University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E02089: The Martyrdom of *Caesarius (martyr of Terracina, S00893) is written in Latin in two main versions, BHL 1511 and BHL 1515. The shorter version, BHL 1515, is a sequel to the Martyrdom of *Nereus and Achilleus (E02033) and presumably written in Rome in Late Antiquity. It narrates that Caesarius, who refuses to sacrifice, is thrown into the sea to drown; his body is cast up and buried near Terracina. The longer version, BHL 1511, presumably written in Terracina (southern Italy), also in Late Antiquity, narrates the same and other events preceding and following Caesarius’ martyrdom in more detail and with reference to the local topography of Terracina, and adding companion martyrs, a priest Julianus, a monk Eusebius and a priest Felix. Only the longer version includes feast dates.

online resource
posted on 2016-12-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Caesarius (BHL 1515 and 1511)

BHL 1515


Luxurius brings the deacon Caesarius to the governor (consularis) Leontius who interrogates him, asking him his name and whether he is a freeman or a slave. Caesarius tells Leontius his name and that he is a slave of Jesus Christ. The governor tells Caesarius about the emperors’ order to sacrifice to the gods to avoid various punishments. Caesarius does not fear various, but only eternal, punishments; he does not follow their [his persecutors'] order since their anger will soon fade and they will be no more. Luxurius reacts to what he thinks are insults against the emperors and tells the governor that Caesarius should be thrown into the sea bound to a stone. Caesarius tells Luxurius that the water that has given him new life will receive him as a son, making him a martyr after having made him a Christian. Luxurius however will be consumed by a snake, as the revenge of the Lord for the burning of virgins and for throwing him into the water. Caesarius is thrown into the water and cast up by the sea onto the coast the same day, where Luxurius is lying, struck by a snake. He was riding on horseback alone to his villa for lunch, and, while resting for a while near a tree, was attacked by a snake which, from his head and neck, entered inside his tunic and bit him all over his side until it reached his heart. Before dying, he sees people chanting and taking the body of Caesarius with great honour. The martyr is buried near Terracina, and there many favours are bestowed, thanks to his merits, on those who believe in him.

BHL 1511


§ 1: At the time when Claudius killed his mother, he issued an order requiring everyone to venerate the gods and offer sacrifices. This is implemented by a certain Firminus, priest (pontifex) of Terracina in Campania.

§ 2: Every year on the calends of January [= 1 January], for the protection of the state and the emperor, offering them numerous riches, Firminus convinces men to commit suicide by jumping from a high place. These men are then to be honoured by the inhabitants of Terracina.

§ 3: A beautiful young man from the city, named Lucianus, is being entertained and nourished in preparation for his death on the calends of January. The deacon Caesarius arrives from Africa and sees Lucianus.

§§ 4-5: Caesarius asks the citizens why Lucianus is so well dressed. They explain that he is preparing for his death: he is taken special care of for six or eight months, then, armed and dressed for the occasion, he reaches the top of Mons Marinus on horseback, and, after dismounting, he jumps and dies for the protection of the state, the emperor and the citizens, and for his own glory. His body is then brought with great honour to the temple of Apollo and burned, then his ashes are deposited in the temple.

§ 6: Caesarius tells them that they are bringing innocent souls to ruin and the devil, and that they do not obtain eternal life. He hides in the city in the house of a servant of God until the calends of January, praying and chanting to God and Jesus Christ.

§§ 7-8: On the calends, the citizens gather and come to the temple, they lead Lucianus there, with a sow that is sacrificed by Lucianus. Caesarius comes and shouts that their plan to kill an innocent man is foolish and unjust.

§§ 9-10: At the same time, the young man mounts a horse and with great fury he reaches the top of the mountain, jumps and dies. Caesarius shouts, cursing the state and the emperors, deceived by the devil, for spilling innocent blood and for sending souls to their ruin.

§ 11: The priest Firminus orders Caesarius to be arrested and put into public custody (custodia publica). Following custom, he takes the body of Lucianus and brings it to the temple of Apollo, burns it and puts the ashes in the temple.

§ 12: Eight days later, Luxurius, the first citizen of the city (primus civitatis), and the priest Firminus take Caesarius out of jail, bring him to the forum, and call the governor of Campania (consularis), named Leontius, who at that time was governing in the city of Fundi (fundana civitas).

§§ 13-14: After three days, which Caesarius spent waiting in the forum, Leontius arrives in Terracina and interrogates him. Caesarius replies to each question in turn: Leontius asks him his name, whether he is a freeman or a slave, and whether he has heard the emperors’ orders. Caesarius replies that he is Caesarius, a sinner and unworthy deacon, a slave of Christ, and that he has not heard about the order. Leontius explains to him that he has to sacrifice to the immortal gods for the protection of the state. However, for Caesarius this offers no protection but death, since men are killed and receive no life.

§ 15: Leontius advises Caesarius to sacrifice, otherwise he will be punished, but Caesarius replies that he does not fear any such suffering; they (his persecutors) should instead fear eternal suffering. Leontius brings him in chains and naked to the temple of Apollo.

§§ 16-17: Upon arrival near the temple, Caesarius prays to God, asking that he be not abandoned; immediately the temple is destroyed, killing the priest Firminus. Luxurius arrives and tells Leontius that Caesarius is practising magic. Leontius threatens Caesarius, who replies that he does not fear him nor the emperor, because they will soon die and be no more.

§§ 18-19: Luxurius reacts to what he thinks are insults against the emperor and tells the governor that the people should assemble near the temple where Caesarius practised magic. There, next to Firminus’ body, Luxurius tells the people (populus) that Caesarius, who does not fear the gods or the emperor, killed a man and destroyed the temple with magic.

§§ 20-21: Caesarius asks the people whether it is right to fear man more than God the Creator, and to kill a man for the sake of the city. He advises them to do penance for the innocent blood spilled and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The people agree with Caesarius’ speech; Luxurius takes him away and imprisons him for a year and a month.

§§ 22-23: Luxurius then orders Caesarius to be taken out of custody, and brought naked before Leontius. An angel had been taking care of Caesarius night and day. Arriving in the forum, Caesarius asks the soldiers who keep him chained to free him, so that he may thank the Lord Jesus Christ for being worthy of becoming one of his servants. Falling to the ground he prays to God and asks for mercy. A bright light appears and protects Caesarius.

§§ 24-25: Leontius proclaims his adhesion to the God of Caesarius, throws himself at his feet, takes off his mantle (chlamyda) and puts it on Caesarius, asking him in front of the people to be baptised. Caesarius requires him to believe and then baptises him in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The priest Julianus comes and gives him the body and blood of the Lord. As he has received all the mysteries of the law (sacramenta legis), Julianus prays over Leontius; then Leontius dies.

§§ 26-27: On the same day, Luxurius arrests Julianus and Caesarius, ordering that they be thrown into the sea tied up in a bag. The wife and sons of Leontius bury him near the city in his own field, the third day of the calends of November [30 October]. At night three days later, just before being thrown into the sea, Caesarius tells Luxurius that, while he, Caesarius, will be martyred together with Julianus in the water that also gave him new life through baptism, Luxurius will be consumed by a snake, as the revenge of the Lord for the burning of his servants and virgins and for casting Caesarius into the sea.

§§ 28-30: After being thrown into the water, the bodies of Julianus and Caesarius are cast up by the sea onto the coast where Luxurius is lying, struck by a snake. Luxurius was riding on horseback alone to his villa for lunch and, resting for a while under a tree, was attacked by a snake which from his head and neck entered inside his tunic and bit him all over his side until reaching his heart. Before dying, he sees the bodies of Julianus and Caesarius, chanting as they are brought onto the coast by the waves. As he asks them for help, he dies choked by a devil in front of everyone. The bodies of Julianus and Caesarius are taken by a servant of God who lived near there, and buried at night near the city of Terracina on the calends of November [= 1 November].

§ 31: Post dies autem quinque inventus est et ipse servus Dei, nomine Eusebius, in eodem loco ubi posuerat beatos martyres, jejunans et orans Dominum et psallens. Hoc dum multi viderent, occurrebant beato Eusebio de civitate Terracina, quia locus prope civitatem erat; et multi convertebantur et baptizabantur a Felice presbytero.

‘Then five days later, people found the same servant of God, named Eusebius, in the same place where he had buried the blessed martyrs, fasting, praying and chanting to the Lord. Now many had seen this and were running to meet Eusebius from the city of Terracina, since the place was near the city; and many were converted and baptised by the priest Felix.’

§§ 32-33: Hearing of this, Leontius, the son of Leontius, full of rage because of the death of his father, sends soldiers and arrests the priest Felix and the monk (monachus) Eusebius and orders them to be brought in front of the citizens in the forum. Seated with the greatest of the citizens, he interrogates them, asking them whether they are slaves or freemen, what their names are, and why they preach against the state and the emperors. They reply to each question in turn: they state that they are slaves of Jesus Christ, named Felix and Eusebius, and that they preach a true and sound teaching (doctrina) to make God known and feared so that all may receive eternal life.

