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E01810: The Martyrdom of the *Captives of Bet Zabdai (martyrs in Persia, ob. c. 362/363, S00917) is produced by an anonymous Syriac-speaking writer in Persia during the 5th century. It describes the martyrdom of bishop Dāwsā, presbyter Māryahb, deacon ‘Abdišō‘ and 275 other Christian captives of war from the Roman city of Bet Zabdai (Bezabde) in northern Mesopotamia during the reign of Shapur II (r. 309-379).

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posted on 2016-08-14, 00:00 authored by sminov
Martyrdom of the Captives of Bet Zabdai


The narrative opens with the information that in the 53rd year of his reign the Sasanian king Shapur II launched a military campaign against the Roman empire. During this campaign the city of Bet Zabdai was captured and about nine thousand of its inhabitants were deported, to be resettled in the province of Khuzistan in Persian territory. A considerable number of deportees were Christians, including members of the clergy, such as bishop Heliodorus, the presbyters Dāwsā and Māryahb, deacons, ascetics and lay believers. (pp. 316-317).

As the captives are making their way through Persian territory, following the king and his army, bishop Heliodorus falls ill and dies, having ordained the priest Dāwsā in his stead. The Christians among the captives adopt a practice of singing psalms together while going along the road. Such a public exhibition of their faith enrages the Zoroastrian chief-priest Ādārpar, who denounces the Christians before Shapur, accusing them of insulting both the king and his religion. Shapur entrusts Ādārpar with the task of solving the problem by offering the Christians a choice between apostasy and death. (pp. 317-318)

Ādārpar, accompanied by another Persian noble and a group of soldiers, takes the group of three hundred Christians, headed by bishop Dāwsā, to the village of Gpettā near the mountain Māsabdan. When they arrive at the village, the chief-priest informs the Christians of the choice they are facing, that is to denounce their religion and worship the sun and the moon, or die. (pp. 318-320)

Speaking on behalf of all the Christians, Dāwsā responds with a speech, in which he accuses the Persians of bloodthirstiness and refuses to betray his faith. Ādārpar immediately commands the soldiers to proceed with execution. The Christians are beheaded with the sword in groups of fifty. Among survivors of the massacre are twenty-five men and women who choose to accept the king's offer and are subsequently settled in the village. (pp. 320-321)

Another survivor is the deacon ‘Abdišō‘, who gets struck with the flat side of the sword. After the Persians depart, he makes his way to the village where a certain poor man welcomes him and treats his wounds. On the next day, the deacon takes the man and his sons to the place of execution and they bury the bodies of Dāwsā, Māryahb and some priests in a nearby cave. (pp. 321-322)

‘Abdišō‘ remains in the village, in order to stay close to 'the bones of the righteous ones' (Syr. garmē d-zadiqē). He starts to preach Christianity among the villagers. Concerned by the deacon’s success in converting villagers to the new religion, the head of the village arrests him. He beats ‘Abdišō‘ and puts him in chains, demanding from him a promise to desist from his missionary work. When the deacon refuses, the head of the village has him killed at the same place where his companions were executed. The poor man and his sons hide the deacon's body and heap over it many stones, making a construction which survives until the time of the work’s composition, known as 'the Tomb of ‘Abdišō‘'. (pp. 322-323)

Soon, the head of the village receives divine punishment, so that he as well as his whole family die. The village is punished as well, as its water canal is destroyed by a multitude of rats, sent by God. As a result of the following drought, the village is deserted and remains so for several decades. (pp. 323-324)

The narrative concludes with the account of the restoration of village life by one of the sons of the poor man who welcomed ‘Abdišō‘. He prays at the cave, where the remains of Dāwsā and other clergy were buried, and promises 'to come every year and to celebrate the memorial (Syr. dukrānā) there'. After that, he restores the canal and settles down. God's blessing on the village is expressed through the healing miracles that occur during the annual memorial celebrations at the place of the martyrs' burial. Later on, a martyr shrine is built at that place, into which the bones of the martyrs are relocated (for this, see $E01811). (p. 324)

Text: Bedjan 1890-1897. Summary: Sergey Minov.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Captives of Bet Zabdai, martyrs in Persia, ob. ca 362/363 : S00917

Saint Name in Source

ܕܘܣܐ، ܡܪܝܗܒ، ܥܒܕܝܫܘܥ

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Syriac

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Gpettā Susa Susa Շաւշ Šawš شوش Shush

Major author/Major anonymous work

Persian martyrdom accounts

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Peasants Zoroastrians Monarchs and their family Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The Martyrdom of the Captives of Bet Zabdai is an account of the martyrdom of the bishop *Dāwsā, priest *Māryahb, deacon *‘Abdišō‘ and 275 other Christians, who were captured by the Persians after the Roman city of Beth Zabdai was conquered by the troops of Shapur II (r. 309-379) in the year 360. They were executed near the village of Gpettā in Sasanian Persia, the exact location of which is unknown. It is an original Syriac composition, produced apparently during the 5th century by a Christian author in Persia. The most likely place of the composition of the Martyrdom is the village of Gpettā, where the martyrs' relics were kept and where their annual commemoration was performed. There is not yet a critical edition of the Martyrdom. Its Syriac text was published for the first time by Assemani and then republished by Bedjan on the basis of ms. Vat. Syr. 160 (c. 10th century). Syriac text: Bedjan 1890-1870, vol. 2, pp. 316-324; Latin translation: Assemani 1748, vol. 1, pp. 134-140; English translation: Smith 2016, 186-190. For general information, see Smith 2016, 135-139, 184-186.


The Martyrdom bears witness to the local cult of the group of Roman captives of war, who were executed near the village of Gpettā in Sasanian Persia around the year 362/363. The main elements of this cult are the martyr shrine, dedicated to the martyrs, and their annual commemoration. It also mentions healing miracles, performed by the martyrs' relics during the annual commemoration.


Main editions and translations: Assemani, S.E., Acta Sanctorum Martyrum Orientalium et Occidentalium in duas partes distributa, adcedunt Acta S. Simeonis Stylitae. 2 vols (Roma: Typis Josephi Collini, 1748). Bedjan, P., Acta martyrum et sanctorum. 7 vols (Paris / Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1890-1897). Smith, K.R., Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia: Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).

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