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In 1888 G. B. de Rossi discovered in the Coemeterium Priscillae a crypt belonging to the Acilian gens dating from the first century, but in a very ruinous condition. Among the broken inscriptions of many members of this noble family one finds the names of Acilius Glabrio and of Priscilla. Both Priscus and Priscilla or Prisca are cognomina used by this family, as may be seen by a reference to Pauly's ‘Real-Encyclopädie' under Acilius. The existence of this elaborately decorated burial-place containing a large number of sarcophagi seems to point to M' Acilius Glabrio, the Consul of 91 A.D. who was accused of ‘atheism and Jewish manners' and put to death by Domitian, having been a Christian. It has been conjectured therefore that the Priscilla after whom the cemetery is named, and who must have been the owner of the property beneath which the excavations were made (property which was part of the extensive possessions of the Acilii Glabriones) was a near relative—aunt or sister—of the victim of Domitian. In this cemetery, according to the witness of the ‘Liberian Calendar,' of the ‘Itineraries' and of the ‘Liber Pontificalis,' reposed the bodies of Aquila and Prisca (Marucchi, ‘Eléments d'Archéol. Chrét.' ii. p. 385) with many other saints and martyrs. The biographical notice of Leo IV (847–55 A.D.) in the ‘Liber Pontificalis' states that that Pope removed many bodies within the walls to save them from possible desecration by the Saracens (Duchesne, ii. p. 115), among these the bodies of Aquila and Prisca.

The supposition that these two companions of St. Paul were freedmen of the family of the Acilii Glabriones or connected with them by ties of clientship is highly probable. Prisca or Priscilla appears to have been a Roman and by the precedence of her name over that of her husband, as already stated, it has been assumed that she was of higher position and that the house at Rome was her property. This suggests that she may have been a daughter of a freedman of the Acilian Priscilla who was the founder of the cemetery. The Priscilla of the Acts was so named after her. Aquila was a Jew and a native of 243Pontus. Of his Jewish name we are ignorant. He may have been taken to Rome as a slave and been a freedman of one of the Acilii. Quite possibly, however, he may have settled in Rome, like so many others, as a craftsman and trader, and his connexion with the powerful family, perhaps through the influence of Priscilla, have been one of clientship. As to the name Aquila, the following quotation from a poem of Ausonius with the title ‘Acilio Glabrioni, grammatico Jun. Burdigalensi' [214. 3. 4] may explain its origin:

Stemmate nobilium deductum nomen avorum

Glabrio Aquilini Dardana progenies.

The contention of De Rossi, Marucchi and others that the ancient church of St. Prisca on the Aventine covers the site of the church in the house of Prisca and Aquila will not bear serious investigation. Of the St. Prisca, virgin and martyr, who gave her name to the church nothing is really known, but she was a different person from the Prisca of the Acts and the Pauline epistles. From the fourth to the eighth century the church is always described as titulus Priscae (Duchesne, ‘Lib. Pont.' i. 501, 517). It was not until the Pontificate of Leo III (795-816 A.D.) that the name titulus Aquilae et Priscae first appears (Duchesne, ii. p. 20): ‘fecit in titulo beatis Aquile et Priscae coronam ex argento pens. lib. VI.,' but in this same notice of Leo III occur the words basilica beate Priscae' and Duchesne remarks that Prisca was still ordinary at this time (p. 42).

In a MS. preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris (Cod. lat. 9697 p. 78) an account is given of the discovery in 1776 of the ruins of a Roman house and Christian oratory close to St. Prisca with frescoes of the fourth century, but this ruin was unfortunately destroyed and no trace of it remains. In Bianchini's edition of the ‘Liber Pontificalis' (P.L. cxxvii. col. 1315) mention is made in the notice of Pope Zephyrinus (198–217) of a Christian ‘glass'495495The words of the Lib. Pont. itself ‘Et fecit constitutum in ecclesia et patenas vitreas ante sacerdotes in ecclesia, et ministros supportantes, donec episcopus missas celebraret, ante se sacerdotes adstantes, sic missae celebrarentur,' are an interesting reference to the rites attending the celebration of the Mass at Rome in early times: Duchesne, L.P. i. p. 140, makes the comment ‘la mention de patènes de verre est à remarquer; elles n'étaient certainemeut plus en usage à la fin du Ve siècle,' found ‘intra antiquae ecclesiae rudera prope S. Priscam' (de Rossi in ‘Bull. di Arch. Crist.' 1867, p. 48). These things prove the existence on this spot of a very ancient Christian place of worship, but nothing more.

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