Martyrdom of Kyrikos and Ioulitta (or Letter of Theodore of Ikonion) (BHG 315)
Note: the name Kyrikos is usually, but not always, spelled Kerykos in the Greek manuscripts.
1. The Martyrdom whose author identifies himself as Theodoros, bishop of Ikonion, assumes the form of a letter addressed to a bishop Zosimos. In a prologue, Theodoros explains how he was asked by Zosimos to investigate whether in Ikonion there also circulates a suspect Martyrdom of the saints Kyrikos and Ioulitta. Theodoros answers in the affirmative, having read the text in question (BHG 313y-z, E06118
) and describes it at length as bursting with frivolous and possibly heretical nonsense. He tried to find a more authentic version, but in vain. However, from a certain tribounonotarios [i.e. tribunus et notarius] Markianos, who served as kankellarios under the emperor Justinian when the latter was still a general, and one Zenon who also belonged to the retinue of the same emperor, he learned of the story of the saints circulating orally among certain Lycaonian nobles who were blood relatives of the saints and as such took exceptional care to celebrate their feast day.
2. According to this story, Ioulitta was an Iconian noblewoman of royal blood, who, when Dometianos had become comes of Lycaonia and had begun a persecution, fled the city with her three-year-old son to Seleucia [presumably the nearby Seleucia ad Calycadnum in Isauria]. However, in Seleucia too a governor, Alexandros, had been appointed by the emperor Diocletian and was stirring up a persecution; so Ioulitta continued her flight to Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia Prima.
3. Alexandros, however, also relocates to Tarsus, and arrests the saints. Ioulitta’s two handmaidens flee. The governor tries to persuade Ioulitta to sacrifice to the pagan gods, and tortures her when she persists in refusing. He then takes the child Kyrikos on his lap and attempts to win the infant over, trying to kiss him, but the child mimics his mother’s persistent cries of 'I am a Christian' and struggles against the governor, kicking him in the ribs. Angered, Alexandros hurls the infant down from the podium, breaking open his skull and killing him. Ioulitta is full of joy at her child’s martyrdom, and after more torture, she too is put to death, after a final prayer for her soul before her execution, on 15 July.
4. The next day the two handmaidens recover the bodies and bury them in a cave in the district of Tarsus. In the time of emperor Constantine, one of the handmaidens reveals the burial place, and all the faithful rush in to obtain some of the relics for their protection. In a brief epilogue, the writer exhorts Zosimos to circulate this version of the story and not to pay attention to the tall tales of the earlier martyrdom account.
Text: van Hooff 1882, 201–207.
Summary: N. Kälviäinen.
Saint NameKyrikos/Cyricus and Ioulitta/Julitta, child and his mother, martyrs of Tarsus : S00007
Saint Name in SourceΚήρυκος, Κύρικος, Ἰουλίττα
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom
Literary - Letters
Evidence not before527
Evidence not after600
Activity not before303
Activity not after305
Place of Evidence - RegionAsia Minor
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcIkonion
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Ikonion
Cult activities - Liturgical Activity
Cult activities - Festivals
Cult activities - PlacesBurial site of a saint - other
Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, ScepticismScepticism/rejection of specific texts
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesWomen
Ecclesiastics - bishops
Relatives of the saint
Cult Activities - RelicsBodily relic - unspecified
Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics
Division of relics
Raising of relics
SourceThe second premetaphrastic Martyrdom of Kyrikos and Ioulitta (BHG 314-317), which according to the prologue was written by Theodoros, bishop of Ikonion, is currently known to be preserved in a total of 37 manuscripts; of these 36 (9th–18th c.) contain the version BHG 315-317 (see http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/5671/), and only one the other branch of the tradition, BHG 314 (11th c.; see http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/14916/). This latter version differs from the more common BHG 315-317 in that it lacks the prologue and epilogue in which the author identifies himself as Theodoros, bishop of Ikonion, writing to his co-bishop Zosimos concerning his desire to replace the older Martyrdom of Saints Kyrikos and Ioulitta (to be identified as the text now known as BHG 313y-z, E06118) with a more theologically correct account. Instead, BHG 314 opens like any regular martyrdom account, narrating how in the reign of Diocletian there was a persecution of Christians etc.
Since the prologue of Theodoros is crucial to dating the text, an issue of paramount importance is which of the two versions, BHG 314 or 315-317, is the original. In his edition of BHG 314 and 315, van Hooff left this question open, but stated that he tended to see BHG 314 as the more authentic one (van Hooff 1882, 193). The question can only be definitively answered after a thorough philological examination has been carried out. However a quick comparison of BHG 314 and 315 leaves the impression that BHG 315 feels somewhat abbreviated on many occasions, the relevant phrases seem often to be expressed in greater fullness in BHG 316-317.
A potentially decisive clue, however, lies in the fact that BHG 314 makes a fundamental mistake in taking Lycaonia, the martyrs’ homeland, to be the name of a city, which it then juxtaposes to Ikonion, actually the metropolis of the province of Lycaonia: van Hooff 199,17-200,1 γένους μὲν ὄντες λαμπροῦ καὶ περιφανοῦς ἐκ πόλεως Λυκαονίας, ἐν Εἰκονίῳ δὲ τὴν οἴκησιν ἔχοντες ἐν τῇ μικρᾷ ταύτῃ καὶ ματαιᾷ ζωῇ, 'they were of a noble and illustrious family from the city of Lycaonia, but in this meagre and vain life they dwelt in Ikonion'. On the other hand, BHG 315-317 often makes reference to Lycaonia as the martyrs’ homeland, but in terms which make it clear that the author understood the difference between the metropolis and its province. Since the epic martyrdom BHG 313y-z does not seem to mention the name of the province, only the city of Ikonion and that only briefly, the conclusion is difficult to avoid that the redactor of BHG 314 used the 'Theodoros' version BHG 315-317 as his model, for some reason deciding to alter the text’s form from a letter to a regular martyrdom account and in the process removing Theodoros’ metatext completely.
An additional clue is that the redactor also fails to understand the exact title of Dometianos, the persecuting official active in Ikonion (of uncertain historicity; cf. PLRE I, 262 no.2 and the discussion below). According to BHG 314 the emperor Δομιτιανόν τινα κόμητα τῆς Λυκαονίας καθιστὰ ἡγεμόνα, 'appoints Domitianos, a comes, the governor of Lycaonia' (ed. van Hooff 194, 5-6), whereas BHG 315-317 gives a version more convincingly original: ἐπὶ Δομετιανοῦ κόμητος καταστάντος τῆς Λυκαονίας, 'when Dometianos had become comes of Lycaonia' (this wording is preserved in BHG 317 – the word comes is omitted by BHG 315, and BHG 316 has evolved into the form ἐπὶ Δομετιανοῦ κόμητος ἐπιστάντος τῇ τῶν μαρτυρικῶν αἱμάτων ἐκχύσει, 'in the time when Dometianos the comes oversaw the spilling of the martyrs’ blood'). Lycaonia was governed by a civil governor until 535, when Justinian I appointed there a praetor combining civil and military responsibilities; but in the time of Leo I (457-474) a comes with military duties was appointed there in addition to the governor (ODB II, 1258). In both cases the reason was the same, a need to keep in check the unruly bandits of the nearby Isaurian mountains. Thus in this case also the text given by BHG 315-317 seems more original than that presented by BHG 314, at least in its present form. The summary given in this entry is accordingly based on the Theodoros version; the redaction of BHG 314 is likely to be later in date.
DiscussionThe relationship of the present text to the earlier Martyrdom of Kyrikos and Ioulitta (E06118) is abundantly clear from the prologue of Theodoros: the early 'epic' Martyrdom was considered theologically suspect on account of its extravagant and incredible descriptions of the saints’ deeds and sufferings, and had obviously encountered opposition in ecclesiastic circles, including being in some way officially condemned at some point both in the West, as evidenced by the early 6th century Gelasian Decree (E03336), and in the East at least in the Middle Byzantine period if not earlier (see Kälviäinen 2019, 111-113). The arguments of the prologue are in harmony with the writer’s agenda as borne out by a comparison of the two texts: the account of Theodoros removes the precocious Kyrikos from his original place as the undisputed protagonist, relegating him to a side role as a largely uncomprehending and helpless infant who is simply murdered in a brutal fashion by the governor Alexandros, and making Ioulitta the central figure of the tale, which is told in a very 'realistic' and toned-down way (see Kälviäinen 2019, 111 and 116-117).
A different question is whether we can be confident in accepting the writer’s identification of himself and the time of his writing. Although a Theodoros, bishop of Ikonion (or his fellow bishop Zosimos, whose bishopric is sadly not identified), does not seem to be otherwise attested, the text contains a couple of references of historical significance. Firstly, as already noted above, there is a reference to the comes of Lycaonia, an office belonging to the period from Leo I onwards. Secondly, Theodoros’ two informants, Zenon and the tribunus et notarius Markianos, are said to have been functionaries in the time of the emperor Justinian. There is no question as to whether this refers to Justinian I or II (contrary to what I mistakenly stated in Kälviäinen 2019, 117 n. 46), since the reference to Markianos having served as kankellarios of the future emperor when he still held a military command (‘τὴν στρατοπεδικὴν (BHG 315) or στρατοπεδαρχικὴν (BHG 316-317) ἀρχήν’) can only apply to the period 520-527, when the future Justinian I was magister militum praesentalis under his uncle Justin I (see PLRE II, 716-7 no. 16). It is also suggested that this could be a reference to Marcellinus comes, the author of an extant chronicle in Latin who had served Justinian in that capacity: cf. PLRE II, 710-1 no. 9, and Croke, B., The Chronicle of Marcellinus: A Translation and Commentary (Byzantina Australiensia 7; Sydney, 1995), xix).
Independently of the historicity of Theodoros’ account of how he learned the true story of Kyrikos and Ioulitta, which could simply be be a form of pious fiction (cf. the similar account of Nicetas David the Paphlagonian of how he discovered the authentic Martyrdom of Saint George: see Kälviäinen 2019, 114 and 117), and regardless of whether or not the writer was in fact a bishop of Ikonion, the level of historical detail in his prologue with respect to contemporary matters would probably have been difficult to achieve for a much later writer. Therefore it may be safe to accept that the text was indeed in all probability written around the mid to late 6th century, when people who had served under Justinian in his early career could still in theory have been alive, or at any rate not much later.
As to the location, it is noteworthy that BHG 314-317 gives a much greater importance to the province of Lycaonia and to Ioulitta belonging to the aristocracy there; in the early martyrdom she was simply said to have been πρώτη τῆς πόλεως Ἰκονιῶν, καὶ συγκλητική, ‘first woman of the city of the Iconians, and of senatorial rank’ (BHG 313z), but in Theodoros’ account she is of royal blood (ἐκ βασιλικοῦ αἵματος καταγομένη), ‘a flower of Lycaonia’ (Λυκαονίας ἄνθος ὑπάρχουσα) and a blood relative of the noble eupatrids of the Ikonion of his time. It is therefore not impossible that there may in fact have existed an actual tradition asserting that a noble family in Ikonion was related to Ioulitta, and that the text was composed in part to support the claims of this faction that the martyr was their blood relative.
In contrast to Ikonion/Lycaonia, the brief and seemingly superfluous reference to Ioulitta passing first through Seleucia seems to have been added in order to enable the author to introduce the new figure of the comes Lycaoniae, Dometianos, as the reason for the saints’ flight from their homeland, while at the same time preserving the tradition that the governor responsible for their trial, Alexandros, first caused them to flee to Tarsus from elsewhere, and then followed them there. A persecuting magistrate named Domitius or Domitianus (his exact title varies, although it most often includes the element comes) is a recurring figure in martyrdom accounts of central/southeastern Anatolia, found at least in those of *Zosimos of Pisidia (E06663), *Zosimos of Anazarbus (E06666), *Charitine of Corycus (E06693), *Clement of Ancyra (E06709) and *Konon of Iconium (E06710): cf. Halkin, F. (ed.), "Un émule d'Orphée. La légende grecque inédite de S. Zosime, martyr d'Anazarbe en Cilicie.", Analecta Bollandiana 70 (1952), 254. The likeliest explanation for the introduction into the story of Kyrikos and Ioulitta of this character, who has no real role to play as far as the plot is concerned, is that the Lycaonian rewriter intentionally inserted a reference to a well-known item of hagiographical tradition in order to enhance the historical verisimilitude of his account in the eyes of his audience.
Furthermore, in a striking contrast with the earlier text, BHG 313y-z, Theodoros’ account speaks of the saints’ relics having been preserved in a cave and discovered after the end of the persecution. The phrase stating that the handmaidens ἐν σπηλαίῳ ἀποθέμεναι, κατέκρυψαν εἰς τὴν γῆν, ‘placing [the relics] in a cave, they hid them in the earth’, is probably to be seen as a way of paying lip service to the request of Kyrikos in the original martyrdom account BHG 313y-z that his body should ‘not be seen upon the earth’, and the reply of God in BHG 313y that Kyrikos’ body will be interred in the earth. Originally the purpose of the phrase seems to have been to explain the lack of relics, but here it is applied to a new context, both upholding the saint’s wish, that had presumably become part of tradition, and yet justifying the existence of relics in a later, different context than that which had occasioned the writing of the original text.
Although the saints were traditionally martyred in Tarsus, and according to Theodoros their relics were kept hidden there for a time, it is telling that when the relics are finally revealed, no reference is made to their performing any miracles or receiving cult in Tarsus, but instead they are presented as being divided among ‘all the faithful’, something that would allow for their presence elsewhere (such as in Ikonion!). Ultimately, then, it may even be questioned whether the austere attitude of Theodoros in his condemnation of the earlier Martyrdom was not solely due to concerns regarding the theological correctness of that text (which was, undoubtedly, seen as a major problem and not only by Theodoros), but also due to his concern to justify the existence and veneration of Kyrikos and Ioulitta’s relics in 6th century Ikonion, perhaps promoted by the local nobility who claimed descent from the saints’ kin, despite this practice starkly contradicting the earlier (presumably Tarsian) text which claimed that no relics were available.
van Hooff, G., “Sanctorum Cyrici et Julittae acta Graeca sincera,” Analecta Bollandiana 1 (1882), 192–207.
Migne, J.P., Patrologia Graeca 120 (Paris, 1865), 165-172.
Combefis, F., Illustrium Christi martyrum lecti triumphi (Paris, 1660), 231-241.
Kälviäinen, N., “‘Not a few of the martyr accounts have been falsified from the beginning’. Some preliminary remarks on the censorship and fortunes of the demonic episode in the Greek Passion of St. Marina (BHG 1165–1167c),” in: J. Hämeen-Anttila and I. Lindstedt (eds.), Translation and Transmission. Collection of articles (The Intellectual Heritage of the Ancient and Mediaeval Near East 3; Münster, 2019), 107-137.