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E05250: In the 380s, Ammianus Marcellinus in his Res Gestae mentions the Roman commander, Sabinianus, who, while preparing for the war against the Persians visited tombs in Edessa, most probably that of *Thomas the Apostle (S00060) and possibly local martyrs. Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 2018-03-23, 00:00 authored by robert, dlambert
Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae 18.7.7

Ammianus describes the preparations for the war against the Persians during the reign of Constantius II. In this context he writes thus:

Dum haec celerantur, Sabinianus inter rapienda momenta periculorum communium lectissimus moderator belli interneciui per Edessena sepulchra quasi fundata cum mortuis pace nihil formidans more uitae remissioris fluxius agens militari pyrrice sonantibus modulis | pro histrionicis gestibus in silentio summo delectabatur ominoso sane et incepto et loco, cum haec et huiusmodi factu dictuque tristia futuros praenuntiantia motus uitare optimum quemque debere saeculi progressione discamus.

'While these preparations were being hastened, Sabinianus, that splendid choice of a leader in a deadly war, when every moment should have been seized to avert the common dangers, amid the tombs of Edessa, as if he had nothing to fear when he had made his peace with the dead, and acting with the wantonness of a life free from care, in complete inaction was being entertained by his soldiers with a pyrrhic dance, in which music accompanied the gestures of the performers—conduct ominous both in itself and in its occasion, since we learn that these and similar things that are ill-omened in word and deed ought to be avoided by every good man as time goes on as foreboding coming troubles.'

Text: Seyfarth 1978. Translation: Rolfe, 1950, 453.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Thomas, the Apostle : S00199 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • 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


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

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Aristocrats Officials Soldiers


Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 325/330–after 391) is the most important historian of the 4th century. Born in Syria and a native Greek-speaker, he pursued a career in the army under Constantius II. By the 380s, he had settled in Rome where he wrote a Latin history (Res Gestae) of the Roman Empire from the accession of Nerva in AD 96 to the death of Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The early books are lost, and the extant text begins with events in 354.


Ammianus does not tell what kind of graves Sabinianus visited in Edessa in which several local martyrs were venerated. The best known saint buried in this city was Thomas the Apostle, whose body, according to his Acts (170, see E###) was transferred from India to Edessa shortly after his death. The Acts of Thomas were written in the 3rd century. The story of the transfer of his corpse comes from the ending of this text and may be an interpolation, but in the second half of the 4th century the body was probably already there. Egeria venerated it in 384 (see E05223).


Edition: Seyfarth, W., Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae. 2 vols. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1978). Translation: Rolfe, J.C., Ammianus Marcellinus (Loeb Classical Library 300, 315, 331; Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1935-1939).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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