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E04004: Socrates in his Ecclesiastical History reports that, in 358/359, bishop Macedonius of Constantinople had the sarcophagus of the emperor *Constantine (emperor, ob. 337, S00186) moved from the shrine of the Holy Apostles to the church of *Akakios (soldier and martyr of Byzantion, S00468) in Constantinople. The act caused a violent reaction among the people. Written in Greek at Constantinople, 439/446.

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posted on 2017-09-11, 00:00 authored by erizos
Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, 2.38. 35-44

35. (…) Ὁ οἶκος, ἔνθα ἡ λάρναξ, ἐν ᾗ τὸ σῶμα τοῦ βασιλέως Κωνσταντίνου ἀπέκειτο, πτῶσιν ἠπείλει. 36. Ἦσαν οὖν διὰ τοῦτο οἵ τε εἰσπορευόμενοι οἵ τε προσεδρεύοντες καὶ εὐχόμενοι ἐν φόβῳ πολλῷ. Ὁ οὖν Μακεδόνιος ἐβουλεύσατο μεταφέρειν τὰ τοῦ βασιλέως ὀστέα, ὅπως ἂν μὴ συλληφθείη ἡ θήκη ὑπὸ τοῦ πτώματος. 37. Τοῦτο γνόντες οἱ λαοὶ διακωλύειν ἐπεχείρουν, φάσκοντες μὴ δεῖν τοῦ βασιλέως τὰ ὀστᾶ μεταφέρεσθαι· ἴσον γὰρ εἶναι τὸ ἀνορύττεσθαι. 38. Διῃροῦντο δὲ εὐθὺς εἰς δύο τμήματα οἱ λαοί, καὶ οἱ μὲν μηδὲν βλάπτεσθαι τῷ μεταφέρεσθαι τὸν νεκρὸν ἔφασκον, οἱ δὲ ἀνόσιον ἔλεγον τὸ γινόμενον. 39. Συνήρχοντο οὖν καὶ οἱ τοῦ ὁμοουσίου φρονήματος τῷ γινομένῳ ἀντέχοντες. 40. Ὁ μέντοι Μακεδόνιος μικρὰ τῶν αὐτῷ ἀντιλεγόντων φροντίσας μεταφέρει τὸ σῶμα τοῦ βασιλέως εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, ἐν ᾗ τὸ σῶμα τοῦ μάρτυρος Ἀκακίου ἀπέκειτο. 41. Τούτου γινομένου συνδρομὴ τῶν διχονοούντων τοῦ πλήθους εἰς ἐκείνην τὴν ἐκκλησίαν σύντονος γίνεται, 42. ἀνθίσταντό τε ἀλλήλοις τὰ μέρη, καὶ μὴ μελλήσαντες χερσὶν ἠμύναντο, καὶ γίνεται φόνος ἀνθρώπων πολύς, ὥστε τὴν αὐλὴν τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἐκείνης αἵματος πλήρη γενέσθαι καὶ τὸ ἐν αὐτῇ φρέαρ ὑπερβλύσαι τοῦ αἵματος, ἐκρεῖν τε τοῦτο καὶ εἰς τὴν ἐχομένην στοὰν ἄχρι τῆς πλατείας αὐτῆς. 43. Τοῦτο τὸ ἀτύχημα πυθόμενος ὁ βασιλεὺς ὀργίζεται κατὰ Μακεδονίου διά τε τοὺς ἀπολωλότας καὶ ὅτι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ τὸ σῶμα παρακινῆσαι παρὰ τὴν αὐτοῦ γνώμην ἐτόλμησεν. Καταλιπὼν οὖν τῶν ἑσπερίων μερῶν φροντίζειν τὸν Καίσαρα Ἰουλιανὸν αὐτὸς ἐπὶ τὴν ἑῴαν ἐπορεύετο. 44. Ὅπως μὲν οὖν ὁ Μακεδόνιος μικρὸν ὕστερον καθῃρέθη, βραχεῖαν ἀντὶ τηλικούτων κακῶν ταύτην δεδωκὼς δίκην, ὀλίγον ὕστερον λέξω.

