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E00051: Theophylact Simocatta in his History recounts the celebration of a liturgy and feast of thanksgiving in 590, by Dometianos, bishop of Melitene, at the basilica of the *Persian Martyrs of Martyropolis (S00041), after the return of Martyropolis (Mesopotamia) by the Persians to the Romans. In his sermon, the bishop makes several references to the saints, and presents the Persian surrender of the city as an offering to them. Written in Greek at Constantinople in the early 7th century.

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posted on 19.09.2014, 00:00 by Bryan
Theophylact Simocatta, History 4.15.18-4.16.28

(18.) … ὁ ἱερεὺς τῆς σωτηρίας τὴν ἑορτὴν ἐγκαινίζων τῆς πόλεως πανήγυρίν τε τοῖς καλλινίκοις συστησάμενος μάρτυσιν ἐπὶ τῶν βημάτων τῶν ὑψηλῶν τῆς ἐκκλησίας γενόμενος, παιωνίζων ᾆσμα καινὸν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐπινίκιον τοῖς ὠσὶ τοῦ κατεκκλησιασθέντος λαοῦ τάδε που διηγόρευεν.

'(18.) … the priest [Dometianos] inaugurated a festival for the city’s [Martyropolis] salvation and arranged a feast for its gloriously victorious martyrs [the Persian Martyrs]. Standing on the lofty pulpit in the church, he chanted a new victory-song to Christ, and addressed words such as these to the ears of the assembled people.'

There follows the sermon of Dometianos which celebrates the recovery of Martyropolis in Old Testament terms as a triumph of true over false religion. In the following passage, the bishop refers to Zoroastrian religion and fire worship and to their abolition after the recapture of Martyropolis:

(5.) δουλαγωγοῦνται γὰρ λέοντες, καὶ δράκοντες ἀποπνίγονται, καὶ Βὴλ καὶ Μίθρας ἀνδραποδίζονται, καὶ μαλθακεύεται πῦρ μήτε μαρτύρων ἐσθῆτος τυραννῆσαι δυνάμενον, ὑπὸ νάφθας καὶ πίττης ἀφθόνως καταρδευόμενον.

'(5.) For lions are enslaved, serpents choked, Bel and Mithras sold into slavery, and the fire has its power removed, the fire which cannot conquer the cloth of the martyrs, although liberally sprinkled with tar and pitch.'

Next the bishop addresses the city calling upon it to rejoice at its liberation, and referring several times to the martyrs. He also addresses the martyrs themselves referring to the surrender of the city by Khosrau II as an offering to them from a humiliated tyrant:

(10.) σὺ γὰρ δήμους μαρτύρων ἐν τοῖς ἔμπροσθεν καὶ πρεσβυτέροις χρόνοις ἐκέκτησο πᾶσαν ἀτραπὸν καὶ λεωφόρον τῶν σῶν λαγόνων ἐπικυμαίνοντας. (11.) ἐπιφανεστέρα σοι τῆς ἁλώσεως ἡ ἀνάζευξις· ἣν γὰρ ἔκλεψε δόλος, νῦν φόβος ἀπέδοτο, καὶ ἣν βασιλέως βαρβάρου πανουργία κακῶς ἀπεσύλησεν, νῦν ἐπιφανεστάτη δουλαγωγία καλῶς ἀντιδίδωσιν. (12.) ταύτην οἰκέτης ἐσταλμένος ὑμῖν, ὦ μάρτυρες, προσηγάγετο συμμάχους ἑλέσθαι θηρώμενος, οὓς ἀντιθέως τὸ πρότερον οὐκ ἐπρέσβευεν, ἐξ ἀποτεύξεως διδαχθεὶς τὴν εὐσέβειαν, ἐπεὶ καὶ Φαραὼ ὁ πάλαι μαστιζόμενος ἢ νουθετούμενος θεὸν σέβειν ἠνείχετο. (13.) ταύτην ὑμῖν ἀνατίθησιν, μάρτυρες, Βαβυλώνιος τύραννός τε καὶ ἔπηλυς, ὁ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ βασιλείας δραπέτης, ὁ νῦν Ῥωμαίοις ἀντὶ πολεμίου πειθήνιος· τοσαῦτα γὰρ ὑμεῖς τοῖς ἀνθεστηκόσιν ἐπαλαμήσασθε.

'(10.) For in ancient bygone times you [Martyropolis] had acquired companies of martyrs overflowing every highway and path of your vitals. (11.) Your return is more glorious than your capture: for what trickery stole, fear has now surrendered, what the villainy of a barbarian monarch wickedly despoiled, a most public slavery now excellently repays. (12.) The slave [Khosrau II] has dispatched this as an offering to you, o martyrs, in his search to gain as allies those whom he had earlier godlessly disregarded, being taught piety by failure, for even the Pharaoh of old was brought to honour God by punishment rather than admonition. (13.) This, martyrs, is your offering from the Babylonian tyrant and foreigner, the fugitive from his own kingdom, who is now obedient to the Romans rather than hostile. For such great deeds have you executed against your enemies.'

(16.) ᾄσωμεν ᾠδὴν τῷ κυρίῳ σωτήριον, ᾄσωμεν αὐτῷ μετὰ τῶν μαρτύρων ἐπινίκιον ὕμνον. ...

