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E00321: The Greek Martyrdom of Alexandros, probably of the 5th/6th c., recounts the story of the young soldier *Alexandros (martyr of Dryzipera, S00070), arrested in Rome under Maximian, and beheaded at Dryzipera/Drusipara (eastern Balkans), after a long journey through Illyricum and Thrace, suffering tortures and effecting miracles all along the journey. His body is granted a special healing grace, and miracles occur at his tomb. Probably written at or near Dryzipera.

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posted on 2015-02-24, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Martyrdom of Alexandros of Dryzipera (BHG 48-49)

For the text and translation of passages relating particularly to Alexandros' relics, see E00337.


1. The emperor Maximian builds a new temple for Zeus one stade outside Rome, and orders that all Christians should be coerced to offer sacrifice and attend the consecration of the temple. A rich man called Tibereianos, who has soldiers at his command, orders them to prepare to go to the festival.

2. One of the soldiers, Alexandros, a pious Christian from childhood, replies that it is good to go and worship only if this is for the true God, not the false pagan gods. Tibereianos replies that it is for Zeus, and Alexandros starts condemning Zeus and the pagan gods as demons leading men to doom: the pagans themselves confess that their gods desired and molested a woman; the Christian God, by contrast, is the invisible creator of heaven and earth and only requires a pure sacrifice without blood. Tibereianos calls upon him to stop, lest the emperor hears what he says.

3. Tibereianos goes to the temple and reports to the emperor that all the soldiers obey the imperial order, except one who offended the gods and refused to go the temple. Maximian orders three soldiers to arrest Alexandros.

4. While resting at home, Alexandros has a dream vision of an angel who encourages him and promises to help him till the end of his martyrdom. Alexandros wakes up and prays reciting from Psalm 91.

5. Alexandros comes out to meet the soldiers coming to arrest him. His face is shining, and makes them fall down in fear, but Alexandros encourages them not to be afraid, but to do their duty. They wonder how he knows about their mission, and Alexandros replies that he has to proceed on the contest prepared for him, and that he will have to journey from Rome to Byzantium.

6. Alexandros prays to be allowed to suffer his martyrdom to the end. The soldiers chain him and take him to the emperor. His mother Poimenia does not know what is happening. The crowd gathered around the emperor’s tribunal is amazed at the handsome appearance of Alexandros, who is eighteen years old. Alexandros is filled with zeal and asks to be presented to the emperor Maximian.

7. Maximian asks Alexandros to worship Zeus, to which Alexandros replies that he worships only the true God and is not afraid of the emperor’s threats and tortures. Maximian talks ironically of Christ, and Alexandros reprimands him.

8. Maximian calls upon Alexandros to sacrifice, and the martyr replies aggressively that the emperor worships impure demons, and that he (Alexandros) is not afraid to be tortured. Maximian promises to make him an official. Alexandros prays for help, and has a vision of Christ in heaven. He then repeats that Zeus is a demon, which is proved by the myth about him appearing as a bull and molesting Europa. For Maximian this story is a proof of the power of the gods, and Alexandros reprimands him for defending the works of the demons.

9. The emperor threatens the martyr, and Alexandros replies with scorn and calls upon Maximian to abandon idolatry in order to save his own life. Finally, Maximian gives up Alexandros to Tibereianos, and orders him to take the martyr from Rome to Byzantium and to treat him without mercy. Alexandros thanks the tyrant and God for allowing him to suffer for Christ and become famous in every place.

10. The next day, Tibereianos asks Alexandros if he has changed his mind and orders him to sacrifice, to which Alexandros replies that he saw glory prepared for him and he is happy. Tibereianos threatens to disperse his bones in every city, and Alexandros replies that he does not fear the threats. Tibereianos orders him to be suspended and burnt, which Alexandros suffers without saying a word. The martyr is taken to Thrace bound in heavy chains.

11. An angel appears in a dream to Alexandros’s mother, Poimenia, asking her to follow her son on his journey to martyrdom. She happily wakes up and follows her son on the road. As they arrive at the ‘city of the Carthaginians’ (πόλις Καρταγενησέων, polis Kartagenēseōn), she finds him being interrogated by Tibereianos, and encourages him from the crowd.

12. Tibereianos asks of Alexandros to sacrifice, and the martyr replies that God accepts only a sacrifice of righteousness and holiness. While being tortured with candles lit under his armpits, Alexandros offers a prayer of thanksgiving and asks to be protected from the fire. Tibereianos orders his servants to take Alexandros away and to depart before him. Poimenia approaches and meets her son. Some of the soldiers confess the greatness of the Christian God.

13. On their way, they stop by a spring, and the soldiers sit down to eat. Alexandros kneels down and prays, reciting from Psalm 120, and a prayer to Christ. An angel appears and encourages him. The voice of the angel terrifies the soldiers, who fall on the ground, but the martyr encourages them. They venerate him.

14. Tibereianos arrives with his companions and officials from the local city, the name of which is Krima meaning ‘judgement’. He interrogates Alexandros, and the martyr once again refuses to sacrifice and warns Tibereianos that the name of the place signals the judgement of God coming upon him.

15. Tibereianos orders Alexandros to be thrown onto and dragged over thorns, which the martyr suffers without complaint. Seeing that, Tibereianos orders Alexandros to be beaten with sticks of apple-tree wood. Alexandros says that no torture can make him give up his soul to Satan, and Tibereianos threatens to burn him alive and to disperse his bones.

16. Alexandros replies that it is Tibereianos’ bones that will be scattered, and his memory that will be forgotten, because he does not worship the true God. Enraged, Tibereianos orders the soldiers to stay there and prepare him dinner. He falls asleep and the soldiers take the saint under a tree. While sleeping, Tibereianos has a dream vision of an angel holding a sword and threatening to slaughter him for mistreating the saint. The angel orders him to hasten on the journey without stopping at any of the cities of Illyricum, because the time of Alexandros’ martyrdom is approaching. Terrified, Tibereianos wakes up and describes the dream to his soldiers who confirm that they wanted to advise him not to torture Alexandros, but they were afraid.

17. They continue their travel through the night, without entering any of the cities and without interrogating Alexandros. As they pass by Serdica [Sofia, Bulgaria], the officials and Christians of the town come out to meet the officer and the martyr. The Christians ask him to pray for them, and Alexandros similarly requests their prayers for him to finish his martyrdom. They pass through the straight pass [kleisourai, the Succi Pass at the borders between Illyricum and Thrace] and enter a fort called Bonomasion [the road station of Bona Mansio] where they spend the night.

18. Tibereianos interrogates Alexandros again and asks him to sacrifice to Zeus and Asklepios, which he refuses to. He orders his servants to take Alexandros to prison in Philippopolis [Plovdiv, Bulgaria], where he meets them later.

19. The people of Philippopolis come out of the gate to greet Tibereianos and his retinue, and prepare to celebrate a sacrifice for Zeus and Asklepios. The Christians of the city visit Alexandros in prison and encourage him to finish his martyrdom. They regard his visit as a blessing for their city which has a large Christian community under persecution.

20. Tibereianos talks to the governor and notables of Philippopolis about Alexandros, and all together interrogate Alexandros, asking him to sacrifice, as many Christians in that city do. The martyr refuses to.

21. Tibereianos orders them to continue their journey along the highway, while he will catch up with them later. They stop at the river Serme [today’s Stryama, a tributary of the Maritsa], where Alexandros washes himself and offers a prayer of thanksgiving for having confessed Christ at Philippopolis. Next they arrive at the emporium of Parembole, where Tibereianos meets them. Alexandros again refuses to sacrifice, and Tibereianos orders him to be bound, stretched on four poles, and to be given two hundred beatings by four men. Alexandros endures bravely and has a vision of Christ encouraging him to endure. Tibereianos hears the voice and is scared.

22. They continue the journey along the highway and enter the fort of Karasoura [the mutatio Carasura]. Tibereianos stays at the fort, while the soldiers take Alexandros to a place with trees nearby. The martyr is pleased by the place and says that he is thirsty. He kneels and prays, and water springs up, from which he and the soldiers drink. The latter confess the greatness of the Christian God.

23. Tibereianos asks Alexandros to obey the imperial orders, and the martyr replies that he only obeys the heavenly king. Then Tibereianos orders him to be taken to Beroia [Stara Zagora, Bulgaria]. The soldiers take him and stop at the river Arzos, where they rest. Alexandros washes himself and asks them to stop a little while under the trees. Then Tibereianos arrives and reprimands them for resting. They enter the city of Beroia, where the leaders of the city welcome Tibereianos for fear of the emperor, although most of them are Christians. The Christians of the city welcome Alexandros to their city.

