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E02100: According to Orosius, during the sack of Rome in AD 410 the Goths respected the sanctuary of the basilicas of the Apostles *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00008), and transferred sacred vessels for safe keeping to the basilica of Peter. Account in Orosius' Seven Books of History against the Pagans, written in Latin possibly in North Africa, c. 416/418.

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posted on 2016-12-10, 00:00 authored by mszata
Orosius, Seven Book of History against the Pagans 7.39

(1.) Adest Alaricus, trepidam Romam obsidet turbat inrumpit, dato tamen praecepto prius, ut si qui in sancta loca praecipueque in sanctorum apostolorum Petri et Pauli basilicas confugissent, hos inprimis inuiolatos securosque esse sinerent, tum deinde in quantum possent praedae inhiantes a sanguine temperarent. .. (3.) discurrentibus per Vrbem barbaris forte unus Gothorum idemque potens et Christianus sacram Deo uirginem iam aetate prouectam, in quadam ecclesiastica. domo reperit, cumque ab ea aurum argentumque honeste exposceret, (4.) illa fideli constantia esse apud se plurimum et mox proferendum spopondit ac protulit, cumque expositis opibus attonitum barbarum magnitudine pondere pulchritudine, ignota etiam uasorum qualitate intellegeret, uirgo Christi ad barbarum ait: (5.) haec Petri apostoli sacra ministeria sunt. praesume, si audes; de facto tu uideris. ego quia defendere nequeo, tenere non audeo. (6.) barbarus uero ad reuerentiam religionis timore Dei et fide uirginis motus ad Alaricum haec per nuntium rettulit: qui continuo reportari ad apostoli basilicam uniuersa ut erant (7.) uasa imperauit, uirginem etiam simulque omnes qui se adiungerent Christianos eodem cum defensione deduci. ea domus a sanctis sedibus longe ut ferunt et medio interiectu Vrbis aberat. (8.) itaque magno spectaculo omnium disposita per singnlos singula et super capita elata palam aurea atque argentea uasa portantur; exertis undique ad defensionem gladiis pia pompa munitur; (9.) hymnum Deo Romanis barbarisque concinentibus publice canitur; personat late in excidio Vrbis salutis tuba omnesque etiam in abditis latentes inuitat ac pulsat; (10.) concurrunt undique ad uasa Petri uasa Christi, plurimi etiam pagani Christianis professione etsi non fide admiscentur et per hoc tamen ad tempus, quo magis confundantur, euadunt; quanto copiosius adgregantur Romani confugientes, tanto auidius circumfunduntur barbari defensores.

'(1.) Alaric came, besieged, threw into panic, and burst into Rome as she trembled, but he first gave the order that whoever had fled to the holy places, above all to the basilicas of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, were to be left safe and unharmed. He also told his men that as far as possible, they must refrain from shedding blood in their hunger for booty. ... (3.) As the barbarians rampaged through the City, it happened that in a certain convent one of the Goths, a powerful, Christian man, came across an elderly virgin, who had dedicated her life to God. When he asked her, politely, for gold and silver, (4.) steadfast in her faith, she promised him that she had a great deal and would soon bring it forth, and brought it forth. When she saw that the barbarian was astounded by the size, weight, and beauty of what she had brought out, but had no idea of the nature of the vessels, Christ’s virgin said to him, (5.) ‘These are the sacred vessels of the Apostle Peter, take them, if you dare, and you will be judged by your act. I dare not keep them, as I cannot protect them.’ (6.) The barbarian was moved to religious awe through his fear of God and the virgin’s faith, and sent a messenger to tell Alaric about these matters. He immediately ordered that all the vessels should be taken back, just as they had been found, to the basilica of the Apostle (7.) and that the virgin and any other Christians who might join her be taken there with the same degree of protection. They say that her convent was in the other half of the City, far away from the holy sites, (8.) and so each piece was given to a different individual, and they all carried the gold and silver vessels openly above their heads, providing a great spectacle for all to see. This pious parade was protected by drawn swords on every side, (9.) and Romans and barbarians joined together in singing openly a hymn of praise to God. The trumpet of salvation sent its note far and wide as the City fell, calling out and rousing up even all those who were in hiding. (10.) From all sides the vessels of Christ came running to the vessels of Peter – even many pagans joined the Christians, professing, though not possessing, the faith and in this way managed to save themselves for that time when they would be all the more undone – and the more the Romans gathered here in their flight, the more eagerly the barbarians surrounded and defended them.'

Text: Zangemeister 1882, 544-547. Translation: Fear 2010, 401-402.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source

Paulus Petrus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

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

Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Seeking asylum at church/shrine

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Heretics Foreigners (including Barbarians) Pagans

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Chalices, censers and other liturgical vessels


Orosius was born most probably in Spain (perhaps in Braga in the northwest), and was ordained presbyter some time before 415 (Augustine calls him compresbyter in his letter 166 to Jerome from that year). He left Spain at the beginning of the 5th c., probably because of the barbarian invasions, and arrived in North Africa where he met Augustine of Hippo. Then he travelled to the Holy Land. In Palestine he met Jerome, was involved in the Pelagian controversy, and obtained relics of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030). He wanted to transfer them to Spain, but he managed only to get to Minorca (we know of this events from the letter of Severus of Minorca, E###). He left some relics on the island in 416 and went back to Africa. He completed his Seven Books of History against the Pagans, a work purportedly commissioned by Augustine, before AD 418 (Orosius does not mention the death of King Vallia in this year). He may have written it in Africa after his failed attempt to return to Spain in 416 (Fear 2010, 6-7).


This story is in the context of a work in which Orosius sought to show that the misfortunes of the Christian early 5th century were not as bad as horrors that had occurred in pagan times.


Editions: Zangemeister, K., Orosius, Historia adversus paganos (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 5; Vienna, Tempsky, 1882) Arnaud-Lindet, M.-P., Orose, Histoires contre les païens, 3 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1991-1993); with French translation. English translation: Fear, A.T., Orosius, Seven Books of History Against the Pagans (Translated Texts for Historians 54; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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