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E07159: Procopius of Caesarea, in his Secret History, written in 550/562, recounts how Photius, foster son of Belisarius, when trying to escape house arrest imposed on him by the empress Theodora, sought asylum in the churches of *Mary (Mother of Christ; S00033) and *Sophia (Holy Wisdom, S00705). Photius had also a vision of *Zechariah (Old Testament Prophet, S00283) who bade him escape to Jerusalem. Written in Greek in Constantinople.

online resource
posted on 2018-12-13, 00:00 authored by julia
Procopius of Caesarea, Secret History, 3.21-29

ἦν δὲ οἰκίδια τῇ Θεοδώρᾳ ἀπόκρυφα μὲν καὶ ὅλως λεληθότα ζοφώδη τε καὶ ἀγείτονα, ἔνθα δὴ οὔτε νυκτὸς οὔτε ἡμέρας δήλωσις γίνεται. ἐνταῦθα τὸν Φώτιον ἐπὶ χρόνου μῆκος καθείρξασα ἐτήρει. ὅθεν δὴ αὐτῷ ξυνέβη τις τύχη οὐχ ἅπαξ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ δὶς διαφυγόντι ἀπαλλαγῆναι. καὶ τὰ μὲν πρῶτα καταφυγὼν εἰς τὸν ναὸν τῆς θεοτόκου, ὅσπερ ἐν Βυζαντίοις ἁγιώτατός ἐστί τε καὶ ὠνομάσθη, παρὰ τὴν ἱερὰν τράπεζαν ἱκέτης καθῆστο. ἐντεῦθέν τε αὐτὸν ἀναστήσασα βίᾳ τῇ άσῃ καθεῖρξεν αὖθις. τὸ δὲ δὴ δεύτερον ἐς τῆς Σοφίας τὸ ἱερὸν ἥκων, ἐς αὐτήν που τὴν θείαν δεξαμενὴν ἐξαπιναίως ἐκάθισεν, ἥνπερ μάλιστα πάντων νενομίκασι Χριστιανοὶ σέβειν. ἀλλὰ κἀνθένδε ἀφέλκειν αὐτὸν ἡ γυνὴ ἴσχυσε. χωρίον γὰρ ἀβέβηλον πώποτε ἀνέφαπτον αὐτῇ οὐδὲν γέγονεν, ἀλλ’ αὐτῇ βιάζεσθαι τὰ ἱερὰ ξύμπαντα οὐδὲν πρᾶγμα ἐδόκει εἶναι. καὶ ξὺν τῷ δήμῳ οἱ τῶν Χριστιανῶν ἱερεῖς καταπεπληγμένοι τῷ δέει ἐξίσταντο καὶ ἐνεχώρουν αὐτῇ ἅπαντα. τριῶν μὲν οὖν αὐτῷ ἐνιαυτῶν χρόνος ἐν ταύτῃ τῇ διαίτῃ ἐτρίβη, ὕστερον δὲ ὁ προφήτης αὐτῷ Ζαχαρίας ἐπιστὰς ὄναρ ὅρκοις, φασὶν, ἐκέλευσε φεύγειν, συλλήψεσθαί οἱ ἐν τῷ ἔργῳ τῷδε ὁμολογήσας. ταύτῃ τε τῇ ὄψει ἀναπεισθεὶς ἀνέστη τε ἐνθένδε καὶ διαλαθὼν εἰς τὰ Ἱεροσόλυμα ἦλθε, μυρίων μὲν αὐτὸν διερευνωμένων ἀνθρώπων, οὐδενὸς δὲ τὸν νεανίαν, καίπερ ἐντυχόντα, ὁρῶντος. οὗ δὴ ἀποθριξάμενός τε καὶ τῶν μοναχῶν καλουμένων τὸ σχῆμα περιβαλλόμενος τὴν ἐκ Θεοδώρας κόλασιν διαφυγεῖν ἔσχε.

'Now Theodora had concealed rooms which were completely hidden, being dark and isolated, where no indication of night or day could be observed. There she confined Photius and kept him under guard for a long time. From this place he had the fortune, not once but even twice, to escape and get away. The first time he fled to the Church of the Mother of God, which among the Byzantines is considered most holy, as it indeed was designated in its name, and he sat as a suppliant beside the holy table. Thence she forced him with great violence to rise and once more put him into confinement. And the second time he reached the sanctuary of Sophia, and he suddenly seated himself close to the divine receptacle itself, which the Christians have been wont to reverence above all things. But the woman succeeded in dragging him away even from there. For no inviolable spot ever remained inaccessible to her, but it seemed nothing to her to do violence to any and all sacred things. And not only the populace but also the priests of the Christians, smitten with terror, stood aside and conceded everything to her. So a period of three years was passed by him in this manner of life, but afterwards the prophet Zechariah stood over him in a dream and with oaths, they say, commanded him to flee, promising that he would lend him a hand in this undertaking. Persuaded by this vision he got away from there and escaping detection came to Jerusalem, and though countless persons were searching for him, no man saw the youth, even when he stood before him. There he shaved his head, and by clothing himself in the garb of the monks, as they are called, he succeeded in escaping the punishment of Theodora.'

Text: Wirth 1963. Translation: Dewing 1935.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Sophia, personified Holy Wisdom : S00705 Zechariah, Old Testament prophet : S00283

Saint Name in Source

Θεοτόκος Σοφία Ζαχαρίας

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Seeking asylum at church/shrine

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Freeing prisoners, exiles, captives, slaves


Procopius of Caesarea, (c. 500 – c. 560/561 AD) was a soldier and historian from the Roman province of Palaestina Prima. He accompanied the Roman general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian (527-565). He wrote the Secret History, the Wars (or Histories), and On Buildings. The Secret History was composed between 550 and 562 at the latest. It covers roughly the same years as the first seven books of The Wars (i.e. 527-551) and appears to have been written after they were published. It is a pamphlet on the reign of emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora which claims to expose secrets of their public actions, as well as private life of both them and their entourage, especially Belisarius and his wife Antonina. Justinian is depicted as cruel, venal and prodigal and Theodora as vulgar, lustful and mean. Focused as it is on palace intrigue, the Secret History tells us very little about the cult of saints.


Text and translation: Wirth, G. (after J. Haury), Historia Arcana in: Procopii Caesarensis opera omnia, vol. 3 (Leipzig: Teubner, 1963). Dewing, H.B., Procopius, The Anecdota or Secret History (Loeb Classical Library 290; Cambridge, MA, 1935). Kaldellis, A., Prokopios, The Secret History: With Related Texts (Indianapolis, 2010). Further reading: Adshead, K., 1993. “The Secret History of Procopius and Its Genesis,” Byzantion 63 (1993), 5–28. Cameron, A., Procopius and the Sixth Century (London, 1985). Croke, B., 2005. “Procopius' 'Secret History’: Rethinking the Date,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 45:4 (2005), 405‐431. Evans, J.A.S., 1970. “Justinian and the Historian Procopius,” Greece & Rome 17:2 (1970), 218–223. Greatrex, G., “The Dates of Procopius’ Works,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 18 (1994), 101-114. Kaldellis, A., “The Date and Structure of Prokopios’ Secret History and His Projected Work on Church History,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 49:4 (2009), 585-616. Kaldellis, A., Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity (Philadelphia, 2012).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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