Τhe Greek Martyrdom of *Pionios (presbyter and martyr of Smyrna, S00031) recounts how Pionios and his companions were arrested on the feast day of *Polycarp (bishop and martyr of Smyrna, S00004) and tried in Smyrna (western Asia Minor) in 250. Pionios was burned alive, and after martyrdom, his body looked like that of an athlete, while his face shone with supernatural grace. Written in the late 3rd century, presumably in Smyrna.
Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom
Martyrdom of Pionios (BHG 1546)
During the persecution of Decius, Pionios is arrested together with his companions Sabina, Asklepiades, Makedonia and Limnos, on the feast day of Polycarp. One day earlier, Pionios has a vision revealing that they will be arrested (§§ 1-2).
1. (2.) Πιονίου δὲ τοῦ μάρτυρος καὶ μᾶλλον μεμνῆσθαι προσήκει διότι καὶ ὅτε ἐπεδήμει τῷ κόσμῳ πολλοὺς ἀπὸ τῆς πλάνης ἐπέστρεψεν ἀποστολικὸς ἀνὴρ τῶν καθ’ ἡμᾶς γενόμενος καὶ τέλος ὅτε ἐκλήθη πρὸς κύριον καὶ ἐμαρτύρησε, τὸ σύγγραμμα τοῦτο κατέλιπεν εἰς νουθεσίαν ἡμετέραν ἐπὶ τὸ καὶ νῦν ἔχειν ἡμᾶς μνημόσυνα τῆς διδασκαλίας αὐτοῦ.
2. (1.) Μηνὸς ἕκτου δευτέρᾳ ἐνισταμένου σαββάτου μεγάλου, ἐν τῇ γενεθλίῳ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ μακαρίου μάρτυρος Πολυκάρπου, ὄντος τοῦ διωγμοῦ τοῦ κατὰ Δέκιον, συνελήφθησαν Πιόνιος πρεσβύτερος καὶ Σαβῖνα ὁμολογήτρια καὶ Ἀσκληπιάδης καὶ Μακεδόνια καὶ Λίμνος πρεσβύτερος τῆς καθολικῆς ἐκκλησίας. (2.) ὁ οὖν Πιόνιος πρὸ μιᾶς ἡμέρας τῶν Πολυκάρπου γενεθλίων εἶδεν ὅτι δεῖ ταύτῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ αὐτοὺς συλληφθῆναι.
'1. (2.) But it is even more fitting to remember Pionios the martyr, because, when he was present in the world, he brought many back from error, since he was one of the apostolic people of our time; but also in the end, when he was called up to the Lord and was martyred, he left this writing for our own edification and in order that we may even now have remembrances of his teaching.
2. (1.) On the second day of the second half of the sixth month, a great Sabbath, on the Birthday of the blessed martyr Polycarp, during the persecution of Decius, Pionios the presbyter and Sabina the confessor and Asklepiades and Makedonia and Limnos the presbyter of the catholic church were arrested. (2.) One day before the Birthday of Polycarp, Pionios saw that they were to be arrested on this day.'
They are arrested by the temple verger Polemon who takes them to the agora which was full of pagans and Jews (§ 3). Pionios gives a lengthy speech, castigating both the Greeks (pagans) and the Jews for their treatment of the Christians, and warning them of the reality of eternal punishment (§ 4). Polemon and his companions unsuccessfully try to persuade Pionios to sacrifice, and threaten to send Sabina to a brothel (§§ 5-9). Pionios and his companions are taken to prison, where they are visited by Christians wishing to talk and pray with them (§§ 10-11), by pagans wishing to persuade them, and by repentant Christian renegades wishing to find consolation. Pionios gives a long speech, expressing sympathy for the renegades and exhorting them to repent (§§ 12-14). Polemon and his guards summon the prisoners and ask them to sacrifice at the temple of Nemesis, which they refuse to do (§ 15). They are forcibly taken to the temple, where Euktemon, an important Christian, has just sacrificed. Pionios rejects the exhortations of a certain Lepidos (Lepidus), a rhetor Rouphinos (Rufinus) and others. All efforts to persuade them to sacrifice fail, and they are taken back to gaol. One of the guards beats Pionios on the head, but it is the guard’s arms and sides which swell up (§§ 16-18). The proconsul Quintillianus arrives in Smyrna and interrogates Pionios who, although tortured, refuses to sacrifice and is condemned to be burnt alive (§§ 19-20). He goes willingly to the stadium where he is tied to a stake together with Metrodoros, a Marcionite priest, and burned (§ 21). When removed from the stake, the burned body of Pionios looks like an athlete, while his face shines with supernatural grace (§ 22). The martyrdom takes place on 12 March, during the reign of Decius (§ 23).
