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E02501: The Martyrdom of *Marcellus (bishop and martyr of Rome, S00529) and Companions is written in Latin, presumably in Rome during Late Antiquity. Loosely arranged around the story of Marcellus, it narrates the martyrdoms and burials of Roman of martyrs, Apronianus, Sisinnius and *Saturninus (S00422) on the via Salaria, and the soldiers Papias and Maurus on the via Nomentana (S02057); Cyriacus’ exorcism of Diocletian’s daughter Artemia and her baptism; Cyriacus, Smaragdus and Largus’ travels to Persia to exorcise king Shapur’s daughter Ioba; persecution under Maximian with the martyrdom and burial of Crescentianus on the via Salaria, and of his companions *Cyriacus, Largus, Smaragdus and others (martyrs of Rome, S00678), also on the via Salaria; the translation of their bodies to the via Ostiensis; Marcellus’ forced labour in stables; his death and his burial on the via Salaria.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Marcellus and Companions (BHL 5235/2056)


§ 1: When the emperor Maximian returns to Rome from Africa, he wishes to show his devotion to Diocletian by building baths in his honour. He proceeds with this work using the forced labour of Christians drawn from the Roman army.

§ 2: Hearing about this, the bishop of the city Marcellus is full of joy for the alms distributed by Thrason to the saints. He asks the holy Christians Cyriacus, Sisinnius, Smaragdus and Largus to come to him, who tell him how Thrason provides sustenance to the saints of God. Delighted, he ordains Sisinnius and Cyriacus as deacons of the Roman church.

§ 3: However Sisinnius and Cyriacus, while carrying provisions supplied by Thrason, are arrested by pagan soldiers
and brought before the tribune Expurius, who incarcerates them. After the third day, Maximian is told of this and demands that they dig sand and carry it on their shoulders to where the baths are being built. During their task, with the help of Christ, they not only carry their own load but also help an old man called Saturninus to carry his burden. The guards are astonished and report this to Expurius, who in turn tells Maximian that these men are carrying out such deeds while singing the praises of God and Christ.

§ 4: Maximian orders Sisinnius to be brought before him, and asks him what all this singing is about. Sisinnius replies that if Maximian knew that, then he would also know his Creator. Maximian presses further, noting that the Creator can only be Hercules. Sisinnius replies rejecting Hercules, and Maximian threatens him that he must sacrifice to Hercules or be burnt. Sisinnius is ready to receive the crown of martyrdom, and Maximian hands him over to the prefect Laodicius, who in turn incarcerates him in the Mamertine prison (custodia Mamertini) for 17 days.

§ 5: After this, Laodicius orders Sisinnius to be brought before him. As he is presented by the commentariensis Apronianus, suddenly a light shines from heaven, and from the light comes a voice calling the Christians to come to heaven and obtain the eternal kingdom. Apronianus is filled with fear and falls before Sisinnius, imploring him to baptise him, and bring him to share the crown of martyrdom. Water is brought, Sisinnius initiates (catechizare) him, blesses the font and places him naked in a basin (pelvis). He asks him to state his belief in God the Father Almighty, his only son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, Sisinnius replies ‘I believe’, and is baptised. Then Sisinnius brings him to the bishop Marcellus who anoints him with the chrism, and celebrates the Eucharist for all.

§ 6: The same day in the afternoon, Laodicius demands that Sisinnius be brought before him. Apronianus comes along too, reacting against the bad handling of the Christians. Laodicius realises that Apronianus has become a Christian, Apronianus responds regretting his wasted days. Laodicius replies that now he will waste his remaining days and orders him to be executed to avoid others following his example. He is executed on the via Salaria, at the second milestone, on the 4th day before the Nones of February [= 2 February].

§ 7: Laodicius orders that the old man Saturninus and the deacon Sisinnius should be returned to prison, threatening them with death by many punishments if they refuse to sacrifice to the gods. While Saturninus and Sisinnius are in prison, many pagans come to them and are baptised. Hearing this, Laodicius orders that a tribunal be prepared in Tellude. After 42 days, Saturninus and Sisinnius are dragged there barefoot and in chains. They are asked if they have abandoned superstitions (superstitiones) and will worship the gods adored by the emperors. Sisinnius replies saying that they adore the Lord Jesus Christ, son of God and will not bow before demons and stones. Laodicius orders a tripod to be brought before them so that they might sacrifice, but following Saturninus’ command, the hard metal dissolves as if it were clay. Seeing this, two soldiers called Papias and Maurus exclaim that Jesus Christ must be the true God.

