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Polycarp of Smyrna (69?-155?, 80?-166?, 81?-167?, 79?-165?, or 70?-156?) was a Christian bishop of Smyrna (now in Asiatic Turkey) in the second century. He died a martyr, by being burned at the stake in Smyrna, and is recognized as a saint in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. According to tradition, he was a disciple of John the Evangelist who is identified with one of the first twelve Apostles.

Polycarp was a correspondent of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius addressed a letter to him, and mentions him in the letters to the Ephesians and to the Magnesians. Polycarp visited Rome during the time of Pope Anicetus, and found their customs for observing Easter differed. They agreed to peaceably disagree on this matter. Polycarp was offered the opportunity of celebrating the Eucharist in the Pope's church.

His sole surviving work, the Letter to the Philippians, and an account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp form part of the writings usually collected under the title "The Apostolic Fathers". The latter is considered the earliest genuine post-biblical account of a Christian martyrdom, and one of the very few genuine such writings from the actual age of the persecutions.

Irenaeus relates how and when he became a Christian and in his letter to Florinus stated that he saw and heard him personally in lower Asia; in particular he heard the account of Polycarp's intercourse with John the Evangelist and with others who had seen Jesus. Irenaeus also reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, was consecrated a bishop, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the very old age of Polycarp. The Martyrdom has Polycarp himself give his age on the day of his death as 86 years.

The date of Polycarp's death is disputed. Eusebius dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, circa 166-167. However, a post-Eusebian addition to the treatise The Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday, February 23 in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus -- which works out to be 155 or 156. These earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius and John the Evangelist.


  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1958 edition, vol. 18, pp 178-180

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Last updated: 08-02-2005 00:29:13
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