Get the CD Now!

Introduction to the Martyrdom of Polycarp

The Martyrdom of Polycarp

The following is transcribed from Kirsopp Lake's The Apostolic Fathers (published London 1912), v. II, pp. 309-311.

This obviously genuine and contemporary account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, in the form of a letter from the Church of Smyrna to the Church of Philomelium, is the earliest known history of a Christian martyrdom, the genuineness of which is unquestionable, and its value is enhanced by the fact that in the extant MSS. a short account is given of the history of the text. From this it appears that Gaius, a contemporary of Irenaeus who had himself seen Polycarp when he was a boy, copied the text from a manuscript in the possession of Irenaeus. Later on Socrates in Corinth copied the text of Gaius, and finally Pionius copied the text of Socrates. Pionius, who is supposed to have lived in the 4th century, says that the existence of the document was revealed to him in a vision by Polcycarp, and that when he found it the MS. was old and in bad condition.

Of the text of Pionius, the following five Greek MSS. are available and further research among hagiographical MSS. would probably reveal the existence of more, but there is no reason to suppose that such discovery would make any important addition to our knowledge of the text, which is quite good.

m, Codex Mosquensis 159 (13th century), now in the Library of the Holy Synod at Moscow.

b, Codex Baroccianus 238 (11th century), now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

p, Codex Parisinus Gr. 1452 (10th century), now in the Bibliotheque nationale at Paris.

s, Codex Hierosolymitanus (10th century), now in the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.

v, Codex Vindobonensis Gr. Eccl. iii. (11th century), at Vienna.

Of these MSS. b p s v form a group as opposed to m, which has often the better text.

We also have the greater part of the letter preserved by Eusebius in quotations in his Ecclesiastical History IV.15, quoted as E.

Besides these authorities there exists a Latin version, quoted as L, and extracts from Eusebius in Syriac and Coptic which have obviously no independent value.

The date of the martyrdom of Polycarp is fixed by the chronicle of Eusebius as 166-7, but this date has now been almost universally abandoned, as according to the letter to the church at Smyrna, Polycarp's martyrdom was on Saturday, Xanthicus[1] 2, that is Feb. 23, in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus, and from a reference in Aelius Aristides, Waddington (Memoire sur la chronologie de la vie du rheteur, Aelius Aristide, Paris, 1864) showed that Quadratus became proconsul of Asion in 153-4. Now, Feb. 23 fell on a Saturday in 155. It is therefore suggested that Feb. 23, 155 was the date of the martyrdom. The question however is complicated by the statement in the letter that the day of the martyrdom was a great Sabbath. This may mean the Jewish feast Purim, and Purim in 155 was not on Feb. 23. Mr. C. H. Turner has argued in Studia Biblica II., pp. 105 ff. that Purim, Feb. 22, 156, is the real date and that the Roman reckoning which regards Xanthicus 2 as equivalent to Feb. 23 is a mistake due to neglect to consider fully the complicated system of intercalation in the Asian calendar. More recently Prof. E. Schwartz has argued in the Abhandlungen der koniglichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Gottingen VIII. (1905), 6, pp. 125 ff. that the 'great Sabbath' can only mean the Sabbath after the Passover (cf. Jo. 19, 21), and that owing to the local customs of the Jews in Smyrna this was on Feb. 22 in the year 156 A.D. He thus reaches the same result as Turner, but by a different method.

[1] The name of the spring month in the Macedonian Calendar which was commonly used in Smyrna.

Go to the Chronological List of all Early Christian Writings

Please buy the CD to support the site, view it without ads, and get bonus stuff!

Early Christian Writings is copyright © Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

Get the CD Now!

Kirby, Peter. "Greek Reconstruction of 0212." Early Christian Writings. <>.