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Death Date:

Tarbo had two siblings: a sister who was married and Simeon, the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Simeon was martyred on 17 April 341 on the charge that he refused to levy taxes from his Christian community, taxes which would aid in the war against the Romans. He was the first in a series of martyrdoms which took place during the rule of Shapur II (339-79). Tarbo's married sister was martyred along with Tarbo.

Religious Roles:

Tarbo and her servant were "daughters of the covenant", meaning that they devoted themselves to asceticism at a young age. Daughters and sons of the covenant held a special position in Syriac Christian communities. For more details, see Asceticism in the Church of Syria: The Hermeneutics of Early Syrian Monasticism.

Ecclesiastical Relationships:

Tarbo was the sister of Simeon, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (see family above).

Literary Works:

Tarbo's death is preserved in the Persian Martyr Acts. Bedjan has collected these accounts in Acta martyrum et sanctorum. This collection includes accounts of martyrs in the Sasanid Empire spanning from the third to the seventh century. The earliest martyr was NULL, who was killed during the reign of King Bahram II (276-93).

It was not until the fourth and fifth centuries that intense instances of persecution flared up. All major outbreaks of persecution occurred when the Sasanids and Romans were at war with one another. Sasanid rulers suspected Christians as harboring pro-Roman sympathies. Simeon's unwillingness to tax his community to help pay for the war against Rome likely roused such suspicions among Sasanid authorities. Sasanids did not slay entire communities, instead they targeted community leaders (like Simeon and his family) and high-ranking Zoroastrians who had converted to Christianity.

Although many of the Persian Martyr Acts have not been translated into English, there is an attempt to translate and publish all of them in the Persian martyr acts in Syriac : text and translation series.

Brief Profile:

We know little about Tarbo's life but many details about her death. When the queen of the Sasanids fell ill, the Jews convinced the queen that Tarbo, her sister, and her servant were responsible for her illness and that they had put spells on her because of Simeon's death. Mobed, who had also tried another Persian martyr NULL, along with two other officers adjudicated Tarbo's case. They charged the three women with performing sorcery on the queen and sent the women to prison.

While in prison, Mobed sent a letter to Tarbo. He promised to intercede for Tarbo if she would marry him. He found her very beautiful. Tarbo refused because she had committed her life to virginity. The two other officers made Tarbo similar offers and she again refused. The three men were so angry that when the final trial came, the three men brought false testimony against the three women, claiming that they were witches. The king said that if they should agree to worship the sun, then the charges against them would be dropped. The three women refused to renounce Christianity.

The Magians were granted permission to execute the women in whatever way they chose. The Magians decided to cut the women's body in two, so that the queen could pass through the halves and be cured of her illness. Thereupon, they cut the women's bodies into six portions, placed them in six baskets, suspended the baskets on six forked pieces of wood, and thrust the baskets into the ground. Each basket and its contents were shaped like half-crosses. The Magians hung harmful fruit upon each basket. The queen then passed between the baskets, although the martyr account does not report whether she was healed.

The three women were crowned on the fifth of the lunar month Iyyar (sometime around or during May).

Published primary sources:

For the Syriac text, see Bibliotheca hagiographica orientalis, 1149; Acta martyrum et sanctorum, v. 2, 254-60; Acta sanctorum martyrum orientalium et occidentalium in duas partes distributa. Adcedvnt Acta S. Simeonis Stylitae. Omnia nvnc primvm svb avspiciis Johannis V. Lusitanorum regis e Bibliotheca apostolica vaticana prodeunt. Stephanus Evodius Assemanus ... c, v. 1, 54-59. For an English translation of the Syriac text, see Tarbo.

For the Greek translation of Tarbo's martyrdom, see Bibliotheca hagiographica Graeca, 1511. The Greek text calls Tarbo Pherbuthe.

For the Sogdian translation, see The Christian Sogdian Manuscript C2, 137-53.

Sozomen also mentions Tarbo's martyrdom, but calls her Tarbula. Sozomen, Church History from AD 323-425, trans. C.D. Hartranft, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2, 191., 2,12.