PHOIBAMMON OF PREHT, MARTYR
A Christian sentry (teros) stationed at the camp of Preht in the Thebaid during the prefecture of Culcianus (303-307/8), Phoibammon disobeyed DIOCLETIAN’s edict requiring homage to the pagan gods and was put to death at Asyut on 1 Ba’unah (26 May; see Forget, 1926, Vol. 2, p. 147). He is best known for his complete Sahidic martyrology and related fragments, his connection with several fellow soldier- martyrs, his confusion with another, identically named martyr, and his possible role as the tutelary saint of two Theban monasteries.
An intact martyrology survives in an unpublished Coptic manuscript in the Pierpont Morgan Library (582; codex 46; see Hyvernat, 1922), which was copied by the scribe Colluthus (fol. 30r., 9-12). At least three Coptic fragments belong to other copies of this hagiographical account (British Library, Or. 6012, ed. Crum, 1905, p. 414, no. 999; British Library, Or. 7561, fol. 67-69, ed. Crum, 1926, p. 205; Bavarian State Library, Munich, Handschrift koptisch 3, fol. 52-58, see Crum, 1905, p. 414, n. 1 on no. 999 [missing since 1970]). An unpublished Arabic version of the martyrology is in the Coptic Museum, Cairo (manuscript Hist. 275; see Khater and Burmester, 1981, p. 13).
Very little is known of Phoibammon’s early life. In the miracula at the end of Morgan 582, Touho in Middle Egypt is said to have been Phoibammon’s birthplace (fol. 21r., 39-45). Touho is the modern Taha al-A‘midah (Kessler, 1981, p. 42). Phoibammon was thirty at the time of his execution (fol. 2v., 45-46) and had been a Christian for four years (fol. 7r., 45-49).
His Greek mother was named Sarah (fol. 2v., 46-49). His father’s name is unknown. Cullianos [sic] was hypatos (highest official, fol. 1r., 13-15); Soterichus was eparchos (prefect of the city, fol. 1r., 15-17); Romanus was stratelates (general of the palace, fol. 1r., 17-19); Phillip was sticholetikos (leader of the regiment at Preht, fol. 1r., 20-22); Maximinian was the comis (count) or dux (duke) of the Thebaid (fol. 8v., 50-52; 11r., 33-35, 53); and Flavianus was praepositus (commander of the camp of Preht, fol. 1v., 51-52). The chronology and list of officials is rather garbled.
Although Phoibammon was allegedly martyred in Diocletian’s first year (fol. 1r., 22-24), the emperor, who had come to the throne in 284, did not issue his edict proscribing Christian services until 303. Even then the penalties were aimed at church leaders, not at laypersons such as Phoibammon. The fourth edict, promulgated in 304, applied to all Christians.
The penalty was death. That Phoibammon’s martyrdom probably occurred not in Diocletian’s first year but sometime between 304 and 308 is indicated by the reference to “Cullianos,” surely Clodius Culcianus, who was prefect during the earlier part of Diocletian’s great persecutions. An early- fourth-century date is also supported by his father’s questioning the logic of worshiping a person (Christ) who had died three hundred years earlier (fol. 7v., 9-11). The identity of the other officials is uncertain. They may be entirely fictitious characters or, in fact, genuine historical figures but not contemporary with Culcianus.
The exact location of Preht is also unknown. It was in Middle Egypt, north of both ASYUT and ANTINOOPOLIS (modern Shaykh Abadah). Phoibammon and his captors sailed south from Preht and stopped first at Antinoopolis, then Asyut, in which he was executed (fol. 9r., 36-37, fol. 10r., 43-45, 53-58; see also Amelineau, 1893, p. 12; Crum, 1926, p. 109).
The martyrology contains the standard repertoire of hideous tortures. Phoibammon met his death by decapitation. To the martyrology is appended an account of the miracles performed by Phoibammon and recorded by one Colluthus (fols. 21r-30r). These miracles began eighty years later in the reign of Theodosius I (379-395) at Phoibammon’s shrine in Touho, which was known to the Greeks as Theodosioupolis (Kessler, 1981, pp. 42-47). Colluthus calls Theodosius the “exceedingly pious ruler” (fol. 21r., 26-29).
