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E01400: The Greek Martyrdom of *Paphnoutios the Anchorite and his 546 Companions (martyrs of Dendera, S00063) recounts the legend of an ascetic man from Dendera (Upper Egypt) who is arrested to be martyred, but miraculously 'recruits' 546 people who die with him as martyrs. It names 20 April as the saints' feast day. Written in the 5th or 6th century in Egypt.

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posted on 2016-05-25, 00:00 authored by erizos
Martyrdom of *Paphnoutios the Anchorite and his 546 Companions (BHG 1419)


1. During the reign of Diocletian, the provincial governor Arianos starts a great persecution in Egypt. The famous ascetic Paphnoutios from the town of Gentyria is accused of dishonoring the gods, and Arianos orders two centurions to arrest him. While Paphnoutios holds his habitual vigils at the ‘mountain’ (monastery), an angel appears and reveals to him that he will become a martyr.

2. Paphnoutios puts on his monastic habit (ἐπενδύτας καὶ λέντιον), and comes out rejoicing. The angel accompanies him to the Nile, and returns to heaven. Arianos comes out of his boat and sits on a throne by the anchorage, where local officials pay their respects. Paphnoutios appears before him willingly, and declares that he is a Christian.

3. Arianos asks him if he is the godless and lawless Paphnoutios, and the saint returns the accusation. Enraged, the governor has him fettered and imprisoned.

4. In the city, Arianos sits on the tribunal (bema) and summons Paphnoutios. While the saint is brought forth, his fetters miraculously disappear. Arianos threatens him with a cruel death and tortures, but the martyr is not afraid.

5. Paphnoutios is flogged for so long that his intestines fall out and his body is covered with blood. He prays to God, and an angel miraculously heals his wounds. His torturers, Kallimachos and Dionysios, see the miracle and become Christians. Arianos interrogates them and has them decapitated.

6. Arianos leaves the tribunal for his meal, and has Paphnoutios imprisoned in a dark cell. The next day, the governor is busy collecting taxes from local magistrates, and imprisons forty of them who have not paid. At night, they see a great light which they mistake for fire. The prison guard reveals that the light comes from Paphnoutios whom they find praying for the salvation of the city and the world, with his hands raised and glowing, and a sweet smell all around him.

7. The forty magistrates venerate him and, at his encouragement, become Christians.

8. Paphnoutios and the forty come out and reach the tribunal (bema). Paphnoutios declares that he has come against the tribunal, because it is with Apollo, while he is with Jesus Christ. The soldiers attempt to apprehend him, but he becomes invisible. The forty magistrates confess their faith, and give up all their possessions, authority, and income to Arianos. Their wives and children may choose to follow them or not.

9. Arianos calls them mad victims of the magic of Paphnoutios, and the forty reproach him for blasphemy. He has them tortured and burned in pits of fire. Paphnoutios stands by them and grants them their reward by his own hand.

10. Paphnoutios goes to the city and enters the house of the wealthy man Nestorios. The maid offers him water and calls her mistress to come and see the famous ascetic. She sits him on a silver throne, but he urges her not to trust wealth, and to pursue an angelic life.

11. Her daughter appears wearing precious clothes, and the saint calls on them to give up the vanity of wealth. At that time, Nestoriοs enters the house, expressing his wish to meet Paphnoutios and take his blessing.

12. His wife reveals to him that Paphnoutios is there, and Nestorios venerates him. The saint encourages them to go to Arianos and confess their faith. They follow him to the tribunal which Paphnoutios again threatens by the same words: he has come against it, because it is with Apollo, but he is with Christ.

13. Arianos attempts to arrest Paphnoutios with his own hands, but an angel takes him away. Nestorios, his wife, and daughter declare they are Christians. Arianos calls on Nestorios to worship the gods, which he refuses to. Arianos promises honours to Nestorios’ daughter, Stefanis/Stephane (Στεφανή), if she sacrifices, but she also refuses to, and Arianos orders her to be flogged before her parents' eyes.

14. The torturers flog the girl – eighteen years old and pretty – while her parents encourage her to endure. As the soldiers tear her flesh, they reach her liver, and she dies. Her parents bury her in a tomb with their own hands, and curse the gods before Arianos. He has them beheaded.

15. Paphnoutios seeks for other potential martyrs in the town, and finds sixteen children at school, sons of the forty martyred magistrates. He urges them to join their parents in heaven and they follow him willingly. He leads them to Arianos, threatening the tribunal and the tyrant by his usual phrase. The soldiers encircle Paphnoutios, but he is taken away by the Holy Spirit.

