University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E01246: Martyr shrine of *Akakios (perhaps the soldier and martyr of Byzantion, S00759), with an inscription labelling the apparent burial chamber of the martyr, and possible burials ad sanctos, i.e. close to the martyr's relics; part of the late antique basilica on the agora of Thasos/modern Limenas (island of Thasos, Aegean Islands), just possibly dedicated to *Paul the Apostle (S00008). Dated by the excavator to the late 4th/first half of the 5th c.

online resource
posted on 2016-04-06, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
The ruins of the three-aisled basilica in the north-eastern section of the agora of the ancient city of Thasos (modern Limenas on the northern coast of the island of Thasos) were first surveyed in 1922 by Alfred Laumonier. In 1949 archaeological research was resumed by the École française d'Athènes. The summer campaign of 1950 resulted in several important archaeological and epigraphical discoveries. A report of these finds was published by Charles Delvoye in 1951.

Based on the archaeological context, Delvoye dated the construction of the basilica to the late 4th c. He also hypothesised that the building could have been the church mentioned in a story by Gregory of Nazianzus in Poema de se ipso (PG 37, col. 1089). Gregory says that a priest of Thasos was commissioned to bring some marble from the quarries of Prokonnesos to Constantinople, but stole the money he had been given for the purchase of the building material. However, though the anecdote told by Gregory perfectly fits the presumed date of the foundation of our church, we have no evidence that this is the church concerned.

It is very likely that the sanctuary was extended in the 5th c. with a martyr shrine. Excavations at the northern wall of the narthex revealed the existence of a hypogeum/crypt, containing three burial chambers (aligned east-west), opening onto a corridor, which connects them, at their western end. The dating of this hypogeum, suggested by Delvoye, is based mostly on the style of mosaics and crosses found at the site (see below). If this dating is correct (which we are not able to assess), we have here important early archaeological evidence for a martyr shrine constructed inside city walls of a city, while such sanctuaries were normally built outside cities at that period.

The crypt was covered by reused marble plaques and other elements of architecture, among them the archaeologists recorded an Ionic architrave, stylistically dated to the 3rd c. AD, and fragments of inscriptions with letters of Sulla and the emperor Claudius to the citizens of Thasos. It seems that before these stones were re-used in the crypt, they had been used in the original chancel screen of the basilica, which is one of the arguments implying that the crypt was constructed at a later phase of the sanctuary.

The whole surface of the main room above the hypogeum was covered with a mosaic containing a dedicatory inscription in a panel, embedded in its eastern section, which reads (letter height 0.045 m):

[ὑ]πὲρ ε[ὐχῆς - - -]
κ(ὲ) Παύλου θ̣ε̣ο̣ῦ [δούλων (?)]

'[A]s a v[ow of - - -] a(nd) Paulos, [servants (?)] of God.'

(ed. Dunant & Pouilloux 1958, no. 361; Delvoye 1951, 161)

The mosaic was removed from the church and is currently kept in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos in Limenas. .

Inscriptions from the tombs in the hypogeum

The three burials chambers, located in the hypogeum are each c. 2 m long and c. 0.81 m wide. Their walls, made of marble and gneiss, and covered with brownish stucco, are c. 0.9 m high. On each wall there are depictions of three Latin crosses, painted brown. Delvoye dated them stylistically to the second half of the 4th c (a dating which again we are not qualified to support or reject). One more cross is depicted on each of the narrow eastern walls.

The horizontal arms of the additional cross in the central chamber bear the following inscription (letter height 0.04 m):

Ἀκακίου μάρτ̣υ̣ρο̣ς

'Of the martyr Akakios'

(ed. Dunant & Pouilloux 1958, no. 363A; Delvoye 1951, 160)

In this chamber several small human bones were found.

The additional crosses in other chambers are also inscribed. The one in the right-hand side chamber bears the inscription:

[- - -]ΑΝΗ[..]ΙC on the left horizontal arm

διακονίσ[σης - - -]/'of the deacone[ss - - -]' on the right horizontal arm (letter height 0.04 m).

(ed. Dunant & Pouilloux 1958, no. 363B; Delvoye 1951, 160)

The inscription on the cross from the left-hand side chamber is almost completely illegible (letter height c. 0.05 m):

[- - -] ̣Ρ̣Α̣Κ̣Ο

(ed. Dunant & Pouilloux 1958, no. 363C; Delvoye 1951, 160)

Delvoye supposed that the bones found in the central burial chamber were the disturbed corporeal relics of the martyr Akakios, and that the burial chambers flanking the central one were probably meant for burials ad sanctos, i.e. close to the martyr's relics.

The scholar offered a detailed discussion of the identity of this Akakios, however reaching no reliable conclusions.

Akakios could be, of course, a local martyr of Thasos, though there is no hagiographic tradition to support this. But he might equally have been brought to the island. For possible known figures, Delvoye pointed to five martyrs:

1) Akakios, one of the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia, martyred under Licinius (S00103).

2) Akakios, martyr of Prousa in Bithynia (northern Asia Minor), together with bishop Patrikios, Menandros and Polyainos, mentioned in the Martyrologium Hieronymainum on the 28th April and in Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae on 19th May ($SXXXXX).

