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Sossianus Hierocles

Sossianus Hierocles

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Sossianus Hierocles was a late Roman aristocrat and office-holder. He served as a praeses
Praeses
Praeses , is a Latin word meaning "Seated in front of, i.e. at the head ", has both ancient and modern uses.-Roman imperial use:...

in Syria
Syria (Roman province)
Syria was a Roman province, annexed in 64 BC by Pompey, as a consequence of his military presence after pursuing victory in the Third Mithridatic War. It remained under Roman, and subsequently Byzantine, rule for seven centuries, until 637 when it fell to the Islamic conquests.- Principate :The...

 under Diocletian
Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244  – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....

 at some time in the 290s. He was then made vicarius
Vicarius
Vicarius is a Latin word, meaning substitute or deputy. It is the root and origin of the English word "vicar" and cognate to the Persian word most familiar in the variant vizier....

of some district, perhaps Oriens
Diocese of the East
The Diocese of the East was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the western Middle East, between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia...

 (the East, including Syria, Palestine, and, at the time, Egypt) until 303, when he was transferred to Bithynia
Bithynia
Bithynia was an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor, adjoining the Propontis, the Thracian Bosporus and the Euxine .-Description:...

. It is for his anti-Christian activities in Bithynia that he is principally remembered. He was, in the words of the Cambridge Ancient History, "one of the most zealous of persecutors". While in Bithynia, Hierocles authored Lover of Truth (Greek: Φιλαλήθης), a critique of Christianity. Lover of Truth is noted as the first instance of the trope, popular in later pagan polemic, of comparing the pagan holy man Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana was a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. Little is certainly known about him...

 to Jesus Christ.

Hierocles was among the campaigners for a stronger policy against Christians present at Diocletian's court through the early 4th century. The campaigners' aims were as realized in February 303 with the edicts of the Great Persecution, which expelled Christians from government service, deprived them of normal legal rights, and left them open to imprisonment and execution if they did not comply with traditional religious rites. Hierocles was avid enforcer of these edicts in his function as praeses of Bithynia, and again while serving as praefectus Aegypti during the late 300s or early 310s. It is largely through incidental notes in the Christian author Lactantius
Lactantius
Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed, and tutor to his son.-Biography:...

' On the Deaths of the Persecutors and Divine Institutes and Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

's On the Martyrs of Palestine and Against Hierocles that we are aware of his activities. Inscriptions at Palmyra
Palmyra
Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

 preserve the details of his early career.

Career


Hierocles was a praeses at some time between 293 and 303. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire
Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire
Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire is a set of three volumes collectively describing every person attested or claimed to have lived in the Roman world from AD 260, the date of the beginning of Gallienus' sole rule, to 641, the date of the death of Heraclius, which is commonly held to mark the...

(PLRE) states that, as praeses, he governed Phoenice Libanensis, the province on the eastern side of Mount Lebanon
Mount Lebanon
Mount Lebanon , as a geographic designation, is a Lebanese mountain range, averaging above 2,200 meters in height and receiving a substantial amount of precipitation, including snow, which averages around four meters deep. It extends across the whole country along about , parallel to the...

. The district included Palmyra
Palmyra
Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

, where the inscription attesting to Hierocles' career is located. Hierocles was the vicarius of some district (which Simmons and Barnes identify as Oriens
Diocese of the East
The Diocese of the East was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the western Middle East, between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia...

) before 303; in the latter year he was made praeses of Bithynia. Although an apparent demotion (praeses was a lower rank than vicarius, with fewer responsibilities and less prestige), the move brought Hierocles closer to the imperial court, and thus the real locus of power: the person of the emperor.

Hierocles was later made praefectus Aegypti. He is attested as such by a papyrus from Karanis (Papyri Cairo Isiodrus 69 = Sammelbuch griechischer Urkunden aus Aegypten 9186 Karanis). However, while the papyrus's date is clear (January), its year is not. It has been identified as either 307 or 310/11; most experts take the later date, though the PLRE takes the former. Eusebius, in the Martyrs of Palestine, gives a similarly ambiguous date: after describing the martyrdom of Apphianus (2 April 306), Eusebius moves to the martyrdom of Apphianus' brother Adesius, who, "a little later", assaulted the prefect Hierocles in Alexandria and was executed. Nor do the existing lists of Egyptian prefects allow further precision: the fasti have gaps between Clodius Culcianus on 29 May 306 (Papyri Oxyrhynchus 1104) and Valerius Victorinus in 308 (Papyri Oxyrhynchus 2674) as well as between Aelius Hyginus 22 June 309 (Papyri Oxyrhynchus 2667) and Aurelius Ammonius on 18 August 312 (Chrestomathie 2.64). Timothy Barnes argues that the balance of probabilities favors the 310/311 date, as it would be consistent with what is known of Maximinus' actions elsewhere in the same period. In Palestine, in 308, he replaced the governor there with another, firmer supporter of his program of persecution.

Eusebius of Caesarea's Against Hierocles



Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 (ca. 263–339) wrote a book titled Against Hierocles (Contra Hieroclem) at some time in the early 4th century. Its date is disputed. Adolf von Harnack
Adolf von Harnack
Adolf von Harnack , was a German theologian and prominent church historian.He produced many religious publications from 1873-1912....

, writing early in the 20th century, argued that it should be dated to before 303, since it does not contain any reference to the persecution that began in that year. As it would have strengthened his argument if it had, this makes a later date unlikely. Ernst Schwartz, however, writing at about the same time, believed that Against Hierocles contained a reference to the death of Galerius
Galerius
Galerius , was Roman Emperor from 305 to 311. During his reign he campaigned, aided by Diocletian, against the Sassanid Empire, sacking their capital Ctesiphon in 299. He also campaigned across the Danube against the Carpi, defeating them in 297 and 300...

