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E02775: John Malalas in his Chronicle records the legend that *Merkourios (soldier and martyr of Caesarea, S01293) was sent by Christ to kill the emperor Julian the Apostate, and that this was revealed in a vision to *Basil of Caesarea (bishop of Caesarea, ob. 379, S00780). Written in Greek at Antioch or Constantinople, in the mid-6th c.

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posted on 2017-05-08, 00:00 authored by erizos
John Malalas, Chronographia, 13.25

At the end of his account of the reign of Julian, Malalas adds:

Ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ τῇ νυκτὶ εἶδεν ἐν ὁράματι καὶ ὁ ὁσιώτατος ἐπίσκοπος Βασίλειος ὁ Καισαρείας Καππαδοκίας τοὺς οὐρανοὺς ἠνεῳγμένους καὶ τὸν σωτῆρα Χριστὸν ἐπὶ θρόνου καθήμενον καὶ εἰπόντα κραυγῇ· ‘Μερκούριε, ἀπελθὼν φόνευσον Ἰουλιανὸν τὸν βασιλέα τὸν κατὰ τῶν χριστιανῶν.’ ὁ δὲ ἅγιος Μερκούριος ἑστὼς ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ κυρίου ἐφόρει θώρακα σιδηροῦν ἀποστίλβοντα· καὶ ἀκούσας τὴν κέλευσιν ἀφανὴς ἐγένετο. καὶ πάλιν εὑρέθη ἑστὼς ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θρόνου τοῦ κυρίου καὶ ἔκραξεν· ‘Ἰουλιανὸς ὁ βασιλεὺς σφαγεὶς ἀπέθανεν, ὡς ἐκέλευσας, κύριε.’ καὶ πτοηθεὶς ἐκ τῆς κραυγῆς ὁ ἐπίσκοπος Βασίλειος διυπνίσθη τεταραγμένος. ἐτίμα γὰρ αὐτὸν Ἰουλιανὸς ὁ βασιλεὺς καὶ ὡς ἐλλόγιμον καὶ ὡς συμπράκτορα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔγραφεν αὐτῷ συχνῶς. καὶ κατελθὼν ὁ ἅγιος Βασίλειος διὰ τὰ ἑωθινὰ εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καλέσας πάντα τὸν κλῆρον αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς τὸ τοῦ ὁράματος μυστήριον, καὶ ὅτι ἐσφάγη Ἰουλιανὸς ὁ βασιλεὺς καὶ τελευτᾷ ἐν τῇ νυκτὶ ταύτῃ. καὶ πάντες παρεκάλουν αὐτὸν σιγᾶν καὶ μηδενὶ λέγειν τι τοιοῦτον. ὁ δὲ σοφώτατος Εὐτρόπιος ὁ χρονογράφος ἔν τισι τούτων οὐχ ὡμοφώνησεν ἐν τῇ αὐτοῦ συγγραφῇ.

‘That same night Basil, the most holy bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, saw in a dream the heavens opened and the Saviour Christ seated on a throne and saying loudly, "Merkourios, go and kill the emperor Julian, who is against the Christians". Saint Merkourios, standing before the Lord, wore a gleaming iron breast-plate. Hearing the command, he disappeared, and then he re-appeared, standing before the Lord, and cried out, "The emperor Julian has been fatally wounded and has died, as you commanded, Lord". Frightened by the cry, bishop Basil woke up in confusion; for the emperor Julian held him in honour both as an eloquent man and as his fellow-student, and wrote to him frequently. Saint Basil went to church for the morning service, summoned all his clergy and told them of his mysterious dream, and that the emperor Julian had been fatally wounded and had died that same night. They all entreated him to be silent and to tell nobody of such news. But the most learned chronicler Eutropius did not agree with some of these details in his account.’

