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E04186: Theodoret of Cyrrhus in his Ecclesiastical History recounts the victory of the emperor Theodosius I over the usurper Eugenius at the Battle of the Frigidus in 394, with the help of *John (Apostle and Evangelist, S00042) and *Philip (Apostle, S00109). Written in Greek at Cyrrhus (northern Syria), 444/450.

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posted on 2017-10-19, 00:00 authored by erizos
Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Ecclesiastical History, 5. 25 (24)

Hearing about the usurpation of Eugenius in Europe, Theodosius consults the ascetic Ioannes/John of Lycopolis in Egypt who predicts for him two victories, one bloodless and the second achieved after a great massacre. He sets off on his campaign, but his generals advise him to seek a truce and continue the war in springtime, because his forces are insufficient. He rejects the advice, saying that his troops are led by the cross, while the usurper’s are led by the image of Hercules. He spends the night praying at a chapel on a mountain and, around dawn, he has the following dream vision:

Περὶ δὲ ἀλεκτρυόνων ᾠδὰς ἐνίκησε μὲν ὁ ὕπνος τὴν γνώμην. ἐπὶ δὲ τοῦ δαπέδου χοῦ κείμενος ὁρᾶν ἐδόκει δύο τινὰς λευχειμονοῦντας ἄνδρας ἐφ’ ἵππων ὀχουμένους λευκῶν, οἳ θαρρεῖν τε ἐκέλευον καὶ τὸ δέος ἐξελάσαι καὶ ὑπὸ τὴν ἕω καθοπλίσαι καὶ τάξαι τὴν στρατιὰν εἰς παράταξιν· ἐπίκουροι γὰρ ἔλεγον ἀπεστάλθαι καὶ πρόμαχοι. καὶ ὁ μὲν Ἰωάννην ἑαυτὸν ἔλεγεν εἶναι τὸν εὐαγγελιστήν, ὁ δὲ Φίλιππον τὸν ἀπόστολον.

‘About cock-crow sleep overcame him. As he lay on the ground he thought that he saw two men in white garments riding white horses, who bade him be of good cheer and drive away his fear, and at dawn arm and marshal his army for battle. For, they said, they had been sent to help and fight for him. One said that he was John the Evangelist, and the other Philip the Apostle.’

The emperor descends from the mountain with his troops, and the usurper prepares his army for battle. Assuming that Theodosius is deliberately seeking certain death, Eugenius sets up his seat on a mound to watch, and orders that Theodosius be arrested and brought to him alive and fettered. Theodosius’ troops are way inferior in numbers. As they start firing arrows, a violent wind with dust blows against Eugenius’ troops, neutralising their fire, and allowing Theodosius’ troops to assail them easily. Seeing that God is on the emperor’s side, Eugenius’ soldiers surrender, they arrest the usurper and hand him over to Theodosius who has him executed.

Text: Hansen 1997.
Summary and Translation: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John, the Apostle and Evangelist : S00042 Philip, the Apostle : S00109

Saint Name in Source

Ἰωάννης Φίλιππος

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

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Kyrrhos/Cyrrhus/Hagioupolis Thabbora Thabbora

Major author/Major anonymous work

Theodoret of Cyrrhus

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous interventions in war Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Pagans Soldiers


Theodoret was born in Antioch in c. 393, where he received a formidable education before joining the monastery of Nikerte near Apamea in 416. In 423, he was consecrated as bishop of Kyrrhos/Cyrrhus. During the theological debates of the time, he emerged as one of the chief exponents of Antiochene Christology. The Second Council of Ephesus (449) deposed him as a supporter of Nestorius, of whom he was indeed a friend. He was restored to his bishopric by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. He is thought to have died in c. 460. His Ecclesiastical History was probably written between 444 and 450. It is uncertain whether the author consulted the slightly earlier ecclesiastical histories of Philostorgius, Socrates and Sozomen. He covers roughly the same period as they do, namely the history of the church from 324 to 429.


Theodoret’s source for this hagiographical anecdote concerning the defeat of Eugenius in 394 is unknown. The claim that the victory of the Christian emperor over the pagan usurper was due to the protection of two apostles whose shrines were in Asia Minor could suggest that the legend was of Anatolian origins. Our author may have heard it during his stay at Ephesus for the council of 449. The association of Theodosius’ victory with John, in particular, recalls an epigram commemorating an imperial dedication at John’s basilica in Ephesus, which is recorded in the Greek Anthology (E00565). The account seems to be inspired from the myth of the intervention of the Dioscuri at the Battle of Lake Regillus in 496 BC, when the two deities are said to have appeared on horseback fighting on the side of the Romans. Associated with fighting against tyranny (the last attempt of the Tarquinii to reclaim the throne of Rome), it was a fitting motif for Theodosius' triumph over the usurper/tyrant Eugenius, but it had to be presented in a Christian guise.


Text: Hansen, G.C., Theodoret Kirchengeschichte (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte NF 5; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1997). Translations: Blomfield, J., "The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret," in: A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church 3 (Oxford and New York, 1892), 33-159. Gallico, A., Teodoreto di Cirro, Storia ecclesiastica. Introduzione, traduzione e note (Roma: Città nuova, 2000). Martin, A., et al., Theodoret de Cyr. Histoire Ecclesiastique (Sources Chretiennes 501, 530; Pars: Editions du Cerf, 2006, 2009). Walford, E., "A History of the Church in Five Books, from A.D. 322 to the Death of Theodore of Mopsuestia A.D. 427, by Theodoretus, Bishop of Cyrus," in: The Greek Ecclesiastical Historians of the First Six Centuries of the Christian Era (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1843). Further reading: Chesnut, G.F., The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius (Atlanta: Mercer University, 1986). 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). Treadgold, W.T., The Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 155-164. Demandt, A. "Die Träume der römischen Kaiser." In J. Holzhausen (ed.), Psyche, Seele, Anima. Festschrift für Karin Alt. Stuttgart: Teubner 1998, 222-223. 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. Treadgold, W. T. The Early Byzantine Historians. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, 155-164.

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