The Manuscripts of the"Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs"

The Passio Sanctorum Scilitanorum (Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs) is an account of the trial of some rural Christians from the town of Scilli in North Africa.  The work appears to be based on the official court record.  The trial must have taken place in 180.  The text was long known in Greek, but was originally composed in Latin, which was rediscovered in 1890 by J.A.Robinson.



Shelfmark & Notes

Date /


London: British Library Codex Brit. Mus. 11880.  Full Latin text.



Vienna: Hof-Bibliothek Vienna 377.   Full Latin text.



Évreux, State Library Évreux 37, folio 55.   Full Latin text.



Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale Codex Parisinus Latinus 2179.  This comes from the Abbey of Silos in Spain, and was used in Aubé's edition.  This has an early form of the Colbertine recension.  
  Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale Codex Parisinus Latinus 5306 (once Codex Colbertinus).  Contains the Colbertine recension.  
  Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale [Shelfmark not specified by Robinson].  Published by Usener, Index Scholarum &c, Bonn 1881.  Greek text.


History of the text (from Robinson)

THE Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs were printed by Baronius under the year 202, apparently from two or three MSS., some of the readings of which he records. They were reprinted by Ruinart who added a somewhat different recension from a Colbertine MS., and also a fragment of about ten lines of yet another recension which Mabillon had found at Reichenau (Mab. Vet. Anal. IV. 155).

The recension of Baronius mentioned Severus and Antoninus (i.e. Caracalla) as the reigning Emperors, and the Colbertine recension also spoke of more than one Emperor, though no names were given. This being so, it seemed that the Martyrdom could not be referred to an earlier date than the year 198, in which Caracalla received the title of Augustus. On the other hand Mabillon's fragment spoke of one Emperor only, but did not mention his name. The three recensions agreed in naming Saturninus as the proconsul ; and, as Tertullian tells us (Ad Scap. 3) that he was the first to draw the sword on the Christians in Africa, it was difficult to place the Martyrdom later than 200.

The names of the Consuls only introduced fresh confusion, as they were given in so corrupt a form that it seemed hopeless to try and identify them. Mabillon gave : Praesidente bis Claudiano consule. Baronius: Existente (alias praestante; alias praesente) Claudio (alias Claudiano) consule. The Colbertine recension omitted them altogether. M. Léon Renier suspected that the word bis pointed to a Consul's name underlying the preceding word, and wished to refer the Martyrdom to 180, Praesens II. and Condianus. This earlier date harmonised much better with Tertullian's notice of Saturninus, but it was only possible to. accept it if Mabillon's fragment were regarded as representing thé more original form of the Martyrdom.

The ingenious conjecture of M. Renier has been completely justified with the accession of fresh documents. In 1881 Usener published the Martyrdom in a Greek form from a MS., dated 890, in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris1. This opened with the names of two Consuls, though still in a corrupt form (e0pi Pe/rsantoj to_ deu&teron kai\ Klaudianou~ tw~n u(pa&twn), and spoke throughout the piece of the Emperor in the singular number. Moreover it represented a shorter recension than either that of Baronius or the Colbertine, and it bore throughout an impress of greater originality.

All difficulty as to the date was thus at an end; but a new controversy was raised as to the origin of the Greek form of the Martyrdom. Usener at once declared it to be a translation from a lost Latin original. In this he was followed by Hilgenfeld, who added that it bore a closer relation to the fragment of Mabillon than to the other recensions. Duchesne made a like observation, but gave no opinion on the question of a Greek or Latin original. On the other hand, Aube contended that the original document was written in Greek, as he had himself suspected before Usener's discovery was made known2. Bonnet and Sittl pronounced the same judgment3.

After examining Aubé's arguments I felt convinced that Usener's decision was the correct one; and I believed moreover that if we had the whole of the document represented by Ma-billon's fragment we should probably be in possession of the source of all the three recensions hitherto published. I have been confirmed in this view by the discovery of the very document which I had desired to find ; and I now publish it in the belief that we have at last the original Latin form of the Martyrdom. On the 30th of August, 1890, I found in the British Museum a codex (No. 11,880) assigned to, the ninth century, containing the Scillitan Martyrdom in a form agreeing exactly with Mabillon's fragment, as far as that fragment goes. The remainder of the piece, for here we have it in its entirety, will be read with the greatest interest, not only as a fresh contribution to our knowledge of popular African Latin of the second century, but also as a simple and inspiring narrative of the brave endurance of the early African Christians. It is brief, almost to obscurity ; and we can readily understand that it would need to be paraphrased and enlarged for Church purposes, so as to provide a somewhat longer and less difficult lection for the commemoration of the Martyrs. In its contents it is, as might be expected, in closest correspondence with the Greek form : and we may pronounce over it at once the same eulogy with which Aube greeted the appearance of the Greek itself: 'c'est infiniment plus simple, plus grave, plus impersonnel et plus court que les autres textes.'

Shortly after my first discovery I found in the State Library at Évreux a 13th century MS. (No. 37, f. 55), and in the Hof-Bibliothek at Vienna (No. 377) an llth century MS., of the same Passion. Both of these offer texts which correspond very closely to that of the MS. in the British Museum. Their modifications consist almost entirely of additions; and they help to restore a few passages where the earlier MS. is at fault. I have recorded their variants in the critical notes, but I have adopted none of them into the text, unless they were justified by the other recensions.

I have collated afresh the Paris Codex of the Greek version, and have printed it without modification as it stands in the MS. I have also reprinted for the sake of reference the Latin recension given by Baronius, and that from the MS. of the Abbey of Silos in Spain (Bibliothèque Nat, fonds latin n. a. 2179) as given in Aubé's edition. This MS. gives an earlier form of the Colbertine recension, which comes from fonds latin 5306 ('olim Colbertinus').

In the critical notes A = Brit. Mus. 11,880 (9th cent.), B = Vienna 377 (11th cent.), and C = Évreux no. 37 (13th cent.).

When we compare the newly found Latin text with the Greek, we note that it does not, like that and one of the Latin recensions, prefix the title of ' Saint' to each of the Martyrs whose words are recorded. It does not describe the exultation of Speratus when judgment is pronounced, but simply records his words : ' Deo gratias agimus.' Similarly it does not give the full thanksgiving of all the Martyrs, but simply repeats : 'Deo gratias.' It says nothing about 'sending up the Amen,' which is a commonplace of Martyrologists. The close of the piece, moreover, has been altered and expanded in the Greek, in which the locality of the Martyrs is named, and the exquisite phrase ' regnant cum Pâtre et Filio et Spiritu Sancto' has been rejected, as it has been also in both the recensions of the Latin. All these points may be regarded as evidence of the superior antiquity of the newly found Latin form.

As regards its relation to the two Latin recensions hitherto known, it is sufficient to refer to them as printed below, where their interpolations and modifications will be found in italic type. But it is worth while to note that almost every word of the ancient form is preserved in one or other of these recensions, which have modified their original in different directions.

Although it is scarcely probable that the theory of a Greek original will be revived after the publication of the present Latin text, it may be well to examine some of the arguments by which the theory has been supported.

Aubé's main argument is founded on the brevity of the Greek form as compared with the two Latin recensions. But our new Latin document is shorter still: so that the argument from brevity changes hands, and henceforth tends to shew that the Greek is itself a translation and to some extent an amplification. The two texts printed side by side below will speak for themselves in this matter : but we may select a few conspicuous examples. [omitted]

1 Index Scholarum, &c. Bonn, 1881.

2 Étude sur un nouveau texte des Actes des Martyrs Scillitains, Paris, 1881.

3 Sittl, Local peculiarities of Latin, p. 112.


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

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