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E07129: The second 'epic' Greek Martyrdom of *Prokopios from Scythopolis (martyr of Palestine, S00118) gives the saint a new background story as a pagan military commander originally named Neanias, converted to Christianity and martyred in Caesarea (Palestine). Written sometime in the 5th-8th century somewhere in the East, perhaps in Caesarea.

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posted on 2018-11-22, 00:00 authored by Nikolaos
Martyrdom of Prokopios (BHG 1577)


§ 1: In the reign of Diokletianos, there is a persecution of Christians. While the church is still at peace, the persecution begins when imperial letters arrive at every corner of the world, including the city of Aelia [Capitolina, i.e. Jerusalem]. The letter is quoted; in it Diokletianos expresses his displeasure that there are certain people in the empire who renounce the gods and worship a dead mortal man. For this reason he commands all the inhabitants of the empire to placate the gods and receive the additional reward of 50,000 silver pieces, or else suffer capital punishment. After publishing the decree, the emperor goes to Antioch and rejoices in the paganism of his subjects.

§ 2: In Aelia there is a woman of senatorial rank and first of the city, Theodosia, who is a pagan, although her late husband Christophoros had been a Christian. She takes her young son Neanias with her to Antioch and presents him to the emperor, wishing to enrol him in the imperial service. The emperor duly gives the boy the doukaton [office of dux, military commander of local troops] of Alexandria, and tells him to persecute any Christians and confiscate their property, explaining their religion in a passage influenced by the Gospels, which Diokletianos professes to have studied. He also gives Neanias two noumera of soldiers to accompany him.

§ 3: Neanias travels towards Egypt by night, because the daytime heat keeps killing their horses, arriving before dawn at Apamea in Syria. After leaving Apamea, thirty stades from the city, in the third hour of the night, there is an earthquake and a flash of lightning, and a voice from heaven says 'Neanias, you are going to die, and where are you going to?'. The youth explains his mission, and Christ reveals himself to him in the form of a crystal cross. He explains to Neanias the logic of the crucifixion and its necessity for the salvation of humanity, which had escaped Diokletianos' understanding.

§ 4: Neanias and his entourage rejoice, and he leads his men to Skythopolis, going to the local goldsmiths' guild and requesting them to make him a vessel. The members of the guild give the task to their best goldsmith, named Markos. Neanias takes Markos to his quarters alone, and asks him to make a cross out of gold and silver. Markos is hesitant, because he fears the wrath of the emperors, but eventually Neanias convinces him by promising to keep it a secret. Markos, working alone, makes the cross before the night is over, and when it is complete, three images appear miraculously on its surface, one at each end, each with a corresponding inscription in Hebrew: Emmanouel, Michael and Gabriel. Markos tries to remove them, but his hand is paralysed. At cockcrow the doux Neanias arrives to collect the cross, and learns of the miraculous appearance of the images from Markos. Neanias rewards him with great honours and, kissing the cross, wraps it in purple cloth.

§ 5: When the people from the towns around Jerusalem report to Neanias that Saracen raiders are in the habit of stealing their daughters for wives, Neanias rides out at the head of his soldiers, carrying the cross and intending to put to the test the words he had heard from the apparition. He prays to God, and God answers him, affirming His help. Together with his soldiers, he engages the Saracens and defeats them soundly, killing six thousand with no losses of his own.

§ 6: Neanias' mother learns from one of the soldiers, sent as a messenger, of her son's victory and is overjoyed. When Neanias arrives home, however, they disagree as to which deity helped him win the battle. As the household gods fail to answer the question of who helped Neanias, the youth overthrows them and flattens the gold and silver statues,giving them to the poor. His mother, however, denounces her son to the emperor, who commands him to be slain if he will not repent, and promises his mother a senator of her choosing to be her new son.

§ 7: The emperor sends a letter to the governor in Caesarea, Oulkion, and instructs him to take the senators of the surrounding towns with him and question the doux Neanias, and, if he is found to be Christian, to strip him of his belt of office and kill him. When Oulkion arrives at Neanias' house with the letter, the doux tears the letter into pieces and confesses that he is a Christian. Oulkion finds himself in a difficult situation as Neanias' friend, and attempts to persuade him to sacrifice to the gods, so as to avoid being forced to execute his orders. Neanias refuses and, taking off his belt, throws it in the governor's face. Angered, Oulkion orders him arrested and takes him to Caesarea, where he is supervising the construction of a temple. The pagan crowd reacts angrily at the sight of Neanias. The governor has him tortured by scraping until fourteen torturers [kyestionarioi, i.e. questionarii] have been exhausted and his body is badly mangled. Believed by the onlookers to be already dead, Neanias is taken to prison.

