Archive for the 'Ancient world' Category

Philip of Macedon on those who spoke ill of him

A quotation from Paley’s collection of Greek Wit, p.42:

Philip, King of Macedon, thanked the Athenian demagogues for their abuse, and said that his morals were much improved by it, for his constant endeavour was both by his words and his deeds to prove them liars.

–  Plutarch, Philip c. 7.

Did the Romans eat strawberries?

Summer is upon us.  I can’t really be bothered to sit at the computer.  Mild air, soft rains, hot sun and dusty blue skies … the time for indoor activities is the winter. 

All I can think of, this evening, is that I intend to go out tomorrow to a farm near my home, and purchase some strawberries.   Let us, then, think of strawberries.

Did the Greeks and the Romans eat strawberries?  It seems that they did.

Wild strawberries

In Kevin M. Folta, Genetics and genomics of rosaceae, p.422, I find a discussion of the strawberry in the ancient world, telling us that Greek authors do not mention it, nor the authors of Egypt or the Bible, in which lands, of course, it does not grow.

But it does grow wild in Italy, and there are, apparently, a number of references in classical literature to it.  The Latin word for the strawberry is ‘fragum, -i‘, plural ‘fraga‘. 

Virgil mentions the strawberry as ‘humi nascentia fraga’, the ‘children of the earth’, in his third eclogue, and adds a warning to children picking the wild fruit — he says nothing of cultivated strawberries in his day — to beware of serpents:

“You, picking flowers and strawberries that grow
So near the ground, fly hence, boys, get you gone!
There’s a cold adder lurking in the grass.”

Ovid, in the Metamorphoses I, v. 104, tells that they gathered ‘arbuteos fructus montanaque fraga‘, arbutus berries and mountain strawberries, as food for the golden age.  (The arbutus is the so-called ‘strawberry tree’) 

 The teeming Earth, yet guiltless of the plough,
And unprovok’d, did fruitful stores allow:
Content with food, which Nature freely bred,
On wildings and on strawberries they fed;
Cornels and bramble-berries gave the rest,
And falling acorns furnish’d out a feast.

In his 13th book he refers again to ‘mollia fraga‘.

My garden fill’d with fruits you may behold,
And grapes in clusters, imitating gold;
Some blushing bunches of a purple hue:
And these, and those, are all reserv’d for you.
Red strawberries, in shades, expecting stand,
Proud to be gather’d by so white a hand.

Pliny the Elder, book 15, c. 28, distinguishes the ‘terrestribus fragis‘ or ground strawberry from the arbutus tree:

XXVIII. The flesh of the ground strawberry is different from that of the strawberry-tree which is related to it, the strawberry being the only fruit that grows at the same time on a bush and on the ground. The tree itself is a sort of shrub; the fruit takes a year to mature, and the following crop flowers side by side with the earlier crop when it is ripening. Authorities disagree as to whether it is the male plant or the female that is unproductive. The fruit is held in no esteem, the reason for its name being that a person will eat only one! Nevertheless the Greeks call it by the two names of comaron and memaecylon, which shows that there are two varieties of the plant; and with ourselves it has another name, the arbutus. Juba states that in Arabia the strawberry tree grows to a height of 75 feet. 

We are also told that Cato the Elder mentions medical uses for the fruit; but no reference is given, which is always grounds to suspect that the author has not verified the claim himself.  A search of De agricultura reveals nothing.  A wild claim that Cato was addicted to strawberries seems to circulate in gardening manuals, such as this:

The Censor was always anxious beyond measure for the welfare of his strawberry beds, and took dire vengeance on any of his gardeners who ventured to neglect them.

There is a mysterious reference “D.B. 1880″ in this, but I can’t see enough to work out what it is.

Likewise pseudo-Apuleius, the 4th century author of a ‘Herbarium‘ or ‘De herbarum virtutibus‘ — apparently a 6th century copy exists at Leiden, according to French Wikipedia, is said to mention the fruit.  The author seems to be called Apuleius Barbarus also.  Editions are hard to find!  Unfortunately, because herbals are illustrated, people seem to print copies of particular manuscripts.  A German edition of an early Middle English version exists at  I’m afraid that I cannot, therefore, check this reference.

On the following page, however, Dr. Folta tells us that

The ancient Romans originally cultivated it in gardens, …

Unfortunately he gives no reference for this.

UPDATE:  Nearly all the references to the classical history of the strawberry, including those of Dr. Folta, clearly go back — the wording is so similar — to U.P.Hedrick, Sturtevant’s notes on edible plants (1919).  This may be found here.  Another link reveals this.

I should note that the various manuals of cultivation also state that the modern strawberry is derived, not from these small fruits, but from a hybrid of two American varieties of considerably larger size.  The Romans had no access to what we today would call a strawberry.

Mithras in Commagene — the hierothesion at Nemrud Dag

Turkey is a land of many interesting archaeological sites, and I would very much like to go there some day!  One of them is a curiosity — a site in the minor Hellenistic kingdom of Commagene, at a place today known as Nemrud Dag in South-Eastern Turkey, adjoining Syria.  There is a website for an International Nemrud Foundation, which, if you can get past the awful intro, gives a lot of useful information.

The kingdom was a mixture of Hellenistic and Persian in influence.  The kings took names like Mithradates and Antiochus and were related to both the Seleucids and the old Persian Achaemenid dynasty. 

The site at Nemrud Dag consists of a large tumulus, with three terraces below it on which are a number of statues and inscriptions.  The inscriptions are online, in image form, with translations, here.  Apparently they all appear on the west terrace. 

Therefore, as you see, I have set up these divine images of Zeus-Oromasdes and of Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes and of Artagnes-Herakles-Ares, and also of my all-nourishing homeland Kommagene; and from one and the same quarry, throned likewise among the deities who hear our prayers, I have consecrated the features of my own form, and have caused the ancient honour of great deities to become the coeval of a new Tyche. Since I thereby, in an upright way, imitated the example of the divine Providence, which as a benevolent helper has so often been seen standing by my side in the struggles of my reign.

Adequate property in land and an inalienable income therefrom have I set aside for the ample provision of sacrifices; an unceasing cult and chosen priests arrayed in such vestments as are proper to the race of the Persians have I inaugurated, and I have dedicated the whole array and cult in a manner worthy of my fortune and the majesty of the gods.

The deities are syncretistic.  In each case a Persian deity is associated with Greek deities.  Thus we have one statue identifying Zeus with Ormazd (reasonably enough), and another associating the minor Zoroastrian figure Artagnes with the hero Heracles and the god Ares. 

But the other item is interesting in a wider sense: a deity “Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes”.  By analogy with the other gods, one of these gods must be an oriental, a Zoroastrian Persian deity.  Obviously Mithras is the one, as the others are all mainstream classical Greek gods. 

But this is a site built by a semi-Persian king, for the purposes of syncretism.  This must mean, therefore, that “Mithras” here means the oriental deity Mitra, known to Zoroastrianism. 

Some have tried to use this site as evidence that Roman Mithras was around during the first century BC.  But there is nothing here suggestive of Mithras of the legions.  There is no Mithraeum, no bull sacrifice, nothing.  There is an association with Helios, the sun, just as Mithras is associated with Sol.  But such an association by itself is not a fingerprint for Sol Mithras, as many deities were associated with the sun, and Mitra himself replaced the Zoroastrian sun god.

I think we must consider Nemrud Dag as a syncretistic site with no connection to Mithras.

There is discussion of the site at the Encyclopedia Iranica site here

Arrian’s lost work on “After Alexander” and what survives of it

The second century writer Arrian is our best source for the life of Alexander the Great, using impeccable sources then extant but now lost.  A number of his other works are extant, and indeed his work On hunting even exists in English, and can be found on 

But equally interesting to us is his Τα μετὰ Αλέξανδρον, After Alexander.  This work in ten books is lost, but we know of it from Photius, who, in his Bibliotheca, also gives us a long summary of its contents.  This 9th century epitome, made casually as part of this enormous work, is one of our major sources for the early years of the Succcessor period, from the death of Alexander in 323 to the summer of 319.  The work clearly existed in a complete form when Photius read it, which makes it a pity that it did not survive the next few centuries. 

However I learn that we do have a little more.  For it seems that some leaves from one or more copies were reused, and these palimpsest leaves have reached us. 

The first of these is a Vatican palimpsest, ms. Vaticanus 495, which contains two leaves — a single bifolium — which appear as folios 230, and 235.  This was discovered in 1886 by Reitzenstein, and published in 1888.(1)  The leaves seem to be 10th century.  The pages contain a portion of the account of the doomed Egyptian campaign of Perdiccas, which ended in his death, the destruction of the central authority, and the foundation of the power and prestige of the Ptolemaic dynasty.  The editor believed the extract to be from book 7 of the work. 

