Saint NamePotamiaina, Markella, and Basileides martyrs in Alexandria, early 3rd c. : S00945
Saint Name in SourceΠοταμίαινα
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Hagiographical - Monastic collections (apophthegmata, etc.)
Evidence not before419
Evidence not after420
Activity not before386
Activity not after390
Place of Evidence - RegionAsia Minor
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcAspuna
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Aspuna
Major author/Major anonymous workPalladius of Helenopolis
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsOral transmission of saint-related stories
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
SourceBorn in 364 in Galatia in central Asia Minor, Palladius became a monk in 386, spending some years in Palestine, before moving to Alexandria. In c. 390, he joined the monastic community of Nitria, where he spent nine years, under Makarios of Alexandria and Evagrios of Pontus. In c. 399, he returned briefly to Palestine and then left for Constantinople where he became closely associated with John Chrysostom. By 400, he was ordained bishop of Helenopolis in Bithynia (north-west Asia Minor), probably by Chrysostom. Palladius stood by his new protector throughout John’s conflict with Pope Theophilos of Alexandria over the affair of the Tall Brothers and the Council of the Oak. One year after John’s exile in 404, Palladius visited Rome in order to plead on John’s behalf with Pope Innocent I (401-411). Returning to Constantinople, he was arrested and one year later (406), he was exiled to Syene (Aswan) and Antinoe in Egypt. There he received the news of John’s death in Pontus (407) and wrote the Historical Dialogue on the Life of John Chrysostom (in 408 or shortly after, E02400). In the 410s, he was allowed to return to his native Galatia, and was restored as a bishop in the imperial church, being appointed to the see of Aspona.
After his return from exile, in c. 419/420, Palladius published the Lausiakon (‘Book for Lausos’, widely known as the Lausiac History), a book commissioned by and dedicated to the patrician Lausos (imperial chamberlain in 420-422). Along with the History of the Monks of Egypt (E03558, composed in 395/397), Palladius’ work inaugurates the monastic genre of edifying stories and apophthegms. It immediately became a success: two decades after its publication, the ecclesiastical historian Socrates used the Lausiac History as a source (4.23.78), and it was translated into Latin and Syriac. There are also Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Arabic translations. Its copious manuscript tradition (242 manuscripts) and unstable transmission render a definitive critical edition of the text very difficult. On the manuscript tradition of the Greek text, see:
Like all monastic collections, the Lausiac History was mainly written to provide exemplars of ascetic virtue and edifying stories for broader spiritual benefit, rather than to encourage the active cult of the men and women included within it – indeed some of them serve as negative examples to avoid. It was, therefore, difficult for us to decide how to treat this work in our database, focused as it is on the cult of saints. At one extreme, we could have entered every (positive) figure within it as a saint, while, at the other extreme, we might have ignored the text altogether. In the end we came to a compromise position, with one overview entry for the full text (E03176), where all the holy men and women are named, and individual entries for chapters that either reveal interesting incidental details of saintly cult or cover major figures who, in time, came to attract cult. The Lausiac History in its many manuscripts and its many translations was in fact one of the principal ways these figures came to be known, and often venerated, across the Christian world. Some of its chapters were, indeed, later detached from the collection, and circulated as independent pieces of hagiography.
DiscussionThe story of Potamiaina is first mentioned by Eusebius of Caesarea (see E01868) who recounts the story with some significant differences from the legend known to Palladius. Eusebius places the account in a much earlier period, during the persecution of Septimius Severus (193-211), and not under the Tetrarchy, as implied by Palladius. In the version of Eusebius, Potamiaina rejects marriage proposals by several suitors before suffering martyrdom together with her mother, Markella. The core story of her interrogation and martyrdom with burning pitch seems to have been the same. Palladius’ story about a girl denounced by her own master recalls the legend of *Areadne of Prymnessos (E02474).
Another significant aspect is that Eusebius recounts the story of Potamiaina in the context of martyrdoms of disciples of Origen, and especially of the guardsman *Basileides. Many of Palladius’ monastic heroes in the Lausiac History were indeed late Origenists, and it is possible that the story of Potamiaina was prominent in their traditions also for historical reasons. The main purpose of its presence in the Lausiac History, however, seems to have been edifying – as an exemplar of perseverance in a slow and painful martyrdom. This was a central aspect in the monastic attachment to the cult of the martyrs as a whole. At any rate, it is interesting that, although Palladius heard the story of Potamiaina in Alexandria, he does not report anything about her cult. Was there a tomb or relics of hers venerated in the city or was her story only a venerable ancient tradition?
Butler, Cuthbert. The Lausiac History of Palladius: Greek Text Edited with Introduction and Notes. Texts and Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904.
Bartelink, G. J. M., Barchiesi, M. and Mohrmann, C. Palladio, La Storia Lausiaca. Scrittori Greci E Latini. Milano: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, Arnoldo Mondadori, 1974. (with Italian translation)
Wortley, J. Palladius, the Lausiac History, Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2015.
Meyer, R. T. Palladius, the Lausiac History, Westminster MD: Newman Press: 1965.
Lowtber Clarke, W. K. The Lausiac History of Palladius, London: Macmillan, 1918.
Katos, D. Palladius of Helenopolis: the Origenist Advocate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Rapp, C. ‘Palladius, Lausus and the Historia Lausiaca.’ In C. Sode, S. Takács (eds.), Novum Millennium. Studies on Byzantine History and Culture Dedicated to Paul Speck, 19 December 1999, Aldershot: Ashgate, 279-289.