Yesterday, March 10th, was the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. These forty Roman soldiers were martyred in 320 under the rule of the Emperor Licinius by being frozen to death overnight on an ice-covered pond. As Christians they refused to offer the pagan rites demanded of them.
The story might seem at first sight implausible or a pious fable, but is in fact well attested from the 370s, in a sermon by St Basil. As Saints they are better known and more widely venerated in the Orthodox world - on March 9th - than in the west, although they have a feast day and propers in the traditional Roman missal and breviary. The Mattins readings in the latter point out the Lenten and fasting symbolism of there being forty martyrs and their prayer that they would all remain faithful.
The soldiers appear to have been members of the XII Legion, known as the Thundering Legion, as is explained in one of the following articles
There are a number of accounts on the Internet that narrate their suffering, each of which explores different parts of the story. Wikipedia has an account at Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
40 Martyrs of Sebaste from Early Church History gives a substantial extract from St Basil’s sermon.
The text of the Testament of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste is quoted from in Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. It also appears at some length in The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
The Testament is also cited and the story put in its historical perspective in The Story behind the Martyrs: Times of the Roman Asia Minor & Christian Persecutions – Faithful Journeys
The story of one, the youngest and the supposed author of the Testament, of the Forty, Melito, and a further quotation from St Basil, can be read from Tradition in Action at 40 Martyrs of Sebaste, saints of March 10
The martyrdom is retold in a dramatised narrative and with a useful historical commentary as to the politics of the Empire divided between Licinius in the East and the much more favourable situation for Christians in the West under Constantine the Great at 40 Martyrs of Sevaste
The story is recounted in a similar way and its legacy in devotion and art is set out and illustrated by Cappadocia History at 40 Martyrs of Sebaste
Sebaste is now known as Sivas. St Sebastian was also probably a native of the city and from it derived his name. Sebaste was for many centuries an important trading point on routes through Anatolia.
May the Forty Martyrs Pray for us