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E00220: The Story of Euphemia and the Goth, written in Syriac at Edessa (Mesopotamia) in the 6th c., celebrates the Edessan saints, *Shmona and Gurya (martyrs of Edessa, S00081), and *Habbib (martyr of Edessa, S00090), as protectors of the weak and guarantors of oaths.

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posted on 2014-11-30, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
The Story of Euphemia and the Goth (summary)

The work describes a miracle in Edessa, specified as taking place in the late 4th century.

The narrative opens with an introductory passage, in which the author relates that he received this story from a priest, who was custodian of the Church of the Confessors in Edessa and who heard it himself from the women, Euphemia and her mother. (§§ 1-3)

The main narrative line starts with a Roman garrison being stationed at Edessa in the year 395/6 in order to stop the invasion of the Huns. One of the Roman soldiers, a Goth by origin, is billeted in the house of a widow named Sophia, who had a young daughter Euphemia. (§§ 4-5)

Seeing the beauty of Euphemia, the Goth falls in love with her and asks Sophia to let her daughter marry him. The mother refuses initially, but after the Goth persists with his advances she yields to his requests. Sophia marries her daughter to the Goth on condition that she does not leave Edessa. (§§ 6-11)

When the time comes for the Roman garrison to leave the city, Sophia tries to prevent Euphemia's departure, but fails to do so. Worried about her daughter's future in a foreign land, she places her under the protection of the Martyrs of Edessa. For that purpose she brings Euphemia and her husband to the Church of the Confessors, where after praying to the saints both of them lay their hands upon the martyrs' 'coffin' (Syr. gluskma, from Gr. γλωσσόκομον), and the Goth also takes an oath to treat his wife well and justly. (§§ 11-14)

When the couple reach the vicinity of the Goth's native city, he reduces Euphemia to the state of a slave and reveals to her that he already has a wife there, while ordering her to keep their own marriage secret. Euphemia, introduced to the Goth's wife as her slave, is burdened with hard work and suffers abuse from her. (§§ 15-19)

When Euphemia gives birth to a male child, who resembles his father very much, the Goth's wife becomes jealous and confronts her husband. He allows her to do with the baby as she wishes, and one day, having sent Euphemia away from the house, she murders the child by poisoning. After her child has been buried, Euphemia resorts to a trick and kills the Goth's wife with the same poison she used against the child. Having buried the Goth's wife, her family accuses Euphemia of murdering her. They bring her to the judge, who condemns Euphemia to be shut in the same tomb, where the Goth's wife's body has been placed. (§§ 20-24)

Imprisoned in the tomb, Euphemia prays to the Martyrs of Edessa for deliverance. The three saints appear to her, promising to save her. The saints' appearance is accompanied by the miraculous transformation of the corpse stench in the tomb into a pleasant fragrance. After that Euphemia falls asleep and when she wakes up she finds herself transferred miraculously to the hill outside Edessa's walls, where the Church of the Confessors stands. Euphemia is greeted by the saint Shmona himself, who relates that they (i.e. the saints) have kept their promise to save her. (§§ 25-30)

After that Euphemia enters the Church of the Confessors, where she offers a thanksgiving prayer and recounts the miracle that took place. The custodian of the church notices her, and asks Euphemia about what happened to her. She relates him her story. In order to confirm it, he finds and brings in Euphemia's mother, who recognises her daughter and takes her back home. As a result, the story of the miracle becomes known to the whole city of Edessa. (§§ 31-34)

After some time, the Gothic soldier arrives in Edessa again, as a part of the Roman army. When Sophia and Euphemia hear about his presence in the city, they devise a scheme to bring him to justice. The Goth is invited to stay in Sophia's house. While Euphemia is hiding in the house, Sophia accompanied by her relatives and neighbours starts to inquire of the Goth about the well-being of her daughter and their child. The Goth assures her that both of them are doing well. At that moment, Sophia confronts him, while bringing Euphemia out of the room where she was hiding. (§§ 35-40)

Having bound the Goth, the relatives of Sophia write the whole affair down in an 'affidavit' (Syr. didasqaliqon, from Gr. διδασκαλικόν) and bring this document to the city's bishop Eulogius. In turn, the bishop reports what happened to the Roman general in charge, who orders the Goth and Euphemia to be brought before him. In the quick trial that follows, the Goth is found guilty and punished with beheading by the sword. (§§ 41-46)

Summary: Sergey Minov.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Shmona and Gurya, martyrs in Edessa, ob. 309/10 : S00081 Habbib, martyr in Edessa, ob. 310/12 : S00090

Saint Name in Source

ܓܘܪܝܐ ܘܫܘܢܐ ܚܒܝܒ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Syriac

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Edessa Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous protection - of people and their property Miraculous sound, smell, light Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Officials Soldiers Crowds Women Foreigners (including Barbarians)

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Other activities with relics


