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E04567: The Martyrdom of *Gordianus (martyr of Rome under Julian the Apostate, S00579) is written in Latin, presumably in Rome, by the 9th c. at the latest. It narrates the conversion of Gordianus, an official in charge of the trial of a priest named Ianuarius; the trial, tortures endured and beheading of Gordianus; his burial in a crypt on the via Latina, where Epimachus (martyr of Rome, S00295) had been previously buried and where miracles happen.

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posted on 2018-01-09, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Gordianus (BHL 3612)


§ 1: Julian persecutes Christians, holding them in custody. Among them is an aged priest named Ianuarius, from Antioch. He is interrogated by the vicarius Gordianus, who fails to convince him to sacrifice to the gods.

§ 2: Ianuarius is detained at Gordianus’ house. During the night he is instructed on Christianity by Ianuarius and persuaded to convert, together with his wife Marina. After stating their belief and destroying a bronze idol of Jupiter that they kept in their house, they are initiated and baptised together with their household, in total 53 persons.

§ 3: After 14 days, Julian sends the tribune Clementianus to Gordianus to see if Ianuarius has offered sacrifice, with the instruction to beat him in the forum of Trajan if he has not. However, Gordianus tells Clementianus that he has converted and refuses to harm Ianuarius. Clementianus tells Julian that Ianuarius has converted Gordianus and his household thanks to magic. Julian orders Ianuarius and Gordianus to be condemned and appoints Clementianus in Gordianus’ place as a vicarius. Gordianus is held in public custody while his wife is sent to work as a servant on an estate (villa) called ad Aquas Salvias.

§ 4: As ordered by Julian, Clementianus sets up a tribunal in the temple of Tellus (templum in tellude) and interrogates Gordianus, requiring him to offer sacrifice. However Gordianus rejects the worship of idols and proclaims that he worships Christ, the Son of God. Clementianus orders him to be beaten with lead-weighted lashes (plumbatae). Gordianus thanks God.

§ 5: Clementianus orders Gordianus to be beheaded in front of the temple of Tellus and his body to be thrown in front of the temple of Pallas (templum Palladis) and left unburied to dogs for five days. However dogs do not touch the body but rather protect it. Someone from Gordianus’ household comes with other Christians at night; they steal the body and place it in a crypt on the via Latina around a mile away from Rome, on the 6th day before the Ides of May [= 10 May], where they had previously buried Epimachus. There miracles abound up to this day.

Text: Acta Sanctorum, Mai. II, 552-553. Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Gordianus, martyr at Rome, ob. c. 362 : S00579 Epimachius, martyr of Rome : S00295

Saint Name in Source

Gordianus Epimachius/Epymachius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Via Latina

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

Via Latina Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - crypt/ crypt with relics

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Unspecified miracle Observed scarcity/absence of miracles

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Officials Monarchs and their family Women Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

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


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Gordianus and Epimachus is an anonymous literary account of martyrdom written long after the great persecutions of Christians that provide the background of the narrative. It is part of a widely spread literary genre, that scholars often designate as "epic" Martyrdoms (or Passiones), to be distinguished from earlier, short and more plausible accounts, apparently based on the genuine transcripts of the judicial proceedings against the martyrs. These texts narrate the martyrdom of local saints, either to promote a new cult or to give further impulse to existing devotion. They follow widespread stereotypes mirroring the early authentic trials of martyrs, but with a much greater degree of detail and in a novelistic style. Thus they narrate how the protagonists are repeatedly questioned and tortured under the order of officials or monarchs, because they refuse to sacrifice to pagan gods but profess the Christian faith. They frequently refer to miracles performed by the martyrs and recreate dialogues between the protagonists. The narrative generally ends with the death of the martyrs (often by beheading) and their burial. These texts are literary creations bearing a degree of freedom in the narration of supposedly historical events, often displaying clear signs of anachronism. For these reasons, they have been generally dismissed as historical evidence and often remain little known. However, since most certainly date from within the period circa 400-800, often providing unique references to cult, they are an essential source to shed light on the rise of the cult of saints. The Martyrdom of Gordianus and Epimachus The most widespread, and thought to be the earliest, version of the Martyrdom is BHL 3612, our focus here (an alternative less diffused version is BHL 3613). It is preserved in more than 110 manuscripts, the earliest from the 9th century: Brussels, Bibliothèque des Bollandistes, 14, f. 9r-9v (9th-10th c.); Paris, BNF, lat. 5299, f. 23v-26v and 67r-71r (9th c.); Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. Lat. 516, f. 94r-95v (9th c.), Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Palat. Lat. 846, f. 89r-90r (9th-10th c.).


The Martyrdom provides evidence for cult of Gordianus and Epimachus on the via Latina corroborating other sources (see more in Lapidge). The dating of the Martyrdom is uncertain. It was written by the 9th century at the latest since it is borrowed by Ado in his martyrology and found in manuscripts from the same century. Lapidge places it with uncertainty in the first half of the 7th century.


Edition (BHL 3612): Acta Sanctorum, Mai. II, 552-553. Translation: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 495-499. Further reading: Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford, 2018), 494-495.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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