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E02836: The Greek Martyrdom of *Polyeuktos (soldier and martyr of Melitene, S00325), of the 4th/5th c., recounts the story of two soldiers and friends, the Christian Nearchos and the pagan Polyeuktos. The latter becomes a martyr. Probably written in Melitene (eastern Asia Minor), with a later appendix.

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posted on 2017-05-23, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Martyrdom of Polyeuktos of Melitene (BHG 1566-1567)

I. Preface (Aubé pp. 73-79)
The text starts as a homily, celebrating the defeat of paganism and the triumph of Polyeuktos, a man initially thought to be a pagan, who gave up human soldiering, in order to become a guardsman of Christ in heaven. Christ ordered him to take off his earthly chlamys (military cloak) in order to put on a precious one, worthy of God. Nothing distracted him from the faith – not his wife, children, property, military dignity, or human pride. Polyeuktos was married to the daughter of his persecutor who coerced all people to offer sacrifice. He used the pleas of his daughter and grandchildren in his effort to make Polyeuktos apostatise. It was God’s will that Poleuktos was made an officer in the army, because this proved him to be a true servant of Christ. The martyr stepped over the Dragon’s head and climbed up the ladder, just like Thekla the first martyr, and Perpetua. The last section of the preface finishes as follows:

p. 77
Ὧ μάρτυς εὐσεβέστατος διὰ πάντων (2) καθαρὸς καὶ ἅγιος τῷ Θεῷ. Ὧ μάρτυς τιμιώτατος οὗ πάντες ἡμεῖς τῆς μνήμης οὐ κορεννύμεθα. Ὧ θειότατος μάρτυς, ὡς ἀληθῶς πλείονα τὸν παρ’ ἑαυτοῦ κόσμον τῷ γένει δοὺς ἢ (3) παρ’ αὐτοῦ κομισάμενος. Ἐπάτησε γὰρ καὶ αὐτὸς τοῦ δράκοντος τὴν κεφαλήν, καθάπερ καὶ ἡ μακαρία (4) Θέκλα ἡ πρωτομάρτυς καὶ Περπετούια, ἣ τὴν χαλκὴν ἐκείνην καὶ οὐράνιον ἤκει (5) κλίμακα τὴν ἕως τοῦ Σωτῆρος ἀναβαίνουσαν (6), μακρὰν δὲ ταύτην καὶ ἕως τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τείνουσαν.
p. 78
Πάρεστι τοιγαροῦν σήμερον τής γενεθλίου (1) αὐτοῦ ἡμέρας τὰ σύμβολα καὶ ἀπολαύειν ἔξεστι τῶν ἐκείνου πράξεων (2), ἃ δὴ κηρύττειν ἐφ’ ἑκάστου πιστεύεται. Τί τοίνυν ἡμεῖς ἀντάξιον δῶρον τῷ μάρτυρι προσοίσομεν; Ποῖα χαριστήρια τῆς πρὸς (3) Θεὸν ἀγάπης προσάγοντες εὐγνώμονες ἂν νομισθείημεν; Χορεύσωμεν αὐτῷ, εἰ δοκεῖ, τὰ συνήθη καὶ τὰ πρόσφορα τῆς ὑποθέσεως τῆς ὑπ’αὐτοῦ (4) πεπραγμένα μνημονεύσωμεν, ἵνα εἰς ὑπόμνησιν τῶν μακαρίων αὐτοῦ ῥημάτων ἐλθόντες, ἐκείνου μὲν τῇ ἁγιωτάτῃ μνήμῃ κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς κοινωνήσωμεν, τὰς δὲ ἡμετέρας ψυχὰς ἐν ἀληθινῇ πίστει στηρίξαι δυνηθῶμεν.