The text presents an account of a miracle performed by the Martyrs of Edessa (i.e. *Shmona and Gurya, and *Habbib), which took place in Edessa in 395/6. The work belongs to a mixed genre, which brings together elements of hagiographical narrative and of secular novelistic literature (see on this Paykova 1990, pp. 23-25). The Syriac version of the work is preserved in two manuscripts, the earliest of which belongs to the ninth century. Critical edition of the Syriac text, with English translation: Burkitt 1913; French translation: Nau 1910, 182-190; Russian translation: Paykova 1990, 95-100. There exists a Greek version, published and discussed by von Dobschütz 1911. For a detailed argument in favour of the primacy of the Syriac version vis-à-vis the Greek, see Burkitt 1913, 48-56; Paykova 1978 (integrated in Paykova 1990, 71-77). It is uncertain when exactly this work was composed, but the sixth century seems to be the most plausible date. The secure terminus post quem is provided by the mention in § 4 of the invasion of the Huns in the year 396, a real historical event. The situation, however, is complicated by the fact that in the description of the second arrival of the Gothic protagonist to Edessa (§ 35), it is related that the Roman garrison arrived in the city due to the military threat posed by the Persians. Accordingly, it has been suggested by Burkitt that the negative portrayal of the Goth in the Story is related to the traumatic experience of the inhabitants of Edessa, who suffered abuse by the Gothic garrison stationed in the city during the year 505/6, as the sixth-century Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite (§§ 95-96) vividly reports (Burkitt 1913, 58-60). A strong case for the 6th century dating of the Story has been made by Paykova, who argues that its author made direct use of the Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite (Paykova 1990, 23, 74-77). This dating of the Story is supported also by Lourie, who has suggested recently that it was composed in the Monophysite circles of Edessa for the purposes of anti-Chalcedonian propaganda (see Lourie 2007, pp. 136-140).


Due to the strong novelistic elements in its narrative, the Story stands alone in the corpus of Syriac hagiographic literature. In essence it is a long account about just one miracle, i.e. the miraculous transfer of Euphemia from abroad to Edessa. The Story testifies to the popularity of the cult of the Martyrs of Edessa during the sixth century. The three saints, characterised as the 'pillars and props of Edessa the Blessed' (§ 26; trans. Burkitt 1913, 141), are presented as the powerful protectors and patrons of the local population, whose power reaches beyond the boundaries of the city of Edessa, and even of the region of Mesopotamia. An important aspect of the cult of the saints in this text is the stress on the potency of their relics. The author mentions on more than one occasion that the efficacy of the saints even after their death depends on 'the Divine Power that resides in the bones of the holy Martyrs and Confessors' (§ 29; trans. Burkitt 1913, 142; cf. also §§ 2, 13, 16, 31, 34).


Editions and translations: Burkitt, F.C., Euphemia and the Goth, with the Acts of Martyrdom of the Confessors of Edessa (London: Williams and Norgate, 1913). Nau, F., “Hagiographie syriaque. Saint Alexis. – Jean et Paul. – Danel de Galaš. – Hannina. – Euphémie. – Sahda (1). – Récits de Mélèce sur le vendredi, sur Marc et Gaspar, et sur un homme riche qui perdit tous ses enfants. – Légendes de Pierre le publicain, d’une veuve et d’une vierge de Jérusalem, de Jean, moine d’Antioche,” Revue de l’Orient chrétien 5 [15] (1910), 53-72, 173-197. Dobschütz, E. von (ed.), Die Akten der edessenischen Bekenner Gurjas, Samonas und Abibos aus dem Nachlass von Oscar von Gebhardt (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 37.2; Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1911). Further reading: Greisiger, L., “Saints populaires d’Édesse,” in: A. Binggeli (ed.), L’hagiographie syriaque (Études syriaques 9; Paris: Paul Geuthner, 2012), 171-199. Lourié, B., “Euphemia in Edessa and Euphemia in Chalcedon: Two Hagiographical Legends against the Background of Dogmatic Polemics,” Известия Российского государственного педагогического университета им. А.И. Герцена: Общественные и гуманитарные науки 9 [50] (2007), 133-141 [in Russian]. Messis, C., and Papaioannou, S., “Histoires ‘gothiques’ à Byzance: le saint, le soldat et le Miracle d’Euphémie et du Goth (BHG 739),” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 67 (2013), 15-47. Paykova, A.V., “The Tale of Euphemia and the Goth: Towards the Establishing of the Language of the Original,” Палестинский сборник 26 [89] (1978), 86-101 [in Russian]. Paykova, A.V., Легенды и сказания в памятниках сирийской агиографии (Палестинский сборник 30 [93]; Ленинград: Наука, 1990). Wood, P., ‘We Have No King But Christ’: Christian Political Thought in Greater Syria on the Eve of the Arab Conquest (c. 400–585) (Oxford Studies in Byzantium; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

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