Maijastina Kahlos, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus – Senatorial Life in Between. Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae no. 26, Roma 2002.
2.6 PRAETEXTATUS AND DAMASUS
The conflict between Damasus and Ursinus
In 366 the two contenders for the bishopric of Rome, Damasus and Ursinus, were elected and ordained simultaneously as bishops and this double election led to bloody riots in Rome between their respective adherents. Praetextatus as city prefect was forced to interfere and restore public order in the city. The information the contemporary sources, the Collectio Avellana, Jerome, Rufinus and Ammianus Marcellinus give us is contradictory for, while the Collectio Avellana sympathizes with Ursinus, Jerome and Rufinus take Damasus’ side, and Ammianus seems neutral. The later church historians Socrates and Sozomen report the incident and condemn Ursinus but their accounts are inaccurate.
The split in the Roman church began in 355 when Liberius, the Bishop of Rome (352-366), was banished by Constantius and the deacon Felix was chosen as bishop in Liberius’ place. The situation became more complicated when Liberius was reinstated and returned to Rome which meant that there were two bishops in Rome. The double election of Liberius and Felix led later to a new pair of rivals who both contended for the position after Liberius’ death in September 24, 366: one faction chose and ordained the deacon Ursinus, and the other elected and consecrated the presbyter Damasus.
Damasus and Ursinus were probably elected almost simultaneously, though the Collectio Avellana insists that Ursinus was chosen and consecrated (Sept. 24, 366) in the Basilica Iulii trans Tiberim and that Damasus was elected in a titulus church in Lucinis (now S. Lorenzo in Lucina) after Ursinus. Between the ordinations Damasus’ adherents attacked the Ursinians, who had convened in the Basilica Iulii, and fought them there for three days. Rufinus, however, claims that it was Damasus who was chosen first and that Ursinus, who could not stand Damasus being elected, in a fury had himself ordained as bishop. Jerome does not mention who was chosen first but states that Damasus was ordained first.
After his consecration Damasus began to solicit the support of the authorities. The city prefect Viventius, following the orders of Emperor Valentinian I, tried to restore peace by exiling Ursinus. However, he did not interfere in the disturbances by force and thus could not stop the riots; instead, he had to escape to the suburbs. Moreover, the Ursinian Collectio Avellana claims that Ursinus was banished because Damasus had bribed both the praefectus urbi Viventius and the praefectus annonae Iulianus. In spite of Ursinus’ banishment, the adherents of Damasus and Ursinus continued bloody riots in the city. Ammianus reports a fight in the Basilica Sicinini with one hundred and thirty-seven dead, and the Collectio Avellana describes an attack by the Damasians on the Basilica Liberii (on October 26, 366) where the Ursinians had convened; there were 160 dead and even more were wounded.
In 367 the city prefect Viventius was succeeded by Vettius Agorius Praetextatus whose actions in the conflict between Damasus and Ursinus are reported by both Ammianus and the Collectio Avellana.
The Ursinians appealed to Valentinian I to pardon the exiled Ursinus and his deacons and permit them to return to Rome. Finally, on Sept. 15, 367 Ursinus and his deacons Amantius and Lupus were allowed to return to Rome but the riots between the adherents of Damasus and Ursinus soon began again. The Ursinians still occupied the Basilica Sicinini.
According to Ammianus, Praetextatus successfully settled the disputes between the rival factions for his decisions were based on justice and truth. Giving his support to Damasus, he restored order and banished Ursinus once again from Rome; profound peace reigned thereafter. The Collectio Avellana reports that Ursinus’ adherents and priests were allowed to reside wherever they wanted with the exception of Rome intra muros. Since their meetings were forbidden within the walls of Rome, they continued their meetings outside the walls, ad sanctam Agnem (in the present S. Agnese fuori le mura) but the Damasians attacked them again. Damasus continued as the Bishop of Rome and Praetextatus handed the Basilica Sicinini, the main church of the Ursinians, over to him.
According to the Collectio Avellana, other Italian bishops who arrived for the anniversary of Damasus’ ordination condemned the violence of the Damasians against Ursinus’ adherents. In spite of the protests of other bishops, Damasus retained power until his death in 384. However, Ursinus did not give up his fight for the bishopric of Rome but rather is known to have made trouble in Milan and to have continued his dispute with Damasus, and his adherents still rioted in Rome in the 370s and 380s.
