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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) built a church of *Mary Theotokos, Mother of God (S00033) in the city of Augila in Libya (north Africa) to serve the recently pagan population. 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, 6.2.14-20

14 Πόλεις δέ πού εἰσι δύο ἐπ’ ὀνόματος ἑνὸς ᾠκημέναι· 15 Αὐγίλα γὰρ ἑκάτερα ἐκλήθη. αὗται τοῦ Βορείου διέχουσιν ὁδῷ τεττάρων ἡμερῶν μάλιστα εὐζώνῳ ἀνδρί, τετραμμέναι μὲν αὐτοῦ πρὸς ἄνεμον νότον, ἀρχαῖαι δὲ οὖσαι καὶ τῶν οἰκητόρων ἀρχαιότροπα τὰ ἐπιτηδεύματα ἔχουσαι· θρησκείαν γὰρ πάντες καὶ εἰς ἐμὲ τὴν τῆς πολυθεΐας ἐνόσουν. 16 ἐνταῦθα ἐκ παλαιοῦ τῷ τε Ἄμμωνι καὶ Ἀλεξάνδρῳ τῷ Μακεδόνι ἀνέκειτο ἕδη. 17 οἷς δὴ καὶ ἐσφαγιάζοντο μέχρι ἐς τὴν Ἰουστινιανοῦ βασιλείαν οἱ ἐπιχώριοι. 18 ἦν δὲ καὶ ὅμιλος αὐτοῖς τῶν ἱεροδούλων καλουμένων πολύς. νῦν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς οὗτος οὐχ ὅσον ἐς τὰ σώματα τοῖς κατηκόοις ἐκποριζόμενος τὴν ἀσφάλειαν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰς ψυχὰς διασώσασθαι ἐν ἐπιμελείᾳ ποιούμενος, καὶ τῶν ταύτῃ ᾠκημένων ἀνθρώπων κατὰ πάντα προὐνόησε τρόπον. 19 τά τε γὰρ ἄλλα διαφερόντως αὐτῶν ἐπιμελεῖσθαι οὐδαμῇ ἀπηξίωσε καὶ τὴν τῆς εὐσεβείας ἐδίδαξε δόξαν Χριστιανοὺς πανοικεσίᾳ πεποιημένος καὶ μεταπορευόμενος λελυμασμένα σφίσι τὰ πάτρια ἤθη. 20 οἷς δὴ καὶ νεὼν τῆς θεοτόκου ἐδείματο, φυλακτήριον ταῖς πόλεσι τῆς τε σωτηρίας καὶ τῆς ἀμφὶ τῇ δόξῃ ἀληθείας ἐσόμενον.

'14 And there are two cities which are known by the same name, each of them being called Augila. 15 These are distant from Boreium about four days' journey for an unencumbered traveller, and to the south of it; and they are both ancient cities whose inhabitants have preserved the practices of antiquity, for they all were suffering from the disease of polytheism even up to my day. 16 There from ancient times there have been shrines dedicated to Ammon and to Alexander the Macedonian. 17 The natives actually used to make sacrifices to them even up to the reign of Justinian. 18 In this place there was a great throng of those called temple-slaves. But now the Emperor has made provision, not alone for the safety of the persons of his subjects, but he has also made it his concern to save their souls, and thus he has cared in every way for the people living there. 19 Indeed he by no means neglected to take thought for their material interests in an exceptional way, and also he has taught them the doctrine of the true faith, making the whole population Christians and bringing about a transformation of their polluted ancestral customs. 20 Moreover he built for them a Church of the Mother of God to be a guardian of the safety of the cities and of the true faith.'

Text: Haury 1913. Translation: Dewing 1940.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of a community

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


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.


One of the cities by the name of Augila is the modern oasis town of Awjilah, in the Al Wahat District of Cyrenaica in north-eastern Libya. Since classical times it has been known as a place where high quality dates are farmed, as mentioned already in Herodotus (4.172; 182). However, no traces of a Byzantine fortress, nor a church have been found there (Kraeling 1962, map on p. 34; Reynolds 2000, 174-175).


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:
Cameron, A., “Procopius 7,” in: J.R. Martindale (ed.), The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2: A.D. 395-527 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).

Cameron, A.,
Procopius and the Sixth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985).

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.

Feissel, D., “Les édifices de Justinien au témoignage de Procope et de l'épigraphie,”
Antiquité Tardive 8 (2008), 81-104.

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.

Kraeling, C.H.,
Ptolemais: City of the Libyan Pentapolis (Chicago:The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, 1962).

Reynolds, J., “Byzantine Buildings, Justinian and Procopius in Libya Inferior and Libya Superior,”
Antiquité Tardive 8 (2008), 169-176.

Rubin, B.,
Procopius von Kaisareia (Stuttgart: Druckenmüller, 1954 = Paulys Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Neue Bearbeitung, Stuttgart 1957, vol. 23.1, col. 273-599).

Record Created By

Julia Doroszewska

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΘεοτόκοςCertain

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