University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E00854: The Martyrdom of *Shimun/Symeon bar Ṣabbae (bishop and martyr in Persia, ob. 341 or 344, with companions, S00592) is produced by an anonymous Syriac-speaking writer in Persia during the late 4th or early 5th century. It describes the martyrdom of Symeon, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, and his companions the eunuch Gushtazad, the priests Ḥananya and Abdhaykla, and the craftsman *Pusai and his daughter (martyrs in Persia, S01218) during the reign of Shapur II (r. 309-379), with no reference to miraculous events.

online resource
posted on 2015-11-16, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Martyrdom of Shimun bar Ṣabbae


The narrative opens with a long introductory section, in which the persecution of Christians under the Sasanian king Shapur II is likened to the oppression of the Jewish people under the Seleucid king Antiochus IV. The heroic figures of the Jewish priest Mattathias and Judah the Maccabee are evoked and serve as an example for emulation. (§§ 1-6)

The author introduces Shimun/Symeon, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, while comparing him to Judah the Maccabee. Both are extolled as true shepherds, who died to save their people. (§§ 7-9)

An exchange of letters between Shimun and Shapur follows, in which the bishop claims that the redeeming death of Jesus freed Christians from the obligation to pay taxes. When the king threatens him with death, Simeon expresses eager willingness to die for his people. (§§ 10-12)

Following the anti-Christian accusations of the Jews, who inform Shapur that the Roman emperor holds any letter that Shimun might send him in a far greater esteem than those of the shah, the bishop and two priests, *Ḥananya and *Abdhaykla, are arrested and escorted to the city of Karka d-Ledan. When brought before Shapur, Shimun refuses to bow before the shah and the Magi, present at the scene, declare that he is a rebel against the kingdom. (§§ 13-16)

A long exchange between Shapur and Shimun follows, during which the shah exhorts the bishop to worship the sun and promises him wealth and power if he agrees. As Shimun refuses to comply, the shah sentences him to death, while threatening to kill many other Christians. (§§ 17-25)

While Shimun is led away from Shapur, Gushtazad, 'an old eunuch, the tutor of the king' and fellow Christian, bows before him. The bishop, however, ignores the eunuch, aware that Gushtazad compromised his Christian faith by worshipping the sun. Having realised the gravity of his offence, Gushtazad repents and dons black clothes, as if in a state of mourning. When asked by the shah about the cause of his mourning, the eunuch confesses that he worshipped the sun falsely and refuses to do so anymore, proclaiming himself to be a Christian. Enraged, Shapur orders Gushtazad to be beheaded with a sword. In a last request, granted by the shah, the eunuch asks a public announcement to be made that he is being executed not on account of his betrayal of the king or the kingdom, but because he is a Christian. (§§ 26-33)

Shimun rejoices over the news of Gushtazad's repentance and martyrdom, which he receives while in prison. He then spends the whole night praying over his own martyrdom. On the next morning, which fall on the Good Friday of Nissan 14, the bishop is summoned once more to Shapur. Given a last chance to save his life, Shimun again refuses to bow down before the shah or to worship the sun. (§§ 34-41)

After the sentence of death has been pronounced upon Shimun, he is brought over to be beheaded with a sword. However, before that, the bishop has to watch the execution of about one hundred fellow Christians, 'some of whom were bishops from other lands, others of whom were priests, and yet others of whom were deacons and bnay qyama.' After the one hundred have been executed, Shimun and two old priests, Ḥananya and Abdhaykla, are stripped naked and beheaded. (§§ 42-44)

The narrative concludes with the martyrdom of Pusai and his daughter. The former, described as 'the one in charge of the king's craftsmen', was present at the execution of Shimun and the priests, and addressed words of encouragement to one of them. He was at once arrested and, after interrogation by Shapur during which he professed to be a Christian, was executed, having had his tongue torn from his throat. Pusai's daughter, a member of the ascetic order of bnay qyama, was also accused of being a Christian and killed. (§§ 44-48)

Text: Kmosko 1907. Summary: Sergey Minov.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Symeon/Shimun bar Ṣabbae, bishop and martyr in Persia, ob. 341 or 344 : S00592 Pusai, martyr in Persia, ob. 341 or 344 : S01218

Saint Name in Source

ܫܡܥܘܢ ܒܪ ܨܒ̈ܥܐ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • 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)

Ctesiphon Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Major author/Major anonymous work

Persian martyrdom accounts

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Monarchs and their family Zoroastrians Jews and Samaritans Eunuchs Merchants and artisans Women


The Martyrdom of Shimun bar Ṣabbae is an account of the martyrdom of the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon Shimun and of his companions Gushtazad, Ḥananya, Abdhaykla, and Pusai and his daughter, which took place in Sasanian Persia, in the city of Karka d-Ledan, during the reign of Shapur II (r. 309-379), in the year 341 or 344. It is an original Syriac composition, produced in the second half of the 5th century by a Christian author in Persia. It is stated in § 7 that the persecution started 'in the 117th year of the reign of the Persians, which is the 31st year of Shapur, King of Kings'. Syriac text: Kmosko 1907, cols. 715-778; English translation: Smith 2014, pp. 6-58; Latin translation: Kmosko 1907, cols. 716-777. For general information, see Smith 2014, xxix-xxxiii.


Main editions and translations: Kmosko, M., “S. Simeon bar Sabba‘e,” in: Patrologia Syriaca (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1907), vol. 1.2, 659-1055. Smith, K.R., The Martyrdom and History of Blessed Simeon bar Ṣabba‘e (Persian Martyr Acts in Syriac: Text and Translation 3; Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2014). Further reading: Burgess, R.W., “The Dates of the Martyrdom of Simeon bar Sabba‘e and the ‘Great Massacre’,” Analecta Bollandiana 117 (1999), 9-66. Devos, P., “Sozomène et les Actes syriaques de Syméon bar Ṣabbā‘e,” Analecta Bollandiana 84 (1966), 443-456. Higgins, M.J., “Date of the Martyrdom of Simeon bar Sabbae,” Traditio 11 (1955), 1-35. Neusner, J., “Babylonian Jewry and Shapur II’s Persecution of Christianity from 339 to 379 A.D.,” Hebrew Union College Annual 43 (1972), 77-102. Peeters, P., “La date du martyre de S. Siméon, archevêque de Séleucie-Ctésiphon,” Analecta Bollandiana 56 (1938), 118-143. Smith, K.R., “Constantine and Judah the Maccabee: History and Memory in the Acts of the Persian Martyrs,” Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies 12 (2012), 16-33. Wiessner, G., Untersuchungen zur syrischen Literaturgeschichte I: Zur Märtyrerüberlieferung aus der Christenverfolgung Schapurs II (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Philologisch-historische Klasse III.67; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager