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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 notable church of *Mary Theotokos, Mother of God (S00033), and four other churches, in the city of Lepcis Magna in Libya (north Africa). Written in Greek at Constantinople, in the 550s.

Evidence ID

E05127

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Procopius

Procopius, On Buildings, 6.4.1-5

Summary:

Procopius recounts how the emperor Justinian resettled the city of Lepcis Magna in Libya, which, although formerly large and populous, had been largely deserted and covered by sand. The emperor built up the circuit-wall of the city from the foundations, enclosing a smaller area than before (and leaving part of the city buried in sand), so that its very size would no longer a cause of weakness. The emperor also built a notable shrine (
hieron) to the Theotokos and four other churches, and rebuilt the palace of the emperor Septimius Severus that lay in ruins.

Text: Haury 1913. Summary: J. Doroszewska.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of a community

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family

Source

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.


Discussion

Lepcis (or Leptis) Magna was a prominent city in Roman Libya. Originally founded by the Carthaginians around 600 BC, it was greatly expanded and embellished under the emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193–211), who was a native of the city. The ruins of Lepcis are located at Khoms, Libya, 130 km east of Tripoli, on the coast where the Wadi Lebdah river meets the sea. The site is one of best preserved Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.

The secular basilica, built by the emperor Septimius Severus, was converted into an imposing church, and is almost certainly the church of the Theotokos mentioned by Procopius (Ward-Perkins 1948, 64). There are also ruins of two other churches at Lepcis,which may date from Justinian's times: one of them in the remains of a pagan temple dated to the beginning of the 2nd century AD; the other on the north side of a circular square (Goodchild and Ward-Perkins 1953, 22-35; Sjöström 1993, 40).


Bibliography

Edition:
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.

Goodchild, R.G., and Ward-Perkins, J.B., “The Christian Antiquities of Tripolitania,”
Archaeologia 95 (1953), 1-82.

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.

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).

Sjöström, I.,
Tripolitania in Transition: Late Roman to Early Islamic Settlement, vol. 1 (Aldershot: Avebury, 1993).

Ward-Perkins, J.B., “Severan Art and Architecture at Lepcis Magna,”
Journal of Roman Studies 38 (1948), 59-80.


Record Created By

Julia Doroszewska

Date Last Modified

14/06/2020

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΘεοτόκοςCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Julia Doroszewska, Cult of Saints, E05127 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E05127