The military saints or warrior saints (also called soldier saints) of the Early Christian Church are Christian saints who were soldiers in the Roman Army during the persecution of Christians, especially the Diocletian persecution of AD 303–313.
Most were soldiers of the Empire who had become Christian and, after refusing to participate in rituals of loyalty to the Emperor (see Imperial cult), were subjected to corporal punishment including torture and martyrdom.
Veneration of these saints, most notably of Saint George, was reinforced in Western tradition during the time of the Crusades. The title of "champion of Christ" (athleta Christi) was originally used for these saints, but in the late medieval period also conferred on contemporary rulers by the Pope.
The military saints are characteristically depicted as soldiers in traditional Byzantine iconography from about the 10th century (Macedonian dynasty) and especially also in Slavic Christianity. While early icons show the saints in "classicizing" attire, icons from the 11th and especially the 12th centuries, painted in the new style of τύπων μιμήματα (imitating nature), are an important source for our knowledge of medieval Byzantine military equipment.
The angelic prototype of the Christian soldier-saint is the Archangel Michael, whose earliest known cultus began in the 5th century with a shrine at Monte Gargano. The iconography of soldier-saints Theodore and George as cavalrymen develops in the early medieval period. The earliest image of St Theodore as a horseman (named in Latin) is from Vinica, North Macedonia and, if genuine, dates to the 6th or 7th century. Here, Theodore is not slaying a dragon, but holding a draco standard. Three equestrian saints, Demetrius, Theodore and George, are depicted in the "Zoodochos Pigi" chapel in central Macedonia in Greece, in the prefecture of Kilkis, near the modern village of Kolchida, dated to the 9th or 10th century. The "dragon-slaying" motif develops in the 10th century, especially iconography seen in the Cappadocian cave churches of Göreme, where frescoes of the 10th century show military saints on horseback confronting serpents with one, two or three heads. In later medieval Byzantine iconography, the pair of horsemen is no longer identified as Theodore and George, but as George and Demetrius.
In Late Antiquity other Christian writers of hagiography, like Sulpicius Severus in his account of the heroic, military life of Martin of Tours, created a literary model that reflected the new spiritual, political, and social ideals of a post-Roman society. In a study of Anglo-Saxon soldier saints (Damon 2003), J.E. Damon has demonstrated the persistence of Sulpicius's literary model in the transformation of the pious, peaceful saints and willing martyrs of late antique hagiography to the Christian heroes of the early Middle Ages, who appealed to the newly converted societies led by professional warriors and who exemplified accommodation with and eventually active participation in holy wars that were considered just.
|Andrew the General||c. 300||Cilicia|
|Demetrius of Thessaloniki||304||Sirmium|
|Emeterius and Chelidonius||c. 300||Calagurris in Hispania Tarraconensis|
|Expeditus||c. 303||Melitene, Cappadocia|
|Florian||c. 303||Lauriacum in Noricum|
|George||c. 303||Nicomedia in Bithynia|
the Theban Legion
|287||Agaunum in Alpes Poeninae et Graiae|
|Martin of Tours||—|
|Maximilian||295||Tebessa in Africa Proconsularis|
|Marcellus of Tangier||298||Tingis in Mauretania Tingitana|
|Menas||c. 309||Cotyaeum in Phrygia|
|Mercurius||250||Caesarea in Cappadocia|
|Sergius and Bacchus||c. 305||Resafa and Barbalissus in Syria Euphratensis|
|Theodore of Amasea||306||Amasea in Helenopontus|
|Typasius the Veteran||304||Tigava in Mauretania Caesariensis|
|Victor the Moor||c. 303||Milan in Italy|
|Nicetas the Goth||372||Dacia|
|Forty Martyrs of Sebaste||320||Sebaste|