The Manuscripts of the "Passio Perpetuae"

The account of the martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas was written in the early 3rd century, and incorporates passages from Perpetua's own account.  The work has come down to us without author or title.  The work is extant both in Latin and Greek, the latter being a translation of the former.



Shelfmark & Notes

Date /


Monte Cassino, Italy Codex Casinensis 204.

Robinson: "The first edition, that of Holsten, was made solely from a MS. which he found in the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino. It will be convenient to describe this MS. first ; for, although it is not the oldest, it is the most complete.

"In the Bibliotheca Casinensis (vol. iv. cod. 204) this MS. is described as coming at the end of an 11th cent. MS. of Cyprian, and being itself written in a 12th cent. hand. But at the end of the description of our part of the MS., the same Catalogue speaks of it as ' quod uidetur xi saeculo,'" and this latter judgment coincides with the view of the present Archivist, Don Ambrogio Amelli. The opening lines of the Martyrdom are given in facsimile opposite p. 164 of the Catalogue. The size of the leaf is 10½ inches by 7½. Black capitals are used at the beginning of sentences, but not for proper names. The hand is quite distinct from that of the works of Cyprian, but apparently of the same period. According to the present numeration of leaves the Martyrdom commences on f. 168 r., and ends on f. 173 v. There are 32 lines to the page. The Martyrdom has no title, but commences at once with the words: Si uetera fidei exempla : this is the only Latin authority for the important opening section. The edition of Holsten was a posthumous work, and his text is marred by many inaccuracies which a careful revision with the aid of the MS. would have removed. I have to thank the Benedictine Fathers for their kind hospitality shewn to me, when I visited the home of their great founder and collated this MS. in September 1890."



Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Codex Parisinus Latinus 17626 (olim Codex Compendiensis). 

Robinson: "Readings from this MS. were used to some extent by Ruinart ; but his witness is very incomplete and often inaccurate. In his time the MS. belonged to the Abbey of Compiègne. It is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris (fonds latin, 17626). It is assigned to the 10th century. Our Passion commences on f. 64 with the words : INCIPIT PASSIO SCAE FELICITATIS ET PERPETVAE. Reuocatus et felicitas conserua eius. Thus the prefatory section is missing : and, generally speaking, the condition of the text is far inferior to that of the Codex Casinensis. But it fills up some serious blanks of that Codex."



Unknown Codex Salisburgensis or Sarisburgensis.

Robinson: "For this MS. I have searched in vain. Ruinart made use of readings from it, and speaks of it as 'Ecclesiae Salisburgensis, cuius codicis uarias lectiones sapientissimi uiri Antonii Faure Theologi Parisiensis et Remensis Ecclesiae Praepositi beneficio accepimus.' The MSS. of the Domkapitel at Salzburg have been dispersed ; and most of them seem to have gone either to Vienna or to Munich. In neither place could I find any trace of this codex, nor was it to be found in the Peterstift at Salzburg.

"In the edition of the Martyrdom published at Oxford, without name 1, in 1680 at the close of Lactantius De Mortibus Persecutorum, Holsten's text is used, with corrections and various readings from a MS. spoken of as Codex Sarisburiensis. It is evident from a comparison of these readings with those given by Ruinart that Cod. Sarisburiensis bears the closest relation to Cod. Salisburgensis ; indeed they are almost certainly one and the same. A confusion has arisen between Salisbury and Salzburg : but who has made the mistake we cannot say. The catalogue of the Cathedral MSS. at Salisbury, made by Mr Mauude Thompson, now Librarian of the British Museum, contains no mention of such a MS., and Mr H. J. White, who kindly made enquiry for me on the spot, can learn nothing of it. At present therefore we have to content ourselves with the testimony of the Oxford edition 2, supplemented by the notices in Ruinart. But, fortunately, these suffice to give us a fair conception of the MS., and to shew its close relation to Codex Compendiensis.

1 There can be no doubt that it was edited by Thomas Spark of Christ Church, who reprinted the De Mortibus in his larger edition of Lactantius in 1684.

2 When the Oxford editor silently departs in his text from the text of Holsten, it is generally safe to assume that he is following Cod. Sarisburiensis."



