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E06942: The Greek Martyrdom of *Menas (soldier and martyr buried at Abu Mena, S00073) recounts the tale of the pious Egyptian soldier Menas, who deserts his regiment in Kotyaion (central Asia Minor) in order to avoid participating in pagan worship, returns later to declare publicly his Christian faith, and is martyred after being tortured at the hands of the local governor. The text was probably written around the 5th/6th century, probably in Kotyaion.

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posted on 2018-10-18, 00:00 authored by Nikolaos
Martyrdom of Menas (BHG 1254)


In the second year of the emperor Diokletianos and the first year of Gaios Valerios Maximianos, having taken over the empire after the slaying of their predecessor Numerianos, the new emperors rekindle the persecution of Christians. In Kotyaion, the metropolis of Phrygia Salutaris, whose governor is Argyriskos, while Firmilianos is tribune (ταξιαρχοῦντος) of the numerus (ἀριθμοῦ) of the Routiliakoi, there is among the regiment a soldier named Menas, who hails from Egypt. The letter of Diokletianos and Maximianos arrives, prescribing that regional governors (ἄρχουσι) and civic magistrates (κατὰ πόλιν στρατηγοῖς) should enforce the worship of their pagan patron gods by all, regardless of social status, on pain of death. As everyone is forced to partake of the sacrifices, Menas deserts his regiment and dwells alone in the wilderness, unwilling to take part.

Much later, at the instigation of the Lord's grace, Menas returns to the city and makes a sudden appearance at the theatre where the imperial birthday is being celebrated, interrupting the proceedings. The governor, Pyrrhos, asks who he is, and Menas declares himself a Christian. Members of the governor's retinue (τάξις) recognise him as having served under Firmilianos in the numerus of the Routiliakoi. Menas confirms that this is true and that he left the regiment in order not to partake in pagan rites. The governor has him imprisoned while the festivities continue. The following day Menas is brought before the governor's tribunal. Symmakhos, the assistant commentariensis (κομμενταρήσιος, i.e. court clerk) presents him to the governor officially. The governor questions Menas through the assistant about the episode of the preceding day, about his identity and previous whereabouts. Menas says he is Egyptian and left the army in order to serve the heavenly emperor. Until now he has lived in the wilderness alone.

Pyrrhos now commands Menas to perform pagan sacrifice in order to be forgiven for his crimes, especially for desertion due to Christianity, and promises to rehabilitate him. The saint refuses, declaring contempt for torture and punishment. The governor orders him to be flogged with ox tendons. As Menas' blood fills the ground beneath him, the governor's chief of staff (πρίγκιψ, princeps officii), Pegasios, tries to persuade him to sacrifice, but Menas refuses steadfastly. Pyrrhos now has him strung up on a wooden frame, and asks if he has had enough; Menas replies that the soldiers of the great emperor [most probably the Lord's angels are meant] help him withstand any torture. Pyrrhos commands his flesh to be lacerated, forbidding him to profess having another emperor than the one he has; the two engage in a verbal contest, the one invoking the authority of the earthly emperors, the other that of the heavenly one. Pyrrhos orders the saint's wounds to be rubbed with hairy cloth, but the martyr is completely oblivious to pain with the help of Jesus Christ. A new torture is then introduced and Menas is singed with burning lamps, but after two hours he does not respond, to the governor's amazement, merely citing psalms that support his resolve. Pyrrhos is impressed that he should know so much scripture despite being merely a soldier, but Menas quotes Matthew 10:19: But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. Answering the governor's question whether Christ foresaw that His disciples would suffer thus in His name, he explains God knows all in advance. Pyrrhos urges Menas once again to sacrifice and return to his military service, but Menas flatly refuses. The governor suggests he could be given a few days to think the matter over and reconsider, but Menas says he has already thought everything through and has chosen to remain loyal to his God.

Furious, the governor now orders iron caltrops to be spread on the ground and the saint, tied up, to be dragged along the ground on top of them. After hours of this torture, Menas still proclaims his defiance. He is next tortured by being struck with lead instruments (πλουμβάτοις) on the spine and the jaw, and when he still remains resolute, one of the governor's spies or agents (κουρίωσος, curiosus) named Heliodoros addresses Pyrrhos saying Christians are known for their unbreakable resolve and exhorts him to give up and execute the man as a deserter. Pyrrhos then attempts one last time to win over the martyr, promising to reinstate him in his unit with honours if he repents; but Menas hurls this promise too back in his face. The governor then has the saint removed from the scene and deliberates the matter with his council. The verdict orders Menas to be made an example of by being decapitated and his body burned. Menas is at once led away to the place called Potamia; the whole city rushes to the site, and the saint marches to the place of execution proudly and with a bright look on his face. Arriving there, he offers one last prayer to God, thanking Him for staying at his side throughout, and asking to be given the patience to finish his trial victorious. He is then decapitated, and his body burned on a great pyre. Saint Menas was of Egyptian stock and full of the Holy Spirit. Afterwards, Christians came and, collecting the saint's relics from the pyre, placed them in holy places of prayer (ἐν ἁγίοις εὐκτηρίοις) for the blessing of God's people at their prayer. The holy martyr Menas was martyred in Kotyaion on 11 November.

