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Christian Inscriptions from a Third and Fourth-Century House Church at Messene (Peloponnese), The Journal of Epigraphical Studies 5 (2022), 175-197

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Nikos Tsivikis
Abstract · Aim of this study is to examine in detail and expand the discussion on two inscrip-
tions from a recently excavated Late Roman domus dating to the third and fourth century a.d.
at Messene in southwest Peloponnese. The inscriptions were set in the mosaic oors of the central
hall of the domus during extensive Late Roman remodelling of the pre-existing structure. By
analysing the inscriptions’ text and archaeology we are able to provide further evidence on the
Christian and public character of the domus, that probably functioned as an assembly hall for the
early Christian community of the city, a house church or a domus ecclesiae. The building and its
inscriptions constitute a nd of paramount importance for early Christian church architecture,
one of a very small number of excavated house churches known to us from this period, providing
a link of continuity between pre-Constantinian and Constantinian Christian worship.
Keywords · Christian Epigraphy, Christianization, Messene, Peloponnese, House Church, Domus
This study examines two Greek donor inscriptions inscriptions found in the mosaic
oor of a Late Roman domus excavated in the city of Messene, a major urban settle-
ment in the SW Peloponnese.1 The inscriptions have been presented several times since
their rst discovery in 2013 and have been in the center of a discussion regarding the
possible identication of the roles or professions of the mentioned individuals. In the
initial publication of the inscriptions by the excavator Petros Themelis, the individuals
were identied possibly as holding the civic oces of ἀναγνώστης and ἐπίσκοπος and
maybe the actual artisans that created the mosaics, although some connection to the
Christian community was already suspected.2 Soon after their publication Michel Sève
in a short note commented that these individuals should be better identied with ec-
clesiastical dignitaries that were responsible for the commission of the mosaics.3 Christian
identication of the individuals was also proposed at the same time by the author in
his unpublished dissertation in connection to new nds from the ongoing excavation
of the building complex of the domus.4 This discussion lead eventually the current con-
sensus to regard the two Messene mosaic inscriptions as Christian and the mentioned, Institute for Mediterranean Studies - Foundation for Research and Technol-
ogy, Hellas/Greece.
1 SEG 63.316 (ICG 3482) and SEG 64.254 (ICG 3486). For Roman and Late Roman Messene see
Themelis 2010b; Themelis 2016; Tsivikis 2017; Themelis 2018b.
2 Themelis 2013, 95; Themelis 2014, 92-93. 3 BE 2015, 75 (p. 402).
4 Tsivikis 2016, 166-172; Tsivikis 2018. Based on this identication new excavation and restoration
of the mosaics was conducted in 2017 and 2018 with the support of a Byzantine Project Grant by Dum-
barton Oaks.
https:// · «the journal of epigraphic studies», 5, 2022
received: 30.3.2021 · revised: 14.7.2021 · accepted: 1.9.2021
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