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E00767: A decree of the emperor Constantine, of 324, orders the restoration of the resting places of martyrs and the sites of their death to the ownership of the Christian churches. Greek text quoted in the Life of Constantine by Eusebius of Caesarea, written in Palestine in 337/339.

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posted on 2015-10-13, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine, 2.40. 1.

(1.)   Καὶ μὴν καὶ τοὺς τόπους αὐτούς, οἳ τοῖς σώμασι τῶν μαρτύρων τετίμηνται καὶ τῆς ἀναχωρήσεως τῆς ἐνδόξου ὑπομνήματα καθεστᾶσιν, τίς ἂν ἀμφιβάλοι μὴ οὐχὶ ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις προσήκειν, ἢ οὐχὶ καὶ προστάξειεν ἄν; ἡνίκα μήτε δῶρον ἄμεινον μήτε κάματος χαριέστερος καὶ πολλὴν ἔχων τὴν ὠφέλειαν ἕτερος ἂν γένοιτο, ἢ τοῦ θείου προτρέποντος νεύματος τὴν περὶ τῶν τοιούτων ποιεῖσθαι σπουδήν, καὶ ἃ μετὰ πονηρῶν ἐξῃρέθη προφάσεων τῶν ἀδίκων καὶ μοχθηροτάτων ἀνδρῶν, ἀποκατασταθέντα δικαίως ταῖς εὐαγέσιν αὖθις ἐκκλησίαις ἀποσωθῆναι.

‘Furthermore, the places themselves which are honoured by the bodies of the martyrs and stand as monuments to their glorious decease: who could doubt whether they should belong to the churches, or would not so decree? Indeed no gift could be better nor any other labour more agreeable and rich in advantage, than to take care of such things, at the instigation of the divine will, and to have the things which were taken away on evil pretexts of the lawless and most foul men justly restored and reserved for the charitable churches.’

Text: Winkelmann 2008.
Translation: E. Rizos (using Cameron and Hall 1999)


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories) Canonical and legal texts


  • 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 - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


Eusebius wrote the Life of Constantine in the two years between the death of his hero (337) and his own (339), without finishing the work. The author portrays the first Christian emperor as an ideal ruler, sent from God, who ended the persecution of Christians and led the Roman Empire to prosperity and to the true faith. Based on imperial documents, legal texts and personal communication, the Life of Constantine, if clearly biased, is one of our fundamental sources of information on the reign of Constantine. This passage comes from the first and longest of several official imperial documents quoted in full. It is known as Constantine’s Letter to the East, an encyclical which allegedly was circulated in the provinces of the East in both Latin and Greek. Parts of the text have been recognised in the London Papyrus 878 (from AD 319/320), which confirms that the text quoted by Eusebius belongs to a genuine imperial document. It celebrates Constantine’s rise to sole rule, and announces the reparation of the iniquities suffered by the Christians during the persecutions. These include the return of exiles, the liberation of convicts, the restoration of property removed from Christian individuals and communities, and the compensation of families of victims of the persecution.


One of the categories of property to be restored to the Christian communities was tombs and memorials of martyrs, which are now declared property of the churches. This phrase confirms that the veneration of martyrs and their shrines (which according to our text included either the tomb of a martyr or the site of his/her death) was an essential aspect of the version of Christianity sponsored by the emperor Constantine. If this decree was strictly implemented, it must have had important implications for several cities, as public sites and show buildings where martyrs had been killed would have been regarded as potentially sacred sites and could have been claimed as ecclesiastical property.


Text: Winkelmann, F. (ed.), Eusebius Werke, Band 1, Teil 1: Über das Leben des Kaisers Konstantin (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte; 2nd rev. ed.; Berlin / New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008). Translations and Commentaries: Cameron, A., and Hall, S.G., Eusebius, Life of Constantine (Clarendon Ancient History Series; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999). Dräger, P., Eusebios, Über das Leben des glückseligen Kaisers Konstantin = (De vita Constantini) : griechisch/deutsch (Bibliotheca classicorum; Oberhaid: Utopica, 2007). Pietri, L., and Rondeau, M.-J. Eusèbe De Césarée, Vie De Constantin. Sources Chrétiennes 559. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2013. Schneider, H., and Bleckmann, B., Eusebios von Caesarea. De vita Constantini = Das Leben des Konstantin (Fontes Christiani; Turnhout: Brepols, 2007). Tartaglia, L., Eusebio di Cesarea Sulla vita di Costantino (Quaderni di Koinōnia; Napoli: M. D'Auria, 1984). Further reading: Drake, H. A., Constantine and the Bishops: the Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). Baynes, N.H., Constantine the Great and the Christian Church (Raleigh lecture on history; London: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1972).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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