Disturbances in the fourth century were often related either to social or economic circumstances, food shortages, rivalries between the circus factions and various conflicts between the upper and lower classes, or to religious issues which cannot be clearly separated from social and economic ones. Religious changes inevitably caused uncertainty and anxiety among the people, and religious disturbances were quite common during the late Empire and usually were far more violent than other riots. In the late fourth century both the praefectus urbi and the vicarius urbi were constantly forced to interfere in religious disturbances in Rome that were sometimes caused by dogmatic disagreements but were often simply power struggles. The church historian Socrates, for instance, points out that the battle between Damasus and Ursinus was not fought over dogma but power. The election of the bishop of Rome caused disturbances in Rome even after Damasus and Ursinus when Eulalius and Bonifatius struggled for the bishopric of Rome in 418 and Laurentius and Symmachus in 498-514.
The conflict between Damasus and Ursinus was uncomfortable for the civil authorities, both because the city prefect was responsible for public order in Rome and was expected to interfere in rioting and because the civil authorities did not want to settle the disturbances by force and criminal law since Valentinian I wanted to avoid any interference in the internal affairs of the church. However, Viventius did not avoid intervening in the dispute because of Valentinian’s neutrality in religious affairs; it seems rather that the Roman urban cohorts and vigiles were so weak in the fourth century that Viventius had to keep out of the way, as Ammianus states, quae nec corrigere sufficiens Viventius nec mollire, coactus vi magna, secessit in suburbanum.
It was Praetextatus who succeeded in settling the Christians’ internal squabbles. He seems to have enjoyed Valentinian’s confidence because he was appointed praefectus urbi in middle of the conflict. Alföldi and von Haehling believe that Praetextatus’ appointment as city prefect in this difficult situation was a well-considered decision because as a pagan he was not restricted in his actions by the discipline of the Christian church. However, did Praetextatus really behave differently as city prefect because he was pagan? It seems to me that he did not differ much from his predecessor Viventius in solving the conflict between the two bishops of Rome. Viventius followed imperial orders and banished Ursinus, and so did Praetextatus. Therefore, I believe that Praetextatus’ action probably had nothing to do with his religious adherence and that he probably supported Damasus because his predecessor and the imperial court had already done so. Why had Viventius and the imperial court decided to support Damasus and to banish Ursinus? We do not know whether Damasus was more legitimate as the Bishop of Rome or whether he had more supporters within the clergy. Both bishops seem to have been supported by clerics as well as by the Christian plebs but Damasus seems to have had more influential connections and to have acted more effectively than Ursinus. Ammianus states that Damasus was victorious because of the support of his adherents: Et in concertatione superaverat Damasus, parte quae ei favebat instante.
Some city prefects managed disturbances efficiently, while others did not succeed in quelling riots, e.g. Viventius who was forced to escape the disturbances. As we have seen, Ammianus claims that Praetextatus succeeded in restoring the public order in Rome and also praises his other activities as city prefect and his noble character. Ammianus’ account implies that Praetextatus was extraordinary among all the city prefects and that also his relationship with the Roman plebs, who both feared and loved him, was exceptional. Due to his authority and popularity in Rome he was able to end the riots and restore order. Moreover, the great sorrow of the Roman plebs at Praetextatus’ death in 384 reflects his charisma and excellence (see ch. 4.1).
Modern scholars have emphasized the skilful manner in which Praetextatus handled the conflict and earned the respect of pagans as well as Christians, basing their views on Ammianus’ account where even Viventius’ flight to the suburbs underlines Praetextatus’ excellence. It is noteworthy that Ammianus tends to praise Praetextatus eloquently elsewhere though he criticizes other Roman aristocrats severely. The Collectio Avellana complements and corrects this entirely positive image of Praetextatus and his part in the crisis. In my opinion, there is no sign of impartiality in Praetextatus’ actions but on the contrary he seems to have followed the orders of his emperor and supported Damasus from the beginning.