The second survival was discovered much more recently by Jacques Noret in 1977 at Göteborg, ms. Graecus 1, folios 72 and 73, and was published by him with diplomatic transcription,  a “normal” text, and a French translation.(2)  This has a portion of book 10.  A discussion with images of the pages was published by B. Dreyer in 1999, and I think this is online.(3) The manuscript contains Dionysius Periegetes (f. 1-40) and then the commentary of Eustathius upon it (f. 48-142).  The first was written in the 14th century, the commentary 14-15th c.

 There is also a papyrus of the 2nd century, so very close to the date of composition, published by V. Bartoletti in 1951, which contains a portion of the struggle between Eumenes, Craterus and Neoptolemus. 

So it looks as if at least one 10th century manuscript existed down to the renaissance, when it was dismembered for use as raw materials!

1. Reitzenstein, Arriani τῶν μετὰ Αλέξανδρον libri septimi fragmenta e codice Vaticano rescripto nuper iteratis curis lecto, Breslauer philologische Abhandlungen Bd. 3, H. 3, Breslau 1888, S. 1–36.
2. Noret, Analecta Bollandia 95, 1977, 269–73. Noret, Ant. Class. 52, 1982, 235–242.
3. Boris Dreyer, Zum ersten Diadochenkrieg: Der Göteborger Arrian-Palimpsest (ms Graec 1), Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 125 (1999) 39–60. This contains colour images of the Göteborg leaves and monochrome ones — rather poor — of the Vatican leaves.

A note on Evanthius grammaticus

Bill Thayer of Lacus Curtius emails to ask if I have seen this link.  It’s a parallel Latin text and French translation of Evanthius grammaticus, De fabula and de comoedia excerpta.  I find that the name is also given as Euanthius.  Here’s a few notes on what I can find.

Evanthius (or Euanthius) of Constantinople 1 was a Latin grammarian of the first half of the fourth century, as we learn from a passage in the Chronicon of Jerome recording his death in AD 358.2  The only other ancient author to mention him is the grammarian Rufinus 3 whose commentary on Terence begins with the words:4 “Evanthius in the commentary on the fables of Terence says…” and then gives two brief passages, both of which are found in the introduction to the commentary on Terence that has come down to us under the name of Donatus.  From these we learn that Evanthius wrote a commentary on Terence which included or was introduced by a discussion of the genre5.  This is entitled De Fabula, but it is not clear how it became attached to the work of Donatus.6

The treatise De comoedia appears in the manuscripts prefixed to the scholia on Terence,7  and was edited by Reifferscheid,8 and the modern edition is by Wessner.9  It gives a survey of the origins of tragedy and comedy, then some general statements about the nature of comedy and then a history of the latter, treating satire as a form of comedy.10

Here’s the first couple of lines of De fabula, which I have converted from the French.  It looks like an interesting work.

1. Both tragedy and comedy had their first manifestations in the religious ceremonies with which the ancients consecrated themselves in fulfillment of vows made for benefits received. 2 In fact, when a fire had been lit on the altar and a goat brought, the type of incantations that the sacred choir made in honour of the god Liber was called tragedy.  The etymology of this is either from τράγος and ᾠδή, i.e. the word for a goat, the enemy of the vines, and the word for song (of which Virgil gives full details); or it is because the creator of this poem received a goat in return; or because a full cup of grape wine was given in solemn recompense to the singers or because actors smeared their faces with wine lees,  before the invention of masks by Aeschylus.  Indeed in Greek the lee is called τρύγες. This is why tragedy is so called.

