Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter I.

1. The first of the martyrs of Palestine was Procopius, 2617 who, before he had received the trial of imprisonment, immediately on his first appearance before the governor’s tribunal, having been ordered to sacrifice to the so-called gods, declared that he knew only one to whom it was proper to sacrifice, as he himself wills. But when he was commanded to offer libations to the four emperors, having quoted a sentence which displeased them, he was immediately beheaded. The quotation was from the poet: p. 343 “The rule of many is not good; let there be one ruler and one king.” 2618

2. It was the seventh 2619 day of the month Desius, 2620 the seventh before the ides of June, 2621 as the Romans reckon, and the fourth day of the week, when this first example was given at Cæsarea in Palestine.

3. Afterwards, 2622 in the same city, many rulers of the country churches readily endured terrible sufferings, and furnished to the beholders an example of noble conflicts. But others, benumbed in spirit by terror, were easily weakened at the first onset. Of the rest, each one endured different forms of torture, as scourgings without number, and rackings, and tearings of their sides, and insupportable fetters, by which the hands of some were dislocated.

4. Yet they endured what came upon them, as in accordance with the inscrutable purposes of God. For the hands of one were seized, and he was led to the altar, while they thrust into his right hand the polluted and abominable offering, and he was dismissed as if he had sacrificed. Another had not even touched it, yet when others said that he had sacrificed, he went away in silence. Another, being taken up half dead, was cast aside as if already dead, and released from his bonds, and counted among the sacrificers. When another cried out, and testified that he would not obey, he was struck in the mouth, and silenced by a large band of those who were drawn up for this purpose, and driven away by force, even though he had not sacrificed. Of such consequence did they consider it, to seem by any means to have accomplished their purpose.

5. Therefore, of all this number, the only ones who were honored with the crown of the holy martyrs were Alphæus and Zacchæus. 2623 After stripes and scrapings and severe bonds and additional tortures and various other trials, and after having their feet stretched for a night and day over four holes in the stocks, 2624 on the seventeenth day of the month Dius, 2625 —that is, according to the Romans, the fifteenth before the Kalends of December,—having confessed one only God and Christ Jesus as king, 2626 as if they had uttered some blasphemy, they were beheaded like the former martyr.



The account of Procopius was somewhat fuller in the longer recension of the Martyrs of Palestine, as can be seen from the Syriac version (English translation in Cureton, p. 3 sq.). There exists also a Latin translation of the Acts of St. Procopius, which was evidently made from that longer recension, and which is printed by Valesius and also by Cureton (p. 50 sq.), and in English by Crusè in loco. We are told by the Syriac version that his family was from Baishan. According to the Latin, he was a native of Ælia (Jerusalem), but resided in Scythopolis (the Greek name of Baishan). With the Latin agrees the Syriac version of these Acts, which is published by Assemani in his Acta SS. Martt. Orient. et Occident. ed. 1748, Part II. p. 169 sq. (see Cureton, p. 52). We learn from the longer account that he was a lector, interpreter, and exorcist in the church, and that he was exceedingly ascetic in his manner of life. It is clear from this paragraph that Procopius was put to death, not because he was a Christian, but because he uttered words apparently treasonable in their import. To call him a Christian martyr is therefore a misuse of terms. We cannot be sure whether Procopius was arrested under the terms of the first or under the terms of the second edict. If in consequence of the first, it may be that he was suspected of complicity in the plot which Diocletian was endeavoring to crush out, or that he had interfered with the imperial officers when they undertook to execute the decree for the destruction of the church buildings. The fact that he was commanded by the governor to sacrifice would lead us to think of the first, rather than of the second edict (see above, Bk. VIII. chap. 6, note 3, and chap. 2, note 8). Still, it must be admitted that very likely many irregularities occurred in the methods by which the decrees were executed in the province, and the command to sacrifice can, therefore, not be claimed as proving that he was not arrested under the terms of the second edict; and in fact, the mention of imprisonment as the punishment which he had to expect would lead us to think of the second edict as at least the immediate occasion of his arrest. In any case, there is no reason to suppose that his arrest would have resulted in his death had he not been rash in his speech.


οὐκ ἀγαθὸν πολυκοιρανίη εἷς κοίρανος žστω,

εἷς βασιλεύς.

The sentence is from Homer’s Iliad, Bk. II. vers. 204 and 205. It was a sort of proverb, like many of Homer’s sayings, and was frequently quoted. As a consequence the use of it by Procopius does not prove at all his acquaintance with Homer or Greek literature in general.


The majority of the mss. read “eighth,” which according to Eusebius’ customary mode of reckoning the Macedonian months is incorrect. For, as Valesius remarks, he always synchronizes the Macedonian with the Roman months, as was commonly done in his time. But the seventh before the Ides of June is not the eighth, but the seventh of June (or Desius). In fact, a few good mss. read “seventh” instead of “eighth,” and I have followed Burton, Schwegler, and Heinichen in adopting that reading.


Desius was the tenth month of the Macedonian year, and corresponded to our June (see the table on p. 403, below).


On the Roman method of reckoning the days of the month, see below, p. 402.


We may gather from §5, below, that the sufferings to which Eusebius refers in such general terms in this and the following paragraphs took place late in the year 303. In fact, from the Syriac version of the longer recension (Cureton, p. 4) we learn that the tortures inflicted upon Alphæus and Zacchæus were, in consequence of the third edict, issued at the approach of the emperor’s vicennalia, and intended rather as a step toward amnesty than as a sharpening of the persecution (see above, Bk. VIII. chap. 5, note 8). This leads us to conclude that all the tortures mentioned in these paragraphs had the same occasion, and this explains the eagerness of the judges to set the prisoners free, even if they had not sacrificed, so long as they might be made to appear to have done so, and thus the law not be openly violated. Alphæus and Zacchæus alone suffered death, as we are told in §5, and they evidently on purely political grounds (see note 10).


We learn from the Syriac version that Zacchæus was a deacon of the church of Gadara, and that Alphæus belonged to a noble family of the city of Eleutheropolis, and was a reader and exorcist in the church of Cæsarea.


See above, Bk. IV. chap. 16, note 9.


The month Dius was the third month of the Macedonian year, and corresponded with our November (see below, p. 403).


μόνον ἕνα Θεὸν καὶ χριστὸν βασιλέα ᾽Ιησοῦν ὁμολογησ€ντες Βασιλεύς was the technical term for emperor, and it is plain enough from this passage that these two men, like Procopius, were beheaded because they were regarded as guilty of treason, not because of their religious faith. The instances given in this chapter are very significant, for they reveal the nature of the persecution during its earlier months, and throw a clear light back upon the motives which had led Diocletian to take the step against the Christians which he did.

Next: Chapter II