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E04346: Procopius of Caesarea, in his On Buildings, mentions the church of *Agathonikos (martyr of Bithynia and Thrace, S01628) in Constantinople, which was rebuilt by Justinian (r. 527-565). Written in Greek at Constantinople, in the 550s.

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posted on 09.11.2017, 00:00 by erizos
Procopius, On Buildings, 1.4.30

The passage which follows comes immediately after Procopius' listing of the churches that Justinian built during the reign of his uncle, Justin I (E04339)

ἕλκει τὸν λόγον ἐς αὑτὸν ὁ Ἀγαθονίκου τοῦ ἁγίου νεὼς καὶ βιάζεται οὐδὲ φωνὴν ἔτι ἔχοντα οὐδὲ ὀνόματα ἐφαρμόσαι τοῖς πράγμασι. διόπερ ἡμῖν μὲν ἄχρι τοῦδε εἰπεῖν ἀποχρήσει· φράσαι δὲ αὐτοῦ τό τε κάλλος καὶ τὸ ἐς ἅπαντα μεγαλοπρεπὲς ἑτέροις ἀφίεμεν, οἷς ἂν ὁ λόγος ἀκμάζων τε καὶ οὔπω πεπονηκὼς παντάπασιν εἴη.

'But the shrine (neōs) of Saint Agathonikos now draws my account towards itself and compels me, even though I have neither the voice nor words to match reality. For this reason, I will have to talk only as far as this. As for describing its beauty and grandeur in every respect, let this be a task for others whose speech will be vigourous and not yet totally worn out.'

Text: Haury 1913. Translation: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Agathonikos and Companions, martyrs of Bithynia and Thrace : S01628

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


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


Procopius of Caesarea, (c. 500 – c. 560/561 AD) was a soldier and historian from the Roman province of Palaestina Prima. He accompanied the Roman general Belisarius in the wars of the Emperor Justinian (527-565). He wrote the Wars (or Histories), On Buildings and the Secret History. On Buildings is a panegyric in six books. It lists, and sometimes describes, the buildings erected or renovated by the emperor Justinian throughout the empire (only on Italy is there no information). The bulk of these are churches and shrines dedicated to various saints; the Buildings is therefore a very important text for the evidence it provides of the spread of saintly cults by the mid 6th c. On Buildings dates from the early 550s to c. 560/561; a terminus post quem is 550/551 as the text mentions the capture of Topirus in Thrace by the Slavs in 550 and describes the city walls of Chalkis in Syria built in 550/551; a probable terminus ante quem is 558 when the dome of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople collapsed, which is not mentioned in the book; or before 560 when the bridge on the river Sangarius was completed, as Procopius reports on the start of works. On Buildings thus belongs to the later years of Justinian’s reign. The work is not finished and is probably Procopius’ last work. It glorifies Justinian, depicting him as a great builder and an emperor restlessly transforming the state, expanding and reforming it, destroying paganism, extirpating heresy, and re-establishing the firm foundations of the Christian faith (Elsner 2007: 35). More on the text: Downey 1947; Elsner 2007; Greatrex 1994 and 2013. Overview of the text: Book 1. Constantinople and its suburbs Book 2. Frontier provinces of Mesopotamia and Syria. Book 3. Armenia, Tzanica, and the shores of the Black Sea. Book 4. Illyricum and Thrace (the Balkans). Book 5. Asia Minor, Syria, and Palestine. Book 6. North Africa, from Alexandria to central Algeria.


The church of Agathonikos was located in Kainoupolis/Caenopolis, which was a district on the slope down towards the Sea of Marmara from the Mese (the principal street of Constantinople), between the Forum Tauri and the Forum of Constantine. Its location can be inferred from the information given by the Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai, § 29 (tr., ed., comm. Cameron and Herrin 1984), an 8th/9th c. Byzantine text on the topography and monuments of Constantinople, that one of the statues of Verina, the empress consort of Leo I (r. 457-474) was situated to the south of this church and not far from the church of *Barbara in the district called ta Basiliskou. The church of Agathonikos was regarded in Byzantine times as one of the four Constantinian churches of the city alongside the old Saint Sophia, the Holy Apostles and the churches of *Mokios, *Akakios, and *Menas (Patria of Constantinople 1.50-51; 3.1; 4.1). Yet if the building was indeed Constantinian, this does not necessarily apply to its dedication. The early 5th c. Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae, which records the other Constantinian martyr shrines of the intramural area of Constantinople (the Holy Apostles, St Akakios, and St Menas) does not mention that of Agathonikos. It does record, however, a church with the title 'Caenopolis' in the Ninth Region, one of the Constantinian quarters adjoining old Byzantium. This must be the ancient, perhaps Constantinian, church which was later known as that of Agathonikos. Similarly, the martyrdom account of Agathonikos does not locate his martyrdom in Constantinople, but near Selymbria (E07146). Procopius is the first extant text which mentions the church by the name of the martyr. It appears that the august Constantinian basilica came to be associated with the martyr of Selymbria between the 420s (date of the Notitia Urbis) and 550s (Procopius). The relic must have been transferred from Agathonikos' original shrine in Selymbria to Constantinople, perhaps during a period of threat. This may have occurred under Anastasius I (491-518), who was remembered as the first renovator of the basilica of Agathonikos, before Justinian (Patria 2.107). The transfer may be related to Anastasius' grand project of the Long Walls of Thrace, which crossed the outskirts of Selymbria. Further reading: Janin 1969, 7-8, 273.


Edition: Haury, J., Procopii Caesariensis opera omnia, vol. 4: Περι κτισματων libri VI sive de aedificiis (Leipzig: Teubner, 1962-64). Translations and Commentaries: Compagnoni, G.R., Procopio di Cesarea, Degli Edifici. Traduzione dal greco di G. Compagnoni (Milan: Tipi di Francesco Sonzogno, 1828). Dewing, H.B., Procopius, On Buildings. Translated into English by H.B. Dewing, vol. 7 (London: William Heinemann, New York: Macmillan, 1940). Grotowski, P.Ł., Prokopiusz z Cezarei, O Budowlach. Przełożył, wstępem, objaśnieniami i komentarzem opatrzył P.Ł. Grotowski (Warsaw: Proszynski i S-ka, 2006). Roques, D., Procope de Césarée. Constructions de Justinien Ier. Introduction, traduction, commentaire, cartes et index par D. Roques (Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2011). Veh, O., and Pülhorn, W. (eds.), Procopii opera. De Aedificiis. With a Commentary by W. Pülhorn (Munich: Heimeran, 1977). Further Reading: Cameron, A., and Herrin, J., Constantinople in the Early Eighth Century. The "Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai": Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 1984). Downey, G.A., “The Composition of Procopius’ ‘De Aedificiis’," Transactions of the American Philological Association 78 (1947), 171-183. Elsner, J., “The Rhetoric of Buildings in De Aedificiis of Procopius”, in: L. James (ed.), Art and Text in Byzantine Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 33-57. Greatrex, G., “The Dates of Procopius’ Works,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 18 (1994), 101-14. Greatrex, G., “The Date of Procopius Buildings in the Light of Recent Scholarship,” Estudios bizantinos 1 (2013), 13-29. Janin, R., Constantinople byzantine: développement urbain et répertoire topographique (Paris: Institut français d'études byzantines, 1950). Janin, R. La géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire Byzantin I 3: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople. 2nd ed. (Paris, 1969). Mango, C., Studies on Constantinople (Aldershot: Variorum, 1997 [repr. of 1993]). Van Millingen, A., Byzantine Churches in Constantinople: Their History and Architecture (London: Macmillan, 1912).

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