24. Tibereianos asks Alexandros to sacrifice, and he refuses. They leave the city and arrive in a place with several inns on the river Arzos. Alexandros asks to be allowed to pray, which he does under a large walnut tree. Tibereianos calls him back and asks him to sacrifice, which Alexandros refuses to.

25. Tibereianos orders bur


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Alexandros, Martyr at Drusipara in Thrace, ob. 303-311 : S00070

Saint Name in Source


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

Balkans including Greece Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Drusipara Constantinople

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

Drusipara Drizypera Δριζύπερα Drizypera Büyük Karıştıran Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Other liturgical acts and ceremonies

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Verbal images of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Specialised miracle-working Miracle with animals and plants Healing diseases and disabilities Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Assumption/otherworldly journey Miraculous sound, smell, light Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Relatives of the saint Soldiers Monarchs and their family Crowds Torturers/Executioners

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The text is fully preserved in three manuscript codices: Patmos 257 (11th/12th c.); Vatican, Vaticanus Graecus 2033 (11th c.); Bibliothèque nationale de France, Parisinus Graecus 1534 (12th c.). Fragments are contained in the following three codices: Mone Vatopediou 84 (9th c.); Bodleian Library, Barocci 240 (12th c.); Vatican, Palatinus Graecus 27 (11th c.). On the manuscripts, see: An edition based on Parisinus Graecus 1534 was published by D. Dimitrov in 1934 with a brief commentary focusing mainly on the topographical information it contains. There are also several Slavonic versions.


