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E06799: The Greek Martyrdom of *Speusippos, Elasippos and Melasippus/Melesippos (martyrs of Cappadocia, S02046) recounts their trial, torture and execution by burning. Their mother Neonilla, a female member of the audience named Ioulia, as well as two notaries, Neon and Ourbanos, also suffer martyrdom at the time. Probably written in Cappadocia (central Asia Minor) in the 5th century or later.

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posted on 2018-10-09, 00:00 authored by cpapavarnavas
Martyrdom of Speusippos, Elasippos, Melesippos and their mother Neonilla of Cappadocia (BHG 1646)


Speusippos, Elasippos, Melesippos were the triplet sons of a pious woman named Neonilla who lived in Cappadocia during pagan times. The three young men, all skilled horsemen in the service of the wealthiest magnates of Cappadocia, were leading a pagan way of life.

Once, when a pagan feast was being organised to offer sacrifices to the gods, the three magnates of Cappadocia, Palmatos, Hermogenes, and Kodratos, sent the brothers to 'a place called Pasmasos, where an abomination of Nemesis had been established in a lowland and woody area' (ἐν τόπῳ καλου <μένῳ> Πασμασῷ, ἔνθα τῆς Νεμέσεως ἐστήρικτο βδέλυγμα, ἐν τόπῳ πεδινῷ καὶ ὑλώδει, p. 10.19-20 [p.462.19-20]).

On the next day, they cordially invited their mother to join the festival and the sumptuous meal. After sitting down at the table, she began to express her disapproval of the pagan customs, as well as of the fake and demonic idols, namely the pagan gods. She also declared her Christian faith while asking them to abandon Paganism and become Christians. Her words came as a surprise to them, and they broke into tears.

The three men began then to recall the visions they had experienced during the previous night, where a young male figure [an angel?], Christ and God appeared to Speusippos, Elasippos and Melesippos, respectively, predicting their conversion to Christianity and, thereby, their salvation. Whereupon they destroyed the pagan statues and threw away the sacrificial meat, as they only wished to praise God through fasting and prayer. When the three magnates arrived and heard about the destruction of the statues of Nemesis (in the text it is rendered as 'Emesa'/Ἔμεσα, p.16.11-12 [p.468.11-12], obviously in error; cf. Grégoire 1905, 63) and the twelve Olympians, they ordered that the guilty be brought before them.

During a long discussion, the three protagonists were commanded to abandon their Christian faith. However, they unwaveringly refused to obey, even when their persecutors threatened to burn them to death. At this point, Neonilla was also asked to come before the pagan men. Despite her advanced age, she rushed like a young woman to arrive at the place. She kissed her sons and encouraged them to suffer their martyrdom bravely.

The Roman magnates hung the triplets from a tree and ordered that they be scratched with spiny branches. They endured this bodily torment patiently, and then they were thrown into the fire. Before dying in flames, they asked their mother to commemorate them before God [in prayer] (Μέμνησο ἡμῶν πρὸς Κύριον, p.20.12 [p.472.12]) and gave instructions for Christian conduct to their audience.

A woman named Ioulia, who was a member of the audience during the martyrdom of Speusippos, Elasippos and Melesippos, abandoned her baby on the ground and publicly confessed her Christian identity. Thereupon, the servants of the magnates tied her hands behind her back and hung her up by the hair to taste the sacrificial meat and reject Christianity. Her husband also tried to change her mind by reminding her of their infant, but she was adamant. Finally, she was brought close to a village, the Orbadon kome (πλησίον Ὀρβάδων τῆς κώμης, p.22.13 [p.474.13]), where she was beheaded along with Neonilla, the mother of the three male martyrs.

Neon, who was drawing up the minutes of the discussion with the martyrs, closed his books, gave them to his colleague Ourbanos, and then headed towards the temple of 'Nemesis' (εἰς τὸ Νεμέσιον [sic], for commentary, see Grégoire 1905, 63), where he demolished everything. In this way, he declared that he was Christian and thus died a martyr’s death. The martyrdom of all these Christians took place on 17 January (Μαρτυροῦσι δὲ τῇ πρὸ δεκαὲξ καλανδῶν φεβρουαρίων, p.22.18-19 [p.474.18-19]). Not long after, Ourbanos, the colleague of Neon, followed his example and died for the Christian faith.

