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E00954: Pope Zosimus, in a letter to the bishops of Gaul, written in Latin at Rome in 417, justifies the primacy in Gaul of the see of Arles on the grounds that its founder, *Trophimus (reputed first bishop of Arles, S00617), was the first bishop in Gaul, and was sent by the see of Rome.

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posted on 2015-12-09, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Epistolae Arelatenses 1 = Pope Zosimus, Letter 1 ('Placuit apostolicae', JK 328/JH 732)

Letter of Pope Zosimus to the bishops of 'Gaul and the Seven Provinces', on the powers of the see of Arles. The letter is dated 22 March 417. It orders that any cleric from Gaul who wishes to travel to Rome can only do so with the permission of the bishop of Arles, it gives the bishop of Arles exclusive authority to ordain bishops in the provinces of Viennensis, Narbonensis I and Narbonensis II, and it confirms the possession by Arles of two parishes which were disputed between the sees of Arles and Marseille (the last issue is the one referenced in the passage quoted).

Sane quoniam metropolytane Arelatensium urbi vetus privilegium minime derogandum est, ad quam primum ex ac sedes Trophymus summus antestites, ex cuius fonte tote Galliae fidei rivolos acciperunt, directus est: idcirco, quascumque parrocias in quibuslibet terretoriis, etiam extra provincias suas antiquitus habet, intimerata auctoritate possedeat. ...

For clearly the old privilege of the metropolitan city of the Arlesians is in no way to be diminished, [the city] to which first was sent from this see Trophymus the highest bishop, from whose source all the Gauls received the streams of faith; therefore whatever parishes in whatever territories, even outside its provinces that it holds of old, it should possess with unsullied authority. ...'

Text: Gundlach 1892, p. 6, lines 16-20. Translation: David Lambert.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Trophimus, bishop and martyr of Arles : S00617

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Places

Place associated with saint's life

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Awarding privileges to cult centres

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


Epistolae Arelatenses 1 (= Zosimus, Letter 1, 'Placuit apostolicae') is a letter from Pope Zosimus (Pope 417-418), dated 22 March 417, and addressed to the bishops of 'Gaul and the Seven Provinces' ('Gaul' here denotes the Roman administrative Diocese of Gallia, which covered northern Gaul, while the 'Seven Provinces' formed the Diocese which covered southern Gaul). The letter granted special status and powers to the see of Arles. The letter survives among the so-called Epistolae Arelatenses (Arlesian Letters), also known as the Collectio Arelatensis or the Liber auctoritatum ecclesiae Arelatensis, a collection of 56 letters and other documents relating to the see of Arles, dating from 417 to 557. The collection was compiled at some point after 557, presumably from the archives of the see. The text is quoted here from the MGH edition by W. Gundlach, which retains the irregularities in grammar and spelling transmitted in the early medieval manuscripts. These were almost certainly not in Zosimus' original.


This is the first of a series of letters (see also E01617, E00960, E00988) in which Zosimus justifies the privileges granted to the see of Arles on the grounds that its founding bishop, Trophimus, was a missionary sent by the see of Rome (ex ac sedes), and that he was the 'source' (fons) from which Christianity spread to the rest of the country. He is thus claiming, in effect, that Trophimus was responsible for evangelising Gaul. Immediate doubt is cast on this claim by the fact that Zosimus' letter is itself the first known reference to Trophimus, who is completely unattested in literary (or any other) evidence before 417. There is no doubt that the claim that Arles had historically enjoyed greater status and powers than other Gallic sees was specious. Its claim to higher status was actually very recent, driven by an entirely secular change: the establishment of Arles at some point between 395 and c. 410 (the precise date is unknown) as the location of the Praetorian Prefecture of the Gauls, thus making Arles (rather than, as in the previous century, Trier) the de facto capital of Gaul. Before this, not only is there no evidence that the see of Arles had claimed any supra-provincial primacy, it had not even been the metropolitan see of its own province (Viennensis, capital Vienne). The attempts of successive bishops of Arles to achieve a degree of power and authority for their see commensurate with the new political status of Arles is a theme which continues through the 5th century (see Mathisen 1989, and - specifically on this letter - Dunn 2015). It aroused considerable resistance among other southern Gallic bishops whose status was thereby diminished, and which is visible in the subsequent correspondence of Zosimus (see E00960 and E00988). It is in this context that the story of Trophimus, and its use to justify Arles' primacy, first appears. The letters of Zosimus show that from the moment of his election as Pope (only four days before the date of this letter), he supported the claims of Arles apparently without reservation. This was by no means always the case with 5th century popes, some of whom strongly opposed the attempts by bishops of Arles to aggrandise themselves (most notably Leo I, with his intervention against Hilary of Arles in 445, on which see E00957). It is an open question whether the story of Trophimus played a role in this: i.e. whether Zosimus supported Arles so strongly because he genuinely believed in the truth of the Trophimus story, which he cites prominently in his correspondence on the issue. Given the controversial circumstances in which Trophimus first appears in the historical record, some scholars (e.g. Février 1986, 79; Heijmans 2004, 251) have bluntly dismissed his very existence as a fabrication, either by Zosimus himself, or (more probably) by the immediate beneficiary of his decisions, Patroclus, bishop of Arles from 412 to 426, who appears to have instigated Zosimus' intervention (on Patroclus, see Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire 4, 'Patroclus 2'). This does not necessarily follow, however. While Zosimus' letter is the earliest surviving text to mention Trophimus, an independent tradition is represented by a passage in Gregory of Tours (Histories 1.30; E01530), where Trophimus is claimed to have been one of seven bishops sent to Gaul by the see of Rome during the reign of Decius (249-251). It is therefore plausible that there was an existing cult of Trophimus at Arles in the early 5th century, and that Patroclus (assuming he was responsible) was exaggerating genuine Arlesian traditions about the founding of the see rather than inventing Trophimus out of thin air. Zosimus does not give any indication of the date when Trophimus was supposedly sent from Rome, and does not name the Bishop of Rome who sent him. By the middle of the 5th century it was being claimed that Trophimus was a contemporary of the Apostles, and was sent to Gaul by St Peter himself (E00957). This was supported by identifying the Arlesian Trophimus with a Trophimus mentioned in the New Testament. Since such a claim would have strengthened Zosimus' hand in making the demands on Gallic bishops put forward in this letter, his failure to mention it suggests that in 417 the elision of these two figures had not yet taken place.


Edition: Gundlach, W., Epistolae Arelatenses genuinae, in: Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini Aevi (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Epistolae 3; Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1892), 5-83. Further reading: Dunn, G., “Placuit apostolicae (Ep. 1) of Zosimus of Rome and the Ecclesiastical Reorganization of Gaul,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 23: 4 (2015), 559-581. Février, P.-A., “Arles,” in: N. Gauthier and J.-Ch. Picard (eds.), Topographie chrétienne des cités de la Gaule des origines au milieu du VIIIe siècle, vol. 3: Provinces ecclésiastique de Vienne et d'Arles (Viennensis et Alpes Graiae et Poeninae) (Paris: Boccard, 1986), 73-84. Heijmans, M., Arles durant l'antiquité tardive: de la Duplex Arelas à l' Urbs Genesii (Rome: École française de Rome, 2004). Mathisen, R.W., Ecclesiastical Factionalism and Religious Controversy in Fifth-Century Gaul (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1989). Pietri, L., and Heijmans, M. (eds.), Prosopographie chrétienne du Bas-Empire 4: La Gaule chrétienne (314-614) (Paris: Association des Amis du Centre d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, 2013).

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