The Martyrdom of Alexandros provides a wealth of information about one of the main martyr cults in Thrace, which was apparently closely tied into the local culture, civic identities and geography of that region. The text probably also provides indirect information about the relationship of the Christian martyr cult with the local pre-Christian religious and cultural background of Roman Thrace. Due to its peculiar itinerary structure, the text has been used as a major source for the geography of late antique Thrace. Origin of the Martyrdom The text was most probably composed under the influence of the shrine of Alexandros at the township of Dryzipera (or Drusipara), a road-station of the same highway near Constantinople. The cult and shrine of Alexandros was functional at least until the late 6th century when it was plundered by the invading Avars, according to Theophylact Simocatta (E00085). The origins and date of establishment of the shrine are unknown, since it is only mentioned by the Martyrdom of Alexander and by Simocatta. The site of Dryzipera has been identified as the modern village of Büyük Karıştıran, but the precise whereabouts of the shrine of Alexandros is unknown. Dryzipera was a road station of the Balkan military highway, and does not seem to have risen above the level of a village before the mid 6th century, when it became a bishopric. It is possible that its promotion to the status of an episcopal see was due to the development of the shrine of Alexandros. The emergence of the cult is therefore of special interest, since it seems to have been the product of a hitherto unimportant rural community, and to have contributed to its rise to pre-eminence. The text is written in very simple language, probably close to the vernacular Greek of the time. The narrative contains several standard features of martyrdom literature, some of its motifs being traceable back to the evangelical description of the Passion of Christ, or the martyrdom of Stephen. These include the several visions of Alexandros and interventions of angels, the scene of his arrest by the soldiers, the sympathetic stance of his keepers and executioners, and the fact that he thanks his persecutors for the martyrdom they impose on him. Local identity The Martyrdom of Alexandros of Dryzipera is the most extensive martyrdom account to survive from Thrace. Its story, which unfolds all along the main highway of Thrace from Serdica to Dryzipera, reflects the aspiration to establish Alexandros as the main cult of Thrace, and to establish the military highway as a route of pilgrimage. It is very likely that all the places mentioned in the text had shrines dedicated to him, and possibly also celebrated festivals in his honour. The fact that later hagiography preserved the memory at least three festivals in February, March, and May, may suggest that his feast was observed on different dates in various parts of Thrace. The final scene before the saint’s death creates a powerful image of Alexandros as the saint of this province. Having washed himself three times with water from the River Ergina, the martyr offers a long prayer of thanksgiving, and addresses the crowds attending his death, asking them to remember how much he suffered for the name of Christ, ‘that he may have mercy upon my sins and our province’ (§ 29). In other words, Alexandros suffers his martyrdom for the sake of the people of that region. In his final prayer, he requests from Christ that miracles and cures may happen wherever his body is buried, which is granted from Heaven. The account ends with an ‘advertisement’ of the special grace of the shrine and of the specialisation of Alexandros in healing diseases and suffering (§ 32). Although the story was integrated into the calendar of the Byzantine and Slavic Churches, it is unknown if the shrine of Alexandros at Dryzipera survived into the Middle Ages. The metaphrastic version of the martyrdom does not mention Dryzipera at all, describing Alexander generically as a martyr of Thrace. Structure and contents Although the Martyrdom of Alexandros is rather repetitive in its dialogues, it is one of the most descriptive martyrdom texts in its account of action. This is not only expressed through the peculiar travel plot and the meticulous topographical information, but also through a mass of trivial information inserted into the text, almost like instructions for a performance. More often than not, the narrative gives concrete data about the time of the martyr’s journey: they set off at night after Tibereianos’ dream (§ 17); they arrive at Carasura ‘at the sixth hour’ (i.e. at noon) (§ 22); they travel over the mountain ‘at the eighth hour in the night’ and arrive at Tziorikellos at sunrise (§§ 26, 27). These features could suggest that the cult included some form of procession and/or quasi-theatrical ceremonies commemorating the martyr’s journey and suffering. This aspect may also be suggested by the twelve prayers of Alexander, especially those quoting Psalms 91 (§ 4) and 120 (§ 13), and three particularly ‘liturgical’ prayers to Christ (§§ 6, 28, 29). The Martyrdom of Alexandros is distinguished by the unusual journey-structure of its plot. The first ten paragraphs refer to events presumably taking place during the dedication of a new temple of Zeus (Jupiter) outside Rome (§§ 1-10). It is unlikely that this echoes a real event (the only notable building project in the suburbs of Rome under the Tetrarchy is the villa of Maxentius on the Via Appia). Tibereianos is instructed to take the saint to Byzantium (§ 9), but, until the arrival at Serdica (§ 17), the journey is geographically indefinite and apparently fictitious. After Rome, the saint passes through the ‘city of the Carthaginians’ (Kartagenēseōn polis), where he is met by his mother (§§ 11-12), and through the mysterious city of Krima, ‘the Condemnation’ (§ 14). There, Tibereianos receives the dream vision of an angel ordering him to hasten through Illyricum without entering its cities (§ 16). The only city of Illyricum named by the text is Serdica (perhaps because of its close historical and geographical bonds with Thrace), but the saint and his guards duly avoid entering it (§ 17). Once they pass into Thrace, however, there is a meticulous enumeration of stops at road stations, cities, fortresses, emporia and rivers. It seems that the text was produced mainly for a local audience, celebrating the local geography and identity of the Thracian communities linked by the Diagonal Way. In this context, one may notice the intriguing detail that the narrative ‘leads’ Alexandros only through the cities of Philippopolis and Beroia. Serdica and Hadrianopolis are also mentioned with regard to their Christian communities, but the saint does not enter them. The geographical information in both our text and the metaphrastic summary could perhaps provide some indirect evidence for dating the account, since it seems to reflect the geography of the East Roman Oikoumene in its late 5th to 7th century form. The ‘blank’ in the map of Illyricum before Serdica could be associated with the loss of most of the civil diocese of Dacia to the Gepids and the Avars in the late 6th century. By contrast, most of the Balkan Via Militaris from Serdica to Constantinople remained under Byzantine control at least until the early 9th century. The text is characterised by its particularly fierce anti-pagan rhetoric, which is most visible in the tone of dialogues between Alexandros and his judges. The martyr’s responses to the emperor Maximian and the commander Tibereianos are very aggressive and partially sound like exorcism formulae (especially the repeated phrase ‘shut your mouth, Satan’). Quite remarkable is his repeated argument that Zeus molested a woman, referring to the myth of Europa. On the same theme, one may also single out the references to the Christian communities of Philippopolis and Beroia, especially the statements that most of the people and the notables of these cities were Christians, and the hope that the pagans of Philippopolis would soon become Christians (§§ 19, 23). The narrative contains several peculiar elements which appear in the narrative without being justified by the plot, and without serving any apparent moralising purpose. It is tempting to regard these as echoing customs of folk religion, incorporated by the cult of Alexandros, such as feasts at sacred groves, trees, springs, rivers and mountains. Finally, an aspect of special interest in the text is the prominent role of the angels as messengers, protectors and avengers, including two references to *Michael the Archangel (S00181).


