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E04353: Latin poem on the martyrdom of *Cyprian (bishop and martyr of Carthage, S00411) composed by Prudentius, writing c. 400 in Calahorra (northern Spain). The poem, part of his Crowns of the Martyrs (Peristephanon), gives an account of the martyrdom of Cyprian and the *Martyrs of Massa Candida (S00904). Overview of Peristephanon XIII

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posted on 2017-11-10, 00:00 authored by robert
Liber Peristephanon, Poem XIII


Prudentius praises Cyprian as a martyr of Africa who belongs also to the whole world because of the fame of his writings. The poet recounts that Cyprian was a corrupt young man who even practised love magic. But he converted and became a pious Christian who through his virtues obtained an office of the bishop of Carthage. Then Valerian and Gallienus issued an edict to persecute Christians. Cyprian encouraged his congregation to remain faithful and promised that he would not avoid martyrdom himself. Afterwards he was arrested and thrown into gaol. In prison Cyprian prayed that God would allow him to become martyr; he also prayed for his people lest they fail to keep faith. Then Prudentius tells of the martyrdom of the martyrs of Massa Candida, which he interprets as an answer of God to the prayers of Cyprian. Later also Cyprian himself is martyred by sword and buried in the tomb raised for him. Finally, Prudentius praises Cyprian both as a martyr who is now in heaven, and a famous writer whose teachings are known everywhere in the world.

Text: Cunningham 1966, 382-385. Translation: Thomson 1953, 331-337. Summary: M. Szada.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Cyprian, bishop and martyr of Carthage, ob. 258 : S00411 Martyrs of Massa Candida (Utica), ob. c. 258 : S00904

Saint Name in Source

Cyprianus, Thascius Candida Massa

Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Iberian Peninsula

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Calahorra Osset Osset Osen (castrum) Osser castrum

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts


Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–after 405) was a Christian aristocrat from Calahorra in the Spanish province of Tarraconensis. He was a high official in the imperial bureaucracy in Rome, but withdrew from public life, returned to Calahorra, and dedicated himself to the service and celebration of God. Most of what we know about his biography comes from the preface to the ensemble of his works, which can be reliably dated to 404 (Cunningham 1966, 1-2), and other autobiographical remarks scattered throughout his works (for a detailed discussion, see Palmer 1989, 6-31). He composed several poetical works, amongst them the Peristephanon (literally, On the Crowns [of the Martyrs]), a collection of fourteen poems of different length describing martyrdoms of saints. We do not know exactly at which point in his literary career Prudentius wrote the preface (possibly at the very end, just before publication); for attempts at a precise dating of the Peristephanon, see Fux 2013, 9, n. 1. The poems in the Peristephanon, written in elegant classical metres, deal mainly with martyrs from Spain, but some of them are dedicated to saints of Rome, Africa and the East. The poems were widely read in the late antique and medieval West, and had a considerable influence on the diffusion of cult of the saints included. In later periods they were sometimes used as hymns in liturgical celebrations and had an impact on the development of the Spanish hymnody. Some indications in the poems suggest that they were written to commemorate the saints on their feast days, but Prudentius probably did not compose them for the liturgy of his time. Rather, they probably provided 'devotional reading matter for a cultured audience outside a church context' (Palmer 1989, 3; see also Chapter 3 in her book).


Prudentius conflated two different persons – Bishop Cyprian of Carthage and a magician who converted to Christianity, Kyprianos of Antioch (martyred with Ioustina, S00461). For this confusion see Delehaye 1921, Sabattini 1973. It is possible that Prudentius encountered an already contaminated tradition because we know that Gregory of Nazianzus in Oration 24 in 379/380 linked the hagiographical legend of Kyprianos of Antioch with Cyprian of Carthage (see E00886). Additionally, the story of Cyprian of Antioch and his expertise in love magic had to appeal to Prudentius because of the etymological associations of the name Cyprianus, derived from Cypris, one of the titles of the goddess Venus (see Malamud 1989, 115-116). Prudentius links the martyrs of Massa Candida with Carthage and explains that Massa Candida is a collective name they deserved because of their martyrdom. This tradition is otherwise unknown and may be Prudentius' innovation. Augustine mentions the martyrs in his sermons but locates them near Utica: see E01760. He also preaches in the basilica of the martyrs of Massa Candida in Utica, E01836. See also his sermons for the feast of the martyrs – E02745 and E02773. In two places (XIII.88 and XIII.93) Prudentius calls Cyprian by his other name, Thascius (see the heading of Letter 66 of Cyprian: "Cyprian qui et Thascius"; Acts of Cyprian 3.3: "Tu es Thascius qui et Cyprianus?").


Editions of the Peristephanon: Cunningham, M.P., Prudentii Carmina (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 126; Turnhout: Brepols, 1966), 251-389. Bergman, J., Prudentius, Carmina (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 61; Vienna, 1926), 291-431. Translations of the Peristephanon: Eagan, C., Prudentius, Poems (Fathers of the Church 43; Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1962), 95-280. English translation. Thomson, H.J., Prudentius, vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library; London Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann; Harvard University Press, 1953), 98-345. Edition and English translation. Further reading: Delehaye, H., "Cyprien d'Antioche et Cyprien de Carthage," Analecta Bollandiana 39 (1921), 314-322. Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013). Malamud, M.A., A Poetics of Transformation: Prudentius and Classical Mythology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989). Palmer, A.-M., Prudentius on the Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). Roberts, M., Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs: The "Liber Peristephanon" of Prudentius (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993). Sabattini, T.A., "S. Cipriano nella tradizione agiografica," Rivista di Studi Classici, 21:2 (1973), 181-204.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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