§ 8: Angered by this, Laodicius orders Saturninus and Sisinnius to be tortured on a rack. They are beaten with cords, cudgels and scorpions (scorpiones), but glorify Jesus Christ. Papias and Maurus complain about the tortures and Laodicius orders them to be stoned and thrown in prison, and Saturninus and Sisinnius’ sides to be burnt. However they rejoice on the rack. Then they are brought to the via Nomentana at the second mile and beheaded. Their bodies are collected by Thrason and the priest Iohannes, and buried on his estate (praedium) on the via Salaria on the 4th day before the Calends of December [= 28 November].

§ 9: Twelve days later, Laodicius orders that Papias and Maurus, who have by now been baptised by bishop Marcellus, be brought before him in the Circus Flaminius. He orders that they worship the gods, but they refuse and are beaten with cudgels. As they are being beaten, they only ask Christ to help them. Then he orders them to be beaten with lead-weighted scourges (plumbatae), and they give up their spirits. Their bodies are collected by night by the priest Iohannes, who buries them on the via Nomentana, ad Nymphas beati Petri, where he baptised, on the 4th day before the Calends of February [= 29 January].

§ 10: After a few days, Laodicius tells Diocletian and Maximian what has happened and how the Christians were killed, and they rejoice. A few days later it is announced to Diocletian that his daughter Artemia is possessed by a demon. Diocletian is greatly saddened and refuses to take any food. Cyriacus, who has long been incarcerated and forgotten, is visited by many Christians, and gives sight to the blind and cures many of their illnesses. Imprisoned with Largus and Smaragdus, he is summoned to assist Diocletian, because the demon, speaking through Artemia’s mouth, says that only he can perform a successful exorcism. So Cyriacus is brought before Diocletian’s daughter.

§ 11: On entering Artemia’s chamber, he calls upon the demon to give up its possession, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The demon asks, however, for a receptacle (vas) into which it can go. Cyriacus offers his own body up for possession; but the demon says that it cannot enter his body because it is closed and sealed (signatum). Cyriacus commands the demon to vacate Artemia’s body, so that it may receive the Holy Spirit; and then he asks Artemia to believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ. The demon says that if it is expelled, it will bring Cyriacus to Persia. Cyriacus commands it to leave in the name of Jesus Christ, and it does.

§ 12: Artemia cries out, begging for baptism because she sees the Lord. Largus and Smaragdus, take her hands and raise her. The next day, Cyriacus initiates her (catechizare) according to custom and water is brought and blessed. She is baptised in the presence of her mother Serena, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From that day, Serena exhorts her daughter to love the Christian religion (religio Christiana). Two years and ten months later, when the building of the baths has been joyously completed, Diocletian, at the intercession of Serena, gives Cyriacus a house and orders that he be left to live in peace in the city of Rome.

§ 13: Soon afterwards, there arrives a Persian royal embassy to Diocletian, asking for the deacon Cyriacus to be sent to Persia because the Persian king’s daughter is possessed by a demon. Seeing the earnestness of King Shapur’s (Sapor) entreaty, Diocletian asks his wife Serena to get Cyriacus to come before her. She tells Cyriacus about the embassy and he agrees to go. Serena provides him with every means to get to Persia, and he goes there with Largus and Smaragdus, while soldiers travel on light horses (veredi). Thus Cyriacus, with his stick (baculus), arrives first in front of the king Shapur.

§ 14: Shapur demands to know which one is called Cyriacus, then ushers him into his daughter Iobia’s chamber. The demon immediately recognises Cyriacus, who tells it to leave the body in the name of Jesus Christ. The demon remarks that it has brought Cyriacus where it intended to. Seeing that the girl is getting tired, Cyriacus throws himself on the ground, weeps and prays to the Lord Jesus Christ. The demon asks for a receptacle, but Cyriacus replies that it is Jesus Christ himself who orders it to leave. Reacting to this name, the demon leaves with a loud lamentation. Iobia is saved.

§ 15: Cyriacus tells Iobia to believe in the Son of God in order to be protected forever; she states her belief. He makes her a catechumen (catechumena) according to custom, initiates her (catechizare), water is brought, and coming out of baptism in a silver basin (concha) she proclaims that Jesus Christ is God. All her relatives are baptised and the king, and several others, in total 420 people. Shapur offers Cyriacus manifold riches, but Cyriacus declines them all. He receives only bread and water, and says that no price can be put on Christ’s grace, only faith. After 45 days, Cyriacus, Largus and Smaradgus return to Rome by boat, with letters from the king recommending them; there they live in peace in the house given to Cyriacus by Diocletian near the emperor's baths.

§ 16: Two months later, Diocletian leaves Rome for Dalmatia, where, fatigued by illness, he makes his will, arranges for his sons to rule as co-heirs (coheredes), and dies. Hearing this, his son Maximian orders the persecution of Christians, wherever they might be found. Because of what happened with his sister Artemia, he arrests Cyriacus and, as an example to all Christians, he has him stripped and led before his carriage (ante rhedam) on the day of his procession.

§ 17: Marcellus appears on the day of the procession and asks Max


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Marcellus, bishop of Rome, ob. 309 : S00529 Cyriacus, Smaragdus, Largus and their companions, martyrs at Rome, ob. ??? : S00678 Saturninus, martyr in Rome, d. c. 303 : S00422 Papias and Maurus, soldiers and martyrs of Rome : S02057

Saint Name in Source

Marcellus Cyriacus, Smaragdus, Largus, Crescentianus, Memmia, Iuliana Saturninus Papias, Maurus

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 - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous sound, smell, light Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Pagans Foreigners (including Barbarians) Monarchs and their family Soldiers Officials The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves) Demons Eunuchs

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Construction of cult building to contain relics


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Marcellus and Companions 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 Marcellus and his Companions There is only one main early version of the Martyrdom, BHL 5235 (with slightly divergent versions, BHL 2534, BHL 2535b-c). Independent martyrdom accounts of Cyriacus, Largus and Smaragdus, and of Saturninus and Sisinnius were later composed on the basis of our Martyrdom (respectively BHL 2056 with other variant versions, and BHL 7493-7494; see Lanéry 2010, 227 for an overview). There are more than 200 manuscripts of the Martyrdom in its various recensions; see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( and an additional list in Lanéry (2010), 227-228 n. 484. The earliest are from the 9th century: Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 9r-15v and f. 104r-105v (9th c.); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, HB XIV.13, f. 43v-49v (9th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. lat. 516, f. 8v-11v (9th c.); Vienna, ÖNB, lat. 357, f. 109v-114v (9th-10th c.).


Other traditions about Pope Marcellus I do not refer to him as a martyr (see S00529). Indeed in our Martyrdom, he is not strictly presented as a martyr, but his death after enduring hard work in the stables, and his association with other martyrs in a single narrative, suggests that the author wanted to promote Marcellus’ suffering. Several of the subsidiary martyrs that feature in this story also appear in other texts. Saturninus, who in § 8 is buried by Thrason on the via Salaria, must be the *Saturninus (martyr of Rome, S00422), recorded as buried in Trasonis in the Chronography of 354 (E01052), and in the Cymiterium Trasonis on the Salaria in a 7th c. list of the cemeteries of Rome (E00632); while Cyriacus, Largus, Smaragdus and Crescentianus, with Memmia and Iuliana, also feature in the Chronography of 354 (E01052), commemorated in August on the Ostiensis. Early cult of Papias and Maurus is attested thanks to inscriptions (see S02057), while for Apronianus and Sisinnius there seems to be no early evidence of cult (see more details in Lapidge, 395-397). The Martyrdom, almost certainly written in Rome, as evidenced by numerous references to local topography, provides an anachronistic description of events, notably situating pope Marcellus during Diocletian’s persecution, and mostly concentrates on cult on the via Salaria by gathering around that road the cult of a number of characters otherwise attested elsewhere (see these issues summarised in Lanéry). The Martyrdom, while the earliest manuscripts preserved date from the 9th century, was already used by Bede in his 8th c. martyrology (E05411). It was written in Late Antiquity at an uncertain date, but a composition in the 5th or 6th century seems likely. Lanéry argues that the Martyrdom borrowed from that of Susanna (E02515), in particular its characters Thraso, and Serena and Maximian (respectively the wife and son of Diocletian). This would have been easier by the fact that the titulus Gai, where Susanna was venerated, was situated close to the titulus Cyriaci, on the Alta Semita near the baths of Diocletian. Our Martyrdom would have provided, as in the case of Susanna, an explanation of the origin of the titulus, by identifying the founder Cyriacus with the martyr of the via Ostiensis, and explaining the veneration of Cyriacus there by narrating the translation of Cyriacus’ body to the via Ostiensis by Lucina and Marcellus. Lanéry adds that our Martyrdom may have borrowed this last detail from pope Cornelius’ biography in the Liber Pontificalis (E00345, which also attributes the translation of relics to the via Ostiensis to a certain Lucina), and taken inspiration from the Martyrdom of Sebastianus (E02512, for Lucina’s donation of a house becoming a church). Lanéry also discusses a number of potential borrowings, now from our Martyrdom, in other later Italian martyrdoms. On the basis of these arguments, Lanéry (followed by Lapidge) suggests that our Martyrdom should be dated after those of Sebastianus and Susanna, which she situates respectively around 430 and between 450 and 514, and before 550, as in turn our Martyrdom would have been borrowed from by the biographer of Marcellus in the second edition of the Liber Pontificalis written around 550 (E00399). However, the precise datings of the martyrdoms of Sebastianus and Susanna remain uncertain, and the exact nature of the numerous contacts between the Liber and our Martyrdom is open to debate, particularly because there are also substantial differences between the narrative of our Martyrdom and that of the biography.


