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E00488: Polykrates, bishop of Ephesos, writing in Greek to Victor, bishop of Rome, in the late 2nd c., and quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History, cites the apostles and martyrs resting in the provinces of Asia as proof of the legitimacy of the traditions of the local churches: *Philip (the Apostle, S00109) at Hierapolis; *John (the Apostle and Evangelist, S00042) at Ephesos; *Polykarpos/Polycarp (bishop and martyr of Smyrna, S00004) and *Thraseas (bishop of Eumeneia, martyred at Smyrna, S00271), both at Smyrna; *Sagaris (bishop and martyr of Laodicea, S00272) at Laodicea; *Papirios (S00274); *Meliton (eunuch of Sardis, S00273) at Sardis. Written in Ephesos (western Asia Minor); quoted by Eusebius in Palestine, 311/325.

online resource
posted on 2015-05-11, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.24.1-7
(quoting Polykrates of Ephesos, late 2nd c.)

(1.) ... τῶν δὲ ἐπὶ τῆς Ἀσίας ἐπισκόπων τὸ πάλαι πρότερον αὐτοῖς παραδοθὲν διαφυλάττειν ἔθος χρῆναι διισχυριζομένων ἡγεῖτο Πολυκράτης· ὃς καὶ αὐτὸς ἐν ᾗ πρὸς Βίκτορα καὶ τὴν Ῥωμαίων ἐκκλησίαν διετυπώσατο γραφῇ τὴν εἰς αὐτὸν ἐλθοῦσαν παράδοσιν ἐκτίθεται διὰ τούτων· (2.) «ἡμεῖς οὖν ἀρᾳδιούργητον ἄγομεν τὴν ἡμέραν, μήτε προστιθέντες μήτε ἀφαιρούμενοι. καὶ γὰρ κατὰ τὴν Ἀσίαν μεγάλα στοιχεῖα κεκοίμηται· ἅτινα ἀναστήσεται τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου, ἐν ᾗ ἔρχεται μετὰ δόξης ἐξ οὐρανῶν καὶ ἀναζητήσει πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους, Φίλιππον τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων, ὃς κεκοίμηται ἐν Ἱεραπόλει καὶ δύο θυγατέρες αὐτοῦ γεγηρακυῖαι παρθένοι καὶ ἡ ἑτέρα αὐτοῦ θυγάτηρ ἐν ἁγίῳ πνεύματι πολιτευσαμένη ἐν Ἐφέσῳ ἀναπαύεται· (3). ἔτι δὲ καὶ Ἰωάννης ὁ ἐπὶ τὸ στῆθος τοῦ κυρίου ἀναπεσών, ὃς ἐγενήθη ἱερεὺς τὸ πέταλον πεφορεκὼς καὶ μάρτυς καὶ διδάσκαλος· (4.)οὗτος ἐν Ἐφέσῳ κεκοίμηται, ἔτι δὲ καὶ Πολύκαρπος ἐν Σμύρνῃ, καὶ ἐπίσκοπος καὶ μάρτυς· καὶ Θρασέας καὶ ἐπίσκοπος καὶ μάρτυς ἀπὸ Εὐμενείας, ὃς ἐν Σμύρνῃ κεκοίμηται. (5.) τί δὲ δεῖ λέγειν Σάγαριν ἐπίσκοπον καὶ μάρτυρα, ὃς ἐν Λαοδικείᾳ κεκοίμηται, ἔτι δὲ καὶ Παπίριον τὸν μακάριον καὶ Μελίτωνα τὸν εὐνοῦχον, τὸν ἐν ἁγίῳ πνεύματι πάντα πολιτευσάμενον, ὃς κεῖται ἐν Σάρδεσιν περιμένων τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν οὐρανῶν ἐπισκοπὴν ἐν ᾗ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστήσεται; (6.) οὗτοι πάντες ἐτήρησαν τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς τεσσαρεσκαιδεκάτης τοῦ πάσχα κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, μηδὲν παρεκβαίνοντες, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν κανὸνα τῆς πίστεως ἀκολουθοῦντες· ἔτι δὲ κἀγὼ ὁ μικρότερος πάντων ὑμῶν Πολυκράτης, κατὰ παράδοσιν τῶν συγγενῶν μου, οἷς καὶ παρηκολούθησά τισιν αὐτῶν. ἑπτὰ μὲν ἦσαν συγγενεῖς μου ἐπίσκοποι, ἐγὼ δὲ ὄγδοος· καὶ πάντοτε τὴν ἡμέραν ἤγαγον οἱ συγγενεῖς μου ὅταν ὁ λαὸς ἤρνυεν τὴν ζύμην. (7.) ἐγὼ οὖν, ἀδελφοί, ἑξήκοντα πέντε ἔτη ἔχων ἐν κυρίῳ καὶ συμβεβληκὼς τοῖς ἀπὸ τῆς οἰκουμένης ἀδελφοῖς καὶ πᾶσαν ἁγίαν γραφὴν διεληλυθώς, οὐ πτύρομαι ἐπὶ τοῖς καταπλησσομένοις· οἱ γὰρ ἐμοῦ μείζονες εἰρήκασι ‘πειθαρχεῖν δεῖ θεῷ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀνθρώποις.»

