a more restrictive relationship or a slave who had few legal
rights. Nevertheless, both ecclesiastical and imperial authorities exerted
strong pressure on householders to ensure that their dependents refrained
from heretical and idolatrous practices.101 Roman bishops could be espe-
cially brutal toward pagan dependents on ecclesiastical estates. Gregory
threatened to punish any Sardinian bishop whose lands were inhabited by
unconverted rustici. He also directed the bishop of Cagliari to crush any
pagan laborer on church property with such a heavy burden of tax, that
he is forced to seek righteousness quickly through the very punishment
of his debt.102
Alternatively, on the estates of laypeople, Roman bishops left the sen-
sitive decision of conversion largely to masters and landlords. There is
To be clear, the gesta martyrum do not consistently identify the converted household
members as slaves; some were possibly understood as dependent rustici.
Passio S. Alexandri 7.
Passio S. Clementis 14 and Passio S. Stephani 4.
Glancy 2002: 469 suggests that the forced conversion of slaves was common even in
apostolic times.
Chapter 2.
Gregory, Ep. 4.26 dated to 594 (CC 140: 245): tanto pensionis onere gravandus est,
ut ipsa exactionis suae poena compellatur ad rectitudinem festinare. See also Epp.
4.24 and 9.205.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

also no evidence that they pressured or even encouraged household-

ers to manumit Christian slaves who were baptized.103 In late antiquity,
slave owners were under no legal or doctrinal obligations to free a slave
either before or after the slaves conversion.104 Manumission at all points
remained entirely at the masters discretion. This is not to suggest that
Christian householders in Italy did not free dependents as demonstrations
of their piety, generosity, and wealth. Pinianus and Melania supposedly
manumitted 8,000 slaves, an epic act that was undoubtedly performed on
smaller scales in households across the Mediterranean.105 Christian domini
might time a manumission to coincide with their baptism or ordination
to the clergy.106 In fact, the authors of some gesta martyrum staged manu-
mission scenes immediately following the mass baptism of a household.107
The narratives are not consistent with regard to the sequencing, however,
and many passions tell of baptisms without manumissions.
In short, late Roman householders received mixed messages about
the management of slaves and other dependent laborers. Given the likeli-
hood that many slaves and coloni were baptized and the fact that authorities
advocated different meanings of servitude, Christian householders and
clerics were sometimes perplexed as to how one should be a Christian
slaveholder or manage labor within a Christian home. The governing
of slaves within a Christian domus was therefore another gray area of
domestic life that Roman bishops endeavored to define as a domain of
episcopal expertise.

Giving up Brutality for Lent: Bishops and

the MasterSlave Relationship
In a 444 Lenten sermon, Leo called his audiences attention to their
deeply traditional authority as owners of men and women:

Enter upon the holy days of Lent with pious devotion, and prepare
yourselves to merit Gods mercy by your own acts of mercy . . . Lord

Gaudemet 1958: 5667 asserted that late Roman bishops commonly exerted such
pressure on slave owners, but he cites only the evidence of Augustine. The fact
that Roman bishops sometimes manumitted Christian slaves owned by the Roman
church does not mean that they pursued this as a general policy for all householders.
The only prohibitions against owning Christian slaves targeted Jewish domini, who
reputedly sought to covert their servi to Judaism. See Melluso 2000: 19699.
His. Laus. 62.56.
Rapp 2005: 2401.
Passio S. Alexandri 7, discussed in Chapter 7.

Overseeing the Overseer

over your slaves and those who are in your power with fairness, let
none of them be tortured by imprisonment or chains. . . . To Him we
indeed offer the sacrifice (sacrificium) of true abstinence and true piety,
if we unite ourselves away from every evil.108

On a certain level, Leos exhortations to Christian domini to manage their

slaves and subordinates in accordance with the values of moderation and
justice recapitulated classical discussions of estate management.109 On
another, Leos sermon, delivered during Lent when ascetic awareness
among all Christians was at its height, did more than simply reiterate
traditional values. It recalibrated them by situating moderatio and iustitia
within the context of Christian asceticism and salvation. In Leos model
of estate management, to refrain from the brutal treatment of ones slaves
was itself a sacrificial act of vera abstinentia et vera pietas and thus
a way for householders to perform their domestic duties in a distinctly
ascetic manner. In this opportunity for virtues exercise, he explained in
another Lenten sermon, there are also marks of other crowns. During
Lent, people may choose to spend less money, to avoid drink or excessive
sex, and perhaps even to adopt celibacy. To this familiar list, Leo added
the perfection of the masterslave relationship: [I]f, at last, the conduct
of masters and slaves is so ordered that the rule of the former is milder
and the discipline of the latter is more complete.110
The idea that the proper ordering of the masterslave relationship is
a form of ascetic practice allowed Leo to connect it to a larger con-
ceptualization of Lent as a time for the mass imitation of Christs great
sacrifice for humanity. Brutality and disobedience, like sex and luxury,
were to be avoided especially during the Easter season. However, in
asceticizing slave management and servile behavior and tying both to
Lent, Leo not only endeavored to transform the dynamics of domestic
authority from the householders perspective. He also attempted to estab-
lish himself as bishop in a position of oversight within the domestic
sphere. If being a slave owner or a slave was a distinctly Christian practice

Leo, Serm. 42.6, rec. (CC 138A: 24950): sanctos quadragesimae dies pia devo-
tione suscipite et ad promerendam misercordiam dei per opera vos misericordiae
preparate . . . Servis et his qui vobis subiecti sunt, cum aequitate dominamini, nullus
eorum aut claustris crucietur aut vinculis . . . Cui ita demum sacrificium verae absti-
nentiae et verae pietatis offerimus si nos ab omni malitia continemus. Trans. adapted
from Feltoe 1895: 158.
Cf. Pliny, Ep. 3.14.
Leo, Serm. 40.5.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

that was perfected during Lent, then the bishop must participate in its
proper cultivation. Such logic resonates with Leos exhortations to his
parishioners to conceptualize domus and ecclesia as intersecting institu-
tions, conjoined through shared ideals.111 In sermons delivered during
Lent, Leo pushed this conception further still, by emphasizing slaverys
ethical and spiritual implications during a time of heightened ascetic
expectations. By transforming the kind treatment of slaves into a Lenten
practice that the bishop formally directed, Leo endeavored to create a
small but significant space for himself in the management of the domestic
The notion that bishops should help to cultivate the masterslave rela-
tionship within Christian households guided the author of the Ad Gre-
goriam in palatio. A recent book has explored this text in detail, including
its fascinating discussion of the mistressslave relationship.113 Here the
bishop John focused intently on the dominas spiritual and social obli-
gations to her female slaves, reminding Gregoria that her conduct will
be judged in the final days.114 He thus commanded the mistress not only
to treat her slaves with fairness (aequitas) and compassion (indulgentia) but
also to provide for their moral education and material needs. The associ-
ation of episcopal authority with this highly sensitive and quintessentially
private area of late Roman life is all the more striking in a conduct manual
ostensibly written for aristocratic matronae. It suggests that bishops were
expected to dole out advice even to subordinate household members on
relations of power that were embedded within the dominant patriarchal
hierarchy. Episcopal knowledge of estate management thus might also
circulate from wives to husbands rather than exclusively from husbands
to wives.115

Chapter 2.
Lent was also a period of more frequent episcopal masses at Rome. From the sixth
century, bishops made regular processions throughout the season to different churches
in the city in what is known as stational liturgy. See Baldovin 1987: 106118, although
his argument for the practice of stational liturgy in the fourth and fifth centuries is
not supported by the evidence.
Cooper 2007:12235.
Liber ad Gregoriam in palatio 1819.
There are other ways to read this relationship. See Cooper 1992 and 1996 on the
trope of womanly influence. In addressing a married woman directly, the author
might have wished to make a statement about her husbands domestic piety and

Overseeing the Overseer

Sex, Slaves, and Marriage

In addition to formulating a religious framework for practicing slavery
within the home, Roman bishops occasionally involved themselves in
specific quandaries created by the presence of domestic slaves in a Chris-
tian home. For example, in a letter addressed to the metropolitan prelate
Rusticus of Narbonne, Leo responded to numerous questions posed by
the Gallic bishop on weighty doctrinal matters such as penance and
reconciliation.116 Buried within the letter is a short but fascinating sec-
tion on a problem that seems to have especially exercised Rusticus: how
to deal with the marriage of a presbyters or deacons daughter to a man
who had had a past sexual relationship with an enslaved concubine and
had even sired children with her.117 Rusticus wanted to know whether
the man was considered married to his slave, thereby making his union
with the clergymans daughter illegitimate in the eyes of the church.
Most readers of the passage have focused on Leos knowledge of
Roman law, revealed through his attention to the concubines legal sta-
tus (was she free or enslaved?).118 As many note, Leos response was
entirely consistent with Roman legal principles: the man would not be
considered previously married if the concubine were a slave. Leo also
stated that the man could, if he so chose, manumit and then marry the
concubine. For centuries, Roman law consistently recognized conubium,
the right to form a legitimate marriage and to rear legitimate offspring,
only among the legally free.119 In the strict legal sense, therefore, the
union between the man and the clergymans daughter was unequivo-
cally legitimate because the relationship between the man and his slave
did not amount to a marriage. Yet Rusticus very question implies that
Roman law was no longer a sufficient explanatory framework for some
Christians. Common as they undoubtedly were, relationships between
Christian men and female slaves had become problematic in new ways.120
To repeat, emerging Christian values privileged first marriages over

Leo, Ep. 167, dated to 458 or 459.
Leo, Ep. 167.4. The fact that the fiancee in question is a clerics daughter is significant.
On the Roman bishops more aggressive stance towards clerical households, see
Chapter 5.
See Reynolds 2001: 3840, 1668 and especially Pietrini 2002: 187207.
Buckland 1963: 114. In the East, however, under Justinian, relationships with enslaved
concubines were given elevated status in the law. See Melluso 2000: 16671.
Cf. Cooper 2007: 1558.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

subsequent unions. The fact that the man in question had sired children
with the slave concretized his previous relationship in a highly public
manner and thus made his marriage to the clergymans daughter all the
more ethically fraught. This was especially true in a moral atmosphere
valorizing bodily self-control for both sexes, even for those choosing
marriage over monastic life. It is not hard to understand why Christian
fathers clergy no less began to think twice about betrothing their
daughters to men with such complicated sexual histories.
This particular domestic crisis provided Leo with an opportunity to
perform his expertise in household management in a manner that paral-
lels his response to Nicetas of Aquileia on kidnapping and remarriage. In
the letter to Rusticus, he explained precisely how one might synchro-
nize Roman law and social tradition with developing Christian values.
According to Leo, the principle of no marriage between free and enslaved
people had been laid down by the Lord long before Roman law had
its beginnings.121 Leos comment certainly signals the bishops under-
standing of the Roman legal position; however, it also reveals a desire to
engineer an alternative (although complementary) framework for resolv-
ing the problem at hand. It turned what was previously a straightforward
legal matter into a religious issue that a bishop might resolve. Through an
appeal to Scripture, Leo neutralized the potentially dangerous presence
of enslaved concubines within free households by insisting that marriage
for Christians was more than the union of the sexes; it had to symbolize
the union of Christ and the church. In response to another query in the
epistle about women marrying men with sexual partners who were not
free, Leo confirmed that for a man to move from concubine to free-
born wife is not bigamy but honorable progress.122 Leo thus did not
simply assuage Rusticus anxieties either by assuring him that any union
between free and enslaved was illegal or by rejecting the mans lifestyle as
irredeemably sinful. Leo instead constructed an alternative paradigm for
assessing slavery and marital legitimacy a paradigm that simultaneously
restored order to the Christian domus and established Leo as an expert in
its management.123

Leo, Ep. 167.4 (PL 54.12045): multo prius hoc ipsum domino constituente quam
initium Romani iuris existeret.
Leo Ep. 167.6.
Arjava 1996: 20910 notes that Christian bishops were far more likely to recommend
the dissolution of concubinage than to search for reasons to approve it. Leos reactions
are certainly consistent with this observation.

Overseeing the Overseer

Fleeing to the House of God: A New Problem

for Christian Slave Owners
Roman bishops engaged with another problem that struck at the very
basis of owning Christian slaves: the unauthorized flight of slaves and
coloni to churches and monasteries, where they sought a new (and pre-
sumably better) life as monks, ecclesiastical slaves, and even clergymen.
As Claudia Rapp has shown, an especially humble background might
emerge as a detail in hagiographic narratives about exceptional bishops
and clergy, such as Alexander the Charcoal-Burner.124 There is even evi-
dence to suggest that a handful of former slaves became bishops in late
antiquity.125 The problem that Roman bishops confronted was not sim-
ply the moral suitability of a slave or originarius (one of several words in
episcopal letters denoting a tenant laborer) to serve the church, however.
It also involved the authority of the church to incorporate such peo-
ple into the clerical ranks and monastic households without the express
permission of their owners and landlords. The sources discuss three dif-
ferent but related phenomena: the ordination of slaves and originarii by
clergy, the admittance of slaves and originarii into monasteries, and the
integration of slaves and originarii into ecclesiastical servitude (ecclesiasticus
It had always been illegal for a slave to flee his master or a colona to
abandon her registered domicile. This remained largely unchanged in late
antiquity, even when the flights in question assumed a distinctly religious
dimension.126 Valentinian III issued legislation at Rome in 452, which
set guidelines for handling this precise issue.127 The law forbade originarii,
coloni, and servi as well as curiales (among others) from joining the clergy or
monasteries in order to evade their condition and obligations. Those who
had obtained clerical ranks were to be returned to their households, save
men ordained to the priesthood or episcopate; deacons were permitted to
remain so long as they rendered a substitute to compensate their master.128
In 484 Zeno expressly forbade slaves from entering monasteries without
their masters permission, adding the proviso that any former slave who
legitimately entered a monastery but then left it must be returned to

Rapp 2005: 174.
Callistus, for example, was supposedly a former slave. See Chapter 3.
Melluso 2000 surveys the legislation.
Valentinian, Nov. 35.3 (452 at Rome).
Valentinian, Nov. 35.6. Deacons were also forced to return their peculia, and there
was a thirty-year statute of limitations for the law.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

his master. He also ruled that slaves who desired to join the clergy must
be first freed.129 Justinian passed similar legislation with some additions
that were more favorable to the slaves.130 In 546, he pronounced that
any slave who entered the clergy with his masters approval immediately
gained freedom.131 But he also ruled that any slave who subsequently
abandoned the clergy for secular life must be returned to his slave status
and master. Furthermore, Justinian instituted a three-year waiting period
before authorities could tonsure slaves who joined monasteries.132
In many respects, the ecclesiastical reaction to the flight of slaves and
bonded laborers into clerical ranks and monasteries is strikingly simi-
lar to the civil response. At Chalcedon in 451, the council prohibited
slaves from entering monasteries without their masters permission.133
According to the Liber Pontificalis, the Roman bishop Boniface I had
proscribed slaves and decurions from entrance into the clergy because
of their obligations to others.134 Whether Boniface personally issued the
pronouncement is debatable (there is no other evidence for it than this
notice). In any event, Bonifaces ruling in the Liber Pontificalis resembles
statements made by his successors Leo and Gelasius. In circular letters
addressed to suburbicarian bishops, both categorically prohibited the
reception of slaves and originarii who fled their masters and possessors to
join the ranks of the church or monasteries.135 For example, Gelasius
letter of 494 forbade the acceptance of fugitive slaves and originarii who
under the pretext of a religious lifestyle sought new lives as monks or
church slaves.136 So false and ruinous a practice, Gelasius intoned, must
be eradicated by all possible means, lest either things foreign seem to
permeate throughout our Christian institution or our communal order
(publica disciplina) is turned upside down.137
In fact, Romes bishops consistently underlined the overlap between
the ecclesiastical and civil positions on fugitives who illegally entered

CJ 1.3.37 (38) (484 at Constantinople).
Melluso 2000: 201214.
Justinian, Nov. 123. 17 (546).
Justinian, Nov. 5.2 (535).
Council of Chalcedon (451), c. 4.
LP (ed. Duchesne I. 227), in which the prohibition is tied to the exclusion of women
and monks from touching sacred vestments or placing incense in the churches.
Leo, Ep. 4 in 443 and Gelasius, Ep. 14.14, 2024 in 494 (ed. Thiel 1868: 3704).
Gelasius, Ep. 14.14 (ed. Thiel 1868: 3701).
Gelasius, Ep. 14.14 (ed. Thiel 1868: 371): quae modis omnibus est amovenda per-
nicies, ne per christiani nominis institutum aut aliena pervadi aut publica videatur
disciplina subverti. . . .

Overseeing the Overseer

religious institutions. In the circular epistle mentioned above, Leo under-

scored the shared interests of household and church in eliminating the
evidently widespread practice of ordaining bonded men.138 Men are
commonly admitted to the sacred order, he wrote to the Italian bish-
ops in 443, who are not qualified by any dignity of birth or character;
even those who have failed to obtain freedom from their masters are
raised to the rank of priesthood, as if slavish worthlessness might take
this honor.139 Moreover, this action provoked the ire of two different
camps because, both the sacred ministry is polluted by the worthless-
ness of such a partner, and the rights of masters are loosened so much
as concerns the heedlessness of unlawful possession.140 The Roman
bishop warned his fellow clerics to repel not only slaves seeking clerical
offices but also those under the bond of origin or other condition of
service, unless it could be documented that those who exercised author-
ity over them had given their consent.141 Similarly, Gelasius argued that
to ordain a slave or originarius without his masters or landlords permis-
sion was to break not one but three sets of laws: those of the emperors,
those of the church fathers, and those of Gelasius himself.142 Here Gela-
sius assimilated Roman law and ecclesiastical tradition with his own
recent warnings (admonitiones modernas), the latter likely a reference to
pronouncements he had circulated among the suburbicarian bishops in
494.143 In theory, Leo and Gelasius did not have to work terribly hard
to find common ground between a religious and secular solution; there
was little ambiguity on either side about whether such men ought to be
Despite the clarity and consistence of the legislation, local Italian
clergy and abbots routinely permitted such men to enter their ranks.
Consequently, Roman bishops were frequently drawn into serious dis-
putes among a householder, a slave or originarius who had gained access
to a local church or monastery, and the local clergy or monks who

Leo, Ep. 4.
Leo, Ep. 4.1 (PL 54.611): Admittuntur passim ad ordinem sacrum, quibus nulla
natalium, nulla morum dignitas suffragatur; et qui a dominis suis libertatem consequi
minime potuerunt, ad fastigium sacerdotii, tamquam servilis vilitas hunc honorem
capiat, provehuntur. . . .
Leo, Ep. 4.1 (PL 54.61011): quod et sacrum ministerium talis consortii vilitate
polluitur, et dominorum, quantum ad illicitae usurpationis temeritatem pertinet,
iura solvuntur.
Leo, Ep. 4.1.
Gelasius, Ep. 22 (ed. Thiel 1868: 389).
Gelasius, Ep. 14.14 (ed. Thiel 1868: 3701).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

had received him.144 These cases provided Romes bishops with further
opportunities to exercise their knowledge of household matters. In fact,
unlike many other situations examined in this chapter, the matter of fugi-
tive dependents joining the church was a type of domestic conflict whose
resolution necessarily involved the intervention of an ecclesiastical offi-
cial. Christian authorities were implicated at all levels of the crime while
the fugitive slave or colonus in question was physically located within a
church or monastery. Some Christian official would have to orchestrate
the process of returning the individual to his/her master or landlord.
Rather than simply delegating these problems to local clergy, Romes
prelates actively involved themselves in both the investigation of charges
and the oversight of reclamation.
Five letters from Gelasius epistolary corpus, all dated between 494
and 495, record the Roman bishops responses to cases where slaves and
originarii fled their households and acquired new identities as clergy in the
local churches of southern Italy.145 In one letter addressed to the bish-
ops Martyrius of Acerenza and Justus of Terracina, Gelasius sketched the
complaint lodged by two actores representing a vir illustris named Amandi-
anus.146 Although the bishop dealt only with his actores, Gelasius probably
knew Amandianus, since he was among several senators who attended a
local Roman synod at St. Peters in 495.147 According to Amandianus
agents, an unspecified bishop or bishops had ordained men who were
legally obligated to Amandianus, and the landlord demanded action. In
this case, Gelasius wrote to Martyrius and Justus because he held them
personally responsible for the infraction. Gelasius pronounced irritation
with the two bishops was partly due to their disregard for his recent
synodal explanation, by which he appears to refer to his discussion of
slaves and originarii in the aforementioned circular letter of 494.148 As
in his other letters dealing with specific cases, here Gelasius argued that
the bishops were violating the rights of possessores by ordaining their
slaves and originarii without documentation or permission. Similarly, in
another epistle addressing the ordination to the deaconate of two origi-
narii belonging to a femina illustris et magnifica named Maxima, Gelasius

See above, Leo, Ep. 4 and Gelasius Epp. 14.14, 2024. Cf. Gelasius, Frgs. 41 and
43 (ed. Thiel 1868: 5057); Pelagius, Ep. 73; Gregory, Epp. 2.26; 3.39; and 5.57a.6
(MGH Epistulae 2: 367).
Cf. Gelasius, Epp. 2024, (ed. Thiel 1868: 38691).
Gelasius, Ep. 20 (ed. Thiel 1868: 3867).
For Amandianus, see PLRE 2: 66 and Gelasius, Ep. 103 (CSEL 35: 4758).
Gelasius, Ep. 20 (ed. Thiel 1868: 3867).

Overseeing the Overseer

underlined the role of the local bishop (here of Lucernia) in the conflict,
because he had been the one to ordain them.149
Gelasius letters suggest that Roman bishops treated such conflicts as
opportunities to exercise their emergent domestic authority within two
domains. The first was the lay household. Leo, Gelasius, and other bish-
ops like Gregory, who intervened in such crises, consistently championed
the lay householders position.150 To be sure, Roman bishops sometimes
defended freedmen whose status had been challenged by a householder
(as discussed shortly), but more often they sided with the master or land-
lord. This is not to suggest that Roman bishops violated the imperial
regulations that established guidelines for the return of men who entered
clerical orders. In the letter to Martyrius and Justus, Gelasius carefully
explained that anyone who had been ordained to the priesthood must
stay in his post. In the case of deacons, they were allowed to retain their
offices so long as they provided a substitute, precisely as stipulated by
Valentinian.151 All others who joined monasteries or lower clerical ranks
were ordered to return to their households immediately. The terms that
Gelasius had established for the bishops Herculentius, Stephanus, and
Justus in another epistle similarly followed the basic form of the impe-
rial legislation: although the slave Antiochus must retain his presbyterial
position, his brother Leontius, who had been ordained to a lower clerical
office, should be returned to his owner.152
Gelasius thus consistently enforced imperial law and church rulings,
which favored the interests of the landowners and slave owners over those
of the slaves, coloni, and perhaps even the local churches. In several cases,
he tipped the scale further toward the householders interests by going
beyond the letter of the law. In the case of Antiochus, who belonged to a
femina illustris named Placidia, Gelasius followed the legislation. However,
he also offered to compensate Placidias loss by suggesting that Antiochus
(now a priest) serve Placidias private estate church.153 A reputation for
the strict enforcement of these laws was crucial for the Roman bishops
authority within the lay household. It would be hard, if not impossible, to
trust his judgment on other matters of estate management if he could not
be trusted to protect a householders fundamental rights of possession.
Although Gelasius did not involve himself directly with the aristocrats
Gelasius, Ep. 22 (ed. Thiel 1868: 389).
Cf. Gregory, Ep. 9.193 (599).
Gelasius, Ep. 20 (ed. Thiel 1868: 387).
Gelasius, Ep. 21 (ed. Thiel 1868: 388).
Gelasius, Ep. 21 (ed. Thiel 1868: 388).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

who owned or had authority over the men involved in these cases it was
apparently customary for their actores to work with the Roman bishop
his reactions to their loss of property and labor undoubtedly provided
the bishop with a further store of goodwill. Moreover, in attempting
to orchestrate the return of a bonded laborer, the Roman bishop might
contribute to the reordering of a laymans domus. Whatever harm a slaves
flight might inflict on his masters oikonomia, the Roman bishop could
play a role in its restoration.
In serving the interests of elite lay householders, Roman bishops also
found reason to intervene directly in the government of local churches,
our second domain. Bishops like Leo and Gelasius typically blamed their
suffragan prelates and abbots for allowing unworthy men into the ranks
of the church or monastery. Their duty was to ensure that no slave or
tenant laborer was ordained without official permission from his owner
or landlord. As Gelasius ordered in his 494 circular epistle, every bishop,
priest, deacon, and abbot must inquire into the status of any person
seeking entry to the church or monastery. He typically directed suf-
fragan prelates to investigate the claims and resolve them according to
guidelines outlined in his letter. Gelasius focus on local bishops reflects
the disparate, provincial nature of the problem. Not only did house-
holders own properties scattered throughout the Italian countryside, but
their slaves and coloni also probably fled to towns and villages outside the
diocesan jurisdiction of their place of origin, where they perhaps hoped
that their status as obnoxii would pass unnoticed.154 Once ordained, they
might move again, ending up in the ministry of yet another diocese.
Consequently, the cooperation of several bishops and abbots was often
necessary to undertake the investigation and return of a dependent.155 In
fact, the complex nature of the recovery process, created by ecclesiastical
geography, could help to define the Roman bishops still inchoate stew-
ardship of the Italian churches. By involving himself in lay domestic issues
such as the flight and return of a single slave or colonus, Gelasius found

This is precisely what a slave did when he traveled all the way from Sicily to Cape
Misenum in Campania to join a monastery. See Gregory, Ep. 9.145, to Anthelm,
subdeacon of Campania, 599.
Cf. Gelasius, Ep. 21 (ed. Thiel 1868: 388) and Gregory, Ep. 9.192, to the defensor
Boninus, 599. Gregorys note is a cover letter for an epistle sent by the abbot of
St. Demetrius in Rome, who had written to Fortunatus, abbot of a monastery in
Campania, asking for his assistance in the recovery of slaves who had been hiding out
on his monasterys estates.

Overseeing the Overseer

reason to intervene in multiple dioceses simultaneously and to exercise

his governance over numerous provincial bishops.
Gelasius was not entirely indifferent to the plight of slaves or laborers
who had joined a monastic house or clerical order. Several times he
defended low-status clergy against aggressive former masters and their
heirs, who denied that they had manumitted the men. In one case, he
sided with Silvester and Faustinianus, two clergy from the church of
Grumentina who claimed to be freedmen. The clerics had filed a com-
plaint with Gelasius regarding the heirs of their former master, who dis-
puted their freedom. The heirs apparently had persuaded the archdeacon
of Grumentina that Silvester and Faustinianus were still their property
and thus had been illegally ordained. The archdeacon then moved to
settle the case in favor of the heirs.156 Outraged by the archdeacons
treatment of the two clergymen and deeply concerned that their lowly
status would hinder their chances of a proper hearing in either an eccle-
siastical or civil court, Gelasius wrote not only to two local bishops but
also to the comes Teia, asking them all for help in defending the men.157
It is highly significant that Gelasius interacted directly with freed-
men and actores and not exclusively with aristocratic landowners. It sug-
gests that Roman bishops attempted to exercise their emerging authority
within multiple levels of domestic life. As the letters attest, the bish-
ops interventions within the lay household do not always appear as
the ritualized exchange of favors between two elite men. By presenting
their assistance as integral to the administration of slaves and coloni on
large estates, Romes bishops constructed a central role for themselves as
experts in new problems of oikonomia. In addition, this role allowed them
to exert influence at all levels of the domestic hierarchy, from the domina
and the actor to the freedman and the slave.


The bishops deeply pragmatic attitude toward dependency underscores
how the possession of property remained a guiding principle and hard fact
of late Roman society. Roman bishops made few efforts to reform their
Gelasius, Ep. 23 (ed. Thiel 1868: 390).
Gelasius, Epp. 234 (ed. Thiel 1868: 3901). For Teia (Zeia in Thiels edition), see
PLRE 2: 1057 and PCBE 2.2: 2155. Teia might have been an Arian, which evidently
made no difference to Gelasius in this matter.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

congregants landowning habits in any pointed or concrete manner.158

In striking contrast to their micromanagement of ecclesiastical estates,
they typically steered clear of interaction and conflict with lay landown-
ers. Indeed, Romes bishops seem to have sought a reputation as the
defenders of private property, even if it involved something as minor as
the recovery of a few silver bowls.159 For example, Gregory repeatedly
denounced the aggressive actions of ecclesiastical agents who coerced
individual householders to donate their lands to the church.160 They
were especially cautious when it came to the estates of powerful wealthy
nobles.161 Such careful treatment of noble landowners occasionally paid
off for the Roman church and its bishops. Testators might name the
Roman church as an heir in their wills, especially when they had left
directions for the establishment of a religious foundation.
One area of property management in which Roman bishops did
increasingly attempt to intervene was the consecration and ritual use
of private chapels and churches.162 Christians built various cult places in
their home, some of which do not appear to have concerned Roman
bishops. Small spaces, intended for limited family use, such as the tiny
painted confessio constructed on a stair landing in the house beneath
the church of SS. John and Paul in Rome, could hardly have accom-
modated more than a few people simultaneously. Spaces such as these
were probably not used for a larger ritual service requiring a priest.163
More problematic for bishops in Rome and elsewhere were the chapels
and churches erected on rural estates, especially those spacious enough
to hold relatively large numbers of congregants. Broadly speaking, lay
households used these religious spaces as mausolea, as sites for more
We might compare the vocal condemnations of local landowners as rapacious and
abusive by clergy in northern Italy with the relative silence on such matters among
Roman bishops. Cf. Ambrose, Ep. 36.1; Gaudentius of Brescia, Tract. 13.212; and
Maximus of Turin, Sermons 18.3 and 82.2 (CC 23: 689, 3367). See Lizzi Testa
Gregory, Ep. 1.42 (CC 140: 55).
See Gregory, Epp. 1.42; 3.43; 9.84, 1456, 235 and 5.57a (MGH Epistulae 2: 3629),
a decree issued at the 595 Roman Synod that prohibited the illegal seizure of land by
Roman ecclesiastical officials in the name of the church.
Cf. Gregory, Epp. 1.42 and 9.84.
The following builds on foundational studies by Violente 1982 and L. Pietri 2002.
Virtually all of our evidence for estate churches in Italy is textual. Although there
is some material evidence, archaeologists emphasize the difficulty in identifying villa
churches as such even when remains have been found. See Cantino Wataghin 2000
and Chavarra and Lewit 2004.
See Chapter 2.

Overseeing the Overseer

extensive processions, and possibly even for baptisms, although the

physical evidence for baptisteries is especially thin.164
The rural estate church engendered several new and difficult questions.
What precisely distinguished it from a public church? Should it be a place
for personal prayer or a site of Eucharistic liturgies and even baptism?
Most problematically, who should exercise ultimate oversight over the
management of churches and oratories founded on property with the
personal wealth of the donor: the householder, the local bishop, or
the bishop of Rome? Indeed the villa church raised an even more pointed
political issue regarding the Roman bishops relationship to his suffragan
clergy. The vague language of legislation on the administration of private
churches and oratories left open the crucial issue of which role the
metropolitan (or in Romes case, the patriarchal) bishop should play in
the oversight of villa churches. In Constantinople, this matter was perhaps
less ambiguous given the extremely well-defined and highly regulated
relationship between the great church and its subordinate churches
and bishops.165 Ambiguity was perhaps not so troubling in Gaul, Spain,
and Northern Italy, where there were relatively few bishops with whom
the metropolitan had to compete. In suburbicarian Italy, however, there
were between 140 and 200 dioceses (depending on the date) packed into
a relatively small area. Among other things, this meant that landowners
looking to consecrate a private church first turned to their local bishop,
not Rome. Developing a widely recognized expertise in the proper
foundation of villa churches would have given Roman bishops a unique
authority in the region, allowing them to establish their preeminence in
this new aspect of estate management over, and perhaps even against, the
local bishop.

