Heraclius Learns Humility: Two Early Latin Accounts Composed for the Celebration of Exaltatio Crucis

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The medieval western image of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (c. 575-641) was largely formed by a Latin legend (BHL 4178) composed for the celebration of Exaltatio Crucis (14 Sept.). The main purpose of the article is to present a critical edition of this legend, together with an editio princeps of a Latin sermon (BHL 4181a) that tells the same story, as well as annotated English translations of both. First, however, the origin of the two texts is considered. A feast of "Hypsosis tou Staurou" seems to have been created in Constantinople in or soon after 614, when the sacred relic of the Cross was abducted from Jerusalem by the Persians. When Heraclius brought the Cross back in 630, the feast began to spread. It was introduced in Rome no later than 645 and came to be called Exaltatio Crucis. The popes added the veneration of a relic of the Cross to the traditional celebration of Cornelius and Cyprian on 14 September, while other churches introduced a special mass and office. Our two texts originated in these circumstances, at some time between the end of the seventh and the middle of the eighth century. However, they derive from an Eastern original composed between 630 and 636. The article goes on to consider sources and analogues of three prominent themes in the texts: a duel on a bridge, a silver tower, and a miracle in Jerusalem. The first two have parallels in various texts, both Western and Eastern, while the third has no known textual analogue but is depicted as a carving on an Armenian church founded c. 639/40. Together, the various sources give us an idea of the stories that were told about the Persian campaigns of Heraclius in the decade after they ended.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-201
JournalMillennium: Jahrbuch zu Kultur und Geschichte des ersten Jahrtausends n. Chr.
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Centre for Theology and Religious Studies (015017000)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Philosophy, Ethics and Religion


  • Sebeos
  • Acta Anastasii
  • Thebarmais
  • Herakleios
  • Heraclius
  • Exaltatio crucis
  • Reversio crucis
  • Holy Cross
  • liturgy
  • legend
  • BHL 4178
  • BHL 4181a
  • critical edition
  • Chosroes
  • Khusrau
  • Fredegar
  • Theophanes Confessor
  • Nicephorus Patriarcha
  • Nikephoros
  • Tabari
  • Georgios Pisides
  • Gazakos
  • Georgios Monachos
  • Georgios Kedrenos
  • Cedrenus
  • Firdausi
  • Skoutariotes


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