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E02791: The Greek Martyrdom of *Sergios and *Bakchos (soldiers and martyrs of Rusafa and Barbalissos, S00023, S00079), of the mid- to late 5th c., recounts the martyrdom of two soldiers in Euphratensis (Syria/Mesopotamia), mentioning their cave shrines in Barbalissos and Rusafa/Resapha, the building of the church of Sergios, and his feast on 7 October. The saint prevents the theft of his relics, and healing miracles and the taming of animals occur at Sergios’ shrine. Probably written in Euphratensis.

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posted on 2017-05-10, 00:00 authored by erizos
Martyrdom of Sergios and Bakchos (BHG 1624)


1-3. Under the emperor Maximian, paganism prevails in the world. Sergios and Bakchos excel as soldiers of the schola gentilium at the imperial palace. Sergios is a primicerius and, as a personal friend of Maximian, he intercedes for the appointment of his friend Antiochos as dux of the province of Augusta Euphratensis. Bakchos is a secundocerius and the two of them are very close friends, good soldiers trained in the Scriptures and the martial arts. At the instigation of an envious demon, they are betrayed to the emperor as Christians.

4-6. In order to find out if the accusation is true, Maximian goes to the temple of Zeus to offer a sacrifice, followed by his troops. Sergios and Bakchos do not enter, but stay outside the shrine and pray. Maximian summons them into the temple and demands that they offer sacrifice, but they refuse to.

7-10. Maximian orders that the martyrs be stripped of their military insignia (chlamys, belt, and the torques known as maniakia), dressed like women and taken fettered through the city to the palace. While being carried through the marketplace, the saints thank God for their martyrdom and for the fact that he has dressed them like brides. At the palace, Maximian reprimands them for believing in Christ, the illegitimate son of a carpenter, instead of the gods who were born of legitimate marriages. The saints reply that Christ is the true god who made the world and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Maximian decides to send them to the dux Antiochos in order to be tortured.

11-12. Maximian writes to Antiochos instructing that Sergios and Bakchos be tortured and killed, unless they apostatise, in which case, they should be restored to their military offices. The guards take the martyrs twelve miles outside the city, and they spend the night at an inn, where the saints have a vision of an angel encouraging them to endure till their victory. The saints get up early in the morning and continue their journey joyfully singing. They are followed by their servants.

13-15. Constantly changing guards along the way, the saints are taken to the province of Augusta Euphratensis, and reach the fort of Barbalissos on the limes (frontier zone) of the Saracens. There, the guards meet Antiochos and hand him the saints and the emperor’s letter. Antiochos has Sergios and Bakchos imprisoned. The saints spend the evening singing psalms and at night they have a vision of an angel encouraging them.

16-17. Next morning, they are presented to Antiochos who invites them to comply with the emperor’s orders. He acknowledges his gratitude to Sergios for his earlier benefaction. The martyrs refuse to sacrifice and invite Antiochos to treat them as he has been ordered to.

18. Antiochos reproaches them for their impure religion, and they return the accusation. Sergios is taken to prison, while Bakchos is heavily flogged and beaten, till he is covered in blood and his belly is torn apart. Bakchos declares that, although he was physically destroyed, he was spiritually renewed in eternal life.

19. The voice of Christ is heard from heaven, welcoming Bakchos, who dies, after a long beating. Antiochos orders that his body should not be buried, but thrown outside the fortress. Vultures fly over frightening away beasts that come to devour the body. In the evening, local Christians collect the body and bury it in a cave. The wild beasts join in the funeral.

