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E02631: Greek Martyrdom of *Phileas (bishop of Thmuis, martyr of Alexandria, S00125), datable to the 4th century.

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posted on 2017-03-30, 00:00 authored by gschenke
Martyrdom of Phileas, bishop of Thmuis

There are two fragmentary texts of the Greek Martyrdom of Phileas of Thmuis: P.Chester Beatty XV and P.Bodmer XX .

P.Chester Beatty XV is missing the beginning (preserved in the Coptic manuscript, see E00349) and the end, while P.Bodmer XX begins with a short summary of the ongoing trial and then reports on day five, the final day of the trial; though here too the end is missing.

The trial takes place in Alexandria and is conducted by the prefect of Egypt Clodius Culcianus (303–306, PLRE I, p. 233) who tries to reason with the bishop, discussing his responsibility for others and the nature of religion. The dialogue between prefect and bishop is very similar in both versions, a calm and engaging discussion on the nature of the Christian faith in which the prefect asks question and the bishop instructs him on who Jesus was and what Paul the Apostle did, on resurrection, and on the laws of God.

P.Chester Beatty XV
The preserved text starts with Phileas explaining why he would not sacrifice to the pagan gods. He argues back and forth with Culcianus, his prosecutor, discussing the nature of sacrifice and resurrection, the superiority of Paul's teachings over Plato's and other philosophers'. Being a bishop, Phileas offers to instruct Culcianus, but the latter tries to redirect him to sacrifice. When Phileas rejects this again, the prefect reminds him of his responsibility towards his wife and children, and congregational brothers. Phileas brings up Socrates who accepted the hemlock walking away from his wife and children. The prefect's questions offer an opportunity for the bishop to explain the Christian belief and teaching. Finally, Phileas demands that Culcianus grant him the favour of martyrdom. The prefect reminds him of his position and responsibility towards others who depend on him, in fact an entire province. The bishop, however, insists on becoming a co-heir of Christ and is taken out to be beheaded. The text then becomes even more fragmentary, so it is impossible to know whether anything miraculous was described to have taken place before or after his death. Generally, a complete lack of menace or brutality on the side of the prefect is noteworthy. From what is preserved, the prefect sounds civil, fair and interested in what the bishop has to say with respect to his religion and beliefs. The pages following the martyrdom in the codex offer Psalms 1–4.

P.Bodmer XX
The beginning of the text reports on Phileas having been mistreated during the earlier days of his trial and having been put in chains and into prison, first in his local town Thmuis and then in Alexandria. But when brought before the prefect, physical or verbal violence does not play any role in their interaction.

The text begins as follows:

Ἀπολογία Φ[ι]λέου ἐπισκόπου Θμούεως, ἄρχ[ον]τος δὲ Ἀλεξανδρείας, πέμ[π]τον προσαχθέντος καὶ μετέπειτα

'The defence speech of Phileas, bishop of Thmuis and ruler of Alexandria, when he appeared for the fifth time in court and was thenceforth consummated.'

The second column continues as follows:

ὑβρισθεὶς [κα]ὶ πληγὰς λ[αβὼ]ν οὐκ ἐστρά[φη]. ὁμοίως κ[α]ὶ τῇ τρίτῃ καὶ τε[τάρ]τῃ προελεύσει μετὰ πο[λλὰ]ς ὕβρεις καὶ πλη[γὰς] ἤκουσεν ὁ Φιλέας · Πολλοὺς ἀπέκτεινας μὴ θύσας· Πιέριος πολλοὺς ἔσωσεν ὑποταγείς. τὸ π[έμ]πτον κληθεὶς ἅμα τῷ σὺ[ν αὐ]τῷ ἱερατείῳ τὸν ἀριθμὸν εἴκοσιν, ἤκουσεν ὁ Φιλέα[ς] παρ[ὰ] τοῦ ἡγεμόνος· δύνῃ
λοι[πὸν σεσωφρον]ηκέναι;
Φιλέας ε[ἶπεν· Ἀεὶ σωφρο]νῶ καὶ ἐν σωφρο[σύνῃ γυμν]άζομαι. ὁ ἡγέμω[ν εἶπεν· Θεοῖς θῦσον.
Φι]λέας εἶπεν· Οὐ [θύω.]

'Though insulted and beaten, he did not flinch. Similarly at his third and fourth appearance, after many insults and blows, Phileas was told: "You have killed many men by not sacrificing. Pierios saved many by submitting."
Summoned for a fifth time, together with the clergy who were with him to the number of twenty, Phileas was asked by the prefect: "Can you now be reasonable?"
Phileas answered: "I am always reasonable, and I exercise myself in good sense."
"Sacrifice to the gods," said the prefect.
"I will not," said Phileas.'

The dialogue that follows between prefect and bishop is roughly the same as in P.Chester Beatty XV. And here too the actual martyrdom is missing.

Text and translation: Musurillo 1972. Summary: Gesa Schenke.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Phileas, bishop of Thmuis (Lower Egypt), martyred in Alexandria, ob. 303/313 : S00125

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Late antique original manuscripts - Papyrus codex


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Alexandria Thmuis

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

Alexandria Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis Thmuis Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts


Two Greek manuscripts of the Acta Phileae, P.Bodmer XX and P.Chester Beatty XV are known. Both come from papyrus codices produced in the earlier 4th century, datable palaeographically. The two versions are not identical, but very similar, save for a different beginning. It is believed that neither is in any way dependent on the other. Instead both are assumed to draw from extracts of the official court hearing, produced in AD 306 or later. P.Bodmer XX is believed to date from before AD 350, P.Chester Beatty XV from the first half of the 4th century (see Pietersma, 23).


For the Coptic and Latin manuscripts of the Martyrdom of Phileas of Thmuis, see E00349 and E02632.


Greek Text with Introduction and Translation: Musurillo, H., Acts of the Christian Martyrs, vol. 2 (Oxford, 1972), xlvi–xlviii and 328–344. Editions: Pietersma, A., The Acts of Phileas Bishop of Thmuis (Including Fragments of the Greek Psalter), P.Chester Beatty XV (With a New Edition of P.Bodmer XX and Halkin's Latin Acta), edited with Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Cahiers d'orientalisme VII; Geneva, 1984). Martin, V., Papyrus Bodmer XX. Apologie de Philéas, éveque de Thmuis (Cologny–Genève, 1964).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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