Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation examines the earliest surviving sources on the virgin martyr Agnes. Agnes is significant due to the popularity of her cult and the large number of early sources recounting her martyrdom. This dissertation argues that the fourth-century bishops Damasus and Ambrose, along with the Christian poet Prudentius, helped construct the narrative of Agnes’ passion in order to help popularize her cult throughout western Christendom. In an effort to promote virgin asceticism to their communities, they endorsed Agnes as the dominant exemplum for female piety in the west. By doing so, they associated themselves with the influential martyr. Since Agnes was a Roman martyr, the role of Damasus, the bishop of Rome, is particularly significant in the formation of the Agnes narrative. This dissertation examines how the Agnes narrative developed from the simple nine-line elogium of Pope Damasus into the complex accounts of Ambrose, Prudentius and the Gesta Martyrum Romanorum. It demonstrates that the account of Pope Damasus—although short and seemingly less influential than the near contemporary accounts of Ambrose—was the primary motivator for the development of female hagiography. Damasus was the chief Christian administrator in a city coming to terms with its Christian identity. His elogia, which he heavily modeled on Virgilian epic verse, gave Rome a Christian past just as glorious as its pagan heritage. The influence of Damasus can be seen in the works of his younger contemporary Ambrose of Milan, who references the Agnes elogium, and the Christian poet Prudentius, who fervently embraces the elogium when writing his own classicizing Christian epic.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Dietz, Maribel



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History Commons