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E02503: The Martyrdom of *Pigmenius, *Bibiana and Companions (martyrs of Rome under the emperor Julian, S00728 and S01445), is written in Latin, presumably in Rome, at an uncertain date, probably in the 6th or 7th c. It narrates Pigmenius' teaching and ordination of *Donatus (bishop and martyr of Arezzo, S01527) and the future emperor Julian; the apostasy of Julian and the persecutions he carries out as emperor. Other martyrs of Rome under Julian are worked into the story: *Priscus, Priscillianus and Benedicta (S01516), *Iohannes and Paulus (brothers and eunuchs, S00384), *Iohannes (martyr buried on the via Salaria, S00514), and, above all, the young girl Bibiana - before the martyrdom and burial of Pigmenius himself. An appendix narrates Julian's death, skinned alive in Persia.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Pigmenius, Bibiana and Companions (BHL 6849-6849a)


§ 1: When Constantine was emperor and founded the city of Constantinople, there was in Rome a learned priest named Pigmenius (Pygmenius) in the titulus Pastoris. Many come to be instructed by him in the liberal arts and are converted to Christianity. Julian, the son of Constantius, Constantine’s brother, is one of them: he is instructed and baptised by Pigmenius. Julian’s fame and support grows as a result. He is sent to Nicomedia and avoids the imperial city.

§ 2: Pigmenius takes care of a boy named Donatus, of noble origin, instructs him, baptises him, and ordains him a cleric together with Julian. Donatus becomes a reader and Julian a subdeacon. Much later, Julian is elected emperor by the people. He lives a wretched life and forgets the wisdom he received since childhood. He persecutes thousands of Christians throughout the provinces. Christians flee the cities and hide. As Julian seeks to torture Pigmenius and Donatus, Pigmenius leaves for Persia and Donatus for Arezzo (Aritium) in Tuscia. Now we will tell what happened.

§ 3: At that time there is a vir illustris in the urban prefecture [of Rome] called Flavianus, who is secretly Christian with all his household; his wife is named Dafrosa, and his daughters Demetria (Dimitria) and Bibiana (Biviana) are educated in chastity and faith. He frequently collects with Christians the bodies of saints at night and buries them; Julian learns that Flavianus is seeking the bodies of the priest Priscus, the cleric Priscillianus and the religious woman Benedicta, and making it known that Iohannes and Paulus were killed in their own house at night. Flavianus also begins to speak openly against Julian, as a man who was once a Christian but has since become an apostate and a persecutor. Julian orders Flavianus to be sent into exile to Aquae Taurinae, at the 60th milestone from the city on the via Claudia. He orders his wife and daughters to be left to die of hunger if they refuse to sacrifice to the gods. They are given over to a pagan relative called Faustus, who however is converted by Flavianus’ wife and then baptised. When Julian hears of this, he has Faustus presented to him. Julian thinks that Faustus has been seduced through magic and tries to convince him to abandon Christianity as he did. Faustus rejoins that he was not seduced, but was set free by angels, just as Julian was taken by demons. Faustus challenges Julian: he will pray to God and Julian to his demons and they will see whose prayers will be granted. Then Faustus kneels in prayer and dies in front of the emperor.

§ 4: Julian orders Faustus’ body to be thrown out and left to the dogs. Dafrosa, however, collects the body that night and buries it in her own house next to the house of the saints Iohannes and Paulus. Five days later, while praying, she gives up her spirit. Hearing that Dafrosa has died without being tortured, Julian orders that her two daughters be presented to him. Terror struck, Demetria gives up her spirit forthwith. Julian says that he wants the surviving sister instructed about the ancestral gods. Thus Bibiana is given over to a certain heathen, Rufina. After six months, as Bibiana is urged by Rufina to sacrifice to idols and take her (Rufina’s) son as her husband while Bibiana perseveres and derides Rufina, the latter informs on Bibiana to Julian. The same day, the emperor orders her to be beaten with lead-weighted scourges (plumbatae). Four days later, with blood gushing from her mouth, the blessed Bibiana gives up her spirit. Her body is left in the forum Tauri by Julian’s order for two days. But at night the priest Iohannes collects her body and buries it near her mother and her sister at her home in Rome, at the caput Tauri, near the palace of Lucianus [variant: Licinianus] at the forma Claudia, where Iohannes and Pigmenius frequently gather.

§ 5: Hearing this, Julian orders Pigmenius to go wherever he wants, sparing his life, for it was Pigmenius who had made Julian a Christian and educated him in letters (grammar, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, philosophy) and Christianity, and had ordained him a subdeacon. Julian then orders the priest Iohannes to be seized; he is brought before the statue of Sol on the via Salaria at the Clivus Cucumeris and beheaded without first being tried. The priest Concordius collects his body and buries it, singing hymns and giving praise, in a sarcophagus in a crypt in the same place, near the assembly of the martyrs (concilium martyrum). Under this persecution, Pigmenius leaves the titulus Pastoris and goes to Persia, where he lives for four years and becomes blind. After these four years, Christ appears to him in a dream, commanding him to return to Rome and regain his sight. Fearless, he sets off immediately by sea and, four months later, enters Rome along the clivus of the via Salaria. There Julian, in golden attire, recognises him and has him summoned. Julian gives praise to the gods that he sees Pigmenius again, but Pigmenius rejoins that he praises Christ that he cannot see Julian. Angered by this, Julian orders that Pigmenius be thrown from a bridge into the Tiber river. His body is collected by the matron Candida, who buries it in a crypt in the cemetery of Pontianus at Ursus Pileatus, on the 12th day before the Calends of May [= 20 April].

The text ends with the following appendix:

§ 6: We have narrated the saints’ triumph, but we think it not incongruous to tell how God avenged the martyrs, Julian losing both the empire and his life, as we found in written accounts (gesta). Around the time of Pigmenius’ death, Julian leads an expedition to Persia, during which he is seized and skinned alive from head to toenails. His skin is dyed red and seven Persian kings sit on it. Thus Pigmenius and Julian both died but met opposite ends, Pigmenius going to heaven and Julian to hell.

Text: Delehaye 1936, 259-263. Summary: M. Humphries, The Roman Martyrs Project, Manchester University, revised and expanded by M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Pigmenius (Pimenius) and Companions, martyrs of Rome : S01445 Bibiana, martyr in Rome, ob. ??? : S00728 Iohannes and Paulus, brothers and eunuchs, martyrs of Rome : S00384 Priscus, Priscillianus, and Benedicta, martyrs of Rome : S01516 Donatus bi

Saint Name in Source

Pygmenius Biviana Iohannes, Paulus Priscus, Priscillianus, Benedicta Donatus Iohannes

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

Burial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Monarchs and their family Women Pagans

Cult Activities - Relics

Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Pigmenius, Bibiana 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 Pigmenius There is one main version of the Martyrdom, preserved in a number of recensions, with variants, omissions and additions: BHL 6849/6849a (Pigmenius, Bibiana and Companions), summarised here, with the two numbers recording the addition of an appendix (§ 6 in our summary); BHL 1322-1323 (Bibiana, Pigmenius and Companions); BHL 2842 (Faustus, Pigmenius and Companions). The Martyrdom in its various recensions is preserved in more than 30 manuscripts (see the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta,, for a list). The earliest is from the 9th-10th century: Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Farf. 29 (alias 341), f. 153r-156v (BHL 1322). BHL 6849/6849a was published by Delehaye on the basis of the only manuscript preserved, Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 1193, f. 160r-162r (12th c.).


The Martyrdom clearly establishes a connection between the cult of Pigmenius, Bibiana and Companions and that of the martyrs Iohannes and Paulus (S00384). It situates Dafrosa and her daughters’ burial place next to that of Iohannes and Paulus, and more generally borrows from the earliest version of their martyrdom account (E02520). Thus it places the narrative in the same historical context, first under the emperor Constantine, then under Julian, and provides more details about aspects of Julian’s life which are only alluded to in that account. Julian is said to be a subdeacon and instructed by Pigmenius and the manner of Julian’s death is also added. Later, the revised version of the martyrdom of Iohannes and Paulus in turn apparently borrows characters from our Martyrdom: Priscus, Priscillianus and Benedicta become Crispus, Crispinianus and Benedicta in the revised version, while the care taken by the priest Iohannes and the senator Flavianus of burying the saints’ bodies is presented in terms similar to our Martyrdom. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date of composition, but was probably written between the 6th and the 7th century, since it clearly makes use of the earliest version of the Martyrdom of Gallicanus, Iohannes and Paulus (E02520) and is in turn apparently borrowed in the revised version of that martyrdom account which was written by the 7th century at the latest. Our Martyrdom is generally dated with uncertainty to the 6th century, as recorded in repertories of Latin sources (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2218; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 82), while Lanéry argues for a dating in the second half of the 6th century. Lapidge places it with uncertainty between c. 600 and 700.


Edition (BHL 6849-6849a) Delehaye, H., Étude sur le légendier romain. Les saints de novembre et de décembre (Brussels, 1936), 259-263. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 610-616. Further reading: Delehaye, H., Étude sur le légendier romain. Les saints de novembre et de décembre (Brussels, 1936), 124-143. 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 289. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 608-610.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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