Martyrs

As with their biblical forerunners, many martyrs from early Christian times are not only shared saints but 'universal' saints as well, such as the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, St George and St Theodore, St Barbara and St Juliana, St Cosmas and St Damian, St Julitta and her son St Kyriakos. But at the same time one might claim that some of them, such as St Ignatius of Antioch are 'Syrian' in a more narrow sense. Also the 'ecclesiastical career' of Sergius and Bacchus, soldiers who died in Syria under the Emperor Maximian, is strongly linked to late antique Syria. In the sixth century they were so popular that not only the Byzantine Empress Theodora, wife of the Chalcedonian Emperor Justinian, but also the Persian King Chosroes II, husband of the Church of the East Queen Shirin, sent gifts to their cultic centre at Resafa-Sergiopolis in Syria. Today the Catholic (Melkite) community of Ma'alula claims that their church dedicated to St Sergius has been in liturgical use without interruption since the fourth century. Some saints are from historically proven (or traditionally claimed) local Syrian origin. Ancient martyrs who can be called Syrian in the sense of their ethnicity or language competence are the Edessan martyrs Shmona, Guria and Habib.

The Syriac acts of the Persian martyrs are also of particular interest from a historical point of view. The historical core of their Lives goes back to the early fourth century, but many of the martyrs' stories are remote in place and time. This phenomenon can be observed in the development of the Edessan cycle, which has been expanded to include legendary material from the fifth century onwards. Only then were the stories of the so-called Doctrina Addai, and the acts of Sharbil, Babai and Barsamya added, perhaps in an attempt to improve the image of early Edessan Christianity. We should not forget that stories and legends can be confused and confounded, particularly when saints bearing the same name are misidentified, for example, Julian Anazarbos with Julian of Emesa and Julian of Antino. As far as ancient calendars are concerned it is often difficult to distinguish between such homonymous saints.

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