Site logo

The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Procopius of Caesarea, in his On Buildings, reports that the emperor Justinian (r. 527-565) rebuilt the church of *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S00037) and established a shrine of *Priskos and Nikolaos (martyrs venerated at Blachernae, S00391) near the church of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) at Blachernae (suburb of Constantinople). Written in Greek at Constantinople, in the 550s.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work


Procopius, On Buildings, 1.6.2-4

τό τε γὰρ ἐν ἀριστερᾷ τοῦ κόλπου Λαυρεντίου ἁγίου μαρτύριον ἀφεγγές τε τὰ πρότερα ὂν καὶ σκότους ἀτεχνῶς ἔμπλεων μεθαρμοσάμενος, ὡς διὰ βραχέων εἰπεῖν, ἐς τὸν νῦν φαινόμενον ἀνέθηκε τρόπον. καὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπίπροσθεν τὸν τῆς θεοτόκου νεὼν ἐν χώρῳ καλουμένῳ Βλαχέρναις τοιοῦτον δεδημιούργηκεν οἷός μοι ἔναγχος δεδιήγηται. ἐπέκεινά τε Πρίσκῳ τε καὶ Νικολάῳ ἁγίοις ἱερὸν ᾠκοδομήσατο, καινουργήσας αὐτός, οὗ δὴ οἱ Βυζάντιοι ἐμφιλοχωροῦντες ἐνδιατρίβουσιν ἐκ τοῦ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον, πὴ μὲν σέβοντές τε καὶ τεθηπότες τοὺς ἁγίους ἐνδήμους σφίσι γινομένους, πὴ δὲ τῆς τοῦ τεμένους ἀπολαύοντες εὐπρεπείας, ἐπεὶ τῆς θαλάσσης τὸ ῥόθιον βιασάμενος βασιλεὺς ὕπερθέν τε τοῦ κλυδωνίου ἐπὶ μακρότατον ἐνθέμενος τὰ θεμέλια τὸ ἱερὸν κατεστήσατο.

'On the left of the bay [the Golden Horn] he found a shrine (
martyrion) of Saint Laurence, which previously had been lightless and just full of darkness and, briefly speaking, he remodelled and consecrated it in the form now seen. Before this, at the locality called Blachernae, he had given the church (neōs) of the Mother of God the form which I described previously. Nearby, he built a shrine (hieron) to Saints Priskos and Nikolaos, a new foundation by himself, where the Byzantines particularly love to go and spend time, some venerating and honouring the saints who now become their neighbours, and others simply enjoying the beauty of the sacred grounds (temenos) – for the Emperor forced back the wash of the sea and built the sanctuary (hieron), setting its foundations above the waves, far out into the water.'

Text: Haury 1913. Translation: E. Rizos.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Descriptions of cult places

Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of a community
Visiting graves and shrines
Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family
Other lay individuals/ people


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.


This passage describes the building works sponsored by Justinian (527-565) in the area of Blachernae by the Golden Horn. These included the renovation of a pre-existing church of Laurence/Laurentius, which, we are told, was modified so as to have more light. This shrine was very probably the one founded by Pulcheria, which is known in the sources as Saint Laurentios of Pulcherianae.

The identification was rejected by Janin (Janin 1969, 300-301), based on the word
epiprosthen ('before') which he took to mean that the church stood opposite the great Marian shrine of Blachernae (also see E04283). Yet epiprosthen here appears to be used as a temporal adverb, meaning 'earlier than', and denoting that the renovation of the Blachernae shrine of Mary had just taken place earlier. This is accurate, since Procopius emphatically states that the Blachernae shrine was built during the reign of Justinian's uncle, Justin I (519-527) (E04283). As always, Procopius omits to mention the original founder of that shrine. The simplest solution is that Justinian rebuilt and embellished the two foundations of Pulcheria in the broader area of the upper Golden Horn, starting with the shrine of Mary in the 520s, and following with the shrine of Laurence after 527.

In the same region, Justinian added a new shrine, that of the martyrs Priskos and Nikolaos, which, according to Procopius, stood on an artificial terrace or jetty protruding into the sea, and thus serving as a popular promenade. The hagiography of the two martyrs has not survived. The 10th c.
Synaxarium of Constantinople records the festival of this church on 22 and 25 September and on 7 December. Alongside Priskos and Nikolaos, the Synaxarium also names a third figure, Martinos. It gives a brief elogium of their story, referring to their tortures and martyrdom by beheading, but does not specify their provenance or profession.

None of these churches has survived, and their precise location is unknown.

Further reading:
Janin 1950, 303-304; Janin 1969, 300-301, 408.


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:
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.,
Les églises et monastères (Paris: Institut français d'études byzantines, 1953).

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).

Record Created By

Julia Doroszewska, Efthymios Rizos

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΘεοτόκοςCertain
S00037Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of RomeΛαυρέντιος Certain
S00391Priskos and Nikolaos, martyrs venerated at Blachernae, ConstantinopleΠρίσκος καὶ ΝικόλαοςCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Julia Doroszewska, Efthymios Rizos, Cult of Saints, E04387 -