Centre for Languages and Literature

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Selected Publications

The Life of Severus by Zachariah of Mytilene

The Life of Severus by Zachariah of Mytilene

Lena Ambjörn

Gorgias Press
The Life of Severus by Zachariah of Mytilene

This biography of Severus, the patriarch of Antioch 512–518 AD, gives unique information about life in Mediterranean region at the end of the 5th century. It is an important source for studies on Late Antiquity and the early History of Christianity.

The biography is attributed to Zachariah of Mytilene, and focusses on the earlier days of Severus' life and his time of study in Alexandria and Beirut. Zachariah and Severus, both from influential and wealthy families, studied grammar and rhetoric together in Alexandria, after which they moved to Beirut to study law. As students they became involved with the so-called philoponoi, "those devoted to work", young Christians whose ideal was an ascetic lifestyle in combination with theological study. Their rhetorical skills were used to argue against the pagan values of the establishment, and some left all family obligations to go and live as monks in the desert.

Zachariah writes the biography in order to free Severus from accusations of taking part in pagan rites in his youth, and he does so by arguing that Severus was a devoted Christian already in his childhood, but that social circumstances – he was trying to make a career in a pagan society – forced him to fight paganism by discretely supporting his friends rather than by taking active part in violent manifestations such as the destruction of pagan books.

In spite of the wealth of information that this text conveys, Zachariah's Life of Severus has not been available in English translation until now.