The emperor was the beneficiary of Phoibammon’s first miracle, whereby he was restored to his throne (fol. 21v., 18-24, 63-66). This incident no doubt refers to Theodosius’ struggle with Magnus Maximus, who had deposed the emperor in 383 and was killed upon the latter’s return in 388.
Relation to Other Soldier-Martyrs
Perhaps the most interesting part of the martyrology is the vignette about five other soldier-martyrs incarcerated and executed at Asyut: Ischurion and Orsenuphis of Sne (Isna) and Belphius, Origen, and Peter of Souan (Aswan; fol. 10v., 14-29). The martyrdom of Ischurion and his colleagues is described briefly in the Synaxarion under the entry for 7 Ba’unah (June 1) (Forget, 1926, Vol. 2, pp. 153-54). Several churches in modern Egypt are dedicated to an Ischurion (Timm, 1979, p. 154). These may have been built in honor of Phoibammon’s colleague or another Ischurion, said by Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 6.42.1) to have been executed during the reign of Decius. Orsenuphis is known from a fragmentary Coptic text in the British Library (Or. 7561, fols. 52-53; see Crum, 1926, p. 204). Phoibammon’s martyrology may have spawned a larger cycle of hagiographical texts or was itself part of a series.
Confusion with Another Martyr Phoibammon
At least four martyrs answered to the name of Phoibammon (Khater and Burmester, 1981, p. 11, n. 1). In an unpublished Arabic text (Vatican Library, Arabic manuscript 172) Phoibammon of Preht is conflated with an identically named person, who was born of a noble family in Awsim (Letopolis, in the Memphite region) and martyred near Qau on 27 Tubah (January 22) and buried near Giza (Forget, 1912, Vol. 1, pp. 419-30; Crum, 1926, pp. 109-110; Amélineau, 1890, p. 54-63).
Several Coptic fragments in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, are similar to, but are not exactly like, passages in Morgan 582 and therefore represent either different editions or perhaps an otherwise unattested martyrology of the patrician. One fragment (2029), for example, has Phoibammon beholding the Lord “sitting on the chariot of the cherubim.” In Morgan 582 (fol. 9r., 52-54) Phoibammon sings hymns to Jesus “who sits upon the chariots of the cherubim.” The splendidly clad Phoibammon in a BAWIT fresco (Clédat, 1904/1916, pl. 53) is probably the nobleman (Crum, 1926, p. 109).
Possible Role as Tutelary Saint of the Monastery of Phoibammon at Thebes
Two monasteries at Thebes were dedicated to a martyr Phoibammon. One lay about 5 miles (8 km) from the west bank between Madinat Habu and Armant; the other was erected on the uppermost terrace of Hatshepsut’s temple at Dayr al-Bahri (Timm, 1979, pp. 1378-94; Krause, 1985). Both are now in ruins. To which, if either, of these martyrs the two monasteries, were dedicated is uncertain. A Theban text (Crum, 1902, pp. 41-42, n. 455) includes “the day of Apa Phoibammon” in a list of festivals in very close proximity to the Ascension and Pentecost, both of which are celebrated shortly before 26 May, which was Phoibammon of Preht’s day of martyrdom. This is the only evidence for linking him with either monastery (Crum, 1926, p. 110).
The patrician Phoibammon rates several pages in the Theban recension of the Synaxarion under 27 Tubah (Forget, Vol. 1, pp. 419-30), but the soldier Phoibammon receives only one sentence (Vol. 2, p. 147). The prominence accorded the nobleman in the Theban version strongly suggests that he was the more important at Thebes, and hence, he may have been the tutelary saint of the Theban monastery (but cf. Crum, 1926, p. 110).
Unfortunately, the many Greek and Coptic ostraca mentioning a Phoibammon (Remondon et al., 1965, pp. 5-95; Timm, 1985, p. 1389, n. 2) do not solve the problem. One of these two martyrs may be the Phoibammon ranked with saints Victor, Menas, George, and others on two stelae in the British Museum, possibly from Bawit (Hall, 1905, pp. 143-44, nos. 673, 676). If Bawit is indeed the provenance, the Phoibammon fresco from Bawit may indicate that the patrician is the saint in question.
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DONALD B. SPANEL