16. The sixteen children declare themselves Christians, children of the martyrs, and of legal age to stand in court. Arianos orders them to sacrifice, which they refuse to do. He promises money and honours to the youngest of them, a thirteen-year-old boy, if he sacrifices to Apollo and Artemis. The child asks to see the imperial decree which the secretaries bring out. The child reads it out (it lists the seventy gods to whom sacrifice is due), and throws it into the fire of the altar instead of frankincense, declaring that there is only one God.

17. The priests of the idols are distressed, and Arianos has the child burned on the altar, while the other children encourage their companion. Arianos has them taken outside the city, and killed by the spear.

18. Paphnoutios seeks for more martyrs in the country. Reaching the edge of the river outside the city, he finds a group of eighty people who recognise and venerate him. The saint urges them seek eternal life without further ado.

19. The eighty men, fishermen in the service of Arianos, follow Paphnoutios to the tribunal – he threatens it by his usual formula. The soldiers seize and fetter him. The eighty men boldly confess their faith and Arianos orders the soldiers to flog them. The eighty attack and destroy his throne, and he orders their death. The soldiers slaughter them with axes in the desert.

20. Arianos has Paphnoutios raised on an iron wheel which cuts the martyr into four pieces. His body is exposed on the ‘pinnacle of the temple’, in order to be eaten by the birds. Arianos goes to have a meal.

21. Paphnoutios’ body remains unharmed, because an angel keeps it. Christ comes down from heaven with Michael and Gabriel, and restores the body of Paphnoutios, sending him forth to humiliate Arianos. Surrounded by a cloud, Paphnoutios finds Arianos at the square trying destroyers of shrines.

22. Seeing Paphnoutios risen from the dead, the praepositus (military officer) Eusebios believes in Christ, together with his 400 soldiers. They appear before Arianos declaring their faith, but Arianos refers them to the dux (military commander) for trial, as having himself no authority over them. Eusebios calls upon him to denounce the idols and confess the God of heaven, but Arianos confesses Apollo and Artemis.

23. Eusebios throws dust onto the face of Arianos, inviting him to do the will of Satan. Arianos orders him to be flogged, threatening to kill him slowly, and to report about him to Diocletian. Arianos gets on his carriage, but the horses cannot move, and he cannot descend either. He then asks for lunch to be brought to him on the carriage, but cannot eat. His fellow judge urges him to leave the city which is full of Paphnoutios’ magic. Arianos orders Eusebios and his 400 soldiers to be burned alive in four furnaces outside the city.

24. Taking Paphnoutios with him, Arianos goes to the Nile and enters his boat. He has him thrown into the river with a millstone tied on his neck, but the stone floats on the water with Paphnoutios sitting on it, while the boat of Arianos is carried away by the wind. Arianos orders that they moor and issues hypomnemata (trial acts) for Paphnoutios, whom he sends to the emperor Diocletian.

25. Four soldiers take the martyr to the emperor and deliver the letters of Arianos. Diocletian has Paphnoutios crucified on a palm tree, on which the martyr hangs from the second to the seventh hour. The soldiers take down and bury his body on the twentieth of the month Pharmouthi/Parmouti (April). They themselves believe in Christ, confess before Diocletian, and are beheaded. An overall 546 men and women have followed Paphnoutios in martyrdom.

Text: Delehaye 1922. Summary: Marilia Lykaki, Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Paphnoutios, ascetic and martyr of Egypt : S01509 Paphnoutios, 4th c. Egyptian anchorite : S00063

Saint Name in Source

Παφνούτιος Παφνούτιος

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

Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Dendera Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Unbaptized Christians Officials Aristocrats Women Children Other lay individuals/ people Pagans Soldiers Merchants and artisans


For the manuscript tradition, see:


The Martyrdom of Paphnoutios is one of the few Greek martyrdom accounts surviving from Upper Egypt. The central hero is a somewhat obscure figure, and may originate from the early fourth century bishop and confessor Paphnoutios, one of the Fathers of Nicaea (S01542). The extant text is a typical work of 'epic' hagiography, with several extravagant elements. The story was certainly composed by the fifth century, since a version of it is found in a papyrus from Oxyrhynchus (BHG 1418z, E07744), which can be dated palaeographically to that century. The text of BHG 1419 represents another version, which may have been produced in the sixth century or later, in Egypt or elsewhere.


Text: Delehaye, H., 'Les martyrs d'Egypte,' Analecta Bollandiana 40, 1922, 328-343. Further reading: Baumeister, T. Martyr Invictus, Münster, 124-126. Delehaye, H., 'Les martyrs d'Egypte,' Analecta Bollandiana 40, 1922, 5-154, 298-364. Papaconstantinou, A. Le culte des saints en Egypte des Byzantins aux Abbasides, Paris 2001, 179-180.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity