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E01303: The Greek Martyrdom of the *Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (S00103), of the late 4th to 6h c., recounts the martyrdom of forty Christian soldiers in a lake outside Sebasteia/Sebaste (eastern Asia Minor), including miracles and visions happening during and after their death. After a revelation, the bishop collects their relics. Probably written in Sebasteia.

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posted on 2016-04-22, 00:00 authored by erizos
Martyrdom of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (BHG 1201)


(1.) A great persecution of Christians is carried out, under the emperor Licinius and the cruel provincial governor (hēgemōn) Agrikolaos (Agricola). The situation is aggravated by a famine in Cappadocia, and all Christians in the army are forced to sacrifice. Forty Cappadocian Christians serve in a numerus of the army, living in piety and being invincible at war. Their names are: Dometianos, Hēsychios, Smaragdos, Melitōn, Hērakleios, Alexandros, Eutychios, Lysimachos, Athanasios, Kyrillos, Eunoikos, Sevērianos, Ekdikios, Akakios, Iōannēs, Sakerdōn, Gorgonios, Oualerios, Hēlianos, Sisinnios, Aggias, Philoktēmōn, Oualēs, Klaudios, Priskos, Flavios, Aetios, Choudiōn, Theodoulos, Hēlias, Xanthios, Gaios, Kyriōn, Vivianos, Domnos, Eutychos, Leontios, Nikallos, Kandidos, and Theophilos. They are imprisoned and required to sacrifice. They refuse and are taken to prison where they pray reciting Psalm 139.

(2.) In the evening, they sing Psalm 90 and keep praying till midnight, with Kyriōn leading the psalmody, and Kandidos and Domnos leading the responses. Christ is revealed to them saying that their intention is good, but only those who endure to the end will be saved (Mt 24.13; Mc. 13.13).

(3) The governor summons the saints and warns them not to turn the special love they enjoy into hatred. Kandidos rebukes him. The governor orders them to be fettered and imprisoned. Kyriōn complains that the governor has no right to torture them, and the governor, afraid, orders them to be kept unfettered by the capitularius Aglaios. Kyriōn teaches the martyrs all day and night.

(4.) Seven days later, on the eighth day, the dux (military commander), Lysias, arrives from Kaisareia/Caesarea to Sebasteia/Sebaste, and sits on the tribune with the governor. The martyrs are brought there, while being encouraged by Kyriōn.

(5.) The dux promises them honours and gifts if they sacrifice, otherwise he threatens to remove them from office and the army, and to punish them. Kandidos calls him to take both their offices and their bodies, and the dux orders their faces to be beaten with stones, but, when his servants take the stones, they start hitting one another. Enraged, the dux takes a stone too, but he hits the face of the governor. The martyrs are encouraged.

(6.) The martyrs are taken back to jail and, led by Kyriōn, they sing Psalm 122. Christ appears and encourages them.

(7.) In the morning of the ninth day, the martyrs are taken before the persecutors. The Devil appears, holding a knife and a dragon, and encouraging Agrikolaos to fight for him. The latter orders them to be fettered by the necks and taken to a lake near Sebasteia. In the afternoon of an extremely cold day, the martyrs are left naked in the middle of the lake. A bathhouse nearby is heated for those who would apostatise.

(8.) Around the first hour of the night, the martyrs are freezing, and one of them is turned and goes to the bath. Touched by the heat, his body is immediately destroyed. Distressed, the martyrs pray quoting from the Bible.

(9.) Around the third hour of the night, the sun shines above them, warm like summer, and the water becomes warm. All their guards are asleep, except for the capitularius who hears their prayers and has a vision of thirty-nine crowns coming down from heaven. He realises that the apostate has been deprived of his position among the martyrs. Waking the guards, he takes off his clothes and jumps into the lake shouting that he is a Christian himself.

(10.) Satan appears in the form of a man, with his hands tied on his knees, admitting his defeat, but declaring that he will inspire the persecutors to burn the martyrs’ bodies, and to throw them into the river, so that no relics of them will be found. Kyriōn and the martyrs give thanks singing from Psalms 17 and 76.

(11.) In the morning, the tyrants come and hear from the soldiers what happened during the night. They order that the martyrs be taken ashore and their limbs be broken with clubs. The mother of the youngest martyr, Melitōn, follows the martyrs, encouraging her son. The martyrs die reciting Psalm 123.

(12.) Melitōn is still alive and is left by the shore, when the dead bodies of the rest are loaded on wagons and taken to be burned. His mother takes him on her back and follows the wagons. He dies and she throws him onto the pile of the other bodies, which is lit and burned.

The last paragraph is as follows:

13. Καὶ σκεψάμενοι πρὸς ἀλλήλους οἱ τύρρανοι εἶπον· Ταῦτα τὰ λείψανα ἐὰν οὕτως ἀφῶμεν, ἀροῦσιν οἱ Χριστιανοὶ καὶ πληρώσουσιν ὅλον τὸν κόσμον. δεῦτε οὖν ῥίψωμεν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν ποταμὸν. Καὶ ξύσαντες καὶ κοσμήσαντες τὸν τόπον τὰ λείψανα τῶν ἁγίων ἔρριψαν εἰς τὸν ποταμὸν τὸν σύνεγγυς. συνήχθησαν δὲ τὰ λείψανα τῶν ἁγίων πρὸς τὸν κρυμνόν, καὶ οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἐμείωσεν ὁ ποταμός. μετὰ δὲ ἡμέρας τρεῖς ἀπεκαλύφθη τῷ ἐπισκόπῳ τῆς πόλεως Πέτρῳ ὅτι· Εἰσὶν πεφυλαγμένα τὰ λείψανα ἡμῶν ἐν τῳ ποταμῷ, ἐλθὲ οὖν διὰ νυκτὸς καὶ ἔκβαλε ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ ποταμοῦ· καὶ παραλαβὼν ὁ ἐπίσκοπος κληρικοὺς ἄνδρας εὐλαβεῖς, ἔλθὼν ἔστη παρὰ τὸ χεῖλος τοῦ ποταμοῦ, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἔλαμπον τὰ λείψανα τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ ὕδατι ὡς φωστῆρες, καὶ εἴ που ὑπελίφθη λείψανον, διὰ τοῦ φέγγους κατεμηνύετο. καὶ οὕτως ἀνελόμενοι τὰ λείψανα τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων ἀπέθεντο ἐν γλωσσοκόμοις. οὕτως ἀθλήσαντες καὶ τελειωθέντες λάμπουσιν ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ· θεῷ πιστεύσαντες, Χριστὸν ὁμολογήσαντες, τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα μὴ ἀρνησάμενοι συνεδοξάσθησαν τῷ Χριστῷ μνήμην τῷ βίῳ καταλιπόντες ἐπὶ σωτηρίᾳ πάντων τῶν πιστευόντων εἰς πατέρα καὶ υἱὸν καὶ ἅγιον πνεῦμα· ᾧ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.

‘And the tyrants discussed with one another and said: “If we leave these relics like this, the Christians will collect them and will fill the whole world. So let us throw them into the river.” And they scraped and tidied the place, and threw the relics into the nearby river. And the relics of the saints were gathered together towards the cliff, and the river did not reduce any of them. Now three days later, it was revealed to the bishop of the city, Petros, that: ‘Our relics are preserved in the river; so come at night, and take us out of the river.’ And the bishop took some pious clergymen and came and stood on the bank of the river, and, lo, the relics of the saints were shining in the water like lights, and if a relic was left somewhere, it was indicated by the light. And thus they collected the relics of the holy martyrs and placed them in coffins. Having contested and been consummated in such a way, they shine like lights in the world. As they believed in God, confessed Christ, and did not deny the Holy Spirit, they shared in the glory of Christ, having left their memory in the world for the salvation of all those who believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. To him be the glory and the power to the ages of ages. Amen.’

In two of the manuscripts, the text finishes indicating 9 March as the feast day (BHG 1201c, 1201d)

Text: Gebhardt 1902. Summary and translation: Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103 Petros, bishop of Sebasteia in Armenia, ob. early 4th c. : S01124

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Sebasteia/Sebaste Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Places

Place of martyrdom of a saint

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle after death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miraculous behaviour of relics/images Miraculous protection - other Miraculous sound, smell, light Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Reliquary – institutionally owned


The text of this martyrdom account has not received a critical edition yet.


