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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

The epilogue of the Greek Martyrdom of *Polycarp/Polykarpos (bishop and martyr of Smyrna, S00004) outlines the transmission history of the text. The last copyist, a certain Pionios, claims that the saint revealed the text to him in a vision. 3rd/4th century addition to the 2nd/3rd century Martyrdom of Polycarp. Written in Smyrna (western Asia Minor).

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Literary - Letters

Literary - Colophons, marginalia etc.

Martyrdom of Polycarp, Epilogues (BHG 1559-1560)

(22.2) ταῦτα μετεγράψατο μὲν Γάϊος ἐκ τῶν Εἰρηναίου, μαθητοῦ τοῦ Πολυκάρπου, ὃς καὶ συνεπολιτεύσατο τῷ Εἰρηναίῳ. ἐγὼ δὲ Σωκράτης ἐν Κορίνθῳ ἐκ τῶν Γαΐου ἀντιγράφων ἔγραψα. ἡ χάρις μετὰ πάντων.

(22.3) ἐγὼ δὲ πάλιν Πιόνιος ἐκ τοῦ προγεγραμμένου ἔγραψα ἀναζητήσας αὐτά, κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν φανερώσαντός μοι τοῦ μακαρίου Πολυκάρπου, καθὼς δηλώσω ἐν τῷ καθεξῆς, συναγαγὼν αὐτὰ ἤδη σχεδὸν ἐκ τοῦ χρόνου κεκμηκότα, ἵνα κἀμὲ συναγάγῃ ὁ κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς μετὰ τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν οὐράνιον βασιλείαν αὐτοῦ, ᾧ ἡ δόξα σὺν τῷ πατρὶ καὶ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. ἀμήν.

'(22.2) 'Gaios transcribed these from the papers of Eirenaios, a disciple of Polycarp. He was a companion of Eirenaios. And I, Sokrates in Corinth, wrote it down from the copies of Gaios. Grace be with all.

(22.3) And again, I, Pionios, wrote it down from the aforementioned paper, having searched for it, after the blessed Polycarp disclosed it to me in a revelation, as I shall set forth later on. I gathered it together, now nearly worn away through by time, in order that the Lord Jesus Christ may gather me too into his heavenly kingdom with his elect, to whom be the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.'

Moscow Epilogue 2
ταῦτα μετεγράψατο μὲν Γάϊος ἐκ τῶν Εἰρηναίου συγγραμμάτων, ὃς καὶ συνεπολιτεύσατο τῷ Εἰρηναίῳ, μαθητῇ γεγονότι τοῦ ἁγίου Πολυκάρπου. οὗτος γὰρ ὁ Εἰρηναῖος, κατὰ τὸν καιρὸν τοῦ μαρτυρίου τοῦ ἐπισκόπου Πολυκάρπου γενόμενος ἐν Ῥώμῃ πολλοὺς ἐδίδαξεν· οὗ καὶ πολλὰ αὐτοῦ συγγράμματα κάλλιστα καὶ ὀρθότατα φέρεται, ἐν οἷς μέμνηται Πολυκάρπου ὅτι παρ’ αὐτοῦ ἔμαθεν· ἱκανῶς τε πᾶσαν αἵρεσιν ἤλεγξεν καὶ τὸν ἐκκλησιαστικὸν κανόνα καὶ
 καθολικὸν, ὡς παρέλαβεν παρὰ τοῦ ἁγίου, καὶ παρέδωκεν. λέγει δὲ καὶ τοῦτο· ὅτι συναντήσαντός ποτε τῷ ἁγίῳ Πολυκάρπῳ Μαρκίωνος, ἀφ’ οὗ οἱ λεγόμενοι Μαρκιωνισταί, καὶ εἰπόντος· ἐπιγίνωσκε ἡμᾶς, Πολύκαρπε, εἶπεν αὐτὸς τῷ Μαρκίωνι· ἐπιγινώσκω, ἐπιγινώσκω τὸν πρωτότοκον τοῦ σατανᾶ. καὶ τοῦτο δὲ φέρεται ἐν τοῖς τοῦ Εἰρηναίου συγγράμμασιν, ὅτι ᾗ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ὥρᾳ ἐν Σμύρνῃ ἐμαρτύρησεν ὁ Πολύκαρπος, ἤκουσεν φωνὴν ἐν τῇ Ῥωμαίων πόλει ὑπάρχων ὁ Εἰρηναῖος ὡς σάλπιγγος λεγούσης· Πολύκαρπος ἐμαρτύρησεν. ἐκ τούτων οὖν, ὡς προλέλεκται, τῶν τοῦ Εἰρηναίου συγγραμμάτων Γάϊος μετεγράψατο, ἐκ δὲ τῶν Γαΐου ἀντιγράφων Ἰσοκράτης ἐν Κορίνθῳ.

Moscow Epilogue 3
ἐγὼ δὲ πάλιν Πιόνιος ἐκ τῶν Ἰσοκράτους ἀντιγράφων ἔγραψα κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν τοῦ ἁγίου Πολυκάρπου ζητήσας αὐτά, συναγαγὼν αὐτὰ ἤδη σχεδὸν ἐκ τοῦ χρόνου κεκμηκότα ἵνα κἀμὲ
 συναγάγῃ ὁ κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς μετὰ τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν ἐπουράνιον αὐτοῦ βασιλείαν, ᾧ ἡ δόξα σὺν τῷ πατρὶ καὶ τῷ υἱῷ καὶ τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. ἀμήν.

'Gaios transcribed these from the papers of Eirenaios. This man was a companion of Eirenaios who had been a disciple of the holy Polycarp. For this Eirenaios, at the time of bishop Polycarp’s martyrdom, was in Rome and taught many. Indeed many works of his survive there, most beautiful and sound, in which he mentions Polycarp, stating that he was taught by him. And he ably refuted every heresy, and handed down the ecclesiastical and catholic rule just as he had received it from the saint. He also tells this story: once Markion, from whom the so-called Marcionites derive, met the holy Polycarp and said: "Tell who we are, Polycarp." And he said to Markion: "I know, I know who you are, the firstborn of Satan!" And it is also recorded in the writings of Eirenaios that, on the very day and hour when Polycarp was martyred in Smyrna, Eirenaios, being in the city of Rome, heard a voice like a trumpet saying: "Polycarp has been martyred." From these papers of Eirenaios, then, as has been stated already, Gaios transcribed, while, from the copy of Gaios, Isokrates made another in Corinth.

And again, I, Pionios, wrote it down from the copy of Isokrates, having searched for this story according to a revelation of the holy Polycarp. I gathered it together, although when it was almost worn away by time, so that the Lord Jesus Christ might also gather me with his elect into his heavenly kingdom. To whom be the glory, with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.'

Text: Hartog 2013.
Translation: E. Rizos (using Hartog 2013).

Non Liturgical Activity

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts


Miracle after death
Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics – unspecified


The letter of the Church of Smyrna describing the martyrdom of Polycarp (Letter of the Smyrnaeans) is one of the most important and controversial documents on early Christianity. It is viewed by many as the earliest martyrdom account, indeed as the document that inaugurates martyrial literature as a genre (E00035). Written in the form of a general epistle addressed from the church of Smyrna to the church of Philomelion in Phrygia, it purports to be written shortly after the martyrdom of Polycarp in the 2nd century. It survives in two versions:

(a) A version, partially summarised and partially quoted in full, in Eusebius’
Ecclesiastical History (4.15.1-46), written in the 320s. Eusebius' quotations prove that the letter is a genuinely early composition. Eusebius apparently regards it as an important original document on the history of the persecutions, and he reports that the version he consulted included other accounts concerning martyrdoms in Smyrna (4.15.46) (E00014).

(b) A self-standing version (
MPol = Martyrdom of Polycarp) preserved in eight manuscript collections of hagiographical texts (menologia for February) dating from the 10th to the 13th centuries. All of these contain similar versions of the Letter of the Smyrnaeans, and are thought to belong to the same line of manuscript tradition, except the 13th century Codex Mosquensis 150 (in the Synodal Library, Moscow) which belongs to a different manuscript family. At the end of the Letter of the Smyrnaeans proper, the menologium version attaches a paragraph on the date of Polycarp's feast, a second paragraph of greetings (which purports to be the epilogue of the letter), and the so-called epilogue with information about the transmission history of the text (MPol 21, 22 and 22a, on which see E00054 and E00056).

MPol sections 1.1 and 8.1-19.1 coincide with the paragraphs of the Letter of the Smyrnaeans quoted in full by Eusebius, with minor alterations. MPol 2-7.3 are summarised by him. The Letter of the Smyrnaeans as quoted in MPol includes a series of passages which draw a parallel between the martyrdom of Polycarp and the passion of Christ. These are absent from Eusebius’ quotation. For some scholars, they were secondarily interpolated into the original text, before or after Eusebius.

Letter of the Smyrnaeans also survives in Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian versions, all dependent upon the Eusebian text. There is also an Old Church Slavonic translation of MPol in a 15th century menologion, and an abridged Latin translation.

It is a text of the utmost importance for the history of the cult of saints and saint-related literature. Unlike other early martyrdom accounts, it is characterised by a relatively developed narrative sophistication, pronounced references to miracles (E00008, E00066) and to the veneration of the saint's remains (E00087, E00057). It is structurally and stylistically closely related to the late 2nd century
Letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne (see E00212) and the 3rd century martyrdom accounts of *Pionios and *Fructuosus ($###).

For bibliography, see: Hartog 2013, 165-239; Rebillard 2017, 82-85.


The so-called epilogue of MPol consists of two colophons signed by a certain Sokrates/Isokrates from Corinth and by a certain Pionios respectively. The Sokrates colophon incorporates, in indirect speech, a third colophon by a certain Gaios who presumably copied from Eirenaios (Buschmann 1998, 373-375; Hartog 2013, 331-335).

The epilogue of
MPol survives in two versions, the more extensive of which is attested only in the 13th century Moscow Codex. The Moscow version of the epilogue is perhaps an augmented paraphrase of the shorter version, adding a note on Irenaeus of Lyon, with information drawn from Irenaeus’ own work Against Heresies (3.3.4) and from Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 4.14.7). The Moscow epilogue converts the colophon of Sokrates/Isokrates into indirect speech, using the third person, but keeps Pionios’ colophon in the first person. Significantly, it omits the phrase 'as I shall set forth later on' (καθς δηλώσω ν τ καθεξς) and styles Polycarp a ‘saint’ (γίου) rather than ‘blessed’ (μακαρίου). In the final doxology, the Moscow version duplicates the reference to the Son, probably by mistake.

It seems that the epilogue was written in the spirit of pseudepigraphal authorship, aiming to associate the
Letter of the Smyrnaeans with Irenaeus of Lyon. The purpose of the transmission history described in these colophons is probably to create a pedigree of authoritative and orthodox transmission for MPol, in a period when its authenticity could be (and perhaps was) brought into question (Moss 2012, 568-570). According to the epilogue, the original text was presumably 'among the papers of Eirenaios' (Irenaeus of Lyon?), from which it was subsequently transcribed by a certain Gaios, a companion of Eirenaios. By Gaios, we are probably supposed to think of the famous Christian author Gaius of Rome, flourishing around AD 200 (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.6). It is unknown if Gaius and Irenaeus knew each other, but they were contemporaries and likely to have met in Rome. Their presumed relationship seems to have instigated the Moscow excursus about Irenaeus, his connection with Rome, and the survival of his works in that city. The Moscow colophon implies that the Letter of the Smyrnaeans first appeared in Rome alongside other works of Irenaeus of Lyon; this is the purpose of the phrase 'many works by him survive there'. The purported final redactor is a certain Pionios, in all probability posing as the priest and martyr *Pionios of Smyrna – hence the author of MPol is often styled pseudo-Pionius. Recently Zwierlein suggested that the name Sokrates/Isokrates of Corinth may be a corruption of Kodratos, one of the famous bishops and martyrs of Corinth. This is plausible and fits with the intention of the epilogue to associate the text with authoritative early Christian figures.

The phrase 'as I shall set forth later on', present only in the short version of the epilogue (22.3), implies that our Pionios incorporated the
Letter of the Smyrnaeans into a broader corpus. Some scholars believe that this included the Life of Polycarp (see E00453), but the evidence for the connection is inconclusive (Hoover 2013). The date of this corpus, if it existed, is difficult to define. At some point, martyrdom texts concerning the martyrs from Smyrna and the whole province of Asia, such as the Martyrdom of Pionios (E00096), the Life of Polycarp, and the Martyrdom of Apollos Sakkeas (E00226), were probably compiled in a single hagiographical collection, perhaps produced on the initiative of the metropolitan bishopric of Ephesus. A collection of this kind existed already by the early fourth century, and Eusebius of Caesarea reports having consulted it (E00014). The appearance of these collections is a major step in the development of the cult of martyrs: it not only attests to an established interest in these figures, but perhaps also to the liturgical organisation of their cult and festal calendars.


Text and Translations:
Dehandschutter, B. Martyrium Polycarpi. Een literair-kritische studie (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium; Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 1979).

Hartog, P.
Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp (Oxford Apostolic Fathers; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 240-271.

Musurillo, H.
The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1972, 2-21.

Rebillard, E.
Greek and Latin Narratives About the Ancient Martyrs (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 90-105.

Zwierlein, O.
Die Urfassungen der Martyria Polycarpi et Pionii und das Corpus Polycarpianum. 2 vols. (Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte; Berlin/Boston: Walter De Gruyter, 2014).

Further reading:
Buschmann G.
Das Martyrium des Polykarp (Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vätern 6; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998).

von Campenhausen, H.
Bearbeitungen und Interpolationen des Polykarpmartyriums, Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.- Histor. Klasse, Heidelberg 1957; reprinted in H. von Campenhausen, Aus der Frühzeit des Christentums. Studien zur Kirchengeschichte des ersten und zweiten Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: Mohr, 1963), 253-301.

Dehandschutter, B. "Le martyre de Polycarpe et le développement de la conception du martyre au deuxième siècle,"
Studia Patristica 18:2 (1982), 659-668.

Dehandschutter, B. "The New Testament and the
Martyrdom of Polycarp," in A.F. Gregory, and C.M. Tuckett (eds.), Trajectories through the NT and the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 395-405.

Dehandschutter, B.
Polycarpiana. Studies on Martyrdom and Persecution in Early Christianity. Collected Essays edited by J. Leemans (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 205; Leuven, Leuven University Press, 2007).

Dehandschutter, B. "The Martyrium Polycarpi: a Century of Research,"
Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II.27.1 (1993), 485-522.

Dehandschutter, B. "Martyr-Martyrium. Quelques observations à propos d’un Christianisme sémantique,"
Instrumenta Patristica 24 (1991), 33-99.

Delehaye, H.
Les passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires (Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1966), 15-46.

Lightfoot, J.,
The Apostolic Fathers II: S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp (London: Macmillan, 1889), vol. 1, 604-722.

Moss, C.R. "On the Dating of Polycarp: Rethinking the Place of the Martyrdom of Polycarp in the History of Christianity,"
Early Christianity 1 (2010), 539-574.

Moss, C.R.
Ancient Christian Martyrdoms: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012).

Ronchey, S.
Indagine sul martirio di San Policarpo: critica storica e fortuna agiografica di un caso giudizario in Asia Minore (Nuovi studi storici 6; Roma: Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo, 1990).

Record Created By

Efthymios Rizos

Date of Entry


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00004Polykarpos/Polycarp, bishop and martyr of Smyrna, and his companion martyrsΠολύκαρποςCertain
S00031Pionios, presbyter and martyr of SmyrnaΠιόνιοςUncertain

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Efthymios Rizos, Cult of Saints, E00054 -