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E02496: The Martyrdom of *Felix and Adauctus (martyrs of Rome, S00421) is written in Latin, presumably in Rome, at an uncertain date, by the 9th c. at the latest. It narrates the destruction of pagan statues by the priest Felix and the trial and tortures he endured; then, joined by an unknown Christian man, presumably Adauctus, both are martyred and buried at the second milestone from the city on the via Ostiensis; after the persecutions a church is built there.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Felix (BHL 2880)


During the persecution of Christians under Diocletian and Maximian, two brothers and priests, both named Felix are brought before the prefect of the city Draccus and ordered to sacrifice. One of the two, the elder, is brought before the temple of Serapis next to Draccus’ council chamber (secretarium). Draccus demands that he sacrifices but Felix blows at the face of Serapis’ statue and it is immediately destroyed. The next day he is brought before the temple of Mercury, where there is a statue, and exhorted to offer incense there. Again Felix blows at the statue and it falls down. Then he is brought before a statue of Diana, again destroying it by blowing at it. He is then tortured on a rack and interrogated about the magic performed. Felix states that he performs these things with God’s help. Draccus orders him to be brought outside the walls, at the second milestone from the city on the via Ostiensis [Lefèvre d’Etaples and the earliest manuscript, Vat. lat. 5771, have via Portuensis], and to be asked to sacrifice there. Felix prays and blows at a huge tree that falls and completely destroys the nearby temple and the statues found in it. Hearing about this, the prefect orders him to be beheaded on the same spot, and his body left unburied for wolves and dogs.

The following narrative in square brackets is omitted in Lefèvre d’Etaples’ edition and in the earliest manuscript, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 185r:

[A certain Christian man, unknown to men but known to God, meets Felix and learns that he is about to receive capital punishment for Christ’s name. He shouts that he is Christian and proclaims his faith, wishing to be punished together with Felix, to die to this world and live forever. When brought to the place where the tree stood, they pray, kiss each other and are beheaded. Their bodies are left unburied.]

However, Christians provide burial in the same place, where the tree had opened a large hole into the ground. The next day pagans want to dig up the body [bodies], but divine power protects the body [bodies] of the martyr[s], and those attempting to reach it [them] are possessed by the devil. After the end of the persecutions, a church is build there, in which divine favours abound thanks to the prayers of martyr[s] up to this day. [Surius’ edition adds: ‘The saints Felix and Adauctus died on the 3rd day before the calends of September’ (= 30 August)].

There are a number of other minor variants throughout the text of BHL 2880, as is clear from a comparison between Surius' and Lefèvre d’Etaples’ editions, not recorded here. Lefèvre d’Etaples’ edition appears to be closer to the earliest manuscript, Vat. lat. 5771, while Surius’ text of BHL 2880 is closer to another version, BHL 2878.

This other early attested version is transmitted by Ado in his martyrology, but seems to be a summary deriving from BHL 2880 (as argued by Quentin, see our discussion). This version, introduced with the date of their feast (30 August), place (via Ostiensis, at the second milestone from the city) and time of martyrdom (under Diocletian and Maximian), summarises the main narrative of BHL 2880 (omitting a number of details), but adds an explanation about Adauctus: it states that the man whose name the Christians did not know was later called ‘Adauctus’ because he was ‘added’ (the literal meaning of the name in Latin) to Felix’ martyrdom. This explanation is attributed to Ado by Quentin, but De’Cavalieri suggests that it was more widely known.

Text: Lefèvre d’Etaples 1519, 26r-26v; Surius 1581, 653. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix and Adauctus, martyrs at Rome, d. c. 303 : S00421

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

Rome and region

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

Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Punishing miracle Miracle after death Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Relatives of the saint Officials

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Construction of cult building to contain relics Other activities with relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Felix and Adauctus 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 novelistic 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 Felix and Adauctus There are a number of versions of the Martyrdom, of which two are attested in manuscripts from the 9th century, BHL 2878 and BHL 2880, this latter our focus here. The database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( lists 26 manuscripts of BHL 2878, the earliest being Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 102v-104r (9th c.), and 41 manuscripts of BHL 2880, the earliest being Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 184v-186r (9th-10th c.). BHL 2878 corresponds to the text reproduced by Ado in his Martyrology; against previous scholars, who thought that Ado provided a copy of the earliest version of the Martyrdom, Quentin argues that the text provided by Ado is Ado's own summary of BHL 2880, which would be the earliest version.


Felix and Adauctus are already celebrated in an inscription by Damasus, probably referring to them as brothers, and their cult is well attested from an early date (see S00403 and an overview in Lapidge 2018). The story about two brothers named Felix in our text might have been written on the basis of a wrong reading of Damasus’ inscription about Felix (see Delehaye and De’Cavalieri for a detailed explanation). Adauctus’ name, literally meaning 'the added one' was understood in BHL 2878 and other sources, as a reference to the fact that the real name of Felix’ companion was unknown. While BHL 2878 narrates the martyrdoms of the priests Felix and Adauctus, explicitly naming them both, in the case of BHL 2880, only the version printed by Surius mentions their names and feast day at the end of the text and includes the narrative about the choice of an unknown man (presumably Adauctus) to die with Felix. The earliest manuscript, from the 9th or 10th c. (Vat. lat. 5771), that we have checked, and Lefèvre d’Etaples’ edition, omit this part of the story, and do not contain any reference to Adauctus. Thus it remains uncertain whether the part of the story about Adauctus was found in the earliest form of the Martyrdom, as assumed by Quentin, or whether BHL 2880 was first written as a martyrdom account focusing exclusively on Felix. Moreover, the exact relationship between the variant versions of BHL 2880 and BHL 2878 would require further study, to better trace the complex transmission of the Martyrdom. There is another martyrdom account (E02532), which pertains to a priest and confessor of Rome named Felix (S01483), younger brother of a martyred Felix; this seems to point to the second, younger, Felix mentioned in our Martyrdom, thus providing a sort of continuation to our story (see more at E02532). The story of the fallen tree opening a hole in the ground is an interesting case of hagiography providing an explanation for the origins of underground cult, in this case a crypt and basilica in the cemetery of Comodilla. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition, although it must have been written by the 9th century at the latest, when both BHL 2878 and BHL 2880 are attested in manuscripts. Repertories of Latin sources (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2190; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 65) date BHL 2878 to the 6th or 7th century (thus without taking Quentin’s conclusions about the precedence of BHL 2880 into account), while De’Cavalieri suggests a 7th century date for BHL 2880. More recently, Lapidge dates it to the first quarter of the 7th century, arguing that it would have been borrowed by the Roman itinerary De locis sanctis because of its mention of the two martyrs.


Editions: BHL 2878: Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 551 (first published c. 1480). Acta Sanctorum, Aug., VI, 546-547. Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 518-519. BHL 2880: Lefèvre d’Etaples, J., Agones martyrum mensis januarii, libro primo contenti (Paris, Henri Estienne, 1519), 26r-26v ( ). Surius, L., De probatis sanctorum historiis, Tomus VII (Cologne, 1581), 653. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 596-597. Further reading: Amore, A., “Felice e Adautto,” Biblioteca sanctorum 5 (1964), 582-583. Delehaye, H., “Les saints du cimetière de Commodille,” Analecta Bollandiana 16 (1897), 17-29. Franchi De’Cavalieri, P., Note agiografiche, vol. 4 (Rome, 1912), 41-53. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 593-596. Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Etude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 518-520.

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