A New Regulatory Culture for Domestic Piety

Given the absence of clear definitions of ecclesiastical property ownership
and its administration in late Roman legislation, it is not surprising that
the private religious foundation was also legally vague.166 As John Philip
Thomas noted, there is no systematic legal exposition of the rights and

Fiocchi Niccolai and Gelichi 2001 and Bowes 2008:147-50 survey the physical evi-
This was especially true during and after Justinians reign. See Thomas 1987: 3758.
Chapter 3.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

duties of private benefactors [in late antiquity].167 During the fourth

century, imperial and ecclesiastical authorities made few attempts to reg-
ulate the establishment of domestic chapels.168 Bishops, in fact, exhibited
various responses to the foundation and use of private chapels. For exam-
ple, Spanish clergy at Saragossa in 398 cajoled people to participate in
masses at the community church rather than in rites held in individual
houses.169 Other bishops advocated for domestic religion, however. In
ca. 400, John Chrysostom encouraged his parishioners to erect chapels
on their rural estates and to worship assiduously in their homes with
their own clergy.170 Damasus was far less comfortable with the idea
that urban Roman households might have their own private rites. He
allegedly used violence to remove a priest from a home where he was
celebrating a mass (although there is no evidence to suggest that this
particular household had a chapel in the material sense).171 Nevertheless,
neither Damasus nor any other fourth-century Roman bishop categori-
cally prohibited or tried to regulate the building and use of private ritual
For much of the fifth century, founders enjoyed considerable freedom
when it came to the construction, consecration, and ministration of cult
spaces on their estates. A landowner needed no permission to erect a
church to his own specifications, dedicate it to a saint, or incorporate it
into a family tomb. In a law of 398, the state even required landowners
to select a cleric to minister his private church from among those living
on the estate where the church was located.172 When a Gothic vir illustris
and magister militae named Valila decided in 471 to build a church on his
villa at Cornuta near modern Tivoli, he composed and submitted to the
municipal archives a detailed inventory of the legacy he assigned for the
churchs long-term maintenance. According to a medieval copy of the
original fifth-century charter (charta Cornutiana), Valila donated extensive
lands, houses, vessels, vestments, and books to maintain the buildings and

Thomas 1987: 3.
Thomas 1987: 20. What they did prohibit unequivocally, however, was the practice of
pagan rites and heretical assemblies in private houses and estates. For the regulations,
see Chapter 2.
Council of Saragossa (383), c. 2, 4.
Chrysostom, Homilia in Acta Apost. 18. See also Sozomen, HE 9.21.113 for private
oratories (eukteria) on the estates of wealthy Christians.
On this incident, see Chapter 6.
CT 16.2.33 (398).

Overseeing the Overseer

clergy at the ecclesia Cornutanensis.173 There is no evidence of episcopal

involvement in the villa churchs foundation or consecration, since no
bishops name appears in the document.174
Valila, however, built and endowed his private chapel at a moment
when the regulatory climate had begun to shift. During the second
half of the fifth century, thinking changed regarding the ecclesiastical
management of domestic cult places. At Chalcedon, the attending bish-
ops imposed episcopal control over all monasteries and oratories within
the sees jurisdiction, with the latter structure presumably referring to
Christian cult places individually erected on private land (although the
canon itself is not specific).175 Still Chalcedon left much unsaid. In fact,
it was the late Roman government that assumed the task of defining and
restricting the foundation, consecration, and use of private chapels and
oratories. Laws issued under Leo I (457474) and Zeno (474491) man-
dated a bishops consent for the placement of relics in any building. They
also required founders who willed property for the long-term support of
their private chapel to submit written records of their donation to public
authorities, in the hopes that such documents would bind founders (and
heirs) to their professed intentions.176 What is more, Zeno explicitly gave
bishops and their stewards (oikonomoi) permission to oversee the execu-
tion of the founders documented wishes were his/her heirs to ignore
the founders wishes.177
Not surprisingly, the most interventionist legislation appeared under
Justinian. In the first law, dated to 537, Justinian placed major restric-
tions on the use of oratories for worship in private houses and estates,
although he did permit lay householders to invite clergy to their homes

Charta Cornutiana (ed. P. Bruzza 1880) reprinted in LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1.
cxlvivii). See De Francesco 2004: 95114, who defends the documents authenticity
despite claims that it is a medieval forgery.
Valila did, however, explicitly stipulate the handing over of properties named in the
charter to the Roman church after his death: charta Cornutiana, 313 in LP (ed.
Duchesne 1955: 1. cxlvi).
Council of Chalcedon (451), c. 4. This canon was primarily targeted at the famously
insubordinate (Nestorian) monks of Constantinople. Thus, in its original enactment
at least, it was a response to a local Constantinopolitan issue rather than to the
more universal problem of private churches and chapels. Cf. cc. 8 and 17, which
both assert a similar logic of episcopal autocracy over parish churches, monks, and
Leo: CJ 1.3.26 (459) and Zeno: CJ 1.2.15 (47494).
CJ 1.2.15 (474491).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

to celebrate rites in special rooms assigned for prayer, with their bishops
permission.178 In two novellae issued in 545 and 546, he prohibited litur-
gical performances in private houses or estates (again excepting only
clergy who acted with the permission of their local bishop) and cate-
gorically forbade laymen from conducting religious processions without
their bishops participation.179 Such legislative prohibitions were given
teeth through state-mandated ritual requirements for the consecration of
Christian cult spaces prior to their private use.180 The rites that Justinian
laid out, however, might not have been practiced in the West, where
consecrations were probably carried out simply by the performance of a

Defining the Villa Church: Roman Bishops and Their

Responses to Householders
Although it is always difficult to know the extent to which legislation
passed by emperors in Constantinople had force in the West, the laws
nevertheless suggest a new and more intense regulatory climate for pri-
vate estate churches across the late empire. We must place the efforts
of Roman bishops to develop a process for the consecration and rit-
ual use of villa churches within this broader context of oversight. Their
statements certainly do not amount to a single standardized procedure
that was universally followed throughout Italia suburbicaria.182 They did,
however, place an increasing number of requirements on the founders
requirements situating Rome at the very center of the process. A recent
study by Luce Pietri of episcopal correspondence on this subject from
the tenures of Gelasius to Gregory (i.e., from 492 to 604) identifies
numerous demands gradually made on estate owners.183 Most signifi-
cantly, from Gelasius time, the householder was obligated to present
a written petition (variously called a petitio or petitorium), wherein he

Justinian, Nov. 58 (537) and also 67 (538).
Justinian, Nov. 131.8 (545) and 123.32 (546), discussed in Thomas 1987: 43.
Justinian laid out a consecration ritual requiring the bishop to say a prayer over the
site, fix a cross over it, and arrange for a procession in Nov. 67.1 (538). See also Nov.
131.7 (545).
Duchesne 1910: 4034.
The Roman church had settled on one by the seventh century, however. The Liber
Diurnus includes formulae both for the founders petition to Rome and the bishops
response. See Violante 1982: 992.
L. Pietri 2002. Some of these requirements possibly predate Gelasius tenure (492

Overseeing the Overseer

sought the Roman bishops approval to consecrate (consecrare) or dedicate

(dedicare) an estate church to a saint.184 (Of note, a founder apparently did
not need Romes permission simply to build [fundare] a private chapel.)
The petitorium was a crucial addition to established civil and ecclesias-
tical legislation on private religious foundations, which did not define
the metropolitans (or patriarchs) role in the process. As Gelasius circu-
lar letter of 494 to the suburbicarian bishops suggests, the tendency of
local clergy to perform consecrations without Romes consent especially
irked its bishops.185 Roman bishops did not intend to exclude local
clergy entirely, however. In fact, all letters on the subject are addressed to
suffragan bishops, whom the Roman prelate directed to execute a series
of detailed directions, including the ritual consecration of the church.186
In other words, the local bishop within the relevant jurisdiction was to act
on Romes behalf and perform the actual consecration of the church.187
Additionally, Gelasius and his successors attempted to extend their
oversight to the founders financial arrangements for the long-term main-
tenance of the cult space. For example, Gelasius directed the local bishop
to investigate the legacy set aside for the foundation before proceed-
ing with the consecration.188 By the mid-sixth century, Roman bishops
required even more structured financial inspection. Before the conse-
cration could take place, the local bishop must receive a statement of
the founders financial plans for the buildings future maintenance.189 A
record of the legacy also had to be filed with the municipal authorities
(gestisque municipalibus allegatis). Although by no means innovations of the
sixth-century Roman church (we recall that Valila filed his charter in
the municipal archives in 471 and that the emperor Zeno mandated such
action shortly thereafter), these financial stipulations were undoubtedly
added partly to ensure that overambitious householders did not create
foundations that their heirs could not or would not maintain. Needless
to say, a region of abandoned private chapels would not reflect well on
the householding expertise of the Roman bishop.190
Roman bishops also proscribed certain ritual practices in estate
churches, including masses performed for the sole spiritual benefit of
Cf. Gelasius, Epp. 3435 (ed. Thiel 1868: 4489).
See Gelasius, Ep. 14.4, 25 (ed. Thiel 1868: 364, 3756).
See Violante 1982: 992ff.
Consequently, Roman bishops often demanded that the bishop verify his jurisdiction.
See Violante 1982: 97180 on this problem.
Gelasius, Ep. 34 (ed. Thiel 1868: 449).
Cf. Pelagius, Ep. 86 and Gregory, Ep. 9.72.
Thanks to Kim Bowes for pointing this out to me.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the founder, and consecrations celebrated with public masses, perhaps

referring to the habit of local landowners of inviting whole villages to
their churches.191 Moreover, founders were expressly forbidden from
consecrating a chapel on the site of a burial (or burying bodies in an
established church), from erecting a baptistery on an estate, and from
establishing a permanent priest to serve the villa church.192 If the founder
strongly desire[d] a mass to be performed in an oratory, he or she had
to request one from the local bishop.193
When read together, the letters of late fifth- and sixth-century Roman
bishops reveal an interest in delineating a process for the consecration
and ritual use of villa churches. Previous studies have offered a strong
interpretation of this development, whereby the correspondence reflects
the Roman churchs already considerable power in Italy. The bishops,
they argue, had become sufficiently autocratic so as to deny the rights
of independent householders over the use of their foundations.194 By
requiring founders to petition Rome for permission to consecrate a
church in a saints name and by restricting the ritual use of these private
buildings, Roman bishops clearly attempted to realign an intersecting
set of relationships among the founder, the suffragan prelate, the Roman
bishop, and God. A householder was now theoretically obligated to seek
Romes involvement when carrying out one of his most fundamental
domestic duties: the religious oversight of the domus. Moreover, local
bishops could no longer act independently at a founders request. Their
participation was also regulated through a series of procedures and prohi-
bitions. In this respect, the Roman bishop undoubtedly hoped to impose
his authority on the level of the Italian diocese over and against the local
To interpret the development of the Roman churchs oversight of pri-
vate religious foundations solely as the imposition of power from above
is to miss the more nuanced implications of these novel practices and
proscriptions, however. First, civil and ecclesiastical authorities across the
empire had already recognized the need to regulate the foundation of

Gelasius, Ep. 34 (ed. Thiel 1868: 449). In some cases the local pagi or vici were actually
owned by the household, thus further blurring the boundaries.
Burial prohibitions: Gelasius, Ep. 33; Pelagius, Epp. 86 and 89; Gregory, Epp. 2.11;
8.5; and 9.181. See also CIL XI. 2089 (fifth/sixth century). No erection of baptistery:
Pelagius, Ep. 86; Gregory, Epp. 2.11 and 9.181. No establishment of a permanent
priest: Pelagius, Epp. 86 and 89; Gregory, Ep. 9.181.
Pelagius, Ep. 86; Gregory, Epp. 9.72 and 9.1812.
Violante 1982 and L. Pietri 2002.

Overseeing the Overseer

private estate chapels by the time Roman bishops entered the fray in the
very late fifth century. In this respect, their interventions must be viewed
as responses to a climate encouraging proactive oversight.195 Second, in
every Roman episcopal letter preserved on this matter, householders had
already erected their churches before petitioning to consecrate them,
which suggests that founders saw little risk in building first and seek-
ing permission later. From their perspectives, petitioning Rome was a
relatively straightforward procedure that amounted to little more than a
rubber stamp. In fact, we have no record of Roman bishops ever deny-
ing consecration to a specific founder. On the contrary, they seem to
have searched for ways to facilitate consecration and ritual use, even if
this meant going against their own established rules. Third, the newly
established relationship between founder and Roman bishop was less rit-
ually intimate than might be expected. It was the local suffragan bishops
who performed the immediate spiritual labor of consecrating the church
and overseeing its long-term financing and use, not the bishop of Rome.
Roman bishops, then, did not monopolize already-existing practices;
rather, they defined a new set of ritualized procedures that established
them as the consummate experts on the making and use of private villa
churches. Their claims to expertise were given further weight by the use
of procedural language in the correspondence: for example, the submis-
sion of a petitorium, the insistence on financial inspection and verification,
and the formalization of certain ritual prohibitions by means of quasi-
juridical expressions like absque missis publicis. In short, these letters reveal
the endeavors of Roman prelates to achieve a reputation for a certain
kind of domestic knowledge within a domain marked by considerable
Romes bishops appear as concerned with establishing their identities
as unique authorities on the villa church as they were with dictating laws
that would be followed universally and to the letter. Consider the case of
Magetia, a late fifth-century femina spectabilis who built a religious foun-
dation on her estate in the diocese of Sora (Campania).196 According to
Gelasius letter of 495496 to the local bishop John, Magetia had peti-
tioned Gelasius for permission to bury the bodies of household members
in the cult building on her property, where she evidently also held public

Both Violante 1982 and Pietri 2002 ignore ecclesiastical and imperial legislation
on private foundations. Consequently, their studies isolate the regulations passed by
Romes bishops, thereby making their efforts appear uniquely autocratic.
PCBE 2.2: 1349.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

processions and assemblies.197 Gelasius expressed a general irritation in

the letter at the tendency of lay founders to use their household chapels
inappropriately, but the bishop found reason to grant Magetias request
just the same. The burials should be celebrated with divine offices once
and only once. Meanwhile the publicae frequentationes et processiones were
to cease. It is important to recognize Magetias case as a compromise and
as an example of the Roman bishops honing his skills in estate man-
agement to help a wealthy, aristocratic parishioner mediate between
long-standing religious traditions and relatively new rules.198 As Gela-
sius indicated, Magetia would not actually violate in full the regularum
statuta mentioned at the beginning of the letter, because no public masses
would henceforth be performed.199 This exception enabled Gelasius to
grant Magetias request while maintaining the general spirit of his own
Pelagius I and Gregory similarly found reasons to override their estab-
lished rules.200 In Pelagius case, the matter involved a petition from the
bishops lay legal advisor (consiliarius), a vir magnificus named Theodorus,
who owned a private basilica in Gabii (a town with its own see, ca. 20 km
outside of Rome) that was already dedicated to St. Laurentius.201 The villa
church had always had its own priest, but the position had been vacant
for some time, and Pelagius and Theodorus were especially concerned
to fill it before the upcoming Easter season. The founder had a candidate
in mind, a revered monk named Rufinus, for whose life and morals the
aristocratic householder could vouch. Although exhibiting discomfort
with the idea of ordaining a monk directly into the priesthood, Pelagius
underwrote Theodorus choice with one demand: Rufinus was to be
made a subdeacon provisionally, and by mid-Lent, if all went well, he
could be ordained to the priesthood in time to officiate at Easter. Pela-
gius thereby endorsed the permanent stationing of a priest in a laymens

Gelasius, Ep. 33 (ed. Thiel 1868: 448) did not state whether Magetias foundation
was dedicated to a saint, because its consecration happened in the past and did not
concern him. Contra Violente (1982: 989), however, I see no reason to conclude
that Magetias foundation was not a consecrated chapel given the larger context of
the letter, which opens with a general discussion of the need for episcopal oversight
of oratoria and ecclesiae.
Magetia is known only from this letter. Cf. PCBE 2.2: 1349.
Gelasius, Ep. 33 (ed. Thiel 1868: 448).
L. Pietri 2002: 25961 also underlines the bishops willingness to bend their own
Pelagius, Ep. 36 dated to February or March of 559. On Theodorus, see PLRE 3:

Overseeing the Overseer

church and abided by the tradition of the founders choice, violating his
own requirement that the local bishop make the selection.202 He also bla-
tantly bent long-established rules governing the clerical cursus to grant his
elite advisors request.203 Gregory too on at least one occasion permitted
a lay founder to establish a permanent priest in the oratorium on his estate.
In a 598 letter addressed to Passivius of Fermo, Gregory asked the bishop
to consecrate an oratory to the apostle Peter, which had been recently
founded by a local comes named Annio on his estate near Fermo.204 After
stating the standard protocol for Passivius to follow, Gregory directed the
local bishop to establish a permanent presbyter in the oratorium, so that
however often the aforesaid founder should perhaps want masses said for
him, or requires an assembly of the faithful, there should be nothing that
might prevent the celebration of the sacred mass.205
The perennial granting of exceptions suggests that even in the late
sixth century, Roman bishops responded more to immediate factors, like
the founders own preferences, his/her social status and/or relationship
to the bishop, than to fixed rules of administration. Moreover, all three
bishops surveyed here (Gelasius, Pelagius, and Gregory) governed the
Roman church during periods of acute political tension: in the early and
uncertain years of an Arian king (Gelasius), in the wake of a civil war
(Pelagius), and in the midst of violent barbarian incursions (Gregory).
What they sought to institutionalize, therefore, was their authority as
individual Roman bishops and not their policies on villa churches. To
do so, they formulated their leadership in domestic terms and presented
themselves as the experts with the knowledge to resolve some of the
thorniest matters of late Roman household religion. Such a reputation
could raise the Roman bishops spiritual status among lay patresfamiliae,
who would now turn to Rome before looking elsewhere for assistance
in navigating the murky waters of founding a church on private property.
The bureaucratic ritual of the petitorium and its attendant interpretive
practices, although not liturgical ceremonies per se, thus normalized the
Roman bishops role in the oversight of lay religious interests and spiritual

Pelagius, Ep. 86 dated between Sept. 558 and March 561. It is therefore possible that
the letter postdates Pelagius decision about Theodorus chapel.
See, for example, Gelasius, Ep. 14.2 (ed. Thiel 1868: 362).
For An(n)io, see PLRE 3: 83 and PCBE 2.1: 143.
Gregory, Ep. 9.72 (CC 140A: 628): Presbyterum quoque te illic constituere volu-
mus cardinalem, ut, quotiens praefatus conditor fieri sibi missas fortasse voluerit vel
fidelium concursus exegerit, nihil sit quod ad sacra missarum exhibenda sollemnia
valeat impedire.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

practices. More important still, these rituals brought them into routine
contact with Italys most powerful lay householders and their dependents.

Innocents defense of Ursas marriage, Leos transformation of the master
slave relationship into a Lenten rite, Gelasius interventions to return fugi-
tive slaves and originarii and his efforts to streamline the nebulous process
of founding private estate churches, Pelagius creative interpretations of
nuptial veiling, and Gregorys extraordinary attention to the recovery of
private possessions: These practices of oikonomia helped Roman bishops
to create spaces for their knowledge and influence within the households
of laypeople.
Broadly speaking, this chapter explores the attempts of Roman bishops
to achieve influence over three areas of domestic life: marriage, slavery,
and the administration of land. Their efforts were channeled toward very
specific domestic problems, the proper form and resolution of which had
become increasingly vexing because of new pressures. Roman bishops,
then, never asserted their authority over the household writ large. Such
a goal was impossible to achieve in late antiquity. Instead they endeav-
ored to align themselves with the interests of householders by forging
a reputation as holy problem solvers, uniquely equipped to navigate
the intersections of several different (and sometimes conflicting) value
Nevertheless, the restricted nature of their efforts demonstrates that
even by the early seventh century, Roman episcopal authority remained
limited when exercised in relation to the lay household. Innocent had
to work through an aristocratic dominus when he attempted to reunite
Ursa with Fortunius. Leo too faced similar impasses: his letter to Nicetas
explicitly excluded returning male captives who were unwilling to return
to their wives.206 As Leo was acutely aware, marriage remained a family
affair predicated on individual consent; it was not yet a sacrament that
could be managed by a church official.

Cf. Leo, Ep. 159.3 and Reynolds 2001: 1367. Leo also expressed exasperation at
women who had remarried but refused to reunite with their returning spouses,
although in this case he threatened them with excommunication. Nevertheless, the
need for such heavy tactics underscores the limits of Leos authority over marital
practices. See Sessa 2011.

Overseeing the Overseer

Furthermore, while Roman bishops claimed knowledge over certain

spaces, practices, and ideas, their influence is all but absent from some
of the households most important domains. To the extent that negative
evidence is instructive, fifth- and sixth-century Roman bishops did not
play a substantial role in the care of the dead.207 Their views on burial
practices are regrettably absent at a time when Christians began to inter
their family members in new ways.208 They were typically not involved
in the actual selection of marriage partners, nor did they discuss family
planning or give moral advice on child rearing.209 (They did provide
pedagogical guardianship to the sons of aristocrats, as discussed in Chap-
ter 3). Nor did they pronounce on excessive drinking, gambling, and
other forms of lay recreation that so perturbed bishops like Caesarius
of Arles.210 Roman bishops also avoided most aspects of private property
administration (including the purchase, sale, and manumission of slaves),
unless it directly involved ecclesiastical land or religious officials. In short,
the domestic authority of the bishop did not wholly displace the domestic
authority of the Christian householder.
A possible exception is Gelasius interventions on behalf of Magetia, wherein he
permitted her to bury household members in a villa chapel. Early medieval liturgical
manuscripts could provide evidence for the insertion of prayers for the dead into the
Roman mass in the late fifth century. See Andrieu 1921: 1514. However, as de Jong
(2000: 1945) has shown, these sorts of reconstructions are deeply problematic. In
fact, my observations closely cohere with the conclusions drawn by Rebillard 2003
regarding Roman bishops and burial practices in the third, fourth, and early fifth
Meneghini and Santangeli Valenziani 1993 and 1995 and Costambeys 2001.
Vigilius and Gregory, who did make matches, are exceptions because they were legal
wards of the women in question.
Klingshirn 2004: 195200 and Bailey 2007.

Chapter 5

Cultivating th e Clerical
H ouseh old: Marriage,
Property, and Inh eritance

n the spring of 593, gregory received some disturbing news

about the church of Sipontum, an important see located in the fertile
region of Apulia. The bishops grandson had seduced the
unmarried daughter of a local deacon, and Gregory had been summoned
to straighten out what was by all accounts a messy situation. The same
deacon had also raised questions about the bishops financial administra-
tion. The deacon had been kidnapped not long before, and expected his
local church to repay his ransom. Thus far, his bishop had not provided
any funds. Incensed by the local prelates failure to manage his household
and church responsibly, Gregory took action. He ordered the bishop to
present an inventory of his churchs property and to resolve the domes-
tic crisis according to Gregorys terms: his grandson must either marry
the girl or submit to a beating and spend the remainder of his life in a
It is an obvious but often overlooked fact that many late antique clergy
were married and had their own households. Scholars commonly char-
acterize clerical identity in terms of membership in distinct ecclesiastical
orders: the episcopate, priesthood, deaconate, subdeaconate, and so on.2
As Gregorys interactions with the clergy of Sipontum reveal, this presen-
tation is at best a half-truth. Although an ecclesiastical cursus defined an
ideal system of advancement, it did not yet translate into corporate cler-
ical identities, nor did it universally order clerics in a lockstep hierarchy.3
In Rome, for instance, deacons occupied a more powerful and perhaps an
Gregory, Epp. 3.40 and 42.
Gaudemet 1958: 1007; Pietri 1976: 66870; 70818; Llewellyn 1976: 424; and
Richards 1979: 29094.
On the ecclesiastical cursus, see Faivre 1977 and Rapp 2005: 2432 (for earlier Eastern

Cultivating the Clerical Household

even more distinguished status than presbyters, despite their technically

subordinate position in the church.4 An ecclesiastical office certainly was
a badge of honor as well as a specific religious duty, but it did not exclu-
sively define a clerics position or role in the church, let alone in society
at large.5 Many clergy, probably the majority, had households of their
own.6 Their domestic obligations and ties were not simply incidental.
They constituted an important facet of a clerics life and identity.
Tombstones reveal a great deal about the multiple allegiances of late
Roman clergy. Gaudentius, a Roman priest who died in 389, Adeodatus,
a late fifth-century deacon, and an early sixth-century priest from the
titulus Lucinae were buried with their wives, whereas a presbyter named
Celerinus was buried in the cemetery of St. Agnes close to his sister
Aemiliana.7 Leo, another presbyter, buried his daughter in 445 in a tomb
he purchased for her at St Pauls outside the walls, whereas Quirillus,
a Roman deacon, buried his daughter in Capua in 565.8 There is also
evidence for the existence of family tombs, where biologically related
clerics were buried together, sometimes with their female relatives.9
Although occasionally buried alone, Roman clergy were almost never
interred with fellow clerics as a college.10 If their epigraphic habits are
any indication, Roman clergy did not exclusively conceive of themselves
as officials in a clerical order. They also saw themselves as husbands,
fathers, brothers, and sons members, in other words, of traditional
Cf. Ambrosiaster, Q. 101, de iactantia Romanorum levitarum and Jerome, Ep. 146,
who might have known Ambrosiasters text. Most Roman bishops had been deacons
immediately before their consecration. See Llewellyn 1976: 42122.
Llewellyn (1976: 41727) proposed that the priests of Romes titular churches formed
corporations (what he calls collegia) that were tied to aristocratic patrons in clientage.
There is no reference to any collegia of Roman titular priests in the sources and hence
no reason to believe that priests organized collectively in any formal manner. This is
not to suggest that titular priests did not share interests and concerns. See Chapter 6.
Cochini 1990: 84138. See also Pietri 1976: 71112 and 716; Hunter 1987 and 2007;
Brown 1990: 29293; and Heid 2001: 13738, 17172.
Gaudentius: ICUR 2.4823 = ILCV 1030 (389). Adeodatus: ICUR n.s. II.4926 (472).
Priest from the titulus Lucinae: ICUR 27537 (400500). Celerinus: ICUR 8.20798 =
ILCV 1129 (381); and Aemiliana: ICUR 8.20878 = ILCV 1129.
ICUR II.4917 (Leo) and ILCV 1205 (Quirillus).
ICUR 4.11805: Annius Innocentius acolytus and his brother, the priest at the cemetery
of SS. Marco and Marcellus; ILCV 1129: Family tomb of a priest and deacon; ILCV
1203 (no date): family of deacon; and ICUR II. 4186 = ILCV 1241: permission for
plot at St. Peters cemetery for a subdeacon and his posteris.
ICUR II. 4312 is a possible clerical tomb (fifth/sixth century) at the cemetery of
St. Pancratius.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Outside Rome, there is extensive evidence that many higher clerics,

including bishops, were married and had children. Roman bishops often
remarked about local priests and bishops who shamefully paraded their
pregnant wives and sons through the streets.11 The man whom Pelagius
grudgingly consecrated as bishop of Syracuse in 559 had a living wife
and children. Gregory also stated that the Bishop of Ortona was married;
in fact, Gregory even appointed the bishops son as a Roman defensor for
the churchs properties in Abruzzo, although this was not an unproblem-
atic arrangement.12 Some bishops never renounced the most obviously
improper sexual prerogatives of the householder. It was widely known
that Andrew, bishop of Tarentum in 593, kept a concubine.13
The Roman bishops ecclesiastical purview, we recall, encompassed
140 to 200 bishoprics located within central and southern Italy, including
the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. The provincial Italian bishops,
priests, and deacons who administered these churches were arguably the
most crucial members of the Roman church. They were responsible
for the pastoral care of Christians living in their dioceses and managed
properties not only owned by their own institutions but also by Rome.
Their cooperation, good behavior, and local influence therefore were
essential elements of a materially strong and spiritually robust patriarchal
see. Because provincial clerics were ecclesiastical dependents of Rome,
their domestic administration also had an impact on the Roman bishops
own emergent expertise in oikonomia. If the Roman bishop wished to
be seen as a consummate householder-steward who governed his church
with order and aplomb, then he would have to oversee the domus of the
suburbicarian clergy.
Stewardship and celibacy were powerful ideals that could poten-
tially reorient how clerical householders approached their own practices
of domestic administration. Neither completely eliminated the clerical
paterfamilias private interests or his manifold responsibilities to care for
family, friends, superiors, and dependents outside the church, however.
Tensions flared when old practices clashed with new ideals, and there
was deep confusion about how one should be a married bishop, priest,
or deacon with a householders traditional concern for his own prop-
erty and the perpetuation of his familys wealth. These conflicts and

Siricius, Epp. 1.8 and 5.1; Innocent, Ep. 38; Leo, Epp. 12.35; 14.34; and 167.3.
Gregory, Ep. 9.195.
Gregory, Epp. 3.4445.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

perplexities encouraged Roman bishops to treat the clerical domus as a

social space in grave need of their direct domestic oversight. Each failure
of a clergyman to comply with emergent strictures governing the clerical
household presented the bishop of Rome with another opportunity to
intervene in the running of his home. It was through the exercise of such
quotidian influence that Roman bishops began to govern the church
in Italy writ large. Three primary (and deeply problematic) domains
of regulation and oversight are examined here: the marriage of higher
clergy, the separation of a clerics private property from his churchs
wealth, and the appropriateness of heirship as a model of episcopal


When Paul wrote that those who have wives should live as if they do
not have them (First Corinthians 7:29 [Vulgate]: Et qui habent uxores ita
sint quasi non habeant), he was thinking about end times, not the making
of a new and peculiarly Christian institution. This elliptical exhortation,
recommended originally for all followers of Christ, became a guiding
idea in the late Roman definition of clerical marriage.14 From the late
fourth century, church authorities in Rome and elsewhere pressed the
importance of sexual abstinence for higher clergy bishops, priests, and
deacons who were married.15 Marriages were not to be dissolved, but
spouses were expected to renounce sex following a husbands ordination
to any of these offices.16 Additional strictures pertained to lower clergy
interested in advancing up the ranks. Passages in First Timothy and First
Titus state that only a man who was the husband of one wife (Vulgate:
unius uxoris vir) might become a bishop or deacon.17 The phrase invoked

Recent studies of clerical celibacy place its origins in the pre-Constantinian period
(e.g., Cochini 1990: 13958, 24554 and Heid 2001: 2490). Gryson 1970: 144
presents a more skeptical view, however, and argues that is was largely a post-
Constantinian development.
Canon 33 of the Council of Elvira (ca. 303306) is the earliest ecclesiastical regulation
requiring celibacy among married bishops, priests, and deacons; however, it is almost
certainly a late fourth-century interpolation. See Meigne 1975 and Gryson 1980.
See Brown 1990: 35765 for general discussion of clerical celibacy and its significance
in the late fourth-century church. Of course, terms like continentia/enkrateia and
castitas/sophrosyne could also simply connote self-control and purity and not
necessarily sexual abstinence. See Cooper 1996: 5658.
1 Timothy 3:2, 3:12; 1 Titus 1:6.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the revered figure of the univira, the Roman woman who had superior
virtue because she remained married to a single husband throughout
her lifetime.18 What precisely one wife meant was contested well into
the sixth century, as this chapter shows. From Hippolytus time, some
Christians in Rome excluded men who had married more than once
from higher clerical offices.19 Others argued that the single marriage
requirement also applied to the wives of clergy. Men who aspired to a
higher post would have to marry virgins.20 In Rome at least, they would
also have to have their marriages blessed by clerics in the church.21
Finally, bishops, priests, and deacons who were already ordained were
not permitted to marry.
The role of bishops, and especially Roman bishops, in the process of
defining clerical marriage in these terms was significant. Some of the
most influential pronouncements flowed from the Roman See, prompt-
ing scholars of earlier generations to credit the entire movement to
Roman bishops and their monolithic exercise of authority.22 Although
such a vision of the Roman church is no longer tenable, the question
of why Roman bishops intensely and continually focused their atten-
tion on the marriages and sexual activities of their clergy warrants close
attention. Historians have advanced two theses to explain their sustained
interest: ritual purity and ascetic competition.23 Both theses illuminate
why Roman bishops advocated a restricted form of clerical marriage.
Many undoubtedly wanted to ensure that the clergy who handled the
liturgy were permanently pure. Others clearly wished to differentiate
clergy from laypeople and to raise their spiritual profile in a competi-
tive religious context in which asceticism increasingly defined holiness.
Neither explanation accounts fully for the continued preoccupation of
later fifth- and sixth-century Roman bishops with the married clerical
household, however. Concerns about governing, property, and power,
and the bishops reputation as a holy estate manager were also at stake.
For if a Roman bishop could not administer the households of his clergy,
then how could he lead the suburbicarian church?

Gryson 1970: 1. On the univira, see Treggiari 1991: 21618.
Hippolytus, Ref. ad haers. 9.12.
Siricius, Epp. 1.123 and 5.4.
Chapter 4, and later in this chapter.
See now Heid 2001: 28396.
Ritual purity: Gryson 1970; Meens 1995; and Hunter 2007: 21319. Ascetic compe-
tition: Callam 1980; Hunter 1987; and Brown 1990: 358. Hunter 1999 and 2007: 218
shows how they worked in tandem.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

Embedding the Clerical Household within the Bishops

Church: Marriage and the cursus
Thanks partly to Siricius, fifth- and sixth-century Roman bishops treated
the clerical household as indivisible from the church.24 In addition
to directives regarding sexual continence, a virginal wife, and a sin-
gle marriage, Siricius letter to Himerius and the bishops of Tarragona
in 385 delineated what appears to be the first system of ecclesiastical
advancement.25 Among the milestones that a man needed to reach to
climb the clerical ladder was a decorous lifestyle and a proper mar-
riage: if he has lived appropriately, content with so much as one wife,
whom he received as a virgin with a public blessing by a sacerdos, Siricius
explained, he might assume the functions of the acolyte and subdeacon.26
Lower clergy who in turn desired to advance to the deaconate had to
prove themselves worthy (dignum) with continence leading the way
(continentia praeeunte).27 By requiring a certain form of marriage, wife,
clerical blessing, and spousal relationship for admission to and promo-
tion within the clergy, Siricius integrated the clerical household into the
emerging institution of the church.
From that point, most Roman iterations of the cursus included stipu-
lations about clerical marriage. In 443, Leo insisted in a letter addressed
to the bishops of central and southern Italy that only priests who were
married once to a virgin bride merited their office. Writing a few years
later to Anastasius of Thessalonica, he explained how sexual continence
was a requirement for married clergy even in the fourth order of the
church (i.e., the subdeaconate).28 Similarly, Leos immediate successor
Hilarus (461468) reminded his Spanish colleagues in a letter outlining
rules of episcopal ordination that candidates should be literate, physically
intact, untainted by previous penitential acts, and the husband of one
wife, who was herself not previously married.29 In a more detailed ver-
sion of a cursus, in which he considered both monastic and lay candidates,
As noted by Hunter 2007: 21112.
Siricius, Ep. 1.13. On Siricius cursus, see Faivre 1977: 31618. Eusebius, HE 6.43.11
transcribes a letter sent by Cornelius in 251 listing the various offices of the Roman
church in an order that closely follows Siricius.
Siricius, Ep. 1.13 (PL 13: 1143): si probabiliter vixerit, una tantum, et ea, quam vir-
ginem communi per sacerdotem benedictione perceperit, uxore contentus, acolythus
et subdiaconus esse debebit.
Siricius, Ep. 1.13.
Leo, Epp. 4.3 and 14.34.
Hilarus, Ep. 16.5.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Gelasius included the now-traditional stipulations about single marriages

and virginal wives.30
In fact, early sixth-century Romans believed that a particular vision
of the clerical household, characterized by a single sexless marriage and
a virginal wife, was so elemental in the churchs constitution that they
included its definition among the decrees in a forged set of conciliar acts.
The supporters of both Laurentius and Symmachus, as mentioned ear-
lier, generated documents purporting to be the proceedings of a synod
presided over by Silvester and Constantine in 324. Both versions include
canons that reprise many of the rules governing the clerical household.31
In attributing them to Silvester and to a Constantinian synod that was
intended to rival Nicaea, the authors imbued them with a new sense of
institutional meaning and urgency. A violent debate had erupted recently
in Rome over episcopal authority and the domestic sphere, and Sym-
machus had been charged with breaching existing regulations governing
the clerics sexual activity.32 In other words, both sides of the schism had
reason to present the oversight of the clerical household as an ecumeni-
cal imperative endorsed by Constantine, because its proper governance
related directly to the bishops authority as head of the church.
For fifth- and early sixth-century Roman bishops, therefore, cleri-
cal marriage and sexual continence were conceived not simply in terms
of purity and asceticism. These domestic practices and principles were
seen as fundamental building blocks of Romes ecclesiastical ordering.
A clergymans success as a household manager partly determined his
advancement within the church. Choosing the right spouse, exhibit-
ing faithfulness to that wife for his entire lifetime (which the ancient
Romans long associated with moral purity and the univira), and exercising
extraordinary bodily self-control while cohabiting were now ineluctable

Gelasius, Ep. 14.2.34 (ed. Thiel 1868: 36364).
Symmachan decrees on the clerical household: No subdeacon may marry: SK, 238
40 and SK2 c. 5, 312; no one may advance within the clergy unless his union has
been blessed by a sacerdos: SK, 244; SK2 c.18, 314; and priests may not contract a
marriage from the day of ordination: SK2 c.24 (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 23840, 244,
312, and 31415). The Laurentian version was even more focused on the married
clerical household: only those with one wife, faithful children, and living cum
omni castitate could be consecrated deacons, priests, or bishops: LK c.7; no twice-
married man (bigamum) may attain the deaconate, priesthood, or episcopate: LK c.23;
no clericus (presumably a lower cleric) may couple with a prostitute or a woman
rejected by her husband: LK c. 27; no priest or bishop may have sex with his wife
after ordination: LK c. 8 (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 328, 328 and 338).
See Chapter 6.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

elements of a clerics identity and authority. To be a member of a higher

clerical order, one should prove not only that he was a competent lector,
exorcist, or acolyte but also that he could administer his domestic life
according to new and more exacting standards.
Given the significance of clerical marriages both within the church
order and for emerging constructs of clerical identity, Roman bish-
ops believed that their oversight fell directly within their ambit. They
understood their responsibility to govern their clerics houses both in the
technical sense of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and in a moral and spiritual
sense, as the chief stewards of the House of the Lord. Writing to the
bishops of suburbicarian Italy in 443, Leo explicitly claimed authority
to correct the improper ordinations of men who had either remarried
or wedded nonvirgins. And we especially claim for ourselves the duty
of this examination (huius discussionis curam), that if any of these irregu-
larities have perhaps been committed, they may be corrected and may
not be allowed to happen again and that no excuse may arise from igno-
rance. . . . 33 Not surprisingly, Leo chose to articulate his government of
the clerical household in terms of oikonomia. First framing his influence
using the language of public administration (discussio was word that typ-
ically referred to the revision of public accounts by a provincial admin-
istrator), Leo then switched to an explicitly domestic discourse in the
second part of the passage. Through an elaborate agricultural metaphor,
he identified himself with the biblical cultor, who faithfully attended to
the Lords vineyards.34 What Leo hoped to achieve through this two-
sided image was a particular relationship to the suburbicarian clergy.
Here the Roman bishop did not simply rule his subordinate clerics;
rather, he carefully cultivated their households like a good householder-
In fact, both Leo and his successor Gregory attempted to develop the
clerical married household as a potential source of virtue, excellence, and
order. The law of continence, Leo explained to Rusticus of Narbonne
in 458 or 459, is the same for ministers of the altar [i.e., deacons] as for
bishops and priests . . . in order that their marriages may become spiritual
instead of carnal, it is necessary for them not to put away their wives
but to have them as though they did not have them (First Cor. 7:29),

Leo, Ep. 4.2 (PL 54: 630): huius discussionis curam nobis specialiter vindicantes, ut
si qua forsitan de his commissa sunt, corrigantur nec liceat ultra committi, et ne qua
excusatio de ignoratione nascatur . . . (Trans. adapted from Feltoe 1894: 3).
Leo, Ep. 4.2.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

whereby their marital love is saved but the work of marriage ceases.35
Citing Pauls phrase from First Corinthians quoted at the start of this
section, Leo presented a paradox as the guiding ethical principle of the
clerical household.36 An ideal clerical domus is one in which a clergyman
has a wife but also does not have her. Elsewhere Leo described the
wifes presence in the domus as a source of daily desire that all Christian
clergy must labor to resist.37 In 599, Gregory put it similarly when he
warned the clergy of Sicily that bishops must not abandon their wives
but chastely rule them (caste debent regere, non relinquant).38 For Leo
and Gregory, it was precisely the presence of wives that transformed the
clerical household into an ascetic arena. Clergy, unlike their monastic
brethren, could never fully escape the dangerous presence of a spouse;
rather, they must learn how to live with them in a constant state of

Living the Laws of Restricted Marriage: Bishops and Clerical

Households in Practice
While perhaps comforting to some men, such ethical subtleties were
lost on many clergy and bishops, whose very simple questions about the
clerical household reveal a fundamental disconnection from the heroic
struggles imagined by Leo and Gregory. As Leos letter to the Italian
clergy cited previously suggests, local ignorance about precisely what
constituted a proper clerical marriage is a common theme in Roman
episcopal correspondence.40 Despite the efforts of Siricius and his suc-
cessors, who delineated guidelines and scriptural proofs that strictly

Leo, Ep. 167.3 (PL 54:1204): Lex continentiae eadem est ministris altaris quae episcopis
atque presbyteris . . . ut de carnali fiat spirituale coniugium, oportet eos nec dimittere
uxores, et quasi non habeant sic habere, quo et salva sit caritas connubiorum, et cesset
opera nuptiarum. (Trans. adapted from Feltoe 1895: 110).
Leo also might have been attempting to correlate Christian ethics with Roman law:
CT (420 at Ravenna) explicitly prohibited clergy from abandoning wives
whom they married prior to ordination.
Leo, Ep. 14.4.
Gregory, Ep. 9.111.
Leo and Gregorys conceptualization of the married clerical household as an ascetic
arena parallels the presentation of marital sex as living martyrdom for Christian
matronae in the Ad Gregoriam in palatio. See Cooper 1996: 11643.
Innocent, Epp. 2.46; 17.2; 37; Leo, Epp. 4.2; 5.3; 6.3; 12.35; and 167.3; Pelagius,
Ep. 33.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

defined marriage for higher clerics, clergy remained confounded by and

resistant to the adoption of practices that were in many respects antithet-
ical even to Christian views of domesticity and asceticism. Lay couples
were expected to abstain from sexual relations only for temporary peri-
ods around liturgical events, whereas men and women dedicated to a
rigorous ascetic life often rejected married life altogether, living instead
in single-sex communities.41 The clerical household was thus a curious
tertium quid: a domus that Roman bishops defined by the daily presence
of a wife on the one hand but by the permanent renunciation of sexual
relations with her on the other.
What is more, the rules changed continuously. In 325, the Council of
Nicaea prohibited clerics from living with women who were not beyond
suspicion, but it exempted close female relatives and said nothing about
wives. Honorius reiterated these church rulings in civil legislation issued
in 420, as did Justinian in the sixth century.42 Honorius law, however,
also forbade married clergy from abandoning wives whom they had mar-
ried prior to ordination. Ascetic impulses were to be encouraged among
clerics but only to a point; they should certainly not lead to unilateral
divorce against the wifes wishes.43 Whereas the rules governing sex-
ual continence for married clerics initially had applied only to deacons,
priests, and bishops, Leo evidently extended them to subdeacons in 446.
Leos law did not permeate suburbicarian Italy quickly and evenly.
Even by Gregorys day, married subdeacons in Sicily were unaware of
the regulations since they had only just been introduced to the island.44
To complicate matters further, Justinian issued several laws that cate-
gorically barred men with living wives, children, or grandchildren from
the episcopate.45 These laws were known in the West, as we shall see
Consequently, the clergymens queries to Rome on clerical marriage
reflect both genuine confusion and a strong desire to subvert. What
On temporary abstinence among married couples, see Gregory, Ep. 11.56a (MGH
Epistulae 2: 33143). Several famous ascetic couples adopted a continent marriage,
such as Melania and Pinianus and Paulinus of Nola and Therasia. Interestingly, their
exempla are never invoked in episcopal discussions of the clerical household.
CT 16.2.44 (Honorius, issued at Ravenna in 420); Justinian, Nov. 123.29 (546),
extended the ban to presbyters and deacons.
CT 16.2.44.
Gregory, Ep. 1.42 (CC 140: 5455). According to Gregory, the rule had not been
given to Sicily until 588. See below.
See below.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

exactly does one wife mean?46 What of marriages entered (and pre-
sumably ended) before baptism do they count toward the final tally
for ordination?47 Could a priest marry after his ordination?48 Must a
newly elected bishop be denied the position because he has a living wife
and child?49 Rather than ignoring such questions or simply referring
the petitioners to earlier decretals and imperial edicts, Roman bishops
answered them repeatedly. Wives wed and children born before baptism
cannot be ritually wiped away like sins and hence erased from a cler-
gymans past, Innocent and Leo explained, in virtually identical terms
in four different letters.50 Regarding the wifes sexual and marital sta-
tus, a man who sought the episcopate (in the words of Hilarus), must
have taken a virgin wife, not a widow or a divorcee.51 Hilarus finer
if not obvious distinction suggests that some had interpreted virgin
in a rather looser manner. [He] cannot be a bigamist [i.e., someone
twice married] and cannot have chosen a wife who was not a virgin,
Gelasius wrote ca. 494, in what is quite literally a form letter. 52 No
presbyter may enter into a marriage from the date of his presbyterial
duty, stated a Silvestrian canon forged by the supporters of Symmachus
in the early sixth century.53 An episcopal candidate, Pelagius twice pro-
nounced in 559 echoing the Justinianic legislation, should have neither a
wife nor children.54 Especially in letters composed from the second half
of the fifth century, the bishops responses become increasingly repet-
itive and laconic, giving the reader the distinct sense of a writer going
through the motions. This was precisely the point: the clerical house-
hold had become a vehicle for asserting episcopal authority and a subject
on which the Roman bishop liked to claim a monopoly. By translat-
ing its unusual elements into the mundane features of an ecclesiastical

Innocent, Epp. 6.1.3; 37.2.4; Leo, Epp. 4.2; 5.3; 6.3; 12.35; 14.34; and 167.3;
Hilarus, Ep. 16.4.5; and Gelasius, Epp. 14.2; 15.1; and 16.1 (ed. Thiel 1868: 36263,
379, 38081).
Innocent, Epp. 2.6; 17.2.35; and 37.4 and Leo, Epp. 5.3 and 6.3.
SK and SK2 c. 24 (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 246 and 315).
Pelagius, Epp. 18 and 33.
Innocent, Epp. 2.5; 17.2.35 and Leo, Epp. 5.3 and 6.3.
Hilarus, Ep. 16.4.5 (ed. Thiel 1868: 168): sacerdos virginem uxorem accipiat, non
viduam, non repudiatam. Here Hilarus cites Lev. 21:13.
Gelasius, Ep. 16.1 appears to be a version of Ep. 15, a form letter for the approval of
an episcopal candidate for office.
SK and SK2 c. 24 (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 246 and 315).
Pelagius, Epp. 18 and 33.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

institution, Roman bishops tried to subsume the clerical household into

their own still rather shaky administrative edifice.
Roman bishops did more than field questions about clerical marriage.
They actively and sometimes aggressively monitored individual house-
holds. Since the late fourth century, Romes prelates required all clerical
unions to be blessed by a sacerdos.55 The blessing, we recall, probably
entailed both an investigation of the betrothed couples backgrounds (pre-
sumably in this context to verify their virginal statuses) and a veiling cer-
emony, which in Rome at least took place within a church.56 Although
nuptial blessings became increasingly common among the Roman laity
in the fifth and sixth centuries, they were mandated only for the clergy.
Roman bishops also oversaw formal investigations of clergy who vio-
lated the churchs evolving strictures on marriage. In a short, undated
letter addressed to two Calabrian bishops, Innocent directed them to
explore claims outlined in a report concerning indigni presbyteres in the
region, who had allegedly been fathering children.57 He told the bishops
to summon all implicated parties and examine the accusations at a local
ecclesiastical hearing. If found guilty, the priests were to be removed from
office. In fact, there seems to have been interest among some Roman
clergy to create a standardized procedure for investigating married clerics
who reportedly violated the celibacy rules. The Laurentian forgers of
one Silvestrian synodal canon devised a forensic method for determining
whether a bishop, priest, or deacon had been sleeping with his wife. He
would be examined before the entire church in a trial that required both
truthful documentation and twelve Christian witnesses.58 Although there
is no evidence that this particular procedure was ever followed, it reveals
both the seriousness with which Roman clergy took the ban on marital
sex and their desire to see such crimes adjudicated in an ecclesiastical
forum. The absence of an episcopal judge in this theoretical hearing,
however, is telling. It may reflect resistance to the Roman bishops efforts
to establish himself as the sole arbiter of the clerical household.59
There is little doubt that Roman bishops hoped to be directly involved
in the oversight of mismanaged clerical households, however. For exam-
ple, Pelagius provided Florentius of Chiusi with detailed directions for
Siricius, Ep. 1.13 and SK (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 244).
For the veiling ceremony, see Chapter 4.
Innocent, Ep. 38.
LK c.8 (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 328).
See Chapter 6.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

dealing with one of his deacons, who formed a relationship with a con-
cubine after his wifes death.60 In a letter dated to March of 559, Pelagius
ordered that the ancilla be removed from the deacons house at once and
placed in a monastery. While Pelagius thought that the deacon should
be censured, he did not order his deposition. Apparently he was an old
man, and Pelagius believed that he was unlikely to commit the same
offense again. It was only four years after the end of the Gothic War,
and Pelagius was undoubtedly concerned to preserve as many clerics in
office as possible given the drop in both the population and the number
of dioceses that had occurred as a result of the twenty-year conflict.61
Pelagius soft response to the deacons sin also speaks to an important
facet of the Roman bishops relationship to the clerical household. As
often as Roman bishops meted out harsh punishments to those violating
the emerging standards of clerical marriage, they also showed leniency
and sometimes even ignored standards set by their predecessors. As Pelag-
ius was undoubtedly aware, his forerunners letters offered precedents
for the punishment of this deacon. Such clergy were to be stripped of
their offices either permanently or for a set number of years, and repeat
offenders were to be excommunicated.62 Pelagius and his fellow prelates
often overlooked certain traditions and authoritative rulings, however.
In another letter, also dated to 559, Pelagius chose not to force a newly
elected bishop from Syracuse to abandon his wife and children in order
to comply with recent Justinianic legislation, which precluded such men
from promotion to the episcopate.63 Pelagius certainly had pressing rea-
sons to want to meet the demands of the Syracusan clergy and people. In
559, Sicily was the Roman churchs most productive agricultural region,
and Pelagius depended on the assistance of Syracuses ecclesiastical offi-
cials to help him to manage Romes estates. The Syracusan bishop-elect
also had a powerful lay patron, as we shall see. Nevertheless, Pelagius
willingness to bend the rules on the constitution of the clerical household
seems to have been common among Romes bishops. In a 591 letter to
his Sicilian rector Peter the subdeacon, Gregory ordered Peter to excuse
the already married subdeacons from compliance with the church law

Pelagius, Ep. 47.
On the fluctuating population of Italy and numbers of Italian dioceses, see the Intro-
Cf. Siricius, Epp. 1.11 and 5.8.4; Innocent, Ep. 38; Leo, Ep. 4.2; Forged Silvestrian
councils: SK and SK2 c.24 (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 244 and 315); and LK (ed. Wirbelauer
1993: 328).
Pelagius, Ep. 33.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

requiring them to abstain from sexual relations with their wives, since it
had only recently been introduced to Sicily, in 588.64
Although we should laud these bishops for their sensitivity to the
personal demands made on clergy, we must not ignore the discourse
shaping their reactions. Leniency and flexibility were also expressions of
power. By demonstrating mercy toward clergymen who failed to live up
to Romes exacting standards for the clerical household, Pelagius and
Gregory underscored their deep understanding of the rules governing
this institution and their ability to circumvent them. What ultimately
mattered in these cases was that it was the Bishop of Rome who oversaw
the investigation and meted out the punishments. In this way, Roman
bishops asserted their position as householders of the domus dei, who
alone were responsible for maintaining order within the church and by
extension within the households of its clergy.
Roman bishops also relied on an evolving network of informants
and interested parties who reported back to Rome on the sex lives
of married clergy. For example, Innocent claimed to have received his
information about the wayward Calabrian priests from a layman named
Maximilianus, whom Innocent called filius noster agens in rebus.65 Whether
Maximilianus was the bishops official information gatherer is difficult
to know, but Innocent certainly wished to present him as such to the
Calabrian bishops.66 Gregorys letters provide fascinating insight into the
Roman bishops suburbicarian network of informants, some of whom
were his own officials.67 Gregory was plugged into a circuit of watchful
locals who were keen to provide him with actionable information on
the households of higher churchmen. In one case, he ordered his chief
administrator of Romes estates in Calabria to act on reports brought
to my attention by certain men that a local priest named Sisinnius kept
and venerated idols in his domus, where he also allegedly committed
sodomy.68 The charges were probably trumped up (Sisinnius morals
were already suspect for having stolen the property of a fellow cleric),
but Gregory willingly trafficked in the lurid gossip and demanded that his
defensor investigate and punish accordingly. Although Gregory typically
kept the identities of his informants out of his official correspondence,

Gregory, Ep. 1.42 (CC 140: 5455).
Innocent, Ep. 38.
As Caspar 193033: 2. 303. On the late Roman agens in rebus, see Kelly 2004: 2067.
For example, in Ep. 9.111, addressed to Romes officials in Sicily, Gregory directs
them to report any bishops who were cohabitating with women.
Gregory, Ep. 10.2 (599). See also Epp. 4.34 (594) and 13.37 (603).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

he did name at least one. Gregory learned of Andrew of Tarentums

alleged concubine from John of Gallipoli, another Apulian bishop.69 Why
John turned Andrew in is hard to reconstruct, although it undoubtedly
had much to do with local competition. It is also likely that John was
himself subject to extensive supervision from Gregory. The small see
of Gallipoli was probably located within the boundaries of one of the
Roman churchs estates, thus requiring especially assertive oversight over
its bishops actions.70
Gregorys reactions to the sexual misconduct that occurred in the
household of Felix, the bishop of Sipontum, similarly attests to the real-
ization among Roman bishops that the clerical household must be closely
supervised. As mentioned previously, Felixs grandson had had a sexual
relationship with the daughter of a local deacon named Evangelus. The
daughter was a virgin, the two were unmarried, and their liaison was
both illegal and immoral. In this case, Gregory had learned of the matter
directly from Evangelus, who had also complained to the Roman bishop
about Felixs financial administration.71 Apparently Felix had refused to
pay Evangelus an undisclosed sum, which would allow the deacon to
repay a loan he had taken to ransom himself from the Lombards. Gregory
was deeply troubled by both matters and dispatched one of his notaries
to Sipontum to investigate the charges. He then wrote two letters to
Felix, the first on the issue of the debt, the second on the deflower-
ing of Evangelus daughter.72 In the second epistle, Gregory expressly
drew attention to Felixs position as a paterfamilias and to the fact that he
had utterly failed to oversee his own household. While praising Felixs
efforts to convert the pagans of the Apulian countryside, Gregory also
condemned his activities as a householder: We are very greatly sad-
dened over this matter, because, on the contrary, in the depravity of
your grandson [also called] Felix your fault has been clearly shown, for
you brought up such a person.73 Gregory then proceeded to mete out
the punishments for the grandson, acting as if he, and not Felix, were
the boys paterfamilias.
In offering Felixs grandson the choice between marriage and monas-
tic imprisonment, Gregory certainly exercised his juridical authority to

Gregory, Epp. 3.4445.
Spearing 1918: 9, n. 1.
Gregory, Ep. 3.40.
Gregory, Epp. 3.4142.
Gregory, Ep. 3.42 (CC 140: 187): Qua de re nimis contristamur, quia e diverso in
nepotis tui Felicis pravitate tua evidenter qui talem nutristi culpa monstrata est.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

preside over disputes involving church personnel, even in cases of a crim-

inal nature.74 The young mans sin, stuprum, was a crime in civil law that
(from the time of Justinian) warranted capital punishment.75 Although
Gregory could have been trying to save the boy from a more severe
fate in a public court, his leniency also underlined the Roman bishops
authority as an estate manager.76 Gregorys decision to exercise clemency
rather than vengeance, and to press for solutions that were both spiri-
tually sound and morally wholesome, inflected his status as the chief
householder-steward of the domus dei.
Gregorys interventions within the bishop of Sipontums family life and
church administration demonstrate the extent to which Roman bishops
had come to perceive the clerical household as an institution demanding
their close supervision. The sex crimes committed on Felixs watch were
undoubtedly shocking to Gregory, but they were no more frightening
than Felixs alleged financial mismanagement of the Sipontan See. Evan-
gelus had also complained about Felixs failure to relieve his debt, and
the bishops inaction had aroused Gregorys suspicions. In addition to
having Felixs grandson investigated, Gregory directed his notary to have
Felix make a full inventory of the property of the Sipontan church.77
Although it was not a virtual papal city like Gallipoli, Sipontum was
Apulias largest bishopric in the late sixth century and functioned as
Romes center for the administration of its estates in the region.78 A
mistrusted bishop was disastrous for Romes church government, not to
mention for the men and women of Sipontum, who looked to their
local clergy for support at moments of crisis, as when a loved one was
kidnapped and ransomed.
The fact that this dramatic case involved crimes of both a sexual and
proprietary nature is highly significant. Although they were likely unre-
lated, the matters were linked by Gregory and presumably by Evangelus.79

On the bishops exercise of privelgium fori, see Selb 1967: 21417. On monastic impris-
onment, see Hillner 2007b and 2011.
Intercourse with unmarried women of status was considered a crime (stuprum) and
hence legally actionable. See Beaucamp 1990: 1.17881 and Arjava 1996: 21720 for
discussion of the legislation.
Both Dossey 2001: 108 and Hillner 2011 rightly stress Gregorys desire to offer the
bishops grandson an opportunity to escape the death penalty.
Gregory, Ep. 3.41.
It was the seat of the Roman ecclesiastical defensor in Apulia as well as an imperial
tribunus. Cf. Gregory, Epp. 9.170, 175.
Gregory, Ep. 3.40.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

The association of sex, children, property, and household manage-

ment reflects deeply ingrained cultural anxieties about the householder.
Ancient authors had long voiced concerns that householders privileged
their private family interests over public duties. Felixs egregious admin-
istration confirmed this fear in Gregorys mind, hence prompting his
paternalistic response, wherein the bishop of Rome both criticized the
prelates oikonomia (it was you who brought up such a person) and
demonstrated his superior domestic expertise by resolving the crises per-
sonally. What Gregorys interventions within the households of Felix
and Evangelus ultimately reveal, however, is less the triumph of Roman
episcopal authority than the absence of firm lines separating domus from
ecclesia. The weak nature of this boundary surely could serve the Roman
bishops interest, but it especially challenged his task of ordering the
churchs material wealth.


A bishop who managed his household well was especially fit to manage
Gods church, but how precisely did this hoary adage play out in the
more tangible realm of large-scale property management? As we have
seen, earthly domini and bishops shared a great deal when it came to
practices of land administration, and sometimes they shared too much.
Despite a welter of regulations established by ecclesiastics and emperors
alike, clerics often confused the churchs property with their own
private wealth. This confusion (whether deliberate or accidental) was
among the Roman bishops greatest concerns as the principal steward
of Gods house, for it accentuated the already ambiguous nature of the
clerical household. Roman bishops never prohibited married men from
becoming clerics, nor did they forcefully separate married clerics from
their wives and children. Their reactions to married clergy with children,
especially adult children, were guided by fears that these holy patresfamilias
might abuse their extensive access to their churchs wealth, treat Gods
property as if it were their own households, and distribute it to their heirs.
Whereas fourth- and early fifth-century Roman bishops might have been
concerned about ascetic purity and married clerics, their later fifth- and
sixth-century counterparts were equally if not more anxious about the
material implications of clergy with families for the churchs coffers.
For them, even the adult children of bishops and clerics, conceived and
reared long before consecration, posed potential threats to the integrity
Cultivating the Clerical Household

of ecclesiastical property, much of which, of course, had been donated

by people in the hopes of bettering their chances for salvation.
To a certain extent, their concerns were grounded in experiences of
corruption directly involving clerical households. Gelasius had to order
the bishop Siricusius to compel the heirs of another bishop named
Zacheus to return some sixty pounds of gold, which they claimed
that they had inherited but which actually belonged to their fathers
church.80 In another letter, Gelasius responded to accusations leveled by
the archdeacon of Falerio that his bishop habitually laid claim to certain
ecclesiastical properties as if they were his own.81 It is unclear whether
this particular bishop had children or a wife, but his attitudes toward the
churchs property reveal a deeply traditional view of domestic authority,
whereby ownership rather than stewardship was the dominant principle
of estate management.
Gregorys letters illustrate some of the most blatant breaches of the
boundary separating household and church. In a letter written in 599,
Gregory politely but firmly directed his defensor Scholasticus to vacate his
fathers house.82 Scholasticus father, we recall, was the former bishop of
Ortona, who had apparently lived with his son in the episcopal residence
and, if Gregorys comments are accurate, passed it along to Scholasticus
with property that rightfully belonged to the church. Another notable
case was a bishop-and-son embezzling team from Malta.83 Lucillus, the
bishop, had apparently been stealing from his church with the help of his
son Peter and some local clergy. Even after Lucillus deposition some-
time in late 598 or 599, Peter continued to remove valuable items from
his fathers church. Gregory also handled less deliberate acts of malfea-
sance, which nevertheless underline the practical challenges that clergy-
men faced when attempting to separate the bishops personal household
property from that of his see. Eusanius of Agrigentum evidently died
intestate, leaving his son bereft not only of his fathers fortune but also of
his (presumably deceased) mothers property, which had been deposited
in her husbands church.84 Gregory directed the bishop of Syracuse to
investigate the situation, which involved making an inquest into whether

Gelasius, Ep. 43 (ed. Ewald 1880: 520).
Gelasius, Frg. 22 (ed. Thiel 1868: 496).
Gregory, Ep. 9.195.
Gregory, Epp. 9.25 and 10.1.
Gregory, Ep. 4.36. The property of deceased clergy and monks without wills (drawn
up before entrance to the church) went directly to their religious institution. See

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Eusanius had actually transferred his personal property to the church. As

Gregory implied, the absence of a will made this a challenging task.
In addition to these family-oriented imbroglios, Roman prelates
had to contend with blatant acts of theft, aggression toward neighboring
private landowners, and general incompetence in financial administra-
tion. Januarius of Cagliari, a bishop whose administrative inadequacies
appear frequently in Gregorys letters, spent time before and after mass
one Sunday pilfering crops and rearranging the boundary markers on
land belonging to a private owner.85 Incensed if not exasperated by
Januarius illegal and un-episcopal behavior, Gregory reminded him of
his charge to care not for earthly things, but for mans souls and directed
him to model his management on the figure of the steward in the parable
of the talents, whom the Lord expects to return his money multiplied.86
In fact, Roman bishops constantly fielded complaints from landowners,
conductores, and domestic agents that church officials, including their own
appointed representatives, had expropriated private property in the name
of the church and the poor.87

The Separation of Property in Civil and Ecclesiastical Law

To a certain extent, Romes bishops could look to a long legislative tra-
dition to help guide their reactions to these problems. In addition to the
churchs status as a property-owning entity, civil and ecclesiastical author-
ities attempted to clarify the relationship between the bishops admin-
istration of his own personal holdings and the property of the church.
There was considerable concern that the property of the bishops church
and his own private wealth might be improperly comingled, resulting in
the expansion of one at the expense of the other. Imperial legislation
therefore sought to define the bishops private status as a property holder
more concretely. For example, there were several fifth- and sixth-century
laws that regulated how and when clerics and monks could compose wills
and transmit property. Generally speaking, all testamentary arrangements
had to be made prior to the formal adoption of religious life, while
clergy and monks could transmit only wealth acquired before entering
the monastery or church orders.88 The property of monks or clergy who

Gregory, Epp. 9.1, 11.
Gregory, Ep. 9.11.
See Chapter 4.
CJ (528).

Cultivating the Clerical Household

died intestate fell to their dedicated institution.89 Roman law also recog-
nized clerics as property owners in their own right, however. Legislation
issued by Anthemius and Leo in 472 declared that all clerics could possess
property as legally independent men (sui iuris), even if they remained in
the power of an ascendant male relative.90 In 539, Justinian proclaimed
that every man who became a bishop automatically received the status of
paterfamilias, regardless of whether he had a living father or grandfather.91
As the emperor explained, it was unfitting that the spiritual father of the
Christian people would not also be a householder in the legal sense of
the word. How much force these rulings had in the West will always be
moot, but there is ample evidence that Italian bishops personally owned
property and presumed to exercise the legal powers of a paterfamilias.92
While the state was primarily interested in defining the bishops per-
sonal proprietary status and organizing his testamentary rights, church
councils were more concerned with erecting safeguards between the
bishops personal wealth and the property of his church. Christian author-
ities had long recognized the possibility that bishops might abuse their
access to church wealth. Hippolytus searing critique of Callistus finan-
cial oversight offers an early example of this perspective. A century later,
Syrian clergy gathered at a synod in Antioch to discuss the bishops stew-
ardship of church property.93 Their decisions form part of a legislative
movement that culminated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. There
church leaders resolved that all bishops must refrain from participating in
the management of other mens households in the capacity of agents and
stewards, henceforth directing their expertise solely to church business.94
Moreover, bishops were required to perform all ecclesiastical business
through a clerical steward (oikonomos). The oikonomos was a clergyman
chosen from the local ranks charged with executing the bishops man-
agerial directives.95 Instead of handling his churchs property directly, a

E.g. CT 5.3.1 (Theodosius II in 434).
CJ 1.3.33 (34) (Anthemius and Leo at Constantinople, 472).
Justinian, Nov. 81.3 (539). Justinian extended the same right to consuls, patricians,
and any official exempted from curial duties.
For example, in a case discussed in Chapter 3 regarding the testamentary interests of
the abbot Probus, the abbot and Gregory were clearly aware of Theodosius law of
434 (CT 5.3.1), which denied monks the right to draw up a will after entering a
Council of Antioch (341), c. 24.
Council of Chalcedon (451), c. 3.
Council of Chalcedon (451), c. 26: Since in some churches, as we have been
informed, the bishops manage the property of the church without administrators
The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

bishop had to work through a steward, who acted as a buffer between the
prelate and his churchs wealth lest the administration of the church be
unsanctioned and as a result the property of the same church be dissipated
and criticism be inflicted on the priesthood. 96 Even the steward of God,
the bishops at Chalcedon reckoned, required oversight from below.97
Despite the theoretically universal force of the Chalcedonian statutes,
there is no evidence that the Roman church had a clerical oikonomos.98
Nevertheless, Roman clergy clearly grappled with the same ethical prob-
lem and proposed their own solutions to it. According to the Liber Pon-
tificalis, the third-century bishop Lucius established a rule whereby all
Roman bishops must maintain a permanent entourage of two priests
and three deacons, who were to provide testimony of the bishops
activities.99 It is unlikely that this development dates to the third cen-
tury, but it could reflect a later context, when clerical stewards routinely
and openly monitored certain activities that their bishops performed. In
475, the Roman bishop Simplicius (468483) ordered a provincial Italian
church to direct one of its own priests to oversee his bishops financial
administration of the churchs revenues.100 Both Simplicius directives
and the discussion in the Liber Pontificalis suggest a consensus among
Romes clergy that ideal episcopal stewardship might be difficult to real-
ize within a system in which bishops enjoyed significant levels of de facto
economic freedom. For many, the line separating bishop and dominus
always remained dangerously vague. The assignment of clerical subordi-
nates to roles of episcopal oversight represents one prescriptive attempt
to draw it more firmly.
(oikonomoi), it is decreed that every church is to have both a bishop and a steward
chosen from its own clergy who is to manage church property according to the
will of his bishop, lest the administration of the church be unsanctioned and as a
result the property of the same church be dissipated and criticism be inflicted on the
priesthood. If he does not do this, he is subjected to the divine canons. (Trans. Price
and Gaddis 2005: 3.1023). See also c. 22, which forbade priests from seizing their
own property from the church on their bishops death. If clergy routinely deposited
their money in their bishops church, it would have further complicated the principle
of separation.
Council of Chalcedon (451), c. 26. (Trans. Price and Gaddis: 2005: 308).
The steward of the steward also could fall under suspicion, however. CJ,
issued by Justinian in 528, required all clerical oikonomoi to compose annual inventories
of their assigned churchs property and present the list to the bishop. If a steward died
before rendering his account, his heirs would be investigated.
This stands in contrast to the notoriety of the oikonomos in the East. See Rapp 2005:
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 153).
Simplicius, Ep.1.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

For Justinian, the root of the problem addressed at Chalcedon and in

Rome lay in a bishops potential status as a traditional householder, that
is, as a man with a wife and children. It was simply too much to ask a mar-
ried man with heirs to suppress his domestic instincts, which would
drive him inevitably to provide for his familys material future at any
cost. This assumption compelled the emperor to pass radical restrictions
on episcopal eligibility. In an aforementioned law of 528, Justinian barred
men with preexisting children or grandchildren from obtaining the
episcopal office, explaining his extraordinary measure in the following
For because some men, on account of their hope in God and to make
their souls safe, turn towards the holy churches and offer and leave
their property to these very places to be spent upon poor houses, the
poor and other pious things, it is unfitting that bishops should render
these things as a profit to their own household or be lavished on their
own children or relatives. For a bishop must not be trammeled by the
passionate attachment to children of the flesh; he must be the spiritual
father of all the faithful. For these reasons, we forbid anyone to be
ordained a bishop who has children or grandchildren.101
In Justinians mind, the bishops responsibilities of stewardship neces-
sarily conflicted with his natural inclination towards principles of pro-
creation and property ownership. The only way to prevent bishops from
treating the churchs wealth as their own and handing it down to their
children was to bar fathers and grandfathers altogether from the episco-
pate. This logic continued to orient Justinians thinking about bishops
throughout his reign, and he repeated the ban on several occasions, later
conjoining to it restrictions that forbade any man with a wife, concu-
bine, or natural (i.e., illegitimate) children from obtaining the episcopal
CJ 1.3.41(42).34 (eds. Mommsen and Krueger 1895): tinn gr di tn ev qen
lpda ka di t tv autn perissai yucv prostrecntwn tav giwttaiv
kklhsaiv ka t prconta atov tataiv prosferntwn ka katalimpann-
twn p t ev ptwcov ka pnhtav ka trav esebev tatav dapansqai
creav, topn sti tov piskpouv ev okeon tata pofresqai krdov
per dia tkna ka suggenev katanalskein. Cr gr ka tn pskopon m
mpodizmenon prospaqe sarkikn tknwn pntwn tn pistn pneumatikn
enai patra. di tata tonun pagoreomen tn conta tkna ggnouv
ceirotonesqai pskopon.
Cf. CJ 1.3.47 (531) adds the further stipulation that bishops should not have a wife;
Nov. 123.1 (546) adds concubines and illegitimate children to the list of proscripta; and
Nov. 137.2 (565) reiterates the stipulations of Nov. 123.1.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Roman Episcopal Responses: Ad-hoc Solutions and

Claims to Expertise
For subsequent Roman bishops who saw case after case of financial
malfeasance on the level of the local see, Justinians legislation on
estate management was hardly the crystalline, definitive solution that
the emperor undoubtedly intended. Italian bishops continued to misap-
propriate funds and treat ecclesiastical coffers as if they were their own
personal treasuries. No evidence suggests that Justinians banning of mar-
ried fathers from the episcopal ranks had much impact here. On the
contrary, this ban presented Roman bishops with yet another obstacle to
overcome in the already complex duty of managing the clerical domus. As
mentioned previously, Pelagius found himself confronted with precisely
such a problem in 559. With the support of the patricius Cethegus, the
clergy and people of Syracuse elected a man with a wife and children
as their bishop. According to a letter addressed to Cethegus, Pelagius
initially balked at the appointment and asked the patricius and his fellow
Syracusans to reconsider their choice.103 Pelagius, the letter makes clear,
was well informed about Justinians legislation.104 When the Syracusans
stood by their choice, however, Pelagius reluctantly agreed to consecrate
the man on a single but exceptional condition: the candidate must swear
a threefold oath (cautio): he would provide a truthful inventory of his
personal worth; he would never usurp the churchs property for himself,
his wife, relatives, slaves, or any extraneous person; and he would not
leave anything to his heirs other than what had been recorded in the
In this case, consistency and the upholding of the law were far less
important than establishing the Roman bishops authority on the matter.
Undoubtedly this particular exception was granted both because of the
sees strategic importance for the Roman church, and because of the man
behind the appointment and the addressee of Pelagius letter, Cethegus.
A former consul and past resident of Rome, Cethegus had retired to
his Sicilian estates in 558 and clearly had a stake in this particular man
becoming bishop of Syracuse.106 The Roman bishop probably had little
choice but to find a way to make Cethegus candidate viable, but Pelagius
Pelagius, Ep. 33.
Pelagius, Ep. 33.4.
Pelagius, Ep. 33.56.
PLRE 2: 2812, Cethegus 2. He was also apparently involved in the episcopal elections
at Catena. Cf. Pelagius, Ep. 33.1.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

nevertheless managed to turn a difficult situation into an opportunity to

showcase his own expertise in estate management. Overriding imperial
laws proscribing such men from the episcopate, Pelagius demanded that
the candidate personally issue a surety to him before consecration. The
cautio protected the Syracusan church from potential malfeasance and
preserved the financial integrity of the bishops individual household.
Pelagius, in other words, devised a way for a man to be both an earthly
householder and a holy steward of the Lords church. In so doing, he
underlined his own authority as the ultimate overseer of the clerical
Although his solution is remarkable, Pelagius ingenuity resonates with
the approaches of previous Roman bishops to governing the material
interests of clerical households. They too drew on numerous juridical,
rhetorical, and administrative tools in their continuous attempt to align
the interests of the clerical domus with the good management of church
property. For example, in the case of the rapacious bishop of Falerio,
Gelasius delegated the task of the inquest and resolution to two other
local Picene bishops, thereby using established ecclesiastical networks
to maintain order on the local level of the see.107 In other situations,
Roman bishops requested high-ranking civil officials and local magnates
to police the bishop or cleric in question, especially in reported cases
of the illegal alienation of property in churches falling outside Romes
direct control.108 One Roman bishop, Simplicius, even experimented
with bookkeeping practices as an instrument of clerical discipline.109
In a letter from November of 475, Simplicius wrote to three bishops
concerning news that he had received about the improper activities of
Gaudentius, the bishop of Aufinum (probably Ofena in Abruzzo).110 In
addition to making episcopal ordinations without Simplicius permission,
Gaudentius supposedly had alienated some of his congregants offerings.
In response, Simplicius demanded that Gaudentius adopt the quadri-
partitum, the four-part division of church revenues used by Rome.111
Gelasius, Frg. 22 (ed. Thiel 1868: 496), addressed to Respectus (PCBE 2: 1893) and
Leoninus (PCBE 2: 1283).
Cf. Pelagius, Epp. 26, to Hilaria and John (PCBE 2.1: 984, 1095 [Iohannes 48]) and
55, to Armentarius magister militum (PLRE 3: 121 and PCBE 2.1: 192). See also Ep.
65 where Pelagius requests the help of Carellus magister militum (PLRE 3: 272 and
PCBE 2.1: 398) in a case of two Istrian schismatic bishops who continued to direct
church property for their own use.
As observed by Marazzi 1998: 6667.
Simplicius, Ep. 1.2.
On the quadripartitum, see Chapter 3.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Although Simplicius language suggests total fiscal malfeasance on Gau-

dentius part, it transpired that the local bishop had been dividing the
revenues, although into thirds rather than fourths.112 Simplicius there-
fore used the quadripartitum as a tool for ordering an unruly suffragan
bishop. In so doing, he subjected Gaudentius to a distinctly Roman sys-
tem of ethical and economic organization that underlined Simplicius
own domestic excellence and expertise.
In addition to ad-hoc measures, Roman bishops used more routine
administrative practices to oversee their clergys property. For example,
they might have created a special archive in Rome to house the personal
proprietary records of local clerical households. In the Liber Pontificalis,
Julius (337352) is said to have required all clerici in Rome to file their pri-
vate property-related documents (whether they be sureties, deeds, dona-
tions, exchanges, transfers, wills, declarations, or manumissions) through
the Roman church in its scrinium sanctum, which was overseen by the prim-
icerius notariorum.113 Property owners (including slave owners) had long
been required to deposit public records of their transactions in municipal
offices (i.e., gesta municipalia). What the Liber Pontificalis described was
therefore an important development in ecclesiastical administration,
whereby the Roman church began to provide its clergy with a service
that had traditionally been the provenance of the city. Although this
particular church archive actually might not date to the fourth century,
it was likely a working apparatus of the early sixth-century church.114
The creation and oversight of this scrinium sanctum thus constitutes one
very concrete way in which Roman bishops carefully watched the
private property of their clergymen.115 Nevertheless, the church did not
exercise a monopoly on record keeping even in the early sixth century,
since Romes municipal archives were still functioning then.116 Thus,
when the compilers of the Liber Pontificalis edited Julius vita in the 530s

Simplicius, Ep. 1.2.
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 205).
Sotinel underlines this anachronism: 2003: 107.
This was not the Roman churchs first and only archive. Clerics seem to have built
multiple libraries and archives in the city (some likely located in churches), in which
they preserved everything from martyr narratives and patristic florilegia to deeds,
charters, and the bishops correspondence. See Pietri 1976: 67277; McShane 1979:
2023; and Scalia 1971. There is no evidence for the consolidation of these separate
facilities into a single Lateran archive until the seventh century. See Noble 1990: 85
and Toubert 2001: 61ff.
Records were filed at the officium censuale, a department of the urban prefecture.
Chastagnol 1960: 77 and Jones 1964: 691.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

or 540s, the citys clergy had a choice of institutions through which to

process and store their records. By projecting both the creation of the
apparatus and the clerical requirement to use it back onto the fourth
century, the editors of the Liber Pontificalis fashioned a tradition with
which they might persuade Romes clergy to transact their proprietary
business through the bishops church.

Inh eriting th e Domus Dei : Dynastic

Principles and Episcopal Succession
While property conflicts involving clerical households consumed much
of their attention, Roman bishops occasionally encountered an equally
serious issue: the habit of some bishops to treat ecclesiastical offices as their
possessions, which might be handed down to a man of their choosing.
On a certain level, late Romans recognized clear legal and semantic
differences between a munus and a res. Simply put, while property was
transmittable, offices were not.117 Even most senatorial honors were no
longer heritable. There are, however, numerous instances of prelates
applying dynastic principles to their ecclesiastical offices including
several Roman bishops. Whether, and under which conditions, one
might legitimately inherit a position in the domus dei was a perplexing
and potentially divisive matter, evincing no simple or definitive answer.118
That a clerical householder might confuse his dynastic expectations
with his ecclesiastical duties had occurred to Innocent. In his letters to
Victricius of Rouen (404) and Exsuperius of Toulouse (405), Innocent
largely reprised his predecessor Siricius explanation of why higher clergy
needed to be sexually continent, sometimes quoting his exact words.119
In one place, however, Innocent interrupted Siricius train of thought
to address the subject of procreation and the inheritance of priestly
offices.120 Whereas Old Testament priests had to procreate because their
offices were passed on through bloodlines, Innocent explained, Christian
There were, however, gray areas. Sons of decurions, for instance, inherited the
property from their fathers that qualified them for a curial post, but they did not
technically inherit the office. See Jones 1964: 73940. The rise of local magnates
(some with senatorial status) as informal public officials during the fifth and sixth
centuries also could have blurred the lines between the inheritance of property and
office holding. For Western postcurial civic government, see Liebeschuetz 2001:
12436 and Wickham 2005: 596602.
It could engender bloody conflict. See Chapter 6 on the Laurentian schism.
Innocent, Epp. 2 and 6 reprising Siricius, Ep. 5.
Innocent, Epp. 2.9.12 and 6.1.2.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

clergy did not inherit their offices and thus did not need to reproduce.
Whether Innocent was alarmed about one bishop choosing his own suc-
cessor, his child no less, is unclear (most scholars think he was solely con-
cerned with clerical continence).121 But his successor, Hilarus, experi-
enced firsthand the dangers inherent in a dynastic model of succession. In
an extant letter from Ascanius, the bishop of Tarragona, Hilarus learned
about the inappropriate conditions under which the see of Barcelona had
been handed down from one bishop to another.122 The former bishop
Nundinarius had evidently bequeathed his personal wealth as well as his
office to a bishop from another city named Irenaeus.123 In a response
to Ascanius dated to 465, Hilarus judged the appointment to be illegal,
not only because it violated a Nicene canon that forbade transfers of
bishops from one city to another but also because clerical offices were
not inheritable.124
We might ignore this case as nothing more than an impudent act
of a provincial bishop, were it not for the fact that Hilarus decided to
make Ascanius query a topic of a Roman Synod in 465. There Hilarus
underscored the inappropriateness of bishops naming their successors on
their deathbeds:

Finally, some think that the episcopate, which is not given except to
those who excel in merit, is not a divine office (divinum munus) but an
inherited gain (haereditarium . . . compendium), and believe that, just as
transitory things (res caducas) so the priestly office (sacerdotium) can be
handed down as if through the right of legacy or testament. For many
bishops in the throes of death are known to substitute others designated
by name in their place, with the result that there is undoubtedly no
expectation for a legitimate selection, but the gratification of the dead
is held instead of the approval of the people.125

Gryson 1970: 13660; Cochini 1990: 25559; and Heid 2001: 26367. None of the
studies observes the subtle difference between Innocents response and that of his
predecessor, however.
Hilarus, Ep. 14. In the letter, Nundinarius is the episcopus Barcinonensium civitatis, a
place name that I interpret as the city of the Barcelonians; however, there are
variants in the manuscripts. See Thiel 1868: 157, n. 4.
Hilarus, Ep. 16.1. Contra Jones 1964: 916, Irenaeus was clearly already a bishop when
Nundinarius selected him as his heir.
Hilarus, Ep. 16.23.
Hilarus, Ep. 15.3.4 (ed. Thiel 1868: 162): Denique nonnulli episcopatum, qui non-
nisi meritis praecedentibus datur, non divinum munus sed haereditarium putant esse
compendium, et credunt, sicut res caducas ita sacerdotium velut legati aut testa-
menti iure posse dimitti. Nam plerique sacerdotes in mortis confinio constituti in

Cultivating the Clerical Household

As Hilarus recorded statement at the council suggests, it was not just

one dying Spanish bishop who mistook the episcopal office for fleeting
objects (res caducas) and held that they were transmissible by the earthly
conventions of trusts and wills. Many bishops (plerique sacerdotes) appar-
ently thought it appropriate to treat their church as if it actually were their
household, its responsibilities to be distributed to their chosen favorites
rather than to men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit and elected by
the clergy and people. The possibility that a bishop might treat an office
as his own personal property was yet another reason to question the
integration of traditional practices of oikonomia within the administration
of the episcopal church. As Hilarus put it in his response to the Spanish
clergy, let the episcopal honor not be deemed a hereditary right, which
is conferred upon us through the singular favor of our God, Christ.126
We must read Hilarus condemnation of dynastic principles with his
immediate predecessor Leos experimentation with them, in his sermons
on St. Peter and the transmission of his authority to successive Roman
bishops. On September 29, 441, Leo delivered the first of four extant
addresses preached on the anniversary of his consecration in 440.127
Among his audience were local and visiting clergy, who had traveled
to Rome to attend what would become an annual synod. In the first
sermon, Leo sketched a model of episcopal succession that animated his
thoughts for the next few years. Addressing the clergy directly, Leo spoke
of Peters presence in Rome and of his own relationship to Romes great
apostolic founder. It was in Leo himself, Peters unworthy heir (inparis
haeres) and the current occupier of his seat, that the apostles enduring
authority was instantiated.128 On a certain level, Leos claim to be the
heir of Peter, to whom Christ had entrusted the keys to the kingdom of
heaven and the power to bind and loose, is unremarkable. Many of his
predecessors had expressed their authority in terms of apostolic succes-
sion, a very ancient tradition that was modeled partly on the institution
of inheritance.129 Inheritance was also a favored topos of Leo; he used it
to describe the relationship of Christians to God, referring to them as the
locum suum feruntur alios designates nominibus subrogare; ut scilicet non legitima
exspectetur electio, sed defuncti gratificatio pro populi habeatur assensu.
Hilarus, Ep. 16.3.4 (ed. Thiel 1868: 167): nec episcopalis honor hareditarium ius
putetur, quod nobis sola dei nostri benignitate Christi confertur.
Sermons 15, with the first preached on the actual date of the consecration.
Leo, Sermon 2.2. Cf. Sermons 3.4 and 5.4.
Siricius, Ep. 1 pr.1; Innocent, Ep. 25pr. 2; and Zosimus Ep. 12. Apostolic succession
was, of course, modeled largely on the relationship between teachers and the trans-
mission of knowledge in philosophical schools (i.e., the diadoche). But see Tertullian,

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Lords adopted children who will inherit his promise to Abraham.130 As

Walter Ullmann noted, however, an explicit claim to being Peters haeres
was another matter altogether.131 In Roman law, the heir was considered
to be legally indistinguishable from the testator; he (or she) assumed the
deceaseds rights and obligations and was expected to carry them out as
if he were the testator himself.132 Far more explicitly than his predeces-
sors, Leo conceived the Roman church as a dynastic institution, which
Peter continued to govern through his unworthy heirs, the bishops
of Rome. Leos idea was the most radically domestic vision of episcopal
succession yet outlined by a Roman bishop.
It was perhaps too radical for some. Although few would have demured
at the Roman bishops claim for a unique relationship to Peter, many
might have been uncomfortable with the transmission of clerical author-
ity especially episcopal authority through such an earthly modality
of succession. This discomfort would help to explain why Leo saw the
need to clarify precisely what he envisioned by a Petrine dynasty. Just
two years later, in another anniversary sermon preached in 443, Leo
opened with what was effectively a disclaimer: unlike the Old Testament
priestly line founded by Aaron, the model emulated by Christian clergy
was forged by Melchizedek, the Hebrew priest widely recognized by Leo
and other early Christian writers as a figure of Christ.133 Melchizedeks
order of priests, Leo explained, runs not by the line of birth, nor is that
which flesh and blood created; it is chosen (eligitur), but without regard
to the privilege of paternity and succession by family order.134 Bishops
therefore are not selected on account of their earthly origins; rather, he
concluded, it is the condescension of divine grace which creates the

Praes. haer. 32, who also used testamentary language to describe the mechanics of
apostolic succession.
Leo, Serm. 26.2, 30.7, 63.2.
Ullmann 1960: 3336.
Buckland 1963: 31617.
Leo, Sermon 3.1 (CC 138: 1011): . . . sed secundum ordinem Melchisedech (Heb.
6:20 and 7:11) in quo aeterni pontificis forma praecessit. Sermon 5.3 returns to
Melchizedek and his priesthood as a model for Rome.
Leo, Serm. 3.1 (CC 138: 11): Denique cum huius divini sacerdotii sacramentum etiam
ad humanas pervenit functiones, non per generationum tramitem curritur, nec quod
caro et sanguis creavit eligitur, sed cessante privilegio partum et familarum ordine
praetermisso. . . . (Trans. adapted from Feltoe 1895: 1167).
Leo, Sermon 3.1 (CC 138: 11): dignatio caelestis gratiae gignat antistitem.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

Leo therefore came to share his successors uneasiness with dynasty as

a model for the transmission of episcopal authority and office. In fact,
in other letters to metropolitans, Leo chastised bishops such as Hilarius
of Arles, who evidently made appointments without the consensus of
the entire clergy and people.136 However, while Hilarus rejected out-
right the application of inheritance to an ecclesiastical context, Leo still
embraced its core principle, at least for Rome. The idea that Peter,
Christs appointed guardian of the church, was present through the liv-
ing figure of a Roman bishop Peters mystically designated heir, but not
his blood kin was a powerful argument, especially when made before
an audience of Italian bishops.
The very different contexts of Hilarus and Leos comments on inher-
itance and succession help to explain their distinctive positions. Leo
selected a dynastic theme for his anniversary sermons precisely because
they were preached before suffragan clergy. In this setting, Leo thought
that the ethics of estate management could be carefully adapted to an
episcopal framework as long as their more dangerous implications (e.g.,
the monopoly of episcopal authority by a single family) were neutralized.
In Leos formulation, claiming to be the heir of Peter was both mysti-
cal and utterly mundane, and it pertained exclusively to the authority of
Roman bishops. Alternatively, Hilarus addressed the concrete application
of dynastic principles to the transmission of episcopal offices in other sees.
In his opinion, bishops had to differentiate between the worldly prac-
tice of transmitting property and authority within a household, and the
mysterious act of God conferring the episcopal honor on his chosen
The debate between Leo and Hilarus on the appropriateness of
inheritance as a paradigm for transmitting episcopal authority and office
did not end with Hilarus death in 468. Although some resisted the
introduction of dynastic principles into the church order, others seem
to have adopted them. To be sure, episcopal succession in the Roman
church, as in other sees in the West, still undoubtedly involved some par-
ticipation by the clergy and laity.137 That their participation amounted

Leo, Epp. 10.6 and 14.5. Although pressing for the harmonious consent of the people
and clergy in other sees, Leo nevertheless did not say that they were the bodies that
chose him as bishop, pace Norton 2007: 43.
Norton 2007: 415, 161, and passim. See also Gryson 1980a, who suggests that
episcopal elections were more democratic in the West. His analysis is rather vague
about the process and constituencies involved, and in any case, it pertains only to the
fourth century.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

to a genuine election in the democratic sense of the term is unlikely,

however. Select groups of clergy and local laypeople probably gave sup-
port to a particular candidate, who in turn had to be accepted by the
majority of the citys clerics and elites.138 Their consent was needed for
pragmatic purposes, if nothing else.139 In any event, although no single
family or group of families monopolized the Roman See in the period
under discussion, it became increasingly common for individual bishops
to engineer the nomination of their successors.140
In fact, evidence suggests that late fifth- and sixth-century Roman
bishops expected to appoint their successors. In 483, the dying Sim-
plicius issued an admonitio requesting that his successor be chosen by a
council of clergy in consultation with a leading senator and praetorian
prefect of Italy, Caecina Decius Maximus Basilius.141 Simplicius evi-
dently believed that his own role in the determination of a successor
was authoritative and acceptable. The episcopal appointment of a suc-
cessor was also assumed in ecclesiastical legislation promulgated at the
499 Roman Synod, a council held in the wake of the double elections
of Symmachus and Laurentius in 498. Under the leadership of Sym-
machus, the synod outlined instructions for how to proceed in the event
that a bishop died before naming a replacement.142 (Not incidentally,
this was precisely what had happened in 498, when Anastasius II died
unexpectedly.) It is also likely that Symmachus, Hormidas, and John II
had nominated their successors, while Felix IV named Boniface II from
his deathbed at a private meeting of supporters in 530.143 In a signed
testamentary document dictated before a small audience of clergy and
senators, Felix explained how in the event of his death, God had cho-
sen Boniface to govern the church.144 He then stated that he handed
down (tradidi) his pallium to Boniface, adding that anyone opposing his

This seems to have been the situation in the case of double elections in Rome.
Violence could erupt when a community rejected their bishop. When Paul of Nepi
was temporarily appointed by Gregory to oversee the church of Naples, he was
brutally attacked by opponents of his leadership. See Gregory, Epp. 2.23; 3.12.
Richards 1979: 9596 and 12226.
Simplicius admonitio is referenced in a scriptura read aloud at a Roman ecclesiastical
council convened by Symmachus on Nov. 6, 501: Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA
12, 445). See Chapter 6.
Acta syn. a. CCCCVIIII (MGH AA 12, 4025).
Hormisdas, John I, and Agapitus assumed the episcopal office less than a week after
the deaths of their predecessors, suggesting that they too had already been appointed.
The praeceptum issued by Felix IV is extant in a document discovered in the nineteenth
century. See Duchesne 1883 and Pietri 1981a: 46465.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

judgment would be excommunicated. Boniface II similarly perceived the

selection of a successor as an episcopal prerogative and even attempted
to institutionalize the practice. At a local synod held at St. Peters before
his death in 532, Boniface pronounced the right for bishops to name
their successors.145 The attending clergy ratified his decision by signing
their names to the decree and swearing oaths to uphold it. Thereafter,
Boniface, himself probably the son of a Gothic senator, named another
Roman senatorial cleric to the office, the deacon Vigilius.146
The system of transference adopted by these bishops suggests new
cultural expectations about power. Of the prelates mentioned above, five
were members of the senatorial or provincial aristocracy.147 For them,
it seemed only natural that a bishop should have a direct hand in the
selection of his successor. For one, most posts in the late Roman civil
administration were obtained through appointment; even on the local
level, there were few elected officials in late antique Italy.148 Patronage was
also still highly significant in terms of a mans access to and advancement
within the imperial bureaucracy.149 It is hard to imagine that it did not also
influence the selection process of Roman bishops, especially given the
fact that all of Romes fifth and sixth-century bishops were former priests
or, more commonly still, deacons.150 In some cases, we know of close
working relationships between bishops and their successors, such as with
Symmachus and his archdeacon Hormisdas and with Pelagius II and his
deacon Gregory. More significantly, dynastic principles had long defined
succession within the imperial household. Although many factors often
prevented emperors from choosing their successors, inheritance (which
was rarely limited to biological heirs) remained both an ideal and viable
structure through which imperial power was transferred.
Finally, the dynamics of domestic authority also operated according
to dynastic principles to a certain extent. Sons and daughters, of course,
did not inherit from their parents the legal right to become a paterfa-
milias or to head their own household. They did, however, inherit the
property that made such legal and social status meaningful. Whereas the
inheritance of the episcopal office violated several rules and traditions, it

LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 281).
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 296). Bonifaces choice, however, did not go through.
Vigilius would not become bishop until Justinian appointed him in 537.
See Chapter 3.
Jones 1964: 739.
Kelly 2004: 4451.
Richards 1979: 24960.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

still adhered to a paradigm of heirship indeed, enough so that fifth- and

sixth-century churchmen also used a quasi-legal vocabulary of inheri-
tance to describe both the spiritual mystery of apostolic succession and a
more mundane process of episcopal selection.
For men like Felix III, Anastasius II, Hormisdas, Boniface II, and
Vigilius, who grew up within a world structured by these ideas and prac-
tices, the episcopal office thus could be legitimately transmitted by means
of inheritance, wherein the living bishop selected his successor. In this
respect, the Roman See was not so different from other major western
episcopates. Such principles and even outright nepotism governed epis-
copal succession in late fifth- and sixth-century Gaul. Caesarius of Arles,
a man of aristocratic status, was the close relative of the preceding bishop
and was groomed by his kinsman to take over his see. Similarly, Avitus
of Vienne (494523) informally inherited the episcopate from his father,
Hesychius, Viennes former bishop. The late antique Roman church was
never aristocratized to the same extent as the Gallic sees, however.151
As we shall see in the following chapter, not all endorsed the assimilation
of the domestic with the ecclesiastical including clergy of the Roman
church and members of the Italian aristocracy.