§ 8: The prison warden [kapiklarios, i.e. clavicularius] Terentios, a friend of the martyr, lays his body on a bed of hay and cloth in the inner prison. At the sixth hour of the night there is an earthquake, and the Lord Jesus Christ arrives with four archangels to visit his servant. The prison is opened and the prisoners' fetters fall off. The angels address Neanias, who tests them first by asking that they kneel and make the sign of the cross, which they do. At length the Lord too reveals himself to the martyr and, sprinkling him with water, announces that from now on he will be called Prokopios. The martyr prays for his sins to be forgiven and for strength in his contest; the Lord affirms he is with Prokopios, then ascends to heaven. When the governor sends someone from his retinue (τάξις) to check on Prokopios, the warden recounts the miraculous events of the night.

§ 9: The governor summons Prokopios before him, and the martyr arrives, his face radiant and without a blemish or sign of torture, to the amazement of the onlookers. The governor attempts to attribute his miraculous recovery to the gods, but Prokopios suggests that they go to the temple and find out which god 'remade' (ἀνέπλασεν) him. The governor is overjoyed and has heralds summon the people to witness Neanias making sacrifice to the gods. When they arrive at the temple, the saint goes inside, ostensibly to seek forgiveness for his transgressions. He then prays to God to crush the vain heathen gods, and, making the sign of the cross, commands the idols to fall down and vanish. He casts down thirty-six statues of the gods, and the statues become like water which flows out of the temple.

§ 10: The governor has Prokopios imprisoned once again and questions now the two noumera of soldiers who had followed him, learning that they too have been converted. Afraid to confront them openly because of their number, he plots to surround them in secret with his soldiers and destroy them. In the evening the soldiers with their two tribunes come to the prison, seeking guidance from the martyr. Rejoicing at the news that the soldiers too wish to embrace Christianity, Prokopios arranges with his friend the warden to leave the prison in order to pay a visit to the holy bishop Leontios. The soldiers are baptised that night by the bishop, and are taught the basics of the faith by Prokopios, who proves to be a honey-tongued preacher and worthy of his name [a reference to the derivation of the name Prokopios from the verb προκόπτω 'advance, improve, achieve'].

§ 11: The governor summons the soldiers and orders them to sacrifice to the gods, but they refuse. Angered, the governor orders them to be surrounded by nine units (ἀρχὰς) of spekoulatores and cut down, with Prokopios watching the slaughter. Prokopios prays to God for the soldiers, and a voice from the heavens replies, announcing that the soldiers will be received into heaven and their requests will be granted. The soldiers pray, requesting that God grant their bodies the grace to heal anyone who invokes them through God, and that wherever their relics are located, or wherever their memory is celebrated, that there be no 'fall of people' [πτῶσις ἀνθρώπων, probably meaning fatal outbreaks of disease], but that all be saved in the grace of the Lord. The soldiers then consummate their martyrdom together with their tribunes, Nikostratos and Antiochos. A man named Eulalios and a group of faithful men collect the relics and deposit them with aromatics in a solemn place. Their martyrdom took place on 21 May.

[The following section between §§ 11 and 12 is missing from the manuscript used by Papadopoulos-Kerameus 1898, but is clearly part of the original text. It was edited separately in Delehaye 1909.]

Prokopios is again imprisoned. As he is praying, he is approached by twelve women of senatorial rank, who identify themselves as Christians. Hearing their prayer, the governor incarcerates them as well in the prison, where Prokopios offers them comfort and spiritual guidance. When the women are summoned to stand trial, Prokopios' mother Theodosia arrives to observe the proceedings. The governor attempts to persuade the women to sacrifice to the pagan gods, but they refuse, and he has them flogged and tortured with fire. When the women pray to Christ, he orders that their breasts be cut off, and mocks their faith, but the women affirm their conviction that Christ helps them. Next, bronze spheres are heated up and inserted into their armpits, but their resolve is unflinching. Upon witnessing all this, Theodosia weeps bitterly, disavows her property and rank and enters the stage professing faith in Christ. She engages in a dialogue with the governor, who attempts to persuade her to recant, but Theodosia affirms her former idolatry to have been misguided. She is then imprisoned together


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Prokopios from Scythopolis, martyr of Palestine : S00118

Saint Name in Source

Νεανίας, Προκόπιος

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

'The East' (unspecified)

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


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Commissioning/producing an image

Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miracles causing conversion Miraculous sound, smell, light Miracle at martyrdom and death Miracles experienced by the saint Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves Healing diseases and disabilities Changing abilities and properties of the body Power over objects Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Relatives of the saint Monarchs and their family Aristocrats Soldiers Merchants and artisans Officials Family Angels Demons

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Division of relics

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects

Crosses Inscription


The Martyrdom of Prokopios survives in a number of different recensions, due to the text having been successively reworked by various hagiographers seeking to adjust it to the expectations and sensibilities of their time. The story of Prokopios is first known from the brief account by Eusebius of Caesarea (E00296), which furnished the basic elements used by the hagiographer who composed the first full-blown martyrdom account BHG 1576 (E07128). The present text (BHG 1577) represents a recasting of the saint's story as that of a military saint on a par with other martyred soldiers such as George (E06147), Theodore (E02052) and others. Instead of a civilian serving the Church as reader and exorcist, Prokopios is now the pagan scion of an aristocratic family, named Neanias, who is entrusted with a military command as dux of Alexandria (a detail possibly influenced by the Martyrdom of saint Artemios, E06781). Compared to BHG 1576, this background story of Neanias/Prokopios (§§ 2-11 of BHG 1577, including the material missing from the edition of Papadopoulos-Kerameus), who becomes a successful military commander while at the same time being gradually initiated to Christianity, is an entirely new development, as are the introduction of secondary martyrs such as Prokopios' mother, Theodosia, and the martyred groups of soldiers and aristocratic women. The array of secondary characters is completed by the insertion into the plot of a new villain, the governor Oulkion, who is the main antagonist for this section of the story-line. From § 12 onwards and until the end of the Martyrdom, the narrative follows reasonably closely that of the earlier Martyrdom BHG 1576, upon which the text is for the most part based. The hagiographer omits § 5 of BHG 1576 (Prokopios' background story as reader and exorcist) due to its obvious incompatibility with the new 'Neanias' story-line (the detail that at the time of Prokopios' arrest Flavianos is supervising the construction of a temple being transferred to Oulkion), and resumes the thread of the narrative from where BHG 1576's main story begins, with the arrival of the governor Flavianos in Caesarea. There is also further new material in BHG 1577, in the form of new torture devices (the stones in § 16 and the furnace in §§ 17-18) and an expansion of the martyr's final prayer in § 18 with material promoting Prokopios' own cult (for such material in martyrs' final prayers, see Flusin [forthcoming]), as well as the answer of the heavenly voice in § 19. Apart from the entirely new additions, when the hagiographer of BHG 1577 reuses the text of his predecessor BHG 1576 (in §§ 1 and 12-19), he usually abbreviates it to some extent. Overall, with the plethora of secondary characters, various subplots and dramatic devices such as the antagonist Oulkion being initially introduced as a friend of Prokopios, BHG exhibits a distinct novelistic approach in contrast to the more down-to-earth and straightforward BHG 1576. Although both texts can be considered to belong to the subgenre of 'epic' martyrdom accounts (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), this 'epic' element is much more developed and pronounced in BHG 1577 than in BHG 1576. The table below sets out (roughly) the correspondences between the text of BHG 1576 and that of BHG 1577, using, respectively, the chapter division of Delehaye and of Papadopoulos-Kerameus: BHG 1576      BHG 1577 §§ 1-3           § 1 -                    §§ 2-11 §§ 4, 6-7       § 12 § 5                - §§ 8-10         § 13 §§ 11-12       - §§ 13-14       § 14 §§ 15-17       § 15 §§ 18-19       § 16 (with the addition of the stones; the death sentence in BHG 1576 § 19 is given in BHG 1577 § 18) -                    § 17 (with the addition of the furnace) §§ 19-20       § 18 (with the addition of the furnace and the cultic material in the prayer) § 21              § 19 (with the addition of the heavenly voice) The Martyrdom BHG 1577 is known at present to be preserved in 30 manuscripts (8th to 17th century), of which four contain only the second half of the text (§§ 12-19; this group is labelled by Halkin as BHG 1577a): (BHG 1577-1577a) In addition, what appear to be two later recensions of the same text were identified by Halkin and labelled, respectively, BHG 1577c and 1577d, presently known to be transmitted in two manuscripts each (11th to 14th century – see below). Of these, BHG 1577d has been edited by Halkin (see Bibliography). (BHG 1577c) (BHG 1577d)


Like the earlier Martyrdom of Prokopios (BHG 1576, E07128) which it is to a large extent based on, the present text BHG 1577 is difficult to date accurately, and the context of its composition is uncertain. The 'Neanias' story-line is probably a purely literary composition making use of models such as, for example, the conversions of Paul and Constantine I (Delehaye 1955, 130); however, it enhances the 'epic' element in the narrative to such an extent, compared to BHG 1576, that it might be tempting to see it as a product of a slightly later period. It might therefore date from around the late 5th to 8th century, depending on the date one would assign to BHG 1576. The fact that it contains a reference to a triple representation of Christ and two archangels suggests a date from the 6th century or later, when the cult of icons was developing and expanding (contrast this with BHG 1576's altogether negative stance, in § 11, towards representations of the supernatural, which does not seem to leave much room for a theology of icons). However, these are not watertight criteria. On the other hand, the text was read as evidence at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 (Delehaye 1909, 86-87; 1955, 130-131), meaning it will have been in existence by the mid 8th century at the very latest. Regardless of its date, and although it is difficult to interpret in context, BHG 1577 can broadly be said to represent changing or developing attitudes towards the cult of martyrs and the literature devoted to them. To the pre-existing base furnished by BHG 1576, it adds both a novelistic layer of literary embellishment as well as practical instructions to the devotee of his cult (in the martyr's final prayer). It also provides the justification for two additional days of commemoration in the period before or around Pentecost, in the form of the dates of martyrdom of his companion saints, namely the martyred soldiers (21 May) and the aristocratic women, including Prokopios' own mother (29 May). Its place of composition is not certain, especially given that, unlike BHG 1576 which most probably originated in Caesarea and which knows only of a single location of the martyr's body, the final prayer of BHG 1577 provides for the division and dispersion of Prokopios' relics. This, of course, does not mean it may not have been written in Caesarea as well. It also turns Prokopios into a 'military saint', placing him in the company of other figures already established or being established as such in the popular consciousness, such as George, Theodore, Merkourios and Artemios, and alienating him from his roots as a member of the lower clergy.


Editions: Papadopoulos-Kerameus, A., Ἀνάλεκτα Ἱεροσολυμιτικῆς σταχυολογίας V (St. Petersburg, 1898), 1-27. (BHG 1577 – note that the missing portion between §§ 11 and 12 is edited in Delehaye, Les légendes grecques des saints militaires, 228-233) Halkin, F., Inédits Byzantins d'Ochrida, Candie et Moscou (Subsidia hagiographica 38; Brussels 1963), 96-130. (BHG 1577d) Further reading: Delehaye, H., Les légendes grecques des saints militaires (Paris, 1909), 77-89 (esp. 82-87). Delehaye, H., Les légendes hagiographiques (4th ed.; Paris, 1955), 119-139. Flusin, B. “Le contrat de Marina: passions épiques et culte des saints,” forthcoming.

Continued Description

with the brave women.In prison, Theodosia treats the women's wounds. On seeing her, Prokopios rejoices and asks why she has abandoned her gods; she replies that the women's endurance caused her change of heart. The following night Prokopios takes his mother to the bishop Leontios and she is baptised. When they return to the prison, Prokopios gives a speech exhorting the women to avoid fear and temptation in the trials to come. When the governor sends for them, they ask Prokopios to pray on their behalf, which he does.As the women are brought before the tribunal, the governor makes one last attempt to win over Theodosia, but she merely rebukes him for putting his faith in idols. The governor has his men tear up her tunic, beat her mouth and then flog her. Then her sides are rent with iron 'hands', while the other women pray for her; the governor has their cheeks beaten with lead instruments. At last, seeing the futility of the torture, he orders all the women to be tied with a single chain and beheaded. The women are led, praying, to the place of execution, where their martyrdom is consummated on 29 May.After a few days, the governor summons Prokopios and rebukes him for destroying so many people; the saint asserts he instead saved them. The governor has his face ripped apart with iron 'hands' so that it becomes unrecognisable as human; his neck is crushed by beating with lead instruments. He is then imprisoned once more, and in the prison he prays for God to aid him and defeat the plots of the governor Oulkion. The governor at once succumbs to a relentless fever, which ultimately leads to his death. The word of God spreads, and many people come to the faith; Prokopios is worthy of his name, constantly praying to God for the persecutions to halt, and accomplishing many exorcisms.§ 12: In Caesarea there arrives as governor Flavianos, an inhumanly cruel and evil man. Having Prokopios brought before him, Flavianos asks for his name and attempts to persuade him to reject Christianity and sacrifice to the gods. Prokopios expresses his wish that the governor too could reject the idols and embrace Christ. He refers to the testimony of assorted pagan wise men (Hermes Trismegistos, Aristoteles, Sokrates, Platon, Galenos and Skamandros) who proclaimed a single god, whereas the shameful nature of the manifold gods venerated by men was exposed, especially by Homeros in his poetry. In contrast, Christ is truly a God, as the genuine consubstantial (ὁμοούσιος) Son of the Father, and by invoking his name Prokopios drives away the demons whom the pagans worship.§ 13: Flavianos attempts once more to win Prokopios over to paganism, urging him to enjoy the virtues of the hellenic life, threatening him with torture and death if he should fail to comply. Prokopios declares that a servant of God is undaunted by torture and mocks the governor as a worshipper of mere stone and wood and other matter: why not worship iron rather than wood; since iron is melted by fire, why not fire; since fire is quenched by water, why not water? Why worship materials which destroy and reduce each other? One must therefore worship God in action and prayer alone, the God who saved humanity from death.§ 14: The governor orders a soldier, Archelaos, to kill the saint with a sword. When Archelaos draws his weapon, his hand is at once paralysed and he falls to the ground and expires. Flavianos orders the saint thrown in prison in irons. In prison, the martyr gives an extended prayer of thanks to God for the salvation of humanity, and for his help in times of need. He prays for God to fulfil his contest, safeguarding him from the wiles of the devil. After his prayer, he hears a voice saying 'Prokopios, man up and be strong'.§ 15: On the sixth day Flavianos has Prokopios brought before him and orders him to sacrifice to the gods. The martyr refuses. Flavianos attributes the sudden death of the executioner and the apparent disappearance of the martyr's wounds to sorcery. He orders Prokopios to be tortured with whips and burning charcoal. While being tortured, Prokopios declares he is content to bear witness to Christ and continuously mocks the governor, who gives orders for him to be tortured additionally with heated irons.§ 16: When Prokopios continues to speak against the pagan gods, Flavianos devises a new cruel device: an altar is set up and the martyr's hand is filled with burning coal, topped with incense. The governor declares that if he turns his hand around, he will have sacrificed to the gods. Prokopios, however, with the strength of his faith holds fast and keeps his hand still, to the amazement of the onlookers. Flavianos, frustrated, asks why Prokopios weeps and groans if he indeed pays no heed to the torture; the martyr, however, affirms that his body is of clay, and clay, in contact with fire, expels the liquid within it; at the same time, he says, he weeps for the governor's soul. Flavianos orders him to be taken to the prison, and the next day he orders two great stones with holes drilled into them to be brought, and the martyr to be strung up with his hands tied [to the stones], so that the weight would dislocate his limbs.§ 17: When this punishment too has no effect on Prokopios, the governor orders him to be thrown into a burning furnace. As the martyr is about to enter, he makes the sign of the cross and prays to God for salvation, invoking Old Testament precedents such as the three Hebrew youths in the furnace. § 18: As he prays, the fire shoots out of the furnace, consuming the 'servants of impiety'. The crowd calls for Prokopios to be immediately dispatched. Frightened, the governor gives out in writing his decision to execute Prokopios as punishment for disobedience towards the gods, insulting the emperor and destroying masses of people with his sorcery. After arriving at the place of execution, the martyr obtains from the executioner permission to pray for a single hour. In an extended prayer, he praises God for His benefactions and then asks Him to safeguard his city from idol-worship and to rescue people from a variety of afflictions and tribulations. Prokopios also makes a couple of requests relating to his own cult: 1) that whoever builds a church [literally 'house of rest', οἶκον ἀναπαύσεως] and obtains a piece of his relics, be safe from temptation, sorrow, illness, demonic assault and magic, and that 2) whoever invokes the martyr's name, whether living in a city or in the countryside, be safe from all sorrows.§ 19: The martyr's prayer is answered by a voice from the heavens, affirming that the heavens await his arrival and that his requests have been granted. Prokopios then makes the sign of the cross and is beheaded; Christians take his relics. The martyrdom took place on 8 July, in the reign of the emperor Diokletianos.Text: Papadopoulos-Kerameus 1898, 1-27, and Delehaye 1909, 228-233. Summary: N. Kälviäinen.

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