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E05273: Ammianus Marcellinus tells of victims of the Christian emperor Valentinian (364-375), commemorated in Milan (northern Italy) as the 'Innocents', and of an execution which was cancelled by the same emperor lest the sentenced persons be venerated as martyrs. Res Gestae, written in Latin in Rome, in the 380s.

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posted on 2018-03-27, 00:00 authored by robert
Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae 27.7.5-6

(5.) Eminuit tamen per id tempus inter alias humilium neces mors Dioclis ex comite largitionum Illyrici, quem ob delicta breuia flammis iussit exuri, et Diodori ex agente in rebus triumque apparitorum potestatis uicariae per Italiam ideo necatorum atrociter, quod apud eum questus est comes Diodorum quidem aduersus se ciuiliter implorasse iuris auxilium, officiales uero iussu iudicis ausos monere proficiscentem, ut responderet ex lege. quorum memoriam apud Mediolanum colentes nunc usque Christiani locum, ubi sepulti sunt, Ad Innocentes appellant. (6.) Dein cum in negotio Maxentii cuiusdam Pannonii ob exsecutionem a iudice recte maturari praeceptam trium oppidorum ordines mactari iussisset, interpellauit Eupraxius tunc quaestor et "parcius" inquit "agito, piissime principum; hos enim, quos interfici tamquam noxios iubes, ut martyras, id est diuinitati acceptos, colit religio Christiana".

'(5.) Most conspicuous, however, at that time was the death (among the executions of other persons of low rank) of Diocles, former head of the state treasury in Illyricum, whom the emperor ordered to be burned to death because of some small offences; and also that of Diodorus, former agens in rebus, and of three attendants of the Vicarius of Italy; all these suffered cruel execution because the commanding general (comes) complained to the emperor that Diodorus had implored the aid of the law against him in a civil case, and that the officials, by order of the judge, had ventured to summon him as he was going on a journey, to answer to the action according to law. The memory of these victims is still honoured by the Christians in Milan, who call the place where they are buried "At the Innocents". (6.) Later, in the affair of a certain Maxentius of Pannonia, when the judge had rightly commanded a speedy execution, the emperor ordered the death of the decurions of three towns; but Eupraxius, who was then quaestor, intervened, saying: “Act more mercifully, most dutiful emperor, for these men whom you order to be put to death as criminals the Christian religion will honour as martyrs (that is to say, as beloved of God).”'

Text: Seyfarth 1978. Translation: Rolfe, 1935-39, adapted


Evidence ID


Saint Name

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 - Places Named after Saint

  • Other

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of the cult of saints

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


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.


This is an interesting piece of evidence suggesting that innocent victims sentenced to death by a Christian (though Arianising) emperor, for entirely secular reasons, could have some sort of posthumous cult. Admittedly, Ammianus tells of popular feelings, rather than a regular cult, in Milan and the true motives for cancelling the execution of the decurions involved in the affair of Maxentius may have been different. Still, this passage shows that the line between those who were killed unjustly and those who died for their faith was not firm. Den Boeft et al. 2009, 172, suggest that for the 'Innocents' at Milan to have received such veneration, there must have at least appeared to be some religious aspect to their execution (e.g. they were Catholics and the military commander they angered was an Arian). Marrou (1951) notes that in the church of S. Stefano in Milan a late-antique sarcophagus cover is venerated as the 'stone of the Innocents'. However, he does not say when this name is attested for the first time; so it is difficult to say whether there is any link between this object and the story told by Ammianus.


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). Further reading: Den Boeft, J., Drijvers, J.W., den Hengst, D., and Teitler, H.C., Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XXVII (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 167-175. Marrou, H.-I., "Ammien Marcellin et les Innocents de Milan," Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 95 (1951), 115-116.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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