1. Maximillian Dorn, De veteribus grammaticis artis Terentiae iudicibus (1906), p.19, tells us that “Donatus is followed by the most obscure Evanthius, a Byzantine grammarian…”.
2.  “Euanthius”, Real-Encyclopadie VI.1 (1907), p.847, “Euanthius eruditissimus grammaticorum Constantinopli diem obit, in cuius locum ex Africa Chrestus adducitur” (here) – “Evanthius, most learned of grammarians, died at Constantinople, in whose placed Chrestus was brought from Africa.”  3.  So states the RE.
4.  Grammatici latini VI 554,4. See also 565, 5.  “Euanthius in commentario Terentii de fabula [hoc est de comoedia] sic dicit …”.
5.  Robert A. Kaster, Guardians of language: the grammarian and society in late antiquity, p.278-9.
6.  Michael J. Sidnell, Sources of dramatic theory: Plato to Congreve. p.78, n.2.  “The text of De fabula can be found in Donatus/Wessner 1962-3, 1:13-22, and the fullest modern treatment of Evanthius is Cupaiulo’s (Evanthius, ed. Cupaiulo, 1979).” 
7. G. L. Hendrickson, The dramatic satura and the old comedy at Rome, American Journal of Philology 15 (1894), p.14.
8.  Euanthius et Donati commentum de comoedia ex rec. A. Reifferscheid, Breslau (1874).
9.  Evanthius, ‘De fabula: excerpta de Comoedia’, Aeli Donati Commentum Terenti, ed. P. Wessner, 3 vols, Stuttgart 1966, vol. 1.  (Source)
10.  Hendrickson, p.14.

Mithras in Tarsus

Today I had the chance to look for ten minutes at volume one of Vermaseren’s Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentorum Religionis Mithriacae (CIMRM).  The second volume was inaccessible, unfortunately.  The two volumes apparently parallel the two volumes in Cumont’s Textes et Monumentes, so I infer that the second volume may contain literary references.

Vermaseren arranged his collection of inscriptions geographically, and started with eastern parts — some coins from Bactria, in fact, although these were clearly of Persian Mitra to my eye.  There was but a single entry for Cilicia, which was a bronze aes of the reign of Gordian III, ca. 240 AD (CIMRM 27). 

What struck me, profoundly, was that the vast majority of the book was devoted to finds from Rome itself.  Vermaseren stated that he wanted to begin the book with Asia, as that was where the cult originated (or so he thought).  But the impression made, looking at those entries, was of a cult originating elsewhere, and that the material in Asia was distinctly peripheral to it.  Just holding the pages for each area revealed a cult whose archaeology was overwhelmingly western.

All this reminded me of many a confident statement online.  E.g.

“It was in Tarsus that the Mysteries of Mithras had originated” — Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, 1999, from here.

“Now Tarsus was one of the chief seats of Mithraism” — Roy Wood Sellers, from here.

“David Ulansey holds (or rather speculates) that, in the late 2nd-century BCE, a group of Stoics in the city of Tarsus originated Mithraism.” — from here.

The list could be extended.

And yet … all we have to support such a claim, from the archaeology, is a single coin? 

Searching for an image of the medallion online, I encountered the image of a coin of Gordian III from Tarsus, here at  The coin also has a deity wrestling a bull on the reverse — probably Mithras.  It is a great blessing to have so many images of coins online, indeed.  The images are:

Here is the image of what is perhaps the same item, given by Cumont in The Mysteries of Mithra, p.201 (from here - click on the image below for a larger version):

All this is not much, tho.

We do have the statement of Plutarch in his Life of Pompey that the Cilician pirates in 68 BC worshipped Mithras.  But probably the eastern deity is meant, linking the pirates with older enemies of the Romans like Mithradates.  But equally we may not be able to rely on the statement at all.

And that, it seems, is all the evidence we have about Mithras and Tarsus.

Enough to say that Tarsus was a major cult centre?  It seems unlikely.

Ambrose of Milan on Mithras

I’ve been going through Cumont’s Textes et Monumentes and adding material from it to my page of literary sources for Mithras.  One rather interesting snippet appeared only in a footnote, and was a quotation from Ambrose of Milan’s letters (which, fortunately, I have online), addressed to the emperor Valentinian.

It seems that Ambrose knew so little about the cult of Mithras, in the late 4th century, that he supposed the deity to be female, and a synonym for Venus!  Cumont comments (correctly, I suspect) that Ambrose is simply borrowing a line from Herodotus.  But it does tell us that the cult had vanished from public view at this date.

The Vlatadon library in Thessalonika

I have had an email back from Veronique Boudon-Millot today, giving the story of how the lost text by Galen, Peri Alupias (On consolation for grief) was found.  It’s very interesting, and I have asked for permission to translate it and place it here. 

She also mentions that Vlatadon 14, the manuscript that contained the new work, also contains the first complete copies of Galen’s On my own books and On the order of my own books, the two works most interesting to non-medical specialists, as evidence for the transmission of texts in the 2nd century AD.  The only previously known copy of the Greek was the Ambrosianus Q 3 sup. in Milan, which has many gaps in the text.  Those gaps previously had, perforce, to be filled from Hunain ibn Ishaq’s Arabic translation, itself extant only in a single forgotten manuscript in the obscure library of Mashhad in Iran.

