Sometime in the course of Easter in the year 372 the peace of a small village community in the heart of Gothia, the land of the Goths north of the Danube, was shattered by an unexpected visit.1 In the middle of the night a man named Athanaridus, a member of a royal Gothic clan, and his followers seized two Christians, a presbyter named Sansalas and an initiate named Sabas. Athanaridus' men tortured Sabas till a woman from the village set him free. Captured once more, the two Gothic Christians were ordered to eat sacrificial meat. They resisted. Orders came to drown Sabas. Those appointed to execute the command prefered to release him. He insisted on execution and was finally drowned.
In Sabas' village Christians were a minority allowed to exercise a remarkable freedom of worship. Effectively shielded by pagan copatriots, they successfully weathered several waves of persecution. Social divisions in Gothia were evidently drawn not across the frontiers of religion but rather according to class, rank and communal affiliation. 'Belonging' or citizenship in one's community seems founded on shared territorial origins and on a sense of communal solidarity vis-a-vis all 'outsiders'. Faced with demands to expose the christian members of the community, the inhabitants of Sabas' village prefer to lie to representatives of the central authorities rather than to become accomplices in the persecution of their fellow villagers.
When Sabas defies the authorities and vilifies Athanaridus he sparks anger in one attendant but most of the spectators of this unequal duel between Sabas and Athanridus' men remain passive beholders
1 Text in H. Delaye, “Saints de Thrace et de Mésie”, Analeeta Bollandiana 31
(1912) pp. 216–221. English trans, in P. Heather and J. Matthews, The Goths in the
Fourth Century (Liverpool 1991) pp. 111–17. For recent comments, C. Zuckerman,
“Cappadocian Fathers and the Goths”, Travaux et Memoires 11 (1991) pp. 473–479.