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E00769: Eusebius of Caesarea in his Life of Constantine claims that the first Christian emperor built shrines of martyrs in Constantinople and dedicated the city to the God of the martyrs. Written in Greek in Caesarea of Palestine, 337/339.

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posted on 2015-10-13, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine, 3.48.1-2

τὴν δέ γ’ ἐπώνυμον αὐτοῦ πόλιν ἐξόχῳ τιμῇ γεραίρων, εὐκτηρίοις πλείοσιν ἐφαίδρυνε μαρτυρίοις τε μεγίστοις καὶ περιφανεστάτοις οἴκοις, τοῖς μὲν πρὸ τοῦ ἄστεος τοῖς δ’ ἐν αὐτῷ τυγχάνουσι, δι’ ὧν ὁμοῦ καὶ τὰς τῶν μαρτύρων μνήμας ἐτίμα καὶ τὴν αὐτοῦ πόλιν τῷ τῶν μαρτύρων καθιέρου θεῷ. ὅλως δ’ ἐμπνέων θεοῦ σοφίας, ἣν τῆς ἐπηγορίας τῆς αὐτοῦ πόλιν ἐπώνυμον ἀποφῆναι ἔκρινε, καθαρεύειν εἰδωλολατρίας ἁπάσης ἐδικαίου, ὡς μηδαμοῦ φαίνεσθαι ἐν αὐτῇ τῶν δὴ νομιζομένων θεῶν ἀγάλματα ἐν ἱεροῖς θρησκευόμενα, ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ βωμοὺς λύθροις αἱμάτων μιαινομένους, οὐ θυσίας ὁλοκαυτουμένας πυρί, οὐ δαιμονικὰς ἑορτάς, οὐδ’ ἕτερόν τι τῶν συνήθων τοῖς δεισιδαίμοσιν.

'In honouring with exceptional distinction the city which bears his name, he embellished it with several houses of worship – both massive martyr-shrines (μαρτύρια μέγιστα/martyria megista) and splendid halls (οἶκοι/oikoi = churches), the former standing outside the city, the latter within it. By these, he at the same time honoured the memories of the martyrs and consecrated his own city to the God of the martyrs (ὁ τῶν μαρτύρων Θεὸς/ ho tōn martyrōn Theos). Being fully inspired by God's wisdom, he saw fit to purge of all idolatry the city which he chose to render eponymous of his own name, so that nowhere in it were to be seen statues of the supposed gods being worshipped in shrines, nor altars being contaminated by bloody slaughter, nor sacrifice offered as holocaust in fire, nor feasts of demons, nor any of the other customs of the superstitious.'

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)


  • Greek

Activity not before


Activity not after


Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings


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.


In this passage, Eusebius claims that Constantine’s building project at Constantinople included several houses of Christian worship (εὐκτήρια/euktēria), among which he distinguishes between shrines of martyrs (μαρτύρια/martyria) and ‘houses/halls’ (οἶκοι/oikoi), i.e. parish churches. The phrase ‘μαρτυρίοις τε μεγίστοις καὶ περιφανεστάτοις οἴκοις, τοῖς μὲν πρὸ τοῦ ἄστεος τοῖς δ’ ἐν αὐτῷ τυγχάνουσι’ is particularly important, since it seems to suggest that the shrines of the martyrs were supposed to be extramural. This, however, is not the only possible translation, since the phrase could also be understood more loosely, as ‘some of them standing outside the city and some within it.’ With regard to the alleged martyria, Eusebius does not specify particular dedications. The 10th-century Patria of Constantinople ascribe to Constantine the basilicas of *Akakios, *Agathonikos, *Mokios, and *Menas (Patria 3.1-2), of which, only the basilica of *Mokios stood outside the Constantinian walls of Constantinople (Janin 1969, 7-8, 354-358, 14-15). In our passage, Eusebius presents Constantine’s dedications to the martyrs as a part of his effort to create a profoundly Christian city, devoid of any trace of idolatry. This, however, seems to have been partly inaccurate, since Constantinople is known to have had pagan shrines.


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: Baynes, N.H., Constantine the Great and the Christian Church (Raleigh lecture on history; London: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1972). Drake, H. A., Constantine and the Bishops: the Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). Janin, R., Constantinople Byzantine - développement urbain et répertoire topographique. Vol. 4A (Archives de l'Orient chrétien; 2 ed.; Paris: Institut français d'études byzantines 1964). Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire byzantin. I 3: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople. (2nd ed.; Paris, 1969). Mango, C., Le développement urbain de Constantinople (IVe-VIIe siècles) (Travaux et mémoires du Centre de recherche d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance. Monographies; Paris: Boccard, 1985/1990).

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