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E01868: Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Ecclesiastical History, summarises the Egyptian martyrdom account of *Potamiaina, Markella, and Basileides (martyrs of Alexandria, S00945). It is one of the earliest attestations of the belief in the power of a martyr’s posthumous prayers and intercession. Written in Greek in Palestine, 311/325.

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posted on 27.09.2016, 00:00 by erizos
Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 6.5

(1.) Ἕβδομος ἐν τούτοις ἀριθμείσθω Βασιλείδης, τὴν περιβόητον Ποταμίαιναν ἀπαγαγών, περὶ ἧς πολὺς ὁ λόγος εἰς ἔτι νῦν παρὰ τοῖς ἐπιχωρίοις ᾄδεται, μυρία μὲν ὑπὲρ τῆς τοῦ σώματος ἁγνείας τε καὶ παρθενίας, ἐν ᾗ διέπρεψεν, πρὸς ἐραστὰς ἀγωνισαμένης (καὶ γὰρ οὖν αὐτῇ ἀκμαῖον πρὸς τῇ ψυχῇ καὶ τὸ τοῦ σώματος ὡραῖον ἐπήνθει), μυρία δὲ ἀνατλάσης καὶ τέλος μετὰ δεινὰς καὶ φρικτὰς εἰπεῖν βασάνους ἅμα μητρὶ Μαρκέλλῃ διὰ πυρὸς τελειωθείσης. (2.) φασί γέ τοι τὸν δικαστήν (Ἀκύλας ἦν τούτῳ ὄνομα) χαλεπὰς ἐπιθέντα αὐτῇ κατὰ παντὸς τοῦ σώματος αἰκίας, τέλος ἐφ’ ὕβρει τοῦ σώματος μονομάχοις αὐτὴν ἀπειλῆσαι παραδοῦναι· τὴν δὲ βραχύ τι πρὸς ἑαυτὴν ἐπισκεψαμένην ἐρωτηθεῖσαν ὃ κρίνειεν, τοιαύτην δοῦναι ἀπόκρισιν δι’ ἧς ἐδόκει νενομισμένον τι αὐτοῖς ἀσεβὲς ἀποφθέγξασθαι. (3.) ἅμα δὲ λόγῳ τὸν τῆς ἀποφάσεως ὅρον καταδεξαμένην ὁ Βασιλείδης, εἷς τις ὢν τῶν ἐν στρατείαις ἀναφερομένων, ἀπάγει παραλαβὼν τὴν ἐπὶ θανάτῳ. ὡς δὲ τὸ πλῆθος ἐνοχλεῖν αὐτὴν καὶ ἀκολάστοις ἐνυβρίζειν ῥήμασιν ἐπειρᾶτο, ὃ μὲν ἀνεῖργεν ἀποσοβῶν τοὺς ἐνυβρίζοντας, πλεῖστον ἔλεον καὶ φιλανθρωπίαν εἰς αὐτὴν ἐνδεικνύμενος, ἣ δὲ τῆς περὶ αὐτὴν συμπαθείας ἀποδεξαμένη τὸν ἄνδρα θαρρεῖν παρακελεύεται· ἐξαιτήσεσθαι γὰρ αὐτὸν ἀπελθοῦσαν παρὰ τοῦ ἑαυτῆς κυρίου καὶ οὐκ εἰς μακρὸν τῶν εἰς αὐτὴν πεπραγμένων τὴν ἀμοιβὴν ἀποτίσειν αὐτῷ. (4.) ταῦτα δ’ εἰποῦσαν γενναίως τὴν ἔξοδον ὑποστῆναι, πίττης ἐμπύρου κατὰ διάφορα μέρη τοῦ σώματος ἀπ’ ἄκρων ποδῶν καὶ μέχρι κορυφῆς ἠρέμα καὶ κατὰ βραχὺ περιχυθείσης αὐτῇ. (5.) καὶ ὁ μὲν τῆς ἀοιδίμου κόρης τοιοῦτος κατηγώνιστο ἆθλος· οὐ μακρὸν δὲ χρόνον διαλιπὼν ὁ Βασιλείδης ὅρκον διά τινα αἰτίαν πρὸς τῶν συστρατιωτῶν αἰτηθείς, μὴ ἐξεῖναι αὐτῷ τὸ παράπαν ὀμνύναι διεβεβαιοῦτο· Χριστιανὸν γὰρ ὑπάρχειν καὶ τοῦτο ἐμφανῶς ὁμολογεῖν. παίζειν μὲν οὖν ἐνομίζετο τέως τὰ πρῶτα, ὡς δ’ ἐπιμόνως ἀπισχυρίζετο, ἄγεται ἐπὶ τὸν δικαστήν· ἐφ’ οὗ τὴν ἔνστασιν ὁμολογήσας, δεσμοῖς παραδίδοται. (6.) τῶν δὲ κατὰ θεὸν ἀδελφῶν ὡς αὐτὸν ἀφικνουμένων καὶ τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς ἀθρόας καὶ παραδόξου ταύτης ὁρμῆς πυνθανομένων, λέγεται εἰπεῖν ὡς ἄρα Ποταμίαινα τρισὶν ὕστερον ἡμέραις τοῦ μαρτυρίου νύκτωρ ἐπιστᾶσα, στέφανον αὐτοῦ τῇ κεφαλῇ περιθεῖσα εἴη φαίη τε παρακεκληκέναι χάριν αὐτοῦ τὸν κύριον καὶ τῆς ἀξιώσεως τετυχηκέναι οὐκ εἰς μακρόν τε αὐτὸν παραλήψεσθαι. ἐπὶ τούτοις τῶν ἀδελφῶν τῆς ἐν κυρίῳ σφραγῖδος μεταδόντων αὐτῷ, τῇ μετέπειτα ἡμέρᾳ τῷ τοῦ κυρίου διαπρέψας μαρτυρίῳ τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀποτέμνεται. (7.) καὶ ἄλλοι δὲ πλείους τῶν κατ’ Ἀλεξάνδρειαν ἀθρόως τῷ Χριστοῦ λόγῳ προσελθεῖν κατὰ τοὺς δηλουμένους ἱστοροῦνται, ὡς δὴ καθ’ ὕπνους τῆς Ποταμιαίνης ἐπιφανείσης καὶ προσκεκλημένης αὐτούς. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν ὧδε ἐχέτω·

