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E02514: The Martyrdom of *Stephanus (bishop and martyr of Rome, S00205) and his Companions is written in Latin, presumably in Rome, during Late Antiquity. It narrates Stephanus' administration of the Roman Church under the emperors Valerian and Gallienus, the numerous conversions and baptisms that he triggered and performed, the martyrdom and burial of the most prominent converts, and finally the martyrdom and burial of Stephanus in the cemetery of Callixtus.

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posted on 2017-03-08, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Martyrdom of Stephanus (BHL 7845)


§§ 1-2: In the time of Valerian and Gallienus when Christians are being persecuted, the bishop (episcopus) of Rome Stephanus speaks to his assembled clergy (clerus) about the need to consider the heavenly kingdom rather than possessions of the earthly world. 108 pagans are baptised and receive the Eucharist in the crypta Nepotiana, and Stephanus ordains three priests, seven deacons, and sixteen clerics (clerici). Many pagans come to hear Stephanus’ preaching and to be baptised.

§§ 3-4: The tribune (tribunus militum) Nemesius asks Stephanus to baptise him and his only daughter, and thus restore the daughter’s sight. Stephanus asks Nemesius to believe first, and he agrees. Stephanus initiates them in the titulus pastoris, ordering them to fast until the evening. Then he baptises them, and the daughter, Lucilla’s, sight, is restored. Many come to be baptised by Stephanus, in total 62 individuals. Stephanus starts celebrating liturgy (missae) and gatherings (concilia) in the crypts of the martyrs (cryptae martyrum). Nemesius is made a deacon.

§§ 5-6: Valerian learns that Nemesius and his household have been converted to Christianity and that Nemesius’ daughter has been healed. He informs the consuls (consules) Gallienus and Maximus. It is decided that wherever Nemesius is found he should be punished without trial (sine audientia). In the meantime Nemesius employs his wealth to help the needy Christians, going around the crypts and gatherings of the martyrs (cryptae et concilia martyrum). One day, Nemesius, seeing Valerian and Maximus celebrating pagan rites at night in the temple of Mars on the via Appia, prays to the Lord against the idols. Maximus is immediately seized by a demon and shouts that Nemesius is responsible. Nemesius is arrested and the consul Maximus dies. Nemesius is interrogated by Valerian in the palace of Claudius (palatium Claudii) and tells him about his conversion. Valerian accuses Nemesius of killing Maximus with magic and sends him to prison.

§§ 7-8: Valerian summons Nemesius’ creditarius, Symphronius, in order to investigate Nemesius’ wealth. Lucilla is put under the custody of a certain impious woman named Maxima. The tribune (tribunus) Olympius questions Symphronius, requiring him to sacrifice and give away Nemesius’ wealth. Symphronius explains that it has already been given to Christ and refuses to sacrifice. Olympius orders Symphronius to be tortured and a golden statue of Mars to be brought, in order to compel him to sacrifice. Symphronius prays to God and the statue immediately dissolves. Olympius is amazed and later convinced by his wife Exuperia (to whom he told everything) to abandon the gods. He asks Tertullinus, vicedominus, to secretly hide Symphronius in his house.

§§ 9-10: Olympius, with his wife, Exuperia and their only son Theodolus (or Theodorus), visit Symphronius and ask to be baptised. Symphronius asks them to repent and believe, Olympius agrees, handing over his golden, silver and stone idols to Symphronius. Symphronius asks Olympius to destroy the idols, melt them and give them away to the poor as proof of his conversion. As the idols are burnt, a voice is heard saying ‘my spirit rests in you Symphronius’. Olympius and his wife are scared and eager to be baptised. The bishop Stephanus is sent for. He thanks God for their conversion, initiates them, baptises them and gives them the Eucharist.

§§ 11-12: After three days, Valerian and Gallienus hear of these events. They arrest Nemesius and his daughter. Lucilla is executed in front of her father, Nemesius, on the via Appia in front of the temple of Mars. Nemesius is beheaded between the via Appia and via Latina on the 8th day of the Kalends of August [= 25 July]. The bishop Stephanus collects his body and buries him near the place where he was killed, on the via Latina, not far from the city. The next day, Symphronius, Olympius, Exuperia and Theodolus are brought before Valerian. They are questioned by Valerian and Gallienus at the locum Telluris (temple of Tellus?), and refuse to adore pagan gods.