Jerusalem: Convent of the Holy Sepulchre Codex S. Sep. 1. (Greek)

Robinson: The MS. discovered by Mr Rendel Harris is thus described by him : " The Greek text is taken from a MS. in the library of the Convent of the Holy Sepulchre (Cod. S. Sep. 1). The MS. contains bioi kai\ marturi/ai for the month of February. It is labelled with the name of Symeon Metaphrastes, but inasmuch as the writing is of the tenth century at least the title must not be taken literally. Among the interesting matters in this Codex will be found on p. 136 the martyrdom of Polycarp (i.e. the letter of the Smyrneans). On pp. 144-173 the life of Porphyry of Gaza. On p. 173 Hippolytus, De Christo et Antichristo. The martyrdom of Perpetua will be found on p. 41 of the MS.1"

1 Acts of Perpetua and Félicitas, p. 36.


Robinson: "The problem of the relation of the various authorities which have been enumerated is by no means a simple one. Cod. Casinensis is linked with the Greek Version by the prefatory section, which they alone have preserved : Codd. Compendiensis and Salisburgensis on the other hand are linked together by its omission. But in the body of the work the two last mentioned have many striking points of agreement with the Greek Version against Cod. Casinensis. At first sight therefore it might seem as though this triple combination (BCg) would be the securest foundation for the text : but the single fact, that in c. vii. all three omit the name of Geta, may teach us to be cautious in our judgment.

I shall first endeavour to shew the relation of Cod. Salisburgensis (C), as far as we are able to judge of its readings, to Cod. Compendiensis (B) : and then enquire into their common relation to Cod. Casinensis (A). After this I shall examine the relation of the Greek Version (g) to the two lines of Latin testimony which will thus have been marked out.

1. B and C are together in certain obvious errors which are not found in A. I have already mentioned the omission of the prefatory section. This may have been due to a dislike to its Montanistic tendency, or to a desire to shorten the treatise for Church purposes; or, again, the MS. from which they were copied may have lost its first page. In c. iv. (p. 66, 1. 21) they are together against A and g in the insertion of 'Domini' before ' Jesu Christi ' : this is probably an addition made, as so often, for liturgical purposes. .... [Variants listed] Hence we may conclude that B and C have a common ancestor, which is independent of A.

2. The instances already quoted enable us to see that the Greek Version cannot have been made either from A or from the immediate ancestor of B and C : for it sometimes has a right reading with A as against B and C, and sometimes a right reading with B and C as against A. We may now proceed to enquire with which of these two lines of text it has the closest affinities. To do this we must examine the mistakes which it has in common with the one or the other.

I am not aware of any instance in which it can be shewn with certainty that A and g have the same mistake, while B and C have retained the true reading1. On the other hand there are many cases in which BCg are wrong together, as against A. Thus ...[examples]

As a rule the readings of C are only preserved to us in cases where the editors have supposed them to be preferable to the text given by Holsten : so that its more obvious blunders have no doubt been passed over in silence. But if we may accept B as giving generally the text of the ancestor of B and C, we may find many more examples of coincidence in error between that ancestor and the Greek Version. Thus ...[examples]

Thus we are led to postulate for BCg a common ancestor independent of A. This ancestor among other defects had lost the name of Geta, but it retained the preface, which is wanting in B and C. To it I am also inclined to attribute the commencement of the confusion as to the date and locality of our Martyrs, which is found in the Greek Version and in the Short Latin recension. As to date, the omission of Geta's name opened the door to conjecture ; for it is the only decisive note of time in the piece : and with regard to place, it is interesting to compare the phrase 'in ciuitate Turbitana,' in the title of C, with the words e)n po&lei qoukrita&nwn (for Qourbita&nwn) th~| mikrote/ra|, which in the Greek Version immediately follows the prefatory section which C has omitted.

It will be seen from my text that of these two lines of testimony, A and BCg, I have almost always given the preference to the former. Again and again A gives a more difficult reading which commends itself on further investigation, but which is exchanged in BCg for something easier, though less idiomatic or less forcible."

1 An apparent exception to this statement is in c. xix. (p. 90, 1. 6), where B and C have a corrupt sentence, not found in A and g, about Pudens feeding the bear, I have not taken this into the text, as my theory of the genealogy of the MSS. leads me to regard it as a gloss. But possibly it was corrupted at an early date and consequently omitted by A and also by the Greek translator.

History of the Text (From Robinson)

THE Martyrdom of S. Perpetua and her companions has come down to us without a title and without the name of its author ; and moreover, if we except certain incidental allusions, with no indication either of its locality or of its date. These untoward circumstances have exercised, as we shall see, a strange influence upon its literary history ; and in only one manuscript has it survived even approximately intact in its original form. This copy was discovered by L. Holsten in the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino. He transcribed it for the press, but did not live to edit it. His work was subsequently taken up by P. Poussin, who published it at Rome in 1663, adding to Holsten's valuable notes others scarcely less important of his own. In the following year it was reprinted at Paris by H. de Valois, who prefixed a preface in which he discussed the locality and date of the martyrdom and contended that the collector of the Visions was a Montanist. It was next reprinted by the Bollandists in 1668, with a few additional annotations, but no fresh recension of the text. It was again edited at Oxford in 1680, in a duodecimo volume, at the end of Lactantius De Mortibus Persecutorum, with a few additional notes and some variants from a MS. called Codex Sarisburiensis. Ruinart in his Acta Sincera endeavoured to improve the text by the aid of two imperfect MSS. (Salisburgensis and Compendiensis): but his emendations were for the most part infelicitous, and his list of variants was both incorrect and incomplete. So that up to the present time the editio princeps has remained the best authority for the text. In the spring of the year 1889 Prof. Rendel Harris discovered a complete Greek text of the Martyrdom in the library of the Convent of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. This was published by him, in conjunction with Prof. Seth K. Gifford of Haverford College, Pennsylvania, in 1890 at the Cambridge University Press, with an introduction and short notes. At the same time he reprinted Ruinart's Latin text with a few emendations suggested by the Greek. In the present edition I have given a fresh recension of the Latin text from the manuscripts : and I have discussed the relation of the Greek to the Latin text, and also to the shorter Latin Acts. I have also ventured upon the question of the authorship of the Visions themselves and of the framework in which they are preserved. Besides this, I believe that I have been able to point out some sources, hitherto unrecognised, from which what may be called the raw material of the Visions has been largely drawn ; and I have added some notes and illustrations which I trust will throw light on several obscure passages in the text. My interest in the subject has been stirred by Mr Harris's book, to which, as well as to his subsequent suggestions, I desire at the outset to acknowledge my indebtedness.

The Origin and Use of the Short Latin Acts.

Robinson: "The longer form of the Martyrdom was obviously inconvenient for the annual commemoration, especially in localities which were not directly interested in the African Church, and at a time when other martyrs had to be commemorated on the same day1. Consequently the time arrived when the story of our martyrs had to be rewritten to bring it within a more manageable compass. At what period this was done it is perhaps not possible to determine : but it was probably after the confusion as to their locality and date had been already effected (see below, p. 25). But the manner in which it was done is plain to see. The old story was lacking in the one feature which characterises so many of the fictitious narratives of martyrdoms, and to which the appellation 'Acta' more especially refers. There was no account of the prolonged controversy between the martyrs and the cruel or the kind-hearted judge. This had to be supplied : and the new material carries with it its own condemnation. No one who appreciates the noble and dignified picture of Perpetua in the longer Martyrdom will for a moment believe that before the proconsul, and again in answer to her father's appeal, she punned upon her name. Nor is it likely that Felicitas when asked whether she had a husband, replied, 'Habeo quem nunc contemno.' For the rest the compiler has made a very bad use of the longer form, which must have been fresh in his memory, if not actually before him. He has marred everything that he has touched.

The verbal coincidences are too close to allow of the supposition that his narrative is independent of the longer form."


J. Armitage Robinson, The Passion of S. Perpetua. Newly edited from the Mss. with an introduction and notes.  Together with an appendix containing the original Latin text of the Scillitan Martyrdom.  Texts and Studies, vol. 2.  Cambridge University Press (1891).  Checked.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse. Corrections and additions are very welcome.

This page has been online since 25th October 2003

Return to the Manuscripts Pages             Return to Roger Pearse's Pages