Text: H. Grégoire 1905: 10-22 [1904: 462-474].
Summary: C. Papavarnavas


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Speusippus, Elasippus and Melasippus, martyrs of Langres or Cappadocia : S02046

Saint Name in Source

Σπεύσιππος, Ἐλάσιππος, Μελέσιππος, Νεονίλλα, Ἰουλία, Νέων, Οὐρβανός

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 Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Tyana Pasmasos/Paspasos/Pasa in Cappadocia/Tyana Orbadon kome in Cappadocia/Tyana

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

Tyana Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Pasmasos/Paspasos/Pasa in Cappadocia/Tyana Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia Orbadon kome in Cappadocia/Tyana Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles causing conversion

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Torturers/Executioners Family Relatives of the saint Slaves/ servants Aristocrats


For the manuscript tradition, see: (BHG 1646) (BHG 1646g) The oldest Greek version of the martyrdom account (BHG 1646) is preserved in a single manuscript dating from the 11th century (Genoa, Biblioteca Franzoniana, Cod. Urbani 33, fol. 201r-207r). For the dating of the manuscript, see Ehrhard, Überlieferung, I, p.544, n.2. For the edition, see Bibliography.


This text (BHG 1646) is the oldest Greek version of the Martyrdom of Speusippos, Elasippos, Melesippos and their mother Neonilla of Cappadocia. There are also some Latin versions of this story (BHL 7828-7830, see E05412, E05943, E06512, E04612), of which the oldest is the text BHL 7828. After a thorough comparison between the two oldest versions of this martyrdom account, H. Grégoire (1905: 25, 27-39 [1904: 477, 479-490]) concluded that the Latin version (BHL 7828) predates the Greek one (BHG 1646), since the Greek text contains additions, especially rhetorical embellishments and theological statements. But it has also been argued that both the oldest Greek and the oldest Latin version of the Martyrdom (BHG 1646 and BHG 7828) grew out of a common – now lost – archetype written in Greek (see van der Straeten 1961, 132), which Grégoire 1905, 64 and 75, believed should be dated between the end of the 3rd and the middle of the 4th century. The very Greek-sounding names of the martyrs do indeed suggest that the story originated in the Greek-speaking East, presumably to serve a Cappadocian cult. The precise location of the grave and cult of the three male martyrs is not clear from the text. However, the setting of the story may be an indication that their cult was flourishing in Cappadocia, specifically in Pasmasos/Paspasos/Pasa, a domain north of Tyana (southern Cappadocia) governed by Palmat(i)os, a historical figure during the reign of Valerian (AD 253-260)and one of the persecutors of the three brothers. The village 'Orbadon kome', close to which the martyrdom of Ioulia and Neonilla took place, was also located in the same area. For these toponyms, see Grégoire 1905, 55-62, 64-66, 75; Moreau 1960, 134-140; Nollé 2000, vol. II, 297-306. In the two oldest versions (in the Latin as well as the Greek), the story takes place in Cappadocia. The main difference between the Greek and the Latin version is the following: according to the Greek version it is Neonilla, the mother of the three male protagonists, who also died a martyr’s death. In the Latin version, however, it is the grandmother of the male martyrs, named Leonilla, who suffered martyrdom. At some date, the cult of these Cappadocian saints was appropriated at Langres in Gaul, with the same story and the same martyrs (with their distinctively Greek names) now set in this Gallic city. The later Latin versions (BHL 7829-7830) replaced all the references to Cappadocia with ones to Langres (cf. van der Straeten 1961, 132, with further references).


Text and Translations: Grégoire, H., "Saints jumeaux et dieux cavaliers," Revue de l’Orient chrétien 9 (1904), 462-474. Repr. in: H. Grégoire (ed.), Saints jumeaux et dieux cavaliers: étude hagiographique (Bibliothèque hagiographique orientale 9; Paris 1905), 10-22. (BHG 1646) Loparev, Ch., "Acta Graeca sanctorum tergeminorum martyrum Speusippi, Eleusippi, Meleusippi," Zapiski Klass. otd. imp. Russkago archeol. obščestva 1 (1904), suppl. 2, 7-13. (BHG 1646) Partially translated into German: Nollé 2000 (below), vol. II, 300-301. Further reading: Berges, D., and Nollé, J. (eds.), Tyana: Archäologisch-historische Untersuchungen zum südwestlichen Kappadokien, 2 vols. (Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien 55,1 and 2; Bonn 2000). Moreau, J. "Zur Passio der Hl. Drillingsbrüder," Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 3 (1960), 134-140. van der Straeten, J., "Les Actes des martyrs d’Aurélien en Bourgogne: étude littéraire," Analecta Bollandiana 79 (1961), 115-144.

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