The monument of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus

CIL VI, 1779 is a statue base.  Blessedly, a photograph is online at BBAW here, which I borrow (right), together with a transcription and a German translation.  I believe the monument may now be in the Capitoline museum in Rome.[1]

The statue which stood atop it has, alas, long since vanished, but on the base is a long inscription set up by the widow of the man in question, one Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, the leader of the “pagan reaction” in the late 4th century, which went down before S. Ambrose and the emperor Theodosius I.  He died in 384 A.D.

The inscription is as follows:

D(is) M(anibus) / Vettius Agorius Praetextatus / augur p[o]ntifex Vestae / pontifex Sol[is] quindecemvir / curialis Herc[u]lis sacratus / Libero et Eleusiniis hierophanta / neocorus tauroboliatus / pater patrum in [r]e publica vero / quaestor candidatus / pr(a)etor urbanus / corrector Tusciae et Umbriae / consularis Lusitaniae / proconsule Achaiae / praefectus urbi / legatus a senatu missus V / praefectus praetorio II Italiae / et Illyrici / consul ordinarius / designatus / et Aconia Fabia Paulina c(larissima) f(emina) / sacrata Cereri et Eleusiniis / sacrata apud (A)eginam Hecatae / tauroboliata hierophantria / hi coniuncti simul vixerunt ann(os) XL // Vettius Agorius Praetextatus / Paulinae coniugi / Paulina veri et castitatis conscia / dicata templis atq(ue) amica numinum / sibi maritum praeferens Romam viro / pudens fidelis pura mente et corpore / benigna cunctis utilis penatibus / cae[le]s[tium iam sede semper mec]u[m e]ri[s // Vettius Agorius Praetextatus / Paulinae coniugi / Paulina nostri pectoris consortio / fomes pudoris castitatis vinculum / amorque purus et fides caelo sata / arcana mentis cui reclusa credidi / munus deorum qui maritalem torum / nectunt amicis et pudicis nexibus / pietate matris coniugali gratia / nexu sororis filiae modestia / et quanta amicis iungimur fiducia / aetatis usu consecrandi foedere / iugi fideli simplici concordia / iuvans maritum diligens ornans / colens // [Sple]ndor parentum nil mihi maius dedit / [quam] quod marito digna iam tum visa sum / [se]d lumen omne vel decus nomen viri / Agori superbo qui creatus germine / patriam senatum coniugemq(ue) inluminas / probitate mentis moribus studiis simul / virtutis apicem quis supremum nanctus es / tu namque quidquid lingua utraq(ue) est proditum / cura soforum porta quis caeli patet / vel quae periti condidere carmina / vel quae solutis vocibus sunt edita / meliora reddis quam legendo sumpseras / sed ista parva tu pius m<y=OVE>stes sacris / teletis reperta mentis arcano premis / divumque numen multiplex doctus colis / sociam benigne coniuge nectens sacris / hominum deumque consciam ac fidam tibi / quid nunc honores aut potestates loquar / hominumque votis adpetita gaudia / quae tu caduca ac parva semper autumans / divum sacerdos infulis celsus clues / tu me marite disciplinarum bono / puram ac pudicam sorte mortis eximens / in templa ducis ac famulam divis dicas / te teste cunctis imbuor mysteriis / tu Dindymenes Atteosqu<e=I> antistitem / teletis honoras taureis consors pius / Hecates ministram trina secreta edoces / Cererisque Graiae tu sacris dignam paras / te propter omnis me beatam me piam / celebrant quod ipse bonam disseminas / totum per orbem ignota noscor omnibus / nam te marito cur placere non queam / exemplum de me Romulae matres petunt / subolemque pulchram si tuae similis putant / optant probantque nunc viri nunc feminae / quae tu magister indidisti insignia / his nunc ademptis maesta coniunx maceror / felix maritum si superstitem mihi / divi dedissent sed tamen felix tua / quia sum fuique postque mortem mox ero

Much of this is an epitaph by the wife, Paulina, and an English translation of it may be found here.  But the list of offices held is also very interesting:

To the shades of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, augur, priest of Vesta, priest of Sol, member of the Board of Fifteen, initiate of the senate of Hercules, hierophant of Liber and the Elusinian mysteries, neocorus (?), tauroboliate (i.e. had undergone the taurobolium in the cult of Cybele), pater patrum; and in the state: candidate for Quaestor, Urban Praetor, Corrector of Tuscany and Umbria,  a consular of Lusitania, proconsul of Achaia, Urban Prefect, senatorial legate 5 times, Praetorian Prefect of Italy and Illyria twice, consul-ordinary-designate; and Aconia Fabia Paulina, noble woman, initiate of Ceres and the Eleusinian mysteries, initiate of Hecate at Aegina, tauroboliate hierophant …

The mention of “pater patrum” reminds us of the cult of Mithras, where 15 inscriptions attest to a person of high rank, usually in Rome, with that title. 

But when I first read this, I wondered whether it should be connected instead to the list of secular offices.  Unlike any other priesthood, the name of the god is not mentioned.  Could we simply read as “truly the Father of the Fathers in the state”, with the old meaning of patres as the Fathers, the senators, in much the way that Lord Macaulay gives it:

For Romans in Rome’s quarrel spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life, in the brave days of old.
Then none was for a party; then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor, and the poor man loved the great.
Then lands were fairly portioned; then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers in the brave days of old.
Now Roman is to Roman more hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high, and the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction, in battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought in the brave days of old.

But it seems to be generally read as a reference to the Mithraic office.

Praetextatus was a great man in his day, a Roman aristocrat at the end of the 4th century, watching the world change in unthinkable ways and trying, in his own way, to resist.  Within a handful of years of his death, the barbarians would ride in triumph through Rome itself.  How curious that his monument should survive, 16 centuries later, as a window into a Rome that was vanishing as it was carved.

  1. [1] See the website here.  This gives an inventory no, inv. MC0208, and tells us the item is 125 cm high.

3 Responses to “The monument of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus”


  1. Craig Baugh

    I was just in the Capitoline Museum on Saturday, but don’t remember this particular inscription. Wonder if it is actually on display? I did make it to Ostia on Sunday and took pictures in six of the sixteen mithraea. I’m planning on returning this Saturday to track down the other ten. Finding these puppies are a challenge using the available information, so I feel forunate to have located six. My favorite was the Baths of Mithra mithraeum cuz it is underground. Will be in Rome until Sunday.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Deeply envious.

  3. David Wilmshurst

    How wonderful to see that ‘How Horatius Held the Bridge’ is not entirely forgotten in these squeamish, politically-correct times. I remember learning the poem by heart at primary school, and still find it enormously comforting to recite it in my head when I go jogging.

    ‘Lie there,’ he cried, ‘fell pirate! No more, aghast and pale,/From Ostia’s walls the crowd shall mark/ the track of thy destroying bark,/No more Campania’s hinds shall fly/ to woods and caverns when they spy/ thy thrice-accursed sail!’

    They don’t write them like that anymore!



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