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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

John Malalas in his Chronographia reports that the emperor Zeno (r. 474-475, 476-491) converted the temple of the goddess Rhea in Cyzicus/Kyzikos (north-west Asia Minor) into a church dedicated to *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033). Written in Greek at Antioch (Syria) or Constantinople, in the mid-6th c.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Malalas

John Malalas, Chronographia, 4. 8

4. 8 Ἐν δὲ τοῖς καιροῖς τοῦ Θῶλα ἦν Ἡρακλῆς ὁ ἥρως καὶ οἱ Ἀργοναῦται οἱ περὶ Ἰάσονα τὸν Θεσσαλὸν καὶ Κάστορα καὶ Πολυδεύκην καὶ Ὕλαν καὶ Τελαμῶνα καὶ τοὺς λοιπούς. οἵτινες ἀνιόντες τὸν ἀπόπλουν τῆς Ποντικῆς θαλάσσης ἐπολεμήθησαν ἐξαίφνης ὑπὸ Κυζίκου, βασιλέως τῆς Ἑλλησπόντου. καὶ συγκρούσαντες ναυμαχίᾳ ἐφόνευσαν τὸν Κύζικον βασιλέα· καὶ εἰσελθόντες νυκτὸς παρέλαβον τὴν Κύζικον, μητρόπολιν τῆς Ἑλλησπόντου ἐπαρχίας. καὶ μεμαθηκότες ἀπὸ τῶν πολιτῶν καὶ τῶν συγκλητικῶν, ὅτι Κύζικός ἐστιν ὁ σφαγεὶς παρ’ αὐτῶν, ἐπένθησαν δι’ αὐτόν, ὅτι συγγενὴς αὐτῶν ὑπῆρχε καὶ ἐκ τῆς αὐτῶν χώρας ἔφερε τὸ γένος. καὶ ᾔτουν συγγνώμην τῇ τῶν ἀμφοτέρων ἀγνοίᾳ, καὶ ἀπολογησάμενοι πρὸς τούτους ἔκτισαν ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ Κυζίκῳ πόλει μετὰ τὴν νίκην ἱερόν. καὶ ἀπελθόντες οἱ Ἀργοναῦται εἰς τὸ μαντεῖον, ἔνθα λέγεται τὰ Πύθια θερμά, καὶ ποιήσαντες θυσίαν ἐπερώτησαν λέγοντες ταῦτα· ‘προφήτευσον ἡμῖν, προφῆτα, Τιτάν, Φοῖβε Ἄπολλον, τίνος ἔσται δόμος οὗτος, ἢ τί δὲ ἔσται;’ καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς χρησμὸς παρὰ τῆς Πυθίας οὗτος· ‘ὅσα μὲν πρὸς ἀρετὴν καὶ κόσμον ὄρωρε ποιεῖτε. ἐγὼ δὲ ἐφετμέω τρεῖς ἕνα μοῦνον ὑψιμέδοντα θεόν, οὗ λόγος ἄφθιτος ἐν ἀδαεῖ κόρῃ ἔγκυος ἔσται. οὗτος ὥσπερ τόξον πυριφόρον μέσον διαδραμὼν ἅπαντα κόσμον, ζωγρεύσας πατρὶ προσάξει δῶρον. αὐτῆς ἔσται δόμος, Μαρία δὲ τοὔνομα αὐτῆς.’ καὶ γράψαντες τὸν χρησμὸν οἱ ἥρωες ἐν λίθῳ, ἤτοι μαρμάρῳ, χαλκέοις γράμμασιν, ἔθηκαν αὐτὸ ὑπέρθυρον τοῦ ναοῦ, καλέσαντες τὸν οἶκον Ῥέας μητρὸς θεῶν. ὅστις οἶκος μετὰ χρόνους πολλοὺς ἐγένετο ἐκκλησία τῆς ἁγίας καὶ θεοτόκου Μαρίας ὑπὸ Ζήνωνος βασιλέως.