The passage reads as follows:

19. (……) Τοῦ δὲ λειψάνου ῥιφέντος μήκοθεν τοῦ κάστρου, συναχθὲν πλῆθος θηρίων περιεκύκλωσαν αὐτό. Τὰ δὲ ὄρνεα ἄνωθεν ἱπτάμενα οὐκ εἴων τὰ αἱμοβόρα θηρία ἅπτεσθαι αὐτοῦ. Καὶ παρέμειναν φυλάττοντα αὐτὸ ἄχρις ἑσπέρας βαθείας. Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης κατελθόντες τινὲς τῶν ἐκεῖσε οἰκούντων ἀδελφῶν ἐν τοῖς σπηλαίοις ἐπῆραν τὸ λείψανον τοῦ ἁγίου προπεμπόμενον ὑπὸ τῶν θηρίων ὥσπερ ὑπό τινων λογικῶν ἀνθρώπων. Καὶ ἔθαψαν αὐτὸ ἐν ἑνὶ τῶν σπηλαίων αύτῶν (…).

19. (……) ‘As the body (leipsanon) [of Bakchos] was thrown far from the fortress [of Barbalissos], a multitude of beasts surrounded it. Vultures, however, flying over it, did not let the blood-thirsty beasts touch it. And they continued to guard it till late in the afternoon. And when evening fell, some of the brethren living in the local caves came down and collected the body of the saint, while beasts accompanied it walking before them like reasonable humans. And they buried it in one of their caves (…).’

20-22. Sergios is deeply distressed by the death of his friend. At night, Bakchos appears to Sergios, with his face shining like an angel and wearing his military habit. He encourages him and they pray and sing psalms together. Sergios recounts the vision to his companions. The dux announces that he is going to the fort of Sura and orders that Sergios be taken there too. Sergios insists on refusing to offer sacrifice. At Sura, Antiochos attempts to convince Sergios to sacrifice, which he refuses to.

23. Antiochos orders that Sergios be made to run in front of the carriage as far as the fort of Tetrapyrgia, 9 miles away from Sura, wearing boots with large nails piercing his feet. While running, Sergios sings psalms. At Tetrapyrgia Antiochos expresses his surprise at Sergios’ endurance during the torture. Sergios replies that the tortures of martyrdom are sweet. Antiochos has a meal, while Sergios is kept guarded.

24-25. Sergios sings psalms and, around midnight, an angel appears and heals his feet. Next day, Antiochos sees him walking normally and suspects that he is a magician. Sergios insists on his refusal to sacrifice and denounces the pagan religion as magic. Antiochos sits on his carriage and orders that Sergios be taken to the fort of Rosaphon (Rusafa), wearing the same boots with nails.

26-28. At Rosaphon, Sergios again refuses to apostatise and Antiochos condemns him to death by the sword. The martyr is taken to the site of executions, followed by a great crowd that bewails his youth and beauty. The beasts of the area appear and, without harming anyone, they offer their speechless lamentation for the martyr’s death. Sergios offers up his last prayers, requesting from God the conversion of the people to Christianity, and commends his spirit to God. He is decapitated and Christ’s voice is heard welcoming the martyr into heaven. A huge chasm opens on the site which received the martyr’s blood and can still be seen today.

29. Some of the people attending bury the body of Sergios on the same site. A long time later, people from Sura attempt to steal it, but the martyr intervenes to prevent them: a great flame blazes over the site, illuminating the dark night and notifying the soldiers of Rosaphon, who chase off the marauders. The latter request to be allowed to stay for a few days and beautify the saint’s tomb by building a monument and shelter with stones and mud.

30. As the Christian faith advances, a group of fifteen bishops come to Rosaphon and build a grand shrine (martyrion) within the fort, where they transfer the saint’s relics on the date of his martyrdom, 7 October. Several miracles occur wherever there are relics of Sergios, but especially at his original resting place. People get healed of illnesses and demons. Every year on Sergios’ feast, the beasts of the desert become tame and gather around his shrine, without harming the people.

