Saints Polyeuct and Nearchos, 3rd Century Lovers and Martyrs.

The Roman soldiers, lovers and martyrs Sergius and Bacchus are well known examples of early queer saints. Polyeuct and Nearchos are not as familiar – but should be.  John Boswell ("Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe") names the two as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church, their martyrdom coming about half a century after Felicity and Perpetua, and about another half century before  Sergius & Bacchus .

Like the later pair, Polyeuct and Nearchos were friends in the Roman army in Armenia. Nearchos was a Christian, Polyeuct was not. Polyeuct was married, to a woman whose father was a Roman official. When the father-in-law undertook as part of his duties to enforce a general persecution of the local Christians, he realized that this would endanger Polyeuct, whose close friendship with Nearchos could tempt him to side with the Christians.  The concern was fully justified: although Polyeuct was not himself a Christian, he refused to prove his loyalty to Rome by sacrificing to pagan gods. In terms of the regulations being enforced, this meant that he would sacrifice his chances of promotion, but (as a non-Christian) not his life. Christians who refused to sacrifice faced beheading. When Nearchos learned of this, he was distraught, not at the prospect of death in itself, but because in dying, he would enter Paradise without the company of his beloved Polyeuct. When Polyeuct learned the reasons for his friends anguish, he decided to become a Christian himself, so that he too could be killed, and enter eternity together with Nearchos.

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2 thoughts on “Saints Polyeuct and Nearchos, 3rd Century Lovers and Martyrs.

  1. What a really interesting idea for a blog! I understand your line of argument, but maybe some other things need to be considered (not that I want to disagree with you, but to get a better understanding of the facts): To what extent was the language of marriage ceremonies used in other cases outside of marriage? Can Polyeuct's embrace of Christianity be read otherwise? Marriage as love is a modern construct. Historically it served a myriad of other purposes so that Polyeuct may very well have desired to spend eternity with his friend because he loved him more than his wife, erotically or no.

  2. Agreed, narriage has been understood in a myriad of ways across periods of time, and regions of geography: far too many to go into here, although I do have several discussions at my primary site, "Queering the Church". You're absolutely right that marriage based on a love contract between one man and one woman is a very modern concept indeed, and so-called "traditional" marriage, as understood by the opponents of equality, is nowhere near "traditional" outside of modern, European / American history.

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