‘O martyr, most pious through all things, pure and hallowed to God! O martyr most honoured, of whose memory none of us can have enough! O martyr most divine, who gives his race more honour from himself, than he earned from them! For he himself stepped over the head of the dragon, like the blessed Thekla, the first martyr, and Perpetua who climbed up that bronze ladder that led up to the Saviour, although it was long and reached as far up as heaven!
The signs of his Birthday then are with us today and we can enjoy his acts which it is our faithful custom to herald every year! Which worthy gift then shall we offer the martyr? Which gift of gratitude for his love towards God should we offer in order to appear grateful? Let us become a chorus for him, if you please, and perform the customary and appropriate commemoration of his account, in order that we may be reminded of his blessed words, partake in his most holy memory, according to the Scriptures, and that we may be able to support our souls in true faith.’

II. Martyrdom account (Aubé pp. 79-104)
Nearchos and Polyeuktos are very close friends and fellow soldiers. Nearchos is a Christian, while Polyeuktos nominally a pagan, but living according to the Christian faith. Decius/Dekios and Valerian order that those who offer sacrifice stay in the army, while those who don’t be killed. Deeply distressed, Nearchos stops eating and talking and worries Polyeuktos who asks him about his concerns. He replies that he is anxious about their imminent separation which will be caused by the impious decree. Polyeuktos does not understand and suspects that Nearchos may have been offended by one of his servants. He declares that he is ready to suffer anything, including death, for the sake of their friendship. Nearchos again tells him that they will be separated on the next day, and tells Polyeuktos about the imperial decree. Polyeuktos is excited and reveals to Nearchos that he has had the following vision: Christ came to him, removed his dirty chlamys, clothed him in a chlamys made of light and pinned with a golden brooch, and gave him a winged horse. Nearchos rejoices in the fact that Polyeuktos has recognised the true God. Polyeuktos admits that he always believed in Christ, hearing from Nearchos about Him, and that he despised the soulless idols. Nearchos sets forth the dilemma they are facing: they either have to apostatise or die; he fears that Polyeuktos, who is not yet a perfect Christian, might offer sacrifice. Nearchos regards the kingdom of heaven more important than military office. Polyeuktos reassures Nearchos about his faith, but is worried about the fact that he has not received the mysteries of Christian initiation. Nearchos reassures him that salvation can be obtained by pagans, if their faith is sincere, even without baptism. Excited, Polyeuktos urges Nearchos that they pursue their martyrdom. They come out and read the imperial decree, at which Polyeuktos spits and tears it into pieces. They meet a procession of idols, which Polyeuktos throws onto the ground.

There comes Polyeuktos’ father-in-law, Felix, who has been appointed by the emperors as persecutor. He declares that the son-in-law he was proud of is no more his son, and no one can save him from his hands, after what he has done to the gods. He threatens Polyeuktos that he has only one hour of life, and lets him see his wife for a last time before his death. Polyeuktos replies that Felix’s daughter (his wife) is without hope, unless she follows him in the faith. Felix concludes that Polyeuktos has become Christian, which the latter confesses.

Polyeuktos is beaten by the persecutors with vine sticks, but receives his blows with pleasure and has a vision of Christ. His wife, Paulina, appears and asks him how he has been involved in all this. Defiantly, he suggests that she converts too. Finally, his torturers decide to have him decapitated. Polyeuktos rejoices and tells his companions that he can see a young man talking to him and making him forget all human affairs. He asks Nearchos not to forget their secret pact, he prays, crosses himself, and is beheaded.

III. Appendix (BHG 1567, see $E02837)
Polyeuktos' body is buried in Melitene of Armenia on 9 January, a Wednesday. Nearchos collects his blood, covers it in a splendid cloth, and takes it to the city of Kana (?). His martyrdom account must be read twice a year, on 9 January and 25 December.