'(1.) ... Now Polykratēs led the bishops in Asia in their claim that it was necessary to keep the custom which had been handed down to them of old. In a letter he addressed to Victor and to the Church of Rome, he expounded himself the tradition which had come to him as follows:
(2.) "We therefore keep the day unaltered, neither adding nor taking away. Because indeed great figures sleep in Asia, who will rise on the day of the coming of the Lord, when he shall come with glory from heaven and seek out all the saints: Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis, and two of his daughters who grew old as virgins; another daughter of his, who lived in the Holy Spirit, rests at Ephesos. (3.) Moreover, John, who lay on the Lord’s breast, and who was a priest wearing the breastplate, and a martyr, and teacher – (4.) he sleeps at Ephesos. And Polycarp at Smyrna, both bishop and martyr. And Thraseas, both bishop and martyr from Eumeneia, who sleeps in Smyrna. (5.) And what about Sagaris, bishop and martyr, who sleeps at Laodicaea? And also the blessed Papirios, and Melitōn the abstinent who lived entirely in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, waiting for the visitation from heaven, when he will rise from the dead? (6.) All these kept the fourteenth day of the Pascha according to the gospel, never swerving, but abiding by the rule of the faith. And even so do I, Polykratēs, the least of you all, abide by the tradition of my predecessors, which I indeed heard from some of them in person. There have been seven bishops on my lineage and I am the eighth of them, and my predecessors always kept the day, when the people put away the leaven. (7.) Therefore, brethren, I, with my sixty-five years in the Lord, having conversed with brethren from around the world, and having studied the entire Holy Scripture, do not fear threats. Indeed, people greater than me have said, One must obey God rather than men [= Acts 5:29]."'

Text: Schwartz et al. 1999. Translation: Efthymios Rizos, using Lake, Oulton and Lawlor 1926.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr, and other martyrs in Smyrna, ob. 2nd c. : S00004 John the Evangelist : S00042 Philip the Apostle, ob. 1st c. : S00109 Thraseas, bishop of Eumeneia, martyred in Smyrna, ob. c. 170 : S00271 Sagaris, martyred bishop in L

Saint Name in Source

Πολύκαρπος Ἰωάννης Φίλιππος Θρασέας Σάγαρις Μελίτων Παπίριος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories) Literary - Letters


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Ephesus Caesarea Maritima

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

Ephesus Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Caesarea Maritima Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Written between 311 and 325, the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea is the first literary work to employ the methodology and objectives of classical historiography – which, since Herodotus and Thucydides, had traditionally focused on military and political events – in a novel field, the history of the Christian community. It survives in several Greek manuscripts, in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and in Syriac and Armenian translations. The first paragraphs of the work outline its chronological framework and thematic range: it is a narrative of events in the life of the Christian community from the times of Christ and the Apostles to the times of Eusebius (c. AD 260-340); it records the leaders of the most important communities (i.e. successions of bishops in Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem); it records the most notable exponents of Christian doctrine and their works, and also the main heresies and their proponents; it finally records persecutions and people that suffered and were martyred during them. The Ecclesiastical History is mostly a synthesis of quotations and summaries from other sources, for which Eusebius often gives concrete references. Thus his work preserves excerpts from early Christian texts which do not survive any more in their full form. Since the author knew Greek and Syriac, but no Latin, his source material is confined chiefly to Greek texts, originating from Christian centres in Anatolia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. These areas constitute the main geographical range of his narrative, while his information about Christianity in the European provinces of the Roman Empire (except Rome) and North Africa is very limited. Eusebius lived in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine between c. AD 260 and 340. He was a pupil and friend of the martyred Christian intellectual Pamphilus. Under Constantine, he emerged as one of the most influential Christian figures of the Roman Empire, and was ordained bishop of Caesarea.


