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E00465: An anonymous Martyrology is composed in Syriac no later than the year 411, in the city of Edessa (Mesopotamia). It provides the earliest evidence for liturgical commemoration of Christian martyrs from the Roman and Sasanian empires among Syriac-speaking Christians. Overview entry

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posted on 2015-05-04, 00:00 authored by sminov
The Syriac Martyrology of 411 (overview)

The Syriac Martyrology of the year 411 is found in one of the earliest Syriac manuscripts - BL Add. 12150 (ff. 251v-254r) from the library of the monastery of Deir al-Surian, a collection of various works, mostly translated from Greek; besides the Martyrology, it includes such compositions as Eusebius' Martyrs of Palestine ($E00294), Theophany, and Homily in Praise of the Martyrs ($E00462), the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, and Titus of Bostra's Against the Manichaeans (for a description of the whole codex, see Wright 1870-1872, vol. 2, pp. 631-633). In addition, four fragments of the final folio (f. 255) from this manuscript, that contain names of the Persian martyrs, are still preserved at the monastery of Deir al-Surian (= Syriac Fragment 27; for a description, see Brock and van Rompay 2014, pp. 389-392). As the manuscript's colophon relates, this parchment codex was produced in the city of Edessa in the year 411: 'this volume was finished in the month of the latter Teshrī, in the year 723 [A.D. 411], at Urhāi [Edessa], a city of Beth-Nahrin [Mesopotamia]'. There is no explicit statement in the colophon that the Martyrology was a composition or compilation of the scribe, rather than a straight copy of an earlier text.

The Martyrology is divided into two main sections. The longer first part, organised according to the months of the Syriac calendar, is devoted to 'Western martyrs', i.e. Christians executed in various cities of the Roman empire, mostly (but not exclusively) in Nicomedia, Antioch, and Alexandria. The shorter second part lists 'Eastern martyrs', i.e. Christians who perished in the Sasanian empire, grouping them according to their ecclesiastical rank (bishops, presbyters, deacons, 'sons of the covenant', lay people), without any indication of their commemoration days. It is noteworthy that the Martyrology always refers to the martyrs using the noun mawdyānā (lit. 'confessor') and not sahdā, which later became the standard word for 'martyr' in Syriac.

Scholars agree that the Syriac compiler of the Martyrology relied upon a Greek liturgical calendar for the first part of his work. It appears to be the same source used by the compiler of the later Latin Martyrologium Hieronymianum ($E###). The exact date of this Greek work is unclear, but it seems to predate the year 360. As for its possible provenance, the city of Nicomedia, whose martyrs figure prominently in the Martyrology, has been proposed. It is remarkable that on 6 June the Martyrology commemorates 'the presbyter Arius' from Alexandria, which refers, most probably, to the famous 4th century heresiarch. This may be taken as evidence that the Greek calendar used by the Martyrology's editor reached the Syriac compiler through the mediation of Arian circles.

As for the second part of the Martyrology, it has been suggested that the names of the Persian martyrs in it might have been made known in Edessa by bishop Marutha of Maypherqat, during his journey back from Persia to the Roman empire in the year 411 (Brock and van Rompay 2014, p. 4).

Overview: Sergey Minov


Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Calendars and martyrologies


  • 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

Syriac Martyrology of 411

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts


Syriac text: Wright 1865-1866; Nau 1912, pp. 11-26; Brock and van Rompay 2014, pp. 389-392 (for the fragments of the last folio). French translation Nau 1912, pp. 11-26. English translation: Wright 1865-1866, pp. 423-432. German translation: Lietzmann 1903, pp. 9-16. Latin translation: Mariani 1956. For general information, see Taylor 2012, pp. 80-81; Saxer 1984; Schäferdiek 2005.


The Syriac Martyrology is the earliest liturgical calendar preserved in Syriac. It contains the earliest evidence for the systematic liturgical commemoration of Christian martyrs from the Western provinces of the Roman empire, as well as from the Sasanian empire, by the Syriac-speaking Christians of Edessa. In addition, it contains the earliest evidence for the cult of local Syriac saints, such as *Shmona and Gurya (martyrs of Edessa, S00081), or Jacob (bishop of Nisibis, S00296).


Main editions and translations: Brock, S.P., and van Rompay, L., Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts and Fragments in the Library of Deir al-Surian, Wadi al-Natrun (Egypt) (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 227; Leuven: Peeters, 2014). Lietzmann, H., Die drei ältesten Martyrologien (Kleine Texte für Theologische Vorlesungen und Übungen 2; Bonn: A. Marcus und E. Weber, 1903). Mariani, B., Breviarium syriacum seu martyrologium syriacum saec. IV (Rerum ecclesiasticarum documenta, Series minor: Subsidia studiorum 3; Roma: Herder, 1956). Nau, F., Martyrologes et ménologes orientaux, I–XIII. Un martyrologie et douze ménologes syriaques édités et traduits (Patrologia Orientalis 10.1 [46]; Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1912). Wright, W., “An Ancient Syriac Martyrology,” Journal of Sacred Literature and Biblical Record NS VIII, 15 (1865), 45-56; 16 (1866), 423-432. Further reading: Brock, S.P., and van Rompay, L., “The Syriac Manuscripts of Deir al-Surian: Some First Impressions,” Newsletter of the Levantine Foundation 1 (2006), 3-4. Saxer, V., “Les actes des “martyrs anciens” chez Eusèbe de Césarée et dans les martyrologues syriaque et hiéronymien,” Analecta Bollandiana 102:1-2 (1984), 85-95. Schäferdiek, K., “Bemerkungen zum Martyrologium Syriacum,” Analecta Bollandiana 123:1 (2005), 5-22. Taylor, D.G.K., “Hagiographie et liturgie syriaque,” in: A. Binggeli (ed.), L’hagiographie syriaque (Études syriaques 9; Paris: Paul Geuthner, 2012), 77-112. 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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