Simeon bar Ṣabbaʿe





Type of Persecution

Nature of Conflict

Primary Sources

The Martyrdom and History of Blessed Simeon bar Sabba’e

Historical Context

The historicity of this account have been questioned by scholars, as the account was written centuries after the event it describes. Also, there is no other evidence to support the claim that Shapur II (reigned 309-379) persecuted Christians, though later Persian monarchs did. At the same time that this martyrdom was supposed to have happened, the Roman Empire had legalized Christianity, and the emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity. It has been theorized that the Persian Kings, who before this had no history of persecuting Christians, felt that Christians owed their loyalty to the Romans and therefore saw them as a threat.


Simeon, bishop of the City of Selucia-Ctesiphon, refused to collect taxes for the Sasanian (Persian) Empire. As a result he is brought before the king, Shapur II, to answer for his crimes. When questioned by the king, Simeon changes the issue from one of tax collection to religious belief. He refuses to worship the gods of Persia and mocks the king’s authority. An enraged Shapur sentences Simeon and his followers to death.

Seeing how calmly Simeon is facing execution, an old servant of the king named Gushtazad, who was a Christian but had bowed down to worship the sun god, stepped forward and proclaimed himself a Christian in order to atone for his sin through martyrdom.

As his companions are being executed, Simeon exhorts them to stay strong in the faith. Meanwhile, as Simeon watched the executions, a Persian official named Pisaq, who was a Christian, comforted those who were about to die and was subsequently executed by Shapur. Simeon’s own death is not described in any detail.


Because Christians in Persia did not have an established history of persecution and martyrdom themselves, unlike the Christians living in the Roman Empire, Simeon became the first martyr of the Eastern Church, and the story of his death served as a template for later martyrdom accounts. This account was in turn strongly influenced by Roman accounts in its format and style.

Martyrdom had an important part to play in crafting Christian identity in the Roman Empire, and with the account of Simeon’s death, Eastern Christians could now also lay claim to that tradition. The significance of Simeon is reinforced by the fact that he was martyred on Good Friday, and the author of the account clearly sets Simeon up as a model of Christ. This is a connection many martyr accounts from the Roman Empire also use, especially those that deal with important martyrs like Peter and Paul.


Barnes, T. D. "Constantine and the Christians of Persia." Journal of Roman Studies 75 (1985):126-36.

Higgins, Martin. "Chronology of the Fourth-Century Metropolitans of Seleucia-Ctesiphon." Traditio 9 (1953): 45-99.

Higgins, Martin. "Date of the Martyrdom of Simeon Bar Sabbae." Traditio 11 (1955): 1-35. 

Smith, Kyle. The Martyrdom and History of Blessed Simeon Bar Sabba'e. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2014. 

Vööbus, A. "Acts of the Persian Martyrs." Encyclopædia Iranica (1983).

Image Credit




“Simeon bar Ṣabbaʿe,” Mapping the Martyrs, accessed December 4, 2020,