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E01975: The Acts of *Barsamya (confessor in Edessa, S01138) are written in Syriac in Edessa during the 5th c. They describe the persecution of Barsamya under Trajan, with no reference to miraculous events.

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posted on 2016-10-31, 00:00 authored by sminov
Acts of Barsamya


On the 5th of Ilul (i.e. September) of the year 416 of the Seleucid era, right after the judge (dayānā) of Edessa Lysanias had finished dealing with the case of the ex-pagan priest Sharbel (see S01126), he was approached by the prefects (šarirē) of the city, who informed him that the city's bishop Barsamya visited the condemned man in prison and taught him Christian doctrine. (pp. 63-64 of the Syriac text in Cureton's edition)

The judge orders Barsamya to be detained and brought to his court. As the arrested bishop is accompanied by a large crowd of citizens, professing to be Christians as well, the judge orders him to imprisoned. After a long time in prison, the bishop is summoned to the court for trial. (pp. 64-65)

After an interrogation, during which Lysanias accuses Barsamya of converting Sharbel, the judge demands that the bishop obey the imperial edict and offer a sacrifice to the pagan gods. When Barsamya refuses to comply, Lysanias orders him to be scourged. After that, there follows another exchange of opinions between the judge and the bishop, during which the former threatens the latter with even more cruel tortures. (pp. 65-70)

Yet, before Lysanias manages to implement his threat, an imperial edict from Lusius, 'the chief proconsul (huparkā), father of Emperors,' arrives, which proclaims that the persecution of Christians should stop. After the edict is read publicly, the judge orders the release of the bishop. Barsamya is welcomed by the joyful crowd of citizens, who greet him as 'persecuted confessor (mawdyānā rdifā), friend of Sharbel the martyr'. The bishop and his followers enter the church, where they pray and thank God for the deliverance. (pp. 70-71).

The main part of the narrative concludes with the subscription of two notaries, Zenophilos and Patrophilos, who claim to have written it, accompanied by the statement of two witnesses, the prefects Diodoros and Euterpes. (p. 71)

The narrative concludes with the statement that bishop Barsamya was active in the days of Pope Fabianus. It is followed by a list of Barsamya's predecessors in the see of Edessa, which traces their apostolic succession back to the apostle Peter. (pp. 71-72)

Text: Cureton 1864. Summary: Sergey Minov.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Barsamya, martyr in Edessa, ob. 104 : S01138

Saint Name in Source

ܒܪ ܣܡܝܐ

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)

Edessa Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Officials


The Acts of Barsamya narrate the persecution of bishop Barsamya, who was arrested, tortured and then released in the city of Edessa in Roman Mesopotamia, supposedly during the reign of the emperor Trajan, in the year 104. An original Syriac composition, it was almost certainly produced in Edessa, the city of Barsamya's episcopacy. Although, the work itself claims to be written down as an official record produced by two alleged contemporaries, the notaries Zenophilos and Patrophilos (p. 71), it is highly unlikely that this account was produced before the first quarter of the 5th century. Against an early dating is the fact that the name of Barsamya is absent from the Syriac Martyrology of 411 (E00465), whose author does mention commemoration of such Edessene martyrs as Shmona, Gurya and Habbib. Moreover, the presence of several anachronisms as well as traces of the acquaintance of the author with such works as the 5th c. Acts of Sharbel (E01890), to which it constitutes a sequel, make the middle or the second half of the 5th century the most likely time of its composition. So far, the only secure terminus ante quem for the Acts is provided by the date of the earliest manuscript, the 10th c. ms. British Library Add. 14645. There is not yet a critical edition of the Acts. Its Syriac text was published for the first time by Cureton on the basis of ms. British Library Add. 14645, dated to the year 936 (see Wright 1870-1872, vol. 3, 1111-1116). It was again published by Bedjan, on the basis of Cureton's edition. Syriac text: Cureton 1864, pp. 43*-72*; Bedjan 1890-1870, vol. 1, pp. 120-130; English translation: Cureton 1864, pp. 63-72; Pratten 1871, pp. 80-90; Latin translation: Mösinger 1874, pp. 91-97. For general information, see Greisiger 2006; Greisiger 2012, 185-190.


The Acts bear witness to the local cult of the bishop Barsamya in the city of Edessa, which apparently developed no earlier than the second quarter of the 5th century. As has been suggested by Sebastian Brock, the probable purpose of the Acts (as well as of the Acts of Sharbel, to which this work is closely related) was to provide upper-class circles of Edessa with 'two prominent martyrs from a much earlier date than Shmona, Gurya (under Diocletian) and Habib (under Licinius), all three of whom came from villages surrounding Edessa' (Brock 2011, 266). Although the work exhibits clear traces of later literary developments, it is noteworthy that no miracles are ascribed to the martyr or his relics, which is unusual in fully developed hagiography. A striking and exceptional feature of this text is that it describes, in exactly the same format as that adopted for martyrdom accounts, the suffering of a confessor, rather than a full martyr.


Main editions and translations: Cureton, W., Ancient Syriac Documents Relative to the Earliest Establishment of Christianity in Edessa and the Neighbouring Countries, from the Year after Our Lord’s Ascension to the Beginning of the Fourth Century (London / Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1864). Bedjan, P., Acta martyrum et sanctorum. 7 vols (Paris / Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1890-1897). Mösinger, G., Acta S. S. martyrum Edessenorum Sarbelii, Barsimaei, Guriae, Samonae et Abibi. Fasciculus 1: Acta S. S. martyrum Sarbelii et Barsimaei (Oeniponti: Libraria Academica Wagneriana, 1874). Pratten, B.P., Syriac Documents Attributed to the First Three Centuries (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1871). Further reading: Brock, S.P., “Syriac Hagiography,” in: S. Efthymiadis (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Byzantine Hagiography. Vol. 1: Periods and Places (Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2011), 259-283. Duval, R., “Les actes de Scharbil et les actes de Barsamya,” Journal asiatique VIII, 14 (1889), 40-58. Greisiger, L., “Barsamyā, Märtyrer in Edessa,” in: F.W. Bautz and T. Bautz (eds.), Biographisch-bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, Band 26. Ergänzungen 13 (Nordhausen: Bautz, 2006), 119-121. Greisiger, L., “Saints populaires d’Édesse,” in: A. Binggeli (ed.), L’hagiographie syriaque (Études syriaques 9; Paris: Paul Geuthner, 2012), 171-199. Wright, W., Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum, Acquired since the Year 1838. 3 vols (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1870-1872).

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