The alliance between the ‘popes’
It seems to me that Praetextatus’ support of Damasus during the rivalry for the bishopric of Rome was a part of the alliance between them. We do not know whether they had been allies before 367 but in any case they acted as allies later and may even have made a kind of division of power in Rome. Thus, there were two ‘popes’ in Rome, Damasus, the ‘pope’ of the Christians and Praetextatus, Damasus’ ‘anti-pope’, the ‘pope’ of the pagans. Praetextatus seems to have enjoyed similar authority and prestige among the pagans as Damasus among the Christians. In 384 it was Damasus’ turn to support Praetextatus when Praetextatus’ friend Q. Aurelius Symmachus was accused of persecuting Christians and misusing the imperial order obtained by Praetextatus. Damasus stated that Christians had not been offended. On other occasions he stood firmly against the Roman pagan aristocrats, including the famous dispute over the altar of Victory in 384 when he turned the Christian senators against Symmachus’ plea for the restoration of the altar.
In late fourth-century Rome pagans and Christians acted on terms of friendship within the same circles of the Roman aristocracy. Symmachus, for instance, associated with Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, in friendly terms as his letters to Ambrose show, though their interests collided in the dispute over the altar of Victory. Praetextatus and Damasus also seem to have moved in the same circles, as Jerome mentions that Praetextatus used to joke with Damasus saying, facite me Romanae urbis episcopum, et ero protinus Christianus. Jerome’s anecdote of Praetextatus can be understood against the background of the power and wealth of the Christian church which had increased considerably during the fourth century.
The church had multiplied its properties through lavish benefactions from the Christian emperors and in the late fourth and early fifth centuries from aristocratic families. Christian bishops had become influential leaders of their communities on spiritual issues as well as on political and economic matters. Damasus’ ecclesiastical policy contributed notably to the authority and prestige of the bishop of Rome since the splendour and prominence of the Roman church during his reign appealed to the Roman aristocratic families. However, the luxury and pomp of the church were also criticized, for instance, by two Ursinian priests, Faustinus and Marcellinus, who appealed to Valentinian I, condemning Damasus for his wealth and luxury. Ammianus also reports on the riches of the Roman church, describing how the Christian priests, enriched by the offerings of matrons, rode seated in carriages, wore well-chosen clothes and arranged banquets more generous than the royal ones. Jerome also attacks the luxury of the church, crying that multi aedificant parietes et columnas ecclesiae subtrahunt; marmora nitent, auro splendent lacunaria, gemmis altare distinguitur et ministrorum Christi nulla electio est. Furthermore, he mocked the clerics who associated closely with aristocratic women, forgetting that he himself was one of those who inter mulierculas de sacris litteris philosophantur. He believed that under the Christian emperors the church had become wealthier and more powerful but weaker in its virtues.
In these circumstances, Valentinian I wanted to control the donations made to the church by aristocratic women and addressed an edict to Damasus in which he forbade clergymen to visit the houses of widows or orphan minors or to receive any kind of material benefit from the women to whom they had attached themselves under the pretext of religion. The edict declared all such donations invalid and to be confiscated. As a matter of fact, Valentinian virtually accused the churchmen of legacy hunting. Damasus himself was famous for his visits to aristocratic women, for which his Ursinian adversaries defamed him, calling him ‘the matrons’ ear-tickler’, matronarum auriscalpius.
Praetextatus seems to have realized the authority the church and the bishop had obtained in Rome as his ironic remark to Damasus shows. The anecdote is included in Jerome’s pamphlet Contra Ioannem Hierosolymitanum, written in 396/397 concerning the Origenist controversy against Bishop John of Jerusalem whom Jerome accuses of heresy. John, who had previously rejected the doctrine of the homousia of the Holy Spirit and belonged to a Macedonian sect, had finally accepted the orthodox doctrine of the Christian Trinity and rejected the Origenist subordinate christology. Jerome defames his adversary, showing him as a renegade and insinuates that John changed his religious views for opportunist reasons, in order to become the bishop of Jerusalem, and uses Praetextatus’ ironic comment as an example of calculating opportunism:
Quis sit ille, qui Theone presbytero Spiritum sanctum in Ecclesia praedicante, clauserit aures, forasque cum suis concitus fugerit, ne tantum audiret piaculum, statim sera conversione fidelem, inquit, volo. Miserabilis Praetextatus, qui designatus consul est mortuus. Homo sacrilegus, et idolorum cultor, solebat ludens beato papae Damaso dicere: ‘Facite me Romanae urbis episcopum, et ero protinus Christianus’. Quid mihi longo sermone et laciniosis periodis Arianum te non esse demonstras? Aut nega hoc dixisse eum, qui arguitur: aut si locutus est talia, damna, quia dixerit.
