Mar 21, 2008

Famous Swords: Ascalon

In 303, the Roman Emporer Diocletian issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. Count George, a member of Diocletian’s personal guard, was ordered to participate in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision. An enraged Diocletian ordered his torture and subsequent execution. After his death, George was venerated by Christians as a martyr of the faith. By the fifth century the cult of Saint George had reached the Western Roman Empire, and in 494, George was canonized as a saint by Pope Gelasius I.

The episode of St George and the Dragon was a legend brought back with the Crusaders and retold in the Romance genre. The sword with which St George slew the dragon was called Ascalon, named after the city of Ashkelon in Israel. In the fully-developed Western version, a dragon makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of "Silene" (perhaps modern Cyrene) in Libya. In order to collect water, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time. To do this, they offer the dragon a daily human sacrifice (the victim is chosen by drawing lots) and one day, this happened to be the princess. She begs for her life, but to no avail. She is offered to the dragon just as St George is passing through on his travels. He faces the dragon, slays it and rescues the princess. The grateful citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

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