Roman bishops perceived the clerical household as a social space over
which ideally they should exercise a more exacting and invasive form
of control. The embedding of marital restrictions within the clerical
cursus, networks of spies taking note of their local bishops trysts, oath
taking, letter writing, bookkeeping regiments, and forged synodal acts
were all used to define the clerical household as part of the bishops
church. No breach of ethics and laws governing the clerical domus was
too small or unseemly for episcopal attention. On the contrary, Romes
prelates saw the misunderstanding and violation of episcopal directives
as opportunities for direct intervention in the quotidian lives of their
suffragan clergy. Although their responses do not amount to a universal
papal plan, they reveal a collective interest among fifth- and sixth-
century Roman bishops in establishing their government of the clerical
household as normative and legitimate.
By all accounts, however, this was an extraordinarily challenging goal.
Procreation and property remained central to the discourse of oikonomia

See Heinzelmann 1976.

Cultivating the Clerical Household

in late Roman Italy, and the households of clergy were no exception.

Although Christian authorities in Rome and elsewhere tried to distin-
guish the clerical household from other models of domesticity, their
efforts frequently rubbed against contemporary social realities, finan-
cial needs, and cultural expectations. Bishops and clergy continued to
defy ecclesiastical rules governing the clerical household well into the
early seventh century. No Roman bishop or Christian emperor could
eliminate the traditional (a Roman might even say natural) connection
between marriage, procreation, and proprietary interests. Roman bish-
ops were not immune to its pull, as their reactions to dynastic principles
and episcopal succession show. In fact, these precise tensions between
old and new models of oikonomia erupted in one of Romes most intense
and bloodiest ecclesiastical schisms: the Laurentian schism, the subject of
the following chapter.

Chapter 6

Mistrusting Th e Bish op:

Succession, Stewardsh ip, and
Sex in th e Laurentian Sch ism

Indeed no one judges a master in his treatment of a slave!1

hus spoke bassus, ex consul, householder and episcopal critic.

T His sharp rebuke was aimed at Xystus III, the mid-fifth-century
Roman bishop who had audaciously interfered in the running of another
mans domus. A dispute had arisen in Bassus house between a young man
named Epifanius, who claimed to be a freeborn nobleman and ward of
the dominus, and the aristocrats slaves, and Bassus had sided with the servi.
To add insult to injury, Bassus refused to acknowledge Epifanius freeborn
status. When Xystus came to the house to intercede on the young mans
behalf, Bassus rudely dismissed him, metaphorically slamming the door
in the bishops face by denying him the right to participate in a laymans
domestic affairs.
Although this incident is entirely fictitious, appearing in an early sixth-
century narrative about a trial involving Xystus III and two imaginary
aristocratic householders, it expresses the enormous tension and ill will
that sometimes characterized the relationship between householders and
bishops in late antique Rome.2 Earlier chapters examined some rhetor-
ical and practical means through which Roman bishops endeavored to
establish their authority as estate managers with respect to lay house-
holds and the domus of clergy. Although their successes were outlined,
their limitations and even failures were also emphasized. We have yet to
explore more openly stated objections to this particular permutation of
episcopal leadership, however, nor have we addressed in any detail the
Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 264).
On the Gesta de Xysti purgatione and its grouping among the so-called Symmachan
Forgeries, see Sessa 2007: 8588 and below.

Mistrusting The Bishop

many dissonances between domestic and ecclesiastical models of estate

management. These dissonances made it difficult for lay people and cler-
ics to trust their bishop in some of the most sensitive areas of household
life, such as the administration of ecclesiastical property and the discipline
of the body. In many respects, the bishops role as a householder-steward
was extraordinarily controversial.
This chapter places these conflicts and disjunctions at the center of
discussion, giving particular focus to their significance in one of Romes
most infamous ecclesiastical events, the Laurentian schism (498506/7).
The Laurentian schism began in the late fall of 498, with the double
election and consecration of two bishops, the archdeacon Symmachus
(the ultimate winner of the conflict) and the archipresbyter Laurentius.
Disagreements over episcopal candidates were common in late antiq-
uity, and the Roman church had been divided before.3 This particular
schism, however, escalated not only into violent conflict on the streets of
Rome but also into several grave challenges to Symmachus legitimacy,
which led to his temporary loss of control over many urban Roman
churches, including the Lateran. The charges prompted the Ostrogothic
king Theodoric to have Symmachus tried by an ecclesiastical tribunal
in Rome, where he was ultimately declared beyond judgment by the
attending Italian bishops.4 Long recognized as a conflict over (among
other things) the alienation of church property, the Laurentian schism
has never been interpreted as a debate over the nature of Roman episco-
pal authority itself and its proper relationship to the precepts and practices
of oikonomia.5 Contestations over the trustfulness of a bishop as the stew-
ard of the church were among the primary issues driving clerics and
laypeople to schism in early sixth-century Rome.


The Laurentian schism was hardly the first moment in Romes eccle-
siastical history when its bishops domestic expertise was questioned.
There were at least three earlier double elections producing Roman schism: Cornelius
and Novatus (251253); Damasus and Ursinus (366); and Boniface and Eulalius (418
419). Imperial intervention was required in the second two cases. See Pietri 1976:
40918, 45260.
Modern narratives of the Laurentian schism include Caspar 193033: 87118; Richards
1979: 7799; Moorhead 1992: 11439; Wirbelauer 1993: 943; and Sardella 1997:
Pietri 1981a: 459; Amory 1997: 2045; Sardella 1997: 7986; and Hillner 2007.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

According to a hostile account, Damasus waged a persecution in the city

against a group of ascetic priests (possibly followers of the ultra-Nicene
Lucifer of Cagliari) who ministered to private households.6 One of them,
Marcarius, was leading nocturnal vigils within a domus when Damasus
henchmen a group of the bishops clergy cum officialibus barged into
the house, dispersed the vigil, and arrested Marcarius.7 Here is possibly a
case in which a Roman bishop brazenly assaulted the religious agency of
a Christian householder, who had opened up his home to a priest and a
larger group of worshippers. Of course, the groups alleged doctrinal sta-
tus greatly compromised the situation. From Damasus perspective, these
were not pious Christians but Luciferians.8 Ecclesiastical and impe-
rial legislation increasingly characterized private households as places
of nefarious religious practice and therefore as sites requiring aggres-
sive episcopal oversight.9 Damasus undoubtedly saw himself as acting in
accordance with both Christian and civic priorities when he sent his
strongmen into this domus to terminate the rituals performed therein.
From his critics perspective, however, the bishops actions were con-
comitant with a tyrannical episcopal authority over the private home,
which recognized neither its own limits nor its corrupt worldliness.10
Gelasius letters reveal similar (although less violent) moments of deep
antipathy between householders and bishops. He was clearly exasper-
ated by the insubordination of elite villa owners, who blithely dedicated
and used their private estate chapels without following his rules.11 Their
negligence suggests that some Christian possessores were less than enthu-
siastic about Romes interventions within their homes. The bishop also
encountered animus from Hostilius, the Campanian comes who protested
the marriage of a young women (probably his ward) to an unnamed cleric
or church official.12 Gelasius, as mentioned previously, had defended the
marriages integrity on the grounds of its publication through a veiling
ceremony, but in so doing he deliberately sidestepped the comes seri-
ous accusation that the girl had been abducted (rapta). As both men
Faustinus and Marcellinus, Libellus precum 7778.
The officiales were officials (perhaps the local police force) associated with maintaining
civic order. Canellis 2006: 185, n. 1.
Faustinus and Marcellinus, Libellus precum 84.
Maier 1995, 1995a and Bowes 2008: 196202.
Cf. Faustinus and Marcellinus, Libellus precum 83 and 108 and Bowes 2008: 20002.
Gelasius, Ep. 33 (ed. Thiel 1868: 448), where he contemptuously commented on the
founders [who] spring forth with furtive intrusions contrary to the established rules.
Gelasius, Ep. 73 (ed. Ewald 1880: 5623). On Hostilius and the ecclesiae homo, see
Chapter 4.

Mistrusting The Bishop

undoubtedly knew, abduction marriages were illegal in late antiquity,

even if families often quietly recognized them as legitimate unions after
the fact.13 If the abductor had been a cleric, the crime was doubly seri-
ous, because the bishops at Chalcedon in 451 called for the anathema-
tization of clergymen who kidnapped their brides.14 The highly ques-
tionable circumstances of the marriage ignited a serious dispute between
Hostilius and Gelasius over the bishops role in condoning a possibly illicit
union.15 Rather than settling the conflict to assuage tensions between
domus and ecclesia, however, Gelasius aggressively asserted his authority
over the aristocratic householder, threatening to report Hostilius to the
king and suspend him from communion unless he dropped the case.16
Around the same time, Gelasius faced collective outrage from a group
of aristocratic householders in Rome (certain men sitting in their
houses), who had publicly censured the bishop for his laxity in dis-
ciplining a young cleric.17 The clergyman had committed adultery and
in the laymens view had not been adequately punished by his bishop.18
In response to their rebuke of his oikonomia, Gelasius launched a famously
vitriolic attack on his critics participation in the Lupercalia, an ancient
fertility rite that was evidently still performed by Romes leading Chris-
tian families in the late fifth century.19 Whether impugning the house-
holders ritual traditions was successful remains unclear, but Gelasius
pulled no punches in his condemnation of their spiritual adultery.20
Gelasius standing among the regions domini was at the very least ques-
tionable, especially regarding his oversight of clergy and their domestic
activities. While he could be accommodating to elite householders, Gela-
sius could also be autocratic and imperious, as his responses to Hostilius
and the Roman domini show.

Evans Grubbs 1989 and 1995: 18393; Beaucamp 1990: 1.10721; and Arjava 1996:
Chalcedon (451), c. 27. Otherwise, bishops tended to be tolerant toward abduction
marriages, if the families accepted them. Evans Grubbs 1989: 7276 and Arjava 1996:
Only Gelasius response is extant, but it suggests that Hostilius strongly protested the
situation and held Gelasius accountable.
Gelasius, Ep. 73 (ed. Ewald 1880: 563).
Gelasius, Ep. 100.1 (CSEL 35: 453): sedent quidam in domibus suis. I consider Gelasius
to have authored this letter, but some scholars attribute it to his immediate predecessor
Felix III and date it to the late 480s or early 490s. See Duval 1977: 24650.
Gelasius, Ep. 100.12, and 68 (CSEL 35: 45355).
Holleman 1974; Duval 1977; and McLynn 2008.
Gelasius, Ep. 100.3 (CSEL 35: 454).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

As Gelasius chosen archdeacon (and probably his hand-picked suc-

cessor), Symmachus might have inherited his predecessors prickly rep-
utation for domestic matters. More damning still, he might have been
associated with Gelasius notoriety for negligence when it came to the
discipline of wayward clerics whose civil crimes could be and typically
were judged by the bishop a legal twist that undoubtedly further exas-
perated Gelasius critics.21 In any case, Symmachus encountered imme-
diate resistance when a rival faction elected an older titular priest to the
episcopate just hours after he had been raised to the see.


Past scholars have explained the causes and conflicts of the Lauren-
tian schism in terms of theology and high politics. According to most
studies, Symmachus and Laurentius represented diametrically opposed
positions on the Acacian schism (484519). The Acacian schism was a
dispute between Chalcedonians and Monophysites over the acceptance
of a Christological compromise engineered by the imperial government,
and on the question of rapprochement between East and West over the
issue.22 Others have emphasized the role of the senate as a unified social
and political body in the direction of Roman ecclesiastical affairs.23 None
of these explanations, however, takes seriously (if at all) the actual charges
that were leveled against Symmachus by his opponents, some of which
were subsequently adjudicated in a series of ecclesiastical synods held
in Rome between 499 and 502.24 According to the so-called Lauren-
tian Fragment, an early sixth-century account of Symmachus episcopate
likely composed by his opponents, the Roman bishop was accused of fol-
lowing the wrong calendar to compute the date of Easter, of conducting
sexual relations with multiple women, and of improperly administering
A bishops right to judge even the secular crimes of clergy was tied to his exercise of
privilegium fori. See Selb 1967: 214-7.
Duchesne 1925: 11213; Caspar 193033: 2. 8491; Townsend 1937: 23359; Chad-
wick 1967: 20010; Zecchini 1980: 60; Richards 1979: 92ff; Moorhead 1992: 12526;
13435; Noble 1993; and Sardella 1997: 812 (although with reservations, see below).
Picotti 1958 and Pietri 1981a.
Emphasized by Amory 1997: 2045. The only late ancient author to connect the
schism to tensions with the East and the Acacian schism was Theodore the Lector
(HE 2.17 [PG 86.19293]), a Constantinopolitan who wrote during the early sixth

Mistrusting The Bishop

ecclesiastical property.25 The accusations raised against Symmachus here

and in other sources suggest that underlying this schism was not theol-
ogy, imperial politics, or conflict between clerics and the senate, but a
crisis of trust and legitimacy that struck at the very bases of episcopal
leadership in late antique Rome: stewardship, succession, and clerical
sexual discipline.26 In short, the causes of the Laurentian schism were
domestic and revolved primarily around debates over the ideal relationship
between oikonomia and episcopal authority.

The Events of the Laurentian Schism: A Brief Synopsis27

The Laurentian schism began with the double consecration of two bish-
ops in November of 498, first Symmachus at the Lateran basilica, and
then Laurentius at the church of St. Maria Maggiore. Shortly after,
Theodoric summoned both men to Ravenna to determine the outcome:
Symmachus, he decided, was the legitimate bishop because he had been
consecrated first and appeared to have the majority of supporters. (Not
incidentally, Symmachus enemies accused the prelate of bribing court
officials to achieve this result.) Both men then returned to Rome and for
the next year and a half peacefully fulfilled their respective ecclesiastical
duties. Symmachus continued to hold the episcopal office and on March
1, 499 convened the first of three councils to consider problems of epis-
copal leadership and domestic administration. Symmachus, the attending
bishops, and local clergy discussed the process of episcopal succession at
this council and concluded that Roman clerics would normally play
no direct role. Laurentius not only attended the synod of 499 but also
signed the official acta, his imprimatur at least suggesting support for

The Laurentian Fragment features several Roman episcopal biographies (similar to
the LP in form) that were executed sometime between 514 and 519. For the text, see
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 4446) with an English translation by Davis 1989: 97100.
Of note, the Easter dating controversy did not arise, at least directly, in any of the
councils held in conjunction with the schism.
I summarize recent chronologies of the Laurentian schism presented by Wirbelauer
(1993: 2122) and endorsed by Sardella (1997: 2728). In his reexamination of the
records from the councils, Wirbelauer built on the long-recognized observation that
the order and dating of the synods presented in Mommsens edition (MGH AA
12, 395455) are partially erroneous. Nevertheless, as Noble stresses (1993: 408), all
reconstructions of the events of the Laurentian schism are hypothetical given the
confusing state of the evidence.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Symmachus.28 For the next six months, the Roman church was polit-
ically stable, and Symmachus faced little opposition. In his role as the
citys chief Christian official, he participated in Theodorics celebratory
visit in 500.29
The situation changed during the first half of 501. In the winter
or summer of that year, a group of opponents presented Theodoric
with the list of charges against Symmachus (enumerated previously).30
Symmachus was once again summoned to Ravenna, but while in route
he abruptly returned to Rome and barricaded himself in St. Peters. Still
Romes bishop, he convened a second council on November 6, 501 at
St. Peters, where with visiting Italian bishops and a much smaller group
of Roman clergy, he investigated the financial accusations.31 Although
the records suggest that Symmachus regarded the synods conclusions as
a victory, his enemies were not persuaded. They returned to Theodoric,
whom they convinced to establish an interim bishop at Rome, Peter
of Altinum.32 They also persuaded the king to convene a third council,
which Symmachus would not attend.33 It was hoped that this third
council would investigate the charges against him more thoroughly. In
a series of meetings culminating in a final session held on October 23,
502, the Italian bishops declared that they could not cast judgment on

Acta syn. a. CCCCXVIIII (MGH AA 12, 419).
Anon. Val. 6569.
On this matter, scholars debate both chronology and catalysts. Wirbelauer (1993: 21)
argues that the charges were filed against Symmachus in the winter of 501, thus before
he would have celebrated Easter on the wrong date of March 25. Sardella (1997:
267) maintains that it was precisely Symmachus celebration of Easter on March 25
(the date calculated using an old Roman system) instead of on April 22 (the date using
the Alexandrian system) that inspired his enemies to present the relatio to Theodoric
sometime in the summer or early autumn of 501.
On the basis of manuscript and prosopographical evidence, Wirbelauer showed that
the November 6 council assembled at St. Peters was not the final synod held in
502 after Symmachus had been declared beyond judgment by the Italian bishops.
Rather, it was the second synod of the schism, convened by Symmachus in 501,
when his legitimacy was still in question. Not all scholars accept this reconstruction:
see Aimone 2000: 6465, who follows the corrected chronology proposed by Picotti
Peter of Altinum could have been installed in Rome only after the conclusion of
the second council in November of 501, because his presence would have divested
Symmachus of the authority to convene such a synod. See Sardella 1997: 2931.
Symmachus tried to attend the first meeting of the third council in 502, but his
entourage met with such violence in the streets that he had to retreat to St. Peters.
Thereafter he refused to travel to the meetings.

Mistrusting The Bishop

Symmachus because of his refusal to attend the hearings and his primatial
status as the bishop of Rome.
Although the synods decision officially exonerated Symmachus (if
only on the grounds of technicalities), it also failed to instill widespread
trust in his legitimacy. Between 502 and 506 or early 507, many of
Romes churches, including the Lateran, remained under the direct con-
trol of Laurentius. Laurentius certainty in his official status propelled
him to have his own portrait painted in the gallery of bishops located
in the basilica of St. Paul on the Via Ostiense.34 During this period, the
schism produced public unrest in Rome, and there are accounts of mur-
ders perpetrated by both sides.35 Symmachus opponents also circulated
a now lost pamphlet that directly challenged the decision reached by the
October 502 synod.36 In addition to criticizing the councils judgment
of Symmachus, the pamphlet reiterated two familiar charges: that Sym-
machus cavorted with women during his hearings, and that he continued
to misappropriate church property.37 The schism ended in late 506 or
507, when Theodoric intervened again and decreed the restitution of all
the citys churches and property to Symmachus.38 Laurentius left Rome
and spent the rest of his life on an estate owned by a senatorial partisan.39
This summary of events reveals several important facts about the
schism. First, with a single exception (the celebration of Easter on the
wrong date), the allegations raised against Symmachus before Theodoric
were the explicit or implicit subjects of the debates adjudicated at the
synods. This demonstrates that, from a Roman perspective, the issues at
hand were not only locally specific but also institutional and ideolog-
ical. They pertained directly to larger questions regarding the Roman
bishops exercise of authority over domestic domains of the church (i.e.,
the succession of bishops, administration of ecclesiastical property, and
disciplining of sexual passions). Second, Symmachus enemies evidently

Wirbelauer 1993: 39. Cf. Cod. Vat. Barb. Lat. 4407, C.4.1 for a seventeenth-century
drawing of the mural with the episcopal medallions, which were destroyed by a fire
in 1823.
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 26061), pro-Symmachan and Frg. Laur. (ed. Duchesne
1955: 1.46), pro-Laurentian.
Its contents are known only from Ennodius refutation, the Libellus adversus eos qui
contra synodum scribere praesumpserunt.
Ennodius, Libellus 65 and 68.
Scholars debate precisely when the Laurentian schism ended. Moorhead 1992: 1245
and Wirbelauer 1993: 3940 advocate for early 507 as the date, but Pietri 1981a: 461
and Sardella 1997: 38 hold that 506 marked its conclusion.
Frg. Laur. (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1.46).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

presented the charges to Theodoric sometime in 501, at least a full year

after he had assumed the episcopal office. This gap shows that it was his
behavior as bishop that catalyzed Symmachus opponents to take their case
to Ravenna. Third and most significantly, none of the three councils fully
resolved the schism.40 In 502, Symmachus was perhaps Romes official
bishop, but his authority was challenged and limited because he had no
control over many of Romes churches and their clergy until 506 or 507,
when Theodoric again intervened on his behalf.

Social Alliances and the Public Relations Battle

Both Symmachus and Laurentius suffered from a legitimacy deficit. Each
had risen to the see in a questionable manner and, more important,
neither could claim a monopoly on clerical, aristocratic, or popular sup-
port. Scholars have long abandoned neat explanatory frameworks for the
various factions in the schism: Laurentius was hardly the aristocratic
choice, nor was Symmachus the pope of the people.41 Moreover,
Symmachus provincial, non-Roman origins hardly impeded his net-
working with blue-blooded senatorial families.42 He and Laurentius both
had extensive senatorial connections.43 Both could also count supporters
from the clergy, and there is little evidence beyond rhetorical convention
to suggest that the people played any role in the events of the schism.44
Similarly, not all deacons supported their archdeacon Symmachus, and
not all priests stood behind the titular archpriest Laurentius.45 Both

As Picotti noted (1958: 7812), even at the final meeting, the bishops did not absolve
Symmachus so much as suspend their judgment of him.
Pietri 1966: 12339 but rethought in 1981a; and Moorhead 1992: 12829.
Aimone 2000: 70.
For their respective aristocratic supporters see Richards 1979: 8089 (who never-
theless maintains that Laurentius was the senatorial candidate); and Sardella 1997:
On the absence of evidence for popular groups independently engaging in violence
during the schism, see T. S. Brown 1998.
At least one Roman deacon initially supported Laurentius: John. His libellus of Septem-
ber 18, 506 addressed to Symmachus, contained an acknowledgment of his error and
an anathematization of Peter of Altinum and Laurentius. See Libellus Iohannis diaconi,
quem obtulit santo papae Symmacho (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 38). Regarding support from
priests, Symmachus faced considerable attrition. Although 74 priests attended the first
Roman synod of 499, only 37 attended the 501 synod. For tallies, cf. Llewellyn 1977:
249, in which the council of 501 is erroneously labeled (by Mommsens edition) as
the council of 502.

Mistrusting The Bishop

factions therefore were mixed groups, composed of priests, deacons,

lower clergy, and aristocratic laymen and women.46 Symmachus and Lau-
rentius were products of a late Roman culture in which clergymen were
increasingly interconnected with members of lay aristocratic households
and vice versa. We have already discussed the aristocratic backgrounds and
connections of several people, such as the bishop Felix III, himself a tit-
ular priests son.47 A growing number of clerics and church officials were
also from elite households, like the priest Benenatus, whose wife was a
clarissima, and the scriniarius Felix, whose family was of senatorial rank.48
Moreover, Roman aristocrats increasingly participated in ecclesiastical
politics during the later fifth and sixth centuries.49 In 495, a senatorial
contingent attended a Roman church council and sat alongside the local
clergy. As early as 483, senators were participating in deliberations over
episcopal succession.50 Symmachus and Laurentius therefore fought for
legitimacy and support in a society marked by complex networks of elite
clergy and regional aristocrats.51
As the events of the Laurentian schism suggest, however, these new
combinations of interests did not always cohere seamlessly. While priests
and deacons might struggle to balance loyalties between their own house-
holds and the church, bishops were supposed to be the citys preeminent
ecclesiastical householders, with ties only to the domus dei. They were
to exercise an elevated and exemplary form of stewardship and self-
discipline, while simultaneously administering an exceptionally well-
ordered house, wherein clergy were subordinates of one domus and not
members of several different households.
These tensions played out not only in the records of the Roman
councils of 499 to 502 but also in the so-called Symmachan Forgeries.
The eleven texts associated with this modern title have been transmitted

See Pietri 1981a: 45763 (who nevertheless holds that clerics and aristocrats were
sociologically distinct); and Sardella 1997: 4170. For general comments in this
vein, see Amory 1997: 2037 and Cooper 1999.
Chapter 3.
Pietri 1981a: 434, n. 77 and 80.
Pietri 1981a: 444454 and Bartlett 2001: 20810.
Senatorial attendance at church councils, cf. Gelasius, Ep. 30 (ed. Thiel 1868: 437).
For participation in the selection of Roman bishops, see the scriptura of 483, discussed
below. Lay aristocrats continued to participate in ecclesiastical politics and decision-
making even during Symmachus later tenure. Cf. Symmachus, Ep. 13 (ed. Thiel
1868: 71722).
Sardella 1997, esp. 10511.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

without authorial attribution.52 Most scholars think that partisans of

Symmachus produced most of the texts, although at least two docu-
ments suggest another point of view, presumably that of Laurentius
supporters.53 As Eckhard Wirbelauer recently argued, the documents
were created as public relation ploys to buttress the claims and legiti-
macy of both sides of the schism.54 Specifically, the texts present a series
of historical precedents designed to ameliorate Symmachus predica-
ment between 502 and 506/7, or alternatively to corroborate his oppo-
nents positions. The eleven documents include three redactions of a
Roman council allegedly convened by Constantine and Silvester in 324,
whose canons have been discussed previously; four letters to and from
Silvester and the bishops at the Council of Nicaea in 325; and four
narrative accounts of ecclesiastical events and trials, in which bishops
are investigated and exonerated of charges bearing a close resemblance
to the allegations leveled against Symmachus during the Laurentian
Several of the Symmachan Forgeries explicitly depict the tribulations
of Romes bishops as conflicts over models of estate management and
domesticity. They describe scenarios in which bishops either exercise
oikonomia in a problematic and/or exemplary manner or interact with
imagined aristocratic householders, whose deplorable domestic habits
contrast sharply with the pious estate management of the Roman bishop.
The texts thus demonstrate that both sides of the Laurentian schism rec-
ognized the centrality of household management in the larger debate
about episcopal authority and ecclesiastical control. To be clear, there is
no incontrovertible evidence linking these sources to this precise con-
text, although the parallels between the developments of the schism
and the fictional events depicted in the forgeries seem too close to be
coincidental. Moreover, their fictional qualities might not have been rec-
ognized, let alone problematized, by their original audiences. The texts
historical claims would have made them powerful public relation tools
in the schism, especially had they been created to provide authoritative
examples from the actions of earlier bishops.

But see Wirbelauer (1993: 72ff ) and Aimone (2000: 7377) for two different attempts
at identifying the authors backgrounds.
See Duchesne 1955: 1.cxxxiii-cxvi; Caspar 193033: 2.10710; Townsend 1933: 172;
Pietri 1966: 12930; and Wirbelauer 1993: 57.
Wirbelauer 1993: 11114. See also Townsend 1933.
Wirbelauer 1993 presents a complete list, discussion, and new edition of the documents
with a German translation.

Mistrusting The Bishop


How should the Roman church choose its bishop? Was succession a
prerogative of the bishop alone, or should a larger body of clerical and
lay participants participate in the process? These questions had arisen fifty
years earlier, when Leo and his successor Hilarus discussed the appro-
priateness of inheritance as a mechanism for transmitting the episcopal
office. The questions became acutely relevant again in 483, when Sim-
plicius sought to resolve the problem by devising a format for succession,
and in 498, when Symmachus and Laurentius were both chosen to be
Romes bishop. Despite claims by scholars to the contrary, Rome (like
most late ancient sees) had not yet developed a single uniform process for
selecting and consecrating its prelates.56 Irregularity and not regularity
seems to have been the norm.57 In the months following Symmachus
successful bid for the episcopate, Romans discussed the process by which
they selected their bishops. Specifically, they debated the appropriateness
of a domestic model for the church, whereby the living bishop and not
the clergy and people selected his successor.58 Symmachus and his sup-
porters clearly favored a dynastic paradigm of episcopal succession. As the
records of the first council of the schism show, however, some Roman
clergy and laypeople protested the adoption of paternalistic principles,
which eclipsed the role of the bishops subordinates and congregants in
the process.
The council gathered at St. Peters on March 1, 499, with seventy
Italian bishops, sixty-seven titular priests, and seven deacons in atten-
dance. In Symmachus recorded words, the council had been convened so
that we might firmly and vigorously cut out unlawful episcopal canvass-
ing, and to ensure that the uncertain confusion and popular unrest that
accompanied his election in 498 would not be repeated in the future.59
The first decree resolved that Roman priests, deacons, and clerics should
not independently engage in virtually any form of political activity that
might constitute a more democratic format of episcopal selection.60
They could not rally officially or unofficially behind a particular

Cf. Pietri 1976: 68182 for Rome and Norton 2007 more generally.
This seems to have been the case throughout the late antique world: see Uhaldes
review of Norton 2007 in CH 77.4 (2008): 102527.
Chapter 5.
Acta syn. a. CCCCXCVIIII (MGH AA 12: 4023).
Acta syn. a. CCCCXCVIIII (MGH AA 12: 4034).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

candidate, nor could they participate in closed-door conventicula, in which

decisions regarding the selections might be made. Whether they were
expected to voice their consent (or disapproval) of the choice after the
fact is not stated in the text. Another pronouncement extended these pro-
hibitions to general canvassing for the episcopate by any person while
the Roman bishop was still living and declared such an act punishable by
The ban on the active solicitation of votes by payment was unquestion-
ably a calculated move on Symmachus part, because his opponents had
accused him of precisely this in 498. To be sure, accusations of improper
canvassing, especially through bribery, in contested political situations
constitute a familiar topos in ancient literature. (In fact, Laurentius sup-
porters were accused of the same crime in a source more favorable to
Symmachus.62 ) In Symmachus case, however, there might actually have
been some truth in the matter. According to several letters written by his
supporter and friend Ennodius, Symmachus began his episcopate with
400 solidi of debt.63
Nevertheless, in removing virtually all viable forms of independent
political action from the episcopal selection process, Symmachus elim-
inated every meaningful manner in which a cleric or layperson might
participate (including questionable forms of political persuasion, like
bribery).64 Effectively, Symmachus privatized the system by removing
it from the more unpredictable realm of the wider Roman ecclesiasti-
cal community, and relocating it exclusively within the domain of the
bishops inner circle. By banning clergy and laypeople from holding small
gatherings (conventicula) and independent lobbying efforts, the bishop
controlled the process.65 Symmachus also expected the Roman bishop
to choose his successor without the intervention of clergy or laypeople.
This expectation is implied in the penultimate decree of the council: If,
may it not be the case, the death of the pope transpires unexpectedly,
so that he is unable to make a decision concerning the selection of his

Acta syn. a. CCCCXCVIIII (MGH AA 12: 404).
Theodore the Lector (HE 2.17) claimed that the Roman senator Festus had bankrolled
Laurentius campaign in 498.
Caspar 193033: 2.88 and Kennell 2000: 4042.
Sardella 1997: 7273 emphasizes this point.
This is not to suggest that Symmachus meant to exclude such groups entirely from
the process. They probably were expected to voice consent for the man chosen by
the previous bishop, and in some cases might have been paid for their support. See
Cassiodorus, Var. 9.1516.

