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E00294: Eusebius of Caesarea writes the Martyrs of Palestine in the year 311. The work describes the fate of eighty-three Christian martyrs, most of whom were executed in Palestine during the Diocletianic persecution (303-311). Written in Greek, in Caesarea (Palestine).

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posted on 2015-02-16, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Eusebius of Caesarea, Martyrs of Palestine (overview)

In this work Eusebius presents an account of the suffering and death of Christian martyrs, who were executed during the eight years of the Diocletianic (or Great) persecution, i.e. 303-311 (for general information on the persecution, see Frend 1969, 477-535; Barnes 2010, 97-150). Most of the martyrdoms described by Eusebius took place in Palestine, with the provincial capital city of Caesarea as the most prominent setting (on the latter urban context, see Patrich 2011, 259-281).

The work has a complex redactional and textual history (see Barnes 1980; Barnes 1981, 148-150). It survives in two recensions, long and short, and two versions, Greek and Syriac. The first 'long' recension of the Martyrs was most likely composed by Eusebius sometime between May and late November of 311, after the emperor Galerius had issued the decree of toleration and before Maximinus had resumed the policy of persecution in the East. While composed in Greek, it has survived in full only in Syriac translation, preserved in an early fifth-century manuscript ($E00295). Several fragments of the original Greek version of this recension were published by Delehaye 1897 (republished Schwartz et al. 1999, vol. 2.2, 907-950). Later on, after Maximinus in the summer of 313 had finally conceded Christians the same rights as elsewhere in the empire, Eusebius apparently rewrote and abbreviated his work, producing the second 'short' recension, which was incorporated into the second edition of his Ecclesiastical History as its eighth book. For a critical edition of this recension, preserved in the original Greek, see Schwartz et al. 1999, vol. 2.2, 907-950. Later on, at some point before the autumn of 316, Eusebius produced the third edition of the History, in ten books, in which the 'short' recension of the Martyrs was reworked into Book Eight as we have it now.

The Martyrs is organised chronologically. In the introduction, Eusebius explains his reasons for composing the work, which include his obligation to record 'for the general instruction and profit' of posterity the stories of the local martyrs, with many of whom he was personally acquainted (1.8; cf. also Ecclesiastical History 8.13.7). The main narrative opens with the story of the martyrdom of *Prokopios from Scythopolis (ob. 303) and ends with that of *Silvanos from Gaza and his companions (ob. 311).

The work presents accounts of martyrdom in a straightforward manner, for the most part free of exaggeration and rhetorical embellishment. With rare exceptions, the accounts of martyrdoms are devoid of any miraculous element. The only cases where such an element comes to the fore are those of *Romanos from Caesarea ($E00298), who retains the ability to speak after his tongue is cut out, of *Apphianos from Lycia ($E00300), whose body is miraculously returned by the sea, and of *Pamphilos of Caesarea and his companions (E00391), whose bodies are preserved from being devoured by the wild animals and birds.

The Martyrs is a unique and in many ways innovative work. Its importance as an historical source lies in the fact that it is the only systematic account of the enforcement of Diocletian's anti-Christian legislation anywhere in the empire. Its significance for understanding the development of the cult of saints is also considerable. First of all, it contains one of the earliest examples of a Christian hagiographer making explicit his motivation. In the preface, Eusebius explains his reasons for composing it, which include the need for the intercession of the martyrs, as well as the scriptural obligation 'to communicate in the commemoration of the saints' (trans. Lawlor and Oulton 1927-1928, vol. 1, 329). It is also the first hagiographical text that we can confidently attribute to a known author. Moreover, it provides important evidence for keeping the memory of the local Palestinian saints and thus encouraging their cult. Eusebius stresses that he was personally acquainted with many of the martyrs, whom he describes as 'those in whom the whole people of Palestine glories' (trans. Lawlor and Oulton 1927-1928, vol. 1, 331).

Overview: Sergey Minov


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Caesarea Maritima

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

Caesarea Maritima Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the veneration of saints


Editions: Greek versions: Schwartz et al. 1999, vol. 2,2, pp. 907-950; Bardy 1958. Syriac version: Assemani 1748, vol. 2, 169-209; Cureton 1861. Translations: English: Lawlor and Oulton 1927-1928, vol. 1, 327-400 (presents in synoptic form both Long and Short recensions). French: Bardy 1958. German: Pfättisch and Bigelmair 1913 (of Schwartz's Greek text); Violet 1896, 1-109 (of Cureton's Syriac text). Italian: Del Ton 1964. Polish: Lisiecki 1924 (of Schwartz's Greek text).


Editions: Assemani, S.E. (ed. and trans.), Acta Sanctorum Martyrum Orientalium et Occidentalium in duas partes distributa, adcedunt Acta S. Simeonis Stylitae, 2 vols (Roma: Typis Josephi Collini, 1748). Bardy, G. (ed. and trans.), Eusèbe de Césarée. Histoire ecclésiastique, III: Livres VIII-X et les martyrs en Palestine (Sources Chrétiennes 55; Paris: Cerf, 1958). Cureton, W. (ed. and trans.), History of the Martyrs in Palestine, by Eusebius, Bishop in Caesarea, Discovered in a Very Ancient Syriac Manuscript (London and Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate/Paris: C. Borrani, 1861). Delehaye, H., “De martyribus Palaestinae longioris libelli fragmenta,” Analecta Bollandiana 16 (1897), 113-139. Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F. (eds.), Eusebius Werke, Band 2, Teil 2 (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte NF 6/2; 2nd ed.; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1999). Translations: Del Ton, G., Storia ecclesiastica e I Martiri della Palestina (Scrinium patristicum lateranense 1; Roma: Desclée & C., 1964). Lawlor, H.J., and Oulton, J.E.L., The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, 2 vols (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1927-1928). Lisiecki, A.M., Euzebiusz z Cezarei. Historja kościelna; O męczennikach palestyńskich (Pisma Ojców Kościoła w Polskiem Tłumaczeniu 3; Poznań: Fiszer i Majewski Księgarnia Uniwersytecka, 1924). Pfättisch, J.M., and Bigelmair, A., Des Eusebius Pamphili, Bischofs von Cäsarea, ausgewählte Schriften (Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, 1. Reihe, 9; Kempten: Jos. Kösel, 1913). Violet, B., Die palästinischen Märtyrer des Eusebius von Cäsarea: ihre ausführliche Fassung und deren Verhältnis zur Kürzeren (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 14.4; Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1896). Further reading: Barnes, T.D., “The Editions of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 21 (1980), 191-201. Barnes, T.D., Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981). Barnes, T.D., Early Christian Hagiography and Roman History (Tria corda 5; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010). Carotenuto, E., “Five Egyptians Coming from Jerusalem: Some Remarks on Eusebius, De Martyribus Palestinae 11.6-13,” Classical Quarterly 52:2 (2002), 500-506. Christensen, T., “The So-Called Appendix to Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica VIII,” Classica et Mediaevalia 34 (1983), 177-209. Corke-Webster, J., “Author and Authority: Literary Representations of Moral Authority in Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Martyrs of Palestine,” in: P. Gemeinhardt and J. Leemans (eds.), Christian Martyrdom in Late Antiquity (300–450 AD): History and Discourse, Tradition and Religious Identity (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 116; Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2012), 51-78. de Andrés, G., ““De martyribus Palaestinae” et collectio antiquorum martyriorum de Eusebio de Cesarea,” La Ciudad de Dios 181 (1968), 592-600. Frend, W.H.C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965). Laqueur, R., Eusebius als Historiker seiner Zeit (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte 11; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1929), esp. 6-95. Lawlor, H.J., “The Chronology of Eusebius’ Martyrs of Palestine,” Hermathena 15 [34] (1908), 177-201. Patrich, J., Studies in the Archaeology and History of Caesarea Maritima: Caput Judaeae, Metropolis Palaestinae (Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 77; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011), 259-281. Rey-Coquais, J.-P., “Le calendrier employé par Eusèbe de Césarée dans les Martyres de Palestine,” Analecta Bollandiana 96 (1978), 55-64. Verheyden, J., “Pain and Glory: Some Introductory Comments on the Rhetorical Qualities and Potential of the Martyrs of Palestine by Eusebius of Caesarea,” in: J. Leemans (ed.), Martyrdom and Persecution in Late Antique Christianity: Festschrift Boudewijn Dehandschutter (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 241; Leuven: Peeters, 2010), 353-392. Violet 1896 (above, under 'Translations').

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