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E00799: Latin poem on the *Eighteen Martyrs of Saragossa (north-eastern Spain, S00485), composed by Prudentius, writing c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain). The poem, part of his Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), also mentions other saints connected to Saragossa: *Vincent (deacon and martyr of Saragossa and Valencia, S00290), *Encratis (confessor of Saragossa, S00512) and *Gaius and Crementius (confessors of Saragossa, S00513).

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posted on 2015-10-19, 00:00 authored by mszada
Liber Peristephanon, Poem IV


Prudentius argues that at the end of time every city will present to Christ its martyrs; Saragossa, with its eighteen martyrs will surpass them all (see $E00801). The martyrdom of the Eighteen Martyrs purified the city of Saragossa, so that now Christ dwells in its streets.

Prudentius mentions Vincent, martyr at Valencia, who served as a deacon in Saragossa and was inspired by the example of the martyrdom of the Eighteen (see $E00813).

The poem gives brief accounts of the suffering of the Eighteen Martyrs of Saragossa, and of Encratis, a girl who was tortured but survived the torture and gave witness to the suffering and death of the others: Optatus and Luperculus, Successus and Martialis, Urbanus, Julia and Quintilianus, Publius, Fronto, Felix, Caecilianus, Evotius, Primitivus, Apodemius, and four martyrs called Saturninus. Their names are written in the book of heaven which will be opened and read at the end of time: an angel will rehearse them in the presence of the Son and the Father. They are said to govern the city (regimen urbis tenentes) by right of their burial (iure sepulcri) in Saragossa. To them there are added Encratis, Vincent and also Gaius and Crementius, who confessed the Lord but were not put to death; in so doing, 'both tasted lightly the savour of martyrdom' (ambo gustarunt leviter saporem martyriorum).

The poem ends with an appeal to the citizens of Saragossa to cast themselves at the tombs of the martyrs; at the end of time their souls and bodies will rise and so will the people of Saragossa.

Text: Cunningham 1966: 286-293. Translation: Thomson 1953:157-169. Summary: M. Tycner.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Eighteen martyrs of Saragossa (Spain), ob. before 304 : S00485 Vincent, deacon and martyr of Saragossa and Valencia, ob. c. 305 : S00290 Encratis, girl tortured in Saragossa (Spain), ob. in the 4th c. : S00512 Gaius and Crementius, Christians pers

Saint Name in Source

Optatus, Luperculus, Successus, Martialis, Urbanus, Iulia, Quintilianuc, Publius, Fronto, Felix, Caecilianus, Evotius, Primitivus, Apodemius, Saturninus Vincentius Encratis Gaius, Crementius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Iberian Peninsula

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Calahorra Osset Osset Osen (castrum) Osser castrum

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Considerations about the hierarchy of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–after 405) was a Christian aristocrat from Calahorra in the Spanish province of Tarraconensis. He was a high official in the imperial bureaucracy in Rome, but withdrew from public life, returned to Calahorra, and dedicated himself to the service and celebration of God. Most of what we know about his biography comes from the preface to the ensemble of his works, which can be reliably dated to 404 (Cunningham 1966, 1-2), and other autobiographical remarks scattered throughout his works (for a detailed discussion, see Palmer 1989, 6-31). He composed several poetical works, amongst them the Peristephanon (literally, On the Crowns [of the Martyrs]), a collection of fourteen poems of different length describing martyrdoms of saints. We do not know exactly at which point in his literary career Prudentius wrote the preface (possibly at the very end, just before publication); for attempts at a precise dating of the Peristephanon, see Fux 2013, 9, n. 1. The poems in the Peristephanon, written in elegant classical metres, deal mainly with martyrs from Spain, but some of them are dedicated to saints of Rome, Africa and the East. The poems were widely read in the late antique and medieval West, and had a considerable influence on the diffusion of cult of the saints included. In later periods they were sometimes used as hymns in liturgical celebrations and had an impact on the development of the Spanish hymnody. Some indications in the poems suggest that they were written to commemorate the saints on their feast days, but Prudentius probably did not compose them for the liturgy of his time. Rather, they probably provided 'devotional reading matter for a cultured audience outside a church context' (Palmer 1989, 3; see also Chapter 3 in her book).


The poem, even though dedicated to the Eighteen Martyrs of Saragossa, deals more with other saints associated with the city. Prudentius knows the names of the martyrs and is aware that they did not all die together. He seems to put some of them in pairs, as if he knew that these had been martyred at the same time. Prudentius also mentions the marble tombs of the martyrs in Saragossa and appeals to the citizens to pray at them. He is also convinced that the example of their suffering was crucial for Vincent, deacon of Saragossa, in his decision to seek martyrdom (see E00813). What seems to count the most, however, is the high number of martyrs who found their death and were buried in the city (on details see E00801). In general, Prudentius' knowledge about these Eighteen Martyrs does not seem deep: at the end of his list he seems to have run out of names and claims that four of them were called Saturninus. Also, his list differs notably from the list we know from the late 7th century poem by Eusebius of Toledo (E00814). Prudentius seems to know a little more about some saints who were not counted amongst the Eighteen. Interestingly, he clearly presents them as holy figures who attracted posthumous cult. The first is Encratis, a girl who survived tortures during the persecutions and who then gave witness to the death of the other martyrs. It is interesting that, along with her suffering, precisely her role as narrator of the persecutions is seen as her merit and a reason to be counted among the saints. Two other figures are Gaius and Crementius, who confessed the Lord during the persecutions, but were not put to death. Like Encratis, they have the status of Confessors – people who suffered for their faith, but were not killed. The poem is written in the sapphic stanza.


Editions of the Peristephanon: Cunningham, M.P., Prudentii Carmina (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 126; Turnhout: Brepols, 1966), 251-389. Bergman, J., Prudentius, Carmina (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 61; Vienna, 1926), 291-431. Translations of the Peristephanon: Eagan, C., Prudentius, Poems (Fathers of the Church 43; Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1962), 95-280. English translation. Thomson, H.J., Prudentius, vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library; London Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann; Harvard University Press, 1953), 98-345. Edition and English translation. Further reading: Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013). Malamud, M.A., A Poetics of Transformation: Prudentius and Classical Mythology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989). Palmer, A.-M., Prudentius on the Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). Roberts, M., Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs: The "Liber Peristephanon" of Prudentius (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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