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E06668: The 'epic' Greek Martyrdom of *Zenobios and Zenobia (brother and sister, martyrs of Aegae, S01681) recounts the miraculous accomplishments of the Christian healer Zenobios, in Aegae (Cilicia, south-east Asia Minor) and his martyrdom together with his sister Zenobia. Written possibly in Aegae, probably in the 5th-6th century.

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posted on 2018-10-02, 00:00 authored by Nikolaos
Martyrdom of Zenobios and Zenobia (BHG 1884)


§ 1: In the city of Aegae in a gulf on the coast of Cilicia, there is a pious man named Zenodotos. After the death of his parents, his paternal uncle arranges his marriage to a girl named Thekla. Together the couple live a pious life and have a male child, Zenobios, whom they raise in the Christian faith. A little afterwards they also have a daughter, Zenobia.

§ 2: After the boy grows up, he is blessed with both wisdom and grace, and with the grace of Christ heals the sick whom the proudest of doctors cannot cure. He also provides poor people with the things necessary for life. At that time, the Roman emperor dies of an illness and is succeeded by the thrice-accursed Diokletianos, who appoints [as governor] of the province of Cilicia one Lysias, a vile man hostile to Christians. Lysias arrives at Mopsuestia and commences a persecution. Among others, he tortures and crucifies *Klaudios, Asterios and Neon (S02533) from the city of Laranda, and has their bodies thrown to the birds and beasts.

§ 3: Zenobios continues to perform healings through Christ, not accepting any payment for his services in obedience to the commandment in the Gospel 'freely you have received, freely give' (δωρεὰν ἐλάβετε, δωρεὰν δότε). One day the wife of an Indian tribal chief (φύλαρχος, phylarch) falls ill with the so-called cancer (καρκίνος), located in the innermost part of her chest. After all the doctors and even the magicians of their nation have failed to cure her, her husband is in despair; however, one day he learns of the miraculous grace of Zenobios from a travelling merchant.

§ 4: The Indian takes his wife and their two children with them and embark on a journey to find the saint. When they reach the city of Aegae and search for the great doctor, the Lord appears to the Indian in a dream and tells him to go to the church of the Christians in order to find him. Taking his wife with him, he finds the church (τὸ κυριακὸν) filled with people listening to the honeyed teaching of Zenobios. They fall at the saint's feet and beg him for help; after promising to renounce their pagan religion, the cancerous tumour falls out of the woman's chest and she is cured. The bishop immediately takes them to be baptised. Having partaken of the holy communion, they return to their homeland, glorifying God.

§ 5: In Antioch at Daphne there is a pious woman who is in the habit of giving alms to the poor; she develops a great cancerous tumour (φῦμα) called phagedaena (φαγέδαινα) between her breasts. When the doctors recommend surgical removal, she is afraid that she cannot withstand such pain. She secretly leaves town at night and makes her way hastily to Seleucia and thence by boat to Aegae. Finding the saint, she reveals to him her affliction. With the sign of the cross and a prayer, bishop Zenobios cures the woman, whose tumour bursts and drenches the ground in foul-smelling fluid (ichor). She returns to Antioch, proclaiming the holy man.

§ 6: When the impious Diokletianos begins a persecution of Christians, the vile Lysias orders Zenobios to present himself before him. He gives Zenobios the choice between obeying and enjoying imperial patronage, or refusing and suffering torture and death. Zenobios refuses to sacrifice to the gods and bids the governor torture him. The tyrant, enraged, orders his servants to twist the saint's body on a wooden rack and scrape him with sharp instruments.

§ 7: Having heard of her brother's impending martyrdom, Zenobia arms herself spiritually and arrives at the scene, rebuking Lysias for his treatment of Zenobios. Astounded at her courage, the governor attempts to persuade her to sacrifice, but the saints refuse unanimously to abandon their faith.

§ 8: The governor has both saints placed on iron beds with burning coals beneath. The blood (ichor) from their bodies stains the iron and quenches the fire. Zenobios taunts Lysias, who once again marvels at the siblings' courage and has them taken down in order to give them another chance to sacrifice. Zenobios refuses and instead suggests that the governor himself should repent and convert. Lysias orders pitch to be heated in cauldrons. The saints stand before the cauldrons and pray for Christ to take their souls in peace, and throw themselves into the cauldrons. The pitch at once cools down and the saints emerge unscathed.

§ 9: Finally receiving the verdict condemning them to be executed, the saints rejoice as they are led outside the city walls, and pray to God to accept them into the company of the saints. A voice from the heavens confirms that the saintly doctor has consummated his path and earned the crown of righteousness. Zenobios and Zenobia are beheaded and their bodies thrown outside the city. The presbyters Hermogenes and Gaios, together with all the clergy and many of the faithful, gather the saints' bodies and place them in caskets (γλωσσοκόμοις), which they hide in a cave. Zenobios and Zenobia consummated their martyrdom on 31 October, on Friday, at the ninth hour.

Text: AASS, Oct. XIII, 259-263.
Summary: N. Kälviäinen.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Zenobios and Zenobia, brother and sister, martyrs of Aegae, Cilicia : S01681 Klaudios, Asterios, Neon and Neonilla/Theonilla, martyrs : S02533

Saint Name in Source

Ζηνόβιος, Ζηνοβία Κλαύδιος, Ἀστέριος, Νέων

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Aigai Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - other

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Ceremonies at burial of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Healing diseases and disabilities Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Miracles causing conversion Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Other lay individuals/ people Pagans Foreigners (including Barbarians) Relatives of the saint Family Torturers/Executioners Officials Aristocrats Physicians

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Reliquary – institutionally owned Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics


The Martyrdom of Zenobios and Zenobia is currently known to be preserved in at least five manuscripts (8th-11th century): In terms of literary affinities, the text bears some or all of the hallmarks of the 'epic' subgenre of Greek martyrdom accounts (Martyrdoms characterised by a relative detachment from historical reality and often including extravagant, even fantastical, elements; see H. Delehaye, Les Passions des martyres et les genres littéraires, Brussels, 1966 (2nd ed.), 171-226). In the absence of any securely verifiable data, texts of this kind can only be attributed generally to sometime in the period around the 5th-8th century. However, the fact that the saints' feast day (as 30 October, with a difference of one day) is commemorated in Georgian calendars transmitting material deriving from the 7th century or earlier (see E03414 and E03911) suggests that their Martyrdom had in all likelihood been composed by around the end of the 6th century. The text mentions the Martyrdom of Klaudios, Asterios and Neon (BHG 2069, E06694), which it must therefore postdate; on the other hand, as has been noted (see L. Deubner, Kosmas und Damian (Leipzig, 1907), 64) it shares many common elements with the so-called 'Arabian' Martyrdom of *Kosmas and Damianos (BHG 378, E07077). One of the two texts was probably composed with the other in mind, but despite Deubner's own conviction (based on arguments stemming from his analysis of the history of the cult of K. and D.) that Kosmas and Damianos' 'Arabian' Martyrdom is modelled on that of Zenobios and Zenobia, neither scenario has been conclusively proven.


The Martyrdom seems ostensibly to have been composed for the needs of a healing cult in Cilician Aegae (or at least a cult site which possessed the relics of Zenobios and Zenobia), although no archaeological evidence for the saints' veneration in Late Antiquity has yet been found. However, it is not entirely inconceivable that the cult of the Cilician Zenobios could be a garbled echo of a historically attested martyr of that name, the physician *Zenobios (S00246), who according to Eusebios of Caesarea was martyred in Antioch during the Great Persecution (see E00318).


Text: Acta Sanctorum, Oct. XIII, 259-263.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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