‘The building where the sarcophagus lay that contained the body of the emperor Constantine threatened to fall. Because of that, visitors and those staying and praying there were in much fear. Macedonius, therefore, wished to remove the emperor's bones, lest the coffin were caught in the collapse. When the populace heard about it, they endeavoured to stop him, claiming that the emperor's bones could not possibly be moved, for such a thing would be equivalent to their being dug up. And the public was quickly divided into two parties, some saying that the there was nothing wrong about moving the corpse, others calling the act sacrilegious. Those believing in the Consubstantial joined together in opposing the act. Macedonius bothered very little about those who complained, and had the emperor's body transferred to the church where the body of the martyr Akakios lay. As this was happening, members of the two rival parties of the crowd rushed turbulently towards that church. The two sides engaged with one another and immediately started fighting. And there occurred so much killing that the courtyard of that church was covered with blood, and even the well in it overflowed with blood which ran into the adjacent portico and thence even into the street itself. When the emperor was informed of this disaster, he was highly incensed against Macedonius, both on account of the victims, and because he had dared to move his father's body without consulting him. He therefore left the Caesar Julian to take care of the western provinces, and departed for the East. Now how Macedonius was shortly afterwards deposed, thus suffering a petty punishment for such great crimes, I shall relate shortly below.’

Text: Hansen 1995.
Translation: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Constantine the Great, emperor, ob. 337 : S00186 Akakios, martyr in Byzantion : S00468

Saint Name in Source

Κωνσταντῖνος Ἀκάκιος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Greek

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

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Heretics Monarchs and their family Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


Socrates ‘Scholasticus’ was born between 380 and 390 in Constantinople, where he probably spent his entire life. He was trained as a grammarian and rhetorician under the sophist Troilos of Side. From his work, Socrates emerges as a classically educated intellectual, and probably a member of the higher echelons of Constantinopolitan society. His only known work, the seven-volume Ecclesiastical History, was published between 439 and 446, very probably in 439/440. It covers the period from the accession of Constantine to 439, focusing on the Roman East and recounting the 4th century Christological disputes, the reign of Julian the Apostate, the conflicts that led to the deposition of John Chrysostom, and the beginnings of the Nestorian dispute. Socrates’ synthesis is defined by his loyalties to Nicene Orthodoxy, the Theodosian dynasty, and the Origenist tradition. He is markedly sympathetic to the Novatian community, of which he may have been a member, and is interested in recording information about several other sectarian Christian groups of his time. Although an Origenist, like John Chrysostom and his supporters, Socrates distances himself from the Johannite party. Socrates draws extensively on the Latin Ecclesiastical History of Rufinus of Aquileia for his account of the 4th century, which results in substantial overlaps between their works. In this database, we record only Socrates’ additions, and not the sections he reproduces from Rufinus. Alongside the recording of doctrinal disputes, successions of bishops, and victims of persecutions, Socrates was the first author to include a relatively systematic treatment of monasticism to the agenda of ecclesiastical historiography. It seems that he had access only to Greek and Latin sources, but not to the Syriac and other Aramaic hagiographies produced in this period in the East. The work of Socrates is the first of the three Orthodox ecclesiastical Histories published in Greek between 439 and 449. Within less than ten years of its publication, Socrates’ work was systematically reworked and expanded by Sozomen, and may have been known also to Theodoret of Cyrrhus. Socrates’ narrative overlaps extensively with both of these ecclesiastical histories. This boom in Greek ecclesiastical historiography may have been instigated by the publication in Constantinople of an Arian Ecclesiastical History by Philostorgius in 425/433, which survives in fragments.


