Martyrdom of Polycarp
Introductory Note to the Epistle Concerning the Martyrdom of Polycarp
Bishop Jacobson assigns more than fifty pages to this martyrology, with a
Latin version and abundant notes. To these I must refer the student, who may
wish to see this attractive history in all the light of critical scholarship
and, often, of admirable comment.
Text edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson and
first published by T&T Clark in Edinburgh in 1867. Additional
introductionary material and notes provided for the American
edition by A. Cleveland Coxe, 1886.
Internal evidence goes far to establish the credit which Eusebius lends to
this specimen of the martyrologies, certainly not the earliest if we accept
that of Ignatius as genuine. As an encyclical of one of "the seven
churches" to another of the same Seven, and as bearing witness to their
aggregation with others into the unity of "the Holy and Catholic Church," it
is a very interesting witness, not only to an article of the creed, but to
the original meaning and acceptation of the same. More than this, it is
evidence of the strength of Christ perfected in human weakness; and thus it
affords us an assurance of grace equal to our day in every time of need.
When I see in it, however, an example of what a noble army of martyrs, women
and children included, suffered in those days "for the testimony of
Jesus," and in order to hand down the knowledge of the Gospel to these
boastful ages of our own, I confess myself edified by what I read, chiefly
because I am humbled and abashed in comparing what a Christian used to be,
with what a Christian is, in our times, even at his best estate.
That this Epistle has been interpolated can hardly be doubted, when we
compare it with the unvarnished specimen, in Eusebius. As for the "fragrant
smell" that came from the fire, many kinds of wood emit the like in burning;
and, apart from Oriental warmth of colouring, there seems nothing incredible
in the narrative if we except "the dove" (chap. xvi.), which, however, is
probably a corrupt reading,  as suggested by our translators. The blade
was thrust into the martyr's left side; and this, opening the heart, caused
the outpouring of a flood, and not a mere trickling. But, though Greek thus
amended is a plausible conjecture, there seems to have been nothing of the
kind in the copy quoted by Eusebius. On the other hand, note the truly
catholic and scriptural testimony: "We love the martyrs, but the Son of God
we worship: it is impossible for us to worship any other."
The following is the original Introductory Notice:
The following letter purports to have been written by the Church at Smyrna
to the Church at Philomelium, and through that Church to the whole Christian
world, in order to give a succinct account of the circumstances attending
the martyrdom of Polycarp. It is the earliest of all the Martyria, and has
generally been accounted both the most interesting and authentic. Not a few,
however, deem it interpolated in several passages, and some refer it to a
much later date than the middle of the second century, to which it has been
commonly ascribed. We cannot tell how much it may owe to the writers (chap.
xxii.) who successively transcribed it. Great part of it has been engrossed
by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (iv. 15); and it is instructive to
observe, that some of the most startling miraculous phenomena recorded in
the text as it now stands, have no place in the narrative as given by that
early historian of the Church. Much discussion has arisen respecting several
particulars contained in this Martyrium; but into these disputes we do not
enter, having it for our aim simply to present the reader with as faithful a
translation as possible of this very interesting monument of Christian
 See an ingenious conjecture in Bishop Wordsworth's Hippolytus and the
Church of Rome, p. 318, C.
The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna Concerning the Martyrdom of the
The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning
in Philomelium,  and to all the congregations  of the Holy and
Catholic Church in every place: Mercy, peace, and love from God the Father,
and our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied.
Chapter I. Subject of which we write.
We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and
especially to the blessed Polycarp, who put an end to the persecution,
having, as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom. For almost all the
events that happened previously [to this one], took place that the Lord
might show us from above a martyrdom becoming the Gospel. For he waited to
be delivered up, even as the Lord had done, that we also might become his
followers, while we look not merely at what concerns ourselves but have
regard also to our neighbours. For it is the part of a true and well-founded
love, not only to wish one's self to be saved, but also all the brethren.
Chapter II. The wonderful constancy of the martyrs.
All the martyrdoms, then, were blessed and noble which took place according
to the will of God. For it becomes us who profess  greater piety than
others, to ascribe the authority over all things to God. And truly, 
who can fail to admire their nobleness of mind, and their patience, with
that love towards their Lord which they displayed? who, when they were so
torn with scourges, that the frame of their bodies, even to the very inward
veins and arteries, was laid open, still patiently endured, while even those
that stood by pitied and bewailed them. But they reached such a pitch of
magnanimity, that not one of them let a sigh or a groan escape them; thus
proving to us all that those holy martyrs of Christ, at the very time when
they suffered such torments, were absent from the body, or rather, that the
Lord then stood by them, and communed with them. And, looking to the grace
of Christ, they despised all the torments of this world, redeeming
themselves from eternal punishment by [the suffering of] a single hour. For
this reason the fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to them. For
they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and never
shall be quenched, and looked forward with the eyes of their heart to those
good things which are laid up for such as endure; things "which ear hath not
heard, nor eye seen, neither have entered into the heart of man,"  but
were revealed by the Lord to them, inasmuch as they were no longer men, but
had already become angels. And, in like manner, those who were condemned to
the wild beasts endured dreadful tortures, being stretched out upon beds
full of spikes, and subjected to various other kinds of torments, in order
that, if it were possible, the tyrant might, by their lingering tortures,
lead them to a denial [of Christ].
 Literally, "who are more pious."
 The account now returns to the illustration of the statement made in
the first sentence.
 1 Cor. ii. 9.
Chapter III. The constancy of Germanicus. The death of Polycarp is demanded.
For the devil did indeed invent many things against them; but thanks be to
God, he could not prevail over all. For the most noble Germanicus
strengthened the timidity of others by his own patience, and fought
heroically  with the wild beasts. For, when the proconsul sought to
persuade him, and urged him  to take pity upon his age, he attracted
the wild beast towards himself, and provoked it, being desirous to escape
all the more quickly from an unrighteous and impious world. But upon this
the whole multitude, marvelling at the nobility of mind displayed by the
devout and godly race of Christians,  cried out, "Away with the
Atheists; let Polycarp be sought out!"
 Or, "illustriously."
 Or, "said to him."
 Literally, "the nobleness of the God-loving and God-fearing race of
Chapter IV. Quintus the apostate.
Now one named Quintus, a Phrygian, who was but lately come from Phrygia,
when he saw the wild beasts, became afraid. This was the man who forced
himself and some others to come forward voluntarily [for trial]. Him the
proconsul, after many entreaties, persuaded to swear and to offer sacrifice.
Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to
suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do. 
 Comp. Matt. x. 23.
Chapter V. The departure and vision of Polycarp.
But the most admirable Polycarp, when he first heard [that he was sought
for], was in no measure disturbed, but resolved to continue in the city.
However, in deference to the wish of many, he was persuaded to leave it. He
departed, therefore, to a country house not far distant from the city. There
he stayed with a few [friends], engaged in nothing else night and day than
praying for all men, and for the Churches throughout the world, according to
his usual custom. And while he was praying, a vision presented itself to him
three days before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under his head
seemed to him on fire. Upon this, turning to those that were with him, he
said to them prophetically, "I must be burnt alive."
Chapter VI. Polycarp is betrayed by a servant.
And when those who sought for him were at hand, he departed to another
dwelling, whither his pursuers immediately came after him. And when they
found him not, they seized upon two youths [that were there], one of whom,
being subjected to torture, confessed. It was thus impossible that he should
continue hid, since those that betrayed him were of his own household. The
Irenarch  then (whose office is the same as that of the Cleronomus
 ), by name Herod, hastened to bring him into the stadium. [This all
happened] that he might fulfil his special lot, being made a partaker of
Christ, and that they who betrayed him might undergo the punishment of Judas
 It was the duty of the Irenarch to apprehend all seditious troublers
of the public peace.
 Some think that those magistrates bore this name that were elected by
Chapter VII. Polycarp is found by his pursuers.
His pursuers then, along with horsemen, and taking the youth with them, went
forth at supper-time on the day of the preparation  with their usual
weapons, as if going out against a robber.  And being come about
evening [to the place where he was], they found him lying down in the upper
room of  a certain little house, from which he might have escaped into
another place; but he refused, saying, "The will of God  be done."
 So when he heard that they were come, he went down and spake with
them. And as those that were present marvelled at his age and constancy,
some of them said. "Was so much effort  made to capture such a
venerable man?"  Immediately then, in that very hour, he ordered that
something to eat and drink should be set before them, as much indeed as they
cared for, while he besought them to allow him an hour to pray without
disturbance. And on their giving him leave, he stood and prayed, being full
of the grace of God, so that he could not cease  for two full hours, to
the astonishment of them that heard him, insomuch that many began to repent
that they had come forth against so godly and venerable an old man.
 That is, on Friday.
 Comp. Matt. xxvi. 55.
 Or, "in."
 Some read "the Lord"
 Comp. Matt. vi. 10; Acts xxi. 14.
 Or, "diligence."
 Jacobson reads, "and [marvelling] that they had used so great
diligence to capture," etc.
 Or, "be silent."
Chapter VIII. Polycarp is brought into the city.
Now, as soon as he had ceased praying, having made mention of all that had
at any time come in contact with him, both small and great, illustrious and
obscure, as well as the whole Catholic Church throughout the world, the time
of his departure having arrived, they set him upon an ass, and conducted him
into the city, the day being that of the great Sabbath. And the Irenarch
Herod, accompanied by his father Nicetes (both riding in a chariot  ),
met him, and taking him up into the chariot, they seated themselves beside
him, and endeavoured to persuade him, saying, "What harm is there in saying,
Lord Cæsar,  and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on
such occasions, and so make sure of safety?" But he at first gave them no
answer; and when they continued to urge him, he said, "I shall not do as you
advise me." So they, having no hope of persuading him, began to speak bitter
 words unto him, and cast him with violence out of the chariot, 
insomuch that, in getting down from the carriage, he dislocated his leg
 [by the fall]. But without being disturbed,  and as if suffering
nothing, he went eagerly forward with all haste, and was conducted to the
stadium, where the tumult was so great, that there was no possibility of
 Jacobson deems these words an interpolation.
 Or, "Cæsar is Lord," all the mss. having kurios instead of kurie, as
 Or, "terrible."
 Or, "cast him down" simply, the following words being, as above, an
 Or, "sprained his ankle."
 Or, "not turning back."
Chapter IX. Polycarp refuses to revile Christ.
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice
from heaven, saying, "Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!" No one
saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present
heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when
they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul
asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the
proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, "Have respect to
thy old age," and other similar things, according to their custom, [such
as], "Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the
Atheists." But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the
multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand
towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, "Away with the
Atheists."  Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, "Swear, and I
will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;" Polycarp declared, "Eighty and
six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I
blaspheme my King and my Saviour?"
 Referring the words to the heathen, and not to the Christians, as was
Chapter X. Polycarp confesses himself a Christian.
And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, "Swear by the
fortune of Cæsar," he answered, "Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou
sayest, I should swear by the fortune of Cæsar, and pretendest not to know
who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if
you wish to learn what the doctrines  of Christianity are, appoint me a
day, and thou shalt hear them." The proconsul replied, "Persuade the
people." But Polycarp said, "To thee I have thought it right to offer an
account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (which
entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are
ordained of God.  But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of
receiving any account from me." 
 Or, "an account of Christianity."
 Comp. Rom. xiii. 1-7; Tit. iii. 1.
 Or, "of my making any defence to them."
Chapter XI. No threats have any effect on Polycarp.
The proconsul then said to him, "I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I
cast thee, except thou repent." But he answered, "Call them then, for we are
not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is
evil;  and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is
righteous."  But again the proconsul said to him, "I will cause thee to
be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou wilt not
repent." But Polycarp said, "Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for
an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of
the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But
why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt."
 Literally, "repentance from things better to things worse is a change
impossible to us."
 That is, to leave this world for a better.
Chapter XII. Polycarp is sentenced to be burned.
While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with
confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not
merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the
contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in
the midst of the stadium thrice, "Polycarp has confessed that he is a
Christian." This proclamation having been made by the herald, the whole
multitude both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with
uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice, "This is the teacher of Asia,
 the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who
has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods." Speaking
thus, they cried out, and besought Philip the Asiarch  to let loose a
lion upon Polycarp. But Philip answered that it was not lawful for him to do
so, seeing the shows  of wild beasts were already finished. Then it
seemed good to them to cry out with one consent, that Polycarp should be
burnt alive. For thus it behooved the vision which was revealed to him in
regard to his pillow to be fulfilled, when, seeing it on fire as he was
praying, he turned about and said prophetically to the faithful that were
with him, "I must be burnt alive."
 Some read, "ungodliness," but the above seems preferable.
 The Asiarchs were those who superintended all arrangements connected
with the games in the several provinces.
 Literally, "the baiting of dogs."
Chapter XIII. The funeral pile is erected.
This, then, was carried into effect with greater speed than it was spoken,
the multitudes immediately gathering together wood and fagots out of the
shops and baths; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting
them in it. And when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all
his garments, and loosing his girdle, sought also to take off his
sandals, a thing he was not accustomed to do, inasmuch as every one of the
faithful was always eager who should first touch his skin. For, on account
of his holy life,  he was, even before his martyrdom, adorned 
with every kind of good. Immediately then they surrounded him with those
substances which had been prepared for the funeral pile. But when they were
about also to fix him with nails, he said, "Leave me as I am; for He that
giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your
securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile."
 Literally, "good behaviour."
 Some think this implies that Polycarp's skin was believed to possess a
Chapter XIV. The prayer of Polycarp.
They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands
behind him, and being bound like a distinguished ram [taken] out of a great
flock for sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto
God, looked up to heaven, and said, "O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy
beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge
of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the
whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that
Thou hast counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a
part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup  of thy Christ, to the
resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the
incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this
day before Thee as a fat  and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou,
the ever-truthful  God, hast foreordained, hast revealed beforehand to
me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I
bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus
Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory
both now and to all coming ages. Amen." 
 Comp. Matt. xx. 22, Matt. xxvi. 39; Mark x. 38.
 Literally, "in a fat," etc., [or, "in a rich"].
 Literally, "the not false and true God."
 Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., iv. 15) has preserved a great portion of this
Martyrium, but in a text considerably differing from that we have followed.
Here, instead of "and," he has "in the Holy Ghost."
Chapter XV. Polycarp is not injured by the fire.
When he had pronounced this amen, and so finished his prayer, those who were
appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And as the flame blazed forth in
great fury,  we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great
miracle, and have been preserved that we might report to others what then
took place. For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the
sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the
body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt,
but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace.
Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour [coming from the pile], as if
frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking  there.
 Literally, "a great flame shining forth."
 Literally, "breathing."
Chapter XVI. Polycarp is pierced by a dagger.
At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be
consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to go near and pierce
him through with a dagger. And on his doing this, there came forth a dove,
 and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished; and
all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the
unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one,
having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop
of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna. For every word that went out of
his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished.
 Eusebius omits all mention of the dove, and many have thought the text
to be here corrupt. It has been proposed to read ep aristera, "on the left
hand side," instead of peristera, "a dove."
Chapter XVII. The Christians are refused Polycarp's body.
But when the adversary of the race of the righteous, the envious, malicious,
and wicked one, perceived the impressive  nature of his martyrdom, and
[considered] the blameless life he had led from the beginning, and how he
was now crowned with the wreath of immortality, having beyond dispute
received his reward, he did his utmost that not the least memorial of him
should be taken away by us, although many desired to do this, and to become
possessors  of his holy flesh. For this end he suggested it to Nicetes,
the father of Herod and brother of Alce, to go and entreat the governor not
to give up his body to be buried, "lest," said he, "forsaking Him that was
crucified, they begin to worship this one." This he said at the suggestion
and urgent persuasion of the Jews, who also watched us, as we sought to take
him out of the fire, being ignorant of this, that it is neither possible for
us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall
be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners  ),
nor to worship any other. For Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore;
but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love on
account of their extraordinary  affection towards their own King and
Master, of whom may we also be made companions  and fellow-disciples!
 Literally, "greatness."
 The Greek, literally translated, is, "and to have fellowship with his
 This clause is omitted by Eusebius: it was probably interpolated by
some transcriber, who had in his mind 1 Pet. iii. 18.
 Literally, "unsurpassable."
 Literally, "fellow-partakers."
Chapter XVIII. The body of Polycarp is burned.
The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body
 in the midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards
took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels,
and more purified  than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place,
whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and
rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary  of his
martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course,
 and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their
 Or, "him."
 Or, "more tried."
 Literally, "the birth-day."
 Literally, "been athletes."
Chapter XIX. Praise of the martyr Polycarp.
This, then, is the account of the blessed Polycarp, who, being the twelfth
that was martyred in Smyrna (reckoning those also of Philadelphia), yet
occupies a place of his own  in the memory of all men, insomuch that he
is everywhere spoken of by the heathen themselves. He was not merely an
illustrious teacher, but also a pre-eminent martyr, whose martyrdom all
desire to imitate, as having been altogether consistent with the Gospel of
Christ. For, having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus
acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the
righteous [in heaven], rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and
blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our
bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world. 
 Literally, "is alone remembered."
 Several additions are here made. One ms. has, "and the all-holy and
life-giving Spirit;" while the old Latin version reads, "and the Holy
Spirit, by whom we know all things."
Chapter XX. This epistle is to be transmitted to the brethren.
Since, then, ye requested that we would at large make you acquainted with
what really took place, we have for the present sent you this summary
account through our brother Marcus. When, therefore, ye have yourselves read
this Epistle,  be pleased to send it to the brethren at a greater
distance, that they also may glorify the Lord, who makes such choice of His
own servants. To Him who is able to bring us all by His grace and goodness
 into his everlasting kingdom, through His only-begotten Son Jesus
Christ, to Him be glory, and honour, and power, and majesty, for ever. Amen.
Salute all the saints. They that are with us salute you, and Evarestus, who
wrote this Epistle, with all his house.
 Literally, "having learned these things."
 Literally, "gift."
Chapter XXI. The date of the martyrdom.
Now, the blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom on the second day of the month
Xanthicus just begun,  the seventh day before the Kalends of May, on
the great Sabbath, at the eighth hour.  He was taken by Herod, Philip
the Trallian being high priest,  Statius Quadratus being proconsul, but
Jesus Christ being King for ever, to whom be glory, honour, majesty, and an
everlasting throne, from generation to generation. Amen.
 The translation is here very doubtful. Wake renders the words mēnos
histamenou, "of the present month."
 Great obscurity hangs over the chronology here indicated. According to
Usher, the Smyrnæans began the month Xanthicus on the 25th of March. But the
seventh day before the Kalends of May is the 25th of April. Some, therefore,
read 'Aprilliōn instead of Maiōn. The great Sabbath is that before the
passover. The "eighth hour" may correspond either to our 8 a.m. or 2 p.m.
 Called before (chap. xii.) Asiarch.
Chapter XXII. Salutation.
We wish you, brethren, all happiness, while you walk according to the
doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; with whom be glory to God the Father
and the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of His holy elect, after whose
example  the blessed Polycarp suffered, following in whose steps may we
too be found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ!
These things  Caius transcribed from the copy of Irenæus (who was a
disciple of Polycarp), having himself been intimate with Irenæus. And I
Socrates transcribed them at Corinth from the copy of Caius. Grace be with
And I again, Pionius, wrote them from the previously written copy, having
carefully searched into them, and the blessed Polycarp having manifested
them to me through a revelation, even as I shall show in what follows. I
have collected these things, when they had almost faded away through the
lapse of time, that the Lord Jesus Christ may also gather me along with His
elect into His heavenly kingdom, to whom, with the Father and the Holy
Spirit, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
 Literally, "according as."
 What follows is, of course, no part of the original Epistle.
 Some read, "Philadelphia," but on inferior authority. Philomelium was
a city of Phrygia.
 The word in the original is poroikiais, from which the English
"parishes" is derived.
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