Text: Thurn 2000.
Translation: Jeffreys, Jeffreys, and Scott 1986.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Merkourios, soldier and martyr in Caesarea of Cappadocia : S01323 Basil, bishop of Caesarea, ob. 379 : S00780

Saint Name in Source

Μερκούριος Βασίλειος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia Constantinople and region

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 Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Malalas

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Oral transmission of saint-related stories

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Power over life and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous interventions in war

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Soldiers


The Chronographia of John Malalas (c. 490–c. 570) is a Christian chronicle of universal history, from Adam to the death of Justinian I (565). It appears to have been composed in two parts, the earlier of which focuses on the history of Antioch and the East, ending in c. 528 or 532. The second part focuses on the urban history of Constantinople up to the death of Justinian. Malalas is likely to have pursued a career in the imperial administration at both Antioch and Constantinople, writing the two parts of his chronicle while living in these two cities. Malalas was widely used as a source by Byzantine chroniclers and historians, including John of Ephesus, John of Antioch, Evagrius Scholasticus, the Paschal Chronicle, John of Nikiu, John of Damascus, Theophanes, George the Monk, pseudo-Symeon, Kedrenos, Zonaras, Theodore Skoutariotes, and Nikephoros Kallistou Xanthopoulos. The text of the chronicle is preserved in a very fragmentary form, based on quotations in other sources (notably the Paschal Chronicle and Theophanes), and on a Slavonic translation which follows a more extensive version of the original text. It is believed that we now have about 90% of the text. On the composition and manuscript tradition of the text, see Thurn 2000, and:


This passage is the first record in Greek of the popular legend about the martyr Merkourios as the slayer of the emperor Julian. The story seems to originate from one of the numerous legends concerning Julian’s death, which circulated almost immediately after the event itself. An early version of it, without Merkourios as its hero, is recorded by Sozomen in the mid 5th century: there, the vision appears to a companion of Julian and it features prophets and apostles; the death of the emperor is also revealed in a vision to Didymos the Blind, the Origenist ascetic and theologian in Alexandria (E02781). The connection of this story with Merkourios and Basil of Caesarea is first attested in the early 6th century Syriac Novel of Julian the Apostate. Our story establishes a link between Merkourios and another Caesarean saint, Basil, which could suggest that it was devised in Caesarea. It is a combination of legends about Julian’s death and of the historically accurate fact that Basil was personally acquainted with the emperor. Eventually, the miracle was integrated into the hagiography of Basil, (E00), but, quite remarkably, it was never added to the martyrdom account of Merkourios of Caesarea (E02774). This passage also provides an interesting example of the use of hagiographical legends as historical material by Malalas. The author recounts the story, most probably deriving it from oral traditions or anonymous hagiographical accounts, since he names no written source for it. Yet he warns his reader that it does not agree with his authoritative source for the reign of Julian, the chronicle of Eutropius.


Text: Dindorf, L., Ioannis Malalae Chronographia (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae; Bonn, 1831). Thurn, J., Ioannis Malalae Chronographia (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 35; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000). Translation: Jeffreys, E., Jeffreys, M., and Scott, R., The Chronicle of John Malalas: A Translation (Sydney, 1986). On Malalas: Carrara, L., Meier, M., and Radtki-Jansen, C. (eds.), Die Weltchronik des Johannes Malalas. Quellenfragen (Malalas-Studien 2; Göttingen: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017). Jeffreys, E., Croke, B., and Scott, R. (eds.), Studies in John Malalas (Sydney, 1990). Meier, M., Radtki-Jansen, C., and Schulz, F. (eds.), Die Weltchronik des Johannes Malalas: Autor, Werk, Überlieferung (Malalas-Studien 1; Göttingen: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2016). Treadgold, W.T. The Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 235-256. Further reading: Binon, S., Essaie sur le cycle de Saint Mercure. Martyr de Dèce et meurtier de l’empereur Julien (Paris: Librairie Ernest Leroux, 1937). Peeters, P., "Un miracle des SS. Serge et Theodore et la Vie de S. Basile dans Fauste de Byzance," Analecta Bollandiana 39 (1921), 65-88.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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