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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor attributes victories of the emperor Heraclius over the Persians in 627/8 to the intercession of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033). Chronicle compiled in the Byzantine Empire in the early 9th c., using extracts from earlier Greek texts

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)

Major author/Major anonymous work


Chronicle of Theophanes, AM 6118 [AD 625/6]

τῇ δὲ ιβ' τοῦ Δεκεμβρίου μηνὸς ἡμέρᾳ σαββάτῳ ἐκροτήθη ὁ πόλεμος· καὶ προπηδήσας πάντων ὁ βασιλεὺς ἄρχοντι τῶν Περσῶν συνήντησεν· καὶ τῇ τοῦ θεοῦ δυνάμει καὶ τῇ βοηθείᾳ τῆς θεοτόκου τοῦτον κατέβαλεν· καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ προεκπηδήσαντες ἐτράπησαν·

'Battle was given on Saturday, 12 December. The emperor sallied forward in front of everyone and met the commander of the Persians, and, by God's might and the help of the Theotokos, threw him down; and those who had sallied forth with him were routed.'

ὁ οὖν βασιλεὺς τὸ μὲν ἥμισυ τοῦ στρατοῦ ἔπεμψεν ἐν Δασταγέρδ, αὐτὸς δὲ δι᾿ ἄλλης ὁδοῦ ἀπῆλθεν εἰς ἕτερον παλάτιον, τὸ ἐπιλεγόμενον Βεβδάρχ. καὶ τοῦτο καταστρέψαντες καὶ πυρὶ παραδόντες εὐχαρίστουν τῷ θεῷ τῷ διὰ τῶν πρεσβειῶν τῆς θεοτόκου τοιαῦτα θαυμάσια ποιήσαντι.

'So the emperor sent one half of his army to Dastagerd, while he himself went by a different road to another palace called Bebdarch. This, too, they destroyed and burnt, and they thanked God for having wrought such wonders by the intercession of the Theotokos.'

Text: de Boor 1883, 318, 321. Translation: Mango and Scott 1997, 449, 451.


Miraculous interventions in war

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family


Theophanes (759/60-818) came from a wealthy and politically prominent family from Constantinople. After marriage and a brief career as a secular official, he became a monk, living in the monastic communities centred around Mount Sigriane in Bithynia, and eventually abbot of the community known as Megas Agros. He acquired the epithet 'Confessor' (Homologetes) through his resistance to the renewal of Iconoclasm by the emperor Leo V (813-820), which led to Theophanes' imprisonment and then exile to the island of Samothrace, where he died. For full discussion of the evidence for Theophanes' life, see Mango and Scott 1997, xliv-lii, and, for a briefer summary, his entry ('Theophanes 18') in the Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire (

Chronicle of Theophanes covers the period from 284/5 to 812/813. It was a continuation of the Chronicle of George Synkellos (ob. c. 810) which ran from the creation of the world to 284. George had apparently intended to continue his chronicle down to his own time but died before he could do so; the extent to which Theophanes, in producing his chronicle, was simply editing and polishing material already collected by George remains uncertain (see Mango and Scott 1997, liv-lv). The Chronicle of George Synkellos contains some material relevant to the cult of saints, up to its stopping point in 284; however, this is not included in the CSLA database, because the sources for all George's information (chiefly Eusebius) survive and have database entries in their own right.

Theophanes and his sources
The key characteristic of Theophanes’ Chronicle is that it is not a composition of Theophanes’ own, but a patchwork of extracts from earlier sources, collected and arranged in chronicle form, in other words under an entry for each year. Theophanes’ role was confined to piecing the patchwork together (i.e. removing pieces from their original context and placing them under individual years), and to some extent condensing and abbreviating material. As he put it in his preface: 'I did not set down anything of my own composition, but have made a selection from the ancient historians and prose-writers and have consigned to their proper places the events of every year, assigned without confusion' (trans. Mango and Scott 1997, 2). Since many of Theophanes’ sources are still extant, the extracts in his chronicle can often be compared with the original, which shows that that this was indeed his method of compilation, though he makes occasional editorial interventions, and sometimes misunderstands source material (Mango and Scott 1997, lxxii, xci-xcv; Howard-Johnston 2010, 272-3, 276-84).

It is because Theophanes'
Chronicle is essentially a compilation of earlier sources, that a number of extracts from the Chronicle are included in the CSLA database, even though the work itself dates from more than a century after AD 700, our usual cut-off point for evidence. We have not included entries for material in his chronicle which reproduces passages from sources already entered in our database (such as Eusebius, John Malalas, Theodore Lector, Procopius, and Theophylact Simocatta), but have included entries (for the period up to 700) for items in Theophanes whose original source is lost.

For discussion of Theophanes' work as a whole, see the introduction to Mango and Scott's translation (Mango and Scott 1997, xliii-c); Howard-Johnston 2010, 268-312; and the essays in Jankowiak and Montinaro 2015.

Theophanes' chronology is based primarily on the annus mundi (year since Creation). There was more than one system of calculating AM dates in late antiquity and the early middle ages: the one used by Theophanes, following George Synkellos, was the Alexandrian era, which started from the equivalent of 5492 BC, thus making the first year of the chronicle, AD 284/5, the AM year 5777. The first day of the year under the Alexandrian system was 25 March, and this was used by John Synkellos; however, it is evident that Theophanes (without ever stating his practice explicitly) used 1 September as the first day of his chronicle years, thus matching the standard secular dating system in the Byzantine empire (indictions): see Mango and Scott 1997, lxvi. While the year-by-year chronology is based on the annus mundi, Theophanes includes considerable other information in the heading for each entry (not given here): the year from the Incarnation (the same principle as AD dating, but the system used by Theophanes dated the Incarnation to AD 8/9), and the regnal years of the Roman emperor (Theophanes only ever lists one emperor here, normally the one ruling in Constantinople), the king of Persia (the Caliph in later entries), and the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The accuracy and mutual consistency of these different forms of dating varies greatly across different entries. In the body of each entry, Theophanes often preserves the form of dating used by his source, such as consular years or indictions. For a full overview, see Mango and Scott 1997, lxiii-lxxiv.


Theophanes includes in his chronicle a long account of the victorious campaign waged by the emperor Heraclius against the Persian king Chosroes over the winter of 627/628 (misdated by Theophanes to 625/626), which ended in Chosroes' downfall and Roman victory in the war with Persia which had been going on since 603, and for most of which the Persians had been strategically dominant. Parts of Theophanes' account are based on the poetic account of the campaign by George of Pisidia, but most of it depends on an unidentified prose narrative: it has been argued by James Howard-Johnston that this was an official campaign history (Howard-Johnston 2010, 284-95).

As with the defence of Constantinople in 626, the official presentation of the campaign seems to have emphasised the patronage of the Virgin Mary as a factor in the Roman victory (see also the account of Heraclius' victory in the
Paschal Chronicle, E07981). In these two passages she is associated with specific incidents: the first, on 12 December 627, an engagement near Nineveh in which Heraclius defeated an army commanded by the Persian general Razates (the decisive pitched battle of the final stage of the conflict); the second, in early January 628, the destruction of Chosroes' palace at Bebdarch, near Dastagerd in Mesopotamia.


de Boor, C., Theophanis Chronographia (Leipzig: Teubner, 1883).

English translation and commentary:
Mango, C., and Scott, R., The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor: Byzantine and Near Eastern History AD 284-813 (Oxford: OUP, 1997).

On Theophanes:
Howard-Johnston, J., Witnesses to a World Crisis: Historians and Histories of the Middle East in the Seventh Century (Oxford: OUP, 2010).

Jankowiak, M., and Montinaro, P. (eds.),
Studies in Theophanes (Travaux et mémoires 19; Paris: Centre d'Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, 2015).

Record Created By

David Lambert

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of Christἡ θεοτόκοςCertain

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