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E01755: According to a polemical treatise by Optatus, Donatist circumcelliones killed by the Roman army in the mid-fourth century were commemorated by altars and buried in Donatist basilicas. The latter practice, however, raised some doubts among Donatist clergy. Against Parmenianus by Optatus, bishop of Milevis (Latin North Africa), writing in Latin, in Africa, c. 364/384.

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posted on 2016-07-21, 00:00 authored by robert
Optatus of Milevis, Against Parmenianus 3.4.6-7

Optatus explains circumstances in which a number of Donatists were killed by the Roman army in the 340s or 350s, trying to convince the readers that the massacre was provoked by those who finally fell its victim.

Tunc Taurinus ad eorum litteras ire militem iussit armatum per nundinas ubi circumcellionum furor uagari consueuerat. In loco Octauensi occisi sunt plurimi et detruncati sunt multi quorum corpora usque in hodiernum per dealbatas aras aut mensas potuerunt numerari. Ex quorum numero cum aliqui in basilicis sepeliri coepissent, Clarus presbyter in loco Subbullensi ab episcopo suo coactus est ut insepultam faceret sepulturam. Vnde proditum est mandatum fuisse fieri quod factum est quando nec sepultura in domo Dei exhiberi concessa est. Eorum postea conualuerat multitudo.

'Then Taurinus, in response to their letters, ordered an armed military force to proceed through all the market-towns, where the madness of the circumcellions was wont to rove. In the locus Octaviensis hosts were killed and many decapitated, whose bodies could be numbered up to this day among the whitewashed altars and tables. When the burial of some of this number had commenced, Clarus the presbyter in the locus Subbulensis was compelled by his bishop to undo the burial.'

Text: Labrousse 1995, 40. Translation: Edwards 1997, 69 (slightly adapted). Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anonymous martyrs : S00060

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Milevis Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Acceptance/rejection of saints from other religious groupings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Optatus was the bishop of Milevis, a little town in Numidia. He wrote his treatise probably shortly after the death of the emperor Julian (363), since he mentions this event and says that the great persecution ended about sixty years ago (in Africa it ended in 305). It is quite probable, however, that he re-edited his work after 384, because at one point he refers to Siricius (elected in 384) as bishop of Rome. Only this (hypothetical) second edition survived. The treatise's original title is unknown. Jerome says that it was directed against Parmenianus, the Donatist bishop of Carthage. Be this as it may, it is important to remember that it is a highly polemical text and the image of Donatists, which it presents, should not be taken at face value.


The exact dating of these events is uncertain, but they took place either in the 340s or at the beginning of the next decade (Alexander 1998). The Donatists who were massacred by the army were buried in a church, which was a privileged place, but in itself it does not imply that they were venerated as martyrs. The ultimate burial was marked with altars and tables (mensae) . It is not clear what Optatus meant by this, but 'altars' strongly suggest a form of cult.


Edition and French translation: Labrousse, M., Optat de Milève, Traité contre les Donatistes. (Sources Chrétiennes 412-413; Paris 1995-6). English Translation: Edwards, M.J., Optatus of Milevis, Against the Donatists (Translated Texts for Historians 27; Liverpool, 1997). Further reading: Alexander, J., "Count Taurinus and the Persecutors of Donatism," Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum 2 (1998), 247–267.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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