Editions (BHL 5235/2056): Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 169-173. The original edition was published c. 1480. Acta Sanctorum, Ian., II, 5-9. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 398-410. Further reading: 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 223-233 (with further bibliography). Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 390-398.

Continued Description

imian why he is persecuting servants of God who pray for the empire. Maximian grows angry and has Marcellus beaten with cudgels and expelled. He tells the vicarius Carpasius to torture Cyriacus, who has used magic to trigger conversions, if he refuses to sacrifice to the gods.§ 18: Carpasius sends to the prison for the deacon Cyriacus, Largus, Smaragdus and Crescentianus, and orders that they be presented in Tellude. They are interrogated as to why they refuse to obey the emperor’s order to sacrifice to the immortal gods. They reply that they offer themselves as a sacrifice to Jesus Christ. Carpasius tells Cyriacus that although now, as an old man, he has white hair, he will make him look young again. He orders pitch to be melted and poured over Cyriacus’ head. Cyriacus glorifies the Lord to be worthy of entering the heavenly kingdom.§ 19: Carpasius commands the others to sacrifice, or suffer like Cyriacus; however they too offer themselves as a sacrifice to Jesus Christ. Therefore Carpasius orders that Crescentianus be beaten on a rack in front of Cyriacus, Largus and Smaradgus. As he is tortured with cords and cudgels and lacerated with claws (ungulae), he cries out his praises of Jesus Christ. Then his sides are burnt and he gives up his soul. His body is thrown in the Clivus Ursi, in the street in front of the Palatine temple (in platea ante templum Palatii). The same night, the priest Iohannes collects his body, and buries it in the cemetery of Priscilla, in arenario on the via Salaria vetus [an error for the Salaria nova], on the 8th day before the Calends of December [= 24 November].§ 20: Largus, Smaragdus and Cyriacus are brought back to prison. After four days, Cyriacus is again ordered to appear in Tellude. Carpasius interrogates him and tries to convince him to sacrifice to the gods, but finding him intractable, grows angry and orders him to be stretched on a gridiron (catasta) and beaten with cords and cudgels. Cyriacus asks for Jesus Christ’s mercy. Carpasius reports to Maximian all that he has done. The emperor orders that all the Christians in the prisons should be beheaded along with Cyriacus. Cyriacus with 21 individuals of both sexes, are executed in the baths of Sallust on the via Salaria, outside the walls of the city. The priest Iohannes collects the bodies and buries them on the same road. Cyriacus’ body is buried on the 17th day before the Calends of April [= 16 March]. At the same time, Maximian kills Artemia, his sister.§ 21: After eight days, Marcellus, together with the pious Christian matrona Lucina, embalms the bodies with perfumes and linen cloth, and translates them, along with that of Cyriacus, to her estate (praedium) on the via Ostiensis, at the 7th milestone from the city, where they are buried by Lucina in stone sarcophagi on the 6th day before the Ides of August [= 8 August].§ 22: At this time, Lucina makes donations out of her possessions to the holy catholic Church. This angers Maximian, who has her proscribed. Lucina asks bishop Marcellus to consecrate her house as a church; he does so and celebrates mass (missae) there, on the via Lata in the middle of the city. Further angered, Maximian orders the seizure of the church and its conversion to a public stable (animalia catabuli publici), wherein Marcellus is sent under custody to take care of the animals. After many years of this servitude, Marcellus gives up his spirit on the 7th day before the Calends of February [= 16 January]. The priest Iohannes, together with Lucina, steals his body, embalms it with perfumes, and buries it in the cemetery of Priscilla on the via Salaria vetus [an error for the Salaria nova], at the third milestone from the city, where it rests in peace.§ 23: Maximian asks Carpasius about the interrogation and execution of the saints. Seeing that his replies please the emperor, Carpasius asks for the house that Diocletian had given Cyriacus. On taking possession of it, Carpasius converts the baptistery (that had been built by Cyriacus and consecrated by Marcellus, and where Cyriacus frequently baptised those coming to the faith) into a bath, in derision of the Christian law (lex Christianorum). He bathes there with the dregs of society, but one day, on leaving the bath, he and nineteen of his companions fall dead. From that day, the baths are closed and, until the present day, are a source of fear. Thanks be to God.§ 24: The bodies of the saints, Cyriacus, Largus, Smaragdus, Crescentianus, Memmia and Iuliana, are buried on the via Ostiensis, at about the eighth milestone from the city, where their prayers continue to flourish up to this day, and forever. Text: Acta Sanctorum, Ian., II, 5-9. Summary: M. Humphries, The Roman Martyrs Project, Manchester University, adapted and expanded by M. Pignot.

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