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E06694: The 'epic' Greek Martyrdom of *Klaudios, Asterios, Neon and Theonilla (martyrs of Cilicia, S02533), is preserved in a single fragment, but its contents can be viewed in a later epitome. Written, presumably in Mopsuestia (Cilicia), or elsewhere in south-east Asia Minor, probably in the 5th-6th century.

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posted on 2018-10-04, 00:00 authored by Nikolaos
Martyrdom of Klaudios, Asterios, Neon and Theonilla (BHG 2070)


§ 1: The holy martyrs Klaudios, Asterios and Neon lived in the time of the emperor Diokletianos, when Lysias was governor of the province of Cilicia. They were brothers, Isaurians by birth, from the city of Laranda. In order to claim their rightful inheritance from their stepmother, they came to Mopsuestia to have their case tried before the governor. But their stepmother, wishing to cut them off from their inheritance, denounced them to the governor as Christians. Under interrogation they confessed their faith and their preference for Christ over any earthly fortune and inheritance.

§ 2: First Klaudios was brought to the stadium, strung up and flogged, and his heels were burned with fire, while his sides were rubbed with seashells, and singed with burning papyrus, and his joints were dislocated. Second to be brought in was Asterios, who was strung up and his sides lacerated, while his shins were constricted with 'labraria' [λαβραρίοις, of unknown meaning] and fire put under his heels. His hands and feet were bound and pulled in separate directions, and his back and his belly were rent open by being beaten with ox tendons. And third, Neon was brought in and they put burning coals under his feet and whipped his back with tendons. And they took the three brothers together outside the walls of Mopsuestia and nailed them to columns, where they died; and afterwards the governor had their bodies thrown to beasts and birds (τὰ δὲ τούτων σώματα ὁ ἡγεμὼν θηρίοις τε καὶ πετεινοῖς βορὰ ῥιφῆναι προσέταξεν), but faithful people took them and buried them with honour in prominent places (ἐν ἐπισήμοις τόποις ἐντίμως κατέθεντο).

§ 3: Afterwards, saint Theonilla was brought forth, and her feet were bound together and the soles cut with strips. After enquiring whether she was willing to comply with the orders given to her, and finding out that she was unwavering, they hung her by her hair and struck her cheeks with blows. Afterwards they shaved her hair, dressed her in rags and beat her bare back with stripes, until she surrendered her spirit to the Lord. And they placed her body in a sack and put it in the sea. There follows a short prayer by the hagiographer.

Text: Lackner 1969, 130-132.
Summary: N. Kälviäinen.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Klaudios, Asterios, Neon and Neonilla/Theonilla, martyrs : S02533

Saint Name in Source

Κλαύδιος, Ἀστέριος, Νέων, Θεονίλλα

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 Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Mopsuestia Laranda

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

Mopsuestia Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Laranda Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Officials Torturers/Executioners Family

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The earliest available text of the late antique Martyrdom, BHG 2069, survives only in a fragment consisting of a single folio, contained in an 11th century manuscript in Jerusalem, Sabaiticus 27 (f. 415), for which see: This text is an early Greek martyrdom account bearing some or all of the hallmarks of the 'epic' subgenre (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). Without any specific grounds for a more concrete dating, this and many other similar texts can only generally be attributed to somewhere around the 5th-8th centuries; however, since the existence of these eastern saints' cult is attested in the Latin tradition from the 6th/7th century (see E04927, E04928), one may suppose that the first Greek version of their Martyrdom (in all likelihood the original BHG 2069) will have been in existence by that time. In addition, the martyrdom of Klaudios, Asterios and Neon (but with no mention of Theonilla) is referred to in another text of the same genre, namely the Martyrdom of *Zenobios and Zenobia (BHG 1884, E06668), with enough details (such as the saints' origin and their being nailed to columns outside Mopsuestia, as well as the governor's name) and even an exact word-for-word loan (of the phrase τὰ τούτων σώματα θηρίοις καὶ πετεινοῖς βορὰ ῥιφῆναι προσέταξεν), to provide conclusive evidence that the Greek Martyrdom of the three brothers from Laranda must have been in circulation by the time BHG 1884 was composed (that is, probably before around 600). The text summarised above, is on the basis of a later epitome (BHG 2070), derived from the older Martyrdom but transmitted in a heavily condensed form. The epitome is known to be preserved in two manuscripts (10th-12th cent., see If a judgement may be formed on the basis of a comparison of this text with the fragmentary BHG 2069, which contains the scene where Klaudios is tortured as well as the initial interrogation of Asterios, then it would appear that the epitome enumerates quite faithfully all the various means of torment, but omits the constant dialogue which takes place between each saint and the governor both before and during their torture. For a comparison of the Martyrdom with the extant Latin versions (derived from the Greek), see Lackner 1969, 118-121.


The Martyrdom gives as the location of the saints' martyrdom the city of Mopsuestia in Cilicia; however, in the Latin tradition another Cilician city, Aegae, is given instead. Since the feast dates in the later Byzantine and Latin traditions also differ, Lackner 1969, 126-127 suggests a working hypothesis according to which the location and date given in the Greek tradition would correspond, not to the original martyrdom, but to a translation of the saints' relics from Aegae to Mopsuestia. There is, however, not enough evidence for the question to be conclusively settled; it is entirely possible that the saints were venerated in a number of locations in their home region, although no archaeological evidence is available. It is also of interest that the saints are said to have arrived in Cilicia from elsewhere, namely from Laranda in the province of Lycaonia (the brothers are said to be Isaurian, probably intended in an ethnic/linguistic sense). The implications of this are not clear, but we can compare the case of saints Kyrikos/Cyricus and Ioulitta/Julitta (E06118 and E06121) who also originated from Lycaonia (Iconium) and also suffered martyrdom in Cilicia (in Tarsus).


Texts: Lackner, W., "Zwei griechische inedita über die märtyrer Klaudios, Asterios, Neon und Theonilla," Analecta Bollandiana 87 (1969), 128-130 (BHG 2069) and 130-132 (BHG 2070).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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