The last three paragraphs of the text read as follows:

28. (...) Ὁ δὲ τόπος ὁ δεξάμενος τὸ αἷμα τοῦ ἁγίου μάρτυρος σχισθεὶς ἀπετέλεσεν χάος μέγα, τοῦ θεοῦ οὕτως οἰκονομήσαντος ὥστε τοὺς δίκην χοίρων τῷ ἑλληνισμῷ ἐγκυλινδουμένους βορβόρῳ, φόβῳ τοῦ ὁρωμένου χάους, μὴ τολμᾶν προσεγγίζειν καὶ καταπατεῖν σὺν τῷ τόπῳ τὸ αἷμα τοῦ μάρτυρος. Καὶ τότε μὲν ταύτης τῆς αἰτίας ἔνεκεν γέγονεν τὸ παμμέγεθες ἐκεῖνο χάος, μέχρι δὲ τοῦ παρόντος ἔμεινεν ὁ τόπος οὗτος φέρων τῆς παλαιότητος τὰ γνωρίσματα προστάγματι θεοῦ, ὥστε τοῖς ἀπιστοῦσιν ὄψει παριστάμενον τὸ θαῦμα πάγειον ἑαυτοῖς οἰκοδομῆσαι τὸν τῆς πίστεως θεμέλιον.

29. Τινὲς δὲ τῶν συνελθόντων εἰς τὴν θέαν τής τελειώσεως τοῦ ἁγίου μάρτυρος πρὸς τὸ κοινὸν τῆς φύσεως ἀφορῶντες, συστείλαντες τὸ λείψανον καὶ ἐνταφιάσαντες καλῶς ἔθαψαν ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ τόπῳ ἔνθαν ἦν τελειωθεὶς ὁ ἅγιος. Μετὰ δὲ χρόνον πολὺν ζήλῳ τῆς περὶ τὸν Χριστὸν εὐσεβείας φερόμενοι εὐλαβεῖς τινες ἄνδρες ληστρικὸν εὐσεβίας μεταχειρισάμενοι τρόπον ἀποσυλῆσαι ἐπεχείρησαν τὸ λείψανον τοῦ τόπου, παραγενόμενοι ἀπὸ Σουρῶν τοῦ κάστρου, ὥσπερ τινὰ πολύτιμον θησαυρόν. Ὁ δὲ ἅγιος οὐ συνεχώρησεν κρυφῇ μετενεχθῆναι τὸ σῶμα ὅπερ δημοσίᾳ ὑπὲρ τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως θριαμβευόμενον καὶ πανταχοῦ περιφερόμενον ἐμαστίζετο, ἀλλ’ ἱκέτευσεν τὸν Θεὸν πῦρ ἀναφθῆναι ἐν τῷ τόπῳ, οὐχ ἵνα τοὺς κλέψαι βουλομένους ἀμείψηται ἢ καταφλέξῃ, ἀλλ’ ἵνα τὸ ζοφῶδες τῆς νυκτὸς φωτίσαντα κατάδηλον τὴν κλοπὴν τοῖς ἐν Ῥοσαφὼν τῷ κάστρῳ γενέσθαι παρασκευάσῃ, ὅπερ καὶ γέγονεν. Ἀναφθέντος γὰρ τοῦ πυρὸς ἐν τῷ τόπῳ ἔνθα ἔκειτο ὁ ἅγιος, θεασάμενοί τινες τῶν ἔνδον οἰκούντων στρατιωτῶν τὴν μέχρι τοῦ οὐρανοῦ φθάσασαν φλόγα, νομίσαντες ὑπό τινων πολεμίων τὴν παμμεγέθη πυρκαιὰν γεγενῆσθαι, ἐξῆλθον ἔνοπλοι καὶ ἀπεδίωκον τοὺς προεπιχειρήσαντας κλέψαι τοῦ ἁγίου τὸ λείψανον. Οἱ δὲ παρακαλέσαντες αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖσαι παραμεῖναι ἡμέρας τινὰς καὶ οἰκοδομήσαντες ἐκ λίθων καὶ πηλοῦ τὸ μνῆμα ἔνθα ἔκειτο καὶ στεγάσαντες ἄνωθεν εἰς τιμὴν τοῦ ἁγίου μάρτυρος, οὕτως ἀνεχώρησαν.