, which happened in April or May 311. Schwartz consequently dated the work to between that event and the death of Maximinus in summer 313. J. Stevenson, in his Studies in Eusebius (1929), argued for a date of 306/07, on the grounds that Eusebius appears to refer to Hierocles as prefect of Egypt. His dating proved less popular in the literature than the dates of Harnack and Schwartz. Most mid-20th century scholars followed Schwartz.

In 1976, Barnes, in a restatement and expansion of Harnack's arguments, contested Schwartz' dating. Barnes found the 311–13 dating difficult to countenance given what else is known about Eusebius' literary history at this period—namely, that he wrote his Preparation for the Gospel (in fifteen books) and his Demonstration of the Gospel (in twenty) in or soon after 313. Not only was this an expansive literary project, it was also, Barnes argued, a project far removed in tone and substance from Against Hierocles. Moreover, it seems to betray an advance in Eusebius' knowledge: whereas in Hierocles Eusebius states that Hierocles' comparison of Jesus to Apollonius of Tyana is his sole act of originality ("of all the writers, who have ever attacked us, [he] stands alone in selecting Apollonius, as he has recently done, for the purposes of comparison and contrast with our Saviour" p. 370.9–12), in the Preparation, Eusebius makes extensive reference to Porphyry of Tyre
Porphyry (philosopher)
Porphyry of Tyre , Porphyrios, AD 234–c. 305) was a Neoplatonic philosopher who was born in Tyre. He edited and published the Enneads, the only collection of the work of his teacher Plotinus. He also wrote many works himself on a wide variety of topics...

's Against the Christians, which used the same trope. Eusebius is also known to have written a work titled Against Porphyry in twenty-five books (it does not survive), which must fit somewhere into this timeline.

Barnes disputes the validity of Schwartz's claim that Eusebius refers to the death of Galerius. The passage cited (p. 372.15–23 Kayser) could refer to Decius
Decius
Trajan Decius , was Roman Emperor from 249 to 251. In the last year of his reign, he co-ruled with his son Herennius Etruscus until they were both killed in the Battle of Abrittus.-Early life and rise to power:...

 or Valerian
Valerian
- Botany :* Valeriana, a genus of plants* Valerian , a medicinal plant* Red valerian, a garden flower, Centranthus ruber - People :* Valerian - Botany :* Valeriana, a genus of plants* Valerian (herb), a medicinal plant* Red valerian, a garden flower, Centranthus ruber - People :* Valerian...

. The latter is also a clear candidate for the event Eusebius describes as Christ's "easily overcoming those who on occasion attacked his divine teaching", and the "infidels who persecuted him bitterly" described in the passage: Valerian's persecution was cut short when he was captured and killed during a war with Persia in 260. His death inaugurated four decades of religious peace, during which no imperial official took action against Christians.

Ancient sources


  • Eusebius of Caesarea.
  • Contra Hieroclem.
  • Conybeare, F. C., trans. Philostratus. The life of Apollonius of Tyana, the Epistles of Apollonius and the Treatise of Eusebius. 2 vols. London: Heinemann, 1912. Online at the Internet Archive: vols. 1, 2. Accessed 2 February 2010. Eusebius' treatise at 2.482–605.
    • De Martyribus Palestinae.
  • McGiffert, Arthur Cushman, trans. Martyrs of Palestine. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Accessed June 9, 2009.
  • Cureton, William, trans. History of the Martyrs in Palestine by Eusebius of Caesarea, Discovered in a Very Antient Syriac Manuscript. London: Williams & Norgate, 1861. Accessed September 28, 2009.
    • Lactantius.
    • Divinae Institutiones (Divine Institutes).
  • Brandt, Samuel and Georg Laubmann, eds. L. Caeli Firmiani Lactanti Opera Omnia vol. 1. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 19. Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1890. Online at the Internet Archive. Accessed 30 January 2010.
  • Fletcher, William, trans. The Divine Institutes. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Online at New Advent and CCEL. Accessed 30 January 2010.
    • De Mortibus Persecutorum (On the Deaths of the Persecutors).
  • Brandt, Samuel and Georg Laubmann, eds. L. Caeli Firmiani Lactanti Opera Omnia vol. 2.2. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 27.2. Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1897. Online at the Internet Archive. Accessed 30 January 2010.
  • Fletcher, William, trans. The Divine Institutes. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Online at New Advent and CCEL. Accessed 30 January 2010.


Modern sources


  • Barnes, Timothy D. "Sossianus Hierocles and the Antecedents of the Great Persecution". Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 80 (1976): 239–52.
  • Barnes, Timothy D. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.
  • Bowman, Alan K. "Diocletian and the First Tetrarchy, A.D. 284–305". In The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XII: The Crisis of Empire, edited by Alan Bowman, Averil Cameron, and Peter Garnsey, 67–89. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Clarke, Graeme. "Third-Century Christianity." In The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XII: The Crisis of Empire, edited by Alan Bowman, Averil Cameron, and Peter Garnsey, 589–671. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Frend, W. H. C. Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981 [rept. of Basil Blackwell, 1965 ed.].
  • Jones, A. H. M., R. Morris, and R. Martindale. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971–92.
  • Louth, Andrew. "Eusebius and the Birth of Church History". In The Cambridge history of early Christian literature, edited by Frances Margaret Young, Lewis Ayres, and Andrew Louth, 266–74. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Simmons, Michael Bland. "Graeco-Roman Philosophical Opposition". In The Early Christian World, edited by Philip Francis Esler, 2.840–868. New York: Routledge, 2000.