Mistrusting The Bishop

successor, as it is decided above, then, if indeed the vote of the whole

ecclesiastical order is unanimous, let the bishop who is chosen be conse-
crated. . . . 66 In outlining a contingency plan (a vote of the full clergy),
Symmachus underlined his preferred method for determining episcopal
succession: the bishop chose his replacement without any unsanctioned
politicking from clerics and laypeople.67
Symmachus contention, that the oversight of the domus dei should be
transmitted by dynastic principles rather than through the electoral will of
the clergy and people, was hardly idiosyncratic. Four of his successors, we
noted in Chapter 5, received the episcopal office through appointment by
the living bishop, with one of them (Felix IV) literally naming an heir
from his deathbed. His predecessor Simplicius even issued a scriptura on
the subject. According to the document, the bishop had advised his
clergy to consult with a Roman lay aristocrat in the determination of
his successor.68 As Symmachus did, Simplicius assumed that succession
remained largely in the living bishops hands, whose testamentary powers
were so great that he could will the formation of a special conventus to
govern the appointment of a new bishop even after his death.
Although the attending clergy undersigned their names to the acta
of the council, Symmachus preference for a more autocratic model of
institutional self-perpetuation was by no means universally shared. It
was a fair question: should the episcopal office be treated similarly to a
heritable res or a major public officium, which the living bishop as a
paterfamilias or the emperor himself singularly controlled and passed
on to another man of his choosing? Those clerics and laypeople who
regularly engaged in practices prohibited in the decrees (i.e., lobbying,
canvassing, and bribery) clearly held a different opinion on the matter.
While hardly advocates of a democratic system in either the ancient
or modern sense of the term, they did not abide by Symmachus more
extreme paternalistic model, now codified in the records of the church.
They believed that the bishops household should not monopolize a pro-
cess that ideally encompassed the entire Roman church. Consequently,

Acta syn. a. CCCCXCVIIII (MGH AA 12: 404): Si, quod absit, transitus papae
inopinatus evenerit, ut de sui electione successoris, ut supra placuit, non possit ante
decernere, siquidem in unum totius inclinaverit ecclesiatici ordinis electio, consecretur
electus episcopus. . . .
As Townsend noted (1937: 238), the wording of the decree left open the possibility
that the bishop could permit lobbying.
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 445) = Symmachus, Ep. 6 (ed. Thiel 1868:

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

the debate over the appropriateness of dynastic principles in the elec-

tion of a Roman bishop remained at the forefront of the ecclesiastical
controversy. It surfaced once again at the following council of Novem-
ber 6, 501, where the scriptura of 483 was read aloud and its contents

The Scriptura of 483 and the Council of November 6, 501

The extant record of Simplicius decision to create a posthumous con-
ventus for the appointment of his successor is a document characterized
as a scriptura in our records of the council of November 6, 501.69 Its
authorship and contents have been the subjects of spirited debate, not
only among modern historians but also among the participating clergy
at the council. According to the synods records, the scriptura had been
drawn up by Basilius, most likely Caecina Decius Maximus Basilius,
identified in the text as a vir eminentissimus, praetorian prefect, and the
agens vices of Odoacer.70 The association of Basilius with the document
has prompted scholars to draw one of two conclusions: that the scriptura
constituted an official proclamation of the Roman senate or Odoacers
court, which aimed to assert secular control over the process of episcopal
succession,71 and/or that it represented the power of Romes early sixth-
century senatorial aristocracy over ecclesiastical politics.72 Both of these
interpretations hinge on the recorded reactions of the attending bishops
at the Council of 501. They objected to it precisely because it was asso-
ciated with an aristocratic layman whose participation in ecclesiastical
affairs violated the canons.73
Before we consider its later reception, let us first try to understand
its inception in 483. The scriptura was created by a small assembly held at
a mausoleum near St. Peters, over which Basilius might have presided,
either just before or immediately after Simplicius death on March 10.74

The scriptura is no longer extant, but it is cited directly and paraphrased in the pro-
ceedings of the synod.
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 44445). Cf. PLRE 2: 217, Caecina Decius
Maximus Basilius iunior 12, although there are other possible Basilii. See Picotti
1939: 372, n. 46.
Cf. Hefele and Leclerq 190752: 4: 69; Townsend 1933: 253; Pietri 1981a: 45455,
who characterizes the scriptura as cesaropapiste; and Moorhead 1992: 120.
Picotti 1939: 36872 and 1958; and Pietri 1981a: 43032.
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 445).
Richards 1979: 58 identifies this site as the imperial mausoleum, unfortunately without

Mistrusting The Bishop

This assembly was not the senate, although it included at least (but
perhaps no more than) one senator, Basilius, who owned a home on
the Aventine.75 Moreover, it undoubtedly included clergy, for among
other reasons, the punishment it meted out to those violating its pre-
cepts, namely excommunication, was one that only clerics could actually
implement.76 Whereas Basilius might have presided over the group and
composed the document, there is no reason to assume that he single-
handedly masterminded its content or convened the assembly on his own
initiative.77 The scriptura thus ought to be understood not in the high
political sense, as an official document issued by a king, governing body,
or social order, but in a juridical manner, as a testamentary provision
intended to convey Simplicius dying wishes.78 In fact, the term scrip-
tura connotes this precise legal meaning.79 The document, although not
written by the bishop himself, nevertheless presented Simplicius strong
suggestion (admonitione beatissimi viri papae nostri Simplicii) that if it were
to happen that he dies, the selection of any sort of man should not be
celebrated without our consultation.80
When the clergy presented the scriptura to the council in Novem-
ber of 501 (and the proceedings from the synod clearly state that they
were clerics81 ), they presented a document that they believed to be
authoritative precisely because it conveyed the opinions of a former
Roman bishop. They were also undoubtedly encouraged by the fact
that a meeting of the bishops advisors, which included Roman clergy
and the senator Basilius, had generated the text. It would have made

PLRE 2: 217. Pietri claims that the entire senate reunited at the mausoleum for the
assembly (e.g. 1966: 136 and 1981a: 430). The text does not actually state this, and I
see no reason to assume it. In fact, the only senator mentioned in the conciliar records
is Basilius.
The participation of clergy is emphasized by Richards 1979: 58. He also suggests that
leading local bishops attended, but there is no evidence for this.
Pace Picotti 1939 and 1958. Pietri 1978: 33334 suggests that Simplicius handed Basilius
the reins of the church during the bishops illness. Again, this goes against what the
scriptura seems to have implied.
Sardella 1997: 7879 underlines its informal juridical implications, although without
drawing the connection to testamentary provisions. Contra Sardella, however, I think
that the document reflects Simplicius participation, even if he did not write it himself.
Lewis and Short, s.v. scriptura, II.B.2 for its use as a juridical term connoting a
testamentary provision in documents such as CT 16.1.40.
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 445): si eum de hac luce transire contigerit, non
sine nostra consultatione cuiuslibet celebratur electio.
Cf. Symmachus opening statement at the council, where he singles out unnamed
clerici, whom he claims brought the scriptura to the councils attention.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

little sense to offer evidence at a church synod if they did not think
that it was a legitimate, ecclesiastical statement. Among other things, the
clergy presenting the scriptura wished to respond to Symmachus decrees
issued at the Council of 499 on the process of episcopal selection. In
their opinion, the bishop unquestionably had authority to determine his
successor, but he should not exercise this authority autocratically. He
should exercise it instead within the context of another Roman eccle-
siastical tradition, the quasi-domestic conventus, wherein bishops made
important administrative and juridical decisions by consulting with close
advisors. To be sure, Simplicius selection of Basilius as an advisor had
political overtones. He was the praetorian prefect of Italy and a rep-
resentative of Odoacer. Basilius participation thus gave the conventus
luster, political teeth, and a certain ethical imprimatur, wherein its deci-
sions were the product not of secret deliberations held behind closed
doors, but of discussions conducted in a monumental space and attended
by one of Italys most eminent public officials. By invoking this docu-
ment in 501, Symmachus clerical opponents charged him with advo-
cating a paternalistic form of episcopal authority that was simply too
extreme. As the scriptura showed, there was a precedent for the pro-
ductive cooperation between the Roman bishop and a select council
of clerics and elite laypeople, and for a more open forum of episcopal
As noted, the scriptura of 483 was rejected outright at the Council of
501 solely because it reflected a laymans participation in ecclesiastical
affairs and hence its contents on the subject of succession were never
debated.82 According to the records, neither Symmachus nor the attend-
ing bishops commented on the issue of episcopal elections, undoubtedly
because Symmachus ostensibly had resolved the matter back in March
499. The matter was far from settled, however. The Symmachan Forg-
eries suggest that the issue remained at the forefront of the schism.
The Laurentian redaction of the Council of 324 presents prohibitions
against bishops holding private conventicula without the participation
of both clerics and the laity (discussed in Chapter 3) and appointing
their successors before their death. In fact, the canons call for elec-
tions involving the entire church.83 Some Romans evidently remained
unconvinced that inheritance was an appropriate model for selecting their

Sardella 1997: 79.
LK cc. 13 and 18 (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 33032).

Mistrusting The Bishop


At the council of November 6, 501 at St. Peters, Symmachus responded
to another matter closely related to the problem of dynasty and episcopal
succession: the bishops role as the trustworthy steward of ecclesiastical
patrimony. According to the Laurentian Fragment, [Symmachus] was
also accused by the entire Roman clergy of squandering the ecclesiastical
estates in violation of a decree that had been observed by his predecessors
and through this, he ensnared himself in the chains of anathema.84
Symmachus consequently used the council as a venue for clearing his
name and defining his position on this particularly sensitive topic. Again
the scriptura of 483 played a major role. In addition to delineating a model
of episcopal succession, it expressly prohibited bishops from alienating
virtually all property belonging to Roman churches.85 In contrast to the
councils handling of the first issue of succession, wherein Symmachus
and the bishops denounced the scriptura as illegitimate but passed over its
substance in silence, its attendees directly engaged with its discussion of
alienation, taking up this particular charge with great intensity and focus.
As P. A. B. Llewellyn noted long ago, the fact that clergy and not lay
aristocrats raised the charges of financial impropriety against Symmachus
is an important detail.86 Contrary to what some (including Llewellyn)
have claimed, the council did not pronounce on the legal rights of
lay donors who founded churches or gave the alienated properties in
question.87 The clergy at the synod instead participated in an ethical
debate of far more relevance to the ecclesiastical and social world of
late ancient Rome: Who best oversaw and safeguarded the ecclesiastical
donations of the domus dei, its bishop or its titular priests? In charging
Symmachus with the improper alienation of Romes patrimony, clerics
accused him of exercising a morally base form of household management,
one predicated on the principles of possession and self-interest rather
than on stewardship and charity. In their minds, bishops were supposed

Frg. Laur. (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 445): Accusatur etiam ab universo clero Romano
quod contra decretum a suis decessoribus observatum ecclesiastica dilapidasse praedia
et per hoc anathematis se vinculis inretisset. (Trans. adapted from Davis 1989: 98).
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 4467). Movable wealth (e.g., plate and textiles)
was excluded.
Llewellyn (1976: 418 and 1977) and Sardella (1997).
See the key discussion by Hillner 2007, which challenges interpretations by Pietri and

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

to be trusted guardians of their churchs possessions, most of which were

accrued through gifts from donors. Donations of land and other forms
of wealth were spiritual investments that offered a person an opportunity
to improve his or her chances for salvation. For any cleric to exercise his
oikonomia in a manner too much like a landlord and sell off what had
been given to the church for the sake of a soul had potentially grave
consequences both on earth and in the hereafter. In response to these
serious allegations, Symmachus spent much of the council and the next
few years attempting to persuade the Roman community that he was
no malus paterfamilias, but a bishop whose stewardship was ethical and
beneficial. In fact, in Symmachus estimation, it was the titular priests
and other clergy who could not be trusted with the churchs wealth,
and whose subordination to the bishops church demanded continuous

The Ethics of Alienation: When Can You Trust the Bishop?

Symmachus was hardly the first bishop to be accused of alienating eccle-
siastical property. This particular allegation was among the most common
charges of financial malfeasance leveled against bishops in late antiquity.
Although often seen as a categorically illicit act, alienation (i.e., the
transfer, trade, or sale of property) was an important tool of ecclesiastical
administration, because it provided bishops with some degree of finan-
cial flexibility. Ecclesiastical expenses (including taxes) often exceeded
revenues, forcing bishops to make hard decisions about wealth that had
been donated to their churches for their upkeep and other charitable
purposes.88 While their administrative powers did not translate into a
carte blanche (the bishops church did not encompass every ecclesias-
tical foundation within the diocese, and his financial decisions were
monitored by clerical stewards), prelates certainly could (and did) sell
property.89 Nevertheless, alienation remained a complicated matter that
attracted much attention from lawmakers.

Of course, it had long been illegal to buy or sell consecrated property. See Dig. 18.1.72
73. On church finances and alienation, see Jones 1960 and 1964: 89498; Pietri 1978:
33233; Thomas 1987: 5358 (largely on Justinians legislation); and especially Zeisel
1975. I thank Daniel Caner for bringing Zeisels unpublished dissertation to my
On the bishops church as a proprietary entity, see Chapter 3. For clerical stewards
and their oversight of the bishops financial management, see Chapter 5.

Mistrusting The Bishop

Alienation was never prohibited outright in late antiquity (at least in

the West90 ), although imperial and ecclesiastical authorities regulated it.91
Most often it was a matter of controlling the circumstances under which
the sale or transfer could occur. In a letter dated to October 20, 447,
Leo sent a sharply worded response to the bishops of Sicily, wherein he
castigated the prelate of Taormina for having squandered all its estates
by selling, giving away, or otherwise disposing of them.92 The epistle
set forth the following position on alienation: We decree, therefore,
that no bishop without exception shall dare to give away or to exchange
or to sell property of his church, unless he foresees an advantage likely to
accrue from so doing and after consultation with the whole of the clergy, and
with their consent he decides upon what will undoubtedly profit that church.93
Here Leo delimited without fully prohibiting the sale or transference
of ecclesiastical property. According to Leos logic, what distinguished
licit from illicit alienation was the bishops good judgment. Those who
put the needs of the church community first, who generated rather
than lost revenues, and who received the consent of their fellow clergy
could legitimately sell or transfer ecclesiastical property. As Leo carefully
underlined, the stakes involved in this particular domain of episcopal
estate management were enormous: It is wholly just, my dear brothers,
that not only the bishop but also the whole of the clergy should . . . keep
the gifts unimpaired of those who have contributed their own property
to the churches for the well-being of their souls.94
CJ 1.2.14 (Leo and Anthemius at Constantinople, 470) prohibited the alienation of
all church property, but this stricture applied only to the church of Constantinople
and was later abrogated under Justinian.
On the imperial legislation, which largely attempted to shield churches from dilemmas
caused by tax arrears, see Jones 1964: 89688; Marazzi 1998: 8285; and Zeisel 1975.
As Zeisel notes (137), until the mid-fifth century, the state did not restrain the sale or
transfer of ecclesiastical property; henceforth the trend was to delimit rather than to
fully prohibit. On the ecclesiastical legislation, see Jones 1964: 898 and Sardella 1997:
Leo, Ep. 17 (PL 54: 7046): Taurominitanis enim clericis ecclesiae deplorantibus nudi-
tatem, eo quod omnia eius praedia, vendendo, donando, et diversis modis alienando,
episcopus dissiparet. Note that the clergy of Taormina brought their bishops financial
improprieties to Leos attention.
Leo, Ep. 17 (PL 54: 7046): qua sine exceptione decernimus ut ne quis episcopus
de ecclesiae suae rebus audeat quidquam vel donare, vel commutare, vel vendere; nisi
forte ita aliquid horum faciat, ut meliora prospiciat, et cum totius cleri tractatu atque consensu id
eligat, quod non sit dubium ecclesiae profuturum. (Emphasis mine). (Trans. adapted from
Feltoe 1895: 30).
Leo, Ep. 17 (PL 54: 7046): quia plenum iustitiae est, fratres carissimi, ut non solum
episcopi, sed etiam totius cleri . . . et eorum munera illibata permaneant qui pro

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Why Symmachus sold certain properties is unclear. (Some speculate

that he needed cash to pay off debts accrued during his 498 campaign
for the episcopate). In any event, he had evidently violated a recent,
local ecclesiastical enactment on alienation. Unlike the more tempered
rules delineated by Leo in 447 or outlined in roughly contemporane-
ous imperial and (non-Roman) ecclesiastical decrees, the scriptura of 483
all but prohibited alienation, leaving no room for the good (or bad)
judgment of the bishop. Such an extreme position betokens a deep sus-
picion of the financial power lawfully wielded by Roman bishops, since
it was precisely their expansive control of ecclesiastical property that this
document abrogated.95 Like Leo, the authors of the scriptura were wor-
ried about the salvation of the donors. For it is unjust and a form of
sacrilege, the scriptura stated, that those things which someone will
have offered or left behind with certainty to help the venerable churchs
poor for the salvation or the repose of their souls would be transferred
to another by those who are supposed to protect them most of all.96
This argument is distinctly pastoral and speaks of donors in a broad,
generic sense.97 The scriptura claimed that the Roman bishop, in alienat-
ing donated church property, jeopardized a donors chances for salvation.
In the minds of the laypeople and clerics who created the 483 scriptura,
and ostensibly in the mind of Simplicius, whose name appears in the
document, the bishop could not be completely trusted as an estate man-
ager. Both the propensity for corruption and the spiritual implications
were simply too great to grant the bishop unfettered control over church
property. While Leo urged bishops to use their good judgment, invoking
a more classical conceptualization of oikonomia, the authors of the scriptura
held more cynical views about the bishops management of ecclesiastical

animarum suarum salute propriam substantiam ecclesiis contulerunt. . . . (Trans.

adapted from Feltoe 1895: 30).
Richards (1979: 58) and Hillner (2007: 253) suggest that the tight regulation of
episcopal alienation by the scriptura was enacted to curb bribery in the 483 episcopal
elections. This was undoubtedly significant, but the document reveals a more profound
insecurity about the bishops financial powers.
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 44647): Iniquum est enim et sacrilegii instar,
ut quae vel pro salute vel requie animarum suarum unusquisque venerabili ecclesiae
pauperum causa contulerit aut certe reliquerit, ab his, quos hoc maxime servare
convenerat, in alterum transferantur.
As Hillner demonstrates (2007: 25052), the scriptura discussed private donations of
property to the church, and not (as many scholars have long argued) the original
foundation of titular churches by lay people.

Mistrusting The Bishop

There were certainly manifold reasons to mistrust the Roman bishop

in this sensitive domain. Bishops often confused their churchs prop-
erty with their own private patrimony, a tendency that was undoubt-
edly exacerbated by the fact that many held the episcopal office while
simultaneously managing their own personal households, replete with
wives, children, and slaves. The line between ownership and stewardship,
although clear in theory, was in practice far more fissiparous. Nundinar-
ius of Barcelona, we recall, saw nothing irregular about bundling private
property with an ecclesiastical office, and the Italian bishop Zacheus
had no problem leaving sixty pounds of his churchs gold to his heirs.98
Whether Symmachus behavior truly merited such mistrust is in certain
respects irrelevant (although there is no reason to doubt the verity of the
accusations). Nevertheless, what matters is that a significant population
of Romes clergy and lay aristocracy perceived him to be an unethical
steward. He had to respond to these perceptions, because accusations of
poor household management placed his authority as bishop in question.
Consequently, Symmachus response to the scriptura foregrounded
matters of trust, stewardship, and episcopal authority:
I want, if welcomed, to make the matter firm regarding what I believe
is appropriate for ecclesiastical properties, so all will know, who empty
anger has incited against me, that I desire nothing more than that what has
been entrusted to me under the stewardship of God may be kept safe, but also
that it ought to be acceptable to any God-fearing successors whatsoever
and extend to the guardianship of ecclesiastical patrimony.99
Here Symmachus showcased his propriety as the churchs watchman.
After largely reiterating the scripturas ban on alienation, Symmachus
amended it in several significant ways. First, he extended the freedom to
dispose of urban properties to all future bishops, because these were often
expensive to maintain. Only rural praedia, arguably the most valuable
possessions of the early sixth-century Roman church, could not be sold
or transferred.100 Second, he prohibited the financial tool of usufruct,
whereby an owner transferred the use (but not the ownership) of property
Hilarus, Epp. 1416. On Zacheus, see Gelasius, Ep. 43 (ed. Ewald 1880: 520). Both
discussed in Chapter 5.
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 448): volo, si placet, rem fieri firmam, quam
credo ecclesiasticis facultatibus convenire, ut agnoscant omnes, quos in me vanus
furor excitavit, nihil me magis studere, quam ut salvum esse possit quod mihi est a deo sub
dispensatione commissum, sed etiam quibuslibet successoribus deum timentibus gratum
esse debeat et ad ecclesiatici custodiam patrimonii pertinere. (Emphasis mine).
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 44849).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

to a person for a period.101 Symmachus exempted only cases when the

arrangement went to the support of clerics, pilgrims, or the ransoming
of captives.102 Implements like usufruct, he explained, often serve as a
pretext for bad management; there were, he added, many other ways in
which the church might show its generosity.
Symmachus, in other words, turned a damning charge of financial
malfeasance into a demonstration of his own exemplary stewardship.
By responding to the scriptura on his own terms terms, scholars have
observed, closely cohering to the original documents ethics of guardian-
ship and salvation103 Symmachus not only showed the attending bishops
and clergy that he controlled the churchs property. But he also under-
lined his own expertise as a trustworthy and experienced estate manager,
who protected his households most sacred gifts even from well-meaning

Competing for Trust: Symmachus, the Priests, and the

Administration of the Tituli
Indeed Symmachus boldest move was to extend the logic of the scriptura
to those whom Llewellyn identified as his direct competitors and perhaps
his harshest critics: the priests serving Romes titular churches.104 We
wish, he proclaimed, that those who are or who will ever be priests
throughout all the tituli of the Roman city be equally bound by the
law of the guardian, because it is disgraceful that through the obligation
by which the highest pontifex binds himself through the love of Christ,
a man of the second order in the church is not held.105 Here and

Symmachus prohibitions against usufruct might have been due to the fact that
usufruct became increasingly indistinguishable from possessio in late antiquity. See
Levy 1951: 3940.
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 44950).
Lizzi Testa 2004: 101; Sardella 1997: 8689; and Hillner 2007: 251.
Llewellyn 1976 and 1977. Whereas Llewellyn interpreted the priests as representatives,
even clients, of the families who originally founded the tituli (1977: 258), I see them as
ecclesiastical agents and domestic experts in their own right and as thus competitors
to the bishop.
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 450): Pari etiam ecclesiarum per omnes
Romanae civitatis titulos qui sunt presbyteri vel quicumque fuerint, adstringi
volumus lege custodis, quia nefas dictu est obligatione, qua se per caritatem
Christi conectit summus pontifex, ea hominem secundi in ecclesia ordinis non

Mistrusting The Bishop

elsewhere in the synodal acts of November 6, Symmachus singled out

Romes special order of local clergy, the priests who ministered the citys
neighborhood churches or tituli. He extended the exact limitations on
alienation to Romes titular priests that he had delineated for bishops.
Any priest found guilty of this crime, Symmachus proclaimed, would be
stripped of his office.
The tituli were post-Constantinian ecclesiastical foundations, which
first appear in our sources in the later fourth century.106 By 499 there
were as many as 29.107 They were established across the city, although in
some instances stood close to one another, such as the titular churches
of Pudentiana, Silvester/Equitius, and Eusebius on the Esquiline, which
were separated by only a few hundred meters.108 The haphazard topo-
graphical distribution of the tituli undoubtedly reflects their origins as
privately founded churches.109 Between the mid-fourth and the early
fifth century, wealthy lay and clerical patrons (including at least one
bishop) donated cash, property, or an actual building site for the establish-
ment of a small but often luxuriously decorated church.110 The churchs
foundation through private donation meant that arrangements had to be
made for the gifts legitimate transfer to the bishops control. Bishops
and founders used a legal tool, the titulus, which denoted the reason
underlying the acquisition of property and the terms under which it had
been transferred from one owner to another (i.e., the causa adquiriendi or
the causa traditionis).111 In other words, the term titulus indicated that the
church and its related property were legally part of the bishops church,
thus underlining the legitimacy of his financial control, as Julia Hillner

On their origins, see Pietri 1976: 9096, 56973 and 1978a. Pietri demonstrated
that all of Romes tituli were post-Constantinian foundations against the still widely
accepted claims of Kirsch 1918, who proposed that the tituli were second- and third-
century institutions. Pietri also debunked the popular theory that the tituli evolved
from the so-called domus ecclesiae, that is, ante-pacem, architecturally modified house
churches. Indeed the phrase itself (domus ecclesiae) is unattested before Constantine.
See Sessa 2009.
For differing tallies of the tituli (between 25 and 29) see Guidobaldi 1998: 12329
and Saxer 2001: 553555.
Saxer 2001: 56061.
By the sixth century, the tituli were fairly evenly distributed over the city. Pietri 1989:
1039 and Guidobaldi 2000: 12329, who attributes this development to episcopal
engineering, a possible but largely unsubstantiated hypothesis.
On the social identities of the founders of Romes titular churches, see Hillner 2006.
Pietri 1976: 9596 and especially Hillner 2007: 235.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

has shown in a recent study.112 Although legally possessed by the bishops

church, however, the tituli appear to have had independently adminis-
tered patrimonies.113 It would have made little sense for Symmachus to
have prohibited titular priests from alienating church property if they
had not, in fact, actually managed it. More important, the tituli were
living financial entities, whose wealth was not statically determined by
the largess of a single, one-time founder. Rather, the wealth fluctuated
during the fifth and sixth-centuries, when new donors offered property,
objects, and cash to maintain and beautify their favorite neighborhood
church. These subsequent donors had much at stake in the security of
their gifts.
For Symmachus and his critics, therefore, the issue with the tituli was
not whether the bishop had trampled on the proprietary rights of the
original founders, their heirs, or even more recent donors by alienat-
ing their gifts.114 The titulus arrangement clarified the bishops rights to
control the property; these churches and their attendant properties were
legally part of his church. Moreover, although Romes titular priests tradi-
tionally managed their churchs finances, their institutional subordination
to the bishop was technically unambiguous. After all, the Roman bishop
was the one who ordained and assigned the priests to their particular
Legal clarities do not necessarily resolve ethical ambiguities, however.
No one could dispute the bishops de iure status over his clergy and
ecclesiastical property, but was he necessarily the best one to oversee
these separately administered neighborhood churches? In many respects,
the more logical stewards were the priests.116 The priests connections
to the tituli and their respective congregations were spiritually intense,

Hillner 2007: 23137. Pietri (1976: 9595) argued that the titulus arrangement under-
lined the rights of the donors over their gifts, but Hillner explains why this is an
inaccurate interpretation of Roman law.
Pietri 1976: 9596 and 1978: 328331; and Bowes 2008: 6571. If the custom followed
by the imperial family in the fourth century is any indication, people presented gifts
to specific churches even if these properties were ultimately owned by the bishops
See Hillner 2007, contra Pietri 1976: 573 and Llewellyn 1977: 25758, 63.
Cf. LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 220 and 249), which records Innocent and Simplicius
assigning priests and clergy to specific churches. The LP, of course, only defini-
tively reflects conditions ca. 500540, but the traditions that it described were likely
established by the time of Symmachus.
I concur with Llewellyn 1976: 42324 and 1977: 25758 regarding the independent
traditions (although not legal rights) of the tituli.

Mistrusting The Bishop

liturgically regularized, and possibly even grounded in their own family

histories as long-term residents of that particular region of Rome. By the
later fifth century, many Romans underwent their most important life-
cycle rites at their local titulus. Archaeological and literary evidence shows
that baptisteries were added to existing tituli in great numbers during
the fifth and sixth-centuries.117 According to the Liber Pontificalis, tituli
were originally established by the fourth-century bishop Marcus for the
performance of baptisms and penance a less secure claim about the titulis
origins, but a plausible reflection of early sixth-century ritual habits.118
Late Roman families might have contacted titular priests to secure tombs
in some of the citys cemeteries.119 Moreover, with the growing number
of intramural burials during the later fifth and sixth centuries, some of
which appear to have been clustered near churches like the titulus Eusebii,
titular priests undoubtedly became even more closely intertwined with
the care of the dead.120 Finally and more broadly, a study of Romes sixth-
century liturgical calendar by Antoine Chavasse reveals that, despite the
emergence of stational liturgy in Rome at this time (a practice whereby
on specific feast days Roman bishops processed to and performed masses
at different churches, including tituli), most Christians on most Sundays
during the year would have participated in a mass with their priest, not
their bishop.121 Early fifth-century developments such as the fermentum,
the distribution of episcopally blessed bread to the tituli for use in weekly
Eucharistic celebrations, would have certainly underlined the bishops
presence.122 But even powerful ritual proxies could not erase the fact
that for most Romans most of the time, their primary contact with the
spiritual world was through their local titular priests and not their bishop.
Moreover, some titular priests grew up near their churches and retained
long-term ties to these urban regions. Mercurius was a titular priest of St.
Clements on the Caelian Hill until becoming Bishop of Rome ( John II)
in 533. According to his biography in the Liber Pontificalis, Mercurius

Indeed some scholars hypothesize that each titulus had its own baptistery. See Cantino
Wataghin, Cecchelli, and Pani Ermini 2001: 24450. See also Saxer 1989: 93135
and Cosentino 2002.
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1.164).
Meneghini and Santangeli Valenzani 1995: 2878. Cf. ICUR n.s. 4279 and ICUR n.s.
4280 for tombs (probably at the cemetery of St. Pancratius) purchased from priests
of the titulus Chrisogoni (dated to 521 and 525).
Costambeys 2001: 16989.
Chavasse 1997: 911.
On the fermentum as a sign of ecclesiastical unity and episcopal control, see Pietri
1976: 93, 58081 and 63031.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

was from the Caelian, a wealthy residential enclave.123 As a minister

at St. Clements, Mercurius emphasized his devotion by providing his
church with a new altar.124 Epigraphic evidence offers additional snap-
shots of what was unquestionably a common phenomenon, wherein
titular priests provided the funds for new repairs, additions, or decora-
tions at their churches.125 A titular priests strong ties to his church and
community were therefore rooted in his role as a donor. Indeed, priests
(and deacons) were expected to abide by the principles of oikonomia.126
They were supposed to manage the properties of their assigned churches
with great care and circumspection, ensuring that their value increased.
Thus, if titular priests were also household managers, whose access to
their community and its coffers was more immediate and routine than
their bishops, why should they not administer its property, even alienate
it, if their good judgment so advised?
What Symmachus faced in 501 therefore was an ethical battle with
a group of titular priests whose reputations were built on their exper-
tise in the spiritual and financial management of Romes neighborhood
churches. For some titular priests and their loyal congregants, the aggres-
sively paternalistic tactics of a bishop like Symmachus may have been
especially troubling, especially if his squandering of church property
had had an impact on the finances of a particular titulus.127 In their opin-
ion, the Roman church was best run not as a single autocratic domus but
as a network of interdependent ecclesiastic households, each subordinate
to the bishop but managed by local stewards with more concrete and
regular ties to the community. Whether such impulses originated in the
fourth and earlier fifth century, when private donors founded the tituli
and Romes ecclesiastical organization was looser still, is impossible to
determine. They clearly shaped Symmachus reactions to his own trou-
bled status in Rome during the first few years of his episcopate, however.
The fact that his chief opponent was a popular titular priest may have

LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1.285).
De Rossi 1870: 143.
Cf. the interventions of Philipus, priest of the titulus Apstolorum/Eudoxia under Xystus
III: ICUR II.110, n. 67 and 143, n. 3; Ilicius, Leopardus, and Maximus, priests at
the titulus Pudentis/Pudentianae during tenures of Siricius and Innocent: De Rossi
BAC (1867): 5153 (= ILCV 1772A-B); and Peter, priest of the titulus Sabinae under
Celestine: ILCV 1778a. On Roman clergy as donors, see Hillner 2006.
Gelasius, Ep. 15.2 (ed. Thiel 1868: 37980).
The sources provide no details about which churches Symmachus allegedly
defrauded, however.