'(1.) Let Basileidēs be counted the seventh among these [Origen’s disciples martyred under Septimius Severus, cf. E01853], who had led the famous Potamiaina to execution. Even today she is greatly reputed among the people of the country. For she endured countless struggles for the chastity and virginity of her body – beauty of soul and body was indeed blooming on her – and suffered endless ordeals, and finally, after tortures dreadful and terrible to speak of, she was put to death by fire, together with her mother, Marcella. (2.) They say that the judge, Akylas [Aquila] by name, inflicted severe tortures upon her entire body and, at last, threatened to hand her over to the gladiators for bodily abuse. After a little consideration, being asked what she decided, she made a reply which was regarded as impious. (3.) Once her sentence was announced to her, Basileidēs, a man in the army, led the condemned girl away. And, as the crowd attempted to molest and abuse her with shameless words, he prevented and pushed back her insulters, showing her much pity and kindness. And she, welcoming the man's sympathy for her, urged him to have courage, for she would supplicate her Lord for him after her departure, and, before long, she would pay him back for what he had done for her. (4.) Having said this, she nobly sustained her end, as burning pitch was poured little by little over various parts of her body, from her toes to the top of her head. Such was the contest fought by the illustrious maiden.
(5.) Not long after this, Basileidēs was asked by his fellow-soldiers to take an oath for some reason, but he insisted that it was not allowed to him to swear at all: he was a Christian, and he openly confessed that. At first they thought that he was joking, but, as he persistently affirmed it, he was led to the judge, and, confessing the situation before him, he was imprisoned. (6.) And when the brethren in God came to him and inquired the reason for this strange and sudden turn, he is reported to have said that Potamiaina, three days after her martyrdom, appeared to him at night, placed a crown on his head, and said that she had besought the Lord for him and had obtained what she asked, and that soon she would take him with her. Thereupon the brethren gave him the seal of the Lord [probably baptised him], and, on the next day, he was beheaded, distinguished in the Lord’s martyrdom. (7.) And, in those times, many others in Alexandria are reported to have suddenly accepted the word of Christ, after Potamiaina appeared to them in their dreams and called upon them [to convert]. But let this suffice in regard to this matter.’

Text: Schwartz et al. 1999. Translation: Efthymios Rizos.