‘During the time of Tholas there lived the hero Herakles and the Argonauts, Jason the Thessalian, Kastor and Polydeukes, Hylas and Telamon and the rest. While they were sailing up the mouth of the Pontic Sea, they were suddenly attacked by Kyzikos, king of Hellespont. They clashed with him in a sea battle and killed him. Then, gaining entry by night, they captured Kyzikos, the metropolis of the province of Hellespont. When they learnt from the citizens and senators that, it was Kyzikos who had been slain by them, they mourned for him because he was a relative of theirs and traced his family from their own country. So they asked forgiveness for the ignorance of both sides, and after justifying themselves before them they built a temple in the city of Kyzikos after the victory. Then the Argonauts went to the oracle at the place called Pythia Therma and, after making a sacrifice, they put questions, saying, "Prophesy to us, prophet, Titan, Phoibos Apollo. Whose shrine will this be, or what will it be?" And this response was given them by the Pythia, "Do all that leads to virtue and honour. I proclaim only a triune, high-ruling God, whose imperishable Word will be conceived in an innocent girl. He, like a fiery arrow coursing through the midst of the whole world, will make it captive and bring it as a gift to his father. This will be her house and her name will be Mary". The heroes inscribed the oracle in bronze letters on stone, that is, on marble, and placed it over the door of the temple, calling it the House of Rhea, mother of the gods. Many years later this house was made into a church of the Holy Mary, Mother of God, by the emperor Zeno.’

Text: Thurn 2000. Translation: Jeffreys, Jeffreys, and Scott 1986, modified.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Appropriation of older cult sites
Construction of cult buildings

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


The Chronographia of John Malalas (c. 490–c. 570) is a Christian chronicle of universal history, from Adam to the death of Justinian I (565). It appears to have been composed in two parts, the earlier of which focuses on the history of Antioch and the East, ending in c. 528 or 532. The second part focuses on the urban history of Constantinople up to the death of Justinian. Malalas is likely to have pursued a career in the imperial administration at both Antioch and Constantinople, writing the two parts of his chronicle while living in these two cities.

Malalas was widely used as a source by Byzantine chroniclers and historians, including John of Ephesus, John of Antioch, Evagrius Scholasticus, the
Paschal Chronicle, John of Nikiu, John of Damascus, Theophanes, George the Monk, pseudo-Symeon, Kedrenos, Zonaras, Theodore Skoutariotes, and Nikephoros Kallistou Xanthopoulos.

The text of the chronicle is preserved in a very fragmentary form, based on quotations in other sources (notably the
Paschal Chronicle and Theophanes), and on a Slavonic translation which follows a more extensive version of the original text. It is believed that we now have about 90% of the text.

On the composition and manuscript tradition of the text, see Thurn 2000, and:


For a discussion of this passage, see E01218.


Dindorf, L., Ioannis Malalae Chronographia (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae; Bonn, 1831).

Thurn, J.,
Ioannis Malalae Chronographia (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 35; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000).

Jeffreys, E., Jeffreys, M., and Scott, R., The Chronicle of John Malalas: A Translation (Sydney, 1986).

On Malalas:
Carrara, L., Meier, M., and Radtki-Jansen, C. (eds.), Die Weltchronik des Johannes Malalas. Quellenfragen (Malalas-Studien 2; Göttingen: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017).

Jeffreys, E., Croke, B., and Scott, R. (eds.),
Studies in John Malalas (Sydney, 1990).

Meier, M., Radtki-Jansen, C., and Schulz, F. (eds.),
Die Weltchronik des Johannes Malalas: Autor, Werk, Überlieferung (Malalas-Studien 1; Göttingen: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2016).

Treadgold, W.T.
The Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 235-256.

Further reading:
Agusta-Boularot, S., "Malalas épigraphiste? Nature et fonction des citations épigraphiques dans la Chronique", in: S. Agusta-Boularot et al., Recherches sur la Chronique de Jean Malalas, vol. 2 (Paris: Association des amis du centre d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance, 2006), 103-105.

Busine, A., "The discovery of inscriptions and the legitimation of new cults," in: B. Dignas, and R.R.R. Smith (eds.),
Historical and Religious Memory in the Ancient World (Oxford: OUP, 2012), 241-256.

Hasluck, F.W.,
Cyzicus: being some account of the history and antiquities of that city, and of the district adjacent to it with the towns of Apollonia ad Rhyndoveum, Miletupolis, Hadrianutherae, Priapus, Zeleia, etc. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1910), 102.

Janin, R.,
Les églises et les monastères des grands centres byzantins (Bithynie, Hellespont, Latros, Galèsios, Trébizonde, Athènes, Thessalonique) (Paris, 1975), 203-205.

Record Created By

Efthymios Rizos

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΜαρίαCertain

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