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E07727: Gregory of Tours, in his Histories (1.30), mentions a number of martyrdoms which took place during the reign of the emperor Decius (249-251), naming *Babylas (bishop and martyr of Antioch, S00061) and his companions the *Three Children (S00319), *Xystus/Sixtus II (bishop and martyr of Rome, S00201), *Laurence/Laurentius (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037), and *Hippolytus (martyr of Rome, S00509). Written in Latin in Tours (north-west Gaul), 575/594.

online resource
posted on 2019-08-14, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gregory of Tours, Histories (Historiae) 1.30

Sub Decio vero imperatore multa bella adversum nomen christianum exoriuntur, et tanta stragis de credentibus fuit, ut nec numerari quaeant. Babillas episcopus Anthiocinus cum tribus parvolis, id est Urban, Prilidan et Epolon, et Xystus Romanae eclesiae episcopus et Laurentius archidiaconus et Hyppolitus ob dominici nominis confessionem per martyrium consummati sunt.

'When Decius was Emperor, a long series of wars was waged against those who bore the name of Christians, and such slaughter was made among the believers that it is not possible to list those who died. Babylas, the Bishop of Antioch, with three boys called Urbanus, Prilidanus and Epolon, Sixtus, Bishop of the church in Rome, Laurentius the Archdeacon and Hippolytus all died as martyrs through confessing the name of our Lord.'

Text: Krusch and Levison 1951, 22. Translation: Thorpe 1974, 86.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Babylas, bishop and martyr of Antioch, and companions : S00061 Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037 Xystus/Sixtus II, bishop and martyr of Rome : S00201 Hippolytus, martyr of Rome : S00509 Three Children, martyrs of Antioch : S

Saint Name in Source

Babillas Laurentius Xystus Hyppolitus Urban, Prilidan, Epolon

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Tours Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Tours

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - Popes Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Children


Gregory of Tours wrote the Histories (Historiae) during his episcopate in Tours (573–594). They constitute the longest and most detailed historical work of the post-Roman West. Gregory's focus is Gaul under its Frankish kings, above all the territories of Tours and (to a lesser extent) Clermont, where he had been born and brought up. Much of his work tells of the years when, as bishop of an important see, he was himself centrally involved in Frankish politics. The Histories are often wrongly referred to as a History of the Franks. Although the work does contain a history of the rulers of Francia, it also includes much hagiographical material, and Gregory himself gave it the simple title the 'ten books of Histories' (decem libri historiarum), when he produced a list of his own writings (Histories 10.31). The Histories consist of ten books whose scope and contents differ considerably. Book 1 skims rapidly through world history, with biblical and secular material from the Creation to the death in AD 397 of Martin of Tours (Gregory’s hero and predecessor as bishop). It covers 5596 years. In Book 2, which covers 114 years, the focus moves firmly into Gaul, covering the years up to the death of Clovis in 511. Books 3 and 4, which cover 37 and 27 years respectively, then move fairly swiftly on, closing with the death of king Sigibert in 575. With Book 5, through to the final Book 10, the pace slows markedly, and the detail swells, with only between two and four years covered in each of the last six books, breaking off in 591. These books are organised in annual form, based on the regnal years of Childebert II (r. 575-595/6). There continues to be much discussion over when precisely Gregory wrote specific parts of the Histories, though there is general agreement that none of it was written before 575 and, of course, none of it after Gregory's death, which is believed to have occurred in 594. Essentially, scholars are divided over whether Gregory wrote the Histories sequentially as the years from 575 unfolded, with little or no revision thereafter, or whether he composed the whole work over the space of a few years shortly before his death and after 585 (see Murray 2015 for the arguments on both sides). For an understanding of the political history of the time, and Gregory's attitude to it, precisely when the various books were written is of great importance; but for what he wrote about the saints, the precise date of composition is of little significance, because Gregory's attitude to saints, their relics and their miracles did not change significantly during his writing-life. We have therefore chosen to date Gregory's writing of our entries only within the broadest possible parameters: with a terminus post quem of 575 for the early books of the Histories, and thereafter the year of the events described, and a terminus ante quem of 594, set by Gregory's death. (Bryan Ward-Perkins, David Lambert) For general discussions of the Histories see: Goffart, W., The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550–800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton, 1988), 119–127. Murray, A.C., "The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and Its Bearing on the Political Narrative," in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden and Boston, 2015), 63–101. Pizarro, J.M., "Gregory of Tours and the Literary Imagination: Genre, Narrative Style, Sources, and Models in the Histories," in: Murray, A Companion to Gregory of Tours, 337–374.


Gregory is mistaken in placing the martyrdoms of Xystus and Laurence under the reign of Decius: they actually took place in 258, during the persecution launched by the emperor Valerian (253-260). Gregory's reference to the martyr of Antioch Babylas, and the three boys traditionally martyred alongside him, merges interestingly disparate elements. He correctly places Babylas' death under Decius, rather than – as depicted in the hagiographical tradition about Babylas – Numerian (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.39: E00276; note that Eusebius states that Babylas was not martyred but died in prison). Like most of Gregory's information about the pre-Constantinian church, this was presumably based on Rufinus' Latin translation of Eusebius. However, he also mentions the three boys supposedly martyred alongside Babylas, about whom Eusebius says nothing and whose story seems to have been entirely a product of the hagiographical tradition, and not only mentions them but gives them names: Urbanus, Priidanus and Epolon. These names do not appear in any of the early Martyrdoms of Babylas, either Greek (E02684) or Latin (E02421), nor in works dependent on them, such as Aldhelm's prose On Virginity (E06566), all of which refer to the boys simply as parvuli or similar words. The earliest text cited by Krusch and Levison as a parallel (Krusch/Levison 1951, 22, n. 3) is Bede's Martyrology (c. 725), whose source for the names is unclear (and could be this passage in Gregory). Gregory's source for the names is therefore completely unknown.


Edition: Krusch, B., and Levison, W., Gregorii episcopi Turonensis Libri historiarum X (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.1; 2nd ed.; Hannover, 1951). Translation: Thorpe, L., Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks (Penguin Classics; London, 1974). Further reading: Murray, A.C., "The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and Its Bearing on the Political Narrative", in: A.C. Murray (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston 2015), 63-101.

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