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E03227: The Martyrdom of *Hyacinthus (deacon, perhaps martyr of Portus, near Rome, S01557 or martyr of Sabina, S01556) is written in Latin, at an uncertain place and date, by the 9th c. at the latest. It narrates Hyacinthus' trial and miraculously endured punishments; his persecutor Luxurius’ death, struck by a snake; Hyacinthus’ death by the sword and burial by the matron Iulia in her estate where favours abound. Borrows most of its narrative from E02089.

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posted on 2017-07-11, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Hyacinthus (BHL 4053)


The deacon Hyacinthus (Iacyntus) is handed over by Luxurius to the governor Leontius, who interrogates him. He learns that Hyacinthus is a servant of Christ. When instructed about the emperors’ order to offer sacrifice or be punished with tortures, Hyacinthus explains that he only fears eternal punishment and thus he will not obey. Luxurius tells Leontius that Hyacinthus has to be burnt and his body thrown into a torrent. Hyacinthus remarks that water, that has renewed him through baptism, will now make him a martyr, while Luxurius will be eaten by a snake, the Lord avenging his death.

Hyacinthus is thrown into the fire but it is extinguished, while he comes out of the torrent unharmed, on the shore where Luxurius is lying struck by a snake. Luxurius was riding on horseback alone to his villa for lunch and, resting for a while under a tree, was attacked by a snake which from his head entered inside his tunic and bit him all over his belly until reaching his heart. Before dying, he sees the martyr walking over water and chanting. What happened is told to Leontius who sends a scout (spiculator) with several soldiers to punish Hyacinthus with death. The soldiers bring him not far from the city near the via regalis and kill him there by the sword. A religious matron called Iulia, who is going to Rome at night with her servants, takes his body and buries it with great honour in the same place in her estate (praedius), so that her chamber (cubiculum) be near the tomb of the martyr, where favours abound.

Text: Mara 1964, 104-109. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Hyacinthus, martyr of Portus near Rome : S01557 Hyacinthus, martyr of the Sabina region (central Italy) : S01556

Saint Name in Source

Iacyntus Iacyntus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

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

Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Punishing miracle Miracles experienced by the saint Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracle after death Miracle with animals and plants Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Soldiers Officials Slaves/ servants Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Hyacinthus is an anonymous literary account of martyrdom written long after the great persecutions of Christians that provide the background of the narrative. It is part of a widely spread literary genre, that scholars often designate as "epic" Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, short and more plausible accounts, apparently based on the genuine transcripts of the judicial proceedings against the martyrs. These texts narrate the martyrdom of local saints, either to promote a new cult or to give further impulse to existing devotion. They follow widespread stereotypes mirroring the early authentic trials of martyrs, but with a much greater degree of detail and in a novelistic style. Thus they narrate how the protagonists are repeatedly questioned and tortured under the order of officials or monarchs, because they refuse to sacrifice to pagan gods but profess the Christian faith. They frequently refer to miracles performed by the martyrs and recreate dialogues between the protagonists. The narrative generally ends with the death of the martyrs (often by beheading) and their burial. These texts are literary creations bearing a degree of freedom in the narration of supposedly historical events, often displaying clear signs of anachronism. For these reasons, they have been generally dismissed as historical evidence and often remain little known. However, since most certainly date from within the period circa 400-800, often providing unique references to cult, they are an essential source to shed light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Hyacinthus There is one version of the Martyrdom, BHL 4053, found in 16 manuscripts according to the database Bibliotheca Hagioraphica Latina (, the earliest from the 9th-10th centuries: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f.93v-94r; Chartres, Bibliothèque Municipale 144 (506 5/B), f. 204r-204v; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palat. lat. 846, f. 122v.


The identification of the martyr Hyacinthus remains uncertain, particularly because the Martyrdom is extremely vague about topography and does not provide any reference to cult except the burial place, near a via regalis, on the matron Iulia’s way as she travels to Rome. Hrabanus Maurus, in his martyrology, identified Hyacinthus as the martyr of the Sabina region (S01556), while Ado considered that he was the martyr of Portus (S01557; see Quentin on all this). Mara also argues in favour of an identification with the martyr of Sabina. The Martyrdom is of uncertain date, but must have been written by the 9th century at the latest when it is found in manuscripts and borrowed in martyrologies. It is generally dated with uncertainty to the 7th or 8th centuries (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2198; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 71). The Martyrdom clearly borrows most of its narrative from the Martyrdom of Caesarius (E02089, dated before the early 8th century; more precisely from the short version BHL 1515), only replacing Caesarius with Hyacinthus, the persecutors Luxurius and Leontius, and Luxurius’ fate being narrated in exactly the same terms as in that martyrdom account. The end, however, about Hyacinthus burial by a certain Iulia, while following common narrative patterns for martyrdom accounts, is peculiar to our Martyrdom.


Edition (BHL 4053): Mara, M.G., I martiri della Via Salaria (Rome, 1964), 104-109. Further reading: Mara, M.G., I martiri della Via Salaria (Rome, 1964), 87-102. Quentin, H., Les martyrologes historiques du Moyen Âge. Étude sur la formation du martyrologe romain (Paris, 1908), 544-547.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity