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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity


from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world


Theophylact Simocatta in his History describes how allied Roman and Persian troops in Mesopotamia used the name of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) as a password, while helping the deposed Persian king Khosrau II to regain his throne. Written in Greek at Constantinople in the early 7th century.

Evidence ID

E00046

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Theophylact Simocatta

Theophylact Simocatta, History 5.10.4-5

(4.) σύμβολον δὲ οἱ Ῥωμαῖοι καὶ τοῖς συμμαχοῦσι βαρβάροις παρείχοντο τὴν τῆς θεομήτορος καὶ παρθένου προσηγορίαν διδάξαντες, ἵνα μὴ τῷ διακεκριμένῳ τοῦ γένους ὡς ἀντίπαλον τὸ συμμαχικὸν διαφθαρῶσιν, τῷ συγκεχυμένῳ τῆς συμπλοκῆς ἀδιάρθρωτον αὐτοῖς τῶν οἰκειοτάτων παρεχομένων τὴν δήλωσιν. καὶ παράδοξόν τι χρῆμα συνέβαινεν· (5.) ἐγίνετο γὰρ καὶ Χαλδαίοις τὸ τῆς Μαρίας σωτήριον ὄνομα.

'(4.) The Romans provided a password for their barbarian allies [the Persian troops of Khosrau II] as well, teaching them the name of the Mother of God and Virgin, lest they might kill their allies as enemies because of the difference in race, since in the confusion of the battle those on their own side would present an indistinguishable aspect. (5.) And the situation was somewhat strange, as the name of Mary became a means of salvation even for the Chaldaeans [Persian pagans].'

Text: de Boor and Wirth 1972. Translation: E. Rizos.

Non Liturgical Activity

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Pagans
Soldiers

Source

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.

Discussion

The passage belongs to Simocatta's account of the joint campaign of Khosrau II and his troops, with the army provided by Maurice in order to help him regain his throne from the usurper Bahram. The episode, mentioned by Simocatta by way of an anecdote, takes place on the eve of a battle in Mesopotamia, where the Romans teach the Persian troops of Khosrau the name of Mary as a password, in order to distinguish them from the troops of Bahram, also Persian, during the battle. The act could be seen as having no cultic character, but it is a remarkable case of the use of a sacred name in a military context, and probably was also intended to invoke Mary's aid. Simocatta’s source for these events is the lost history of John of Epiphania (Olajos 1988, 56-58).

Bibliography

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:
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.

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).


Record Created By

Efthymios Rizos

Date Last Modified

15/06/2020

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΜαρίαCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Efthymios Rizos, Cult of Saints, E00046 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E00046