University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E03602: A narrative of the discovery of the head of *John the Baptist (S00020) at Jerusalem and its translation to Emesa (Syria), is included in the Chronicle of Marcellinus Comes, written in Latin in Constantinople, 518/534.

online resource
posted on 2017-08-23, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Marcellinus Comes, Chronicle

VI. Vincomali et Opilionis
Iohannes praecursor domini et baptista caput suum, quod olim Herodias impia nefandaque postulatione ab umeris amputatum et in disco positum accepit proculque a truncato eius corpore sepelivit, duobus Orientalibus monachis ob adorandam apud Hierosolymam Christi domini resurrectionem introeuntibus revelavit, ut ad Herodis quondam regis habitaculum accedentes ammoniti requirerent fideliter humo extollerent. hoc ergo caput fide repertum suaque hispida in mantica conditum dum ad propria remeantes habitacula pervehunt, quidam Emetzenae figulus civitatis diutinam imminentemque sibi fugiens paupertatem sese his exhibuit comitem: quique dum nescius peram sibi creditam cum sacro capite portat, ab eo cuius caput vehebat noctu ammonitus utrumque comitem fugiens dereliquit, statimque Emetzenam urbem cum sancto levique onere introgressus est, ibique dum advixit, praecursoris Christi veneratus est caput moriensque sorori suae rerum nesciae signatum in vasculo tradidit recolendum. illa vero successori suo repositum signatumque ut erat dereliquit. porro Eustochius quidam occultus Arrianae fidei presbyter talem tantumque thesaurum indignus optinuit gratiamque, quam Christus dominus per Iohannem Baptistam infirmo populo tribuebat, is eam ac si suam dumtaxat in vulgo disseminabat. hinc pravitate sua detectus Emetzena civitate expulsus est. hoc deinde antrum, in quo beatissimi Iohannis caput in urnam missum sub terraque reconditum erat, quidam monachi pro habitaculo habere coeperunt. Marcellus demum presbyter totiusque monasterii praesul dum in eodem specu vita inreprehensibili habitat, idem beatus Iohannes Christi praecursor sese eidem suumque ostendit caput, ibidemque sepultum multis praefulgens virtutibus patefecit. hoc igitur venerabile caput sub Uranio memoratae episcopo civitatis per Marcellum praefatum presbyterum constat inventum Vincomalo et Opilione consulibus mense Februario die vicensimo quarto media ieiuniorum paschalium septimana, imperatoribus vero Valentiniano et Marciano regnantibus.

'6th indiction, consulship of Vincomalus and Opilio [= 453]
John, the herald of the Lord and his baptizer, revealed his head, which at an unspeakably horrible demand, Herodias had once accepted after it had been cut from his shoulders and placed on a dish, and buried far from his headless body; he revealed his head to two eastern monks entering Jerusalem to celebrate the resurrection of Christ the Lord, so that when they reached the place where the former king Herod lived they were advised to search around and dig the ground up faithfully. So while they were journeying back to their own places, carrying in their rough saddle-bag the head they had discovered by faith, a certain potter from the city of Emesa, fleeing the poverty which threatened him daily, showed himself to them as a companion. While, in ignorance, he was carrying the sack entrusted to him with the sacred head, he was admonished in the night by him whose head he was carrying, and fleeing both his companions he made off. He entered the city of Emesa immediately with his holy and light burden, and as long as he lived there, he venerated the head of Christ's herald. At his death, he handed it over in a jar to his sister, who was ignorant of the matter. She in fact left it to her heir, put away and sealed just as it was. Next a certain Eustochius, who was secretly a priest of the Arian faith, unworthily obtained this great treasure and dispensed to the rabble, as if it were purely his own, the grace which Christ the Lord bestows on his inconstant people through John the Baptist. When his wickedness was detected he was driven out of the city of Emesa. Afterwards this cave, in which the head of the most blessed John was set in an urn and reburied underground, became the abode of certain monks. Finally, when the priest and head of the monastery, Marcellus, was living a faultless life in that cave, blessed John, the herald of Christ, revealed himself and his head to Marcellus and showed that it was buried here, conspicuous by its many miracles. It is agreed therefore that this venerable head was found by the foresaid priest Marcellus while Uranius was bishop of the city mentioned. This was on the twenty-fourth day of February in the consulship of Vincomalus and Opilio, in the middle week of Lent, and the ruling emperors were in fact Valentinian and Marcian.'

Text: Mommsen 1894. Translation: Croke 1995.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Baptist : S00020

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Latin

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

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Heretics Merchants and artisans

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - head Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Raising of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Theft/appropriation of relics Privately owned relics


Marcellinus (PLRE II, 'Marcellinus 9') was an imperial official at Constantinople under the emperors Anastasius, Justin, and Justinian. The epithet Comes ('Count') is his official rank. He came originally from the province of Dardania in the western Balkans, and wrote in Latin. Marcellinus' Chronicle was a continuation of the chronicle of Jerome, covering events from the 370s to 518. It was subsequently updated to 534 by Marcellinus himself, and to 548 by an anonymous continuator. Marcellinus dates events by indictions (the fifteen-year tax cycle used in the later Roman empire) and by the consuls of each year.


This entry narrates the taking of the head of John the Baptist from Jerusalem to Emesa (Homs) in Syria, and its discovery there on 24 February 453. Marcellinus' entry is based on the account written shortly after the event in Greek by Marcellus, the Archimandrite of the Spelaion monastery at Emesa, where the head was found (E07072). This was later translated into Latin by Dionysius Exiguus (E06985), but Marcellinus' account is based on the Greek original (Croke 2001, 204). The year 453 is attested by other sources, including Marcellus' own account. The events narrated here constituted what is known as the 'Second Invention' of John's head. A different tradition held that John's head had been discovered in Palestine in the 4th century (the 'First Invention') and brought to Constantinople during the reign of Theodosius I (379-395): see E04052.


Edition: Mommsen, T., Marcellini v.c. comitis Chronicon, in: Chronica minora saec. IV V VI VII (II) (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores antiquissimi 11; Berlin, 1894), 60-108 English translation and commentary: Croke, B., The Chronicle of Marcellinus: Text and Commentary (Byzantina Australiensia 7; Sydney, 1995). Further reading: Croke, B., Count Marcellinus and His Chronicle (Oxford, 2001).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager