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E02781: Sozomen in his Ecclesiastical History mentions stories of visions indicating that the emperor Julian the Apostate was killed by two apostles or prophets. Another vision announced the death to *Didymos the Blind (ascetic and philosopher of Alexandria, S01370). Written in Greek at Constantinople, 439/450.

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posted on 2017-05-09, 00:00 authored by erizos
Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, 6.2. 1-8

Having recounted the death of Julian the Apostate during the war in Persia, Sozomen discusses the various explanations circulating with regard to his death. Some claimed that he was killed by a Persian or Saracen, but others insisted that the arrow came from the Romans. Then the author quotes a passage from Libanius (Or. 18 274 f.), stating that those desiring Julian’s death were the Christians (6.1).

(1) Καὶ ὁ μὲν Λιβάνιος ὧδέ πῃ γράφων Χριστιανὸν γενέσθαι ὑποδηλοῖ Ἰουλιανοῦ τὸν σφαγέα· ἴσως δὲ καὶ ἀληθές. οὐ γὰρ ἀπεικός τινα τῶν τότε στρατευομένων εἰς νοῦν λαβεῖν, ὡς καὶ Ἕλληνες καὶ πάντες ἄνθρωποι μέχρι νῦν τοὺς πάλαι τυραννοκτόνους γενομένους ἐπαινοῦσιν, ὡς ὑπὲρ τῆς πάντων ἐλευθερίας ἑλομένους ἀποθανεῖν καὶ πολίταις ἢ συγγενέσιν ἢ φίλοις προθύμως ἐπαμύναντας. (2) σχολῇ γε ἄν τις καὶ αὐτῷ μέμψαιτο διὰ θεὸν καὶ θρησκείαν ἣν ἐπῄνεσεν ἀνδρείῳ γενομένῳ. ἐγὼ δέ, ὅστις μὲν τῇ σφαγῇ ταύτῃ διηκονήσατο, πλὴν τῶν εἰρημένων οὐδὲν ἀκριβῶ. ὡς δὲ συμφωνοῦντες οἱ λέγοντες ἰσχυρίζονται, ἀψευδὴς λόγος εἰς ἡμᾶς ἦλθε κατὰ θεομηνίαν αὐτὸν ἀναιρεθῆναι· καὶ τούτου ἀπόδειξις θεία ὄψις, ἥν τινα τῶν ἐπιτηδείων αὐτῷ ἰδεῖν ἐπυθόμην.

(3) Λέγεται γάρ, ἐπεὶ πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐν Πέρσαις ὄντα ἠπείγετο, ἔν τινι χωρίῳ καταλῦσαι τῆς λεωφόρου καὶ ἀπορίᾳ οἰκήματος ἐν τῇ ἐνθάδε ἐκκλησίᾳ καθευδῆσαι, καὶ ὕπαρ ἢ ὄναρ ἰδεῖν, ὡς εἰς ταὐτὸν συνελθόντες πολλοὶ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ προφητῶν ἀπωδύροντο τὴν εἰς τὰς ἐκκλησίας τοῦ κρατοῦντος ὕβριν καὶ ὅ τι χρὴ ποιεῖν ἐβουλεύοντο. (4) ἐπὶ πολὺ δὲ περὶ τούτου διαλογιζομένων καὶ ὥσπερ διαπορουμένων ἀναστάντες ἐκ μέσων δύο θαρρεῖν τοῖς ἄλλοις παρεκελεύσαντο καὶ ὡς ἐπὶ καθαιρέσει τῆς Ἰουλιανοῦ ἀρχῆς ὁρμῶντες σπουδῇ τὸν σύλλογον κατέλιπον. (5) ὁ δὲ ἄνθρωπος, ὃς τῶν παραδόξων τούτων ἐγεγόνει θεατής, τῆς μὲν ὁδοιπορίας ὠλιγώρει λοιπόν· ὀρρωδῶν δὲ πῇ ἄρα τὸ τέλος ἐκβήσεται τῆς τοιαύτης ὄψεως, πάλιν ἐνθάδε καθεύδων τὸν αὐτὸν ἰδεῖν σύλλογον ἐξαπίνης τε ὡς ἀπὸ ὁδοῦ εἰσεληλυθότας, οἳ τῇ προτεραίᾳ νυκτὶ ἐπεστράτευσαν Ἰουλιανῷ, καὶ ἀναγγεῖλαι τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀνῃρῆσθαι τοῦτον.

(6) Κατ’ ἐκείνην δὲ τὴν ἡμέραν καὶ Δίδυμος ὁ ἐκκλησιαστικὸς φιλόσοφος ἐν Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ διατρίβων, οἷά γε τοῦ βασιλέως εἰς τὴν θρησκείαν διασφαλέντος περίλυπος ὢν διά τε αὐτὸν ὡς πεπλανημένον καὶ διὰ τὴν καταφρόνησιν τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν, ἐνήστευέ τε καὶ τὸν θεὸν περὶ τούτου ἱκέτευεν. (7) ὑπὸ δὲ τῆς μερίμνης οὐδὲ τῆς νυκτὸς ἐπιγενομένης μεταλαβὼν τροφῆς, ἐπὶ θρόνου καθεζόμενος εἰς ὕπνον κατηνέχθη, καὶ ὡς ἐν ἐκστάσει γεγονὼς ἔδοξεν ὁρᾶν ἵππους λευκοὺς ἐν τῷ ἀέρι διατρέχοντας, τοὺς δὲ ἐπ’ αὐτῶν ὀχουμένους κηρύττειν· «ἀγγείλατε Διδύμῳ σήμερον περὶ τήνδε τὴν ὥραν Ἰουλιανὸν ἀνῃρῆσθαι· καὶ Ἀθανασίῳ τῷ ἐπισκόπῳ τοῦτο μηνυσάτω· καὶ ἀναστὰς ἐσθιέτω.» (8) καὶ ἃ μὲν τεθέαντο ὅ τε Ἰουλιανοῦ οἰκεῖος καὶ ὁ φιλόσοφος, ὧδε γενέσθαι ἐπυθόμην. καὶ οὐδέτερος ἐν οἷς τεθέατο τῆς ἀληθείας διήμαρτεν, ὡς ἐμηνύθη ὕστερον.

‘(1) Writing such things, then, Libanius indicates that the slayer of Julian was a Christian – and this may be true. For it is not implausible to suspect one of the soldiers then serving in the army – after all, the Greeks and everyone until this day honour the tyrannicides of the past for having chosen to die in the cause of freedom or for having actively defended their fellow citizens, relatives, and friends. (2) Accordingly, one could hardly blame this man, if he displayed bravery on account of the God and religion he honoured. As for myself, I can find nothing certain with regard to who assisted in this murder beyond the things already set forth. Yet, as all testimonies unanimously assert, the indisputable tradition coming down to us is that he was killed by divine wrath. A proof of this is a divine vision which, I have been told, was seen by one of his associates.

(3) It is related that, as this man was hastening to join Julian in Persia, he stopped on his way and, since there was no other building available, he slept in the local church. There he saw, either in a dream or in a waking vision, many of the apostles and prophets assembled together, bewailing the offence the emperor had inflicted on the churches, and discussing what needed to be done. (4) As they were discussing this at length, failing, as it were, to find a solution, two of them stood up in their midst and called the rest to have courage. Declaring that they were hastening to destroy Julian’s rule, they left the company. (5) The man who saw this wonder hesitated to push on, fearing the outcome of such a vision. And when he lay down to sleep again in the same place, he saw the same assembly and the two individuals who had set off against Julian one night earlier suddenly arriving, as if from a journey, and announcing to the rest that he had been killed.

(6) On that same day Didymos, the ecclesiastical philosopher who lived in Alexandria – distressed by the emperor’s error in religion, both on account of his personal error and of the humiliation of the churches – was fasting and supplicating God about this matter. (7) In his distress, he ate nothing even after the night fell, and he fell asleep while sitting in his chair. And being, as it were, in a trance, he thought that he saw white horses galloping in the air, and their riders declaring: “Announce to Didymos that Julian was slain today, around that hour; let him inform of this Athanasios the bishop too, and let him get up and eat.” (8) So this is how the visions of Julian’s associate and of the philosopher took place, as far as I am informed. And, as it was announced later, neither of them was wrong about the truthfulness of his vision.'

Text: Bidez and Hansen 1995. Translation: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Apostles (unspecified) : S00084 Prophets (unspecified) : S00139 Didymos the Blind, ascetic in Alexandria : S01370 Merkourios, soldier and martyr in Caesarea of Cappadocia : S01323

Saint Name in Source


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

Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Punishing miracle Power over life and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Pagans Monarchs and their family


Salamenios Hermeias Sozomenos (known in English as Sozomen) was born in the early 5th c. to a wealthy Christian family, perhaps of Arab origins, in the village of Bethelea near Gaza. He was educated at a local monastic school, studied law probably at Beirut, and settled in Constantinople where he pursued a career as a lawyer. Sozomen published his Ecclesiastical History between 439 and 450, perhaps around 445. It consists of nine books, the last of which is incomplete. In his dedication of the work, Sozomen states that he intended to cover the period from the conversion of Constantine to the seventeenth consulate of Theodosius II, that is, 312 to 439, but the narrative of the extant text breaks in about 425. The basis of Sozomen’s work is the Ecclesiastical History of Socrates, published a few years earlier, which our author revises and expands. Like Socrates, Sozomen was devoted to Nicene Orthodoxy and the Theodosian dynasty, but his work is marked by stronger hagiographical interests, a richer base of sources, and different sympathies/loyalties. Sozomen probably lacked the classical education of Socrates, but had a broader knowledge of hagiographical and monastic literature and traditions, which makes him a fuller source for the cult of saints. Besides Greek and Latin, Sozomen knew Aramaic, which allowed him to include information about ascetic communities, monastic founders, and martyrs from his native Palestine, Arabia, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia, to which Socrates had had no access. Much like the other ecclesiastical historians of the fourth and fifth centuries, Sozomen focuses on the East Roman Empire, only seldom referring to the West and Persia.


In this chapter, Sozomen argues that the death of Julian the Apostate was the result of divine intervention, proving that opposition to the Christian religion means opposition to God. Having recounted the incident of the emperor’s death, the author surveys the information concerning Julian’s killer, which tends to suggest that the emperor was struck by a Roman, since no-one claimed the distinction from the enemy’s side. The author quotes Libanius who blamed Julian’s death on the Christians, and turns this accusation of high treason into a heroic act: it would be plausible to suspect a Christian soldier for such a murder which could be defined as a justifiable tyrannicide. Sozomen adds to his material some Christian legends about Julian, aiming to demonstrate that Julian’s fall was the result of the wrath of God and the martyrs. Although he does not mention his sources, the story about the ascetic Didymos the Blind of Alexandria clearly reproduces chapter 4 of the Lausiac History of Palladius of Helenopolis, which was one of Sozomen's source texts for monasticism. The account about the horsemen in the sky is very probably the Christianised version of the ancient Roman legend about the apparition of Castor and Pollux on the side of the Romans at the Battle of Regillus (496 BC), a classic motif of victory over tyranny. The vision of Julian's associate is the first attestation of a legend which apparently acquired substantial popularity. It reappears in the Armenian Epic Histories of P'awstos (Faustus of Byzantium), perhaps written in the 470s, where the vision features a council of saints, presided over by *Thekla (follower of Paul the Apostle, S00092), and concerned with the godless rule of the Arian emperor Valens who oppresses Basil of Caesarea and other saints. In that story, Valens is killed by *Sergius (martyr of Rusapha, S00023) and *Theodore (martyr of Euchaita, S00480). In the sixth century, the Syriac romance of Julian and John Malalas record the same legend attributing the martyr *Merkourios (martyr of Caesarea, S01323) with Julian’s killing. In that narrative, *Basil of Caesarea becomes the recipient of the revelatory vision (see E02775). The legend may be of inner Anatolian or Antiochene origins. Caesarea also seems to be the place of origin of another legend concerning Julian's youth and the hostility of the martyrs towards him (see E03590).


Text: Bidez, J., and Hansen, G. C., Sozomenus. Kirchengeschichte. 2nd rev. ed. (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte, Neue Folge 4; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995). Translations: Grillet, B., Sabbah, G., Festugière A.-J. Sozomène, Histoire ecclésiastique. 4 vols. (Sources chrétiennes 306, 418, 495, 516; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1983-2008): text, French translation, and introduction. Hansen, G.C. Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica, Kirchengeschichte, 4 vols. (Fontes Christiani 73; Turnhout: Brepols, 2004): text, German translation, and introduction. Hartranft, C.D. “The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Comprising a History of the Church from AD 323 to AD 425." In A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Second Series, edited by P. Schaff and H. Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 179-427. Further reading: Baynes, N.H. “The Death of Julian the Apostate in a Christian Legend,” Journal of Roman Studies 27 (1937), 22-9; reprinted in N.H. Baynes, Byzantine Studies and Other Essays (London: University of London Athlone Press, 1955). Chesnut, G. F. The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius (Atlanta: Mercer University, 1986). Leppin, H. Von Constantin dem Grossen zu Theodosius II. Das christliche Kaisertum bei den Kirchenhistorikern Socrates, Sozomenus und Theodoret (Hypomnemata 110; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996). Peeters, P. "Un miracle des SS. Serge et Théodore et la Vie de S. Basile dans Fauste de Byzance," Analecta Bollandiana 39 (1921), 65-88. Teitler, H.C. The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). Van Nuffelen, P., Un héritage de paix et de piété : Étude sur les histoires ecclésiastiques de Socrate et de Sozomène (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 142; Leuven: Peeters, 2004).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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