3) Akakios, a Cappadocian soldier decapitated in 303 in Byzantion, later Constantinople (S00468). Two churches and a martyr shrine were dedicated to the saint in the capital.

4) Akakios, decapitated in Miletos, under Licinius, venerated on 28th of July (Martyrologium Hieronymianum) or 29th of July (Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae). $SXXXXX.

5) Akakios, the presbyter, decapitated in Sebasteia under Diocletian, venerated on 24th October in the East and mentioned in Martyrologium Hieronymianum on 27th November ($SXXXX).

Furthermore, Delvoye discusses yet another option: the possibility that our Akakios was mistaken for a certain martyr Markos, whose relics were reportedly brought to Thasos together with those of Soterichos and Valentilla from the diocese of Asia. This translation is recorded on 24th October in the Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, but the original source used by the compiler is unknown. The entry reads: τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἄθλησις τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων Μάρκου, Σωτηρίχου καὶ Οὐαλεντίνης, οἵτινες ὑπῆρχον ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ (...) μετετέθησαν δὲ τὰ τίμια αὐτῶν λείψανα ἀπὸ τῆς Ἀσίας ἐπὶ Θάσον τὴν νῆσον, ἔνθα νῦν ἀπόκεινται / 'On the same day (happened) the contest of the holy martyrs Markos, Soterichos, and Valentilla, who lived in Asia (…) their precious relics were moved from Asia to the island of Thasos, and they lie there until now'. An interesting fact that may point to a corruption in the literary tradition is that the date of this note, 24th of October, corresponds to the date of the veneration of martyr Akakios, mentioned above under no. 5.

Other inscriptions from the basilica

Inscription 1:

In the western section of the church, next to the gate connecting the northern aisle with the narthex, a dedicatory mosaic was found. The mosaic is made of small white pebbles on a red stucco surface. It shows a large basket, on the background of lozenges. Above this depiction runs the inscription, commemorating an ex-voto offering. Letter height: 0.10 m.

ὑπὲρ εὐχῆς Ἀκακίου

'As a vow of Akakios'

(ed. Dunant & Pouilloux 1958, no. 362; Delvoye 1951, 158)

The name of the donor is identical with the name of the saint, venerated in the subterranean shrine, which supports the possibility of a cult of the martyr Akakios on the island.

Inscription 2:

In the corridor connecting the burial chambers in the crypt, two fragments of a plaque were found. The plaque is decorated with a cross and bears the inscription (H. 0.39 m; 0.38 m; 0.08 m; letter height 0.045 m):

+ ἁγία Ι[- - -]

'+ The holy I[- - -]'

The sign at the right-hand edge of the inscription is poorly preserved. It might be the letter iota or a part of one of the letters: Η, Μ, Ν, Γ, etc.

(ed. Dunant & Pouilloux 1958, no. 364; Delvoye 1951, 163)

Inscription 3:

At the site of the basilica lay numerous roof tiles and flat bricks marked with concentric arcs, sinusoid lines, and 2, 3, or 4 points. One of them bears the inscription: + Παύ|λου / '+ Of Paulos' (ed. Dunant & Pouilloux 1958, 193; Delvoye 1951, 163), which Dunant and Pouilloux interpreted as the name of *Paul the Apostle, whom they considered the patron saint of the church. This fragile supposition is based only on the fact that Thasos lay on the route from Alexandria Troas in north-western Asia Minor to Neapolis in northern Greece, and that Paul could have visited the island during his last journey across the Aegean Sea, which took him a longer time than the previous one. The relevant passage from the Acts, however, says nothing about his presumed sojourn at the site, see: Acts 20,6.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Akakios, martyr in Byzantion : S00468 Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103 Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Type of Evidence

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea) Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.) Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Inscriptions - Inscribed objects Images and objects - Wall paintings and mosaics Liturgical texts - Calendars and martyrologies Liturgical texts - Later liturgical compilations (Synaxaria, menologia, etc.)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Aegean islands and Cyprus Aegean islands and Cyprus

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Thasos Limenas

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

Thasos Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia Limenas Salamis Σαλαμίς Salamis Salamis Farmagusta Far Κωνσταντία Konstantia Constantia

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - arm/hand/finger Bodily relic - bones and teeth Contact relic - dust/sand/earth Division of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Transfer/presence of relics from distant countries Construction of cult building to contain relics Theft/appropriation of relics


Edition: Dunant, Chr., Pouilloux, J., Recherches sur l'histoire et les cultes de Thasos, vol. 2: De 196 av. J.-C. jusq'à la fin de l'antiquité (Paris: Librairie E de Boccard, 1958), 192-198. Delvoye, Ch., "La basilique paleochretienne et ses annexes (Thasos)", in: "Chronique des fouilles et découvertes archéologiques en Grèce en 1950", Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 75 (1951), 154-164. Further reading: Kiourtzian, G., "Pietas insulariorum", [in:] Eupsychia: mélanges offerts à Hélène Ahrweiler, vol. 2 (Série Byzantina Sorbonensia 16, Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1998), 378. Hoddinott, R.F., Early Byzantine Churches in Macedonia and Southern Serbia. A Study of the Origins and the Initial Development of East Christian Art, (London: Macmiliian & co. ltd., New York: St Martin's Press, 1963), 106-108. Bulletin épigraphique (1952), 130; (1959), 340

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager