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E02497: The Martyrdom of *Genesius (mime artist and martyr of Rome, S00508) is written in Latin, at an uncertain place and date, perhaps in central Italy, by the early 9th c. at the latest. It narrates Genesius mocking Christians through mime, his conversion as he mimed baptism and had a vision of angels, the tortures he endured and his death.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Genesius (BHL 3320)


§ 1: Under Diocletian, as churches are shut for four years, the mime (mimus themelae artis) Genesius, in the city of Arles [variant: in Rome], mocks Christians. To please the emperor he learns about the law of God. In particular he learns about baptism and writes everything in a little book (libellus).

§§ 2-3: He then comes to the theatre and starts to mime a request for baptism by an ill man. Genesius portrays the man lying on a couch (grabatus), asking to be relieved and be made a Christian before his death, but being mocked by his servants, thus amusing the audience and in particular Diocletian.

§ 4: The play continues as an exorcist and a priest are brought to the sick man. Now Genesius, with a pure heart and not pretending any more, says that he wants to receive Christ’s grace and be born again to be freed from his sins. People shout and Genesius receives gifts from the emperor.

§§ 5-7: All the mysteries are performed and Genesius is clothed with white garments. He is brought in front of the emperor on a high place, where there is a statue of Venus, and tells the emperor and all those present that he has always mocked Christians and for this reason decided to perform a mime to mock them. However, when he was interrogated about his faith, standing naked in the water, he saw a hand coming down from heaven and exceedingly bright angels standing before him and washing off in the water a book from which they recited all the sins that he had committed since childhood. After telling this, Genesius proclaims his faith in Christ and exhorts the audience to believe, in order to be forgiven as well.

§§ 8-9: The emperor orders all those who performed the mime to be beaten with cudgels, but they all speak against Christ and say that Genesius has become mad. Then the emperor is so infuriated that, if it were allowed, he would even have drunk Genesius’ blood. He orders him to be beaten with cudgels and the next day he hands him to the prefect Plutianus to be tortured until he agrees to sacrifice to the idols.

§§ 10-11: Genesius is tortured on a rack but refuses to offer sacrifice; rather he professes his faith in God, the only king, and repents for his past actions. He is further tortured on the rack, his sides being burnt with torches, but continues to proclaim his faith. Plutianus tells what happens to Diocletian, who orders him to be beheaded. He is sentenced on the 8th day before the Calends of September [= 25 August], during the fourth consulate of Diocletian.

Text: Weismann 1977, 38-43. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Genesius, martyr of Rome : S00508 Genesius of Arles, notary and martyr, ob. 303/308 : S00263

Saint Name in Source

Genesius Genesius

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 Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

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

Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Other liturgical acts and ceremonies

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracles experienced by the saint Miracles causing conversion Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Monarchs and their family Slaves/ servants Officials Other lay individuals/ people Crowds Angels


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Genesius 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 Genesius There are a number of variant versions of the Martyrdom (BHL 3315-3322d). Until Quentin it was agreed that the short text BHL 3315 was the earliest version of the Martyrdom, reproduced almost in full by Ado in his mid 9th c. martyrology (BHL 3316). However, Quentin argued convincingly that BHL 3315 is not the earliest version but a revised version of Ado’s summary, which is itself based on a combination of two older (earliest attested) and longer versions of the Martyrdom, BHL 3320 and BHL 3322 (and the closely related version BHL 3318). These two versions are shown to be related and described by Quentin as families A and B. Quentin argued that the early 9th c. anonymous martyrology from Lyons, later borrowed by Florus’ own martyrology, made use of family B, while Ado’s martyrology combined information from the previous martyrologies with borrowings from family A of the Martyrdom (BHL 3320). Here, we have focused on BHL 3320, the most widespread version and probably the oldest, which has been critically edited by Weismann. There are 58 manuscripts of BHL 3320 according to Weismann (42 manuscripts are listed in the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta, The earliest are from the 9th and 10th centuries: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 89r-89v (9th-10th c.); Chartres, Bibliothèque Municipale, 144 (506 5/B), f. 186r-187r (9th-10th c., destroyed except fragments); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.14, f. 96v-98r (9th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357, f. 61r-62v (9th-10th c.). BHL 3322 is attested in 9 manuscripts starting from the 10th century according to the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta, while BHL 3322c is found in Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5771, f. 113r-114v (9th-10th c.), and BHL 3218 in Paris, BNF, lat. 5365, f. 64r-65r (12th-13th centuries).


While there is evidence of a martyr Genesius venerated in Rome, the Martyrologium Hieronymianum probably recording him on 24 August, there remain many uncertainties about Genesius’ figure and how his cult developed. It has to be underlined that the Martyrdom (BHL 3320) situates the mime Genesius’ origins in Arles (although variant versions situate him in Rome) and his feast day on 25 August, the same day as the more famous *Genesius (notary and martyr of Arles, S00263) - again, however, there are variants naming 24 August. The Martyrdom is particularly vague about cult, only providing the feast day of Genesius and no information about burial. It underlines the presence of the emperor Diocletian, however, which would seem to suggest that it situates the action in Rome. It remains unsure in what context it was composed, although the editor Weismann underlines that a provenance from central Italy is plausible because of the particular concentration of manuscript evidence in that region. As shown by Jiménez Sánchez and Gagliardi, more broadly, it is uncertain often whether evidence of cult of a martyr named Genesius relates to the mime or to the notary, and the extent to which the two figures may have merged is also open to debate (see the evidence listed under S00263 and S00508). The Martyrdom, in its variant versions, is of uncertain date, but must have been written by the early 9th century at the latest, when it is known to be borrowed by the anonymous martyrology from Lyons (see Quentin; contrary to what Gagliardi says, Bede does not mention Genesius the mime); it is also found in 9th c. manuscripts. While a dating in the 4th or 5th centuries has at times been suggested (see Jiménez Sánchez, Gagliardi), repertories of Latin sources, probably following Weismann, date the Martyrdom between the 6th and 8th centuries (see Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2194a: 6th or 7th c.; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 68: 7th-8th c.). According to Weismann, the Martyrdom recalls that of the mime Gelasinos of Heliopolis, which is told in the twelfth book of Malalas’ Chronicle (E05715). Indeed it has often been argued that the figure of the mime Genesius was simply adapted from the mime Gelasinos (see Weismann 1975, esp. pp. 41-43, Jiménez Sánchez and Gagliardi for discussion). Thus Weismann suggests that the Martyrdom may date between the 6th and the 8th century.


Edition (BHL 3320) Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), I, 597-598. The original edition was published c. 1480. Weismann, W., “Die ‘Passio Genesii mimi’ (BHL 3320),” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 12 (1977), 22-43, at 38-43. Further reading: Gagliardi, I., “Agiografia e territorio: il caso di San Genesio presso San Miniato al Tedesco,” Hagiographica 22 (2015), 133-149. Jiménez Sánchez, J. A., “Acerca la fecha del martirio de Genesio de Roma,” Anuari de Filologia. Secció D. Studia Graeca et Latina 25-26 (2003-2004), 203-231. Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Étude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 533-541. Roasenda, P., “Il mimo romano Genesio,” Didaskaleion, N.S. VII/2 (1929), 93-107. Von der Lage, B., Studien zur Genesiuslegende I (Berlin, 1898). Weismann, W., “Gelasinos von Heliopolis, ein Schauspieler-Märtyrer,” Analecta Bollandiana 93 (1975), 39-66. Weismann, W., “Die ‘Passio Genesii mimi’ (BHL 3320),” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 12 (1977), 22-43, at 22-38.

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