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E02060: The Martyrdom of *Victor the Moor (soldier and martyr of Milan, S00312) is written in Latin, presumably in Milan, most probably between the 5th and the 7th c. It narrates the trial, torture, death and burial of Victor in Milan under the emperor Maximian.

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posted on 2016-11-30, 00:00 authored by mpignot
The Martyrdom of Victor the Moor (BHL 8580-8582)


§ 1: There is a great persecution of Christians under Maximian in Milan. A Moorish soldier named Victor is denounced to the emperor because he is Christian. The emperor summons him and interrogates him. Victor states his Christian faith. The emperor puts him in jail next to the circus, close to the Porta Ticinensis, to see whether he will change his mind, threatening to torture him if he does not agree to sacrifice. After six days in jail, without bread or water, the emperor orders that Victor should be brought to the circus and asks him again whether he has changed his mind. Victor again states his faith in Christ.

§ 2: Maximian orders him to be tortured and invites him again to sacrifice. Victor replies quoting Psalm 95 against idolatry. Maximian offers him great wealth and the position of magister militum in exchange for his acceptance to sacrifice. Victor again refuses and quotes Exodus 22 against idolatry. The emperor’s advisor Anolinus intervenes to try to convince Victor, without success.

§ 3: Maximian sends Victor to jail close to the Porta Romana. After three days, he is again summoned to sacrifice but still refuses. Maximian and Anolinus order Victor to be tortured, but he stays fast, praying to God. Maximian threatens him again and warns that he should not expect other Christians to venerate him as a martyr, because Maximian will make sure that his body will not be found. As Victor does not yield, Maximian sends him to jail and orders his feet to be bound to a pillar.

§ 4: Some individuals are sent by Anolinus to convince Victor in jail to sacrifice, but he rejects idolatry, quoting Psalm 96. The next day Victor is again asked to sacrifice by Anolinus but still refuses, because he does not fear any of the tortures he could face in comparison to God’s judgement. Maximian orders molten lead to be poured over Victor’s body. Victor asks God to be freed from this torture, evoking the three boys in the furnace (Daniel 3:23). An angel comes and cools the lead, which becomes almost as fresh as spring water, leaving Victor’s body unharmed. Victor thanks God with blessings, while Maximian and all those who witnessed what happened are amazed.

§ 5: Victor is brought to the Porta Vercellina on the orders of Maximian. As the soldiers keeping watch over Victor wait for the emperor's orders, they fall asleep; Victor escapes and hides in stables close to the theatre. Because a woman sees him, describing him as an old man with his tunic cut off, he is soon found in the stables. When the emperor hears about Victor’s escape, he orders that he should be brought outside the city to the place called hortum Philippi (the 'garden of Philip'). Again the emperor, who stays in the circus, sends runners to summon Victor to sacrifice, but he refuses, eager to receive God’s reward. The emperor sends executioners, ordering that Victor should be beheaded in the forest called ad Ulmos ('at the Elms'). As he is brought to be executed, Victor asks the soldiers leading him to tell the emperor that he will die in that same year and his body will receive no burial but his legs will be broken. Before being beheaded, Victor prays to God and thanks him:

Gratias tibi ago, Domine Jesu Christe, quia non me segregasti a sanctis tuis concivibus meis Nabore et Felice.

‘Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, because you did not set me apart from your saints, my fellow citizens Nabor and Felix’.

§ 6: The emperors forbids Victor’s body to be buried and six days later he sends his quaestor with soldiers to see whether the body has been eaten by wild beasts. However they find it intact, two wild beasts keeping watch over it, one at Victor's head, the other at his feet. The emperor orders Victor’s body to be buried. After permission is given to bury the body, the bishop Maternus finds it: the wild beasts leave only after the body is taken by him and wrapped in linen, then buried close by. Anolinus convokes all the notaries of the palace and asks them to swear that they will not hide any written document. They all swear, and, when all the documents are assembled, they are burned.

[The text then continues with the following note, included in Mombritius' edition but omitted in the Acta Sanctorum. Godefroid Henskens who wrote the preface in the Acta Sanctorum edition, discusses this note (Acta Sanctorum, Mai. II, 288) and note r) but considers the claim that the text was written by an eye witness to be deceitful (impostura) and therefore rejected it in his edition]:

Tunc et ego Maximianus, notarius Maximiani imperatoris, christianus ab infantia mea, juravi per paganismum eorum: et tamen per noctem cum luminaribus in hippodromo circi scripsi hæc, prout memoria potui retinere, quia ibi manebam: et adjuravi, ut siquis inveniret scripturam hanc, christiano viro non negaret. Haec omnia ego Maximianus oculis meis vidi, Deo teste et sancta Trinitate.

'Then I, Maximianus, notary of the emperor Maximian, Christian since my childhood, have sworn through a pagan oath; however, at night by the light of lamps I have written this in the circus; I was able to remember it since I was present there: and I have prayed as well that if anyone finds this writing, he will not refuse it to a Christian man. All these things I, Maximianus, saw with my own eyes, God and the holy Trinity are my witness.'

§ 6 (end): Victor was beheaded on the 8th of the Ides of May [= 8 May] and buried by Maternus the day before the Ides of May [= 14 May].

Text: BHL 8580, Acta Sanctorum, Mai. II, 288-290 (= Mombritius (1910), II, 630-632). Summary and translation by M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Victor (the Moor), martyr of Milan, ob. 303/312 : S00312

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Milan Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle with animals and plants Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Monarchs and their family Ecclesiastics - bishops Soldiers Officials Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Victor the Moor (Passio Victoris mauri: BHL 8580-8582; Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2242) is an anonymous literary account of martyrdom written long after the great persecutions of Christians that provide the background of the narrative. It is part of a widespread literary genre, that scholars often designate as 'epic' Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, shorter and more plausible accounts, apparently based on the genuine transcripts of the judicial proceedings against the martyrs. These texts narrate the martyrdom of local saints, either to promote a new cult or to give further impulse to existing devotion. They follow widespread stereotypes mirroring the early authentic trials of martyrs, but with a much greater degree of detail and in a novel-like style. Thus they narrate how the protagonists are repeatedly questioned and tortured under the order of officials or monarchs, because they refuse to sacrifice to pagan gods but profess the Christian faith. They frequently refer to miracles performed by the martyrs and recreate dialogues between the protagonists. The narrative generally ends with the death of the martyrs (often by beheading) and their burial. These texts are literary creations bearing a degree of freedom in the narration of supposedly historical events, often displaying clear signs of anachronism. For these reasons, they have been generally dismissed as historical evidence and often remain little known. However, since most certainly date from within the period circa 400-800, often providing unique references to cult, they are an essential source to shed light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Victor the Moor There are three variant versions of this Martyrdom: BHL 8580, 8581, 8582. As summarised by Lanéry 2010, 261-264, BHL 8580 is probably the oldest, while the others are abbreviated forms: BHL 8582 summarises BHL 8580, while BHL 8581 omits the epilogue of BHL 8580. BHL 8580 is also the most widespread, with more than thirty manuscripts preserved (see, and an additional list in Lanéry 2010, 262 n. 557). The earliest manuscripts of BHL 8580 are from the 9th century: Intra, Arch. Capitolare 12 (9th c.), f. 40r-44r; Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Aug. XXXII, f. 136r-137v; Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.14 (9th c.), f. 52r-55r; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 5771, f. 55r-57r. The other versions are only preserved in later manuscripts ranging from the 12th to the 15th century (see Lanéry 2010, 262 n. 557). BHL 8580 has been published by Mombritius in the 15th century and again in the Acta Sanctorum.


Cult of Victor is attested in Milan from the 4th century (see S00312). Although he had a distinct cult, the earliest evidence already associates him with *Nabor and Felix (S00609), as in our Martyrdom (see § 6, mentioning that their martyrdom preceded that of Victor). Lanéry 2008, 262-269 (and again Lanéry 2010, 261-264) argues that the cult of the three saints might have been united by Ambrose because they were considered to be the three martyrs belonging to Milan. Lanéry however adds that their cult might also have been associated in Milan irrespective of Ambrose’s influence. The Martyrologium Hieronymianum mentions Victor, together with Nabor and Felix, on 14 May, the day of his burial (see E04814), though Victor is mentioned alone on 8 May (see E04807), the day of his martyrdom. Nabor and Felix, flanking bishop Maternus (who according to our Martyrdom buried Victor), also appear in the 5th or 6th century Milanese chapel of Victor, San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro (see EXXXX). Moreover, the first part of our Martyrdom is closely related to the Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix (see E01987), with very similar language used for the trials, the same persecutors (the emperor Maximian and his advisor Anolinus), and some of the same topographical markers (the Porta Ticinensis and the Porta Romana). Some differences between our Martyrdom and that of Nabor and Felix are however worth noting: while nothing is said about the origin of Nabor and Felix in their Martyrdom, the Martyrdom of Victor the Moor states that he was of African origin (maurus), as does Ambrose in his hymn. Moreover, our Martyrdom frequently refers to biblical passages, even quoting psalms, a feature absent in the Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix. A possible influence on our text from the Theban legend (S00339), has been suggested by Lanéry 2010, 261-264, particularly because of the striking parallel between our Victor and a veteran soldier of the Theban legion, also named Victor and executed by Maximian after his companions. For Lanéry, the spread of the Theban legend into Northern Italy may have provided an inspiration for the description of Victor, and also explain why he is closely associated with other soldiers, Nabor and Felix. Carrié (2005), however, argued that it was our Martyrdom that influenced the Theban legend. In fact, Victor's fame had reached Gaul by the later 6th century, since Gregory of Tours mentions him as a saint specialised in freeing individuals from imprisonment (see E00542). In this regard, we should note that, although there is no evident connection between Gregory and our Martyrdom, the narrative of Victor's martyrdom is mostly centred around captivity and tells of his temporary successful escape from soldiers. Gregory's account shows that Victor's cult was well developed in his day, with yearly celebrations of his feast. The epilogue of BHL 8580 is worth noting: the supposed author of the text presents himself as a notary of the emperor Maximian and thus gives authority to his account. Since in the narrative it is first stated that Maximian’s advisor Anulinus ordered the destruction of all written evidence about the proceedings of Victor’s trial, the epilogue is meant to demonstrate that the story narrated has full credibility despite the loss of archives. Its author, Maximianus the notary, wrote what happened in secret from memory and thus was able to tell the full story about Victor. The use of the term paganismus is remarkable, since it seems to be rarely used in late antique and early medieval texts (a search in the database Library of Latin Texts A of Brepols, performed on 18/12/2016 yields only eight references, seven of which are from Augustine of Hippo). The date of the Martyrdom remains uncertain: as in the case of the Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix (E01987), there is no evidence that the story was known in detail to Ambrose in the later 4th century, but it features in a Milanese liturgical preface of uncertain date (between the 5th and 7th centuries). Its writing is certainly closely related to the Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix, since, as we have seen, both texts are very similar in terms of narrative and language. It remains to be ascertained whether it was the hagiographer of Victor who borrowed from the Martyrdom of Nabor and Felix as argued by Lanéry, or whether Victor’s Martyrdom may have served as inspiration for that of Nabor and Felix. Both may have been composed at around the same period. As noted by Lanéry 2010, 264, the Martyrdom of Victor the Moor, in the form we have it, was clearly written after the translation of Victor’s body from the chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro in the hortus Philippi (where it was in Ambrose’s time and where Nabor and Felix were also buried), to the church of San Vittore al Corpo outside the walls at the place called ad Ulmos, both places being recorded in the Martyrdom. But unfortunately we have no precise evidence as to when this translation took place, other than that it occurred after Ambrose's episcopate (374-397) and before the Milanese liturgical prefaces and our text were composed. Gregory of Tours' reference to the tomb of Victor (E00542) is unfortunately too vague to provide any further clue.


Editions (BHL 8580): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 630-632. Acta Sanctorum, Mai. II, 288-290. Further reading: Lanéry, C., Ambroise de Milan hagiographe (Paris, 2008), 262-269. Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie (300-550). I. Les Passions latines composées en Italie,” in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. V (Turnhout, 2010), 15-369, at 261-264.

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