Sharing the catacombs

Archaeology, Roundtable, Roma/online

Entrance: Via Liguria 20
‘I pomeriggi series 2021/2022’

Archaeology, Roundtable

Entrance: Via Liguria 20
‘I pomeriggi series 2021/2022’

The event will be held in Italian and English from H17:00 in Rome and online.
Register to attend here.
Register on Zoom here.

I pomeriggi series 2021/2022
I pomeriggi 2021/2022 at Istituto Svizzero is a series dedicated to our fellows. It is an opportunity for the public to learn more about the projects they are working on during this year’s residency.

The event is curated by Caroline Bridel (Fellow Roma Calling 2021/2022), as part of the Incontri Tardoantichi a Roma (ITAR).

Sharing the catacombs. Religious interactions in the funerary spaces of Rome (3rd-5th century)

The funerary spaces of the city of Rome and their development bear witness to the different dynamics between the religious groups that characterise Late Antiquity. However, as this period was one of religious transformation and transition, the boundaries between the different categories are blurred and it is difficult to apply a strict religious tripartition model (pagans, Jews, Christians) to the archaeological material. Moreover, several studies have shown that the notion of a cemetery reserved for Christians and managed by Christian authorities does not yet apply to Late Antiquity and it has been established that there were tombs shared by both Christians and pagans. Since nothing prohibited a Christian and a pagan from being buried in the same tomb, how can we understand and study this sharing of the catacombs?

This roundtable aims to examine religious identities in the funerary spaces and their development. We will consider the topographical development of the city of Rome (3rd-5th centuries) as it is a privileged observatory to study political and religious changes. To this end, three specialists of the various Roman funerary spaces have been invited to take a stand on this subject. The Vatican necropolis, which is located near and under one of the most important places of Christianity, attests to the evolution of Roman funeral practices.¬†Recent excavations on the Via Triumphalis have revealed “pagan” funerary practices closer to superstition than to an official Roman religion. On the other hand, the Jewish catacombs have been installed along the same routes as the Christian catacombs, a situation that can also be found elsewhere in Italy. Moreover, some epitaphs found there raise particularly interesting questions of identity. The proximity between these different funerary spaces also raise interesting points. Could this be considered a funerary cohabitation? Finally, the development of the Christian catacombs through the appropriation of space, tombs and images changed the funerary landscape of the Roman capital. The transformation of the city into a Christian Rome took place largely through the appropriation of the catacombs, the establishment of the cult of the martyrs and the construction of funerary basilicas. Should this be seen as a discontinuation of the sharing and the shift to a competitive dynamic?

The roundtable at Istituto Svizzero is part of the seminar ITAR-Incontri Tardantichi a Roma and aims to return to these fundamental questions in order to better understand the religious transformations of Late Antiquity and the way in which religious identities have been materialised trough the urban place and the funerary world.

The ITAR-Incontri tardoantichi a Roma seminar was created in 2013 by Isabelle Mossong (√Čcole Fran√ßaise de Rome) and Claire Sotinel (Universit√© de Paris-Est Cr√©teil). It aims to bring together specialists once a quarter to illustrate the different aspects (religious, social, economic, cultural, historiographical, political) of Late Antiquity. The scientific committee associates the √Čcole fran√ßaise de Rome, the American Academy in Rome, the Deutsches Arch√§ologisches Institut-Rom, the Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana and La Sapienza Universit√† di Roma.


H17:00-17:15 – Caroline Bridel, Introduction

H17:15-17:45 РGiandomenico Spinola (Musei Vaticani), La necropoli vaticana della via Triumphalis: tra religione e superstizione

H17:45-18:15 – Giancarlo Lacerenza (Universit√† di Napoli L’Orientale),¬†Ebraico e aramaico negli epitaffi delle catacombe ebraiche di Roma: segni di plurilinguismo o marcatori identitari?¬†

H18:15-18:30 – Break

H18:30-19:00 РNorbert Zimmermann (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut), Space, tombs, images: Experiencing Christian Catacombs of Rome

H19:00-19:30 – Discussion moderated by Caroline Bridel


Caroline Bridel (1993) holds an MA in Classical Archaeology and Sciences of Antiquity from the University of Geneva. As a PhD student at the University of Freiburg, her thesis contributes to an FSN Eccellenza research project. Her research focuses on the manufacturing processes of Christian iconography in relation to image production and texts from Late Antiquity. Through an approach combining archaeology and iconography, in Rome she completes her research on the definition of the Christian images and their contexts.

Giancarlo Lacerenza¬†is full professor of Hebrew at the University of Naples L‚ÄôOrientale, where he currently teaches Jewish History and Civilization and Jewish Epigraphy and Antiquities. In 2007 he founded the Center for Jewish Studies, of which he has been scientific director and then president, until today, leading most of its activities. Widely active in the editing world, he is director of the Archive of Jewish Studies series since 2008, editor-in-chief of the Sefer yuŠł•asin – Review for the History of the Jewish in South Italy since 2013 and wrote numerus publications. His research focuses on the philology and lexicography of the biblical text, on medieval Hebrew literature, on epigraphy and documentary history of the Jews in Italy and on the history of science, mysticism and magic in the Jewish world. He also curated various exhibitions on the history of Jews in the modern and contemporary age.

Giandomenico Spinola is curator of the Department of Greek and Roman Art and Head of the Department of Archaeology at the Vatican Museums where, after numerous excavations and studies in Italy and abroad, he has been working since 1993; first as curator of the Department of Antiquities and Early Christian Art and of the Pio-Christian Museum, then as curator of the Department of Classical Art and, since 2009, as head of the Department of Archaeology. He has excavated in Libya (Cyrene) and in many Italian archaeological sites, especially in Rome, where he directed the excavations of the necropolis along the Via Triumphalis in the Vatican and coordinated the archaeological investigations in the areas under the basilicas of S. Giovanni in Laterano and S. Maria Maggiore and in the villa of Domitian in Castel Gandolfo. Over the years he has widely lectured, published, and he curated exhibitions in the Vatican, Italy and abroad.

Norbert Zimmermann is scientific director of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut in Rome (DAI). His research focuses on the transformations of the Late Roman world, especially through the study of wall paintings in domestic and funerary contexts. His various projects have taken him to many places of the ancient Roman world, but he is particularly active in two areas: Rome and Ephesus (present-day Turkey). He is currently conducting various research projects: investigating the Cemetery of the Seven Dormants in Ephesus, analysing an early Christian architectural complex in Bariano and studying the frescoes in the Catacombs of Domitilla, a place where he has been active since 2006 through the START-project, which consisted of surveying and scanning the entire funerary complex with the help of new technologies (3D-laserscan). Together with his colleague Dr. Thomas Fröhlich, he studies collective burials in Rome between the Late Republic and Late Antiquity (Domitilla Catacombs and the Jewish Catacombs of the Vigna Randanini and Cimarra).

Access is allowed only to those who obtained the Reinforced Green Pass health certificate, which proves vaccination or recovery. It is mandatory to wear a Ffp2 face mask within the spaces.