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E07672: The Latin Martyrdom of the *Martyrs of Abitina (02529 S02529) tells the story of a group of Christians from Abitina (Africa Proconsularis) who were taken to Carthage, and executed there. In its present, clearly Donatist form, it was probably wrx§itten in the 5th c., certainly in North Africa. On the Saints Card I have changed them to 'Martyrs of Abitina', since it doesn't seem to me that there are particular figures amongst them who stand out from the others. I hope this is OK>

online resource
posted on 2019-06-28, 00:00 authored by sadamiak
Title of work

Incipiunt confessiones et actus martyrum Saturnini presbyteri, Datiui, Felicis, Ampelii et ceterorum infrascriptorum, qui propter collectas et scripturas dominicas sub Anullino tunc proconsule Africae die pridie Idus Februarii Carthagine dominum confessi diuersis locis temporibusque discretis beatissimum sanguinem profuderunt.

‘Here begin the confessions and the judicial record of the martyrs, Saturninus the presbyter, Dativus, Felix, Ampelius, and the others written below. They confessed the Lord under Anulinus, then proconsul of Africa, on the day before the Ides of February [12 February], on charges regarding assembly and the scriptures of the Lord; and, in diverse places and at various times, they poured out their most blessed blood’. The end here is surely wrong - where is 'Carthagine'?!! I think it should read: , who, because of their assembly and the scriptures of the Lord, under Anulinus the then proconsul of Africa, on the day before the Ides of February [12 February] poured out their blood in Carthage, having confessed the Lord in different places and at various times.' I am not at all confident about 'collectas', but perhaps it's OK.

1. Qui religionis sanctissima fide praeditus exsultat et gloriatur in Christo quique dominica ueritate gaudet, errore damnato, ut ecclesiam catholicam teneat, sanctam quoque communionem a profana discernat, acta martyrum legat quae necessario in archiuo memoriae conscripta sunt ne, saeculis transeuntibus, obsolesceret et gloria martyrum et damnatio traditorum! (…)
Consulto quidem hoc faciens duplici scilicet modo, ut et imitatoribus eorum ad martyrium animos praeparemus et, quos uiuere in perpetuum atque cum domino Christo regnare confidimus, etiam confessiones ipsorum, pugnas atque uictorias, cum in litteras digerimus, aeternae memoriae conferamus. (…)

‘Everyone endowed with reverence for the most holy faith exults and glories in Christ. Once error has been condemned, let whoever rejoices in the Lord’s truth read the records of the martyrs so as to hold fast to the Catholic Church and distinguish communion that is holy from that which is unholy. These [records] have been inscribed in the indispensable archives of memory lest both the glory of the martyrs and the condemnation of the traitors fade with the passing of the ages. (...)
I write with a specific two-fold resolve: that we might prepare our very selves for martyrdom by imitating them and that, when we have committed to writing the battles and victories of their confessions, we may entrust to everlasting memory those whom we believe to live forever and reign with Christ’. (...)

2. In the times of Diocletian and Maximian ‘the devil waged war against the Christians’ by ordering the burning of the holy books, the destruction of the basilicas, and the prevention of the Christians from praying together. Some Christians betrayed the faith, but many resisted, and paid with blood for it.
Some Christians were arrested in Abitina, while they were celebrating the sacraments. They were: Saturninus, and his four children - namely, Saturninus the Younger and Felix (both lectors), Maria (a consecrated virgin), and the child Hilarianus; the others being Dativus (a senator), Felix, another Felix, Emeritus, Ampelius, Rogatianus, Quintus, Maximus, Telica, Rogatianus, Rogatus, Ianuarius, Cassianus, Victorianus, Vincentius, Cecelianus, Restituta, Prima, Eva, Rogatianus, Giualius, Rogatus, Pomponia, Secunda, Ianuaria, Saturnina, Martinus, Clautus, Felix, the elder Margarita, Honorata, Regiola, Victorinus, Pelusius, Faustus, Datianus, Matrona, Cecilia, Victoria, Hecretina, and Ianuaria.

The presbyter Saturninus is surrounded by his children.

3. The arrested are conducted to the forum of Abitina.

4. They are chained and taken to Carthage where they are handed over to the proconsul Anulinus.

5-6. The proconsul questions and tortures the martyrs.

6. Talia precanti proconsul: ‘Quis est auctor tecum, inquit, congregationis uestrae?’ Qui crudelius saeuiente carnifice clara uoce respondit: ‘Saturninus presbyter et omnes’. O martyrem primatum omnibus dantem! Non enim presbyterum fratribus praetulit, sed presbytero fratres confessionis consortio copulauit. Quaerenti igitur proconsuli Saturninum ostendit; non quod illum prodidit quem secum aduersus diabolum pariter dimicare cernebat, sed ut illi panderet integre se celebrasse collectam quando cum ipsis etiam presbyter fuerat. (…)

‘In response to such a prayer the proconsul asked, “Who is the leader of your congregation?” To the executioner now attacking more fiercely he Who is this? Is it Dativus? responded loudly, “Saturninus the presbyter and all of us.” O martyr, giving primacy to all! He does not give the presbyter priority over the sisters and brothers but he joins them to the presbyter in the fellowship of their confession. That is why he pointed to Saturninus when the proconsul asked. He did not do it to single out the person whom he saw fighting equally with him against the devil, but to explain fully that he celebrated in the assembly with them as their presbyter’. (…) I can see why you like this presbyterial passage!