§§ 13-14: On the advice of Gallienus, who fears that the whole city of Rome will convert to Christianity, Valerian orders that they should be burnt. They are brought in front of the statue of the Sun near the amphitheatre, bound to posts and burnt. As they die, they all glorify the Lord Jesus Christ for being worthy of martyrdom. After the soldiers have left, at night, the holy bishop Stephanus, and other clerics and religious people (religiosi), sing hymns, collect the bodies and bury them next to the via Latina at the first milestone, on the 7th day of the Calends of August [= 26 July], Valerian being consul for the third time and Gallienus for the second. Many days later, Valerian and Gallienus place an edict in well known places in the city seeking to capture and kill Stephanus or his clergy. As a result twelve clerics named Bonus, Faustus, Maurus, Primitivus, Calumniosus, Iohannes, Exuperantius, Cyrillus, and Honoratus, are beheaded on the via Latina near the aqueduct (formam aquaeductus). Tertullinus collects the bodies and places them next to the holy bodies of Iovinus and Basilieus (or Basilicus) on the via Latina on the same day of the Calends of August [a variant reading noted in the Acta Sanctorum, Aug. I, 145: 'on the 6th day of the Calends of August' = 27 July; same date mentioned in BHL 7846].

§§ 15-16: The bishop Stephanus instructs Tertullinus, baptises him and ordains him a priest. He entrusts him with the task of finding the bodies of martyrs. Tertullinus is arrested two days later by the prefect Marcus and brought to Valerian to be interrogated about the possessions of his master Olympius. However, he only speaks of the eternal life earned by Olympius and is then beaten and his sides burnt for refusing to co-operate. Tertullinus is then sent to be questioned by the prefect Sapritius about Olympius’ possessions and summoned to sacrifice to avoid death. Sapritius questions Tertullinus in the place called privata Mamurtini. As he refuses to co-operate and speaks against the idols, Tertullinus’ mouth is crushed. However he speaks, thanking God and again refusing to sacrifice.

§§ 17-19: Sapritius orders Tertullinus to be tortured on a rack. Tertullinus prays to God asking for help. Sapritius orders him to be burnt, but Tertullinus keeps invoking Jesus Christ. Sapritius tells Valerian about Tertullinus' perseverance, and he orders Tertullinus to be beheaded. Tertullinus is executed on the via Latina at the second milestone. The holy Stephanus and clerics (clerici), sing hymns, collect Tertullinus’ body and bury it in the same place, in the crypta arenaria the day before the Kalends of August [= 31 July]. The next day, Stephanus, together with many clerics, priests and deacons, is seized by a great number of soldiers. Valerian interrogates Stephanus alone to verify his identity. He is then taken by soldiers to the temple of Mars to be executed. Stephanus prays and the temple collapses. The soldiers, full of fear, let Stephanus and the other Christians go.

§§ 20-21: Stephanus gathers with all the Christians in the cemetery of Lucina. He comforts the audience with a speech, and celebrates the Eucharist. Valerian hears of this and sends soldiers to seize Stephanus. He is beheaded on the 4th day of the Nones of August [= 2 August] before the altar as he is celebrating liturgy. Christians weep and bury him in what is called today the cemetery of Callixtus.

§ 22: The next day, soldiers arrest an acolyte named Tharsicius (or Tarsitus) who is carrying the body of Christ [i.e. the Eucharist]. As he refuses to give it away, he is beaten to death with sticks and stones. After his death, they find nothing in his hands and flee full of fear. The soldiers come to the porta Appia and see a great crowd of Christians; then they tell everything to Valerian. Christians collect Tharsicius’ body the same day and bury him in the cemetery of Callixtus on the via Appia. The church assembles there and Sixtus is ordained as bishop on the 9th day of the Kalends of September [= 24 August], Valerian being consul for the third time and Gallienus for the second.

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Aug. I, 139-143. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, martyr and bishop of Rome, ob. c. 257 : S00205 Tarsicius, martyr of Rome, buried on the via Appia : S02859

Saint Name in Source

Stephanus Tharsicius

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, village, etc


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

Rome 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 - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Meetings and gatherings of the clergy

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Unbaptized Christians Pagans Officials Ecclesiastics – unspecified

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Stephanus 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 widespread literary genre, that scholars often designate as 'epic' Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, shorter 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 novel-like 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 Stephanus and his Companions The main version of the Martyrdom is BHL 7845, with more than 100 manuscripts preserved; see for a list, the database Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta ( The earliest is from the 9th century: Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 37v-48v. We have checked BHL 7846 in a 15th century printed edition of Jacobus de Voragine: the text printed is a slightly shortened version of BHL 7845, omitting or simplifying a number of topographical markers and removing the conclusion of BHL 7845 about Sixtus’ consecration as Stephanus’ successor. BHL 7845b and BHL 7846b seem to be slightly variant versions (which we have not checked). There are only few manuscripts of all these other versions, according to the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina Manuscripta (, which lists Brussels, KBR, 7984 (3191), f. 149r-154r (10th c.) as the earliest manuscript of BHL 7846.


The Martyrdom of Stephanus provides evidence of the cult of Stephanus in the cemetery of Callixtus, thus corroborating other late antique evidence (see S00205). It also includes evidence for burial, cult places, and feasts days for all the other martyrs mentioned in the narrative (see a summary about cult in Lapidge 2018, 479-482). Some identical topographical markers and names of main characters occur in other late antique martyrdom accounts. For Lanéry, topographical markers such as the titulus Pastori and the privata Mamurtini, as well as the characters Lucilla, Maximus and Olympius, are all borrowed from other martyrdom accounts that she suggested should be dated before our Martyrdom (see Lanéry 2010, 293 n. 633 for details). Only early itineraries (Itinerarium Malmesburiense 9 and De locis sanctis martyum quae sunt foris civitatis Romae 15, see E07891 and E06993) provide somewhat contradictory information about Stephanus’ burial place, as they refer to it on the via Latina near Eugenia’s church, although Stephanus is said to be buried on the via Appia in the cemetery of Callixtus by other early sources (first and foremost the Depositio episcoporum of 354, see E01151). The itineraries however corroborate the Martyrdom for the burial of other companions of Stephanus (Tertullinus, Nemesius etc.) on the via Latina. The tradition making Stephanus a martyr developed during Late Antiquity, since in the Depositio episcoporum of 354 his feast day and burial place correspond to what the Martyrdom says, but he is not included in the Depositio martyrum (see E01152 and more details in Delehaye 1931 on 2 August). Moreover, Lanéry 2010, 293 n. 633 and Lapidge 2018, 481 also underline that the Martyrdom made use of epigrams of Damasus. Thus, the Martyrdom was most probably composed between the 5th and the 8th century; it is difficult however to narrow this range. The Martyrdom is generally dated to the 6th century: see Amore 1969; Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2236; Gryson, Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 88. Information about the cult of Stephanus as a martyr in our Martyrdom (the date of martyrdom, burial place and feast day) corresponds to what is found in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (see E04905), the Liber Pontificalis (see E00361), the Sacramentarium Gregorianum (see EXXXX), Bede’s martyrology (E05595), and the 9th century Neapolitan marble calendar. However, there is no clear evidence that the Martyrdom was known to any of these sources. Lanéry, followed by Lapidge, argues that borrowings from other late antique martyrdom accounts suggest that it was not composed before the 7th century, while it was later used in the Martyrdom of the Greek martyrs (E03254), which however is of uncertain date (Lanéry puts it in the 8th or 9th century, while Lapidge argues for the first half of the 7th century). The earliest manuscript, and clear borrowings from our Martyrdom in Ado’s martyrology, at least show that it was already in circulation by the 9th century.


Editions: BHL 7845: Mombritius, B., Sanctuarium seu vitae sanctorum, 2 vols. with additions and corrections by A. Brunet and H. Quentin (Paris, 1910), II, 495-500 (first edition published c. 1480) Acta Sanctorum, Aug. I, 139-143. BHL 7846: De Voragine, J., Historiae plurimorum sanctorum (Cologne, 1483), f. 396r-398v and Leuven, 1485, f. 228r-230r. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 482-493. Further reading: Acta Sanctorum, Nov. II: Pars posterior qua continetur Hippolyti Delehaye Commentarius perpetuus in Martyrologium Hieronymianum ad recensionem Henrici Quentin O. S. B. (Brussels, 1931): 2 August. Amore, A., “Stefano I, papa,” Bibliotheca Sanctorum 12 (1969), 21-24. Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie. 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 292-293. Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 477-482.

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