Mistrusting The Bishop

encouraged some Romans to conclude what they suspected all along:

that priests were more dependable guardians of their gifts than bishops.
By delimiting the administrative latitude of Romes titular priests,
Symmachus called attention to his own technical authority over them
and the properties that they managed. In so doing, he reminded the
clergy attending the council that he was the chief steward of a united
Roman church. Tellingly, the acts of the council of 501 closed with a
final set of anathemas addressed to all priests and deacons who sought
out, received, or assented to the one giving away the church property.128

Changing Hearts and Minds: Bishops as Good Stewards in the

Symmachan Forgeries
Symmachus efforts to legislate trust and goodwill at the council of 501
were of limited success in the short term. Even after a panel of visiting
prelates declared the Roman bishop beyond judgment and restored
to him full ecclesiastical jurisdiction at the final meeting of the third
council on October 23, 502, many Romans remained unconvinced of
his honesty and dependability as the premier steward of their churches,
donations, and souls. From ca. 502 to 506/7, many of Romes churches
remained under the control of Laurentius. Symmachus personally decried
this situation at one of the final synods sessions, where in a letter he
demanded that the renegade churches be returned to him immediately.129
He would not achieve this important goal until late 506 or 507, how-
ever, when Theodoric again intervened directly and commanded by fiat
that the supporters of Laurentius hand over all of the citys ecclesiae to
In the interim, Symmachus partisans sought to redress the negative
public opinion of their bishop by circulating the so-called Symmachan
Forgeries. For example, the text known as the Gesta Polychronii presents
the proper exercise of estate management as a sort of ethical antidote
for poorly behaving bishops. An imagined bishop of Jerusalem named
Polychronius (perhaps a cipher for Juvenal of Jersusalem [ca. 420458])
is found guilty of accepting money in exchange for clerical ordinations
and ecclesiastical consecrations at a hearing in Rome adjudicated by
Xystus III and a council of Italian bishops.130 The narrative is largely
Acta syn. a. DII [sic] (MGH AA 12: 450).
Relatio episcoporum ad regem (MGH AA 12: 422). Sardella 1997: 3233.
On the identification of Polychronius with Juvenal, see Wirbelauer 1993: 273, n.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

concerned with posing and answering what was a thorny issue during
the final council of 502: How do suffragan bishops judge a bishop of
a primatial see? It thus emphasized through various subplots (including
the Roman trial of a local Palestinian bishop who testified against his
patriarch) the need for primatial bishops to judge themselves, because it
is not permitted for anyone to accuse their pontifex, since the judge shall
not be judged.131 Nevertheless, the narrative concluded with a telling
tale about the redeeming possibilities of good stewardship. After Poly-
chronius was deposed and exiled from Jerusalem, he was given the use of
ecclesiastical estates to support himself. Instead of using them as directed,
he promptly sold the estates and distributed the income to the poor, the
clergy, and the people of Jerusalem. In this act, the former bishop of
Jerusalem violated numerous laws by selling church property; his was a
clear-cut case of illegal alienation. Nevertheless, when Xystus received
word of these developments, he was overjoyed and called for Polychro-
nius reinstatement. The idea that the proper exercise of a Christian
model of oikonomia, that is, one oriented around episcopal stewardship
and the care of the poor, might neutralize the negative implications of
alienation and even expiate the simoniacal sins of a bishop would have
had strong resonance in early sixth-century Rome. According to the
Laurentian Fragment, simony was among the crimes that Symmachus
continued to commit against the Roman church following his victory
over Laurentius.132 A popular story about a bad bishop who transformed
himself into an excellent estate manager therefore could have helped
Symmachus persuade congregants that he too could be trusted.
The themes of household management and episcopal authority are
even more pronounced in what scholars believe to be the companion
text to the Gesta Polychronii, the Gesta de Xysti purgatione, the document
with which this chapter opened. In a series of scenes all set in Rome,
Xystus III confronted a pair of unscrupulous and greedy senatorial house-
holders, whose own behavior starkly contrasted with the more measured,
benign, and just oikonomia practiced by Xystus.133 In the narrative, audi-
ences are introduced to two opposing models of household expertise,

Gesta Polychronii (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 276): non licet quemquem accusare pontifi-
cum suum, quoniam iudex non iudicabitur.
Frg. Laur. (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 46).
I have elsewhere explored the literary topography of this text, calling attention to
how it redirects themes and topoi borrowed from biblical and early Christian sources
such as Pauls letter to Philemon and the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. See Sessa
2007: 9199.

Mistrusting The Bishop

one predicated on venality, ownership, and domination, the other on

generosity, stewardship, and a concern for the socially vulnerable. In
short, the Gesta de Xysti purgatione aimed to associate Symmachus with
a holy domesticity, a model of household administration that befitted a
Roman bishop.
The Gesta de Xysti purgatione opens with a property dispute. A Roman
patricius named Marinianus learned from one of his slaves that his aristo-
cratic neighbor had willed all of his property, including estates in Sicily
worth 700 solidi, to the Roman church.134 Marinianus, who owned
property nearby, had his eye on the Sicilian land and thus demanded
(postulare) that Xystus hand it over. Xystus, however, steadfastly refused:
Nothing from my income has increased to the disadvantage of the
church, from which, dearest son, the church desires to support the old
and the poor, not to ruin them.135 This scene most explicitly invokes
Symmachus own situation in the early years of his episcopate, when he
was accused of illicitly selling properties owned by the Roman church.
Of course, the Gesta de Xysti purgatione presented the opposite scenario:
a Roman bishop, pressed by a powerful aristocratic landowner to hand
over valuable estates in Sicily, steadfastly refused to bow to the pressure
and proclaims his commitment to guarding the churchs patrimony for
the benefit of elderly and poor congregants. Roman bishops, the Gesta
de Xysti purgatione boldly proclaimed, were not in the habit of indiscrim-
inately selling, giving away, or transferring ecclesiastical estates. On the
contrary, precedent shows that they valiantly upheld the principles of
ecclesiastical stewardship, whereby the bishops sacred role was to oversee
lands bequeathed to the church by pious householders. Xystus therefore
is not only an exemplary estate manager but also the champion of the lay
aristocratic donor.136
If this scene highlighted the Roman bishops tendency to protect
the wishes of donors, then the next vignette underscored his strong
adherence to an emerging ethos of estate management that was distinctly

Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 262).
Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 262): Nihil ex meis reditibus crevit
ecclesiae, unde, carissime fili, pauperorum senecta sublevare desiderat ecclesia, non
subvertere. This sentence, and especially the construction pauperorum senecta, is odd.
I have followed Wirbelauers (German) translation, which conveys at least the spirit
of the statement.
Pace Picotti 1939: 368; Richards 1979: 8182; and Aimone 2000, who characterize
the Gesta de Xysti purgatione and the other Symmachan Forgeries as anti-aristocratic

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

pastoral. In this scene, oikonomia is expressed not only in moral terms as

moderation and affection but also as a practical concern for the spiritual
and social welfare of household members, who find themselves caught
in a domestic crisis. Here, we recall, a young man claiming to be a noble
ward of an aristocratic ex-consul named Bassus approached Xystus after
being maltreated in Bassus home by both the householder and his slaves.
The young man, Epifanius, swore to Xystus that he was freeborn and
that Bassus was his guardian, and so the bishop visited the household on
Epifanius behalf in the hopes of resolving the dispute.137 Bassus then
reacted in an extreme and arrogant manner to Xystus intervention. Not
only did he curtly dismiss the bishop (no one, he claimed, judges a
dominus in his handling of a slave) but he also threw Epifanius out of his
house and seized all of his property.138 Xystus subsequently appealed to
Valentinian III so that the emperor might help the church to vindicate
Epifanius by undersigning his freeborn status.
In the Gesta de Xysti purgatione, the imagined households of Marini-
anus and Bassus are spaces of conflict and tension, wherein householders
perversely exercise their private power. These very perversions set into
relief a more wholesome model of domestic authority that is associated
exclusively with the Roman bishop. In the case of Marinianus, it was his
unbalanced desire to increase the wealth of his domus that impelled him
to interfere in a pious act of lay patronage to the Roman church. The
tense interaction between the two men clearly reveals their antithetical
approaches to estate management. Whereas Marinianus viewed property
solely as a source of personal gain, Xystus reactions highlight an alterna-
tive model of oikonomia, wherein profit is directed toward assisting others.
Bassus crime is even more unconscionable: to deny a ward his rightful
legal status and to steal the very goods that, as Epifanius guardian, he
was legally and morally bound to protect. As we have seen, guardians
were among the most central members of a household.139 As classical and
late Roman legislation shows, however, they were also among the most
mistrusted.140 Although the guardians power over their wards property

Here Xystus is imagined as the advocate of a private citizen in a domestic dispute,
not as a judge in an ecclesiastical hearing. See Sessa 2007: 94, n. 67.
Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 264): Nemo enim iudicavit dominum
in consilio servi.
On guardianship, see Chapter 3.
The state closely regulated the financial dimensions of legal guardianship. Cf. CT
2.16.1 (326); 3.17.1 (319); 3.30.1 (314); 3.30.2 (between 319 and 332); 3.30.3 (336);
and 3.32.1 (322).

Mistrusting The Bishop

was heavily regulated, they could and did exploit their domestic author-
ity. Bassus, in other words, is the paradigmatically unscrupulous guardian.
Xystus, by contrast, emerges as a prudent and exceedingly just Christian
overseer of the domus dei, who devoted his time to guarding the churchs
property and its most vulnerable members, namely, the wards of undisci-
plined guardians. In juxtaposing Xystus concern and care for Epifanius
and his property with Bassus malevolence and greed, the Gesta de Xysti
purgatione offers oppositional models of guardianship, leaving little doubt
as to which householder, the sacred or the secular, was preferable to
watch over your donations and children.


As mentioned previously, Symmachus also was charged with unspecified
sex crimes. The bishop had abruptly returned to Rome while traveling
to Ravenna, where Theodoric had summoned him in 501. According to
the Laurentian Fragment, he turned around directly after encountering
a group of mulieres on the beach at Arminium with whom he was
accused in relation to a serious crime (scelus); the women were going to
court upon royal orders.141 Scholars reasonably interpret this passage as
indicative of an adultery charge, although the precise nature of the scelus
is unstated.142 Symmachus physical urges allegedly did not abate even
after securing the episcopate from Laurentius in 506/7: disgusting stories
blackened him on many counts, wrote the authors of the Laurentian
Fragment, particularly about a woman whom they commonly called
Whether any sexual charges against Symmachus were investigated at
the three councils is unclear, although records from the final synod in
502 suggest it. According to a summary of a session held on Septem-
ber 1 in the Basilica Sessoriana, the bishops rejected a libellus presented
by Symmachus opponents that enumerated his crimes.144 They offered

Frg. Laur. (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 44).
Moorhead 1992: 115. A mulier could be a wife or any woman who had already had
sexual relations.
Frg. Laur. (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 46): Symmachum vero postmodum quamvis vic-
torem de multis rebus fama decoloravit obscenior, et maxime de illa quam vulgo
Conditariam vocitabant. Trans. Davis 1989: 9798.
Quarta [sic] synodus habita Romae Palmaris (MGH AA 12: 428).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

two reasons, the second of which is relevant: testimony given by Sym-

machus slaves had apparently constituted the evidence for one of the
charges.145 The bishops threw out the testimony, rightly claiming that
neither secular nor ecclesiastical law allowed slaves to bear witness against
their masters.146 Although the nature of the slaves unheard testimony is
not stated, the Symmachan Forgeries may provide some insight. In the
Gesta de Xysti purgatione Xystus is charged with stuprum (specifically sex
with a consecrated virgin), and like Symmachus, he is tried for the crime
in the Basilica Sessoriana.147 Moreover, in this imagined scenario, a slave
provided the evidence of Xystus alleged sex crime, indicating a possibly
similar situation at the historical trial of Symmachus.
On a certain level, it does not matter whether these charges were adju-
dicated at Symmachus trial or whether they refer to real crimes. More
important, they constituted persistent rumors that dogged the bishop
even after 506/7. Charges of sexual impropriety against men of public
import were commonplace in antiquity. They are so common that it
is often difficult to say whether accusations of sex crimes like adultery
(sex with a married woman) or stuprum (sex with an unmarried free-
born female, including widows and divorcees) were based on empirical
reality or a powerful rhetorical discourse. In her study of sex and mas-
culinity in imperial Rome, Edwards delineated a pervasive cultural logic
that equated a mans ability to discipline his body and the bodies of
those subordinate to him (e.g., his wife and daughter) with his moral
worth and political authority.148 In early sixth century Rome, a similar
gendered formula for masculine excellence oriented Symmachus critics
and champions. Accusations of sexual immorality leveled against Roman
bishops would have been closely linked to deep anxieties about their
authority as men, as disciplinarians, as stewards of church property, and
as guardians of salvation and the cosmic order.

Controlling the Body, Managing the Household, and

Administering the Church
As head of the domus dei, Roman bishops were expected to govern two
sets of bodies: their own and those of the clergy serving the Roman

Quarta [sic] synodus habita Romae Palmaris (MGH AA 12: 428).
Buckland 1963: 637.
Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 264).
Edwards 1993.

Mistrusting The Bishop

church. In the case of the latter, we have already seen how Romes
bishops defined the cleric as a subordinate through the regulation of his
sexual habits and marriage. Their persistent concerns to order the clerical
domus were tied just as closely to the project of government as they were
to ritual purity and the ascetic ideal. Above all else, the Roman bishop
had to appear as the consummate estate manager, who took solicitous
care not only of his churchs patrimony but also of its principal members,
the clergy.
Accusations of sexual misconduct, whether committed by the bishop
himself or by his clergy, struck at the very basis of this order. They
directly questioned the bishops trustworthiness as an able disciplinar-
ian and manager of hierarchy, two duties that characterized domes-
tic and public discourses of authority. Fifth- and sixth-century Roman
Christians, both lay and clerical, expected their bishops to maintain an
exceptional level of personal and public decorum. It was perhaps their
most important ethical duty, because the spiritual health of their con-
gregants was at stake. For one, a clerics failure to discipline his body
had enormous ritual implications. A married priest who had polluted
himself with sexual activities jeopardized the efficacy of the liturgies
that he performed; a bishop who in turn failed to reprimand such a
priest imperilled his obligation to ensure the salvation of all his congre-
gants; and a celibate bishop who caroused with married women broke a
string of secular and sacred laws, thereby endangering his own ability to
perform ordinations, consecrations, and other rites that expressly rein-
forced his command over the ecclesiastical order.149 In fact, doubts about
Symmachus liturgical propriety had been voiced since the early days of
the schism, when he was widely accused of celebrating Easter on the
wrong date. As our sources show, Symmachus preference for an archaic
Roman calendrical system over a more popular Alexandrian one could be
closely connected with his failure to discipline the passions.150 According
to the Laurentian Fragment, Symmachus was on his way to defend him-
self before Theodoric against the Easter charges when he encountered
the mulieres on the beaches of Arminium, who were witnesses to (or
victims of) the bishops alleged sex crime.151
Moreover, allegations of sexual misconduct would have also stirred
anxieties concerning the bishops administration of property. Just as the

On the link between sexual pollution and ritual efficacy, see Meens 1997.
Moorhead 1992: 11415, 2078.
Frg. Laur. (ed. Duchense 1955: I. 44).

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

householder had long been suspected of privileging his personal interests

over the common good, a cleric who ignored ecclesiastical regulations
and engaged in sex, even within the legitimate context of a marriage,
was deemed more likely to steal from his church. This exact association
of procreation with financial impropriety motivated Justinian to bar men
from the episcopate who had living children, grandchildren, and wives.152
Justinians laws obviously postdate the Laurentian schism. But they voiced
(and attempted to legislate) the same fear that animated Symmachus
opponents back in Rome at the turn of the sixth century. A claim that
he indiscriminately slept with women further discredited his professed
dedication to steward Romes churches, their lucrative properties, and
the salvation of those who offered them. A crime of sexual excess was
bad enough if committed by an elite householder, because it could lead
to a reputation of effeminacy.153 It was unconscionable in a theoretically
celibate bishop, the man whom householders were supposed to trust
with their most important and intimate domestic problems, including
those that involved their wives and daughters.
In classical terms, Symmachus opponents drew him as a malus pater-
familias, the householder who privileged his personal interests, passions,
and ambitions over other considerations. In late Roman Christian terms,
they used a closely related domestic language to depict him as a failed
steward: a dependent of God, but still a man-in-power who put his
immoderate interests before his duty to look after the domus dei.
To counter these serious attacks, Symmachus and his supporters stren-
uously emphasized the steeply hierarchical structure of the church, with
his own dominant position at its apex clearly underlined. Symmachus
advocates used pamphlets to articulate a remarkably autocratic vision
of the bishops church. The Symmachan redactions of the fictional
Silvestrian council of 324 contain numerous canons that underscore the
rigidity of the ecclesiastical order. One canon declared that all clergy
and monks (including abbots) must show obedience to their bishop in
both public and private.154 Another required that all deacons wish-
ing to become priests undergo rigorous scrutinies, whereby the bishop
inspected their family life, present habits, and spiritual orthodoxy.155
Chapter 5.
On the association of male sexual excess with effeminacy, see Edwards 1993: 6869
and Knust 2006: 3537, 4447.
SK2 (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 312).
SK (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 242).

Mistrusting The Bishop

Through these spurious pronouncements, linked directly to Constantine

and the origins of imperial Christianity at Rome, Symmachus partisans
asserted a highly authoritarian vision of the ideal Roman church. Thus,
in response to accusations that Symmachus brought chaos to the Roman
church through his sexual excess, his supporters projected a world of con-
summate order, wherein the bishop single-handedly governed a highly
disciplined clergy.
A more extreme reaction to allegations of sexual misconduct structures
the highly dramatic final turn of the Gesta de Xysti purgatione. The two
householders Marinianus and Bassus join forces to ruin Xystus by making
sexual accusations against him. On the basis of testimony provided by
one of Marinianus slaves, the men formally accuse Xystus before Valen-
tinian III and Galla Placidia of violating a consecrated woman.156 The
emperor and his mother are appalled by the charges, and with much of
the Roman population, immediately suspend their communion with
the bishop. Xystus, subsequently confined to St. Peters, goes on to
demand a public trial. Valentinian then convened a hearing in the Basil-
ica Sessoriana. In addition to being the site of the October 6 session of the
council of 501, the church was a Constantinian foundation constructed
on the imperial familys private land, which the historical Valentinian,
Galla Placidia, and Honoria later decorated with a mosaic inscription.157
In attendance at the imagined hearing were senators, priests, clergy, and
monks, with Valentinian presiding. Although he initially pressed Bassus
for evidence of the sex crime, Valentinian instead endorsed the pro-
nouncement of an exconsul, who declared that it was improper to cast
judgment on the pontifex.158 Xystus was thus pronounced to be beyond
judgment, just as Symmachus had been by the Italian bishops in 502.
On another day, a second meeting is held in the Sessorian basilica,
but now it was Xystus who sits in the same place [as Valentinian]
to render an account of his accusers.159 Holding court alone with his

Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 264). Xystus trial may be historical.
The LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 232) also recorded Xystus trial before Valentinian
and Galla Placidia, although here only Bassus appears as Xystus accuser, and the
charges are not specified.
Curran 2000: 96. On the inscription (now lost), see Krautheimer 1983: 156, n. 22.
Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 26668)
Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 268): Alia autem die fecit collegi
omnes presbyteros urbis Romae. Et sedit in eodem loco, qui ibidem consistebat

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

priests, he condemned both men and severed their communion with the
church.160 While Marinianus derided the punishment, Bassus grew fear-
ful and attempted to negotiate his way back into the bishops good graces
by offering to donate all of his estates to the church. Xystus, however,
was unmoved. Reminding them in Christs own words that a slave is
not above his master, nor is a student above his teacher (Mt. 10:24),
the Roman bishop formally excommunicated the householders, thereby
curtailing their chances for salvation.161
In the Gesta de Xysti purgatione, Xystus is an exemplary householder-
steward precisely because he eschewed the potentially self-serving inter-
ests that were synonymous with traditional Roman ideals of masculinity
and its iconic practices of procreation and land ownership. His final
actions project a steeply hierarchical relationship between the church
and the lay aristocratic household, whereby the bishop of Rome, from
the lofty perch of the emperors own domus, meted out punishment to
two treacherous householders. Symmachus own embattled episcopate
undoubtedly benefited even from tacit comparison to the exceptional
morals and actions of his fabled predecessor.
Although Symmachus direct involvement in the production of these
texts remains an open question, his role in an extensive building cam-
paign at St. Peters is unquestionable. Probably after 506/7, once he had
regained control of the citys churches, Symmachus expended consider-
able resources to expand and embellish the complex of buildings built
around Constantines basilica at the tomb of St. Peter.162 According to
the Liber Pontificalis, he improved access and resources for pilgrims and
built a new rotunda dedicated to Peters brother, Andrew, with addi-
tional oratories dedicated to Roman and Italian martyrs.163 Symmachus

Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 268).
Gesta de Xysti purgatione (ed. Wirbelauer 1993: 26870). Cf. the conclusion of Xystus
trial in LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1. 232). In this version, the imperial family penalized
the householders. Angered that Xystus acted too leniently toward his accuser, they
confiscated all of Bassus estates and handed them over to the church.
On Symmachus interventions, see Alchermes 1995. Alchermes assertion that this
extensive (and expensive) construction took place between 501 and 506, when Sym-
machus had lost control of the city, is unsubstantiated and improbable. More likely,
the work was undertaken after Symmachus reclaimed the churches, that is, between
506/7 and 514. It is plausible that the episcopia established on either side of the basil-
ica date to 501506, because these might have simply been Symmachus temporary
lodgings during the schism. See Chapter 3.
LP (ed. Duchesne 1955 1. 262).

Mistrusting The Bishop

intervention introduced Andrew to St. Peters, and it is tempting to

speculate that the bishop chose him partly because of the two saints
familial connection.164 A steeply paternalistic episcopal model symbol-
ically cohered with an emphasis on dynasty at the house of Peter.
Moreover, St. Peters was also the burial site for the emperor Honorius
and his family, as well as numerous high-ranking Christian senators such
as Junius Bassus and Petronius Probus.165 It thus offered Symmachus
further opportunities to associate his Petrine household with these
stratospherically elite domus.

The Laurentian schism presents a single case for examining the manifold
ethical, spiritual, and institutional contestations surrounding a bishops
endeavors to exert his influence as a form of domestic expertise. By
paying close attention to the conciliar acts and by reading them with
the propagandistic texts produced by partisans of both contenders for
the see, we have shown that Symmachus troubles as bishop were con-
sistently tied to his identity as a householder-steward. His advocacy for
a more paternalistic process of episcopal succession; his self-promotion
as the exemplary and honest dispensator of Romes ecclesiastical patri-
mony; his casting of doubt on the integrity of his competitors, the
titular priests, as stewards of the citys churches; and his supporters
attempts to deflect accusations (valid or trumped up) that he had had
immoral and illegal sexual relations show that the public authority of
the Roman bishop was inextricably tied to his perceived excellence in
household management. As demonstrably apologetic sources such as the
Gesta de Xysti purgatione show, many Romans mistrusted their bishops
when it came to their government of sex, stewardship, and episcopal
Yet conflict and contention were not the only possible forms that the
relationship between householders and bishops might take. Fifth- and
sixth-century Romans could also envision a more productive partnership,
one grounded in an ethos of cooperation. The gesta martyrum, a corpus
of fifth- and sixth-century Roman martyr narratives explored in the next

Several early medieval metrical inscriptions displayed at the basilica emphasized the
fraternal relationship between Peter and Andrew. See Alchermes 1995: 2123.
See Alchermes 1995: 78 for the epigraphic evidence.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

and final chapter, present an alternative way of seeing the Roman bishop
as an estate manager. For although the gesta martyrum clearly delimited
the bishops ethical authority within the private household, they also
celebrated the productive possibilities of his presence for its spiritual and
social transformation.

Chapter 7

Th e H ouseh old and Th e

Bish op: Auth ority,
Cooperation, and Competition
in th e Gesta Martyrum

ot everyone trusted the bishop in household matters.

N Resistance to his claims of domestic expertise took various forms,
from foot-dragging and public censure to organized schism. A more pos-
itive and cooperative perspective on the relationship between the house-
hold and the bishop was also possible, however. In the gesta martyrum, a
body of popular martyr narratives independently written between ca. 450
and 600, householders and bishops join forces to preserve the integrity of
the domus and the spiritual imperatives of its lordly overseer. Here Romes
early bishops play integral roles in the transformation of an elite pagan
household into a pious and productive Christian domus, in which the
householders authority is oriented around the ethics of stewardship and
robust religious oversight. Roman bishops of the gesta martyrum inhabit
a distinct and durable place within the households of other men; their
presence both strengthens the paterfamilias power and reveals its depen-
dence on the bishops assistance. Yet the gesta martyrum also draw the
clearest line yet between the bishops authority in the church and his
reach into the domestic sphere.
Following a discussion of the texts dating, authorship, and audiences,
this chapter examines the cultural and religious meaning of a recurring
tale type in the gesta: the conversion of a prosperous aristocratic pagan
household through the spiritual and ritual interventions of a Christian
holy man, who is often (but not always) a bishop.1 The first part of
the analysis establishes how the domestic conversion episode turns on a

Folklorists (cf. Dundes 1997) use the term tale type to refer to a narrative unit that
combines several different motifs, stands as a unique entity, and presents a pure form
of the tale with the existence of variants as a given. The domestic conversion episode
fulfills these criteria.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

dynamic of social and ritual exchange, wherein bishops and householders

cooperate not only to convert a pagan household but also to define the
householders social identity as elite. Close attention is paid to the
bishops role in the process as a healer and ritual celebrant and to how
his exercise of charismatic power establishes his authority within certain
spaces of the domestic sphere. This section focuses on six versions of
the domestic conversion episode that foreground episcopal characters:
the passions of Clement (c. 95), Alexander (c. 110), Callistus (217222),
Cornelius (251253), Stephen (254257), and Marcellus (305/6306/7).2
The second section examines how episcopal authority is circumscribed
within the imagined households of the gesta. This section also analyzes
variants of the domestic conversion episode that depict nonepiscopal
holy men and that underline spaces within the household that were off
limits to the bishop. The demarcation of the household and the emphasis
on spiritual competitors in these other narratives present a counterpoint
to the strongly episcopal vision of the household conveyed elsewhere in
the gesta.


Gesta martyrum was the term used in late antiquity to denote a body
(or perhaps a genre) of passion narratives about Romes early Christian
martyrs.3 The martyrs were late ancient superheroes, figures venerated
for their remarkable feats of sanctity and endurance. The gesta were
primarily written to celebrate their trials, bodily torture, and execution
at the hands of Roman officials. Many of these martyrs also had active
cult sites in Rome since the fourth century.4 Like many contemporary
hagiographical texts, the gesta were created to entertain relatively wide
audiences and to transmit general ethical points about proper behavior
in their everyday lives.5 They are remarkably simple narratives in their
morality and message: good and bad are easily identifiable, and religious

For the sake of clarity, I use the English form The Passion of St. X to denote each
martyr narrative. In fact, the various editions preserve different titles, some of which
are reflected in the footnotes.
Cf. LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1.123 and 148).
The literature on Romes martyr cults is enormous. Recent studies include Fiocchi
Niccolai 1995, Pergola 2000, and Trout 2005.
In this respect, they function like many other hagiographical texts. See Delehaye 1962;
Vauchez 1991; and Cooper 1996: 11627.

The Household and The Bishop

truths are delivered in sound-bite form.6 The gesta thus probably had
an ideological impact that went beyond that of a partisan pamphlet or
episcopal decretal.
As sources of late Roman episcopal discourses and socioreligious rela-
tions, however, the narratives present three fundamental hermeneutic
obstacles. First, although they depict the lives and deaths of specific mar-
tyrs, the gesta are highly formulaic texts that share much in terms of style,
theme, language, and subject matter. The domestic conversion episode
is itself a meta-narrative in early Christian literature, appearing in the
Bible, the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, and in post-Constantinian
saints lives.7 Despite their similarities, however, the gesta seem to have
been produced independently, by individual authors. In fact, they were
not grouped into thematic collections (i.e., passionaries and legendaries)
until later, in the Middle Ages.8
Second, the dating of the gesta martyrum is very indefinite. Until the
early twentieth century, most scholars believed that the gesta were authen-
tic accounts of the persecutions written by eyewitnesses to the events.
Albert Dufourcq successfully debunked this view, demonstrating largely
through internal analysis of the texts that they could not have been writ-
ten before the mid-fifth, sixth or even early seventh centuries.9 Conse-
quently, readers of the gesta must work within a broad post-Constantinian
chronological framework, from ca. 450 to ca. 600. Although a few schol-
ars have suggested more precise dates for individual texts, in truth we
cannot be certain when the Roman martyr narratives were written.10
A third and especially vexing feature of the gesta is the lack of autho-
rial attribution. Identifying an authors signature is a challenge not only
because the gesta share many forms and themes but also because many
circulated in multiple versions.11 Additionally, some authors drew on
preexisting passions and built their narratives on oral traditions. These

Sessa 2005.
Sessa 2007.
Recent studies of the manuscript evidence have debunked the once popular notion
of a late antique ur-collection of the gesta. See Pilsworth 2000 and Franklin 2001.
Dufourcq 1910: 1. 279321.
Dufourcq 1910: 1. 27992 argued that some gesta were composed during the Ostro-
gothic period (493535), but he also dated others to the early seventh century (e.g.,
Passio S. Alexandri ). Some gesta have termini ante quem or post quem, which provide
more secure parameters. The Passion of St. Laurentius [the archdeacon] draws on a
tradition of Laurentius martyrdom known to Ambrose and Prudentius, thus placing
its date sometime after the early fifth century. See Verrando 1990.
For the variations, consult the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

creative practices further elided an individual writers contributions.12

We can, however, draw a few tentative conclusions about the origi-
nal authors. They almost certainly lived in Rome or at least knew the
city well. Scholars have long recognized the Roman provenance of the
gesta largely because of their numerous topographical allusions to spe-
cific regions, monuments, and burial sites located within the city and its
suburbs.13 Many authors also appear to have had a similar educational
background. There is no hint that they had deep knowledge of classical
literature, although there is evidence for some religious education and
a basic familiarity with the Bible.14 In the main, these authors do not
appear to have been highly trained rhetoricians, theologians, or exegetes.
Some might also have shared an institutional affiliation. Roman clergy
have long been suspected as possible authors, at least of certain texts.15
Several of the gesta present detailed descriptions of Christian liturgies,
notably baptism, including dramatic renditions of the three-part bap-
tismal oath. Although it is impossible to say whether they are historically
precise (the fluid state of late antique Christian liturgy makes it diffi-
cult to identify any single iteration of a rite as normative), the descrip-
tions suggest that the writers had fairly detailed knowledge of the bap-
tismal process.16 Moreover, a sixth-century source known as the Decre-
tum Gelasianum explicitly proscribed the reading of the gesta martyrum in
Roman churches, which of course suggests that this was one place where
they were traditionally read.17 To be clear, the Decretum Gelasianum is a
Gallic source that was falsely attributed to Gelasius and may not preserve a
genuine Roman tradition.18 Moreover, other sources seem not to assume
clerical authorship. Biographies in the Liber Pontificalis describe directives
handed down by two pre-Constantinian bishops to notaries to dili-
gently search out and collect the gesta martyrum from the citys seven

Verrando 1990 and Jones 2007.
De Rossi 18641877 first outlined a topographical approach to the Roman gesta
martyrum based on internal references to historically verifiable sites. See now Amore
1975 and Cooper 1999.
One striking feature, however, of the gesta martyrum is the relatively small number of
direct biblical quotes or paraphrases.
Dufourcq 1910: I. 35964 emphasized the clerics function as redactors of oral tra-
ditions rather than authors. This may be true. See also Lanzoni 1927: I.41; Delehaye
1936: 12; and Sessa 2007: 9091.
Vogel 1986: 4 and 64.
Decretum Gelasianum de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis 204218. Bishop Hadrian of
Rome (772790) reversed the prohibition. See de Gaiffier 1964 and 1969.
De Gaiffier 1969: 6365.

The Household and The Bishop

ecclesiastical regions, but they do not mention clerical authors or the

gestas performance in churches.19 Similarly, in a letter to the Alexan-
drian bishop Eulogius, Gregory denied the existence of a single codex
of Roman martyr narratives in Romes churches and archives.20 Thus
while Roman clergy might have authored some of the gesta, they were
not exclusively associated with them. In fact, Leyser has suggested that
one version of a Roman martyr narrative was written (or at least sub-
stantially modified) by Italian monks outside of Rome.21
Scholars must also rely on inference to reconstruct the original readers
of the gesta. For example, the clerical writers of the Liber Pontificalis con-
stituted one group of readers, for they mined individual martyr narratives
for information on several pre-Constantinian Roman bishops.22 The gesta
martyrum also apparently enjoyed popularity among lay and monastic cir-
cles. If they had been read in local Roman churches (although when and
under what circumstances remain unclear), then laypeople (and clergy)
would have been among their primary consumers. Lay interest in the
gesta was also assumed by the anonymous author of the Ad Gregoriam in
palatio. In one section, he seems to allude to the Passion of St. Anasta-
sia, suggesting not only that he knew the work but also that he thought
its ideas were relevant for a lay readership.23 Moreover, the conversion of
aristocratic domus is a topic that would have appealed to many different
types of households, including the monastic. As Leysers study demon-
strates, sixth-century monks at an Italian monastery copied a version of
one martyr narrative (perhaps tailoring it to their interests) in a book that
was otherwise dedicated to monastic writings.24
In sum, the gesta martyrum as a body of texts do not represent any
single point of view. They were composed largely by clergy and perhaps
also by monks but were enjoyed by a broader spectrum of the Christian

LP (ed. Duchesne 1955: 1.123 and 148).
Gregory, Ep. 8.28. Eulogius inquiry specifically referred to a codex of Roman passions
written by Eusebius of Caesarea. This might not be the same body of martyr narratives
known to the authors of the LP. Nevertheless, there was a tradition that Eusebius
authored Roman saints lives. See Pohlkamp 1992: 13941 and the Passio S. Symphrosae
cum septem filiis (AASS Iul. IV: 35559).
Leyser 2007.
Duchesne 1955: 1. lxxxix-ci.
de Gaiffier 1964: 347, n. 2 and Cooper 2007: 18788, who is more circumspect than
de Gaiffier but still emphasizes strong thematic continuities between the two texts.
Leyser 2007. The book (the so-called vetustissimus of Corbie) contains a version of the
Passion of SS. John and Paul with excerpts from Augustines Rule and the Regula

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

community, including laypeople. Most important, the gesta do not col-

lectively reflect an episcopal agenda, at least directly or in every case.25
Their attention to household members, practices, and spaces therefore
cannot be reduced to an ecclesiastical initiative aimed at subsuming the
domus within the bishops church, as Pietri concluded.26 Rather, the
focus on the household in the gesta spoke to a broader and very complex
debate within late Roman society over the role of bishops and other holy
men as domestic experts and to the controversial task of integrating their
presence into elite households. The gesta present multiple responses to
these issues, including some that emphasized cooperation, power, and


The imagined householders of the gesta typically work in tandem with
external figures of spiritual authority, men from outside the home
renowned for their powers to heal the body and transform the soul
through miracles and ritual actions. In several of the gesta, this charis-
matic figure is the bishop of Rome. In the Passion of St. Stephen, for
example, the third-century bishop Stephen restored sight to the daughter
of the tribune Nemesius, an event that led directly to both the fathers
and daughters baptism.27 Similarly, in the Passion of St. Alexander,
Alexanders resurrection of the only son of Hermes, a vir illustris and
urban prefect, propelled the senator to adopt the religion for his entire
family. In the same text, a pagan tribune chose to embrace Christianity
after Alexander healed an unsightly tumor on his daughters neck.28

Negotiating Conversion: Exchange and Reciprocity Between

Householders and Bishops
Although seemingly simple and straightforward, these conversion scenes
have deceptively complex social, ritual, and political dynamics. Brought
into the domus at the householders request, the Roman bishop engaged
in a series of negotiations with the householder before the household was
Pace Pietri 1981a: 43553.
Pietri 1981a. Elsewhere, I have also challenged the popular thesis that the gesta are
foundation legends for specific churches in Rome. See Sessa 2007: 8284 and 2009.
Passio S. Stephani 3.
Passio S. Alexandri et al. 78, discussed in detail below.

The Household and The Bishop

actually baptized. The narratives emphasis on exchange and reciprocity

is significant. Bishops and householders trade favors in a manner that
accords well with our understanding of ancient patronage as an asym-
metrical but nevertheless voluntary personal relationship among two or
more parties. Significantly, these imagined exchanges also involved a
supernatural element, when the bishop proffers his power to heal and
baptize. As we shall see, such scenes gave credence to the idea that bishops
and householders could cooperate as trustful partners in the management
of the domestic sphere and to the idea that the head of the domus dei
might secure a permanent place in the households of other men.
Two particularly illustrative examples appear in parallel domestic con-
version episodes featured in the Passion of St. Alexander, a later iter-
ation of the tale type possibly written in the early seventh century.29
As noted previously, Alexander had resurrected Hermes only son, and
the miracle had prompted the senators conversion. The details of this
particular episode demand close attention. When Hermes only son fell
ill, he consulted with pagan priests at the Capitolium, but their sacrifices
were ineffective, and the boy died.30 Distraught at the death of his only
child and heir, Hermes learned from the boys nurse about the bishop
Alexander and his reputed healing powers. Were Hermes to believe in
Christ, she explained, Alexander could help to bring his child back to
life. The senator remained skeptical, however, and decided to send the
nurse first, who happened to be blind. After visiting Alexander at St.
Peters tomb (ad limina Petri), she returned several days later with her
eyesight restored. Convinced of the bishops powers but still uncertain
about his Christian reputation, Hermes ordered the nurse to present his
son to Alexander. When the child returned home alive, Hermes attitude
toward the bishop underwent a startling transformation. Throwing him-
self at Alexanders feet, he begged the bishop to make him a Christian.
Alexander obliged, and the householder then offered him several gifts: a
large donation to Alexanders church from his and dead wifes possessions
earmarked for the poor, the manumission and baptism of his 1,250 slaves,
and the guardianship of his only son.31
In the second domestic conversion episode, a pagan tribune named
Quirinus also came to embrace Christianity through a series of nego-
tiated exchanges with Alexander. According to the text, Hermes was

Dufourcq 1910: I. 14.
Passio SS. Alexandri et al. 7.
Passio SS. Alexandri et al 7.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

imprisoned in the tribunes house following his conversion.32 While in

Quirinus custody, Hermes spoke at length of Alexanders miraculous
actions conducted on his households behalf; however, Quirinus did
not accept Hermes account without proof and insisted on testing both
urban prefect and bishop. Specifically, Quirinus challenged the vir illustris
to demonstrate the bishops supernatural powers by having Alexander,
who was imprisoned elsewhere, physically transport himself to Hermes
room. Hermes agreed, and although both men were shackled and locked
in separate rooms of different buildings, Alexander nevertheless mate-
rialized in Hermes cubiculum. When Quirinus opened the door, he
found both men unchained and praying.33 Thereafter, Quirinus inquired
whether he might also strike a deal with Christ and the Roman bishop:
Let Christ therefore win my soul (lucretur animam meam) through you
[Alexander and Hermes] in this way. . . . 34 Quirinus explained that he
had a beautiful daughter with a tumor on her neck. Were Alexander to
remove this blemish, Quirinus would promise to hand over everything
to Alexander and Christ. Alexander agreed to the paterfamilias request
and presented Quirinus with a collar to place around his daughters neck.
Alexander then made demands on Quirinus. Specifically, the bishop
asked the tribune to hand over several Christian clerics also imprisoned
in his house.35 Each made good on his end of the bargain: Alexander
healed Quirinus daughter Balbina with the collar and the interven-
tion of a mysterious young boy, who appears to Balbina and demands
that she remain a perpetual virgin in return for her healing. Quirinus
assented to this additional request.36 Quirinus also permitted Alexander
to have an audience with the two imprisoned Christian priests. Alexan-
der then raised the ante: If you want to offer me a favor (beneficium),
persuade everyone who is in prison to be baptized so that they may
become Christians.37 Quirinus agreed, and Alexander baptized the pris-
oners. The entire episode concluded with Alexanders baptism of the tri-
bunes household and with Quirinus handing over Balbina to a religious

Domestic imprisonment is both a prominent motif in the gesta and a historically
attested practice in late antiquity. See Hillner 2007.
Passio SS. Alexandri et al. 46.
Passio SS. Alexandri et al. 8 (AASS Mai I: 372): Lucretur ergo animam meam Christus
per vos hoc modo.
Passio SS. Alexandri et al. 8.
Passio SS. Alexandri et al. 14.
Passio SS. Alexandri et al. 10 (AASS Mai I: 373): Si vis mihi praestare beneficium,
suade omnibus, qui sunt in carcere, baptizari, ut fiant Christiani.

The Household and The Bishop

woman associated with Alexander, who was charged with safeguarding

her virginity.

Transforming the Householder and Preserving the domus

The story of Alexanders interventions in the households of Hermes and
Quirinus combines several familiar biblical and hagiographical elements.
The healing of a family member and the conversion of a pagan household
by a visiting Christian holy man are motifs found in many popular texts,
from Christs raising of Lazarus in the Gospels to Martin of Tours heal-
ing and conversion of pagan households in his early fifth-century vita.38
Moreover, a similarly structured domestic conversion episode appears
in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, in which apostles enter pagan
homes at the request of a family member and subsequently convert
the household.39 In many pre-Nicene sources, however, the relation-
ship between householder and apostle is antagonistic: the two typically
exchange criminal accusations or even blows, not favors. In texts like
the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the apostle does not preserve the traditional
domestic structures and powers; rather, he encouraged their subversion
by exhorting household members to abandon traditional moorings of
elite identity, such as marriage, reproduction, and property ownership.40
Alternatively, post-Constantinian Roman gesta such as the Passion of St.
Alexander fortify the household as a patriarchical institution grounded
in practices of household management by reinforcing its significance
within a specifically late Roman Christian framework. In this respect,
these gesta identify more with the conservative religious ethics favored by
fifth- and sixth-century Italian Christians, which focused on stewardship
and the householders heightened duty of religious observance.41
For example, the depiction of the converts gift giving underlined their
status as powerful, and in Hermes case especially, wealthy household-
ers. In Hermes own words, I established [Alexander] as the guardian
(tutor) for my son, and offered to this man the entire patrimonium of his
dead mother and added some from my own. Additionally, I freed all
of my slaves, who had become Christians with me, and whatever was

John 11:3853 and Sulpicius Severus, Vita S. Martini 17. Sessa 2007:1034 presents a
more detailed comparison.
Cf. Acts of Andrew 15, 30.
On the socially subversive dynamics of the Apocryphal Acts, see Perkins 1994 and
Cooper 1996: 4567.
Chapter 2.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

left over, I distributed to the poor.42 All of Hermes legacies consti-

tute acts of authority synonymous with oikonomia. In his role as domi-
nus, he manumits 1,250 slaves, a decision that was both magnanimous
and costly. (As we have seen, possessing that many household depen-
dents was hardly unusual in late antique Italy.43 ) Moreover, he directed
Alexander to baptize them. In his guise as paterfamilias, Hermes named
a guardian for his son and managed his own wealth in a manner con-
sistent with the ethics of stewardship. He not only donated some of
his own property to Alexanders church and for the care of the poor
but also offered all of the wealth once owned by his deceased wife. In
legal terms, the latter act of beneficence is harder to interpret, because
husbands and wives still maintained their properties separately in late
antiquity, and the law had long regulated gifts between spouses.44 Nev-
ertheless, the details rhetorical function is clear: It further accentuated
the absolutism of Hermes power over the bodies and properties of his
domus and his commitment to a new Christian model of household
In Quirinus case, the tribune seemingly had less wealth to offer, and
no figures are offered to quantify his baptized dependents, although the
office of tribunus did bring elite (but not senatorial) honors in the late
empire.45 As did Hermes, Quirinus gave Alexander his most valuable
possession, his daughter, now consecrated as a virgin. Here the father
did not protest his daughters renunciation of sex and marriage; on the
contrary, he enabled it.46 The deep conservatism of the episcopal gesta,
exemplified by Quirinus definitive exercise of paternal power over his

Passio S. Alexandri et al. 7 (AASS Mai. I. 372): Constitui ipsum filio meo tutorem, et
omne patrimonium matris eius defunctae ipsi contuli, aliquanta etiam de meo addidi:
cetera, vero omnibus servis meis, qui mecum facti sunt Christiani, simul cum libertate
donavi: quicquid vero superfuit erogavi pauperibus. (Emphasis mine).
Chapter 1.
On the separation of marital property and gift giving between spouses, see Treggiari
1990: 36574 and Arjava 1996: 13354. Arjava notes that the ban on gifts between
spouses might not have had much force in the later empire and that in reality the
separation of properties had always been difficult to maintain (hence the need for
inventories upon marriage).
Jones 1964: 52829, 92.
Passio S. Alexandri et al. 14. Cf. the Passio S. Susannae, in which both Susannas father,
the priest Gabianus, and her uncle, the Roman bishop Gaius, support her decision
to reject a marriage offer (from the emperors son) so that she can remain a virgin,
and the Passio SS Restitutae et Secundae (ed. Mombritius 1978: II.243), in which the
virgin sisters seek refuge on their parents property from the aggressive gestures of
their pagan fiances.

The Household and The Bishop

daughters body, is especially striking when compared with their pre-

Nicene antecedents. In the Acts of Paul and Thecla, for example, The-
cla rejected her parents expectations for marriage and defiantly chose
celibacy. It is also striking when compared with other gesta martyrum,
in which daughters and wives do resist their familys sexual and social
The strong emphasis in The Passion of St. Alexander on the house-
holders agency and authority is a prominent theme of the domestic
conversion episode throughout the episcopal passions. The masculine
gendering of the scenes is one key aspect of this discourse. To be sure,
female householders (especially widows) frequently appear in the gesta. As
Cooper has shown, they are often portrayed as patronesses who donate
their resources to caring for the martyrs remains.48 In narratives that
present this particular tale type, however, the householders are consis-
tently men. The gendering of the domestic conversion episode undoubt-
edly reflects cultural associations of estate management with the authority
of male aristocrats.
The story of the pagan dominus Sisinnius in the Passion of St.
Clement is especially illustrative of the masculine orientation of domes-
tic conversion in certain gesta.49 After secretly following his Christian wife
Theodora into church, Sisinnius was struck blind and deaf. Theodora
then seemingly usurped the householders role by providing for her
husbands cure: she invites Clement to their home, where the bishop
promptly restored Sisinnius sight and hearing. Theodoras interventions
did not directly lead to her husbands conversion, however, or, for that
matter, to a loss of his domestic authority. When the householder discov-
ered a Christian bishop in his house, he erupted into anger and ordered
his slaves to tie Clement up. Instead of shackling Clement, the slaves mis-
perceive the reality before them and chain some broken columns together
instead. It was only after experiencing this bizarre event that Sisinnius
recognized his own error, confessed a belief in Christ, and demanded that
Clement baptize him and all 423 members of his household.50 Rather
than exposing her husbands lack of authority in the domus, Theodoras

Cf. Passio S. Anastasiae (ed. Delehaye 1936: 22149); Passio S. Caeciliae 35 (ed.
Delehaye 1936: 1967); and the Passio S. Anatoliae.
See especially Cooper 1999.
Passio S. Clementis 712.
Passio S. Clementis 14. On the topos of misperception in the Roman martyr narratives,
see Sessa 2005.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

relationship with Clement emphasized her chaste devotion to Sisinnius.51

The scene affirms, rather than challenges, the male householders ulti-
mate dominance within the home.
The depiction of the master-slave relationship in the domestic conver-
sion episode further exaggerated the Christian householders domestic
authority. Tellingly, none of the six episcopal gesta examined here drama-
tizes situations in which slaves refuse to follow their masters command
to embrace Christ. In fact, several narratives highlight the slaves extreme
obedience to their newly Christianized master and to his (and now their)
religion. For instance, in the Passion of St. Stephen, Nemesius cred-
itarius, who was baptized along with the rest of his masters household,
refused to hand over his lords facultates to a pagan tribune.52 Imprisoned
in the tribunes house, the slave is threatened with bodily punishment and
death unless he transfers Nemesius property to the state and sacrifices to
the gods. Predictably, the slave evaded the threats and informed his perse-
cutor that Nemesius possessions have already been handed over to Christ,
their true owner. In addition to conforming to the ethics of stewardship,
this idealized vision of Christianization in the late Roman household
contrasts sharply with known cases of recalcitrant pagan dependents on
rural Christian estates.53 It also conflicts with accounts of converted slaves
and coloni who fled their masters to seek a better life in a monastery or
church.54 For these very reasons, however, the scene underlined Neme-
sius authority as an exemplary Christian slaver owner, who instills an
extreme sense of loyalty among his dependents.
The social status of the pagan household is another prominent detail
that speaks to the narratives broader interests in buttressing (rather than
subverting) elite domestic authority. Although a few households imag-
ined in the gesta are modest (the converted domus in the Passion of
St. Cornelius belonged to a soldier), most are associated with a defini-
tively senatorial householder. Aristocratic status in the narratives is typi-
cally glossed through late Roman offices and honorary titles. Men with

The scene thus reverses the dynamics of what Cooper calls the apostolic love triangle
in the Apocryphal Acts, whereby a female family members close relationship to an
apostle undermines the male householders authority over her and the household. See
Cooper 1996: 5156.
Passio S. Stephani 7. See also cc.1517, in which a similar scenario regarding the
protection of masters facultates plays out between a Roman official and a slave of the
senator Olympius.
Chapter 3.
Chapter 5.

The Household and The Bishop

posts that brought senatorial honors (e.g., urban prefects, vicars, even a
primiscrinius, one of the highest ranking officials in the Praetorian Pre-
fecture) as well as those called vir illustris, senator, and consul, typically
appear as the owners and heads of converted households.55 To be sure,
the contextualization of aristocratic conversion in the first, second, and
third centuries is among the gestas most blatant historical gaffes. Stud-
ies have shown that the majority of Romes senators did not embrace
Christianity until the later fourth and fifth centuries.56 Nevertheless, it
was a compelling late ancient narrative. Jeromes specious genealogies tai-
lored to flatter his patronesses, and Prudentius invented claims that the
descendents of Cato brought about the conversion of the senate square
with the historical claims of the gesta that Romes first Christians and
martyrs hailed from its upper classes.57 Given the later dates of the gesta,
the emphasis on the senatorial status of the converted household is sig-
nificant. Aristocratic identity, to repeat, was in flux during this period,
with some classical markers of elite status (e.g., birth, traditional digni-
tates, and paideia) gradually falling into obsolescence.58 In this respect, the
senatorial identities of the householders in the gesta hint at a process of
cultural transformation, whereby senatorial standing was now linked
to a particular form of Christian household management.
Indeed, the revolutionary transformations associated with Christian
conversion in the episcopal gesta largely hinge on the actions of the
householder and on his choice between two paths for his domus: to
maintain it as a polytheist home, where idols are vainly worshipped and
Christian values are mocked, or to convert it into a pious Christian
household, where he will drive all family members to participate in the
improvement of their souls. Estate management, in other words, lies at
the very center of these tales of domestic conversion. Specifically, the
stories call for the subtle realignment of oikonomia as delineated in Chap-
ter 2: the orientation of the householders authority around stewardship
and the evaluation of his status according to success or failure in securing
his households salvation. As do many other late ancient sources, these
texts assert that senatorial self-understanding should be rooted in the
domestic sphere. Although the householders depicted in the gesta remain
senatorial aristocrats in name and title, what made them senators was
not their holding of office but their exercise of good stewardship and an
On the offices and their related honors, see Jones 1964: 52829, 592.
Salzman 2002.
Cf. Prudentius, Contra Symm. 1. 54465 and Jerome, Epp. 54.4; 107.2 and 108.1, 34.
Chapter 1.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

augmented religious responsibility for all members of their household. In

fact, a householder who orchestrated the conversion of his domus in the
manner outlined here could expect to stand above his peers. According to
one narrative, a Christian dominus had the capacity to hold the households
of pagan lords in his power (in sua potestate).59 In this respect, the gesta
martyrum offered Christian elites an ethical blueprint for success in the
competitive and highly fluid society of late Roman Italy.60
These same choices and actions also forged a more permanent place
in the elite domus for the bishop of Rome. Again, the Passion of St.
Alexander is a characteristic example. In this gesta, Hermes handed his
and his wifes property directly to the bishop for him to oversee. Needless
to say, Hermes inherent trust in Alexander to steward his ecclesiastical
donations stands in marked contrast to the deep suspicion voiced by
historical Roman householders toward bishops such as Symmachus. To
a greater extent than the transferring of family possessions to Alexanders
church or even the urban prefects dramatic gesture of proskynesis at the
bishops feet, the naming of Alexander as his sons tutor most securely
established his long-term presence within Hermes home.61 Quirinus
also entrusted Alexander with his daughter, once designated for marriage
but now consigned to a life of virginity. In exchange for resolving acute
domestic emergencies in the households of two important pagan men,
Alexander received an honorable and permanent place in their domus.
Moreover, cooperation with the bishop of Rome offered the senators
opportunities to underline their aristocratic status according to a new
model of oikonomia. According to the social logic of these gesta, without
the Roman bishop, there could be no domus or dominus at least in the
emerging Christian sense of the terms.

Asymmetries of Authority in the Household: Baptism

and the Bishop as Ritual Expert
The most authoritative transformative moment in the domestic con-
version episode is the mass baptism of the householder and his family,

Passio S. Callisti 4.
It has even been suggested that the conversion narratives in individual gesta were
created to bolster the honor and public acclaim of specific late Roman families. See
Cracco Ruggini 1988.
Whether Alexanders oversight was to be understood as an informal guardianship of the
sort that Symmachus provided to Ennodius nephew or a legally defined relationship,
such as Vigilius exercised over his niece, is left unstated.

The Household and The Bishop

an act often situated within the walls of his domus. Some of these rit-
ual scenes explicitly evoke the liturgical experiences of fifth- and sixth-
century Christians by presenting baptism as a multistage rite, commenc-
ing with the householders confession of true belief, moving to his and
his familys catechism, and concluding with their immersion in a blessed
font and the householders recitation of the three-part, oath-like bap-
tismal prayer.62 In addition to the prominent role that the householder
played in the rites conduct he alone recited the creed in coordination
with the celebrant the space of his domus is a key detail. On a certain
level, the situation of baptism within a private household accords with
the dramatic dates of the narratives. After all, these are texts purportedly
written during the pre-Constantinian era, when house churches were
places of assembly and ritual for Christian communities in Rome and
elsewhere.63 By the fifth and sixth centuries, however, baptism in Rome
was an ecclesiastical event, a rite occurring in fitted masonry baptisteries
built within churches. In fact, during the fifth and sixth centuries, the
number of baptisteries in Rome proliferated, with many added to the
citys various tituli.64 Household baptism, at least in an urban context,
was a practice of the past and would have probably struck many audi-
ences of the gesta as an anachronism.65 Of course, these scenes performed
their most important ideological work in their capacity as rhetorical con-
trivances. In depicting the baptism of aristocratic households as domestic
events, the gesta called attention to the physical space of the house itself
and to its significance as a metric of a householders exercise of estate
The integral and even inextricable role of the bishop in the ritual
transformation of the senatorial household complicates the reciprocity
that structures relationships in the gesta. In the episcopal martyr nar-
ratives, the Roman bishop alone channels the supernatural power that
makes the households of Hermes, Quirinus, and others complete.
Bishops appear in the gesta not only as charismatic healers but also as
regular celebrants of baptismal rites that transform a pagan domus into a

I treat depictions of baptism in the gesta more fully in Sessa 2007: 10611.
On baptisteries in Roman churches, see Chapter 6.
Baptisms might have been performed in rural contexts on private estate chapels
during this period. As noted in Chapter 4, later fifth- and sixth-century Roman
bishops forbade the building of baptisteries in villa chapels, thereby suggesting that
baptismal rites were regularly conducted on these estates.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

Christian household. As shown elsewhere, the entire initiation process in

the episcopal gesta is compressed into a series of short rites culminating
in the final prayer, immersion, and sealing.66 It is this baptismal prayer,
realistically depicted as a three-part, oath-like exchange uttered at the
moment of the candidates submersion, that best illustrates the dynamics
of liturgy in the gesta.67 For here the initiant (householder) and the cele-
brant (bishop) trade beneficia in a manner that reveals the spiritual politics
of their relationship.
Although patronage was grounded in an ethic of reciprocity, it was
also a social system ultimately predicated on asymmetry. To be sure,
the episcopal gesta martyrum do not unambiguously present the bishop
as the patron. In traditional Roman terms, it is the householders who
have more to offer by way of resources. As Catherine Bell has shown
in other contexts, however, liturgy can reify certain relations of power
between the celebrant and initiant.68 Unlike other miraculous spectacles
of transformation in the gesta like bodily healing and exorcism, baptism
(or at least the final rites of the liturgy, which involved immersion and
sealing) was increasingly treated as a different type of supernatural event
altogether. As noted earlier, in cities like Rome, churches were retrofitted
to accommodate baptismal rites. Moreover, sources such as the Apostolic
Tradition (now thought to be a fourth-century work of Syrian origins)
and Ambrosiasters tirades against the ritual presumptions of deacons
suggest a broader ideological and institutional movement to restrict the
performance of many Christian rites, including those related to initiation,
to a relatively small group of ritual experts.69 Broadly speaking, the
gesta both support and subvert this emergent liturgical ordering. They
concur on one important point, however. Although a householder could
personally perform or direct a wide range of Christian rituals within his
home, he could not expect to call on the Holy Spirit and Christ to
enter his body and heal his sins. For this, he needed help from a holy
man. In the episcopal passions, it was the bishops spiritual power to
invoke God and channel his supernatural agency during initiation that
ultimately converted an irreligious pagan domus into a pious Christian
household. In this respect, the baptismal sequence (as depicted in these

Sessa 2007.
See Sessa 2007: 1079 for a comparison of baptismal oaths in gesta with an early
medieval baptismal formulary in Cod. Vat. Reg. 316 (ca. 750).
Bell 1992: 67 and 90.
Apostolic Tradition 19 and Ambrosiaster, Quaes. 101. For the recent reevaluation of
the Apostolic Tradition, see Bradshaw, Johnson et al. 2002.

The Household and The Bishop

sources at least) modified the traditional structure of domestic authority

by portraying the Roman bishop and not the householder as the sole
ritual agent of the households social and spiritual well-being.
The fact that domestic conversion is presented as a liturgical event
in the gesta reveals much about these texts cultural meaning. If baptism
were the key to the (re)definition of the late Roman aristocratic domus as
an elite senatorial space, then bishops necessarily played a direct role
in the process. By foregrounding the baptismal scenes as the denoue-
ment of domestic transformation, the authors constructed a history of
the early Christian household that depicted the bishop not as an invasive
interloper propelled by personal interests, but as an altruistic and even
unwilling expert summoned to help in a ritual capacity at the house-
holders bidding. These particular versions of the domestic conversion
episode, then, present the Roman bishops presence within the home as
ancient and legitimate.


Although this strong but still complex perspective on episcopal authority
characterizes several of the gesta, it does not monolithically describe the
dynamics of religious power and influence in the Roman martyr nar-
ratives. Other authors (and presumably audiences) of the gesta evidently
held very different views on the place of the bishop within the domestic
sphere. As emphasized earlier, there are many variations of the domestic
conversion episode in the gesta. In some of them, the bishops authority
within the household appears to be deliberately circumscribed through
spatially conceived barriers and through the depiction of active competi-
tors, namely, other holy men in the city of Rome whose charismatic and
liturgical powers might also transform a pagan home and householder.

No Bishops in the Bedroom!

In the gesta martyrum, Roman bishops never enter cubicula: small, narrow,
and enclosed rooms in a Roman house that were used for a variety of
activities, especially (but not exclusively) for sleep.70 This observation
is intriguing for numerous reasons, especially because the cubiculum fre-
quently appears in the gesta as the primary household room where men,

This has been confirmed through word searches of the AASS.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

women, and children experienced the transformative effects of divine

Of all domestic spaces in ancient Rome, the cubiculum was most closely
associated with secrecy, because it was widely seen as the room in which
activities could be, to some degree, shielded from certain audiences. The
secrecy of the cubiculum had two very different effects when it came
to the householders moral reputation.72 On the one hand, it occluded
the activities of its occupants, inviting speculation about their behavior
and hence their moral state. The cubiculum was consequently associated
with improper and even nefarious acts. On the other hand, the secrecy
of the cubiculum might foster the solitude needed for ethically positive
activities, such as philosophical study and writing.73 Christians inherited
these traditions of secrecy and ambivalence, and perceived the cubiculum
as a place where both depraved and salubrious activities ensued. For
example, the cubiculum is typically the room in the gesta where pagan
householders stored and/or performed polytheistic activities. Images that
the tribune Olympius heroically smashed in the Passion of St. Stephen
were kept in a cubiculum, a detail that reveals the persistence of more
negative interpretations of the room as a site of potentially evil and
harmful activities.74 Alternatively, in other Christian sources such as the
Gospel of Matthew and Jeromes letter to Eustochium, the cubiculum is
a place of solitude and self-improvement, and a refuge within the domus
from the more public spaces and practices of the house associated with
morally hazardous activities such as dining and entertaining.75
The early Christian conceptualization of the cubiculum as a space simul-
taneously occupied by dangers and divine presence influenced the rooms
close association in the gesta with the martyr. It is frequently a site of
intense ascetic undertakings, where the saint endures and overcomes
potentially catastrophic trials of faith and resolve. For example, in the
passion of the child martyr Vitus, the cubiculum served as the young

See Sessa 2007a for a more extensive discussion of the cubiculum as a cultural category
and spiritual space in both early Christian thought and the Roman martyr narratives.
Riggsby 1997, esp. 37-43.
See also Ker 2004: 21921; and Ziolkowski 1990.
See also Passio S. Stephani 9 and Passio SS. Gordiani et Epimachi 2. The association
of pagan rituals and objects with the cubiculum is often made in both classical and
Christian texts: cf. Apuleius, Apologia 58; Ammianus Marcellinus 26.3.3; and the
Bohairic version of the Life of Shenoute discussed by Frankfurter 2005. The cubiculum
was also a preferred space for performing magical rites: Cf. PGM 2.1182; 4.62, etc.,
discussed by Smith 1995: 23.
Mt 6.56 and Jerome, Ep. 22.2526.

The Household and The Bishop

boys prison and torture chamber.76 According to the text, Vitus pagan
father had locked his Christian son in a cubiculum adorned with expen-
sive fabrics, pillows, and gems to coerce Vitus to commit apostasy. Vitus
then prayed for assistance to withstand the temptations, and the Lord
responded by enveloping the cubiculum with a blinding light, which tem-
porarily disabled his father and allowed Vitus to escape with his faith
intact. Alternatively, the Roman matrona and martyr Caecilia faced sex-
ual challenges in her cubiculum.77 Caecilia, an aristocratic Christian, had
vowed to preserve her virginity, but her marriage to a pagan named Val-
erianus threatened it. When they entered the cubiculum for their first night
together as a married couple, Caecilia deflected her husbands entreaties
to consummate the marriage by informing him that she already had a
lover, the angelus dei, who had commanded that she preserve her virgin-
ity. Valerianus was initially suspicious that his wife had a human lover,
but he was quickly persuaded to convert to Christianity and to embrace
a celibate marriage. He then left the room (and the house) to find the
Roman bishop Urban, who catechized and baptized the nobleman in an
unspecified spot beyond the city walls. When Valerianus returned dressed
in the white robes of the neophyte, he saw that Caecilia was not alone
but sitting with the angel of God, who welcomed the husband into the
cubiculum and crowned the couple with floral wreaths.
Both examples share an understanding of the cubiculum as the house-
holds most holy and most treacherous space, the room in which Chris-
tians and non-Christians faced trials and tribulations. Here the inhabitants
of a cubiculum triumphantly overcame tests of their faith or ascetic com-
mitment, thereby demonstrating either that they were already devoted
ascetics or, in Valerianus case, that they were prepared for conversion.
None achieved triumph in the cubiculum without assistance: in both pas-
sions, God intervened directly within the room by the miracle of the
bright light in Vitus case, and through the appearance of the angel in
The figure, however, who is ostentatiously missing from these and
other cubiculum scenes in the gesta is the Roman bishop. Indeed, while
Roman bishops frequently visit aristocratic households in the narratives,
they never enter this particular space, nor do they play any immediate
role in the transformations ensuing within it. This is the case even in
texts that expressly imagine the physical destruction or desecration of a

Passio S. Viti 7.
Passio S. Caeciliae 48.

The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy

cubiculum as a pagan ritual space within an aristocratic house. For example,

although the Roman bishop Gaius ultimately entered the domus of an
urban prefect in the Passion of St. Sebastian to baptize the householder
and his family, he played no role in a crucial home improvement that
led to the prefec