7. The brother of Victoria, one of the martyrs, arrives and accuses Dativus of having lured his sister into becoming Christian. Victoria responds that she did so on her own initiative.

8-9. Further tortures of Dativus follow.

10. The presbyter Saturninus is summoned and admits having celebrated the Lord’s supper.

11. While Saturninus is tortured, Emeritus, a lector, claims that it was him who organised the meetings. The tortures of Dativus continue.

12. Emeritus admits that the Lord’s supper was organised in his house, against the orders of the emperor. He admits that he knows the holy Scripture by heart, so he cannot give up the books. The proconsul sentences him to death.

13. Felix is brought forward. Anulinus wants him only to say whether he participated in illegal assemblies, but Felix professes himself a Christian and says that a Christian cannot exist without the Lord’s supper. Felix is flogged to death.

14. Another Felix is also flogged to death. Ampelius, Rogatianus, Quintus, Maximus and the younger Felix are also killed.

15. Anulinus urges Saturninus, the son of the presbyter Saturninus, to say whether he attended the assemblies or had any Scriptures. Saturninus constantly professes himself a Christian, and is tortured to death.

16. When the night approaches, Anulinus throws the rest of the Christians into jail.

17. The beauty and virtues of Victoria are praised:
Huic namque ab infantia iam clara pudicitiae signa fulgebant et in rudibus adhuc annis apparebat rigor castissimus mentis et quaedam dignitas futurae passionis. Denique postquam plena uirginitas adultum aetatis tempus expleuit, cum puella nolens et reluctans in nuptias a parentibus cogeret inuitaeque sibi traderent sponsum parentes, ut praedonem pudoris urgeret clam sese per praeceps puella dimittit aurisque famulantibus supportata incolumis gremio terrae suscipitur. (…)

‘Even in her tender years, a most chaste firmness of mind and a sure worthiness for her future suffering appeared. Finally, after total virginity complemented the mature part of her life, and when the young woman unwillingly and reluctantly was forced into a marriage and her parents gave her a bridegroom against her will, the young woman secretly threw herself off a cliff so that she might flee the man who would carry her off like booty. Supported by compliant breezes, she was received unharmed on the lap of the earth’. (…)

She has preserved her virginity while in the Church. Anulinus asks her whether she wants to go free with her brother, but she declines, professing herself to be Christian. Anulinus sends her to prison with the others.

18. Hilarianus, another son of Saturninus, confesses and is brought to prison.

19. The surviving Christians of Abitina join in prison confessors from other places, among them bishops, presbyters, deacons, and other clerics.

20. Mensurius, ‘so-called bishop of Carthage, polluted by the recent handing over of scripture, ‘who had had to beg and implore from the martyrs pardon for burning the books’, orders his deacon Caecilianus to prevent the faithful from providing the imprisoned Christians with food and drink. Caecilianus executes this order in a brutal and ruthless way.

21. The imprisoned martyrs are undisturbed by anything and they decree that all Christians should separate from the traitors (i.e. those who gave up the holy books).

Haec comminantes singuli ad passionis gloriam festinabant supremamque testationem ita unusquisque martyrum cruore proprio consignabat. Exinde ecclesia sancta sequitur martyre Is this right - fine if so et detestatur Mensurii perfidiam traditoris.

‘Sharing in these judgements, one by one, they hurried off to the glory of suffering and to the ultimate testimony. Each one of the martyrs signed the judgement with their own blood. Accordingly, the Holy Church follows the martyrs and curses the treachery of the traitor Mensurius’.

22. Further exhortation to be in communion with the good, and not the bad, follows.

23. Fugienda est ergo et exsecranda pollutorum omnium congregatio uitiosa et appetanda omnibus beatissimorum martyrum successio gloriosa quae est ecclesia una, sancta et uera catholica, ex qua martyres profecti sunt et cui martyres testamenta diuina seruantur. Haec etenim sola persecutionis infestae impetus fregit, haec legem domini usque ad effusionem sanguinis conseruaui, in hac uirtutes apostolicae santci spiritus praesentia frequententur, baptisma salutare perficitur, uita perpetua reparatur. Semper enim illi propitius insidet deus, adest dominus Christus, collaetatur et gaudet spiritus sanctus, in confessoribus uictor, i


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Saturninus, Dativus, Felix, Ampelius, and companions, martyrs of Abitina (North Africa), killed in Carthage : S02529

Saint Name in Source

Saturninus; Saturninus; Felix; Maria; Hilarianus; Dativus; Felix; Felix; Emeritus; Ampelius; Rogatianus; Quintus; Maximus; Telica; Rogatianus; Rogatus; Januarius; Cassianus; Victorianus; Vincentius; Cecelianus; Restituta; Prima; Eva; Rogatianus; Giua