Praetextatus’ remark has raised many different interpretations. In my opinion, his ironic comment ridiculed the contrast between Christian ethics and the power of the church and that he criticized the outward splendour of the Christian church from the point of view of an ‘ascetic’ who despised the worldly matters.
 The Collectio Avellana, a collection of documents, letters and edicts of Roman emperors, magistrates and bishops between 367 and 553, also presents the correspondence between the Roman civil authorities and the imperial court involving the dispute between Ursinus and Damasus. For the dating of the Ursinian documents in the Collectio Avellana, see Lippold 1965b, 106-107.
 Jerome wrote about the dispute while Damasus was still alive, Rufinus around 403. Lippold 1965b, 109 regards Jerome’s and Rufinus’ accounts of the conflict as even more partial and unreliable than the Ursinian Collectio Avellana.
 Amm. 27.3.11-13; 27.4.12. Lippold 1965a, 1142 regards Ammianus’ account as anti-Christian; however, Ammianus criticizes pagans and Christians alike in his Res gestae.
 Socrat. 4.29; Sozom. 6.23. Sozomen has even changed Ursinus to Ursicius.
 Amm. 15.7.6-10. Liberius had set himself against Constantius’ anti-Nicean church politics and had refused to condemn Bishop Athanasius. According to Theodoret. hist. 2.17 Liberius’ banishment was cancelled after wealthy Roman matrons had appealed to Constantius through their husbands. The restoration of Liberius: Avell. 2. Avell. 1.5 implies that Felix still had supporters in stating that Damasus was elected as bishop in his place. Maier 233, 243-244.
 Lippold 1965a, 1142-1148.
 Avell. 1.5-6: Tunc presbyteri et diacones Ursinus Amantius et Lupus cum plebe sancta … coeperunt in basilica Iuli procedere et sibi Ursinum diaconum pontificem in loco Liberii ordinari deposcunt; periuri vero in Lucinis Damasum sibi episcopum in loco Felicis expostulant. Ursinum Paulus Tiburtinus episcopus benedicit. Quod ubi Damasus … comperit, omnes quadrigarios et imperitam multitudinem pretio concitat et armatus fustibus ad basilicam Iuli perrumpit et magna fidelium caede per triduum debacchatus est.
 Rufin. hist. 2.10: Damasus post Liberium per successionem sacerdotium in urbe Roma susceperat. Quem praelatum sibi non ferens Ursinus quidam eiusdem ecclesiae diaconus in tantum furoris erupit, ut persuaso quodam satis imperito et agresti episcopo, collecta turbulentorum et seditiosorum hominum manu, in basilica quae Sicinini appellatur, episcopum se fieri extorqueret legibus et ordine et traditione perversis.
 Hier. chron. a. 366: Romanae ecclesiae tricesimus quintus ordinatur episcopus Damasus. Et post non multum temporis intervallum Ursinus a quibusdam episcopus constitutus …
 Amm. 27.3.11-12; Avell. 1.6. Viventius PVR 365-367, PPO Galliarum 368-371: PLRE I, Viventius, 972. Iulianus, praefectus annonae 366: PLRE I, Iulianus 16, 472. Lippold 1965b, 120-121, 127-128.
 Amm. 27.3.12-13; Avell. 1.7. It is possible that Ammianus’ information about the number of the dead is based on official reports. For the conflicts and identification of churches, see Kahlos 1997, 43-44.
 Avell. 1.9-10: Voces ergo plebis ad Valentinianum principem sunt delatae, qui pietate commotus reditum concessit exulibus.
 Avell. 1.10-11; Avell. 5, ubi Ursinus et qui cum eo sunt ab exilio relaxantur, a letter addressed to Praetextatus (before Sept. 15, 367) by Valentinian, who announces that the exiled Ursinus and his adherents are to be allowed to return to Rome.
 Amm. 27.9.9: Cuius auctoritate iustisque veritatis suffragiis, tumultu lenito, quem Christianorum iurgia concitarunt, pulsoque Ursino, alta quies parta, proposito civium Romanorum aptissima…
 Avell. 1.11. In Avell. 7, de expellendis sociis Ursini extra Romam, a letter addressed to Praetextatus (Jan. 12, 368), Valentinian confirms the banishment of the Ursinian priests suggested by Praetextatus but only from within the walls of Rome: Ursini sociis ac ministris, quos praecelsa sublimitas tua propter quietem urbis aeternae de medio putavit esse tollendos, Roma tantum, … Praetextate parens karissime atque amantissime.
 Avell. 1.12: Sed populus timens Deum multisque persecutionibus fatigatus non imperatorem, non iudicem nec ipsum auctorem scelerum et homicidam Damasum timuit sed per coemeteria martyrum stationes sine clericis celebrabat. Unde cum ad sanctam Agnem multi fidelium convenissent, armatus cum satellitibus suis Damasus irruit et plurimos vastationis suae strage deiecit. In the Collectio Avellana Praetextatus is usually mentioned by name, but here as iudex, i.e. as city prefect.
 Avell. 6, ubi redditur Basilica Sicinini, a letter addressed to Praetextatus (between Nov. 16, 367 and Jan. 12, 368).
 Avell. 1.13. The first anniversary of Damasus’ bishopric is dated by Künzle 17-23, to Oct. 1, 367, by Lippold 1965b, 107-108, to the autumn of 368.
 Avell. 11-12; Hier. epist. 15; Ambr. epist. 11. For Ursinus’ later years, see Lippold 1965a, 1146-1147 and Künzle 166. It seems that the Ursinians were still active in 384 when Siricius was elected as Damasus’ successor since Ursinus was condemned at the election. Avell. 4.
 Kneppe 20-21, 60-63, 68, 90; Gregory 141-142, 147, 154; Purcell 156.
 E.g. in 355 Liberius was exiled by the city prefect Leontius (Amm. 15.7.6-10); in 368-369 the Luciferian Bishop Aurelius was arrested and prosecuted by a city prefect (Avell. 2.77-81); in 382 the Luciferian Bishop Ephesius was prosecuted by the prefect Auchenius Bassus but was liberated (Avell. 2.84-85); in 368 the prefect Olybrius and the vicar Aginatius reported religious disturbances to the Emperor and were ordered to restore peace (Avell. 8-10); in 370-372 the Ursinians caused problems for the prefect Ampelius and the vicar Maximinus (Avell. 11-12); in 378-379 the vicar Aquilinus was ordered to banish factionists beyond the hundredth milestone from Rome (Avell. 13). Sinnigen 1959, 107-108; Vera 1978, 59-60. Chastagnol 1960, 151-156 believes that the city prefect who exiled a Luciferian priest Macarius in 368 or 369 was either Praetextatus or Olybrius (Avell. 2.79-81).
 Socrat. 4.29.
 Vera 1978, 60; A.H.M. Jones 1964, 693.
 The importance of the public order, publica disciplina, publica securitas and peace, pax, quies in Rome is stressed in the correspondence between the city prefect and the emperor: Avell. 5-7. For Valentinian’s impartiality in religious matters, see ch. 2.1.
 Amm. 27.3.12. Lippold 1965a, 120 and Lippold 1965b, 1145. A.H.M. Jones 1964, 693 and Kohns 105-108 even claims that urban cohorts and cohorts of vigiles had been disbanded or had melted away by the early fourth century and that city prefects had no permanent armed force at their disposal.
 Alföldi 80-81; von Haehling 37-38.
 We do not know whether Viventius was a Christian or a pagan. Amm. 27.3.11 mentions him only as integer et prudens Pannonius. According to PLRE I, Viventius, 972, Chastagnol 1960, 153 and Künzle 129 n.98, 163 he was probably a Christian. However, Viventius might have been a pagan as well; Ursinus’ banishment does not indicate Viventius’ Christianity. Palanque 1965b, 575 stresses that city prefects did not manifest their religious adherence in their actions as prefects.
 Amm. 27.3.13. Künzle 38 and Caspar 196 believe that Ursinus was elected by the minority of the Roman clergy and Damasus was supported by the majority of the clergy, while Lippold 1965b, 111 and Lippold 1965a, 1142, 1144 remarks that according to Avell. 1.5-6 three of the seven deacons (Ursinus himself, Amantius and Lupus), seven presbyters and plebs sancta were against Damasus. Avell. 1.5 regards Ursinus as the legitimate successor of Liberius and Damasus as a candidate chosen in place of Felix. According to Ganshof 492-493 there were no fixed rules for the election of bishops in the fourth century.
 The discontent of the Roman people, e.g. during food shortages, was often targeted against the city prefect or other representatives of imperial power though physical violence directed against the city prefect was rare. Crowds usually directed their anger against things, burned the houses of aristocrats, overturned statues, etc. Amm. 14.6.1 (Orfitus); 15.7.2-3 (Leontius); 19.10.1-4 (Tertullus); 27.3.8-9 (the populace tried to burn Lampadius’ house); Amm. 27.3.4; Symm. epist. 1.44 (Avianius Symmachus’ house was burned by the people). Aristocrats were particularly afraid of riots because the rage of the crowds fell first on them: Symm. epist. 2.6; 4.54.3; 5.12; 6.18; 6.66.1; rel. 6; 9; 18; 35. Kneppe 25, 63, 94-95; Gregory 140-142. Purcell 158-159 stresses that the changes in the structures of economic dependence were the common denominators of the late antique disorder.
 Amm. 27.9.8-10. For the city prefecture of Rome, see ch. 1.2.
 E.g. Bloch 1945, 204 asserted that Praetextatus showed a high degree of political tact in this difficult conflict.
 Ammianus’ positive attitude to Praetextatus appears in Amm. 27.3.12-13.
 Symm. rel. 21.3-5. See ch. 1.2.
 Ambr. epist. 17.10. For the dispute about the altar of Victory, see e.g. Canfora, Klein 1971, Klein 1972, Wytzes.
 Pietri 1978, 317-337, esp. 321, 328; Kelly 82; Huskinson 90-91. Vera 1979, 387, 390 stresses Damasus’ influence within the Roman Christian aristocratic society.
 Avell. 2, Marcellinus et Faustinus presbyteri de confessione verae fidei.
 Amm. 27.3.14: ut ditentur oblationibus matronarum, procedantque vehiculis insidentes, circumspecte vestiti, epulas curantes profusas, adeo ut eorum convivia regales superent mensas. Vera 1979, 388 suggests that here Ammianus might answer Jerome’s attack on Praetextatus in Hier. epist. 23.2-3 but I find this very unlikely. Great donors were e.g. Melania the Younger, Olympias and one of the most generous donors was Anicia Faltonia Proba who gave the revenues of her Asian estates to churches and monasteries. For the donations and the wealth of the church, see Hunt 1998, 257-262.
 Hier. epist. 52.10. Also Hier. epist. 46.11.
 Hier. epist. 53.7. Also Hier. epist. 22.16; 22.28; 43.3.
 Hier. Malchi 1. Other critics Greg. Naz. or. 42.24; Sulp. Sev. chron. 1.23.
 CTh 16.2.20 (July 30, 370) addressed to Damasus himself! For the control of legacies, see also Ambr. epist. 18.14; CTh 5.1.4; 4.4.2 from 389; CTh 16.2.27-28 from 390.
 Avell. 1.9.
 For the controversy, see Grützmacher 1908, 1-21, 19; Cavallera 206-227; Kelly 195.
 Hier. c. Ioh. 8.
 Alföldi 1952, 84 regards it as Praetextatus’ answer to Damasus who had tried to convert him to Christianity while, according to Courcelle 1943, 35, Jerome regarded Praetextatus as an opportunist who saw in religion nothing but a political device. According to Marcone 1998, 365, Praetextatus’ witticism might be symptomatic of aristocratic attitudes to the new positions of power that the church provided. Bruggisser 1993, 369 n.54 interprets the words as the same kind of criticism of Christian opportunistic converts as Symmachus’ bitter words nunc aris deesse Romanos genus est ambiendi (epist. 1.51). Klein 1971, 48 believes that Praetextatus despised the Christians for their compromised attitude and did not appreciate their doctrine whereas for Paschoud 1967, 95; Paschoud 1965, 232 n.99 Praetextatus’ words illustrate the avaricious spirit of the Roman pagan aristocracy. Herzog 1938, 110 regarded the anecdote as Jerome’s example of a conversion that took place too late.
 Similarly Pietri 1978, 317 and Kelly 82.