Text: Aubé 1882.
Summary and translation: E. Rizos


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Polyeuktos, soldier and martyr of Melitene, ob. 250/260 : S00325 Thekla, follower of Apostle Paul : S00092 Perpetua, Felicitas and their companions, martyrs in Carthage, ob. 203 : S00009 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Philorōmos, martyr in A

Saint Name in Source

Πολύευκτος Θέκλα Περπετούια Στέφανος Φιλόρωμος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor Egypt and Cyrenaica Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Melitene Qena Kana

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

Melitene Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Qena Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis Kana Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Saint as patron - of a community

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Pagans Unbaptized Christians Relatives of the saint Slaves/ servants Officials Soldiers

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Contact relic - cloth Bodily relic - blood

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Precious cloths


The text survives in 15 manuscripts of the 9th to 17th centuries: The text recorded as BHG 1567f in the saint's hagiographical dossier is in reality the Greek version of the Martyrdom of Philippos of Heraclea (E06837; a test otherwise only known through a Latin version), with the martyr's name replaced by that of Polyeuktos. This text is transmitted in a single manuscript, the ms. Patmiacus 273 (10th century), which contains a number of other such plagiarised texts (cf. E06221, E06826), most probably the handiwork of a single medieval scribe (Lackner, W., "Eine verkappte Hesychios-Passio," Analecta Bollandiana 88 (1970), 5-12).


This text is our main source for the character of a highly popular cult of the late antique East. The extant text can be divided into two parts, the first of which is written in the homiletic style of an encomium (laudatory sermon for a saint’s feast), while the second has the form of a martyrdom account. The first part may be a later addition secondarily collated with the original martyrdom account which may indeed go back to the late fourth century. The origins of the cult and legend of Polyeuktos are certainly early, predating the early 5th century, since his feast is recorded by both the Hieronymian and Syriac Martyrologies. There exist two Latin versions of the legend, the earlier of which has the form of a letter replying to the request of a western recipient for the story of Polyeuktos. It probably dates from the 5th or 6th centuries and recounts the same legend as our text, with some divergent details which could suggest the existence of a more extensive Greek prototype or the creative intervention of the Latin author (text in Aubé 1882, 105-114). There is also an Armenian version. The account of Polyeuktos has a special place in the history of martyr-related literature, since it differs markedly from that of a typical passio. Its scenes of interrogation and torture are very short, while the narrative focuses on the emotional dialogue between Polyeuktos and Nearchos. The description of the close relationship between them, comparable to the case of Sergios and Bakchos, has been interpreted as possibly implying homosexual love (Boswell 1994, 141-146). A striking aspect of the story is that only one of the two friends, Polyeuktos, becomes a martyr – a motif recalling the story of Demetrios of Thessalonike in its shorter version, where only one of the two protagonists is martyred. James Rendel Harris associated the cult of Polyeuktos with influences from the pre-Christian cult of the Dioscuri, a view later rejected by Hippolyte Delehaye. It seems probable that the legend of Polyeuktos comes from Melitene, as it echoes the cultural background of the militarised society of this major legionary centre – seat of the Twelfth Legion, Fulminata. The extant text, however, also points to a possibly Egyptian connection, echoed in the appendix, which associates the feast of Polyeuktos with that of the Alexandrian martyr Philoromos and mentions the existence of a shrine of Polyeuktos at the mysterious πόλις Κανανεωτῶν (‘city of the Kananeotai’). There are two possible candidates for the identification of this place: the city of Kanna in Lycaonia, and Qena/Maximianopolis in Egypt (see E02837). If the latter is the case, it would suggest that Polyeuktos was one of the several martyrs of Anatolia whose cult was transmitted to Egypt.


Greek Text with Latin and French translations, and two Latin versions: Aubé, B., Polyeucte dans l’histoire (Paris, 1882). Further reading: Boswell, J. The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (London: Fontana, 1995), 375-390. Delehaye, H., "Castor et Pollux dans les légendes hagiographiques," Analecta Bollandiana 23 (1904), 427-432. Rendel Harris, J., The Dioscuri in the Christian Legends (Cambridge, 1903). Walter, C., The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), 236-238.

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