In Rome’s largest and oldest catacombs, researchers have discovered 1,600-year-old frescoes by early Christians.
The discovery took place in the Catacombs of Domitilla, thanks to the use of the latest laser technology. Previously invisible frescoes – hidden under a layer of dirt and limestone – saw the light of day. This find allows scientists to learn more about the wealthy Romans who switched from the traditional Roman faith to the Christian religion in the 4th century CE.
Beautifully crafted, multicoloured frescoes decorated the walls of the two crypts that were built for merchants and government officials. This is evidenced by frescoes showing how grain was transported by ships to the port of Ostia, and then transported by smaller boats to Rome along the Tiber River. This type of crypt was hollowed out in soft volcanic rock for the families of imperial functionaries who derived their wealth from grain trading or bread production.
The paintings also show the centrally located figure of Jesus, sitting on a throne and two men accompanying him – probably Saint Peter and Paul or Nereus and Achilles, Roman soldiers who died martyr’s death for preaching the new faith. On the frescoes, there are scenes from the New and Old Testaments – Noah, the Ark, the miracles of Christ – and a peacock, which is a symbol of the afterlife.
The frescoes were probably created around 360 CE, just a few decades after Christianity became a full-fledged religion in the Empire.