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E02684: The Greek Martyrdom of *Babylas (bishop and martyr of Antioch), of the 5th c. or later, recounts the martyrdom by decapitation of the saint and *Three Children (S00319) in Antioch (Syria). Probably written in Antioch.

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posted on 2017-04-10, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Martyrdom of Babylas (BHG 205)


§ 1: The emperor Numerian sacrifices to demons and attempts to enter the church, but Babylas stands at the gate and prohibits his entrance. Numerian has him arrested.

§ 2: Next day, the emperor sits at the palace and summons Babylas. The latter warns him about his betrayal of God.

§ 3: Babylas continues his teaching about the true God.

§ 4: Numerian demands that Babylas offer sacrifice. They converse about the nature of god and man.

§ 5: Numerian orders the dux Viktorinos to put fetters on Babylas’ neck and legs. The saint gives thanks to God.

§ 6: Numerian calls Babylas a teacher of fools (νήπιοι/nepioi; the word is synonymous for a young child/toddler in Greek), and the bishop states that he is indeed a teacher of fools/children, and has three young children, being raised by him. They demonstrate great steadfastness in the faith.

§ 7: Numerian summons the children and their mother, Theodoule. The emperor has her flogged, but the children protest that she is of noble birth. They confirm that have been raised by Babylas. Theodoule reports that her sons are twelve, nine, and seven years old.

§ 8: Numerian threatens Babylas that he will have him decapitated unless he sacrifices. Babylas mocks the pagan gods.

§ 9: The three children are suspended for torture, while Babylas wears his heavy fetters. The children reproach Numerian for torturing Babylas.

§ 10: Numerian has Babylas closed in a cell, and talks to the children alone. They refuse to apostatise.

§ 11: Numerian interrogates Babylas about the children. He admits that they are his children in God, but not his natural children, because he has never been with a woman. Numerian demands that he apostatise and convince the children to do the same. Babylas threatens him that he will be defeated by the barbarians.

§ 12: Numerian resolves that Babylas and the children be decapitated. Babylas declares that he wishes to be buried with his fetters as a reminder of this tyrant. He is taken together with the children to his martyrdom, offering up prayers of thanks. The children are decapitated first, followed by Babylas. His head is buried with his chains.

Text: Papadopoulos-Kerameus and Latyshev 1907. Summary: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Babylas, bishop and martyr in Antioch, and his companions, ob. late 3rd c. : S00061 Three Children, martyrs of Antioch : S00319

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

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

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Children Ecclesiastics - bishops Officials Pagans

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Contact relic - instrument of saint’s martyrdom


This text is preserved in four manuscripts (9th c. to 16th c.), on which see: (accessed 11/04/2017)


This martyrdom account is the main survivor of the hagiography of Antioch’s martyr Babylas. The text reproduces a legend, elements of which were certainly known since the 4th century (E00095; E02671), but, as it stands, it is impossible to date. As its manuscript tradition starts in the 9th century, it must date from that century or earlier, and most probably is late antique. The main themes of the narrative were already known in the 4th century: the legend about the bishop reproaching the emperor at the gates of the church, and the martyr’s death in fetters are recounted by John Chrysostom in his tract On Babylas and against Julian and the Greeks (E02671), while his death together with the three boys is also mentioned by the same author in his homily On Iouventinos and Maximinos (E00069). The text as a whole is written in the style of the so-called epic passiones, with repeated lively and rather aggressive dialogues between the persecutor and the martyrs. A passage of interest is the following dialogue between Numerian and Babylas in § 11, which could be the vestige of an early text of the martyr’s acts: Νουμεριανὸς εἶπεν· «Εἰσαχθήτω Βαβυλᾶς.» Καὶ εἰσήχθη Βαβυλᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· «Ταῦτα παιδία σου εἰσιν;» Ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· «Τέκνα μου ἀληθῶς κατὰ θεὸν εἰσι, γυναῖκα γὰρ ἐγὼ διὰ τὸν θεὸν μου οὐ γινώσκω ἀφ’οὗ ἐγεννήθην.» Νουμεριανὸς εἶπεν· «Πῶς οὖν ἐοίκασί σοι έν πᾶσι;» Βαβυλᾶς εἶπεν· «Δι’εὐχῆς ἔχω ἵνα ἐν πᾶσιν ἐοίκασί μοι, παρεκτὸς τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν μου.» Numerian said: “Let Babylas be brought in.” And Babylas was brought in, and he said to him: “Are these your children?” And he said: “They are truly my children according to God, for I have known no woman, since I was born, for the sake of my God.” Numerian said: “How is it then that they take after you in every way?” Babylas said: “I do pray that they may indeed take after me in everything but my sins.” The Martyrdom of Babylas is one of the martyrdom accounts concerning Antiochene martyrs, which ascribe their stories to the reign of Numerian (283-284). This specific historical reference is somewhat puzzling, since this emperor is not known to have been an active persecutor of Christians, and in his times Antioch is known to have had another bishop. Eusebius (E00276) dates the martyrdom of Babylas to the reign of Decius (249-251). Caesar Baronius suggested that the emperor Numerian of the passiones was a misidentification of a dux called Numerius, who appears in other martyrdom accounts concerning the Decian persecution (Annales ecclesiastici, ann. 253, p. 607, § 126). Although the manuscript title places the feast of the martyr on 4 September, this seems be reflecting Middle Byzantine practice in Constantinople rather than an early festival. The text itself contains no reference to the date. Late Antique sources inform us that Babylas was celebrated on 24 January in Antioch.


Text: Papadopoulos-Kerameus, A.I., and Latyshev, V.V., Sbornik Palestinskoi I Siriiskoi Agiologii (St Petersburg, 1907), 75-84.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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