22. (2.) ἐσημάνθη δὲ αὐτοῦ ὁ στέφανος καὶ διὰ τοῦ σώματος. μετὰ γὰρ τὸ κατασβεσθῆναι τὸ πῦρ τοιοῦτον αὐτὸν εἴδομεν οἱ παραγενόμενοι ὁποῖόν τε τὸ σῶμα ἀκμάζοντος ἀθλητοῦ κεκοσμημένου. (3.) καὶ γὰρ τὰ ὦτα αὐτοῦ μυλλὰ ἐγένοντο καὶ αἱ τρίχες ἐν χρῷ τῆς κεφαλῆς προσεκάθηντο, τὸ δὲ γένειον αὐτοῦ ὡς ἰούλοις ἐπανθοῦσιν ἐκεκόσμητο. (4.) ἐπέλαμπε δὲ καὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πάλιν χάρις θαυμαστή, ὥστε τοὺς Χριστιανοὺς στηριχθῆναι μᾶλλον τῇ πίστει, τοὺς δὲ ἀπίστους πτοηθέντας καὶ τὸ συνειδὸς ἔχοντας πεφοβημένον κατελθεῖν.
23. (1.) Ταῦτα ἐπράχθη ἐπὶ ἀνθυπάτου τῆς Ἀσίας Ἰουλίου Πρόκλου Κυντιλλιανοῦ, ὑπατευόντων αὐτοκράτορος Γ. Μεσίου Κύντου Τραιανοῦ Δεκίου Σεβαστοῦ τὸ δεύτερον καὶ Οὐεττίου Γρατοῦ, πρὸ τεσσάρων εἰδῶν Μαρτίων κατὰ Ῥωμαίους, κατὰ δὲ Ἀσιανοὺς μηνὸς ἕκτου ἐννεακαιδεκάτῃ, ἡμέρᾳ σαββάτῳ, ὥρᾳ δεκάτῃ, κατὰ δὲ ἡμᾶς βασιλεύοντος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. ἀμήν.
'22. (2.) His victory was made manifest even through his body. For, after the fire was extinguished, those of us who were present saw him in such a shape as would have been the body of a dignified athlete in his prime. (3.) His ears were distorted, and his hair rested on the skin of his head, while his beard was handsome like the first blossom of hair. (4.) And again, a wondrous grace was shining on his face, so that the Christians were even more confirmed in the faith, while the infidels left dismayed, and with their conscience full of fear.
23. (1.) These took place under the proconsul of Asia Iulius Proclus Quintillianus, during the consulships of the emperor G. Messius Quintus Traianus Decius Augustus, in his second consulship, and Vettius Gratus [AD 250], four days before the Ides of March according to the Roman calendar [=12 March], or on the nineteenth of the sixth month according to the Asian calendar, on the day of Sabbath, at the tenth hour; now, according to us, it was while our Lord Jesus Christ was reigning, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.'
Text: Musurillo 1972.
Translation and summary: E. Rizos.
Saint’s feastNon Liturgical Activity
Dating by saint’s festival
Composing and translating saint-related textsMiracles
Miracle at deathRelics
Apparition, vision, dream, revelation
Miraculous sound, smell, light
Bodily relic - entire bodyProtagonists in Cult and Narratives
SourceThe Martyrdom of Pionios is the second major martyrdom account from the city of Smyrna after the Martyrdom of Polycarp (E00035). By the late 3rd century, both of them seem to have been among the most famous martyrdom texts from the province of Asia, and were known to Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius dates the Martyrdom of Pionios to the time of Marcus Aurelius, considering it contemporary with the Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Martyrdom of Karpos, Papylos and Agathonike (see E00014). However, the extant text of Pionios' martyrdom dates the event to the persecution of Decius (250/1). The text can therefore be no earlier the late 3rd century. It is a composition of passages derived from a number of documents very different in character and style, including sections reproducing or emulating trial transcripts (§§ 9 and 19) and the two apologetic speeches of Pionios (§§ 4 and 12-14). The latter are written in an erudite style recalling early Christian epistles.
DiscussionPerhaps the most interesting aspect of the Martyrdom of Pionios is that it reflects, in a remarkably early period, the process of creating a saint’s profile under the influence of another, already established, cult of a local martyr: Polycarp. The influences of the Martyrdom of Polycarp are multiple and manifest (see E00035). The author makes a conscious effort to establish a connection between Pionios and Polycarp, and he is most probably writing his text with a view to making it a part of a broader corpus of martyrdom texts: the Martyrdom of Pionios is planned to be read together with that of Polycarp. That such a hagiographical collection did exist is otherwise confirmed by Eusebius (E00014).
From § 19 on, Pionios' companions disappear and the story focuses exclusively on him. The author is clearly working on a number of pre-existing documents which he modifies and synthesises into a unified narrative focusing on one single figure. The same appears to happen in the Martyrdom of Polycarp as well.
The following passages essentially construct the connection between Pionios and Polycarp, from the first two chapters of the Martyrdom of Pionios:
1.2: ἀποστολικὸς ἀνὴρ τῶν καθ’ ἡμᾶς γενόμενος = 'he was one of our people that had apostolic charisma'.
Compare Martyrdom of Polycarp 16.2 (E00035): ἐν τοῖς καθ’ ἡμᾶς χρόνοις διδάσκαλος ἀποστολικὸς καὶ προφητικὸς γενόμενος = 'who was in our days a teacher of apostolic and prophetic charisma'.
2.1. Μηνὸς ἕκτου δευτέρᾳ ἐνισταμένου σαββάτου μεγάλου, ἐν τῇ γενεθλίῳ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ μακαρίου μάρτυρος Πολυκάρπου = 'On the second day of the second half of the sixth month, a great Sabbath, on the Birthday of the blessed martyr Polycarp'.
Compare Martyrdom of Polycarp 21.1 (E00056): Μαρτυρεῖ δὲ ὁ μακάριος Πολύκαρπος μηνὸς Ξαντικοῦ δευτέρᾳ ἱσταμένου, πρὸ ἑπτὰ καλανδῶν Μαρτίων, σαββάτῳ μεγάλῳ ὥρᾳ ὀγδόῃ = 'The blessed Polycarp is martyred on the second day of the first half of the month Xanthikos, seven days before the calends of March [= 23 February], on a great Sabbath'.
Pionios is described as a man of apostolic charisma, just like Polycarp. He is arrested on the feast day of Polycarp, having been warned through a vision about his imminent arrest – just like Polycarp himself (see E00008). In a sense, his martyrdom is placed under the protection and grace of the older martyr. Here, we should also recall the so-called epilogue of the Martyrdom of Polycarp where Pionios is presented as the man that found and preserved the text of the Martyrdom of Polycarp after a revelatory vision of the saint. Indeed, the author of the Martyrdom of Pionios may have been responsible at least for the addition of the epilogue (E00054). These multiple links between the two texts aim, as it seems, to establish a connection between the two major martyr cults of Smyrna.
Other interesting aspects of the text are:
- The phrase on the Birthday of the blessed martyr Polycarp (2.1), which is one of the earliest examples of dating by a saint’s feast day.
- The text’s laconic and neutral mentions of two people from other Christian groups, suffering tribulations and martyrdom for their faith: these are the Montanist Eutychianos, with whom Pionios and his companions shared their prison (§ 11.2), and the Marcionite presbyter Metrodoros who was martyred together with Pionios (§ 21.5) (see E00145). The Martyrdom of Pionios was written in the context of the highly divided Christian movement in the province of Asia, and is therefore particularly careful to manifest the specific denominational identity of its heroes as members of the Catholic Church of Smyrna (§§ 2.1, 2.2, 3.6, 4.2, 5.6, 6.4, 7.5, 8.5, 19.5).
- The description of Pionios’ burnt body. The author employs the athlete metaphor typically ascribed to martyrs (§ 22.2-4), but his description seems to be based on realistic details: the author compares the distortions caused by the fire with the appearance of athletes. All the editors of the text so far have interpolated a negation into § 22.3. (καὶ γὰρ τὰ ὦτα αὐτοῦ <οὐ> μυλλὰ ἐγένοντο = ‘his ears were <not> distorted’). The text, however, in all the manuscripts, is devoid of such a negation, and its meaning can be better understood without it: Pionios’ distorted ears, his well-preserved hair and short beard, probably recalled the appearance of boxers, as depicted in Greek and Roman art; thus the wounds of Pionios were metaphorically interpreted by the author as those of a victorious fighter in the contest of martyrdom. Zwierlein ascribes this passage to redactions after AD 400, but without convincing arguments (Zwierlein 2014, vol. 1, 113; vol. 2, 63-67). It probably belongs to a 3rd century form of the text.
- The same passage also contains two instances of the verb kosmeomai (κοσμέομαι, ‘to be adorned, to be orderly’) in perfect tense forms, which recalls a similar passage in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (see E00057). The miraculous light shining on the martyr’s face is a frequent motif in martyrdom accounts, regularly described by the term ‘grace’ (χάρις, charis) (e.g. E00069), having its roots in the account of the martyrdom of Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 6:15).
BibliographyEditions and translations:
Musurillo, H., The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), xxviii-xxx, 136-167.
Rebillard, E. Greek and Latin Narratives About the Ancient Martyrs (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 47-79.
Robert, L., Bowersock, G.W., Jones, C.P., Robert, J., and Vaillant, A., Le martyre de Pionios, prêtre de Smyrne (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1993).
Seeliger, H., and Wischmeyer, W. eds. Märtyrerliteratur. Herausgegeben, übersetzt, kommentiert (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 172; Berlin/München/Boston: De Gruyter, 2015), 129-179.
Zwierlein, O., Die Urfassungen der Martyria Polycarpi et Pionii und das Corpus Polycarpianum. 2 vols (Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte 116; Berlin/Boston: Walter De Gruyter, 2014).
Delehaye, H., Les passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires (2nd ed.; Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1966), 15-46.
|ID||Name||Name in Source||Identity||S00004||Polykarpos/Polycarp, bishop and martyr of Smyrna, and his companion martyrs||Πολύκαρπος||Certain||S00031||Pionios, presbyter and martyr of Smyrna||Πιόνιος||Certain|
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