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E00855: The History of *Shimun/Symeon bar Ṣabbae (bishop and martyr in Persia, ob. 341 or 344, and companions, S00592) is produced by an anonymous Syriac-speaking writer in Persia during the second half of the 5th century. It describes the martyrdom of Symeon, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, and his companions, who include the eunuch Gushtazad, the priests Ḥananya and Abdhaykla, and the craftsman *Pusai (father of Martha and martyr in Persia, ob. 341 or 344, S01218) during the reign of Shapur II (r. 309-379).

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


The narrative opens with a paragraph in which the author promises to relate the story of the martyrdom of Shimun/Symeon, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, as well as of the other martyrs executed alongside him: 'Gadyahb and Subyana, the bishops of Beth Lapat; Yoḥannan, the bishop of Hormizd-Ardashir; Bolida‘, the bishop of Prat d-Maishan; Yoḥannan, the bishop of Karka d-Maishan; the ninety-seven priests and deacons; Gushtazad, the head eunuch, who held the rank of arzbed; and Pusai-Qargbed, who held the rank of the head of the craftsmen, and of his daughter, who was a bart qyama'. (§ 1)

The author describes the beginning of the persecution of the Christians of Persia, which began after the death of Constantine. Shapur issues an edict demanding that Christians pay a double tax, as a punishment for their support of the Roman emperor. The shah also informs the authorities in the capital (i.e. Seleucia-Ctesiphon) of Shimun's duty to collect this tax. (§§ 3-4)

In his response to Shapur, Shimun declares his loyalty to the shah, but politely refuses to perform the task, arguing that his authority as a bishop is restricted only to spiritual matters and does not extend to such civil issues as tax collection. Receiving this letter, Shapur is enraged by this act of disobedience, suspecting that the bishop wants to incite Christians to rebel against him and to ally with the Romans. (§§ 5-11)

The Jews at the shah's court make efforts to persuade Shapur of the disloyalty of the Christians. A brief excursus follows, relating the case of a Messianic upsurge among the Persian Jews during the reign of the emperor Julian, brutally suppressed by Shapur. (§§ 12-15)

Shapur issues a second edict, in which he asks the bishop to explain the reasons for his rebellion and tries to persuade him to obey the royal command, threatening him with death. Shimun refuses to do so once more. (§§ 16-17)

When Shapur hears of the bishop's refusal, he orders a persecution of the Christians to be initiated, i.e. priests to be killed, churches destroyed, and Shimun himself arrested and brought to the king's summer residence in the city of Karka d-Ledan. Shimun encourages his flock to remain steadfast in the face of the persecution. (§§ 18-21)

The bishop admonishes the Christian congregation of Seleucia-Ctesiphon to keep away from Marcionites, Manichaeans and Jews. After that he is led out of the city. The list of other bishops, arrested with Shimun and taken to Kaka d-Ledan, is repeated. (§§ 22-25)

The author turns to the story of the eunuch Gushtazad from the shah's court, a Christian who apostatises by worshipping the sun after his arrest. When Shimun arrives at Karka d-Ledan and hears about Gushtazad's apostasy, he refuses to be visited by him in prison and declines his plea for forgiveness. Sorrowful, the eunuch returns to his house, where he performs rites of penitence. (§§ 26-34)

During their meeting, the shah expresses his disappointment over Shimun's behaviour, while the bishop assures him of his unswerving loyalty. In the exchange with Shapur and the Magi, who accuse him of rebelling against the shah, Shimun tries to persuade him that Christians are poor and cannot afford a double tax, and that in any case he himself is unable to collect it. Apparently persuaded by the bishop's arguments, Shapur tries instead to make him worship fire and the sun. Shimun refuses to do so, causing the shah to get angry and to threaten the bishop with the death penalty. (§§ 35-49)

Shapur orders the bishop to be put in chains and imprisoned. While Shimun is led to the prison, Gushtazad attempts once more to ask him for forgiveness, but the bishop again refuses. Having realised that his private penitence was insufficient, the eunuch returns to the court, where he reveals himself to be a Christian before the shah and expresses remorse for falsely worshipping the sun. Enraged, Shapur orders Gushtazad to be beheaded by the sword. As 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. (§§ 50-66)

While in prison, Shimun speaks with other arrested Christians, encouraging them. When the news of Gushtazad's execution reaches them, the prisoners pray for him. After that Shimun prays for his own martyrdom. (§§ 67-76)

At dawn of the next day, Friday, the fourteenth of Nisan, Shapur tries once more to persuade the arrested Christians to worship the sun. After Shimun speaks on their behalf, refusing again to comply, he is brought before the shah. When Shapur, in a last attempt to persuade Shimun, evokes their friendship, the bishop replies that although he is indeed a true friend of the shah and prays for the well-being of his kingdom, he prefers to die rather than deny God. (§§ 77-82)

Shapur orders Shimun and his followers to be executed. While many Christians are killed in front of the bishop, he continues to preach to those who are yet alive about the virtues of martyrdom. As the executioners draw near, he offers a long prayer. (§§ 83-94)

After the group of one hundred martyrs is executed, it is only Shimun and Ḥananya and Abdhaykla, two old priests from Seleucia-Ctesiphon, who remain. When Ḥananya starts to tremble, while being stripped before execution, Pusai, the head of the shah's craftsmen, who was present at the execution, addresses words of encouragement to him. He is arrested and executed, immediately after Ḥananya and Abdhaykla. (§§ 95-96)

Shimun prays for his persecutors; then is beheaded with a sword. At this moment, 'it became dark, the sun was eclipsed all at once, and fear and trembling overtook all the spectators'. After the execution of the bishop and his companions, their bodies are taken away and buried by the local Christians [see $E00856] (§§ 97-98)

The narrative concludes with the following appeal of the author: 'May their prayers assist the entire community of the faithful as well as the sinner who wrote it'. (§ 99)

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 and Martha, father and daughter, martyrs 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 name in other Language(s)

Susa Susa Շաւշ Šawš شوش Shush

Major author/Major anonymous work

Persian martyrdom accounts

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 Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Monarchs and their family Zoroastrians Jews and Samaritans


The History of Shimun/Symeon bar Ṣabbae is an account of the martyrdom of the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, Shimun, and his companions *Gushtazad, *Ḥananya, *Abdhaykla, *Pusai and his daughter, that 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. Syriac text: Kmosko 1907, cols. 779-959; English translation: Smith 2014, pp. 68-210; Latin translation: Kmosko 1907, cols. 780-960; modern Arabic translation: Scher 1900-1906, vol. 1, pp. 192-234; partial German translation: Braun 1915, pp. 5-57. For general information, see Smith 2014, pp. xliii-xlix.


Main editions and translations: Kmosko, M., “S. Simeon bar Sabba‘e,” in: Patrologia Syriaca (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1907), vol. 1.2, 659-1055. Braun, O., Ausgewählte Akten persischer Märtyrer (Bibliothek der Kirchenväter 22; München: Jos. Kösel, 1915). Scher, A., Kitāb sīrat ’ašhar šuhadā’ al-Mašriq al-qiddisīn. 2 vols (Mossoul: Imprimerie des pères dominicains, 1900-1906). 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).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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