A key factor in the discovery is that the Vlatadon collection catalogue is itself very obscure and little known.  It was published by S. Eustratiades in 1918.  There is no copy in the United Kingdom, but there is a copy in the French National Library in Paris.  It’s about 136 pages, but ms. 14 is the only medical text.  The remainder are patristic.  And that is exciting!  For if the collection is that little known, who knows what it might contain?!

Montanus in the Chronicle of Zuqnin

After my last post, I realised that I had a copy of Amir Harrak’s translation of parts 3 and 4 of the Chronicle of Zuqnin, which, for the section about Montanus, is based on John of Ephesus.  Here it is (Harrak, 1999, p.123-4):

549-550 The year eight hundred and sixty-one: Concerning the flood of the river that runs in Tarsus of Cilicia.

Most of Tarsus, a big city in Cilicia, was carried away, submerged and utterly destroyed by the water of the flooded river that runs through it. The other villages of the region, covering a vast area, were also swept away. Fields, vineyards and the rest of the plants were ruined; they were uprooted, dried up, and covered by earth.

At this time, the corrupting heresy of Montanus—the story of which and how it emerged was written down for us at the time of the Apostles—was ridiculed and uprooted.[3] For through the exhortation of holy John, Bishop of Asia, the bones of Montanus—he who said about himself that he was the Spirit Paraclete—Cratius (his associate),[1] Maximilla and Priscilla, his prophetesses, were found. He set them on fire and razed their temples to their foundations.

3 Michael, IV 323-325 [II 269-272] provides more information.
1 Addition based on Michael

“Michael” is, of course, Michael the Syrian, and the numbers are the volumes of the Chabot edition; Syriac in vol. IV, French in vol. II.  Here is the French, from book 9, chapter 33:

Dans le pays de Phrygie, il y a un lieu appelé Pépouza, où les Montanistes avaient un évêque et des clercs ; ils l’appelaient Jérusalem, et ils y tuaient les chrétiens. Jean d’Asie s’y rendit et fit brûler leur synagogue, sur l’ordre de l’empereur. On trouva dans cette maison un grand reliquaire de marbre scellé avec du plomb et lié par des garnitures de fer. Sur le dessus était écrit : « De Montanus et de ses femmes ». On l’ouvrit et on y trouva Montanus et ses deux femmes, Maximilla et Priscilla, qui avaient des lames d’or sur la bouche. Ils furent couverts de confusion en voyant les ossements fétides qu’ils appelaient « l’Esprit ». On leur dit : « N’avez-vous pas honte de vous être laissé séduire par cet impudique, et de l’appeler « Esprit »? Un esprit n’a ni chair ni os.» Et on brûla les ossements. —Les Montanistes firent entendre des gémissements et des pleurs. « Maintenant, disaient-ils, le monde est ruiné et va périr. » — Ou trouva aussi leurs livres honteux et on les brûla. La maison fut purifiée et devint une église.

Auparavant, du temps de Justinianus Ier (Justin), quelques personnes avaient informé l’empereur que Montanus, au moment de sa mort avait ordonné à ses ensevelisseurs de le placer à cinquante coudées sous terre « parce que, disait-il, le feu doit me découvrir, et dévorer toute la face de la terre ». Ses partisans, par l’opération pernicieuse des démons, répandaient faussement le bruit que ses ossements chassaient les démons; ils avaient suborné quelques individus qui, moyennant le pain de leur bouche, affirmaient qu’il les avait guéris. — L’empereur écrivit à l’évêque de l’endroit. Celui-ci fit creuser profondément et retirer les ossements de Montanus et ceux de ses femmes, pour les brûler. Alors, les Montanistes vinrent trouver l’évêque pendant la nuit, et lui donnèrent cinq cents dariques d’or; ils emportèrent les ossements et en apporce que les corps avaient été retrouvés tèrent d’autres; et au matin, sans que personne s’aperçût du mystère, l’évêque brûla ces ossements comme étant ceux de Montanus et de Crites (?) son associé. Mais ensuite, l’archidiacre dénonça l’évêque qui fut envoyé en exil.

Apollon, le compagnon de Paul, écrit que ce Montanus  était fils de Simon le mage; que quand son père périt, par la prière de Pierre, il s’enfuit de Rome, et se mit à troubler l’univers. Alors Apollon, (poussé) par l’Esprit, alla où il était, et le vit assis et prêchant l’erreur. Il commença à l’invectiver en disant : « O ennemi de Dieu, que le Seigneur te châtie ! » Montanus se mit à le reprendre, et dit :« Qu’y a t-il entre toi et moi, Apollon? Si tu prophétises : moi aussi ; si tu es apôtre : moi aussi ; si tu es docteur : moi aussi. » Apollon lui dit : « Que ta bouche soit fermée, au nom du Seigneur ! » Aussitôt il se tut et ne put jamais plus parler. Le peuple crut en Notre-Seigneur  et reçut le baptême. Ils renversèrent le siège de Montanus qui prit la fuite et s’échappa. — Ce récit est fini, ainsi que l’autre.

 In English:

In the country of Phrygia, there is a place called Pepouza where the Montanists had a bishop and clergy; they called it Jerusalem, and there they killed the Christians.  John of Asia went and burned their synagogue, on the orders of the emperor. In this house there was found a large marble shrine, sealed with lead and bound with iron fittings. On the top was written: “Montanus and his wives”. We opened it and found Montanus and his two wives, Maximilla and Priscilla, who had gold leaf on their mouths. They were ashamed of seeing the fetid bones which they called “the Spirit”. They were told: “Aren’t you ashamed to be seduced by this shameless wretch, and to call him ‘the Spirit’? ’A spirit hath not flesh or bones. ‘” And the bones were burned.—The Montanists were heard wailing and crying. “Now,” they said, “the world is ruined and will perish.” — Their disgraceful books were also found and burned. The house was cleansed and became a church.

Previously, in the time of Justinianus I (Justin), some people had informed the emperor that Montanus, at the time of his death had ordered those who buried him to place him fifty cubits underground “because,” he said, “fire shall discover me, and devour the whole face of the earth”. His supporters, by the pernicious work of demons, falsely spread the rumor that his bones could cast out demons; they had bribed a few individuals who, for the bread in their mouths, claimed that he had healed them. — The Emperor wrote to the bishop of the place. He dug deep and removed the bones of Montanus and those of his wives, and burned them.  Then the Montanists came to find the bishop during the night, and gave him five hundred darics of gold; they took away the bones and ensured that the bodies recovered belonged to others; and in the morning, without anyone realising it, the bishop burned the bones as those of Montanus and Crites (?) his associate. But then the archdeacon denounced the bishop who was sent into exile.

Apollos, the companion of Paul, wrote that Montanus was the son of Simon Magus; that when his father died, by the prayer of Peter, he fled from Rome and began to disturb the world. Then Apollos (led) by the Spirit, went to where he was and saw him sitting and preaching the error. He began to curse him, saying: “O enemy of God, may the Lord punish you!” Montanus began to rebuke him, and said: “What is there between you and me, Apollos? If you prophesy: I do too; if you are an apostle: so am I; if you are a physician: so am I.” Apollos said: “Let your mouth be closed, in the name of the Lord!” He immediately fell silent and could never speak again. The people believed in our Lord and were baptized. They overthrew the seat of Montanus who fled and escaped.—  This story is finished, like the other.

 Interesting details indeed.  But it is hard not to feel sorry for the poor Montanists, plainly simple rural folk following the traditions of their families since the second century.

The pagans at Constantinople in the time of Justinian

Vivian Nutton’s paper From Galen to Alexander, Aspects of Medicine and Medical Practice in Late Antiquity,1 continues to give interesting pieces of information.  On page 6 he discusses the relationship of antique medicine to Christianity at the opening of the Byzantine period, and tells us:

… John of Ephesus denounced in the persecutions of Justinian an indiscriminate collection of grammarians, sophists, lawyers and, finally, doctors. 

The reference is to the Revue de l’Orient Chretien vol. 2 (1897) p.481 f.  Fortunately this very valuable series was digitised and made available, thanks to the generosity of George Kiraz of Gorgias Press, so we can consult it at

The article begins on p.455, and is by Francois Nau, Analyse de la seconde partie inedite de l’histoire ecclesiastique de Jean d’Asie, patriarche jacobite de Constantinople (d. 585).  This consists of material from the Chronicle of Zuqnin, book 3, which is mainly derived from the lost second book of John of Ephesus.  The article comes with portions of the Syriac text and a French translation of them.  Here is the French, and an English translation of that.

(Folio 200v) En ce temps, on découvrit des Manichéens à Constantinople et on les brûla.

A cette époque un grand nombre d’hommes adhérérent à l’erreur funeste des Manichéens; ils se réunissaient dans des maisons et écoutaient les mystères impurs de cet enseignement. Quand ils eurent été pris, l’empereur les fit comparaître devant lui; il espérait les convertir et les ramener de leur pernicieuse erreur; il disputa avec eux, les instruisit, leur démontra par l’Écriture qu’ils adhéraient à une doctrine païenne, mais ils ne se laissèrent pas persuader; avec une ténacité satanique, ils criaient devant l’empereur sans aucune crainte, disaient qu’ils étaient prêts à affronter le bûcher pour l’enseignement de Manès et à supporter tous les supplices et toutes les souffrances pour ne pas le changer.

Alors l’empereur ordonna d’accomplir leur désir, de les jeter [Syriac] et de les brûler dans la mer afin qu’ils fussent ensevelis dans les flots, et de confisquer leurs biens, car il y avait parmi eux des femmes illustres, des nobles et des sénateurs. C’est ainsi que beaucoup de Manichéens périrent par le feu et ne voulurent pas quitter leurs erreurs.

Des paiens que l’on découvrit à Constantinople sous l’empereur Justinien.

La dix-neuvième année de l’empereur Justinien (546), on s’occupa, grâce à mon zèle, de l’affaire des païens que l’on découvrit à Constantinople. C’étaient des hommes illustres et nobles avec une foule de grammairiens, de sophistes, de scholastiques et de médecins. Quand ils furent découverts et que, grâce aux tortures, ils se furent dénoncés, on les saisit, on les flagella, on les emprisonna, on les donna aux Églises pour qu’ils y apprissent
la foi chrétienne comme il convient aux païens.

Il y avait parmi eux des patrices et des nobles. Ainsi un païen puissant et riche nomme Phocas, qui était patrice, voyant l’âpreté de l’inquisition et sachant que ceux qui étaient arrêtés l’avaient dénoncé comme païen et qu’un jugement sévère avait été rendu contre lui à cause du zèle de l’empereur, prit de nuit un poison mortel et quitta ainsi cette vie terrestre. Quand l’empereur l’apprit, il ordonna avec justice qu’on l’enterrât comme un âne, qu’il n’y eût aucun cortège pour lui ni aucune prière. Ainsi sa famille le mit durant la nuit sur une litière, l’emporta, fit ouvrir un tombeau et l’y jeta comme un animal mort. Grâce à cela les païens craignirent pour quelque temps.

En 853 (542), la bonté de Dieu visita l’Asie, la Carie, la Lydie et la Phrygie, grâce au zéle du victorieux Justinien et par l’opération de son humble serviteur (c’est-à-dire de Jean d’Asie). Aussi par la vertu du Saint-Esprit, 70,000 âmes furent instruites et quittèrent les erreurs du paganisme, l’adoration des idoles et les temples des démons pour la connaissance de la vérité. Tous se convertirent, renièrent les erreurs de leurs ancêtres, furent baptisés au nom de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ, et furent ajoutés au nombre des chrétiens. Le victorieux (Justinien) paya les dépenses et les habits du baptême; il eut soin aussi de donner un trimi/tion (1) à chacun d’eux.

Quand Dieu eut ouvert leurs esprits et leur eut fait connaître la vérité, ils nous aidaient de leurs mains à détruire leurs temples, à renverser leurs idoles, â extirpir les sacrifices que l’on offrait partoùt, à abattre leurs autels souillés par le sang des sacrifices offerts aux démons et à couper les innombrables arbres qu’ils adoraient, car ils s’éloignaient de toutes les erreurs de leurs ancêtres.

Le signe salutaire de la croix fut planté partout chez eux, et des églises  de Dieu furent fondées en tout lieu. Elles furent bâties et édifiées, jusqu’au nombre de quatre-vingt-seize, avec grande diligence et grand zèle dans les montagnes hautes et escarpées et dans les plaines, dans tous les lieux qui portérent le paganisme. Douze monastères (2) furent aussi fondés dans ces lieux qui portérent le paganisme et où le nom de chrétien ne fut jamais entendu depuis le commencement du monde jusqu’à cette époque. Cinquante-cinq églises furent fondées aux frais du trésor public et quarante et une aux frais des nouveaux chrétiens. Le victorieux empereur leur donna volontiers par nos mains les vases sacrés, les vêtements, les livres et l’airain (3).