History

Evidence ID

E01868

Saint Name

Potamiaina, Markella, and Basileides martyrs in Alexandria, early 3rd c. : S00945

Saint Name in Source

Βασιλείδης, Ποταμίαινα, Μαρκέλλα

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

311

Evidence not after

325

Activity not before

200

Activity not after

325

Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Caesarea Maritima

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

Caesarea Maritima Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Women Soldiers

Source

Eusebius lived in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine between c. AD 260 and 340. He was a pupil and friend of the martyred Christian intellectual Pamphilus. Under Constantine, he emerged as one of the most influential Christian figures of the Roman Empire, and was ordained bishop of Caesarea. Written between 311 and 325, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History is the first literary work to employ the methodology and objectives of classical historiography – which, since Herodotus and Thucydides, had traditionally focused on military and political events – in a novel field, the history of the Christian community. The first paragraphs of the work outline its chronological framework and thematic range: it is a narrative of events in the life of the Christian community from the times of Christ and the Apostles to the times of Eusebius (c. AD 260-340); it records the leaders of the most important communities (i.e. successions of bishops in Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem); it records the most notable exponents of Christian doctrine and their works, and also the main heresies and their proponents; it finally records persecutions and people that suffered and were martyred during them. The Ecclesiastical History is mostly a synthesis of quotations and summaries from other sources, for which Eusebius often gives concrete references. Thus his work preserves excerpts from early Christian texts which do not survive in their full form. Eusebius’ source material consists mostly of Greek texts, originating from Christian communities in Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. These areas constitute the main geographical range of his narrative, while his information about Christianity in the European provinces of the Roman Empire (except Rome) and North Africa is very limited. The text survives in several Greek manuscripts, in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and in Syriac and Armenian translations.

Discussion

Book 6 of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History mainly discusses events in Egypt during the early and mid-third century. The main aim of Eusebius in this book is to cleanse the ambiguous memory of Origen, his predecessor as head of the Christian catechetical school of Caesarea. Eusebius draws his information mainly from archives of letters, including the personal correspondence of Origen, probably preserved in the Christian library of Caesarea or Jerusalem. This material apparently included a number of letters by which Origen received or spread information about events and martyrdoms in his native. In these documents, Eusebius found information about outbreaks of anti-Christian violence under Septimius Severus (193-211), Maximinus Thrax (235-238) and Decius (249-252). The letters concerning the persecution of Severus probably concerned the deaths of people taught by Origen, while he was chief catechete in Alexandria. This is part of Eusebius’ effort to create a heroic image for his reputed predecessor whom he portrays as a formidable champion of the faith, and spiritual father of several martyrs. Eusebius lists six Egyptian martyrs whom he mentions very briefly (Ploutarchos, Serenos, Herakleides, another Serenos, Heron and Herais, see E01855), without many details on their martyrdom. He also claims that the martyr Basileides, guard of the martyr Potamiaina, was also a disciple of Origen, but he does not explain the nature of their connection. None of these figures is mentioned in later sources, and they most probably received no cult in Late Antiquity. The story of Potamiaina and Basileides is the only extensive Egyptian martyrdom to be found in the entire Ecclesiastical History. Although summarised by Eusebius, the story is remarkable for its wealth of novelistic elements and literary topoi, known from apocryphal apostolic acts, and from later hagiographical literature, such as the references to Potamiaina’s beauty, her suitors and her wish to pursue a life of virginity, the conversion of her guard Basileides, and her numerous apparitions after death. Besides its remarkable literary aspects, the story of Potamiaina and Basilides is of major interest as the earliest known text to express the view that a martyr can seek and achieve favours from God after their death: Potamiaina promises Basileides that, after her death as a martyr, she will supplicate God for him – in fact, the phrase can be read as ‘she will request Basileides from God’. The reward is that Basileides becomes a martyr himself, which in a sense puts his martyrdom under the ‘protection’ of Potamiaina. This is an idea also known from the Martyrdom of *Pionius, where the martyr is warned about his arrest by *Polycarp (E00096). Potamiaina’s statement that she would pray to God after her death for Basileides is an explicit attestation of belief in the posthumous intercession and powers of a saint, which is very rarely attested before the late 4th century. Nevertheless, her intercession seems to have a very specific focus on converting people to the faith and attracting them to the dignity of martyrdom, rather than on offering assistance in day-to-day matters, as was the case of late antique saints.

Bibliography

Edition: Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F., Eusebius Werke II: Die Kirchengeschichte. 3 vols. (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte NF 6/1-3; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). Translations: Lake, K., Oulton, J.E.L., and Lawlor, H.J., Eusebius of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; London and Cambridge, MA: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1926). Williamson, G.A., and Louth, A., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (London: Penguin, 1989).

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