30. Κατὰ μέρος δὲ προκοπτούσης τῆς περὶ τὸν σωτῆρα καὶ κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν εὐσεβείας, κατὰ τοῦτο γενόμενοι ἁγιώτατοί τινες ἐπίσκοποι τὸν ἀριθμὸν δεκαπέντε καὶ οἰκοδομήσαντες ἔνδον τοῦ κάστρου Ροσαφὼν μαρτύριον ἄξιον τῆς ὁμόλογίας αὐτοῦ, μετήνεγκαν τοῦ ἁγίου τὸ λείψανον καὶ κατέθεντο αὐτὸ ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ μαρτυρίῳ κατ’αυτὴν τὴν ἡμέραν ἐν ᾗ ἦν τελειωθεὶς μηνὶ Ὀκτωβρίῳ ζ. Πολλὰ δὲ σημεῖα καὶ ἱάσεις ἐπιτελοῦνται πανταχοῦ μὲν ὅπου ἐστὶν ἅγιον αὐτοῦ λείψανον, μάλιστα δὲ ἐν τῷ μνήματι ἔνθα ἔκειτο τὸ πρότερον· σχέσει γὰρ τῆς ἐν τῷ τόπῳ τελειώσεω


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sergios, martyr in Syria, ob. 303-311 : S00023 Bakchos, martyr in Barbalissos (Syria), ob. c. 303-311 : S00079

Saint Name in Source

Σέργιος Βάκχος

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 Mesopotamia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Resapha-Sergiopolis Barbalissos

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

Resapha-Sergiopolis Thabbora Thabbora Barbalissos Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Verbal images of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle after death Miracles experienced by the saint Specialised miracle-working Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracle with animals and plants Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Exorcism Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Pagans Soldiers Officials Monarchs and their family Foreigners (including Barbarians) Crowds Angels Slaves/ servants

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Unspecified relic Theft/appropriation of relics Construction of cult building to contain relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


The Martyrdom of Sergios and Bakchos is known from 19 manuscripts dating from the 10th to 16th centuries, on which see:


The Martyrdom of Sergios and Bakchos is our main source for the establishment and character of one of the most important cults of martyrs in late antique Mesopotamia and Syria. The date of the extant text cannot be defined with accuracy, but it appears likely that its origins go back to the fifth century. Its late antique date is indicated by its detailed references to the geography and military institutions of the Eastern Roman Empire. The account is placed in the province of Augusta Euphratensis, which was probably founded under the Tetrarchs and existed until the Islamic conquest. Euphratensis was a heavily militarised province, which included a part of the late Roman limes Arabicus along the Euphrates and the so-called Strata Diocletiana. The text appears familiar with the geography of the region, and cultural background of the militarised society of the frontier. The saints are supposed to belong to the schola gentilium, an elite unit of the palatine army, probably established under Constantine. These details suggest that the text cannot postdate the early seventh century and the Islamic conquest, which obliterated the political and cultural landscape of East Roman Euphratensis. Our text mentions the foundation of the intramural shrine of Rusafa (the author calls the site Rhosaphōn), the building of which signalled the official recognition of the saint’s cult and probably the establishment of his festival in the calendar of the local church. This is known to have taken place in the 420s or early 430s, when a monumental walled shrine was built by Alexander, the metropolitan of Hierapolis in Euphratensis. In c. 434, the Patriarch of Antioch John I (429-441) ordained a bishop at Rusafa, removing the shrine from the jurisdiction of Hierapolis (E02817). Our text certainly postdates these events and probably predates the promotion of Rusafa to the status of a city under the emperor Anastasius in the early sixth century, of which the extant passio appears unaware. It is, therefore, probable that the cult was organised with the building of the basilica of Rusafa in the 430s, and that our text was produced in its middle or second half. The re-foundation of Rusafa as Anastasiopolis (later renamed by Justinian as Ioustinianopolis and Sergiopolis) reflects the pinnacle of the development of the cult of Sergios in the early sixth century. At this point, two homilies concerning the saint were written by Jacob of Serugh (E02523) and Severus of Antioch (E00), both of which are based on the legend of Sergios known from our text. The Martyrdom of Sergios and Bakchos is a fine example and indeed one of the most extensive of the martyrdom accounts classified as ‘epic passiones’ (i.e. accounts of a highly elaborate, schematic and legendary character). It is directly comparable to the accounts of other soldier martyrs like *Theodoros of Euchaita, *Merkourios of Cappadocia, *Alexandros of Drusipara, etc., and in particular with passiones which construct the martyrdom narrative in the form of a journey, e.g. the passiones of Alexandros of Drusipara, *Viktor the General, *Kodratos of Bithynia, *Ioulianos of Cilicia, etc. The text follows the structure of other martyrdom accounts of the same group, presenting the saints as high ranking military men who refuse to participate in a sacrifice, precipitating the wrath of the emperor. Like these texts, the Martyrdom of Sergios and Bakchos establishes a close association with the geography of Euphratensis and the local topography of Rusafa and Barbalissos. The first part of the story unfolds at some indefinite place where Maximian’s court is supposed to be. Geography becomes concrete in the second part of the account, when the saints enter the territory of Augusta Euphratensis. The martyrdom proper is recounted following the road along the Euphrates and the Strata Diocletiana, from Barbalissos to Rusafa, via Sura and Tetrapyrgion. At the two ends of this route, Barbalissos and Rusafa host the two central shrines of the cult, perhaps being connected by a local pilgrimage route following the military road. The shrines of Barbalissos and Rusafa are described as rocky places at some distance from the forts proper. Bakchos is buried in a cave, while Sergios’ original resting place is described as a chasm or ravine. Our text informs us of the monumentalisation of the shrine of Rusafa, but says nothing about Barbalissos, where the cult may have continued being practiced at the original cave. The fact that the official recognition of the cult took place in the 420s or 430s, probably explains why the feasts of Sergios and Bakchos are not recorded by the earlier martyrologies (the Hieronymian and the Syriac one). Our text mentions only the feast of Sergios in Rusafa on 7 October, which is recorded in most of the later calendars alongside a feast for Bakchos on 1 October. The sequence of the two feasts fits with the account of the passio and may reflect the existence of a week-long series of celebrations starting at Barbalissos on 1 October and finishing at Rusafa on 7, after a ritual journey along the military road via Sura and Tetrapyrgion. The saints are described as miraculous healers, with a special power over animals, which are tamed on their feast day. The latter element, alongside the association of the cult with what is described as pristine rocky shrines, may be suggestive of influences from local non-Christian cults. Pagan influence is also suggested by the iconographic similarity of the imagery of Sergios and Bakchos with that of the so-called Palmyrene Triad, one of the most popular pre-Christian cults of the region, which must have been still alive and active when the cult of Sergios and Bakchos emerged. The final prayer of Sergios (requesting the conversion of all the people) perhaps reflects the central role of this cult in the process of Christianisation of the pagan population of the Barbarikon (the plain around Rusafa and Barbalissos). The shrine and cult of Sergios became popular among the Christian Arabs of the area (Ghassanids) in the sixth and seventh centuries. A distinctive aspect of the Martydom of Sergios and Bakchos, comparable mainly to the account of the probably earlier Martyrdom of *Polyeuktos (E02836), is its emphatic references to the love and inseparable friendship of Sergios and Bakchos, which was invoked in later Byzantine rites of fraternalization, and has been interpreted as implicitly referring to homosexual love (on which see Boswell 1994, 141-161). The possible association of the cult with homosexuality could also be related to influences from non-Christian cults, especially that of the Dioscuri.


Text: Van der Gheyn, “I. Passio antiquior SS. Sergii et Bacchi. Graecae nunc primum edita,” Analecta Bollandiana 14 (1895), 375-395. Translation: Boswell, J. The Marriage of Likeness. Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, London: Fontana Press, 1995, 375-390. Further reading: Key Fowden, E. The Barbarian Plain. Saint Sergius between Rome and Iran, University of California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1999. Walter, C. The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition, Ashgate: Aldershot 2003, 146-162.