Text: Krumbacher 1907, 31–43 (reprinted in Detorakis 1995, 143-147).
Summary: N. Kälviäinen.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Menas, soldier and martyr buried at Abu Mena : S00073

Saint Name in Source


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)

Kotyaion Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Soldiers Pagans Officials Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Division of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics


The oldest Greek Martyrdom of saint Menas, and probably the only one composed in its present form in Late Antiquity, survives in a number of variants with no major differences between them other than the condensation of the text in some versions (BHG 1254-1254k; see Detoraki 1995, 30-34). Between them these variants total at least 46 manuscripts: The summary and discussion presented here are based on BHG 1254, which is probably among the closest to the original in most respects.


The late antique Martyrdom of Menas is a typical representative of the subgenre of 'epic' martyrdom accounts (see H. Delehaye, Les Passions des martyres et les genres littéraires, Brussels, 1966 (2nd ed.), 171-226), albeit in its more restrained form, where the hagiographer delves into minutiae of detail giving a realistic impression (such as the attention paid to court protocol and to officials' titles) while the miraculous element, by contrast, is not very developed. This could in itself reasonably be taken as a probable indication that the text is relatively old (thus perhaps dating from around the 5th to early 6th century), although in the absence of a comprehensive study of the genre, any degree of certainty is impossible to attain. Although the composer was clearly familiar with the workings of a late Roman courthouse, the imperial chronology he gives (2nd year of Diocletianus / 1st year of 'Gaius Valerius Maximianus') suggests a confusion between Diocletian's Western colleague Maximian (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus Herculius), who was made Caesar in 285, a year after Diocletian's ascent and therefore would fit the 2nd/1st pattern, but not the name 'Gaius' given in the present text, and his Eastern successor Galerius (Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus) who was better known in the East as a persecutor of Christians and is undoubtedly in most cases the person behind the name "Maximian" assigned to the persecuting emperor in Greek martyrdom accounts. In any case, the official persecution did not start until 303, making the chronology given in the text untenable as it stands. As for the geographical provenience of the text, there seems to be no reason to contest the obvious conclusion that it was composed in Kotyaion, probably in the context of a local shrine possessing relics belonging to Menas. It is interesting, however, that the text clearly allows for multiple locales to claim possession of legitimate relics of Menas, since it mentions these were deposited in 'places of worship' in the plural. It must also be stressed that there is no mention in the text of Menas' Egyptian shrine at Abu Mena, which was a major cult site in Late Antiquity (see E07440 for the collection of miracles related to this shrine), though at the same time Menas is himself considered to be of Egyptian origin. It seems that his cult was imported into Egypt at some point during Late Antiquity, in the manner of a number of other Anatolian saints (see Nowakowski 2015), but the details are unclear. It should be added that the surviving Coptic version of Menas' martyrdom account (E01221) is not only clearly part of the same tradition (including as it does details such as the name Firmi(li)anus and Menas' desertion and dwelling in the wilderness), and must be derived from the Greek and not the other way around, since it locates the martyrdom in 'Tkounthia, the great city of Phrygia' ('Kounthia' being probably derived from the name Kotyaion) – otherwise the Egyptian hagiographer would hardly refer his readers to distant central Anatolia. It would seem fairly clear, then, that the written legend at any rate originated in Phrygia and found its way to Egypt, regardless of whether or not there had at some point been an actual translation of relics from e.g. Kotyaion to Abu Mena.


Text: Krumbacher, K. (ed.), Miscellen zu Romanos (Abhandlungen der königlich bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-his. Klasse 24.3.1, Munich, 1907), 31–43 (BHG 1254– 1254c). Further reading: Delehaye, H., "L'invention des reliques de S. Ménas a Constantinople," Analecta Bollandiana 29 (1910), 117-146. Detorakis, Th., Μηνᾶς ὁ Μεγαλομάρτυς. Ὁ Ἅγιος τοῦ Μεγάλου Κάστρου. Ἁγιολογικά – Ὑμνολογικά – Ἱστορικά (Heraklion, 1995), 29-69. Miedema, R., De heilige Menas (Rotterdam, 1913). Nowakowski, P., "The so-called Anatolian Saints in Egypt. The Egyptian and Anatolian Patterns of Selective Transmission of Cult." Journal of Juristic Papyrology 45 (2015), 121–144.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity