The bishop of Laodicea and former soldier, Eugenius, commemorates the construction of a church after having suffered persecution and tortures under Maximinus Daia.
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
Field close to the Turkish village of Ladik, ancient Laodicea Combusta/Katakekaumene.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
Halıcı street in Ladik (Turkey), half buried in a field near the cemetery.
320 CE to 340 CE
Tabula Ansata with a rectangular frame and a carved moulding at the top.
132 high, 263 wide, and 126 centimetres thick. Letters are between 2 and 3 centimetres tall.
Roman, Greek, Christian
MAMA I 170 [I.Montanist 69]
This text was inscribed on one of the many sarcophagi populating the necropolis of the eastern Mediterranean under Roman rule. Most funerary inscriptions are rather formulaic and have not attracted much scholarly interest in studies assessing the impact of Rome on the provinces. This testimony, however, is remarkable because it records the biographical account of a bishop who both served as a soldier in the imperial army and built a church in the first half of the 4th century CE. Accordingly, these lines shed unique light on the evolution of the Roman Empire at the beginning of Late Antiquity and the transformation of tortured martyrs into notable Christians.
Marcus Iulius Eugenius was the son of a man from Kuessa, a settlement not attested elsewhere in the available sources. It most likely corresponded to a rural community in the region of central Anatolia where the episodes recorded took placed. Despite this obscure origin, Eugenius is described as a member of the council (βουλευτής/bouleutês), so he belonged to the privileged curial class. According to his nomenclature, his family had received Roman citizenship before the Constitutio Antoniniana and a high social standing should be confirmed by his marriage to Flavia Iulia Flaviane, who was daughter of a member of the Roman senatorial class (συγκλητικός/synklêtikos). Hence, this is not a case of a deprived countryman entering the lowest ranks of the Roman army. Eugenius’s military service was conducted honourably (μετ’ ἐπιτειμίας/met’epiteimias) and he served in the force (τάξις/taxis) directly attached to the governor of Pisidia. This province surrounded by Phrygia, Caria, Galatia and Lycaonia had been created during the profound territorial reforms carried out by the Tetrarchy between the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th centuries CE; Antioch was its capital and M. Valerius Diogenes (cited in l. 8) one of the first governors (PLRE I Diogenes 8, p. 257; see Christol and Drew-Bear “Antioche de Pisidie”). The participation of Eugenius in the Roman army is interesting because authoritative Christian authors such as Tertullian had recommended exactly the opposite on grounds of idolatry (http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/tertullian-idolatry-xix). Furthermore, the African writer in the Severan period denounced that military service required certain practices such as oaths or violence which contravened God’s law (http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/tertullian-military-garland-i1-4 http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/tertullian-military-garland-xi1-4). The example of Marcus Iulius Eugenius therefore illustrates the difficulties and contradictions of a member of the local elite who was, on the one hand, expected to service the Roman Empire and, on the other hand, bound to the commandments of his religious group. Indeed, this is not an isolated case because Eusebius reports that the so-called ‘Great Persecution’ initiated by Diocletian in 303 first struck “our brothers in the army” (http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/eusebius-caesarea-ecclesiastical-history-viii17-22).
The beginning of the 4th century was a particularly challenging period for Christianity. Once the persecutions of the 250’s came to end, Gallienus inaugurated a more lenient policy in which the Church grew with a certain degree of complacency (http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/eusebius-caesarea-ecclesiastical-history-viii17-22; http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/eusebius-caesarea-ecclesiastical-history-viii139-14). With the arrival and establishment of the Tetrarchy, the Roman rulers became identified with Jupiter and Hercules, and they required pagan sacrifices to be performed (http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/peter-alexandria-canonical-epistle-v-vii), even by people holding prominent positions in the Roman administration (http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/eusebius-caesarea-ecclesiastical-history-viii96-8-and-111-2). Martyrs multiplied across the provinces of the Empire (http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/inscriptiones-christianae-graecae-3621), and the Caesar Maximinus showed himself particularly harsh already in 306 according to Eusebius, (Palestinian Martyrs IV.8, IX.2). Only in 311, Maxentius declared from Rome toleration for the Christians (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History VIII. 14. 1), and Galerius, in the East, followed (Lactantius, On the Death of the Persecutors 33. 1-35; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History VIII. 17. 3-10). The latter died shortly thereafter and Maximinus Daia immediately came from the Near East to occupy Asia Minor. He had not subscribed to the Edict of Toleration, so official embassies from the territory under his control soon reached him asking to punish the Christians as evidenced in the petition from Arykanda. The text issued by Maximinus confirms that such demands were fulfilled and he even allowed the expulsion of Christians from the cities (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IX.7.3-14; see Mitchell, “Maximinus”). This order (κέλευσις/keleusis) is precisely referred to in the sarcophagus (l. 5) as it forced the Christians to perform sacrifices (θύειν/thuein) without the possibility of escaping military service (στρατεία/strateia). For this reason, Eugenius suffered the many tortures (βάσανοι/basanoi) laid down by the provincial governor, as also described in the martyrdom of St. Theodotus (see Mitchell, “The Life”).
After such traumatic events, Eugenius abandoned the army preserving “the faith of the Christians” (τῶν Χρειστιανῶν πίστις/tôn Chreistianôn pistis). Subsequently, the orders of imperial authorities were not followed any longer, but rather the will (βούλησις/boulêsis) of the almighty god (παντοκράτωρ/pantokratôr). Eugenius arrived at Laodicea (Combusta or Katakekaumene) in the east of Pisidia and became bishop (ἐπίσκοπος/episkopos) of the city, a position which he held for 25 years. The region was an important centre of the Novatianist movement, and it has been argued – without confirmation – that Eugenius succeeded the religious leader Severus (MAMA I.171; see Mitchell, Anatolia II, p. 100-102). Neither of them appear in the lists of bishops that attended the council of Nicaea; yet, Eugenius must have experienced during his tenure the transition from Christians being martyred to Christianity becoming the state religion. Maximinus Daia died in 313 (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IX. 9a. 4-9) and soon thereafter the ‘Edict of Milan’ promulgated to decriminalise Christianity also reached the Anatolian provinces. In this new context, the bishop of Laodicea was allowed to completely rebuild a church (ἐκλησία/eklêsia) with all its constituent elements and ornaments (l. 15-17). The inscribed sarcophagus (σορός/soros) that he commissioned soon before his death would also serve to embellish the legacy of his religious building and family. Eugenius’s quest for posterity has likewise provided us with an exceptional testimony of a period in which the Church passed from the toils of persecution to the promotion of public construction, with the sponsorship of local religious leaders who still found it convenient to record previous episodes of struggle against Roman power before the Christian Empire began to be established.
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