Rome, A.D. 384 (CIL VI.1779, 1780, 2145=ILS 1259-61. L)

Wife of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, an important imperial official and leader of the pagans in the Senate, a devout adherent of traditional religion.[1] Cf. nos. 427-437.

To the gods of the dead. Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, augur, priest of Vesta, priest of the Sun, quindecemvir,[2] curialis of Hercules, initiate of Liber and the Eleusinian [mysteries], hierophant, neocorus, tauroboliatus, father of fathers.[3] In public office imperial quaestor, praetor of Rome, governor of Tuscia and Umbria, governor of Lusitania, proconsul of Achaia, praefect of Rome, senatorial legate on seven missions, prefect of the praetorian guard twice in Italy and Illyrica, consul ordinarius elect,[4] and Aconia Fabia Paulina,[5] initiate of Ceres and the Eleusinian [mysteries], initiate of Hecate at Aegina, tauroboliata, hierophant. They lived together for 40 years.

On the right side of the tomb

Vettius Agorius Praetextatus to his wife Paulina. (In verse) Paulina, conscious of truth and chastity, devoted to the temples and friend of the divinities, who put her husband before herself, and Rome before her husband, proper, faithful, pure in mind and body, kindly to all, helpful to her family gods … 

On the left side

Vettius Agorius Praetextatus to his wife Paulina. (In verse) Paulina, the partnership of our heart is the origin of your propriety; it is the bond of chastity and pure love and fidelity born in heaven. To this partnership I entrusted the hidden secrets of my mind; it was a gift of the gods, who bind our marriage couch with loving and chaste bonds. With a mother’s devotion, with a wife’s charm, with a sister’s bond, with a daughter’s modesty; with the great trust by which we are united with our friends, from the experience of our life together, by the alliance of our marriage, in pure, faithful, simple concord; you helped your husband, loved him, honoured him, cared for him.

On the back of the monument. Paulina is speaking, in verse

My parents’ distinction did nothing greater for me than that I even then seemed worthy of my husband. But all glory and honour is my husband’s name, Agorius. You, descended from noble seed, have at the same time glorified your country, senate, and wife with your mind’s judgment, your character and your industry, with which you have reached the highest pinnacle of excellence. For whatever has been produced in either language by the skill of the sages to whom the gate of heaven is open, whether songs that poets composed or writings in prose, these you make better than when you took them up to read.[6] But these are small matters; you as pious initiate conceal in the secrecy of your mind what was revealed in the sacred mysteries, and you with knowledge worship the manifold divinity of the gods;[7] you kindly include as colleague in the rites your wife, who is respectful of men and gods and is faithful to you. Why should I speak of your honours and powers and the joys sought in men’s prayers? These you always judge transitory and insignificant, since your title to eminence depends on the insignia of your priesthood. My husband, by the gift of your learning you keep me pure and chaste from the fate of death; you take me into the temples and devote me as the servant of the gods. With you as my witness I am introduced to all the mysteries; you, my pious consort, honour me as priestess of Dindymene and Attis with sacrificial rites of the taurobolium;[8] you instruct me as minister of Hecate in the triple secret and you make me worthy of the rites of Greek Ceres. On account of you everyone praises me as pious and blessed, because you yourself have proclaimed me as good through the whole world; though unknown I am known to all.[9] For with you as husband how could I not be pleasing? Roman mothers seek an example from me, and think their offspring handsome if they are like yours.[10] Now men, now women want and approve the insignia that you as teacher have given me. Now that all these have been taken away I your wife waste away in sorrow; I would have been happy, if the gods had given me a husband who had survived me, but still I am happy because I am yours and have been yours and will now be yours after my death.

Another inscription

To Fabia Aconia Paulina, daughter of Aco Catullinus formerly prefect and consul, wife of Vettius Praetextatus prefect and consul elect, initiate at Eleusis to the god Iacchus, Ceres and Cora, initiate at Lerna to the god Liber and Ceres and Cora,[11] initiate at Aegina’ to the two goddesses, tauroboliata, priestess of Isis, hierophant of the goddess Hecate, and initiate in the rites of the Greek Ceres.[12] 

Inscription on a statue base

In honour of Coelia Concordia, chief Vestal Virgin, Fabia Paulina arranged that a statue be made and set up first on account of her distinguished chastity and celebrated holiness concerning the divine cult, and chiefly because [Coelia Concordia] first had set up a statue to [Paulina’s] husband Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, who was a man in all ways exceptional and deserving of honour even by virgins and by priestesses of this [high] rank.[13]


1. See esp. Bloch, 1945.

2. The last three titles signify that Praetextatus was a member of three our of the four ancient priestly colleges; priest of the Sun could refer to the cult either of Mithras (cf. ILS 4152) or Sol Invictus; for Praetextatus (as for the Emperor Julian) the Sun represented the Twelve Gods (Macrobius, Sat. 1.xvii, 1-xxiv.1).

3. These titles refer respectively to the cult of the oriental gods Serapis, Magna Mater, and Mithras. In the ritual of the taurobolium a bull (tauros) was slaughtered over the head of the initiate while he/she stood below in a pit. Through the shower of blood the initiate was reborn for eternity (e.g. ILS 4152). Cf. the metaphorical rebirth of Christians through drinking the wine that represents the blood of the Saviour.

4. Praetextatus was proconsul of Achaea in 362 under the philhellenic pagan Emperor Julian the ‘Apostate’, a particular honour. He was prefect of Rome in 367 under the Emperor Valentinian, when Christian factions were disputing the papacy. During this period he restored the Portico of the Twelve Gods with its statues in the Roman Forum. He was prefect of the Praetorian guard when he died in 384, and consul elect for 385, the year of his wife’s death.

5. She has the honorary title of ‘woman of distinction’.

6. Praetextatus translated Themistius’ paraphrases of Aristotle’s Prior and Posterious Analytics, but Paulina’s words suggest that he also had better editions prepared of works of Latin literature.

7. See above n. xx 52, on the Twelve Gods.

8. Dindymene, i.e. the Magna Mater. Praetextatus showed an unusual concern for the religious education of his wife; see Brown, 1972. Cf. ILS 4154, an inscription on an altar set up in 340 by Caecina Lolliana and her son Ceionius Rufus Volusianus; his sister Sabina was an initiate of some of the same mystery cults and Paulina.

9. The reverse of Clodia’s situation; see no. 155.

10. A variation on the usual praise of close resemblance of father and son; see pp. xx 104, xx 162.

11. As governor of Achaea Praetextatus had protected these cults against the Christian government. 

12. I.e. the Magna Mater; with Isis, this represents her participation in Oriental cult; cf. above n. 53.

13. This action had been opposed by the prefect of Rome of 385, the prominent pagan Symmachus, on the grounds that it was untraditional to bestow such honours on men (Symm. Ep. 2.36). In general see esp. Bloch, 1963.