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E01684: An imperial decree of 26 February 386, issued in Latin and recorded in the Theodosian Code, prohibits the exhumation, partition, and selling of relics of martyrs. It authorises the construction of cult buildings at pre-existing burial sites of saints, which it rules should be designated as martyria. Issued in Constantinople and addressed to the Praetorian Prefect of the East.

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posted on 2016-06-30, 00:00 authored by erizos
Theodosian Code 9.17.7

Idem aaa. Cynegio praefecto praetorio. Humatum corpus nemo ad alterum locum transferat; nemo martyrem distrahat, nemo mercetur. Habeant vero in potestate, si quolibet in loco sanctorum est aliquis conditus, pro eius veneratione quod martyrium vocandum sit addant quod voluerint fabricarum. Dat. IIII kal. mart. Constantinopoli Honorio n. p. et Evodio conss. (386 febr. 26).

‘The same Augusti [Theodosius I, Valentinian II and Arcadius] to Cynegius, Praetorian Prefect.

Let no one move a buried body to another place. Let no one dismember or buy a martyr. Yet, if one of the saints is buried somewhere, let people have the possibility to add any structure they like for his veneration, which is to be called a martyrium.

Given on the fourth day before the kalends of March at Constantinople, during the consulship of Emperor Designate Honorius and Evodius [= 26 February 386]'

Text: Mommsen, Meyer, Krueger 1904
Translation: E. Rizos


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anonymous martyrs : S00060


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

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

Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Condemnation/rejection of a specific cultic activity

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Officials

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Division of relics Privately owned relics


The Codex Theodosianus (or Theodosian Code) is a compilation of laws promulgated by the Roman emperors from 312 onwards. The corpus was commissioned by the co-emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III on 26 March 429, and the work was published on 15 February 438. It went into force in the eastern and western parts of the empire on 1 January 439.


Addressed to Cynegius, Praetorian Prefect of the East (384-388, PLRE 1, Maternus Cynegius 3), this decree is the last entry in a chapter of the Theodosian Code, consisting of imperial pronouncements against tomb violations and abuses in the necropolises. The decree authorises the building of shrines (martyria) on the sites of pre-existing tombs of martyrs, but forbids the exhumation, circulation, and trade of human remains as relics, a practice the popularity of which was already growing rapidly, especially in Anatolia. The emphatic definition of the authorised martyrium as a structure housing an undisturbed tomb, seems to target the growing practice of creating martyria by the deposition of transferable relics, especially in chapels of private mausolea. It is almost certain that this law had practically no impact on the development of the cult of relics as a whole, since the use of transferable relics developed even further during the 5th century. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the text is that it prescribes no punishment for offenders, unlike the other decrees collected in the same chapter, which invariably impose heavy penalties. This either suggests that such regulation was not envisaged to be particularly effective, or, perhaps, that the section on the penalties was edited out during its recording in the Theodosian Code, thus allowing for a flexible enforcement of the ruling. Whatever the case, it is important that, in the 430s, this decree was still regarded as relevant and important enough to be included in the Theodosian Code.


Text Mommsen, Theodor, and Paul Martin Meyer, eds. Theodosiani Libri XVI cum Constitutionibus Sirmondianis et leges Novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes. 3 vols. Berlin: Weidmann, 1905. Translations and commentaries Clyde Pharr, Theresa Sherrer Davidson, Mary Brown Pharr, C. Dickerman Williams, The Theodosian code and novels, and the Sirmondian constitutions, New York : Greenwood Press, 1952, 1969. Theodor, Mommsen, Paul Meyer, Paul Krueger, Jean Rouge, Roland Delmaire, Olivier Huck, François Richard, and Laurent Guichard. Les Lois Religieuses Des Empereurs Romains De Constantin a Théodose II (312-438) Ii: Code Théodosien I-Ix, Code Justinien, Constitutions Sirmondiennes. Sources Chrétiennes. Paris: CERF, 2009.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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