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E07491: The Latin Martyrdom of *Maxima, Donatilla and Secunda (virgins and martyrs of Thuburbo, Africa Proconsularis, S01812) recounts how three young girls refused the order to sacrifice, were exposed to the beasts (in vain), and eventually beheaded. Written presumably in Africa, probably in the 4th or 5th c.

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posted on 2019-03-29, 00:00 authored by sadamiak
The martyrdom of Maxima, Donatilla and Secunda

1. The proconsul of Africa, Anulinus, following the orders of the emperors Maximian and Gallienus [sic!], rounds up the Christians of Possesio Cephalitana [in the territory of Thuburbo Maius] and commands them to sacrifice to the idols, which the majority, including the presbyters and deacons, duly do.

2. Two beautiful young virgins defy the orders. The first of them, fourteen-year-old Maxima, is interrogated by Anulinus.

3. Anulinus interrogates Donatilla, the sister of Maxima. He orders both of them to be deported to Thuburbo and to be given only gall and vinegar.

4. Twelve-year-old Secunda, seeing Donatilla and Maxima, jumps off the balcony of her parents‘ house to join them. Donatilla and Maxima start by discouraging her, reminding her that she is the only child of her parents, but they eventually accept her.

5. Anulinus again orders Donatilla and Maxima to sacrifice, and when they decline, he has them lashed. Then he gives them 'tatiba' to drink and sprinkles burning coals on their heads.

6. Anulinus brings the three girls to the amphitheatre and gives them over to a ferocious bear which has not eaten for two or three days.

Qui antequam ad Maximam sanctam properaret, coepit Donatilla ipsi dicere: ‘Fac quod tibi praeceptum est; noli timere.’ Statimque ursus vocem dedit et Maxima vocem eius intellexit; et pedes eius bestia linxit et virgines Dei illaesas dimisit.

‘Before it had approached the holy Maxima, Donatilla began to say to it, “Do what was commanded of you, don’t be afraid.“ And immediately the bear roared and Maxima understood its roar; and the beast licked her feet and sent the virgins of God away unharmed‘.

So Anulinus orders them to be beheaded. Their bodies were buried in the amphitheatre in the place reserved for the bodies of the executed.

Text: P. Franchi de' Cavalieri. Summary and translation: Stanisław Adamiak


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Maxima, Donatilla and Secunda (virgins and martyrs of Thuburbo, ob c. 304) : S01812

Saint Name in Source

Maxima; Secunda; Donatilla

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Thuburbo Minus

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

Thuburbo Minus Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle with animals and plants Miracle at martyrdom and death

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives



There are no reliable indicators of a date for this text, but it is probably of the fourth or fifth century. The edition of Charles de Smedt is based on the only existing manuscript. The 9th-century martyrology of Adon of Vienne used a manuscript with a slightly different version of story, but this version of the text has not been traced.


This text has sometimes been imputed to be Donatist, mainly because of the jump of Secunda from the balcony, which for Maier echoes the accusations against Donatists of killing themselves through precipitation from great heights. However, the goal of the girl’s leap is to join the other martyrs in haste, not to die on the spot! Arguably, the emphasis on the fidelity of young girls, contrasted with the betrayal of the clergy, could indeed indicate a Donatist milieu, but is not a sufficient proof for it. Franchi de’ Cavalieri considered the text to be a Donatist one modified by the Catholics, while Delehaye saw it the other way round. Both scholars see the addition of Secunda (in §4) as an interpolation; indeed, she appears unexpectedly in the middle of the story and then virtually disappears from it. On the other hand, the cult of the three martyrs together is confirmed by the inscriptions from Testour (E07483) and from Theveste. The date of their martyrdom, 30 July, which does not appear in this text, is given by the Calendar of Carthage (E02198) and by the Martyrologium Hieronimianum (E04898). Augustine preached in their honour on their feast day, 30 July 411 (Sermo 345, Frangipane 3; E04534). Gallienus is of course a mistake for Galerius. We do not know what ‘tatiba’ was; it is unknown form other sources.


Edition: Franchi de' Cavalieri, P., "Della passio sanctarum Maximae, Donatillae et Secundae," in: Note agiografiche, fasc. 8 (Città del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vatiana 1935), 75-100. Translation: Tilley, M.A., Donatist Martyr Stories. The Church in Conflict in Roman North Africa, Liverpool 1996, p. 13-24. Further reading: Dearn, A., "Donatist Martyrs, Stories and Attitudes", in: R. Miles (ed.), The Donatist Schism: Controversy and Contexts (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 2016), 70-100.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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