Placed in the late 350s, the story recounted here by Socrates offers an important attestation of the extraordinary popularity and reverence of the memory of the emperor Constantine in Constantinople. The events took place while Constatine’s successor, Constantius II, was in the West, and the Church of Constantinople was run by Macedonius. Socrates recounts the episcopate of Macedonius in a negative light, as a period characterised by violence against the Nicene Christians. The removal of Constantine’s sarcophagus from his mausoleum was instigated by the danger posed by the building which, possibly after an earthquake, was about to collapse. The removal of the imperial sarcophagus to the basilica of Akakios, which was not far from the shrine of the Holy Apostles and still within the walls of the city, was an emergency measure, but caused a controversy and the passionate reaction of the two main Nicene communities of the time, namely the Catholics and Novatians. It is unclear how much this reaction can tell us about the Christian stance towards the remains of Constantine and the transfer of relics in general. The violence seems to have been partly caused by mere partisanship against the Arian bishop. Macedonius' decision to move the imperial sarcophagus to the basilica of Akakios suggests that this was already a prominent and important shrine. Located on the Golden Horn, perhaps in today's quarter of Unkapani (Berger 1988, 464-468), the martyr's church was one of the basilicas which Constantinopolitan tradition ascribed to the emperor Constantine I (Patria of Constantinople 3.1, 3.18, 4.1). The basilica of Akakios was also associated with the burials of two early bishops of Byzantium/Constantinople, Metrophanes (306-314) and Alexander I (314-326) (see Janin 1969, 14, 15; E00569), which suggests that it received episcopal burials already under Constantine. The location of the shrine, midway between Byzantium and the suburb of Blachernae, could plausibly have been the site of a pre-Constantinian cemetery. All these indicate that it was a revered site, explaining the bishop's decision to have the emperor's sarcophagus moved there. This passage may attest to a stricter attachment to the cult of relics among the Nicenes than among the broader Arian side. In the late 4th century, the strongest resistance to the cult of relics came from an Arian group, the Eunomians. One should also note two contrasting assessments of the popular devotions to the column and sarcophagus of Constantine by two church historians of the early 5th century: the Eunomian church historian Philostorgius denounces them as superstitious (E04194), while the orthodox Theodoret of Cyrrhus regards them as a proof of Constantine's holiness (E04152).


Text: Hansen, G.C., Sokrates, Kirchengeschichte (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte NF 1; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995). Translations: Zenos, A.C., "The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus," in: The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 2 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 1-178. Périchon, P., and Maraval, P., Socrate de Constantinople, Histoire ecclésiastique (Sources Chrétiennes 477, 493, 505, 506; Paris: Cerf), 2004-2007. Further reading: Bäbler, B., and Nesselrath, H.-G. (eds.). Die Welt des Sokrates von Konstantinopel: Studien zu Politik, Religion und Kultur im späten 4. und frühen 5. Jh. n. Chr. Zu Ehren von Christoph Schäublin (Munich: K.G. Saur, 2001). Berger, A., Untersuchungen zu den Patria Konstantinupoleos (Poikila Byzantina 8; Bonn, 1988). Berger, A., "Mokios und Konstantin der Große. Zu den Anfängen des Märtyrerkults in Konstantinopel," in: P. Leontaritou, K. Bourdara, and E. Papagianni (eds.), Antecessor. Festschrift für Spyros N. Troianos (Athens, 2013), 165-185. Chesnut, G.F., The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius (Atlanta: Mercer University, 1986). Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire Byzantin I 3: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1969). Leppin, H., Von Constantin dem Grossen zu Theodosius II. Das christliche Kaisertum bei den Kirchenhistorikern Socrates, Sozomenus und Theodoret (Hypomnemata 110; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht), 1996. Nuffelen, P. van, Un héritage de paix et de piété: Étude sur les histoires ecclésiastiques de Socrate et de Sozomène (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 142; Leuven: Peeters), 2004. Treadgold, W.T., The Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Urbainczyk, T., Socrates of Constantinople: Historian of Church and State (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997). Wallraff, M., Der Kirchenhistoriker Sokrates: Untersuchungen zu Geschichtsdarstellung, Methode und Person (Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte 68; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997).

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