§§ 34-35: Leontius won


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Caesarius, martyr at Terracina, ob. c. 54-68 : S00893

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 south of Rome and Sicily Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Terracina Rome

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

Terracina Adriatic Sea Adriatic Sea Adriaticum Mare Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle after death Miracles experienced by the saint Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Pagans Monarchs and their family Aristocrats Soldiers Officials Crowds Angels

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Bodily relic - head Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Caesarius 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 widely spread literary genre, that scholars often designate as "epic" Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, short 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 new light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Caesarius There are two main Latin recensions of the Martyrdom: BHL 1511 (Passio maior in the Acta Sanctorum) and BHL 1515 (Passio minima in the Acta Sanctorum). BHL 1511 is the longest and most detailed version, while BHL 1515 is a shorter version, clearly linked to the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus (BHL 6066, see E02033), and thus serving as a sort of sequel to the end of that narrative. Indeed, the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus ends with the death of the virgins Domitilla, Euphrosyne and Theodora at the hands of Luxurius, and their burial by the deacon Caesarius in Terracina. BHL 1515 continues the story, narrating the fate of Caesarius after these events. It seems plausible that BHL 1511 was written in Terracina (because of the many references to local topography and the feast day corresponding to the local calendar), while BHL 1515 would well fit a Roman context, as it is linked to the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus. It is uncertain which of the longer text (BHL 1511) or the shorter sequel (BHL 1515) is the earliest. Dufourcq 1900, 255-258 argued that BHL 1515 and the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus were part of a broader cycle, before a longer martyrdom of Caesarius was written (BHL 1511). Recently, however, Lanéry 2010, 241-243, has rejected the hypothesis of a broader cycle uniting Nereus, Achilleus and Caesarius, noting that a number of manuscripts of the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus do not relate them to the Martyrdom of Caesarius, nor do the martyrologies of Bede for Caesarius and of Florus for Nereus and Achilleus. For Lanéry, BHL 1515 is an abbreviated version of BHL 1511, since it leaves out characters such as Julianus, Eusebius and Felix, and original elements of BHL 1511 such as references to topography or to the polemics over the feast of the January calends. Lanéry suggests that the author of the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus used BHL 1511 to compose his own text, borrowing the names of Caesarius and Luxurius, while later another hagiographer summarised BHL 1511 as BHL 1515 to provide a conclusion to the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus. The issue of the relations between both versions is a complex issue, however, which would need to be further explored. A detail is noteworthy: in BHL 1511 (§27), there is a brief reference to Luxurius as a murderer of virgins, killed by fire. This does not relate to the previous narrative, as no virgins are said to have been killed. While this reference could come from some unknown tradition, it seems also plausible to suggest that the author of BHL 1511 was basing his narrative on the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus narrating the death of the virgins in the burning ordered by Luxurius of their house in Terracina (otherwise another solution would be to suggest that the currently preserved version of BHL 1511 does not correspond to the original version but integrated at some point elements of the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus). Thus, it remains uncertain whether the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus was written before or after BHL 1511, and consequently BHL 1515 may as well have been written before BHL 1511. Both BHL 1511 and BHL 1515 are preserved in early manuscripts. BHL 1511, as noted by Lanéry, is the most common in medieval legendaries, with more than eighty manuscripts preserved (see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta at and an additional list in Lanéry 2010, 241 n. 517. The three oldest are: Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 89v-95r (9th c.); Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare, 95, f. 19r-24r (9th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357, f. 179r-182v (9th or 10th c.). BHL 1515 is found in a dozen manuscripts, generally following the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus (see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta at and Lanéry 2010, 242 n. 519 for an additional list. There are five early copies: Graz, Universitätsbibliothek, 412, f. 157rv (9th c.); London, British Library, Add. 11880, f. 176v-177v (9th c.); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.13, f. 189rv (9th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. lat. 516, f. 96v-103v (9th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357 (9th or 10th c.), f. 140v-141r. Besides these two main versions, there are a number of abbreviated or reworked versions of BHL 1511 (BHL 1511b; BHL 1516; BHL 1512 and BHL 1513 both leaving aside the martyrdom of Felix and Eusebius; BHL 2886m restricted to the martyrdom of Felix and Eusebius; BHL 1514 reworking by Alberic of Monte Cassino; BHL 1514b reworking by Hermann Greven in the 15th c.). BHL 1517 and BHL 1518 are probably later medieval legends narrating Galla Placidia’s translation of Caesarius’ body to Rome. As noted by Lanéry, there are no manuscripts preserved for any of these versions before the 12th century. Finally, there is also a Greek paraphrase of BHL 1511, BHG 284. BHL 1511 was first published by Mombritius in the 15th century, then by Van Hoff in the Acta Sanctorum together with BHL 1515 and other abbreviated and reworked versions.


The Martyrdom of Caesarius, both BHL 1511 and BHL 1515, provides further evidence of the cult of Caesarius (on which see S00893): the texts end referring to the veneration of the burial place of Caesarius (and other saints in the case of BHL 1511), his feast day, and miracles performed there. There is no clear evidence in the Martyrdom of Caesarius for its date of composition, although features such as language, references to realia and topography, particularly in BHL 1511, seem to point to a late antique context (see further considerations on these aspects in Lanéry 2010, 243-245). The references to Caesarius in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum are too generic (providing only the name and place of martyrdom) to provide evidence for knowledge of the Martyrdom by the compilers of the Martyrologium. The fact that the text of BHL 1511 is summarised in the martyrology of Bede shows that it must have been composed before the early 8th century (see Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 64-65; later summaries are given in the 9th century martyrologies of Ado and Rabanus Maurus). Dufourcq dated BHL 1511 to the period following the Byzantine reconquest in the 6th century, and situated BHL 1515 before that period, on the grounds of its main concerns and its theological vocabulary. Lanzoni 1927, I, 148-151 suggested to date BHL 1511 between the 5th and the 6th century, a dating adopted in recent repertories (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2172; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 56). More recently, Lanéry 2010, 243-245, while noting that the text is difficult to date, has argued that BHL 1511 should be placed before the Martyrdom of Nereus and Achilleus, E02033) which she dates to the second half of the 5th century, while arguing that BHL 1515 was composed after that period, before the 7th or 8th century. However, the relations between these texts (and their respective dating) would require further investigation to provide a more secure dating. Both main versions of the Martyrdom can broadly be said to date between the 5th and the early 8th century.


Editions: BHL 1511: Acta Sanctorum, Nov. I, 106-117. BHL 1515: Acta Sanctorum, Nov. I, 118. Further reading: Amore, A., “Cesario e Giuliano,” Bibliotheca Sanctorum 3 (Rome, 1963), 1154-1155. Dufourcq, A., Étude sur les Gesta martyrum romains, 5 vols. (Paris, 1988; first ed. in 4 vols., 1900-1907), I, 305-307. 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 238-246. Lanzoni, F., “A proposito della Passione di san Cesario di Terracina,” Rivista di archeologia cristiana 1 (1924), 146-148. Lanzoni, F., Le diocesi d’Italia dalle origini al principio del secolo vii, 2 volumes (1927), I, 148-151.

Continued Description

ders what the people think: some find their teaching good, others reject it. Felix and Eusebius are imprisoned. At night Leontius tries to convince them to sacrifice but they refuse, glorifying God. He orders them to be put to death and their bodies to be thrown into the river.§§ 36-37: The bodies of Felix and Eusebius reach the sea and are cast up on the coast near a pine-grove.Et ecce quidam presbyter, nomine Quartus, de Capua, dum transiret ad agrum suum, invenit corpora sanctorum sine capitibus, et collegit, et imposuit in vehiculo, et duxit in domum suam, et cœpit curiose quærere capita eorum. Alia autem die et ipsa capita invenit illæsa. Quæ collegit et junxit corporibus sanctis, et sepelivit juxta corpus sancti Cæsarii diaconi et martyris sub die nonas novembris; ubi per orationes eorum beneficia præstantur usque in præsentem diem ad laudem et gloriam Domini nostri Jesu Christi, qui vivit et regnat in secula seculorum. Amen.‘And behold a certain priest named Quartus, from Capua, as he was on his way to his field, found the bodies of the saints without their heads, took them and put them in his carriage, and took them to his home, and started to look attentively for their heads. The following day however, he found their heads intact, took them and joined them to the bodies of the saints, and buried them next to the body of the holy deacon and martyr Caesarius, on the day of the nones of November [= 5 November]; there, many favours are bestowed through their prayers up to the present day, for the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever. Amen.’Texts: BHL 1515 (Passio Caesarii): Acta Sanctorum, Nov. I, 118; BHL 1511 (Passio Caesarii et Iuliani): Acta Sanctorum, Nov. I, 106-117 (the edition provides a facing Greek paraphrase (BHG 284) from Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. gr. 1608). Summary and translations: M. Pignot.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity