The art of the catacombs was born in Rome between the second and third centuries and is manifested especially in the pictorial decorations of the cubicula and other hypogeal environments. The extremely simplified artistic typology echoes the Second Pompeian style through the use of red and green lines that run across the walls and the faces of the monuments. Initially this grid contained neutral figures selected from the pagan repertoire; later those images were replaced by Christian scenes inspired by biblical and salvific imagery. The art of the catacombs also includes funerary sculpture, particularly sarcophagi, and the so-called minor arts, such as gilded glass, ivory dolls, and mosaic tesserae. The catacombal decorations ended at the beginning of the fifth century, when funerary use ceased in these subterranean cemeteries.
Sherry C. Fox and Paraskevi Tritsaroli
This chapter examines the contribution of the contextual study of human skeletal remains of Early Christian burials in the eastern Mediterranean. Bioarchaeological studies of sites in Greece, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Palestine are presented to better understand the people and their burial practices from this region during a tumultuous period in the fourth through seventh centuries. The use of multiple lines of evidence such as funerary archaeology, taphonomy, and skeletal biology reveals the lifestyles and burial customs of the inhabitants from a selection of eastern Mediterranean sites. Despite regional variations, there is a great degree of uniformity in the burial customs across the areas under consideration. Finally, the populations of the eastern Mediterranean share similar demographic profiles and health outcomes. Future research will likely engage in scientific applications in archaeology that may address significant questions, such as reconstructing diet from stable isotope analyses and disease via ancient DNA analysis.
Vincenzo Fiocchi Nicolai
The Roman catacombs, dated to the early third century, are characterized by regular plans that made the best use of available space. In the late third and fourth centuries, the catacombs grew in number and extent through the establishment of new areas. Beginning in the fifth century, the Roman catacombs ceased to be the usual places of burial and become instead spaces dedicated to the cult of the martyrs. The catacombs of the Italian peninsula and the larger islands of the Mediterranean, Greece, and Roman Africa, dated usually between the fourth and fifth centuries, are fewer and smaller than those in Rome, but are distinct in their plans and adaptation to different environments.