Edition: Dimitrov, D., “Пътуването на св. Александра Римски през Тракия,” Известия на Българския Археологически Институт 8 (1935), 116-161. Further reading (on the Slavic versions only): Ivanova, K., and Iovcheva, M., “Путешествие св. Александра Римскогo (Фракийского) из Рима и Карфагена по балканским землям и дальше,” Древняя Русь 4 (18) (2004), 35-45. Taseva, L., and Iovcheva, M., “Мъчението на св. Александър Римски (Един рядък агиографски текст в книжнината на православните славяни),” in: J. Bestres-Dilger and A. Rabus (eds.), Text - Sprache - Grammatik. Slavisches Schrifttum der Vormoderne. Festschrift für Eckhard Weiher (Die Welt der Slaven. Sammelbände; München-Berlin, 2009), 67–94.

Continued Description

ning oil to be poured on Alexandros’s back, but an angel breaks the vessel, and the oil burns the servants, enraging the persecutor. Tibereianos orders Alexandros to be beaten with clubs, and asks him to sacrifice. The martyr insists on his refusal, and Tibereianos orders Alexandros to be placed under the walnut tree and beaten, which the martyr endures bravely. Tibereianos orders the torturers to stop, and Alexandros asks God to bless the tree under which he offered his confession. A crowd of Christians accompanies Alexandros on the road for a mile.26. The soldiers travel with Alexandros along the highway, and Tibereianos follows and meets them later. They arrive at a place called Borkia [probably the road station Burdipta]. Tibereianos asks the locals which is the shortest way to the province of Europa, and they advise him to take the road over the mountains, in order to reach a place called Bourtoudezon [the road station Burtudizo]. Tibereianos deliberately avoids Hadrianopolis [today’s Edirne, Turkey], because he knows that it has many Christians. As instructed, he goes to Bourtoudezon, where Alexandros meets his mother. He encourages her and announces that he will suffer martyrdom on the next day. Tibereianos stays for a while in the fort and sets off at night.27. At sunrise, they arrive at a place with many inns on the river Tziorikellos [the road-station Syracella or Syrascella]. Tibereianos unsuccessfully tries to subdue Alexandros, and announces him that this is his last day. They then arrive at Drizypera [mod. Büyük Karıştıran, Turkey] and Tibereianos sits on a high place east of the river Ergina [mod. River Ergene, Turkey], in order to announce that the end of Alexandros has come. He orders that his body be thrown into the river, for which the martyr thanks him. Tibereianos condemns Alexandros, hands him over to four executioners (κυεστιονάριοι, quaestionarii), and leaves.28. The executioners take him to a place north of the highway, followed by a crowd. Alexandros asks to be allowed to pray, and requests to be given water. Someone brings water from the Ergina and the saint washes himself three times, before he offers his prayer of thanksgiving.29. Alexandros addresses the crowd and asks of them to remember his long suffering and struggle against Tibereianos and the Devil, which he endured in order that Christ may have mercy on his own sins and on their race/province (ethnos, ἔθνος). With permission from his executioner, he prays Christ to grant grace to his body, and to allow miracles and cures to happen wherever it may be laid to rest. Christ replies from heaven that it will be granted, and that the archangel Michael is waiting to welcome him to heaven. Alexandros invites his executioner to do his duty. 30. The executioner, called Kelestinos, asks for forgiveness from the martyr, because he is acting on orders. Alexandros forgives him, but Kelestinos, has a vision of angels standing by, and is afraid to kill the martyr. Alexandros prays to be allowed to finish his martyrdom, the angels disappear and the executioner beheads him. The angels take Alexandros to heaven, and all the people can hear them singing.31. Alexandros’ mother arrives at Tzorollon [Çorlu, Turkey] and meets the soldiers of Tibereianos, who inform her that her son was condemned at Drizypera. She follows the highway and meets his executioners who inform her that his body was thrown into the river. Four dogs come to the river, drag the martyr’s body out and guard it. Two of them meet his mother and lead her to the body. She buries it at a prominent place west of the Ergina river. The grace of Christ appears to her and many angels, singing with her.32. Alexandros performs great miracles, helping all those suffering, and cures those afflicted by long-term diseases. He was martyred on 13 May, during the consulship of Tibereianos and the reign of Maximian.33. After all is finished, Alexandros appears to his mother, praising her for all she has done, and advising her to take her servants and return home. He promises to ask Christ that she be brought to him in heaven soon. Poimenia gives thanks to God and returns home. There is much grace at the place where Alexandros’s body lies.Text: Dimitrov 1935. Summary: E. Rizos.

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