''(16.) Let us sing a song of salvation to the Lord, let us sing to him together with his martyrs a victory hymn.' ...

(23.) … ἀνενέργητον γὰρ καὶ νῦν τῶν Χαλδαίων τὸ πῦρ καταφλέξαι τῶν μαρτύρων τὸ πόλισμα. ...

'… for even now the fire of the Chaldeans has been made inefficacious to consume the city of the martyrs. ...'

After his account of the sermon, Simocatta tells of the Eucharist held to celebrate the victory, and the seven days of festivities that followed:

(28.) ὁ μὲν οὖν ἱερεὺς σφαγιάσας τὸν ἄρτον τόν τε οἶνον ἱερουργήσας τοῖς θεανδρικοῖς μυστηρίοις τὸ συνεληλυθὸς τῇ μεταλήψει ἡγίαζεν. καὶ οὕτω που ἡ πόλις ἡμέραις ἑπτὰ ταῖς θυμηδίαις καθεωρτάζετο.

'(28.) And so the priest, having slaughtered the bread and sacrificed the wine in the mysteries of the Incarnate God [= the Eucharist], sanctified the congregation through their partaking [= distributed communion]. And in such a way the city celebrated with festivities for seven days.'

Text: de Boor and Wirth 1972. Translation: Whitby and Whitby 1986, modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Persian Martyrs of Martyropolis : S00041 Persian martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S02756

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)



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

Theophylact Simocatta

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Sermon/homily

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Activities Accompanying Cult

  • Feasting (eating, drinking, dancing, singing, bathing)

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous behaviour of relics/images

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Zoroastrians Monarchs and their family Other lay individuals/ people Foreigners (including Barbarians)

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - cloth


Theophylact Simocatta wrote his History in Constantinople probably in the late 620s. The period covered by his work is the reign of Maurice (582-602), and the main subjects of the historical narrative are the wars of the East Roman Empire with Persia, and with the Avars and the Slavs in the Balkans. Several digressions of hagiographical, chronographical and geographical interest are inserted in the narrative. Using various earlier sources, Simocatta produces a positive account of Maurice, portraying him as a good emperor overthrown by a tyrant (Phocas). In fact, Maurice was very unpopular in his own times, but cleansing his memory was important to legitimise the rule of Heraclius (610-641), who presented his own coup against Phocas as avenging the murder of Maurice. A supporter and successful official of Heraclius’ regime, Simocatta apparently served this particular political agenda. Further reading: Whitby and Whitby 1986, xiii-xxx (introduction); Whitby 1988; Frendo 1988; Olajos 1988.


The passage belongs to Simocatta’s account of the joint military operations of Roman and Persian troops in Mesopotamia for the restoration of Khosrau II to the Persian throne in 590. The precise context is the return of Martyropolis to the Romans offered by Khosrau after several months of Persian occupation. The transition of the city back to Roman rule is managed by Dometianos, bishop of Melitene, a relative and confidant of the emperor Maurice (Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire IIIa, 'Domitianus'). After arresting and executing traitors and collaborators in Martyropolis, Dometianos organises a triumphal feast to celebrate the liberation of the city. Seven weeks of festivities open with a liturgy of thanksgiving at the basilica of the Persian Martyrs of Martyropolis, during which Dometianos gives a sermon to celebrate the occasion. Simocatta describes the event and sermon in Old Testament terms. His reference to Dometianos as 'chanting a new victory-song to Christ' is evidently an allusion to Psalm 96:1, without necessarily meaning that the bishop literally sung a specially composed hymn (contra Fowden 1999, 58). The content of the sermon was most probably fully devised by Simocatta himself. It contains several contemptuous expressions for the Persians and Khosrau, and presents the liberation of Martyropolis as a defeat of Persian tyranny and religion and as an offering to the Martyrs. The reference to the clothes of the Martyrs being spared by fire (4.16.5-6) seems to be referring to a miracle: it may hint at a lost detail from the saints' hagiography or at some attempt of the Persians to destroy the relics or the church. Alternatively, it may be an allegorical reference to the Persian arson of the suburbs of Martyropolis during the unsuccessful siege of 585. The latter incident is more explicitly alluded at in 4.16.23. All references to fire are probably ironic allusions to Zoroastrian worship. Further reading: Fowden 1999, 45-59; Frendo 1988, 152-153; Mango 1985, 91-93; Olajos 1988, 65-66; Whitby 1988, 239; Whitby and Whitby 1986, 127-131.


Edition: de Boor, C., and Wirth, P., Theophylacti Simocattae Historiae (Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana; Leipzig: Teubner, 1972). Translation: Whitby, M., and Whitby, M., The History of Theophylact Simocatta: An English Translation with Introduction and Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986). Further reading: Fowden, E.K., The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius Between Byzantium and Iran (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1999). Frendo, J.D.C., “History and Panegyric in the Age of Heraclius: The Literary Background of the Composition of the Histories of Theophylact Simocatta,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 42 (1988), 143-156. Mango, C., “Deux études sur Byzance et la Perse Sassanide,” Travaux et Mémoires 9 (1985), 91-118. Olajos, T., Les Sources de Théophylacte Simocatta Historien (Leiden: Brill, 1988). Whitby, M., The Emperor Maurice and his Historian: Theophylact Simocatta on Persian and Balkan Warfare (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

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