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E03564: The 5th/6th century Greek Martyrdom of *Philemon, Apollonios, Areianos, and Companions (martyrs of Antinoopolis, S00386), recounts the martyrdom of eight martyrs, referring to various extravagant details and miracles. Their shrine is at Antinoopolis (Middle Egypt), and their feast is held in the month Phamenoth (4, 7 and 16 March), and on 14 December. Probably written in Egypt.

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posted on 2017-08-14, 00:00 authored by erizos
Martyrdom of Philemon, Apollonios, Areianos and their companions (BHG 1514)


1. In the third year of Diocletian’s reign, *Asklas and Leoneides are martyred under Areianos, governor of the Thebaid. Areianos also has a group of 37 prominent Christians tortured and put to death. Among them was the reader Apollonios who lost his courage, seeing the torments. Apollonios calls Philemon, the governor’s flute player, and offers him four golden coins as a bribe, in order to go and offer sacrifice in his place, wearing his cloak. Philemon puts on the cloak and appears before the governor, with his face covered. He refuses to offer sacrifice and declares his Christian faith. The governor, without recognising him, summons Philemon, hoping that he could change the mind of the Christian by his music. Unable to find him, the soldiers bring Philemon’s brother, Theonas, who reveals the disguised Philemon to the governor. Areianos asks the crowd what he should do with Philemon, and they request to spear the man who entertains them with his music. Areianos threatens him with a death which will not count as martyrdom, because he is unbaptised. Philemon asks for somebody from the crowd to come and baptise him, but no one dares. He then prays and a cloud of water appears from heaven and baptises him.

2. Areianos summons Apollonios and reproaches him for having converted Philemon. He could have spared his life by confessing his cowardice privately. Apollonios confesses that he has made a mistake, but that this resulted in a blessing, since his cloak created a new Christian, and now he himself is ready to return to the contest of martyrdom. The guardsmen beat Philemon on the face, and the crowd is distressed to see their entertainer being harmed. Areianos orders that the nerves of the two martyrs’ legs be cut, and that both Apollonios and Philemon be dragged through the whole city. After that, the two martyrs are brought to the governor. Philemon asks that they bring him a bronze container and place a child in it. He then instructs them to fire arrows onto it. When they open it, the child is found intact, which shows that Christ will protect Philemon from all torments. Areianos orders that Philemon be hanged on an oak tree and shot with arrows, which however do not harm him. As the governor tries to check if Philemon is dead, an arrow strikes his right eye blind. Philemon instructs Areianos to heal his eye with earth from his tomb, after his martyrdom. Philemon and Apolonios are beheaded and buried together with Asklas and Leoneides.

3. Areianos comes to their tombs, and with a little dust heals his eye, which leads him to convert to Christianity. He brings precious clothes from his house and wraps the two martyrs’ bodies. He then orders the release of all the Christians held in gaol. His conversion gets known to the emperor Diocletian who sends guardsmen to arrest him. Areianos prays before the bodies of Philemon and Apollonios that he may accomplish his martyrdom. Their dead and enshrouded bodies reply, promising protection. Before departing he instructs his servants to go to Alexandria and collect his body after his martyrdom, and to place it next to those of Philemon and Apollonios. He predicts that he will be martyred by being thrown into the sea, closed in a sack full of sand, on 8 Phamenoth (4 March), and that he will be brought to the shore by a dolphin on 11 Phamenoth (7 March). In Alexandria, Diocletian invites Areianos to offer sacrifice to Apollo, but he refuses to. The emperor orders the soldiers to dig a deep well, and bury Areianos in it, bound in fetters and with a mill-stone. He then sets up his throne over the buried well, and orders the soldiers to play before him. When he later returns to his room, he finds Areianos with his fetters and mill-stone resting on his bed. Diocletian, enraged by the magic of Areianos, orders that he be drowned in the sea. Hearing the sentence, the guardsmen remember Areianos’ prophecy about his martyrdom and are converted to Christianity, requesting to die together with Areianos. They are all taken far into the sea and dropped into it. The five sacks with their bodies are taken ashore by a dolphin to the place near Alexandria where Areianos’ servants had been instructed to come and collect their master's body. They are perplexed to find five sacks rather than one, but the dolphin speaks and explains to them that the others followed Areianos in martyrdom, and that they should take them all to the shrine of Philemon and Apollonios. The bodies are taken to Antinoopolis by a boat sailing up the river, which stops miraculously at the city, while all the crew is asleep.

