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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 shrine of *Mary Theotokos, Mother of God (S00033) within the palace at Carthage (north Africa) and one of *Prime (female saint of Carthage, S01895) outside the palace; both after 534. Written in Greek at Constantinople, in the 550s.

Evidence ID

E05139

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

Procopius

Procopius, On Buildings, 6.5.1-11

Procopius gives a brief account of Vandal destruction in Africa (particularly of city-walls) and refers to the successful reconquest under Belisarius (which he has already described in the Wars).

7 καὶ τὰ μὲν καθῃρημένα τῶν ἐν Λιβύῃ ὀχυρωμάτων ἀνενεώσατο ἅπαντα, ἕτερα δὲ παμπληθῆ ἐπετεχνήσατο νεοχμώσας αὐτός. 8 Πρῶτα μὲν οὖν Καρχηδόνος, τῆς νῦν καὶ Ἰουστινιανῆς, ὡς τὸ εἰκός, καλουμένης ἐπεμελήσατο, διερρυηκότα μὲν τὸν περίβολον ἀνοικοδομησάμενος ἅπαντα, καὶ τάφρον ἐν περιδρόμῳ διορύξας οὐ πρότερον οὖσαν. 9 ἀνέθηκε δὲ καὶ ἱερὰ τεμένη, τῇ μὲν θεοτόκῳ, ὅπερ ἐν Παλατίῳ ἐστί, καὶ τούτου ἐκτὸς τῶν τινι ἐπιχωρίων ἁγίων ἁγίᾳ Πρίμῃ. 10 ἔτι μέντοι καὶ στοὰς ἑκατέρωθι τῆς Μαριτίμου ἀγορὰς καλουμένης ἐδείματο, καὶ βαλανεῖον ἐν δημοσίῳ ἀξιοθέατον, ὅπερ ἐπωνύμως τῇ βασιλίδι Θεοδωριανὰς ἐπωνόμασαν. 11 ἐδείματο δὲ καὶ μοναστήριον τοῦ περιβόλου ἐντὸς ἐπιθαλασσίδιον, ἄγχιστα τοῦ λιμένος ὅπερ Μανδράκιον ὀνομάζουσιν, ἐρύματί τε αὐτὸ ἐχυρωτάτῳ περιβαλὼν φρούριον ἀνανταγώνιστον ἀπειργάσατο.

'7 He [Justinian] restored all the dismantled strongholds in Libya, every one of them, and he also added a great many new ones himself. 8 First, then, he cared for Carthage, which now, very properly, is called Justiniane, rebuilding the whole circuit-wall, which had fallen down, and digging around it a moat which it had not had before. 9 He also dedicated shrines, one to the Mother of God in the palace, and one outside this to a certain local saint, Saint Prima. 10 Furthermore, he built stoas on either side of what is called the Maritime Forum, and a public bath, a fine sight, which they have named Theodorianae, after the Empress. 11 He also built a monastery on the shore inside the circuit-wall, close to the harbour which they call Mandracium, and by surrounding it with very strong defences he made it an impregnable fortress.'

Text: Haury 1913. Translation: Dewing 1940.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Saint as patron - of a community
Construction of cult buildings

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

The building-works recorded here were carried out after the successful reconquest from the Vandals of the central provinces of North Africa in 534. According to his account here, Justinian prioritised work in Carthage, which indeed seems likely (Cameron 1985, 182).

The palace-church of the
Theotokos may well have been the great sanctuary within the palace where the military commander Solomon later found shelter from mutineers, as described by Procopius in his Wars (4.13.37). Its precise location is unclear, though Alexandre Lézine (1968, 177-180) identifies it with the remains of a basilica discovered on the Bursa Hill.

The Saint Prim
ē (presumably Prima in Latin), to whom Justinian built a shrine outside Carthage, is obscure. A Prima is mentioned in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum in two different long lists of martyrs of Mauretania: venerated on 17 October (S04989) and on 2 December (S05039). But Mauretania, at the western end of the Maghreb, is some distance from Carthage (which was in the province of Proconsularis), so our Prima is unlikely to have been the same martyr as the woman (or women) listed in the Hieronymianum.

Further reading:
Pringle 1981, vol. 1, 172-177.


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.

Frend, W.H.C., “The Early Christian Church in Carthage,” J.H. Humphrey (ed.),
Excavations at Carthage. Conducted by the University of Michigan, vol. 3 (Ann Arbor: Kelsey Museum, 1976), 21-40.

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.

Lézine, A.,
Carthage-Utique. Études d'architecture et d'urbanisme (Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1968).

Pringle, D.,
The Defence of Byzantine Africa from Justinian to the Arab Conquest, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981).

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

14/06/2020

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΘεοτόκοςCertain
S01895Prime/Prima, female saint of CarthageΠρίμηCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Julia Doroszewska, Cult of Saints, E05139 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E05139