This passage comes from Eusebius’ account of the 2nd century dispute on the date of Easter, which marked the most important division of catholic communities in the pre-Constantinian era. In the 190s, the bishop of Rome Victor I (189-199) excommunicated the churches which refused to comply with the practice of the Church of Rome, thus threatening to alienate Rome from the catholic communities of Syria, Palestine and Asia. Eusebius quotes here a passage from a letter addressed by the bishop of Ephesus, Polykratēs to the Church of Rome and its bishop, by which, as the leader of the foremost catholic community of the province of Asia, he defends the practice of his church, quoting as guarantee for the holiness of this church’s traditions, the tombs of its apostles and martyrs (a quotation of part of the same passage from Polykrates' letter appears at Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3: E00218). The passage is indicative of the importance of tombs of apostles and martyrs for the construction of the historical consciousness and authority claims of Christian communities as early as the 2nd century. It is remarkable that Polykratēs does not mention the mission of Paul in Asia or his letters to its churches, but focuses on figures martyred and buried in Asia. By this, he may, in fact, be responding to arguments used by Pope Victor in his original letter to the churches of Asia. It seems that Victor justified his demand for obedience by claiming that Rome was an apostolic church, and the resting place of Peter and Paul, and of many other martyrs. The idea that possession of the apostolic tombs was a token of higher authority seems to have been very popular in Rome by the late 2nd century, since it is also known to have been used by Gaius of Rome in his epistolary debate with the Montanist Proclus in c. AD 200 (E00218). The response of Polykratēs to the Roman claim was that Asia traced its traditions to apostles and martyrs no less than Rome did, and his proof was a series of tombs known to Christians at various places in the province. The list given by Polykratēs follows a chronological order, starting with the tomb of Philip in Hierapolis, who, according to tradition, was the first apostle and martyr of Asia, dying several years before John in Ephesos. Philip’s tomb was apparently a well-established object of reverence across various Christian groups in Asia, since it is mentioned also by the Montanist leader Proclus around AD 200 (E00118). Polykratēs also mentions the tomb of a third daughter of Philip at Ephesos, which is unknown from other sources. After Philip, Polykratēs talks of John and his tomb in Ephesos, whom he identifies as the disciple who lay on Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper (John 13:23-25), but he also describes him as a priest of the temple in Jerusalem, thus echoing the legend that the family of Zebedee were priests. In his own times, Eusebius reports that two tombs of John were known at Ephesos, one of which belonged to the somewhat obscure figure of John the Elder (or the Presbyter) (see E00218). Polykratēs, however, appears unaware of this second John. There follows a list of martyred bishops and other holy men, apparently also in chronological order. Polycarp of Smyrna is apparently regarded as the first martyr after the generation of the Apostles, and there follows Thraseas, the martyred bishop of Eumeneia, whose tomb is also mentioned in the 3rd or 4th century Life of Polycarp (see E00487). Papirios and Melitōn are not known from other sources, and it is unknown if they were also martyrs. Melitōn is described as εὐνοῦχος/eunouchos (literally 'eunuch'), by which the text probably means a celibate man. The word εὐνουχία is also mentioned in the Life of Polycarp, most probably in the sense of male celibacy/abstinence, as opposed to παρθενία/parthenia, referring to female celibacy. It is remarkable that Polykratēs makes no effort to associate himself specifically with John, who was buried in his own city of Ephesos, but with all the holy figures in Asia, whom he defines as his συγγενεῖς/syngeneis (literally ‘relatives’, ‘kinsmen’, ‘of the same descent’). By this, he probably refers to their bond of episcopal ordination and succession, rather than blood relation (as has been falsely interpreted by part of scholarship). Alternatively, συγγενεῖς may mean here ‘fellow Asians’, denoting a bond of local descent. In any case, all these figures are presented as the proof of the continuity and holiness of tradition in the churches of Asia, of which Polykratēs, the eighth bishop of Ephesos, was heir.


Edition: Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F., Eusebius Werke II: Die Kirchengeschichte. 3 vols. (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). Translations: Lake, K., Oulton, J.E.L., and Lawlor, H.J., Eusebius of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library 153; London and Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1926). Williamson, G.A., and Louth, A., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (London: Penguin, 1989).

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