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E04777: The Martyrdom of *Arcadius (presumably martyr of Caesarea in Mauritania, S01859) is written in Latin at an uncertain date and place. Thought to be late antique because it relates to a late antique sermon tentatively attributed to the bishop Zeno of Verona (4th c.), although no manuscript containing the Martyrdom has been identified to date. The persecution being situated in Achaia, it narrates the tortures endured, death and burial of Arcadius, after all his body joints were cut one after the other.

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posted on 2018-01-31, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Martyrdom of Arcadius (BHL 659)


§§ 1-2: There is a persecution against Christians in Achaia. Pagans try to force them to perform sacrifice and abandon Christianity. Arcadius sees this happen in the city (urbs), flees and hides, serving Christ with vigils and prayers. Noticing his absence, pagans look for Arcadius but fail to find him. Instead they seize a kinsman (propinquus) and bring him to the governor of the province (rector provinciae) who orders him to be tortured until he reveals where Arcadius is hiding.

§§ 3-4: Learning about this, Arcadius, eager for martyrdom, comes back to the city and surrenders himself to the governor, asking him to free his kinsman. The governor is ready to forgive Arcadius for fleeing, if he offers sacrifice, but Arcadius tells him that he will never yield and is ready to suffer torture.

§§ 5-6: Knowing that all conventional tortures fail to work on martyrs, the governor orders all of Arcadius’ body joints to be cut one after the other, making sure that suffering lasts as long as possible. As the lictors (lictores) lead Arcadius to the place of torture, he prays to God. As his limbs are cut one after the other, he remains steadfast and praises God. The martyr’s perseverance brings those present to tears and leads them to recognise divine power.

§§ 7-8: Arcadius’ dismembered body floats in its own blood, but seeing this, Arcadius rejoices in seeing his body parts cut off, as this leads him to immortality and to become part of Christ. He exhorts those present to abandon their gods and recognise his God, who makes it possible to endure suffering and who grants immortality. After this, Arcadius dies, on the day before the Ides of January [= 12 January]. This astonishes pagans and inclines Christians to martyrdom. Arcadius’ body is buried with honours by Christians, and the missing body parts are collected and placed with it.

Text: Lefèvre d’Étaples 1519, f. 25r-26r (paragraph numbers from the Acta Sanctorum, Ian. I, 722-723). Summary: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Arcadius, martyr of Caesarea in Mauritania : S01859

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Observed scarcity/absence of miracles

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Pagans Officials Torturers/Executioners Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


Epic martyrdoms The Martyrdom of Arcadius 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 often 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 Arcadius There is a single version of the Martyrdom (BHL 659); no manuscript preserved is known to date. It was published by Lefèvre d’Étaples in the 16th century.


The Martyrdom provides very little evidence about cult of Arcadius, only mentioning the feast day and the saint's burial. There are no clues about the historical setting and virtually no topographical markers. Thus it is most uncertain where and when the Martyrdom was written. It is clearly closely related to a sermon preached by Zeno of Verona about Arcadius (EXXXX), and for this reason it has been suggested that the Martyrdom as well was composed by Zeno (Clavis Patrum Latinorum 2059; Gryson, R., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques Latins de l’Antiquité et du Haut moyen âge, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 2007), I, 53). However, not only has the attribution of the sermon to Zeno been questioned, but, as underlined by Lanéry, the Martyrdom is a paraphrase of the sermon without any known manuscript basis. Moreover, it strangely situates the persecution in Achaia and not in Mauretania, mentioning an enigmatic city (urbs) where the main events takes place.


Edition (BHL 659): Lefèvre d’Étaples, J., Agones martyrum mensis januarii, libro primo contenti (Paris, Henri Estienne, 1519), f. 25r-26r ( ) Further reading: Lanéry, C., "Hagiographie d'Italie (300-550). I. Les Passions latines composées en Italie,” in: Philippart, G. (ed.), Hagiographies. Histoire internationale de la littérature hagiographique latine et vernaculaire en Occident des origines à 1550, vol. V (Turnhout, 2010), 15-369, at 328-329.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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