The text finishes by giving the feast date as 20 Phamenoth (= 16 March) in the Egyptian calendar, or 14 December in the Roman (probably a miscalculation).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Philēmōn, Apollōnios and companions, martyrs in Antinoopolis, ob. 303-305 : S00386 Asklas, martyr of Antinoopolis : S01467

Saint Name in Source

Φιλήμων, Ἀπολλώνιος, Ἀρειανός, Ἀσκλᾶς, Λεωνείδης Ἀσκλᾶς

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

Egypt and Cyrenaica

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

Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Punishing miracle Miracles causing conversion Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous protection - of people and their property Miracle with animals and plants Miraculous sound, smell, light

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Unbaptized Christians Pagans Monarchs and their family Torturers/Executioners Officials Other lay individuals/ people Relatives of the saint Soldiers Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Contact relic - dust/sand/earth Public display of relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Precious cloths


This martyrdom account records the legend of a major cult of martyrs in Upper Egypt. It can be confidently dated to the fifth century, since its Coptic translation has been found in fragments of sixth century papyri.


Another version of the same legend is recorded in the History of the Monks in Egypt in 395/7, with a number of interesting differences. Notably, our text ascribes the main role to Philemon, replacing and openly downplaying Apollonios who is portrayed as a rather reluctant martyr. Apollonios’ ascetic and wonderworking role is eliminated, and instead of a deacon he is now just a reader. The episode of the miraculous cloud is preserved, but it is dissociated from the episode of the fire where it appears in the History of the Monks. The fire scene may indeed echo a historical core in the story, with the two martyrs being burned alive. Yet, by the late fourth century, the two heroes were believed to have died in the sea with their bodies being miraculously brought ashore (like *Lucian of Antioch, *Basileus of Amasea, or *Ioulianos of Cilicia). By the fifth, when our text was composed, they die by beheading, after an attempt to execute Philemon by arrows (a motif made famous in the account of *Sebastian of Rome). Death in the sea is now reserved for the persecutor Areianos and the guardsmen. Areianos’ promotion to martyrdom is also remarkable, since he plays the persecutor’s role in several martyrdom accounts from the Thebaid. Finally, the text associates these martyrs with Asklas (documented by an independent Coptic account, BHO 111) and the otherwise unattested Leoneides. The account of Areianos wrapping the dead bodies of Apollonios and Philemon in precious cloths after their burial and the description of the relics of him and his companions as five sacks may echo practices of public display of relics wrapped in precious cloths, which is widely observed in the Coptic tradition into our days. The text includes three dates in the Coptic calendar, 8, 11, and 20 Phamenoth/Paremhat (4, 7, and 16 March), indicating the last as the feast of the three saints. It is unknown how the December date of their feast in the Byzantine calendar was defined. It is possible that this was a miscalculation or arbitrary change of the Middle Byzantine period. Philemon’s feast in March is also recorded in the 5th/6th - century mosaics of the Rotunda of the Thessalonike (E00597).


Text: Acta Sanctorum, Mart. I, 895-899. Further reading: Baumeister, T. "Der Märtyrer Philemon." In Pietas. Festschrift für Bernhard Kötting, edited by Ernst Dassmann and K. Suso Frank. Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum Ergänzungsband 8, 267-79. Münster: Aschendorfsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1980. Baumeister, T. Martyr Invictus; Der Martyrer als Sinnbild der Erlösung in der Legende und im Kult der frühen Koptischen Kirche. Forschungen zur Volkskunde. Münster: Regensberg, 1972, 101-108. Papaconstantinou, A., Le culte des saints en Égypte des Byzantins aux Abbassides. Paris: CNRS, 2001, 215.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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