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The church, though not recognized by the civil authorities, profited from the Roman legislation that gave everyone, even slaves and executed criminals, the right of burial. In this way even Christian cemeteries were legalized, as is proven by the decrees of their confiscation during Valerian’s persecution in 258 and those of restitution by his son Gallienus. Recognition by the civil authorities of the existence of Christian community cemeteries at the start of the 3rd c. can probably be seen in the reference given above by the author of the Philosophoumena, and in Tertullian’s reference Ad Scap. 3 to the cry of the Carthaginian mob: areae non sint, Serbia Metro Map let the Christians have no cemeteries. Use of the community cemetery by the faithful, however, did not become strictly obligatory, though it was strongly recommended, as can be argued from Cyprian, who deplored those who buried their children in pagan burial ground. While staying away from the latter, some families preferred, even after the peace of Constantine, to have their own family tombs, not managed by the church authorities. The most famous example of this type of private burial was discovered in 1956 on the Via Latina in Rome. Begun in the first decades of the 4th c., it belonged to a small group of well-to-do families who wanted these architecturally elegant underground rooms, covered almost entirely with paintings. The many biblical themes chosen, esp. from the OT, are unknown in community catacombs, or treated in a way independent of the usual models. There are even scenes from pagan mythology, perhaps on tombs of unconverted family members, a liberty inconceivable in a 4th-c. cemetery dependent on the church authorities. These private hypogea are more numerous than was once thought. Besides the luxury and originality of their architecture and decoration, they are characterized by their antechambers, their small number of burials, and the absence of those religious arrangements or funerary utilities connected with the cult of the martyrs which would transform the community cemeteries from the 4th c. on.

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