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


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

Abitina Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult Activities - Miracles

Changing abilities and properties of the body Miracle during lifetime

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Other lay individuals/ people


The dating of the text is very difficult. Maureen Tilley believed it to be written immediately after the events it is describing, between 304 and 311/312. The majority of scholars (including Franchi de‘ Cavalieri, Monceaux, and Frend), however, have considered the existing text to have been written by a Donatist polemicist in the fifth century, but using an original, earlier source which had faithfully described events from the times of the Great Persecution. All six principal manuscripts of the text can be described as ‘Donatist.’ There was once a view that there had been a Catholic version of the text, but this resulted from the action of the 17th-century editor, Ruinart, who purged the existing text from what he considered to be Donatist additions. Franchi de‘ Cavalieri’s edition from 1935 proved this opinion to be unfounded. It was often argued that some version of this Martyrdom was the ‘gesta’ produced during the Conference of Carthage between the Catholics and the Donatists in 411. The argument is supported by the passage in Augustine, Breviculus conlationis 3.17.32 (CSEL 53,81), where he mentions the date of 12 February as the date of the ‘gesta’ he refers to; the date is the same as the one given in our Martyrdom. However, Dearn shows that there is no reference to the accusations against Mensurius and Caecilianus (which feature prominently in the Martyrdom), neither in Optatus, nor in Augustine, nor in the acts of the Conference of Carthage, and therefore he argues persuasively that the text was written after 411. This opinion has been shared by Zocca and Fialon. Dearn concludes: ‘The martyrs of the Passio Saturnini may have been venerated as part of a past held in common by all north African Christians prior to 411, but there is no evidence that they enjoyed any special prestige. Rather, it seems that their hagiography gained in popularity in the years after the council to reinforce the group identity of at least some Donatists. Regardless of whether they ever really suffered under Anullinus, the Abitinians as we know them are a Donatist invention’ (Dearne 2004: 18). Tilley uses for her translation another manuscript, which puts the martyrdom on the 15th day before the Kalends of February, i.e. 17 January. The martyrs appear under the date of 12 February for the first time in the martyrology of Usuardus (9th c.).


Given the complicated history of the creation of this text, it cannot be taken at face value as a source for the history of the Great Persecution and its aftermath. However, it is precious evidence for the Donatist view on martyrdom as the fundament of their identity and the factor that distinguished them from the "Church of the betrayers", i.e. the Catholics. A supernatural element concerning the virgin Victoria does not appear in the immediate context of the martyrdom. Accidently, it seems to corrobate the Catholic portayal of the Donatist as prone to suicide by precipitating from heights.This isn't clear as expressed. ? Although the incident does not occur in the context of the martyrdom itself, the story of the virgin Victoria throwing herself off a cliff in order to avoid marriage, lends some support to the Catholic claim that Donatists were prone to seeking self-martyrdom by precipitating themselves from heights.


Edition: Franchi de' Cavalieri, P., "Passio ss. Dativi, Saturnini presb. et aliorum", in: Idem, Note agiografiche, fasc. 8 (Città del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vatiana 1935), 47-71. Maier, J.L., Le dossier du donatisme. I. Des origines à la mort de Constance II (303-361) (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Altchristlichen Literatur; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1987), 57-92. Translation: Tilley, M.A., Donatist Martyr Stories: The Church in Conflict in Roman North Africa (Translated Texts for Historians 24; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996), 25-49. Further reading: Beschaouch, A., "Sur la localisation d'Abitina, la cité des célèbres martyrs africains", Comptes Rendus des séances de l'Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 120:2 (1976), 255-266. Dearn, A., "The Abitinian Martyrs and the Outbreak of the Donatist Schism", Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 55 (2004), 1-18. Franchi de' Cavalieri, P., "La passio dei martiri abitinensi", in: Idem, Note agiografiche, fasc. 8 (Città del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vatiana 1935), 1-46. Zocca, E., "Tra antropologia e filologia: il caso della Passio dei martiri di Abitene (BHL 7492), in: A. Santiemma (ed.), Scritti in onore de Gilberto Mazzoleni (Rome: Bulzoni 2010), 389-427.

Continued Description

n martyribus triumphator. ‘Therefore, one must flee and curse the whole corrupt congregation of all the polluted people and all must seek the glorious lineage of the blessed martyrs, which is the one, holy, and true Church, from which the martyrs arise and whose divine mysteries the martyrs observe. She and she alone broke the force of infernal persecution; she preserved the law of the Lord even to the shedding of blood. In her the virtues of the people are cultivated in the presence of the Holy Spirit, saving baptism is performed, life is renewed forever. God remains ever merciful to them. The Lord Christ is here and with the Holy Spirit rejoices and is glad, victor among the confessors, conqueror among the martyrs’.Text: Maier 1987. Translation: Tilley 1997, lightly modified 'modified', if the omission of Carthage is hers. Summary: S. Adamiak.

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