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E00295: The Martyrs of Palestine of Eusebius of Caesarea, describing the Diocletianic persecution in Palestine (303-311), is translated from Greek into Syriac during the late 4th-early 5th century, probably in Edessa (Mesopotamia).

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

The complete Syriac version of the Martyrs is found in the earliest preserved Syriac manuscript, Ms. British Library, Add. 12150 (ff. 235v-251r). According to the information provided in its colophon (f. 254r), this parchment codex was produced in the city of Edessa in November 411. In addition to the Martyrs, it includes other translations from Greek into Syriac, such as Eusebius' Theophany and Homily in Praise of the Martyrs ($E00462), the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, and Titus of Bostra's Against the Manichaeans, as well as an original Syriac martyrology (E00465). For a description of the manuscript, see Wright 1870-1872, vol. 2, 631-633. This Syriac text of the Martyrs was published by Cureton 1861, accompanied by an English translation. However, his translation has been superseded by that of Lawlor and Oulton 1927-1928, vol. 1, 327-400.

There is another early textual witness to the Syriac version of the Martyrs, found in the manuscript Vat. syr. 160, a composite manuscript comprising parts of three ancient manuscripts, datable to the 5th and 6th centuries, and featuring a variety of hagiographic texts, both original Syriac works and translations from Greek. For a description, see Assemani and Assemani 1759, pp. 319-324; it is accessible online: The third part of this manuscript, which contains lives of the 'Western' martyrs and is datable to the 6th century, includes nine chapters from the work of Eusebius (ff. 179v-188r, 222r-224r). These passages were published together with a Latin translation by Assemani 1748, vol. 2, 169-209. In their synoptic translation of the Martyrs into English, Lawlor and Oulton include variant readings from this manuscript alongside a translation of Cureton's text. There is also a French translation of these passages, made from the Latin translation of Assemani (Lagrange 1852, 267-291).

André Binggeli has recently pointed out several additional cases of excerpts from the Syriac version of the Martyrs being transmitted in late hagiographic collections (Binggeli 2012, 63). Thus, the chapter on *Prokopios from Scythopolis is found in a tenth-century anthology of hagiographic texts in Ms. British Library, Add. 14645, ff. 285v-286v (see Wright 1870-1872, vol. 3, 114). Moreover, a selection of excerpts from the Martyrs similar to that of Ms. Vat. syr. 160 is found in Ms. Mingana syr. 150 (19th c.), ff. 110r-123r (see Mingana 1933-1939, vol. 1, col. 349).

The question of the exact relationship between these different versions still awaits a serious discussion. William Cureton, the editor of the Syriac text of the Martyrs from Ms. British Library, Add. 12150, claimed that this version and that of Assemani were made by two different translators, but did not support this argument with any evidence that would demonstrate such a claim (see Cureton 1861, pp. vi, 52). On the other hand, other scholars suggest that these two textual witnesses reflect different stages in redaction of an original Syriac translation of the Martyrs (see Violet 1896, 128-157; Lawlor and Oulton 1927-1928, vol. 2, 48).

Since the Greek original of the 'long' recension of the Martyrs did not survive, except for some fragments, it is difficult to make a comprehensive assessment of the method of the Syriac translator, including his faithfulness to the original. A comparison of these Greek fragments with the Syriac text shows small verbal changes made by the translator. There are also cases of expansions of the original, as in the account of *Theodosia from Tyre ($E00301), whose speech is longer in the Syriac version (7.2; see Lawlor and Oulton 1927-1928, vol. 1, 359). Some scholars raise a possibility that there might be more such cases. Such a claim, for instance, has been made by Timothy Barnes for the passage about the miracle with *Romanos from Caesarea ($E00298), whose tongue was cut out (Barnes 2010, 390, n. 10).

On the basis of the colophon in Ms. British Library, Add. 12150, it seems likely that this work of Eusebius was translated into Syriac during the last decades of the 4th or at the very beginning of the 5th century. Most probably, this translation was carried out in Edessa, a major centre of Syriac Christian culture in Mesopotamia during Late Antiquity. Accordingly, the Syriac version of the Martyrs appears to be not only one of the earliest translations of a Greek hagiographic work into Syriac, but one of the very earliest representatives of the hagiographic genre in this language.

Overview: Sergey Minov


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Early manuscripts


  • 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

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts


Syriac translation of the Martyrs of Palestine, in which 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, 303-311. Most of the martyrdoms described by Eusebius took place in Palestine, with the provincial capital city of Caesarea as the most prominent setting. For a full discussion, see E00294


Editions: Assemani, S.E., and Assemani, J.S., Bibliothecæ Apostolicæ Vaticanæ codicum manuscriptorum catalogus. Partis primæ, tomus tertius, complectens reliquos codices chaldaicos sive syriacos (Roma: Ex typographia linguarum orientalium, 1759). Cureton, W. (ed.), 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). Translations: Lagrange, F., Les Actes des martyrs d’Orient, traduits pour la première fois en francais sur la traduction latine des manuscrits syriaques de Étienne-Evode Assemani (Paris: Librairie Ecclésiastique et Classique d’Eugène Belin, 1852). 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). 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., Early Christian Hagiography and Roman History (Tria corda 5; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010). Binggeli, A., “Les collections de Vies de saints dans les manuscrits syriaques,” in: A. Binggeli (ed.), L’hagiographie syriaque (Études syriaques 9; Paris: Paul Geuthner, 2012), 49-76. Mingana, A., Catalogue of the Mingana Collection of Manuscripts now in the Possession of the Trustees of the Woodbrooke Settlement, Selly Oak, Birmingham. 3 vols (Woodbrooke Catalogues 1-3; Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1933, 1936, 1939). Wright, W., Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum, Acquired since the Year 1838. 3 vols (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1870-1872).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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