In English:

At that time, Manichaeans were discovered at Constantinople and burned.

At that time many men adhered to the fatal error of the Manichaeans; they gathered in houses and listened to the impure mysteries of this teaching. When they were taken, the emperor summoned them before him; he hoped to convert them and bring them back from their pernicious errors; he disputed with them, instructed them, showed them from Scripture that they were adhering to a pagan doctrine, but they would not allow themselves to be persuaded; with satanic tenacity, they cried out before the emperor without any fear, said they were ready to face the stake for teaching of Manes and to bear every agony and suffering rather than change.

Then the emperor ordered that their desire should be fulfilled, and to throw them [Syriac] and to burn them in the sea that they might be buried in the waves, and to confiscate their property, because there were among them illustrious women, nobles and senators. Thus many of the Manicheans perished by fire and would not leave their errors.

Of the pagans that were discovered at Constantinople under the Emperor Justinian.

In the nineteenth year of the Emperor Justinian (546), they were busy, thanks to my zeal, with the matter of  the pagans who were discovered in Constantinople. These were illustrious and noble men, with a host of grammarians, sophists, scholastics and physicians. When they were discovered and, thanks to torture, denounced themselves, they were seized, flogged, imprisoned, and sent to the churches so that they might learn the Christian faith as was appropriate for pagans.

There were among them patricians and nobles.  Then a powerful and wealthy pagan named Phocas, who was a patrician, saw the harshness of the inquisition and knowing that those arrested had denounced him as a pagan, and that a severe sentence had been given against him because of the zeal of the emperor, that night took deadly poison and so left this earthly life. When the emperor heard this, he ordered with justice that he should be interred like an ass, that there should be no cortege or prayer for him. So his family during the night put him on a litter, carried him, made an open grave and threw him in it like a dead animal. Thanks to this the pagans were afraid for some time.

In 853 (542), the goodness of God visited Asia, Caria, Lydia and Phrygia, thanks to the zeal of the victorious Justinian and by the efforts of his humble servant [i.e. John of Ephesus himself].  So by the power of the Holy Spirit, 70,000 souls were instructed, and left behind the errors of paganism, the worship of idols and the temples of the demons for the knowledge of the truth. All were converted, disavowed the errors of their ancestors, were baptized in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and were added to the number of Christians.  The victorious (Justinian) paid the expenses and clothing for baptism; he also took care to give a τριμίτιον (1) to each of them.

When God had opened their minds and had made known the truth, they helped us with their own hands to destroy their temples, to overthrow their idols, to extirpate the sacrifices that were offered everywhere, to cut down their altars, soiled with the blood of sacrifices offered to demons, and to cut down countless trees that they worshipped because they were leaving all the errors of their ancestors.

The salutary sign of the cross was planted everywhere among them, and churches of God were founded everywhere.  They were built and erected, to the number of eighty-six, with great diligence and zeal, in the high mountains and steep and in the plains, in all the places where there was paganism.  Twelve monasteries were also founded in places which were pagan, and where the name of Christian name had never been heard from the beginning of the world until this time. Fifty-five churches were founded at public expense and forty-one at the expense of the new Christians.  The victorious emperor gave them willingly, by our hands, the sacred vessels, clothes, books and brass items.

(1) The dictionary gives three gold pieces.

We are so accustomed to Christians being persecuted, that it is right to remember that the name of Christ has been used to justify horrible persecution.  John of Ephesus, it seems clear, was a persecutor.  He ended his life in exile, however, when the tide in Constantinople changed and the monophysites received the treatment that he had handed out as a young man.  It’s sad, sobering stuff.  Note how Justinian didn’t want to say “I am persecuting you” but took refuge in the “I am giving you your desire”.  Such are the tricks that men play on themselves, when they are doing something they know to be wrong, yet doing it anyway.

But an interesting fact is that even in the middle of the 5th century, there were substantial areas of Asia Minor where “the name of Christian had not been heard from the beginning of the world to this time.”

The article mainly summarises what is on each page of the manuscript.  On fol. 238v, we find the statement that in 861 AG (550 AD), John of Ephesus burned the bones of Montanus, Maximilla, and Priscilla, as well as the temples of their adherents.  It is a pity that he does not translate this section.