This text recounts a legend of the fourth century, the earliest securely dated attestations of which are sermons by Basil of Caesarea (written in the early 370s, see E00718) and Gregory of Nyssa (written between 370 and 395, see E01298 and E01299). In its extant form, the text certainly predates the late sixth century, since it is cited by Eustratios of Constantinople in his treatise On the State of Souls after Death, written in the 580s (E04192). Our text is written following the conventions of the so-called epic passiones, including animated dialogues between the martyrs and their persecutors, and extravagant miracles like the comical episode of the persecutors hitting each other with stones, the miracle of the sun warming the water of the lake in the middle of the night, and the apparitions the Devil. Typical of the same style of writing are also the numerous scenes of the martyrs in prayer, and the quotations from the psalms they are supposed to have recited. Most of these elements are likely to have been secondary additions to a much simpler original narrative. The miracles of the stones, the sun, and the apparitions of the Devil, at least, seem to have been absent in the version of the legend known to Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa. The vision of the guard who saw the thirty-nine crowns coming down from heaven, however, was clearly part of the text known to the two Cappadocian fathers. In the current version, it is interesting that the author gives a protagonistic role to the martyrs Kyrion, Kandidos and Domnos, while the author of the Testament presents Meletios, Aetios and Eutychios as the leaders of the group. Some evidence concerning the date of the extant text may be deduced from paragraph 13. The statement that the martyrs ‘did not deny the Holy Spirit’ probably echoes the late 4th-century theological controversy over the divinity of the Holy Spirit, one of the chief deniers of which was the bishop of Sebasteia Eustathios (c. 357 – 379). Under his successor, Petros (380-391), the Trinitarian theology of the First Council of Constantinople was established in the city. This brings to mind the figure of the bishop Petros who is supposed to have collected the relics of the martyrs, according to our text. It is just possible that the name of the late 4th-century bishop, who was highly revered after his death, was used by the hagiographer in the role of the inventor of the saints’ relics. It is even likelier, however, that this was the martyred early fourth-century bishop Petros I of Sebaste, who is attested in the Greek version of the Life of *Gregory the Illuminator by Agathangelos (Garitte 1946, 229-230) and in the Martyrdom of Athenogenes of Pedachthoe (see E02998). Gregory of Nyssa in his Letter 1 reports attending the commemoration of a certain Petros, celebrated in Sebasteia, in the same period as the local martyrs (the Forty?) (see E01304). For a discussion of the sources, see: Devos 1961. A central aspect of this cult, reflected in the text, is the broad distribution of the martyrs’ relics, which is alluded to in paragraphs 10 and 13: Satan and the persecutors appear preoccupied with the prospect of Christians ‘filling the world’ with relics of these saints. Indeed it seems that by the 370s several shrines of the Forty Martyrs had been founded in various parts of Cappadocia. The broad distribution of the relics and the emergence of several centres of cult seem to have been objected by some people, as suggested by the composition of the so-called Testament of the Forty Martyrs (see E00255), which claimed that all the relics should be collected at the shrine of the village of Sareim in Pontus. The Testament was probably composed having a version of the Martyrdom of Forty Martyrs in mind, since it reproduces almost fully the list of the martyrs’ names, with a very few minor differences. Finally, our text seems to have been part of a broader hagiographic corpus associated with Sebaste. This is suggested by the fact that the name of the provincial governor Agrikolaos (Agricola) appears also in other hagiographical accounts associated with the city, such as the Martyrdom of *Blasios and his companions (BHG 276), the Martyrdom of *Eustratios and his companions (BHG 646), and the Martyrdom of *Athenogenes of Pedachthoe (BHG 197b, E02993, E02996).


Text: von Gebhardt, O. L. Acta Martyrum Selecta. Ausgewählte Märtyreracten Und Andere Urkunden Aus Der Verfolgungszeit. Berlin 1902. Further reading: Devos, P. "Saint Pierre 1er, Évêque De Sébastée, Dans Une Lettre De Grégoire De Nazianze." Analecta Bollandiana 79 (1961): 346-60. Garitte, G. Documents pour l’etude du livre d’ Agathange, Studi e Testi 127, Città del Vaticano 1946. Karlin-Hayter, P. "Passio of the Xl Martyrs of Sebasteia. The Greek Tradition: The Earliest Account (BHG 1201)." Analecta Bollandiana 109 (1991): 249-304. Maraval, P., ‘Les premiers développements du culte des XL Martyrs de Sébastée dans l’Orient byzantin et en Occident’, Vetera Christianorum 36, 1999, 193–211.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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