Continued Description

ς ἐκδυσωπῶν τὸν Θεὸν, ὁ ἅγιος πάντας τοὺς συντρέχοντας νόσοις ποικίλοις ἐξεταζομένους ἱᾶται, ὀχλουμένους ὑπὸ πνευμάτων ἀκαθάρτων θεραπεύει, καὶ τὰ θηρία τὰ ἄγρια εἰς πολλὴν ἡμερότητα μεταβάλλει, τὴν γὰρ τῆς τελειώσεως αὐτοῦ κατ’ἔτος φυλάττοντα ὥσπερ τινὰ νόμον τὰ ἄλογα συντρέχοντα ἐκ τῆς πέριξ ἐρήμου καὶ συναστρεφόμενα τοῖς ἀνθρώποις οὐδένα τὸ σύνολον ἀδικοῦσιν, οὔτε μὴν τῇ τῆς ἀγριότητος ὁρμῇ εἰς βλάβην τῶν συντρεχόντων ἀποκέχρηνται, ἡπιότητι δὲ μᾶλλον τὸν ἅγιον μάρτυρα προσεδρεύουσι τῷ τόπῳ προστάγματι θεοῦ ὅτι αὐτῷ πρέπει δόξα, τιμή, κράτος, νῦν καὶ ἀεὶ καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.‘28. (...) The place which received the blood of the holy martyr was torn apart and created a great chasm, because God so provided, in order that those wallowing in the mud of Hellenism like pigs should not dare approach and step, along with the place, over the blood of the martyr. For this reason then that enormous chasm was created and that site has remained into the present, bearing the tokens of antiquity, by the order of God, so that by standing before the eyes of disbelievers it may build into them unshakable the foundation stone of faith.29. Some of those who had gathered to watch the death of the holy martyr, considering our common humanity, took care of the body and offered it a proper burial on the site where the saint had been executed. Now, after a long time, some pious men, coming from the fort of Sura, moved by the zeal of Christ’s true religion, employed a brigandish form of piety and attempted to steal the relic from the site, as if it had been a precious treasure. Yet the saint did not suffer that his body be secretly taken away – that which was publicly paraded for the sake of its faith in Christ and was scourged while being carried through every place. So he besought God that a fire be lit at the place, not that it should punish or burn those attempting to steal it, but rather illuminate the darkness of the night and cause the theft to be known to those living in the fortress of Rosaphon – which indeed happened. For indeed, when the fire was lit at the place where the saint was resting, some of the soldiers dwelling in the fort saw the flame reaching the sky and, thinking that a great wildfire was kindled by the enemies, they came out armed and chased those who had attempted to steal the saint’s relic. The latter, however, besought them to stay there for a few days, and, after they built with stones and mud the tomb where he was resting and set up a roof above in honour of the holy martyr, they left.30. As the true religion of our saviour and lord Jesus Christ gradually progressed, some most holy bishops, fifteen in number, came to the place and built within the fortress of Rosaphon a shrine (martyrion) worthy of his confession and transferred the saint’s relic and deposited it at the same shrine on the same day when he was finished, the seventh of October. Now several miracles and healings are performed at any place where there is a holy relic of his, but especially at the tomb where he reposed in the first place. For, by virtue of his death on that site, he implores God and heals all those who resort there, being troubled by diseases or harmed by impure spirits. And he transforms the wild beasts to great tameness, because the speechless animals keep the day of his death every year like a custom and, gathering from the desert all around and mingling with the people, they harm no one at all, nor do they display any of the aggressiveness of their wild nature against the visitors, but they rather sit by the holy martyr at his place in meekness – by God’s command, for to Him is due glory, honour and power now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.’Text: Van den Gheyn 1895.Summary and translation: Efthymios Rizos

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